JH Schroeder is a contributor to Hockey Prospectus. A former intern of the Nashville Predators, he has also written for Hockey’s Future and spent time coaching college hockey in the Northeast. He currently resides in eastern Pennsylvania where he works as a Video Scout for Baseball Information Solutions.
STRETCH DRIVE STRATEGY
As the NHL season winds down, fantasy hockey championship races tighten up. Here are a couple of tips for those of you trying to squeeze the last bit of value from your squad. First, for those of you in rotisserie leagues, check the team standings page and identify what category you can make up those points in. For example, your team might rank sixth out of 12 teams in goals scored, but the team in second place is only six goals ahead of you. This is a category to target! If you make a concerted effort to add goal scorers to your roster, you can gain four points in your league standings. In other categories, you may have no chance of catching the team just one spot ahead of you in the standings. Be careful of rate states, like save percentage, goals-against-average, or average time on ice in ESPN standard leagues. At this time of the season, these stats are so heavily weighted by your team’s earlier performances you may not be able to change your statistics significantly, even if the standings appear tantalizingly close. Below, I will identify available pickups to target for help in specific categories.
For those of you playing in head to head leagues, most teams are now in the playoffs. In the playoffs, if your league does not have a start cap, or a generous weekly allowance, make sure you take full advantage. Additionally, it is worthwhile to check out your opponents standings in each category during the season. This can identify the handful of categories that could potentially swing your playoff matchup.
Mike Hoffman – LW – Ottawa Senators – 33.5% owned
Building of a stellar 2013-14 season in the AHL, Hoffman has emerged from relative obscurity to become Ottawa’s top goal scorer, playing on a wing for Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan. Hoffman has an impressive 26 goals in 69 games this year, and is tied for 17th in the NHL for goals scored over the past month, alongside stars like Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Toews. Furthermore, Hoffman is not the product of a lucky shooting percentage as his 44 shots are good for 24th amongst all NHLers over the past 30 days as well.
Brandon Pirri – C – Florida Panthers – 8.9% owned
Pirri features one of the NHL’s most bizarre stat lines, 18 goals and two assists in 40 games. Following his trade from Chicago, he has played primarily on Florida’s second line, currently centered by Vincent Trocheck. It could be argued Pirri’s goal numbers will regress and he will register more assists going forward, but his 14.8% shooting percentage is not wildly out of line. Consider that amongst the NHL’s ten leading goal scorers, shooting percentages ranged from 12.6% (Zach Parise) to 17.5% (Corey Perry). Pirri should be able to maintain, or at least maintain a reasonable facsimile of his goal production moving forward, while likely seeing an additional bump in assists, as his linemates have shot a woeful 3% with him on the ice. A final stat of note, on a goals per game basis Pirri ranks 10th in the NHL, sandwiched between fantasy studs John Tavares and Evgeny Malkin. Pirri should be a must add, or at least streamed for players trying to gain ground in goals.
Kris Russell – D – Calgary Flames – 45.0% owned
Russell has picked up eight assists, of his 27 on the season, over the past 30 days, tied for fifth amongst NHL defensemen. Russell’s emergence can be directly tied to the injury to Flame’s captain Mark Giordano, who had carried the team’s offense for much of the season. In the absence of Giordano, Russell has seen a large uptick in powerplay time, which in turn has contributed to excellent assist totals.
Simon Despres – D – Anaheim Ducks – 9.4% owned
Plus/minus can be a fickle stat, but generally, when looking for help here you should target players on good teams, seeing sheltered minutes, with a favorable schedule. Despres, perhaps the most surprising player moved at the trade deadline, checks all these boxes with his new team, the Anaheim Ducks. Despres has seen most of his time on an offensively minded second pairing with fellow trade deadline acquisition James Wisniewski. In the midst of a five-game, Eastern Conference road trip, the Ducks wrap up the season with consecutive home games against non-playoff teams Edmonton, Colorado, and Dallas before finishing the year on the road against Arizona.
Streaming players against bad teams can be a successful way to boost plus/minus over the closing weeks of the season. Fringe waiver-wire players in home matchups against Buffalo, Arizona, Edmonton, Carolina and even Toronto all make good options.
Steve Downie – LW, RW – Pittsburgh Penguins – 17.8% owned
Downie has been a bell-cow in this category all season but is still only owned in 17.8% of ESPN leagues. Downie has registered at least 25 penalty minutes in every month this season. If this is a closely bunched category in your league, it makes sense to invest in Downie, who singlehandedly can help your squad make up ground. Not to mention, the Penguins are slated for two more games with hated their hated in-state rival Flyers.
Marek Zidlicky – D – Detroit Red Wings – 55.6% owned
Detroit finally acquired a right-shot defenseman, but probably not the big name pundits expected. Zidlicky has a huge shot, and has provided immediate dividends to the Detroit powerplay. Zidlicky has eight points, six on the powerplay, in just 10 games with Detroit and should continue to be an asset in this category moving forward.
Ryan Spooner – C – Boston Bruins – 9.4% owned
There are plenty of minutes to go around on Boston’s powerplay with Dougie Hamilton done for the year. Youngsters Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak have provided an old Bruins team with a little boost of offense and skill as they battle to hang onto the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot. Spooner has averaged 2:53 of power-play time on ice during his 20 games with the Bruins, and with four powerplay points in his last nine games, he has produced when given the opportunity.
Roster flexibility should be an increased consideration to fantasy hockey owners down the stretch. The list of players you consider “can’t cut” on your team should shrink to your five or six best skaters. Most owners will be better off adding and dropping players to take advantage of matchups, rather than holding onto players that hold more value over the course of a season. But, as the remaining games dwindle, you should no longer worry about hanging onto your players that may have bad matchups or fewer games remaining than an attractive waiver wire pickup.