Fantasy Hockey: Changing on the Fly, Volume 14
A vacation to New York City obliged me to write this week’s edition of Changing on the Fly Thursday instead of my customary Sunday. Planning on my normal Monday publication means I can’t make many solid recommendations so early in the week so here is something a little different. There are about eight weeks left until fantasy hockey playoffs (March 23 to April 11 for most), so I’ve decided to take a look ahead to the season end schedule and make some observations and recommendations.
These are mostly geared towards teams that are on a safe path to the playoffs; if you are battling it out for one of the last playoffs spots, you’ll probably have to look more for short-term solutions. We'll get back to those next week. To make things easy, we’ll use Yahoo!’s standard playoff schedule: Quarterfinals = Week 23 (March 23-29), Semifinals = Week 24 (March 30-April 5) and, Finals = Week 25 (April 6-11).
Finally, in case you are new here and missed earlier volumes, this is a weekly article based on JJ Zachariason's "15 Transactions for Week X" and Russell Peddle's "Dozen Dimes," which focus on football and basketball, respectively. Football is over, but if you are into basketball, go see what Russ is saying. It is well worth it.
Sell Ryan Getzlaf, C – Anaheim Ducks (4 Quarterfinals, 2 Semifinals, 2 Finals Games on the schedule)
Anaheim, along with Philadelphia, has the worst fantasy hockey playoff schedule. The Ducks play four games during the quarterfinals, and Ryan Getzlaf is sure to put up some point that week against the Blue Jackets, Bruins, Islanders and Devils, but even then, all four of those games are on the road. The next two weeks games are sparse -- home against Edmonton and Colorado during the semifinals -- and then they finish up against Dallas and in Arizona.
Getzlaf has not disappointed the owners who drafted him in the first round this year (myself included), as he has put up a steady 1.02 points per game and has captained the Ducks to an impressive lead in the Pacific Division. At his current rate, you could expect Getzlaf to register 8.51 points during the last three weeks of the season. A player who averages 0.74 points per game and plays 11 games should be more productive and very attainable as part of a package deal if Getzlaf were dangled as trade bait.
Buy Derek Stepan, C – New York Rangers (4-3-4)
Eight goals and 24 assists are not making the casual hockey fan and fantasy owner salivate over Derek Stepan’s season, but when you remember that Stepan missed the start of the year with a fractured fibula and has played only 32 games, it becomes much more impressive.
Stepan is a point-per-game player who can most likely be acquired for much less. Combining that with the Rangers’ favorable season-ending schedule makes Stepan and his teammates targets leading up to the fantasy hockey trade deadline.
Sell Jakub Voracek, RW – Philadelphia Flyers (2-3-3)
The Flyers’ year-end schedule isn’t quite as bad as the Ducks’. However, with only eight games played, they are the other team that gets the short end of the stick for fantasy purposes. With 17 goals and 41 assists, Jakub Voracek is leading the league in scoring and should command top-dollar on the fantasy trading block.
While it can be tough to give up a player who has exceed his average draft position by leaps and bounds, go for gold and think about downgrading your star power for someone with slightly less flashy numbers who will get on the ice more often that eight games over three weeks. If you are in a keeper league, you might want to hold off on such a move, but in a re-draft format, selling is the way to go.
Buy Anze Kopitar, C – Los Angeles Kings (4-3-4)
The theme in this article is definitely “Buy players on teams that play a lot in the last three weeks of the season and sell players on teams that don’t.” The Los Angeles Kings fall into the “play a lot” category.
Anze Kopitar had a horrid start to the season and fell out of favor with many owners early on. Back in Volume 2 in early mid-November, I recommended him as a “buy low” candidate, and he has definitely turned his season around.
The price has most definitely been risen, but Kopitar and his teammates are targets for the end game for your fantasy season.
Sell Carey Price, G – Montreal Canadiens (3-4-2)
Carey Price has been the best “healthy” goalie in the league this season (Pekka Rinne, we miss you), but his owners have two things going against them for their fantasy hockey playoffs. The Canadiens’ schedule, while not awful, has only two games in the final week, and that makes Price owners who count on him for wins or in leagues that count saves vulnerable at the year’s most important time. Also, the Habs seem to have solidified their position in the standings and, barring a collapse, will likely clinch a playoff spot relatively early on. That means that Michel Therrien and company may be encouraged to rest Price and start Dustin Tokarski to keep Price fresh for what could be an extended playoff run.
