Are you – and some of your supposed star players – stumbling out of the gate in your hockey pool? Time to assess which players are worth worrying about.
The season’s first fantasy hockey mailbag is, to me, the most important. For one, every team in every league remains in serious contention for the championship. Secondly, November is as much about talking readers out of making moves as it is about talking them into moves. I solicited you folks for fantasy questions this week on Twitter, and a disproportionate number were about slow-starting stars and what to do with them. Let’s sort through that early-season wreckage and come up with some diagnoses.
Chris Carveth (@ChrisCarveth): “Last year I drafted Carey Price. Didn’t turn out so well. This year I drafted Jamie Benn. Please tell me he’ll come around.”
Abso-friggin-lutely. You probably know that already, Chris, as Benn broke out for three assists last night. There are several reasonable explanations for his early struggles. First off, he missed the World Cup with core muscle surgery, so he may have started the season at less than 100 percent or at least physically behind schedule. Secondly, the Stars are decimated by injuries to their forward group. That affects the quality of their power play personnel (the top unit is forced to send Antoine Roussel and Patrick Eaves out there with Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg) and allows teams to key on Benn and Seguin’s line even more. Lastly, Benn just had some bad luck. He’s scoring on 8.3 percent of his shots. He’s a career 13.2 percent shooter. He’ll explode soon. Hold onto him tightly, Chris. Non-Benn owners: try a buy-low offer if the Benn team in your league is in last place.
Robert Doane (@Daybreak_Dude): “What the heck is going on with Aleksander Barkov, James Neal, Keith Yandle, Dylan Larkin and John Klingberg? #savemypool”
OK Robert, since you piled several names into your question, you get bite-sized answers. Fair deal?
Barkov: Still good in possession, still playing huge minutes on Panthers’ first line, will be fine.
Neal: Shooting 2.5 percent! That’s insanely unlucky. Goal explosion should come soon. Still playing on top line with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen.
Yandle: Five points in 11 games isn’t that bad for a D-man anyway, is it? Yandle’s ice time has increased by more than three minutes from the Rangers to the Panthers. He’ll be OK.
Larkin: Four goals in past five games, so the slump is over. Still, he plays far fewer minutes than your typical star. Wings still easing him into responsibility. His (amazing) name may slightly outweigh his value, maybe for one more year.
Klingberg: Two goals Thursday put Klingberg back on track. He’s still a fantasy monster. He’ll pile up points as the Stars emerge from their funk.
Ryan Zore (@RyanZore): “Who’s a good under-the-radar goalie stash? I have Andrei Vasilevskiy and Joonas Korpisalo some places. Thanks!”
If you have bench space, stashing goalies is always a good idea. You’re one injury or trade a way from a league-winning difference maker acquired for nothing. Of your two stashes, I prefer Vasilevskiy. Lightning GM Yzerman has made it clear he’s going to trade a goalie, and it makes sense that unrestricted free agent Ben Bishop is the one to go as opposed to Vasilevskiy, fresh off a contract extension. It’s not a guarantee Bishop goes during the season, as the Lightning may decide to roll with Bishop on an expiring deal if they’re in major Stanley Cup contention.
Korpisalo flashed some ability in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky with the Columbus Blue Jackets last year, no doubt. And a ‘Bob’ injury is always likely. But Korpisalo also has prospect Anton Forsberg to contend with. Korpisalo isn’t my favorite stash.
A few potential big-gain goalies I’d stash: Jacob Markstrom, James Reimer, Calvin Pickard and Juuse Saros. Markstom could become the Canucks’ full-time starter if they deal pending UFA Ryan Miller to a goalie-starved team, and mega-prospect Thatcher Demko is just getting his feet wet in the AHL. Colorado’s Pickard has shown starter ability and has a potential trade target starting above him in Semyon Varlamov.
Saros is a name to watch given Pekka Rinne’s struggles. It’s tough to imagine the Predators trading for goalie help when Rinne carries a $7-million cap hit, but they could turn to help from within. The pint-sized Saros has been outstanding between the AHL and NHL this season.
Reimer is a pure deep-league stash, only because he would become a top-15 goalie if Roberto Luongo, 37, broke down. One more name: Connor Hellebuyck. Maybe his timeshare with Michael Hutchinson in Winnipeg has scared some owners away. If so, pounce on the elite prospect Hellebuyck.
