Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Landing Crosby, Zibanejad & Wingmen to the Stars

fantasy hockey mailbagWith fantasy trade deadlines right around the corner, business has been picking up again for the Mailbag.

Joshua Wong reached out, via email, for advice on this potential blockbuster:

INCOMING = Sidney Crosby, Jake Allen and a defenceman (Dougie Hamilton, Ryan McDonagh, Mark Giordano, Keith Yandle or Duncan Keith)

OUTGOING = Erik Karlsson, Fredrik Andersen and Logan Couture

Joshua is currently in first place in his single-season league, with the following roster:

FORWARDS — Couture, Joe Pavelski, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikitia Kucherov, Mike Hoffman, Ryan O’Reilly and Nick Foligno

DEFENCEMEN — Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson, Justin Faulk, Jake Gardiner and Zach Werenski

GOALTENDERS — Fredrik Andersen, Cam Ward and Braden Holtby

IR — Tyler Toffoli

Joshua’s league has six scoring categories for skaters in goals, assists, penalty minutes, shots on goal, power-play points and plus/minus, along with four categories for goaltenders in saves, goals against, wins and shutouts.

Joshua has been considering this shakeup because the second-place team has been gaining ground ever since making a series of trades back in November.

ANSWER: This would be quite the trade and I actually had to sleep on it before deciding what I would do in Joshua’s shoes. My initial reaction was that — being in first place — if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? I realize that gap in the standings is shrinking, but Joshua is still in good shape with that roster. I like the positional balance and the makeup in general.

Norris Finalists, Ottawa Senators, Erik Karlsson, Fantasy Hockey
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Erik Karlsson is a fantasy gamebreaker, especially in leagues with separate defence scoring categories. He’s on pace for 71 points this season, but only 13 goals.

In saying that, any chance to acquire Crosby is very tempting and tough to turn down. Crosby is Crosby, he’ll be a stud the rest of the way and one of the league’s top producers. Crosby is a big upgrade on Couture, but going from Karlsson to Hamilton or Keith is a big downgrade too.

However, defence scoring doesn’t have its own categories in Joshua’s league, so Crosby is going to make a bigger impact than Karlsson as well. So Crosby is the best player in this deal and typically the team that lands the best player wind up winning the trade.

The only problem is the goaltending swap. I wouldn’t touch Allen with a 10-foot pole right now. He’s struggling mightily at the moment, much worse than even Andersen was at the start of the season. So that trade-off probably levels this deal again. Joshua would still have a star in net in Holtby, who has returned to his Vezina form for the most part, but Ward could go either way in the second half and Allen could lose his job altogether in St. Louis.

Jake Allen
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Jake Allen has been awful lately, getting pulled in four of his last six starts for the St. Louis Blues. His days as an NHL starter could be numbered.

Joshua did mention there might be an option to include a second defence swap, making it Karlsson and Gardiner for Hamilton and Keith. That probably gives the edge back to Joshua, with the full deal being Crosby, Hamilton, Keith and Allen for Couture, Karlsson, Gardiner and Andersen.

Yeah, I think I’d make that deal. I’d likely make the original deal too. It’s a steep price to pay for Crosby, but he’s always worth it. If there was some way to get the deal done without including the Allen-Andersen swap, that would be even better for Joshua. That might be asking a bit much though. It’s a pretty fair trade as is. I’d do it, for the sake of getting Crosby, then do everything in my power to get rid of Allen.

Justin Lalonde asked two questions via email: would you add Mika Zibanejad on free agency? Or how long would you wait before adding him, to ensure he is his same old self in recovering from that injury, while also understanding other people are looking at him as well?

BACKGROUND: Justin was thinking about dropping Josh Bailey for Zibanejad now, based on the logic that better teams’ players tend to get better stats.

(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
Mika Zibanejad has had a fair bit to celebrate in his first season with the New York Rangers. He’s becoming a legitimate fantasy player too.

ANSWER: That makes some sense and I’m a big fan of Zibanejad, more so than Bailey. The Rangers have been deploying an all-injured line of Zibanejad, Rick Nash and rookie Pavel Buchnevich and it’s been looking dangerous almost every shift. I really like the dynamics of that trio and their potential to do damage together. They have already done a little, but there could be a lot more to come.

It’s not necessarily a slam-dunk, however. Bailey is flanking John Tavares, who is really heating up for the Islanders. That line, with Anders Lee rounding it out, could really light it up in the second half too, with Bailey riding Tavares’ coattails to a nice point total. Doug Weight won his head-coaching debut on Thursday night and he was an incredibly intelligent, offensive-minded player (similar to Adam Oates), who could really spark the Islanders’ scoring ability and perhaps get the most out of somebody like Bailey. Or at least get more out of Bailey than Jack Capuano was capable of.

All things considered, I wouldn’t hesitate to swap Bailey for Zibanejad. Based on the stats so far, Zibanejad is averaging 0.81 points-per-game (17 in 21) to Bailey’s 0.67 (29 in 43). Perhaps more telling, Zibanejad already has more goals than Bailey (7 to 6) despite playing 22 fewer games and adjusting to a new team this season. So, yeah, go get Zibanejad if he’s still available.

