Which high-profile players will cost you a lot at the draft table and burn you with subpar production? Here are some names to avoid in pools for 2015-16.
The fantasy hockey prep schedule continues. The top 200 is two editions deep, I’ve posted keeper league rankings by position, and I’ve hinted at my 10 favorite sleeper picks for 2015-16. Now it’s time for the overvalued list.
Last year, I dubbed this group the “players to avoid” list. That led to the misconception they were all bad players. I wasn’t trying to say they stank, however. I simply meant I’d avoid them because their average draft positions suggested I’d have to pick them way earlier than I wanted to.
Still, the readers have spoken. To avoid confusion, we’ll call this top 10 “overvalued” instead of players to avoid. I define overvalued fantasy picks as follows:
(a) Players whose production won’t match their average draft positions
(b) Players being drafted ahead of players who will outperform them
With that, let’s review which players I consider fantasy hockey landmines, sure to return less than what you invest to get them. And remember, this is fantasy hockey, so this list does not reflect the players’ real-life value.
10. Darnell Nurse (THN rank: none; Yahoo average draft position: 160.8)
Picking Nurse, the towering Edmonton Oilers blueline prospect, is totally fine in keeper leagues. It’s a great idea, actually, In redraft leagues, though? Be very careful. Nurse has too many strikes against him. (a) He’s a 6-foot-6 monster, and most big D-men take a while to develop their offense. See Ed Jovanovski, Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara. (b) The Oilers depth chart has too many established NHL defensemen, including Andrej Sekera, Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference, Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin, Oscar Klefbom and the newly acquired Eric Gryba. Nurse and newcomer Griffin Reinhart should someday be the best of the lot, but they have many guys to pass just to play in the NHL right now. Making the team would be a victory for Nurse, let alone scoring enough to have fantasy value in 2015-16.
9. Chris Kunitz (THN rank: 188; Yahoo ADP: 129.6)
Kunitz still gets plenty of respect in draft circles. Evidently, poolies hope or expect him to land back on Sidney Crosby’s wing and form a powerhouse trio with Phil Kessel. That may well happen, and Kunitz could wind up rebounding significantly in 2015-16. But he’s a linemate-dependent player at this stage of his career, and that’s a red flag in fantasy. You want the players who produce on their own or, better yet, make others around them good. The minute Kunitz gets bumped to the second or third line, his value plummets. And don’t be so sure he’s a top-six lock for Crosby’s line or Evgeni Malkin’s line. Kunitz will be 36 when the season starts, and his goal total tumbled from 35 to 17 last season. It could be an off year, but it’s more likely he’s just in decline.
8. Andrew Hammond (THN rank: NR; Yahoo ADP: 142.8)
I’m at a loss. Not only is Hammond being drafted on average before projected starting goalies Cam Talbot, Jonathan Bernier and Petr Mrazek, Hammond is flying off the board six picks ahead of teammate Craig Anderson. Uh, what? Hamburglar was a sight to behold late last season, carrying the Ottawa Senators to the playoffs, but Anderson won the job back in the first round. The fact GM Bryan Murray traded Robin Lehner and kept Anderson was a message Anderson would get another shot as the starter. It’s inexcusable to draft Hammond before Anderson. Do your homework, poolies. Hammond is undraftable barring another Anderson injury.
7. T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman (THN ranks: NR; Yahoo ADPs: 120.1, 108.4)
Drafters seem to underestimate the Dougie Hamilton effect. I’ve battled many a Flames fan over Twitter about Brodie. Yes, he forms a dynamite pair with Mark Giordano, but Brodie wasn’t the same when Giordano went down. Brodie had 35 points in 61 games the night Giordano sustained his season-ending injury in February. Post-Giordano? Six points in 20 games. Yes, Giordano is back and will probably pair with Brodie, but that’s not the point. What matters is Brodie seems to be partner-dependent for his production. He’s a great real-life defenseman but not a pure offensive weapon to exploit in fantasy pools. If and when prized acquisition Hamilton gets his shot on the top pair with Giordano, Brodie won’t be as reliable for offense.
Sticking with the Flames theme, Wideman’s stats ballooned artificially last year. The 56-point explosion looks awesome, but he had 19 points in 19 games in March and April, playing 27 friggin’ minutes a game after Giordano went down. Wideman should return to the 40-point range this year. He’s perfectly draftable in fantasy leagues, but he shouldn’t be going before Andrei Markov, Torey Krug and John Klingberg, which he currently is.
