Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Injuries Taking Toll, But No Time to Panic

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.

fantasy hockey mailbag

Evgeny Kuznetsov timed that breakout week perfectly.

The up-and-coming Russian star went on a tear immediately after I predicted — in last week’s Mailbag — that he’d emerge as this season’s Vladimir Tarasenko.

Kuznetsov racked up three goals and nine points in three games for the Washington Capitals to be named the NHL’s first star of the week. That included a hat trick and five-point performance in a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.

Impressive, but this kid is still scratching the surface on his sky-is-the-limit potential. And it’s looking like he’ll stick with Alex Ovechkin, at least for now, so that’s great news for his fantasy owners. Give yourself a pat on the back if you picked Kuznetsov this season.

You’re not so lucky if you picked any of the following players — Duncan Keith (knee surgery, 4-6 weeks), Paul Stastny (broken right foot, 5+ weeks), Jaden Schwartz (fractured left ankle, 3+ months), Evander Kane (MCL knee, 4-6 weeks), Aleksander Barkov (broken hand, 2-4 weeks), or either of the Bennetts, Beau or Sam. Beau, a former first-round pick from 2010, might be the league’s most injury-prone player and he somehow managed to hurt himself celebrating his first and only goal of this season. Sam, the fourth overall pick in 2014 who was supposed to challenge Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, has just one assist after eight games for the Calgary Flames. He should pick up the pace, so now might not be a bad time to buy low on Sam Bennett. Barkov was off to an excellent start centering Florida’s top line with Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, so that was a bad break — literally and figuratively — for his fantasy owners.

Strangely, Schwartz hadn’t scored in seven games this season prior to getting sidelined, but look for Robby Fabbri, who has recovered from an early-season concussion, and AHL call-up Ty Rattie to battle for Schwartz’s spot among the top-six forwards. Veteran centre Scott Gomez will probably be a permanent fixture in St. Louis’s lineup until Stastny returns, and the Blues are no doubt thankful they signed him and fellow free-agent Scottie Upshall. These will be trying times for the Blues, who were already without Patrik Berglund (shoulder surgery, 2+ months), but forward depth has always been a strongpoint for St. Louis.

Defensive depth isn’t a strength for the Blackhawks, so they will sorely miss Keith and will need to rely even heavier on Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley after losing their biggest minute-muncher.

From a fantasy standpoint, Chicago players tend to underachieve in the regular season, almost as if they are saving “it” for the playoffs. Patrick Kane is the exception — he lights it up from start to finish — but Jonathan Toews, who has scored back-to-back overtime winning goals, has just five points on the season. Those are his only two goals. Keith, Seabrook and Marian Hossa, with a measly one goal and four points, also seem to bring “it” more in the post-season, which does nothing to help your current fantasy team.

Moving on to this week’s Mailbag . . .

Zachery Schmidt asked via email: I’m in another league where they are holding a prospect draft. I have the first pick. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are out as well as anyone in the NHL right now. So my question is… Who would you take at No. 1?

Mitch Marner, OHL, Hockey, London Knights
(Photo: OHL Images)
Mitch Marner was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, but from a fantasy perspective — in terms of pure point potential — I’d probably take him over Dylan Strome, who went third overall.

ANSWER: Auston Matthews wasn’t an option here because the prospects all have to be drafted or have their rights owned by an NHL team. So you need to look at those recently drafted players and see how they are developing. Forwards always make for sexier picks and tend to have more fantasy value — they also tend to contribute sooner than defencemen or goaltenders — so I’d strongly consider a couple of top-five picks from this year’s draft in Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes, third overall) and Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs, fourth). They are both back in the OHL where Marner has five goals and 15 points in 10 games for the high-scoring London Knights, while Strome has been limited to one goal and 11 points in seven games for the No. 1-ranked Erie Otters. The OHL’s leading scorer, with four goals and 22 points in 13 games, is Travis Konecny, who fell to 24th overall in this year’s draft. The Philadelphia Flyers traded up to get him at that spot and he’s looking like a steal. Mathew Barzal, who also fell on draft day, to the New York Islanders at 16th overall, had a strong showing in training camp but has only three goals and 10 points in seven games for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds so far. Barzal’s offensive ceiling is very high, arguably second only to Marner’s from that draft class (besides McDavid and Eichel, who went 1-2). The Islanders’ other first-rounder, 28th overall Anthony Beauvillier, is actually off to a better start with eight goals and 18 points in nine games for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes. Brayden Point is leading the WHL in scoring, ripping it up with 10 goals and 24 points in 10 games after nearly sticking with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Point was a third-round pick (79th overall) in 2014 because of size concerns, but he’d certainly go much higher in a redraft — likely top 30, in the first round. Another Leafs prospect worth mentioning is William Nylander, the eighth overall pick from 2014 who has three goals and six points in six games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. I’ve heard some say they’d take Nylander over Marner, although they’d be in the minority. I like Marner — and the comparisons to Patty Kane — so I’d probably take him with this pick. I think Marner has more offensive upside than Strome. If, for some reason, your preference is to pick a defenceman, then I’d recommend Ivan Provorov, the seventh overall selection by Philadelphia in this year’s draft who has two goals and 14 points in 12 games for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. He’s drawn favourable comparisons to elder Russians like Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov, and I can totally see that potential in him. Fellow Flyers defence prospect Travis Sanheim, a 2014 first-rounder (17th overall), is leading all WHL blue-liners in scoring with five goals and 17 points in 14 games. Yet, another unheralded Flyers prospect might have more offensive upside than both Provorov and Sanheim — that being Shayne Gostisbehere, a 2012 third-rounder (78th overall) who is off to a slower than expected start with only two assists through six games for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Goaltenders are a total crapshoot, so I’d steer clear of them, especially with the first overall pick — or any first-rounder for that matter. Ilya Samsonov, for example, could just as easily be the next Ilya Bryzgalov as the next Semyon Varlamov. Resist that temptation and take Marner, that’d be my advice.