Justin also asked: How much value do players like Conor Sheary, T.J. Oshie and Patrick Maroon have? In terms of free agency, is it worth dropping a better player on a worse team — Nazem Kadri or Bailey, for example — and adding Sheary? Or do you stay away from them because as soon as they are “cold,” they will be removed from the top lines?

ANSWER: Good question, Justin. We’re talking about the wingmen here — those fortunate players who get to ride shotgun for some of the league’s biggest stars. Sheary has been skating alongside Crosby, Maroon is flanking Connor McDavid, and Oshie is back with Alex Ovechkin and the red-hot Nicklas Backstrom.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
T.J. Oshie, left, is starting to heat up with Washington’s top line. If Oshie is one of the top available free-agents in your league, he’s worth adding for the second half of the season.

I’d say all three have significant value because they are going to be bagging points by default, considering who they are playing with. I would certainly add Oshie over Bailey — if somebody snagged Zibanejad from under your nose — since Oshie has a solid track record and isn’t a one-hit wonder. I watch a lot of Oilers games and Maroon is the real deal too. He’s developed good chemistry with McDavid and the ‘Big Rig’ is finishing off his fair share of chances — already up to 18 goals on the season. I’d be a bit more reluctant about Sheary; he’s got a nice stat-line going (29 points, including 13 goals, in 37 games), but I don’t think I would drop Kadri for him. Kadri has produced more goals (18) and the same number of points (29), albeit over six more games (43).

Patrick Maroon
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Patrick Maroon is one of the league’s hottest and most unheralded goal-scorers right now. As long as he keeps playing with Connor McDavid, Maroon will be a fantasy asset.

If injuries were to strike, these wingmen for the stars make terrific temporary pick-ups, filler if you will, but the likes of Oshie, Maroon and Sheary are proving they can hold their own as fantasy performers too. They should all be on your radar, but I wouldn’t encourage dropping better players from worse teams unless those worse teams are really struggling to score. Otherwise, you still want to build your fantasy team around the best players possible, regardless of the team they play for.

With that said, I realize a lot of fantasy leagues still utilize the archaic plus/minus stat as a scoring category and that obviously hurts the value of better players on worse teams. If that’s the case for Justin, then these lesser-known, top-line wingers on contending teams might actually be more valuable. That’s kind of a shame, though, and hopefully everybody reading this will be campaigning to their league commissioners to get rid of plus/minus for future seasons. For lack of a better word, it’s a dumb stat and no longer has a place in hockey, let alone fantasy hockey. Moving along . . .

Updating the Trade That Never Happened

ICYMI, I’ve been keeping tabs on this non-trade from Nov. 18, a deal that Mailbag regular Stefan Morrone wanted to make despite going against my “do not sell low” rule of thumb. After lengthy negotiations, the other GM, who had originally proposed the offer to Stefan, backed out on the trade. Here is the deal that could have been:

OUTGOING = John Tavares and Evgeny Kuznetsov

INCOMING = Claude Giroux and Ryan Getzlaf

ANALYSIS: At the time, on Nov. 18, Giroux (17) and Getzlaf (15) had a combined 32 points, which was 13 more than Tavares (12) and Kuznetsov (7), with 19. However, Tavares (5) and Kuznetsov (2) actually had more goals, with seven, than Giroux (4) and Getzlaf (1), with five.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Evgeny Kuznetsov got off to a sluggish start, but he’s been coming on strong lately with 25 points in 28 games since Nov. 18 and 13 points in nine games since the calendar flipped to 2017.

As of today, Giroux is up to 38 points (10 goals) and Getzlaf has 34 (6) for a combined 72 points, while Tavares is at 34 points (18 goals) and Kuznetsov has 32 (6) for a combined 66.

That point differential has dropped from 13 to just six, which means had Stefan made that trade, he would have accumulated seven fewer points from Nov. 18 until now. So far, it’s proving to be a good omen that his offer got turned down. And it’s making my advice look good too.

Well, maybe not, since I did endorse Stefan’s eventual trading of Tavares for Leon Draisaitl straight up. That deal went down a week ago, on Jan. 13, prior to Tavares busting out for a hat trick that night. Tavares has gone on a tear, scoring seven goals in the Islanders’ four games since that trade was finalized, while Draisaitl has just one goal and two points in Edmonton’s three ensuing games. So Stefan is short five points as a result so far, but I do expect Draisaitl to be a consistent performer the rest of the way on the Oilers’ top line with McDavid and Maroon. Stay tuned!

My Fantasy World

Keeper One

Nothing too new here, more of the same for the most part. My team is going nowhere fast and seems destined to finish fifth-last, 16th out of 20 teams in the regular-season standings. There are still seven weeks to go, counting the current one, but I’m 16 points ahead of the 17th-place team and 10 behind 15th place.

The standings can swing as much as 20 points per week per team — if a team sweeps its head-to-head matchup 10-0-0 — so I could still move up or down a couple places, but I feel as though I’m pretty settled into that spot based on my remaining schedule.