6. Patrick Sharp (THN rank: 114; Yahoo ADP; 85.2)
Sharp is a true winner, and he’s had a solid career. But he’s 33 and has averaged 17 extra games of playoff mileage on top of his regular season since 2008-09. Should we assume he’ll explode back toward 30 goals as Jason Spezza’s left winger? I wouldn’t. It’s silly to see Sharp picked before Brandon Saad, Jaden Schwartz and Ondrej Palat on average. Their arrows point upward while Sharp’s points down. Don’t overpay for the name brand.
5. Patrick Marleau (THN rank: 136; Yahoo ADP; 87.8)
Another veteran left winger named Patrick, and this one will be three years older than Sharp when the season starts. The iron man Marleau hasn’t missed a game in six seasons and remains a handy top-six forward. But when he slips from 33 to 19 goals, from 70 to 57 points, from a playoff team to a non-playoff team, and you’re 36, it’s time to tip our caps and back away in fantasy drafts. Marleau did post a career-worst shooting percentage by a mile last season, implying he was highly unlucky, but the age factor offsets that. He’s a trap pick.
4. Kari Lehtonen (THN rank: 199; Yahoo ADP: 151.3)
A classic uneducated selection. I’m not avoiding Lehtonen because he had a down 2014-15, though that certainly doesn’t help. I’m avoiding him because his own team plans to limit his starts. Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill signed Antti Niemi for a whopping $4.5 million per year to platoon with Lehtonen and overcome a brutal travel schedule. Yet poolies pick Lehtonen before several goalies slated to play far more often. Silly.
3. Drew Doughty (THN rank: 106; Yahoo ADP: 52.2)
Mark Streit, the 37 year-old Swiss journeyman, has outscored Doughty four straight seasons. Doughty is the ninth defenseman off the board in fantasy drafts at the moment, while Streit is the 27th. I’m not telling you to pick Streit before Doughty, but the point here is that there’s a huge gap between real-life ability and perceived fantasy value. I’d still take Drew Doughty over any other blueliner on Earth if I were starting a real NHL franchise today. In fantasy, though? He’s perennially overrated. Doughty hasn’t hit the 50-point mark since 2009-10. He’s done it once in his career. Streit? Three times. If you reach on Doughty in the fifth round, where you have to get him on average in 12-team leagues, you’re missing out on a much more valuable contributor.
2. Ryan Miller (THN rank: 151; Yahoo ADP: 78.7)
The 2010 Vezina Trophy and virtuoso Olympic performance have endless staying power. Miller really hasn’t been the same goalie since then. He was just OK in his first season with the Vancouver Canucks, and a knee injury cost him the final six weeks of the regular season. His best years are behind him at 35, and the team around him doesn’t look as good as last year’s group. Wins will be harder to come by, and Miller’s rate stats have been merely average for several seasons now. That’s a lot of downside for a player being drafted around the same time as Semyon Varlamov and Steve Mason in pools.
1. Keith Yandle (THN rank: 163; Yahoo ADP: 60.2)
Yandle has been a fantasy dynamo, and a criminally underrated one, for years. From 2009-10 to 2014-15 with the Arizona Coyotes, he averaged 10 goals and 50 points per 82 games. In 40 games with the New York Rangers, he tallied four goals and 22 points. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but Yandle had to share the ice with arguably the NHL’s best and deepest defense corps, including Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein. Yandle played at least 22 minutes per game in his final six seasons with the Desert Dogs yet dipped to 19:56 as a Broadway Blueshirt – and 18:01 in the post-season. The 2.24 shots on goal he averaged per game marked his lowest output since 2009-10. Yandle doesn’t shape up as a fantasy dud by any means – he led the Rangers in power play minutes – but he’s less needed on Broadway, and that makes him heavily overvalued. Even-strength production is more stable than power play production year to year, so it’s a bad sign to see Yandle’s even-strength minutes chopped (by about three minutes from Arizona to New York, or 16 percent). He costs far too pretty of a penny at 60th overall on average. If that’s what it takes to land him, he’ll play for zero of my fantasy teams in 2015-16.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. 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