Fantasy Hockey Mailbag is a weekly column, answering your questions every Tuesday. No question is too big or too small, so if you want advice or feedback on any topic related to fantasy hockey, just ask away in the comments below.
Hands up if your fantasy title hopes came crashing down with Carey Price’s injury — yeah, me too.
Losing the NHL’s reigning MVP was a massive blow to so many teams, with Price perhaps even more valuable in the fantasy realm than in real life.
It’s crazy how much one player can mean to a team, but contenders in all kinds of leagues have been left reeling and scrambling for replacements with Price sidelined for at least the next six weeks with a lower-body injury believed to be a wonky knee. He won’t need surgery, at least not now, so that’s the “good” news in this very bad situation.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 1, 2015
In the meantime, consider claiming Mike Condon if he’s still available on waivers. He’ll get the lion’s share of work for the Canadiens in Price’s absence unless he falters. Zachary Fucale, a top goaltending prospect, was recalled Monday and might get to make his NHL debut at some point this week, but Dustin Tokarski will probably serve as Condon’s backup once he gets in some games down on the farm.
Condon was long gone in the deep keeper where I fell victim to losing Price for the second time in this young season — and Fucale is already owned too, from a past rookie draft — but I still tried to heed my own advice by claiming Tokarski, who I had originally drafted assuming he’d be Price’s backup again prior to Condon’s emergence in training camp.
Tokarski should get a token start here and there assuming he’s recalled again sooner than later, and his play — along with Condon’s — will dictate whether he warrants more crease time going forward. I’m hoping for some “healthy” competition there — pun intended.
Now, hands up if you had Garret Sparks between the pipes last night — yeah, me neither.
Very few did — aside from a diehard Leafs fan in that same keeper league — but Sparks will be a hot commodity on the waiver wire today after becoming the first Toronto goaltender in history to record a shutout in his NHL debut. I didn’t see that coming — didn’t even have Sparks on my fantasy radar to be honest — but good on him. The kid’s a great story and his post-game reaction was, in a word, priceless.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 1, 2015
Could Sparks become this season’s Andrew Hammond? Let’s wait and see how this overnight sensation fares in Winnipeg on Wednesday. If the Leafs were to ride him and get on a roll, could Jonathan Bernier become the Devan Dubnyk of two seasons ago? Not the Vezina finalist from last season in Minnesota, but the Edmonton castoff who couldn’t stick with Nashville or Montreal either. That would be quite the story but, like I said, let’s not get too carried away just yet.
A guy just came into the sports bar next to the arena with a Garret Sparks Leafs jersey.
He bought it after the game.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) December 1, 2015
Moving on to this week’s Mailbag, I’d like to start by acknowledging THW reader “Marin” for submitting our first question from Europe. Last week, I had credited Tommi Kenttä from Finland with that distinction, but I stand corrected — Marin is from Switzerland and beat him to it by a week. Thank you to all our readers and especially those who take the time to ask questions — the Mailbag wouldn’t exist without each and every one of you. Keep them coming!
Mike Hall asked via email: Just wondering what your thoughts were on Shayne Gostisbehere?
ANSWER: I’m a big fan of the player and I have been since his NCAA days at Union College. I’ve touted him as a sleeper prospect for a couple seasons now, but the ‘bear’ has awoken and is no longer in fantasy hibernation. Now, everybody knows about this budding talent and future star. For those who don’t, meaning you had to be sleeping under a rock last week, Gostisbehere — pronounced Ghost-eh-Bear (or something like that) — is an offensive defenceman, a puck-mover capable of quarterbacking the power play. That’s his current role as a rookie call-up for the Philadelphia Flyers, but he’s a placeholder there for the injured Mark Streit. If you’re in a single-season league, Gostisbehere is a great short-term addition until Streit returns, but I do expect Streit to regain that role and relegate Gostisbehere to either the second unit or potentially even back to the minors — depending on his success between now and then, and also on whether Michael Del Zotto can become productive again in the meantime. Streit is turning 38 years old in a couple weeks, so his days are numbered and Gostisbehere could be the go-to guy in Philly as early as next season. If you’re in a keeper league, he’s definitely a guy worth targeting for that long-term potential. Check out the video below for a glimpse of what’s to come — and the heroics that Gostisbehere has already delivered.
