To paraphrase Robert Burns: The best-laid schemes of mice and men often last just the first 40 minutes of a team’s season.
Yes, after all of the preseason planning by coaches, all of the scheming and matchup determinations, all of the prognostication and hoped-for chemistry — all of it can go right out the window when the puck drops. We all do our best to get prepared for the fantasy hockey season, making all the picks that we think will work out. If you’re not prepared to start reacting immediately to what is actually happening on the ice, however, that preparation won’t do you much good.
Coaches are already making changes — or at least thinking about doing so. Why shouldn’t fantasy managers be thinking the same thing?
Here are just four examples of how quickly things are changing:
James Neal, W, Calgary Flames: I had hoped that Neal would open the season as the top-line winger for the Flames, but instead it was Elias Lindholm getting the opportunity to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Wednesday. Of course, that lasted for just over two periods. After the Canucks jumped ahead early in the third, the Flames moved Neal from the third line to the first unit in place of Lindholm. The result? A goal by Monahan, with assists to Gaudreau and Neal. Lindholm, for what it’s worth, finished with a minus-4. Does Lindholm get another chance on the top line or does Neal jump up the depth chart? We’ll see in the rematch on Saturday.
Dylan Strome, C, Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes opened the season with Derek Stepan, Clayton Keller and Strome — arguably their three most-potent forwards — on separate lines. That lasted less than half the game. Down 3-0 to the Stars by the third period on Thursday, Strome and Keller were united on a line with Nick Cousins. I’ll have a lot more interest in these young Coyotes if they are stacked top-heavy on the depth chart. Take note of what happens to the Arizona lineup in the coming games.
Conor Sheary, W, Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres started the game on Thursday with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner as their top line. By the end of the game, it was Sheary in place of Skinner alongside Eichel and Reinhart. When it comes to fantasy value, we’re chasing Eichel’s linemates, so keep an eye on Sheary’s deployment going forward. Skinner is not a sleeper if he’s playing on the third line.
Evander Kane, W, San Jose Sharks: The Sharks started their season with Kane on the third line. That was a bit of a shock, as Kane finished last season strongly alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. On Wedensday, it was Timo Meier who was on the top unit with Pavelski and Thornton to start the game. However, while losing to the Ducks, Kane, Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi were put together for the third period. It’s interesting to see the Sharks attempting to go three lines deep on offense, since they don’t appear to have the firepower to make it work on paper. It will be worth tracking over the coming days to see if they opt to consolidate into two scoring lines instead of three.
Yes, lines will continue to evolve through the NHL season on what will seem like a nightly basis. As a fantasy manager, you need to find that balance between sticking with talent and chasing opportunity.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 8-14
It’s strange to be putting out a second Fantasy Forecaster when we still haven’t seen a game from the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils or Tampa Bay Lightning. Obviously, the formulas for the Forecaster are still relying on last season’s numbers for now. That will change when we start getting enough data for this season to remove last year from the calculations.
There are three teams that play four games next week, and 12 teams that play only twice. (Everyone else will lace up the skates three times.) With a dozen teams playing a lighter schedule, there really isn’t any particular team to warn you off of.
Maybe just a quick warning, however, not to get too concerned next weekend when you feel like your Oilers and Panthers aren’t doing enough. After next week, Connor McDavid (three) will have played half as many games as Auston Matthews (six). The Panthers also have a light start to the first week-plus with only three games.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense) and “D” (defense) matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, but this space will also include players below 10 percent whenever possible to try to cater to deeper formats.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have two games at home followed by a pair of back-to-back games on the road next week. The Anaheim power play looked great to start the season on Wednesday, with Rickard Rakell leading the way, and Jakob Silfverberg also standing out. Silfverberg is available in 63 percent of ESPN leagues and, if he’s going to play top power-play minutes on a regular basis, should probably be on more rosters. Adam Henrique (70 percent) is a similar option, playing on Silfverberg’s line at even-strength and joining him on the power play with Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf.
