Playoffs are a different beast — in real life and in fantasy.
The slate is wiped clean and if you make it, you’ve got a fighting chance. Especially in fantasy, with most head-to-head leagues employing a week-long winner-takes-all format in each round rather than a best-of-seven series. It allows for a luck element, but Saturdays still feel like Game 7s because of the typically full NHL schedule.
Playing for keeps
My two keeper leagues have already witnessed their share of upsets — almost as many as the opening round of March Madness. My teams have been responsible for a couple shockers, seemingly peaking at the opportune time.
Well, until this week, which has been a struggle from the start and will require a big weekend push in order to propel my teams any further. It has been an impressive run to this point, and my main team will live on to battle for third place even if I fall short in this third-round semifinal, which is appearing inevitable. My other team has already pocketed $20 — half off next season’s entry fee — for getting out of the first round as an underdog, so as much as I’m hoping to mount an epic comeback, I’m quite satisfied with that team’s overall showing.
Hot and cold, hit and miss
As most fantasy players can relate, injuries and inconsistency have plagued both squads all season long. I lit it up last week with some of the top league-wide point totals, but for reasons unknown, those same players are snakebitten right now and have produced fewer points than the bottom-feeder teams still competing in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
In the Elite Eight of my secondary league, I’m on the verge of losing to the lowest playoff seed, who previously knocked off the reigning regular-season champion. He’s on quite the roll, powered by Winnipeg Jets forwards Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd, plus the likes of Jeff Carter, Corey Perry and Adam Henrique up front, Dennis Wideman and Tobias Enstrom on the blue-line and Antti Niemi between the pipes. That may not seem like a vaunted roster — having finished 16th out of 28 teams in the regular-season standings — but it’s getting the job done when it matters most.
My team is really missing Erik Johnson and Brandon Dubinsky this week, two of my bigger contributors in a multi-stat league that also counts hits and shots. Mikko Koivu, Steve Downie and Cody Franson have been among my other disappointments heading into the weekend. Franson has been a dud since getting traded to Nashville, but at least I’m benefitting from Marek Zidlicky’s move to Detroit, which has balanced out my defence stats for the most part.
Kari Lehtonen beating Pittsburgh and limiting the high-powered Penguins to one goal was bittersweet. He’s my No. 1 goalie in that league, but my main keeper — with much higher prize money, and entry fees ($100) — was rooting for a 7-5 Stars win with Tyler Seguin and Sidney Crosby factoring into every goal as two of my go-to guys. They each ended up with an assist, but that did little to close the gap on a nearly insurmountable deficit made worse by Johnny Gaudreau’s three-point night. It didn’t help that Erik Karlsson was somehow pointless in Ottawa’s 6-4 win over Boston. As baffling as that was, he can’t be blamed for my team’s shortcomings.
Injuries taking their toll
It’s nice just to have Seguin back in the fold from his injury absence, but I’m still missing Taylor Hall — hopefully he returns with a bang Saturday — and my Evander Kane acquisition went bust when he went under the knife for season-ending shoulder surgery. My 30-man roster is certainly banged-up, with seven injury crosses as of today: Hall, Patrik Elias, David Krejci, Zach Bogosian, Jeff Petry, Craig Anderson and Cam Ward. Put an asterisk beside Krejci because I literally just picked him up in hopes he’ll also return Saturday. My current opponent — our regular-season champ — had dropped him prior to playoffs assuming he’d miss the full four weeks, but he’s now ahead of schedule and I was ahead in the waiver claim pecking order. No hard feelings there, it’s simply survival of the fittest, and hopefully Elias, Bogosian, Petry and Ward will also get into games and make some sort of positive impact this weekend.
I’ll need all hands on deck again next week for what is shaping up to be a third-place ($60) showdown against either my buddy or more likely his dad. That father-son rivalry is being renewed in our other semifinal and both of them finished ahead of me in regular-season standings, so I’ll be in tough either way. For what it’s worth, first place pockets $250 and second place $150.
That league’s Final Four is proving to be special regardless of the outcomes. It features our Original Four general managers for the first time in the keeper’s five-year history. We’ve all made the semifinals over the years, but never all at the same time, so we are enjoying the sentimental side of it. This 20-team league is our baby and we’ve watched it grow into something we can truly be proud of. It is highly competitive and challenging, with a hardcore group of GMs that only seems to be getting better with time.
Unfortunately, with some teams already eliminated from contention, the fantasy season is quickly coming to an end. After next week’s playoff finales, we’ll immediate turn the page to next season and resume trading ahead of our annual rookie draft at the end of June.
Teams have until June 1 to renew their entry fees, but they cannot alter their rosters until that commitment has been made, so most will let their intentions be known in the coming weeks. As much as we would like to retain all 20 of our current GMs, turnover is a part of the game and opens the door to new competitors. If you’d like to join one of the best leagues going — or at least be added to the list of potential replacements — please leave a comment below with your email address and a brief fantasy bio of your past experience and accomplishments. Once we know how many, if any, replacements are needed, we will reach out to those we determine to be the best fits going forward.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.