It’s my favorite time of year to scour the waiver wire in fantasy hockey leagues. By November 1, the season is just old enough to trick impatient players into believing sample sizes are big. “Hey, I gave him a month,” they might say about a slumping star.
But, really, one month is a pretty small sample size when placed in an 82-game context. Only one team has even reached the 15-game mark, and 15 games comprise 18.3 percent of a team’s NHL season. We can’t shrug off 15 games as utterly meaningless, but that sample size definitely presents a buying opportunity. For perspective, Nikita Kucherov’s 128 points last season were the most by any player since 1995-96, but we could cherrypick a mediocre sample even for him if we wanted to. In 14 games from Jan. 5 to Feb. 9, he had two goals and 12 points. Then he ripped off 18 points in five games after that. The sample sizes stand out far more at this point in the season simply because they’re all we have to work with.
And that’s good news. We can prey on fantasy opponents freaking out over small sample sizes, swoop in and trade for, or pick up, some struggling studs. Consider circling these five.
THE BEAT-YOU-OVER-THE-HEAD OBVIOUS TIER
I warned you about ‘Bob.’ October has always been by far his worth month, historically. He just takes a while to get going. So nothing we’ve seen from him so far should be remotely surprising. His save percentage sits at .873. Last October it was .882. Then he posted a .917 SP with nine shutouts the rest of the way. He has to upside to be the top fantasy goalie overall between now and the end of the season, but you might be able to get him for a top-10ish netminder right now. Since we only start one or two of them in most pools, goalies often impact results more than any singular skater can, and that means they affect fantasy GMs’ emotions more. Has the Bobrovsky owner in your league posted on the board something like, “Bobrovsky is killing me this year”? Prey on that owner! Offer to take ‘Bob’ off their hands.
Kane set a career high with 110 points last year. Playing on one of the few bad Chicago teams of his career, he was free to run and gun with the Blackhawks often in catchup mode, and that spiked his fantasy value significantly. So far this season: a ho-hum three goals and nine points in 11 games. He’s not even a top-200 player at the moment in standard Yahoo leagues. But nine points in 11 games really isn’t that bad when placed in the context of a full season. He’s one good week away from getting back on track. His season shooting percentage of 8.6 is the lowest of his career. He’s in store for positive goal regression.
It’s almost embarrassing to put a first-round fantasy pick like Kane on this list. But some pools are more casual than others, and a last-place Kane owner in a casual league might be wiling to move Kane for 90 cents on the dollar right now. Kick the tires.
TOO GOOD NOT TO FIGURE IT OUT
I hate listing Meier here, because, to my utter shock, I discovered today that someone had dropped him in my main fantasy league, and now I’m really worried one of my co-GMs will read this article and beat me to Meier, as I have a low waiver priority. This is the one time I hope my friends don’t read my work, because Meier is a tantalizing buy-low candidate at the moment.
He was one of my favorite breakout candidates for 2019-20, because he had already broken out last season, jumping from 21 to 30 goals and from 36 to 66 points, and that masked the fact his ceiling was even higher. Among forwards with 1,000 or more minutes played at 5-on-5 last season, Meier ranked third in shots per 60 minutes. He played merely 16:58 per game and, going into his age-23 season, had a good chance to see a spike in responsibility. To me, he was a 40-goal guy waiting to happen.
So far this season, we’ve seen the ice time increase from 16:58 to 18:21, but it’s yielded just two goals and four points. Ugh. He’s scoring on a paltry 5.7 percent of his shots, so that efficiency will obviously improve, but it doesn’t fully account for how bad Meier has been. He shot the puck 11.11 times per 60 minutes last season. This year, he’s tumbled to 9.77, which is concerning. That said, 9.77 is still good enough for 38th among 318 forwards who have logged 100-plus minutes at 5-on-5 this season. Meier still sits in the 88th percentile. Better times lie ahead because we know the accuracy will improve, so he’s a buy low relative to his poor production so far. For him to get the shot rate back up to last year’s and become an elite goal-scorer, though, the Sharks may have to improve their play as a team. The puck needs to be on Meier’s stick more.
THEY’LL NEVER BE THIS CHEAP TO ACQUIRE AGAIN
Kakko was, by most accounts, the most NHL-ready prospect in the 2019 draft class thanks to his smarts, size and scintillating skill. It’s been ugly so far. He’s scored twice in 10 games. When he’s on the ice at 5-on-5, the Rangers have put 99 pucks toward the other team’s net and allowed 153 attempts. That’s the second-worst ratio of any Ranger forward’s. That said, the other two team-low numbers belong to his most common linemates, Chris Kreider and Brett Howden. The reason I put Kakko below Jack Hughes in pre-season fantasy ranks was that there was such a gap in linemate quality between line 1 and 2 for the Rangers’ right wingers, and Pavel Buchnevich had the edge on Kakko.
That said, Kakko’s talent hasn’t gone anywhere. He and the Rangers have played a league-low 10 games. Sooner or later, the best players rise up their lineups, and it’s only a matter of time before Kakko gets a look on line 1 with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make a trade offer for Kakko in my league.
Subban represents the entire Devils roster in that he’s been a massive disappointment offensively. Is it possible New Jersey becomes a season-long tire fire resulting in coach John Hynes getting fired and/or Taylor Hall being traded at the deadline, hurting the fantasy value of the Devils he leaves behind? Yes. So it’s no longer a guarantee Subban produces Norris Trophy-worthy numbers this season. That said, the Devils, like the Rangers, have only played 10 games, and Subban’s value is so low at the moment that he’s worth the buy no matter what. He’ll never cost so little. With just a goal and four points so far, he’s described his own play as “atrocious.”
BONUS TIER: BUY-LOW TRAPS
Don’t automatically assume these slow starters are buy-low candidates…
Braden Holtby: Numbers have declined past couple years, he’s a UFA, and Caps are breaking in prospect Ilya Samsonov, siphoning away some starts.
Tyson Barrie: Problem after Toronto trade was Barrie never had chance to play PP1 like he did in Colorado. His PP minutes per game have declined year over year from 4:03 to 2:17.
All veteran Dallas Stars forwards: Tyler Seguin will be fine. But Jamie Benn’s body may be breaking down, and what if Alexander Radulov’s and Joe Pavelski’s slow starts are because of their age? I’m not saying you can’t buy low, but just make sure it’s really low.