Fantasy World: Shifting Into Playoff Mode

Playoffs are still a long way off — more than two months in the NHL and at least a full month in fantasy. But with trade deadlines now passing in the latter leagues, many general managers are beginning to take on a playoff mentality.

They have made their moves to put themselves in the best position possible to contend for post-season glory. As the Los Angeles Kings proved last year, playoffs really are a new season and anything is possible.

There is something to be said for regular-season success, and maintaining that consistency from start to finish in fantasy leagues, but everybody hits the reset button at the same time. Then it’s game on — again!

Each round spans seven days with an intensity that can rival a seven-game series. There is a luck factor and upsets do happen occasionally. Just like the NHL, finishing higher in the regular-season standings only assures you a higher seed. Every win from there on out must be earned from scratch and nothing is guaranteed.

The odds are typically with the favourites for the first round, but all bets are off come the second, third and fourth rounds. Teams that became late buyers ahead of the trade deadline but still placed in the middle of the pack are just as well equipped to compete as the frontrunners who picked up significantly more points over the course of the regular season. It makes for an intriguing and fun end to the fantasy year!

Positioned To Contend

Personally speaking, my focus has shifted to playoffs in both keeper leagues. I had been holding out hope for a regular-season payout in my main 20-team league, but that is looking more and more unlikely at this point. I’m currently sitting seventh — 15 points out of fifth place with four weeks to go — and only the top five earn prize money. I’m in must-win territory, needing to run the table to have any chance at cashing in. That will be easier said than done as I still have a couple tough matchups left on my schedule. I needed to make up some ground last week, facing off with the team directly ahead of me in the standings, but I struggled throughout and was fortunate to keep it close in a losing effort. That 6-4-0 defeat increased my deficit to 10 points behind sixth and made the payout gap almost insurmountable, especially considering the teams I’m chasing have at least one potential blowout remaining in their respective stretch runs. I haven’t calculated the percentages, but it seems like a lost cause.

When the puck drops on our 16-team playoffs, the top eight seeds will be true contenders and the next four won’t be pushovers either. For the first-round losers, there is also a three-round consolation tournament with a small payout at stake to maintain their interest. Likewise, the four teams that miss the playoffs will continue competing for the top four picks in our annual rookie draft, with that prize perhaps the most coveted in the rights to Connor McDavid.

Pivotal Matchup In Progress

In my other keeper, I stood pat at the trade deadline, opting to hang onto a handful of future assets and take my chances with a less-than-stacked roster. I’ve locked up a playoff spot and it’s just a matter of finishing second or third in my seven-team division within the 28-team league. That will likely be decided this week in a head-to-head matchup with the current second-place team — he has a 14-3 record to my 13-4. I won the first and only other regular-season meeting between us, but I’ll be missing Erik Johnson on the back end for this rematch. He’s without Kevin Bieksa but would appear to have an overall advantage on paper, which could set the stage for a playoff rubber match. Our post-season format follows the NHL’s interdivisional system, so the second and third seeds face off, while the first-place team (15-2) will get a wild-card qualifier from our conference (currently an 8-9 crossover from the other division).

As far as payouts go, only the division winners get paid in the regular season, plus the team(s) with the best overall record and most total fantasy points. I won’t be in the running on any of those fronts, but there is plenty of opportunity to pocket some playoff prize money. There are payouts for each round you win, increasing in value from one round to the next, plus a similar consolation tournament for the first-round losers. I would be disappointed to come away completely empty-handed, but the parity is pretty good top to bottom in that league, so it’ll definitely be a battle the rest of the way.

Go Oilers Go . . .

Roster-wise, I’m relying on the Edmonton Oilers’ trio of No. 1 overall picks in the first league. I desperately need better production from Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov over the second half of the NHL season in order to make a title run — yes, I own all three, for better or worse. I’m not as deep as some other teams, so I need my top-end talents to carry the load. That also includes Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Antti Niemi. If those eight bring their A-game, I should be a tough out for anybody. If two or three of them have a subpar week, I could be ousted sooner than later.

We roster 28 players plus two injured reserve, so my forward group is rounded out by Evander Kane, Patrik Elias, Josh Bailey, Eric Fehr, Scott Gomez, Jimmy Hayes, Riley Nash, Daniel Briere, Lauri Korpikoski, Matt Calvert, Ben Smith and Justin Fontaine. My defence also features Jay Bouwmeester, Marek Zidlicky, Zach Bogosian, Erik Gudbranson, John Moore, Nikita Nesterov and the injured Kimmo Timonen and Nikita Nikitin. My other goaltenders are Craig Anderson and Cam Ward. I have no draft picks or prospects left, and I’m losing Crosby, Seguin, Hall, Kane, Ekman-Larsson, Bogosian and Anderson to expiring contracts. As you can see, I’m all-in on this season, but it should be noted that our fall auction to replenish the rosters will be the best since our inaugural edition five years ago. I’ll likely be able to buy back three or four of those seven guys if I so desire, but there will be other enticing options available to the highest bidder too.

Building A Dynasty

The second league is a dynasty style, which means you keep your entire roster from one season to the next. We carry six forwards, four defencemen and one goaltender, plus seven bench players of any position and as many as five on the IR. Up front, I’ve got Mikko Koivu, Brandon Dubinsky, Craig Smith, Brad Richards, Mika Zibanejad, Steve Downie, Ales Hemsky, Derek Dorsett, Martin Havlat, Leo Komarov, Kyle Clifford and the injured Nathan Horton. My blue-line consists of the aforementioned Erik Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Cody Franson, Zidlicky (again), Calvin de Haan, Tom Gilbert and Nesterov (again), while Kari Lehtonen is between the pipes. Niklas Svedberg is my backup but still has prospect status, along with forwards Alexander Khokhlachev, Hudson Fasching and Patrick Holland. I also have two draft picks, second- and third-rounders. I just took over that team this past summer and, crazy as it might sound, I’ve already traded Patrick Kane, Ryan Getzlaf, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Ellis, Trevor Daley and Anton Stralman, among others.

Time Will Tell . . .

I’ve overhauled the roster, but I’m not convinced that I like it any more than the old version I inherited. It remains a work in progress, but I’ve been getting good results thus far — currently tied for the fourth-best record in the entire league with five weeks to go in the regular season.

I may or may not see a return on my investment(s) this year, but there is still a lot of hockey left to be played and it should be an entertaining next couple months regardless of the outcome(s).

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.