San Jose Sharks: As expected, there was no room on the Sharks power play for a fourth forward on Wednesday. Why would there be when you have Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the blue line? That means less opportunity for Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane, as the man-advantage will be dominated by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. That said, both Kane and Hertl found a way to score on Wednesday (Hertl’s was especially brilliant and worth taking a look.) The Sharks are on a Metropolitan Division road swing next week and should be deployed heavily in fantasy lineups. Hertl and Thornton are available in about one-third of leagues.
Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights didn’t look magical in their 2018-19 season debut on Thursday, with Marc-Andre Fleury getting the hook and the offense unable to muster more than two goals against the Philadelphia Flyers. We’ll know better if this was just a false start or something more next week, after the Knights play four Eastern Conference road games. If I was looking for a boost from the free-agent pile, I’d consider Tomas Nosek, whom the Knights seem committed to as the fourth forward on the top power-play unit.
Boston Bruins: This is not a fun start to the season for Tuukka Rask managers, as he was chased on Wednesday after allowing five goals to the Washington Capitals. He then sat on the bench on Thursday as Jaroslav Halak pitched a shutout. I don’t think there’s any reason to panic, though I wouldn’t question using a handcuff here, just to play it safe. The Bruins have a solid-looking schedule next week with three home games, including visits from the rebuilding Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. Ryan Donato is the offensive pickup here, as he was promoted between the two contests this week to the second line, and was already on the first power-play unit. He’s arguably the fourth-best forward on the Bruins for fantasy, yet he’s available in more leagues than any of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and David Backes.
Jordan Kyrou, C, St. Louis Blues: The Blues opened the season with this rookie on the second line (or is it the first line?) with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn. Obviously, this is a massive opportunity for Kyrou, but he needs to act fast as David Perron, the injured Robby Fabbri, and fellow rookie Robert Thomas are waiting in the wings for top-six minutes. Kyrou scored 109 points in 56 games last season in the OHL, while Thomas was the OHL’s MVP. There is a ton of upside here with these young stars, but they’ll need to lock down a role to realize that potential.
Elias Petterson, C, Vancouver Canucks: That’s what he can do with less than 10 minutes of ice time! Petterson scored and earned an assist in 9:46 in Wednesday’s season opener against the Flames. The rookie played with Loui Eriksson and the oft-underrated Nikolay Goldobin, but also featured on the top power play with Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. His ice time is only going to go up. He should be universally rostered in fantasy leagues, yet he’s still 24 percent available.
Jimmy Vesey, W, New York Rangers: There is some upside here after Vesey landed a role on the second line with Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to open the season. He skated 16:40 on Thursday and fired four shots on goal. After arriving with much hype, Vesey was buried on the depth chart last season. This time around, a new coach and a clear rebuild means new opportunities. Keep an eye on his production over the coming week or so.
Eight shots on goal! Nathan MacKinnon is off to exactly the kind of start that those of us who believe he is a top-five overall fantasy talent wanted. Only David Pastrnak has more shots so far, and he has the advantage of having playing two games.
The Blue Jackets, by the way, have put together a very sneaky offensive group this season. I don’t think I realized it until I saw on Thursday that their fourth line consisted of Anthony Duclair, Sonny Milano and Riley Nash — all of whom have been on the fantasy radar at some point over for the past few seasons.
The Chicago Blackhawks appear to be “letting bygones be bygones” when it comes to Duncan Keith‘s 2017-18 season, so I think the fantasy realm should follow suit. Keith played 24:52, dominated the power-play ice time on the point, and fired four shots on goal on Thursday. His being 81.8 percent rostered is still too low.
Thomas Chabot played 21:07 on Thursday, with a power-play assist and a minus-1 rating. Figuring on those per-game numbers for the rest of season seems about right. He’ll have value as the Senators top defenseman, but it will come at a plus/minus cost.