— Rogers NHL LIVE (@RogersNHLLive) November 30, 2015
The Flyers are going to have a stacked blue-line in a few years with the likes of Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The list goes on, but those are the three names to remember as future impact players in the fantasy game. If you’re looking for a comparable on Gostisbehere, I’d liken him to Tyson Barrie — a bit undersized but he’s got a heavy shot and is a heady player who makes confident decisions with the puck, both in terms of passing it and skating it. Like I said, he’s a guy you want on your team, so get him if you can. (UPDATE: Mike ended up adding Gostisbehere to fill an open defence spot on his roster after trading Morgan Rielly and Tomas Tatar for Phil Kessel in a 2-for-1 deal. I think he’ll be very happy with the results, at least until Streit comes back and quite possibly beyond that.)
Sean Earles asked via email: Keeper pool question. I have Jonathan Quick and Evgeny Kuznetsov and I am being offered Alex Ovechkin, Roberto Luongo and a third-round pick. I am currently in sixth place out of 12 teams. Should I accept or reject?
ANSWER: At first glance, as much as I like Kuznetsov’s potential, it’s always tough to say no to Ovechkin. It’s even tougher if your league rewards shots because he’s the king of that category. In Sean’s case, the categories are simply goals, assists, special-teams points and penalty minutes for skaters, plus wins and shutouts for goaltenders. That doesn’t necessarily diminish Ovechkin’s value, but it does take away that extra little “oomph” he provides to other leagues. I’d still like to have Ovie on my team, but this deal really depends if you’re in win-now mode or if you’re building for a couple years down the road. Kuznetsov is going to be a fantasy stud and could become a top-10 point producer in the coming seasons but, as of today, Ovechkin is still the man. He recently became the all-time leading goal-scorer among Russian players and only turned 30 in September, so the Great 8 should have at least a few good years left in him. Kuznetsov won’t turn 24 until May, but he’s already leading the Capitals in scoring with 26 points to Ovechkin’s 22, albeit with four fewer goals and now bumped back to the second line at even strength. Still, Kuznetsov is absolutely a keeper, the kind of core piece you can build around if you’re not quite a true contender yet. Sean told me he doesn’t think he has “the team to win this year” and that he’s “trying to gear up for next year if possible.” With that said, I’d probably pass on this deal and stick with Kuznetsov going forward as difficult as that might be to turn down the temptation of Ovechkin. As for the goalies involved, Quick is backstopping the better team, which should result in more wins — the main category in this league. Quick will turn 30 next month, but he’s still seven years younger than Luongo, who could be over the hill by next season when he’ll be 37 years old. The throw-in pick wouldn’t be enough to make me bite on those older players because, reality is, third-rounders are a crapshoot. You’re not getting the next Ovechkin or Kuznetsov in that spot, so just stick with who you’ve got and hope Kuznetsov continues trending toward superstardom for next season. The offer as a whole is relatively fair, it just really depended on whether Sean wanted to “go for it.” Ovechkin is a win-now guy, Kuznetsov is more of a win-later guy — that’s what it really comes down to. I’d also hang on to Quick, considering Sean’s other goalies — Antti Niemi and Cam Talbot — aren’t exactly world-beaters. Stay the course, my friend, and remember good things (sometimes) come to those who wait.
Sean also asked: Do you know if anyone used PCA component analysis on the individual teams’ schedules? For us poolers who have weekly head-to-head matchups it would be beneficial to know what teams have ‘similar’ or ‘like’ schedules so when we add/drop/trade players, we can avoid those players and pick players from teams that have opposite schedules. This way we can maximize the number of players playing each night instead of bunching them all up on certain nights. Any thoughts?