THW colleague Andrew Forbes asked on Twitter: Keeper league. Salary cap league. Is Week 3 too early to start making changes?

ANSWER: It’s never too early to start panicking tweaking your roster. NHL teams take a patient approach, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to fantasy GMs. Your livelihood isn’t on the line and your peers will be much more willing trade partners, so you can blow it up or make subtle changes at any time. Wheeling and dealing is half the fun in fantasy, and I’ve seen superstar players traded on or before the first day of the NHL season, let alone the third week. Working within the constraints of a salary cap limits those lopsided blockbusters, but if you’re feeling the need for a “shake-up”, there is no harm in exploring “hockey” deals where the salaries are close to a wash. Personally, I like to stand pat and test the waters for about five or six weeks — the first quarter of the fantasy season — unless an offer is too good to pass up, or my hand is forced to counteract moves made by rivals. The latter scenario plays out more often than not — with others tending to be trigger-happy — so you need to react accordingly. I’ve never been a fan of the early “sellers”, even if they get the best returns. To me, trading proven talent for draft picks and prospects within the first few weeks is throwing in the towel way too soon. It drastically shifts the balance of power to those buyers and spoils the league’s parity — no longer can any team beat any team in any given week, and the once level playing field becomes tilted in a hurry. For that reason, my keeper league has implemented some “anti-selling” rules such as ‘no trading first-round picks prior to Week 6,’ which has been effective to some extent. Getting back to the original question, it’s not too early to start making changes, but make smart ones and stay the course in trying to be competitive for a few more weeks. Sometimes bad luck or a tough schedule can get you down, but if you don’t give up and don’t lose your head, you can catch up over the long haul. Remember, the fantasy season is a marathon, not a sprint, so there is no need to make any rash (or rushed) decisions. If you need a second opinion on a potential trade, I’m always here to help. My two cents are free.

Luc Grenier asked via email: In my 16-team dynasty league, I’m offered Andrew Ladd and Brent Seabrook for Jordan Eberle. I would also have to drop Nathan Gerbe. Your thoughts?

ANSWER: At first glance, it seems like a no-brainer to me. This is a deal you want to make to improve your overall depth. Ladd might be a slight downgrade from Eberle — even that’s debatable — but Seabrook is a quality defenceman and his value far outweighs that of Gerbe. Luc’s entire roster is stacked — he’s the two-time defending league champion — and his defence already boasts fantasy studs such as Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan Suter. With a top-four like that, he doesn’t really “need” to add Seabrook, but Luc also has a couple older defencemen nearing retirement in Zdeno Chara and Andrei Markov. Seabrook should still have a few good seasons left in him, which makes this deal more enticing. I do prefer Eberle to Ladd, but not enough to pass up on Seabrook. I think I make this deal. Luc was hesitant because Eberle is five years younger than both Ladd and Seabrook, but it’s not like they are both 35 years old. They are only 30 and still in their prime, albeit the back end, but they should have a few good seasons left in them. But staying young is important in a dynasty (forever keeper) league, so I can also understand Luc’s reluctance and his rationale for wanting to hang onto Eberle. Either way, he’s in great shape to go for the three-peat.

My Fantasy World

Keeper 1

It was a ho-hum week in this league for me, settling for a 5-5-0 tie and now sitting in a three-way tie for fourth place in the 20-team standings — seven points behind the co-leaders.

I have a tough week ahead against our defending regular-season champion, so now would be a great time for Sidney Crosby to get it going. Hopefully he’s been saving “it” for this matchup, and hopefully Carey Price keeps on kicking and my handful of Oilers keep on ticking. I might not have McDavid, but I own both of his linemates in Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot, so I’m benefitting from the McDavid factor in a big way. That trio has really been clicking for Edmonton, so grab any of them if you can.

A few trades to share from the past week:

INCOMING = Patrick Kane

OUTGOING = Rick Nash, Aleksander Barkov and a 3rd Round Pick

INCOMING = Henrik Lundqvist and Nicolas Roy

OUTGOING = Cam Ward, Dougie Hamilton and Sean Couturier

INCOMING = Cam Atkinson

OUTGOING = Eddie Lack

Keeper 2

I had a down week here, getting blown out by a divisional rival 157.8-99.0. My team had produced 152.0 and 174.4 fantasy points through the first two periods but failed to get up for this key matchup and dropped my overall record to 1-2. That left me in a three-way tie for fourth place in my seven-team division of this 28-team league.

The team that beat me improved to 1-2, and my current opponent is the other team in that deadlock, so I’ll need a big bounce-back effort from my boys. I’m outscoring this week’s foe 401.6-338.8 year-to-date, which makes me the favourite on paper. Here’s hoping my guys go out and perform on the ice.

I’ll leave you with a couple more trades from this league:

INCOMING = Evander Kane

OUTGOING = 1st Round Pick (likely in the teens), 2nd Round Pick, Calvin Pickard, Joey Hishon, Brycen Martin, Nikita Gusev, Marek Tvrdon and Jaedon Descheneau

ANALYSIS: Yes, it’s a huge package for Evander Kane — just prior to getting hurt, no less — but this is the definition of quantity for quality. Kane is by far the best asset in the deal and most those prospects won’t amount to much.

INCOMING = Tyler Bozak

OUTGOING = Dustin Brown

Do you have a question for the Fantasy Hockey Mailbag? Ask it in the comments below.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter at The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, and an at-large contributor for The Hockey Writers. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.