It is a tough spot to be in. Chances are if you have Price, you depend on him greatly, and there aren’t many comparable goaltenders out there. Look towards Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask owners and see if a deal can be made; both goaltenders have not performed to the level of Price this year but the Rangers and Bruins are far from sure things for the Eastern Conference wildcard spots, and it would more likely for them to be starting their star netminders late in the year.
Buy Ryan Miller, G – Vancouver Canucks (3-4-3)
In the second tier of goaltenders and in the Western conference there seems that there will be more competition for the final playoff berths as well as more competition for playing time in the crease. As many as 12 teams are within seven points of a playoff spot (only 10 teams are that close in the East), but goaltending situations are more complicated. In Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are sharing time; neither Jonas Hiller nor Karri Ramo nor Joni Ortio are guaranteed to get the majority of the starts in Calgary; and Kari Lehtonen has been “lettin’ ‘em in” for Dallas to tune of a 2.99 goals against average.
That leaves Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and Ryan Miller in Vancouver as target goaltenders. Miller has been exactly as advertised, if not better, since coming over from Buffalo and St. Louis in the offseason and should be a quality choice if you can acquire him.
Sell Dion Phaneuf, D – Toronto Maple Leafs (3-4-2)
Present injury concerns aside, the outlook for Dion Phaneuf and the Toronto Maple Leafs is not good. They have started their annual freefall through the standings. If the Buds do manage to make up ground before the postseason participants are decided, they will be reduced to spectators for most of the final week of the season, and their fate will be in other teams’ hands.
Phaneuf has been a solid fantasy contributor this year despite frustrating his local fan base on an almost nightly basis (yours truly included). Two goals, and 20 assists are quality numbers, but where Phaneuf really has stood out has been his peripheral stats: 85 penalty minutes, 127 hits and 90 blocked shots.
Wait until he is healthy before you try and move Dion, but ridding yourself of him around the fantasy hockey deadline could give you an edge.
Buy Duncan Keith, D – Chicago Blackhawks (4-4-3)
Duncan Keith may not be your guy if your league counts hits. How does Duncan Keith have only 10 hits on the whole season? That stat line is worth a Patrick Stewart style quadruple take, heck, even Patrick Kane has 16 hits, and he’ll probably win the Lady Byng Trophy. Nevertheless, Keith and the Blackhawks play 11 games during the fantasy playoffs, and Keith should be a good source of production from the blueline.
With 7 goals and 23 assists so far this year, Keith is on a decent 0.61 points-per-game pace and should add 6-7 points over the course of the final three weeks. If you fail to acquire Keith, look no further than teammate Brent Seabrook for Plan B. Owning any Blackhawk would benefits any fantasy team.
Sell Nicklas Backstrom, C – Washington Capitals (3-4-2)
He might help you get there, but don’t expect a lot of help from Nicklas Backstrom in the final week of the season. The Capitals center has had yet another marvelous season to this point, producing 15 goals and 35 assists for 1.04 points per game.
Since the Caps have an extra game in the final week, the math is a little different than with Getzlaf, but the basic principle is the same.
1.04 points/game x 9 games / 11 potential games for a player on a team with a “good” schedule = 0.85
Package Backstrom away and pick up a player that averages more than 0.85 points-per-game (and has 11 games) and you should come out ahead. Combine that with other pieces you could add in that type of deal and you’ve given yourself a boost.
Buy Bobby Ryan, LW/RW – Ottawa Senators (4-4-3)
Perhaps Bobby Ryan can’t spell “intense,” but we aren’t creating the US Olympic team here. Ryan has been somewhat of a disappointment since Brian Burke and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim drafted him second overall in the 2005 Entry Draft. Being a career 0.75 point-per-game player isn’t awful, but it isn’t first-round value in fantasy hockey or what a team would hope from a second-overall pick.
Ryan is actually right on his career track with 0.77 points per game this year, and as I mentioned earlier, mathematically would be equal to a Ryan Getzlaf or Claude Giroux in the final three weeks of the season because the Senators play 11 games (to just eight for the Ducks and Flyers). Ryan shouldn’t cost you the world to acquire but could help lead a fantasy team to victory late in the season.