ANSWER: Great question, but sadly I do not have an answer for you, so I’m asking our Mailbag readers for their help here. Does anyone know of such a site? I tried to use a lifeline by reaching out to my fellow fantasy “experts” — including THW’s own Andrew Forbes, former THWer and Dobber regular Chris Wassel, and also Gus Katsaros of McKeen’s Hockey, among others — but still came up empty-handed. Nobody had this information handy or a link to share, not even a spreadsheet or a Google doc. So, to my knowledge, nobody tracks schedule strength or likeness, which is a shame. This would be a very valuable resource and a great start-up for somebody wiser (or more web-savvy) than I. You’d get flooded with traffic because the hardcore fantasy players have been longing for this for years. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve thought about it, and I do recall attempting a quick search for such information in the past. You’d think one of the big fantasy sites like Left Wing Lock or Daily Faceoff would offer this . . . and maybe they will now. Sorry I couldn’t be of more assistance on this front.
UPDATE: We might have found what we were looking for — or at least an invaluable resource with regards to scheduling — thanks to Stephen Laidlaw, managing editor of Dobberhockey.com and a fantasy contributor for Sportsnet. Stick tap to Stephen for reaching out on Twitter and sharing this — Same Night Tool:
— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) December 2, 2015
Don’t thank me, thank them — yet another reason the Dobber gang is the best in the business when it comes to fantasy hockey. And, no, I’m not related to Bob . . . or not to my knowledge anyway.
My Fantasy World
I needed a bounce-back effort here after taking a bad beat (7-3-0) the previous week. Fortunately, my team rebounded to win 7-2-1 and managed to make up that ground, but I’m still in the middle of the pack — tied for ninth in this 20-team league. I’m nine points out of the top-five prize money and 21 points behind our standings leader.
I don’t like my chances of catching up — not without Price until the New Year and Nail Yakupov for upwards of a month too — so I’ve started to retool my roster on the fly. I moved out a few expiring extensions that I couldn’t keep past this season in exchange for a couple cheaper and younger players. Cheaper and younger — that’s the direction I’m headed, with the exception of my big five in Price, Sidney Crosby, Erik Karlsson, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It’ll take a substantial overpayment to pry any of them away, but I’m all ears on the rest of my roster.
Here are the three trades I was able to pull off over the past week, followed by the rest of the deals that went down in this league:
INCOMING = Jacob Trouba, Zemgus Girgensons and a free-agent signing
OUTGOING = Craig Smith, Benoit Pouliot and Dan Hamhuis
ANALYSIS: The outgoing guys were all non-keepers, playing out the final year on their contracts before heading back to auction next fall. So, realizing that I’m not going to be able to compete with the bigger buyers in this league, I decided to sell them off while they still had substantial value. Trouba got off to a slow start this season, but he immediately rewarded me with a few points this week, including a goal that stole me a category and thus a couple points in the standings. I’ve always liked his upside, but Trouba is in the final year of his rookie contract in our league and will require an extension in the off-season, so I’ll be watching him closely to determine his value going forward. Girgensons was banged-up and out of Buffalo’s lineup the last little while, so it might take him a bit to get going again, but he’s a cheap keeper with another year remaining at that price, so I like his potential to improve and become something of an impact player in the fantasy game. The free-agent signing was just thrown in and I’m not even sure whether I’ll use it or flip it as an asset in a future deal, but I had already traded away my own signing and it never hurts to have one in your back pocket in case a waiver claim emerges as keeper worthy between now and our Jan. 27 deadline. I had another open spot because of this 3-for-2 trade, so I added the newest Bruin, Landon Ferraro, while also swapping out Jon Merrill for Tomas Jurco upon his recall from the AHL, where Jurco was named the minor-league’s player of the week during his conditioning stint.
INCOMING = Adam Clendening and Joel Armia
OUTGOING = Ales Hemsky
ANALYSIS: Clendening is onto his third NHL team in Pittsburgh and he’s still not producing the way I expected him to as an offensive-minded defenceman. He only has one assist on the season and has been in-and-out of the lineup, but he seems to be cementing his place on the Penguins’ roster lately, so I’m hoping the points will start coming soon too. Armia is up with the Jets right now and could stick if he makes the most of his eventual opportunity. I was big fan of Armia when Buffalo first drafted him and he was a pretty key piece in that package for Evander Kane, so I think Winnipeg will give him a look-see this week and I’m hoping for the best — hoping he can stick as a full-time NHLer. Hemsky got off to a high-scoring start, but he’s always been streaky and has since cooled off considerably. It doesn’t help that Lindy Ruff has buried him down the depth chart with less skilled linemates, which gave me the green light to get rid of him.
INCOMING = Jonathan Marchessault
OUTGOING = Matt Hunwick
ANALYSIS: Nothing to see here, just a swap of borderline waiver talents that could be cut loose in the coming weeks.
INCOMING = Tyler Seguin
OUTGOING = Nathan MacKinnon, Tyler Johnson, Kevin Roy and a first-round pick (currently 20th overall)
ANALYSIS: This was a very aggressive “buy” for our current standings leader. Seguin is still young, but he’s the most expensive player in this deal (based on our league’s auction-determined salaries). The pending sellers had to be loving this deal because it set the market for future exchanges involving star players and the asking prices have certainly gone up from years past. Assuming Crosby picks up his pace, I could demand a similar package in return, which by most accounts is an overpayment. I have no intentions of moving Crosby, but if this kind of offer came in, it’d be hard to resist. MacKinnon and Johnson both need extensions for next season, but even at the maximum term allowed per our rules, they’d both be significantly cheaper than Seguin still. Roy is a decent prospect and a first-round pick is a first-round pick even if it stays 20th overall. I liked the return for Seguin and would call it a win, but if Seguin helps his new team stay on top and earn $600 for first place at season’s end, then that’s obviously a worthwhile investment too.
INCOMING = Dougie Hamilton
OUTGOING = Joe Thornton
ANALYSIS: This was an intriguing swap, with one team in need of an upgrade on defence trying to buy low on the struggling Hamilton. Thornton’s stat-line is lower than in seasons past too, but he’s still guaranteed to get 60-plus points providing he stays healthy. Hamilton is on pace for a measly 17 points — a big step back from his 42 last season — but he’s a guy that should pick it up over the remaining two-thirds of the season. This league has separate categories for defence scoring — both defence goals and defence assists — so it could prove to be a win-win, and if Hamilton does start playing like he did in Boston, then it could end up looking like a steal.
INCOMING = Eric Staal, Logan Couture and Keith Yandle
OUTGOING = Mats Zuccarello, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Leddy, Xavier Ouellet, Sebastian Collberg, Zack Phillips and a free-agent signing
ANALYSIS: This was a surprising deal between teams currently tied for second place. One of these teams is clearly going for it, acquiring an expiring extension in the injured Couture, plus two proven veterans in Staal and Yandle. Those three, providing they stay healthy, should out-produce the three NHL players he gave up in Zuccarello, Huberdeau and Leddy. For the other team — our defending playoff champion and previous three-time regular-season winner — he’s also retooling to some degree, trying to acquire better keepers and replenish his prospect pipeline. More than anything, he’s looking to add “futures” assets that he can package up for another ringer closer to that Jan. 27 deadline. It’s a smart strategy even if these particular prospects aren’t anything special.
INCOMING = Radim Vrbata
OUTGOING = Tomas Hertl
ANALYSIS: The same GM that landed Staal, Couture and Yandle targeted Vrbata as another expiring veteran who could help put his team over the top in win-now mode. Hertl will need an extension after the season, but he’s worth keeping for at least another year or two at a moderate raise. The team that took Hertl is in seventh place — just two points out of a payout position — so he’s obviously hoping Hertl can outscore Vrbata in the short-term too.
INCOMING = Hampus Lindholm, Nikolaj Ehlers, Travis Konecny and Ilya Samsonov
OUTGOING = Brett Ritchie, Scott Darling, Travis Dermott, a first-round pick (will be top-four) and a second-round pick (currently 25th overall)
ANALYSIS: These was a deal between real-life buddies that was a bit of a headscratcher for me. Obviously, the team trading away Lindholm and Ehlers (plus two stud prospects) is hoping that first-rounder becomes Auston Matthews. The bottom-four teams (17th to 20th) miss the playoffs but compete in a mini-tournament to determine the order of the top-four picks in our annual rookie draft. The team that added Lindholm and Ehlers is currently a distant last — 23 points behind 19th place and 34 points out of the 16th-and-final playoff spot. So it’s almost certain that pick will be part of the lottery tournament, but it’s a long-shot to be first overall considering that team would need to win two head-to-head matchups. More likely, it’ll be fourth overall and if that’s the case, this trade will go down as a failed gamble by a playoff-bound team that had some spoiler potential with Lindholm and Ehlers in the fold but is now less of a threat without them. Time will tell, though.
INCOMING = Cody McLeod
OUTGOING = Simon Despres
ANALYSIS: A seller took on the injured Despres in exchange for McLeod, who has been chipping in offensively in addition to his penchant for penalty minutes, which is another category in this league. Despres is a cheap keeper for next season providing he recovers from this concussion to resume his career.
Another week, another blowout loss here. I’m slowly losing interest in this league, at least for this season. My team isn’t going to be good enough to win any money in the regular season or playoffs, and the real powerhouses in this 28-team dynasty league aren’t going to be any more beatable next season — or the year after, or for the foreseeable future.
Chances are, I’ll be a .500 team or slightly below if I stay the course this season, but I’m tempted to start making some trades just for the sake of increasing my own entertainment value. That’s not smart asset management — to be firing out proposals en masse for no other reason than to shake up your roster — but the entry fee is only $40 in this league, so it’s worth it to me to have a little fun. Now, I just need to find the time to make those offers between focusing on my other keeper, my day job, this side gig and, of course, the family life.
This is the league that is getting the least attention lately, but I did finally drop Anton Lander this past week — he was pointless on my roster, literally and figuratively. I’m running a man short so I can rotate in rookies such as Sven Andrighetto, in addition to Artemi Panarin, but I’ll probably put in a claim later in the week.
I’m currently facing off against Mailbag reader Steve Hornbeck in a battle of teams at .500 through eight weeks (4-4), so I was looking forward to that challenge. But Steve’s team got off to an incredible start last night — ironically, he’s named the Toronto Maple Leafs — so now I’m dreading a third straight beatdown. Sure, it’s only been one night, but Steve posted a league-high 45.3 fantasy points on Monday — the next-best was 27.3 — while I put up a mediocre 11.9 (ranking 14th out of 28), which was actually inflated by Derek Dorsett’s 10-minute misconduct. My only other meaningful contribution was Jesper Fast’s assist. Steve got two goals from Leo (freakin’) Komarov and three assists from James van Riemsdyk, plus additional helpers from Frans Nielsen and Marek Zidlicky. If I’m taking a glass half-full outlook, at least his main sniper Rick Nash was held off the scoresheet despite the Rangers netting four goals, and his netminding tandem was inactive with James Reimer sidelined short-term by injury and Jonathan Bernier being forced to watch the aforementioned Sparks show from the best seat in the house — at the end of Toronto’s bench, as the backup.
I’ll leave you with the latest deals from this league over the last week, though none really require further analysis:
INCOMING = Leo Komarov, Luke Schenn and Quinton Howden
OUTGOING = Mikael Backlund, Calle Jarnkrok and Eric Gelinas
INCOMING = Brenden Dillon
OUTGOING = Andrew Shaw and a third-round pick
INCOMING = Brandon Davidson
OUTGOING = Tristan Jarry
INCOMING = Cody McLeod
OUTGOING = Third-round pick
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter at The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, and has been an at-large contributor for The Hockey Writers since August 2014.