Meanwhile, there have been a handful of trades since the last Mailbag on Jan. 5. Our trade deadline is set for Jan. 29:

(Photo: Andy Martin Jr)
(Andy Martin Jr.)
Jeff Skinner was an excellent buy-low addition ahead of the deadline, putting up an impressive stat-line (35 points, including 17 goals, in 43 games) on a small-market team in Carolina. Skinner is on pace for a career-high 67 points.

INCOMING = Jeff Skinner and Anders Lee

OUTGOING = Milan Lucic and Michael Matheson

INCOMING = Mike Fisher

OUTGOING = Anton Stralman, Francis Perron and Brendan Lemieux

INCOMING = Mark Scheifele and Trevor Daley

OUTGOING = Michael Cammalleri, Jakob Chychrun, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Haydn Fleury, Joe Hicketts, a second-round draft pick (21-40 overall) and a free-agent signing

INCOMING = Michael Mersch

OUTGOING = Free-agent signing

INCOMING = Mathieu Perreault

OUTGOING = Austin Watson and Stuart Percy

Keeper Two

Even less to report for my team here. My record will be falling to 5-9 after this week, but I have four winnable weeks following that to close out the regular season, so a .500 campaign of 9-9 could still be in the cards.

That won’t get me into the playoffs, but I will almost certainly end up in the draft lottery tournament with a decent chance of winning the first overall pick in 2017. That will be the goal going forward.

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Cam Talbot has been a top-10, arguably top-five fantasy goaltender this season. A perennial contender managed to land Talbot in a lopsided deal to increase his title chances again.

Only two new trades from this league, including one head-scratcher. I’m expecting some more movement here before the deadline, which is also slated for Jan. 29:

INCOMING = Jacob Markstrom

OUTGOING = Jonathan Bernier and a second-round pick (47-56)

INCOMING = Cam Talbot, Alex Steen, a first-round pick (19-28) and a third-round pick (75-84)

OUTGOING = Patrice Bergeron and Laurent Brossoit

Regular Draft

This is the most exciting league in my fantasy world for the time being. We just did our redraft on Jan. 10 — 12 teams picking 14 players each, including a minimum of one rookie — and this is my new roster for the second half:

(Rob Grabowski, USA TODAY Sports)
I selected Patrick Kane third overall behind Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby in this second-half, points-only rotisserie league.

Patrick Kane

Nicklas Backstrom

Jack Eichel

Nathan MacKinnon

Wayne Simmonds

Zach Parise

Jason Spezza

Drew Doughty

Kevin Shattenkirk

John Klingberg

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Aleksander Barkov will be sorely missed by the Florida Panthers and by my newest fantasy team if he doesn’t return anytime soon or at all this season.

Aleksander Barkov

Roman Josi

Frans Nielsen

Timo Meier

I had the third overall pick in this snake draft after finishing 10th out of the 12 teams in the first half, mainly due to injuries to Tomas Hertl and Buchnevich and also the AHL demotion of Oliver Bjorkstand. Injuries are already hurting me again, losing Josi after just one game and picking Barkov under the impression he’d be back within a couple weeks. Now it’s sounding like Barkov might not return at all this season, so that would be a total waste of a pick.

Backstrom is carrying my team so far, but I’m not doing any better overall — currently 11th out of 12 teams, just three points out of last place and 22 points behind the early leader.

Mikkel Boedker, Nathan MacKinnon, NHL, Fantasy Hockey
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
I’m giving Nathan MacKinnon a chance to redeem himself in the second half of the season after being one of my bigger disappointments from the first half. Yes, I picked MacKinnon again.

MacKinnon and Shattenkirk were my only repeat picks from the first half. I got MacKinnon a round later — in the third, rather than the second — and took Shattenkirk three rounds sooner, in the ninth, after stealing him as the top-producing pick of the 12th round in the first half.

I really liked my first-half roster and felt it underachieved. I still think if it was a full-season league, that roster might have earned a top-three payout overall and I do plan on tracking the year-end totals to find out that fate.

I like this second-half roster just as much, and I’m optimistic that my new boys can produce better results, but time will tell.

Box Pool

I’m hanging around the top five in this rotisserie box pool, currently sitting fifth with 689 points from 21 players. I’m 12 points out of first but nine points up on the teams tied for sixth.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Devan Dubnyk is likely the frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy right now and I’m kicking myself for not adding him to my box-pool roster back in December.

I’m in good shape, but I foolishly passed up the opportunity to trade Allen for Devan Dubnyk back in December. We were allowed to swap out two skaters and one goaltender in exchange for a replacement from their original box grouping. I dropped Evgeny Kuznetsov and Derick Brassard for Nikita Kucherov and Wayne Simmonds, respectively. Decent decisions there, although I could have added Artemi Panarin over Kucherov as well, which might prove regrettable.

The big mistake, as mentioned, was staying the course with my goaltenders. At that time, Carey Price would have been an upgrade on Holtby, but I kept the faith and Holtby has been stellar ever since. Allen not so much, not even a little bit. Dropping him for Dubnyk would have been the wise move but, alas, I still have to cheer for Allen too. Live and learn!