Rene Dorfinger (@Hockeyrenzo): “Got Steven Stamkos, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf. Who do I sell off for a quality left winger? And how to lure hogs to trade?”
Cross off Stamkos and Getzlaf immediately. It’s between Carter and Toews, two great real-life players who have become pretty overrated in fantasy. I would sell off Carter, unless your league awards points for shots, in which case I’d consider the perennially overrated (IN FANTASY ONLY, BE CALM EVERYONE) Toews. Shopping Toews also answers your question about luring hogs, Rene. Everyone loves Jonathan Toews. It’s easiest to make a trade in fantasy when you’re giving up something valuable or at least perceived to be doing so. Few would call you greedy if you’re dangling “THE Jonathan Toews!” as a return piece. Capitalize on that name brand in your hunt for a left winger.
Gordon Weigers (@gordie_tweets): “I drafted Andrew Ladd. Should I just burn my computer in the streets?
Sorry, Gordon, but yes…you should probably stock up on kerosene. I pointed out this week things look grim for the Islanders, and Ladd is at the heart of the problem. He’s at the end of his prime, making huge money, with diminished foot speed. He’s already been demoted to the third line. He’ll surely get another shot to play with John Tavares – the Isles have invested far too much not to ride it out with Ladd – but that’ll be the time to shop Ladd. Maybe he’ll get a brief boost in scoring, and you can convince a rival owner Ladd is breaking out. I’d get off this ride if possible.
Terry James (@T_James17): “Evgeny Kuznetsov. How long should I put up with his lack of production before looking to move him?”
Kuznetsov’s lack of production concerns me a little because it dates back to last season. Including the playoffs, Kuznetsov has two goals in his past 42 games. YIKES. That’s a double-take stat. Kuznetsov is more playmaker than scorer, so it’s not like we need huge goal totals for him to be valuable, but we want him at least scoring at a 20-goal pace. At this point, standing pat is the only option. His ceiling remains sky-high, as he was a top-10 scorer in the NHL last season and always gets plum linemate assignments in Washington. There’s no point trading him when the return won’t be full value. You’re better off waiting for a rebound. He’s too talented to stay this cold.
Tony Cescon (@RedDogHockey): “Do you think Carolina is underutilizing Teuvo Teravainen? TOI/3rd line seems less than optimal for getting the most from him.”
Yes and no. In theory, Teravainen’s talent should earn him a top-six spot on a Carolina team lacking top-end skill. But Teravainen also has to earn the gig. Just because he’s a first-round pick with great hands doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a major role. He has to put in the work at both ends of the ice. He hasn’t yet matured into a 200-foot player. At this point I feel better about his linemate Sebastian Aho.
Dougie Dirwin (DougieDiggles): “Rank Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Robby Fabbri and Nikolaj Ehlers going forward for the rest of the season. Any keepers in that mix?”
Very tough. All four hail from the 2014 draft class, all four entered this season as hot sleeper picks in fantasy, and all four have fallen short of expectations. First off – they’re all keepers. I still have high hopes for all four. But I would rank them Bennett, Ehlers, Reinhart, Fabbri, albeit with razor-thin margins between them. Bennett just seems a bit more capable of producing offense on his own. Ehlers has jumped back up to Winnipeg’s first line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Reinhart seems hurt by Jack Eichel’s absence. Fabbri is languishing on the Blues’ third line. Oddly enough, my pre-season ranks had this quartet in the opposite order. Still, we’re splitting hairs. I like all four, I expect all four to improve, and all four are nice targets in keeper leagues.
Tanya (@PlayDagger4Me): “Which scoring option to you prefer and why? #FantasyHockey”
I HATE rotisserie formats. There is no suspense, no excitement from competing against your rivals, no “must-win” nights during the season. It’s a race to the end, and most teams know halfway through the season if they’re toast. In head-to-head formats, you get the suspense of your weekly matchup, you can trash talk your opponent, and it’s far easier to make or up lose ground in the standings.
As for actual scoring categories, I’m anti-PIM, as it seems odd to reward players for doing something that would hurt a team in a real game. I love leagues that add hits and blocks, as it gives real-life role players value. I once won a league with help from my “checking line,” which had Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck dominating the hits category. To me, that’s fun.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin