Ramblings: Drop or Hold – Early Season Philosophy
Laidlaw checking in for a guest, spot. Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers. For those who are wondering, I’ll be back full time in November. In the meantime, a big thanks to Cliffy, Neil and Ian for taking the reins all summer and fall.
We have to do this every year, but just remember that it is a bad idea to jump to conclusions early in the season.
My philosophy with the early season is to avoid making moves with the top end of my roster. I’m not going to dump Nikolaj Ehlers or Jeff Skinner for a hot starter like Ryan Hartman or Brayden Point. I’m not averse to jumping on those hot starters. There is a ton of value in getting on those guys early. You just need to have a line in the sand where you won’t touch certain parts of your roster to make a move.
My line in the sand is somewhere around the top 150 or so players. Roughly the first 10-12 rounds of my draft, depending on league size. After that, my draft strategy was to take big swings and hopefully land some studs. It’s from that late group of players that I don’t mind making drops if they aren’t making an immediate impact. I’ll offer up a few players who I’d generalize as droppable with some context as to why but obviously this doesn’t apply across the board. YOU NEED TO MAKE YOUR OWN LEAGUE-SPECIFIC CHOICE.
Ryan Strome – If you were hoping for some chemistry with Connor McDavid it’s not worth waiting for. These two aren’t skating together and I sincerely doubt Strome’s ability to produce even if given the opportunity.
Mattias Ekholm – The playoffs provided the spotlight but also the smoke and mirrors. Ekholm has never had much fantasy value.
Tomas Hertl – Not skating with Thornton and Pavelski at evens or on the power play.
Sam Reinhart – There’s some good here; he is still the net-front man on a delicious top PP unit but he is stuck centering the third line with Seth Griffith and Zemgus Girgensons. That’s not much help.
Daniel Sedin/Henrik Sedin – They looked dangerous against the Oilers but I think they top out in the 50-point range. I have more time for Daniel because of a higher shot volume and positional eligibility but he’s not coming between me and a tasty waiver wire option.
David Backes – Hurt and in decline.
Vadim Shipachyov/Shea Theodore – These two are stuck in the minors and I’ve got no time to waste. Shipachyov probably maxes out at 55 points and won’t get there if he misses a half-dozen games.
Meanwhile, Theodore is intriguing as a top defensive option but he’s nothing more than a curiosity at this point. Despite dominating at the AHL level, we still don't know how good he'll be in the NHL, especially on an expansion team. Odds are he’s going to bounce up and down off the waiver wire all season. My philosophy with defensemen is that they need to score 45+ points and/or put up 180+ SOG to merit a continued roster spot, otherwise they are interchangeable with the 20 other replacement level defensemen constantly sitting on the waiver wire. We don't know that Theodore isn't replacement level and should assume that he is since it is rare for rookie defensemen to have a huge impact. There's no sense in waiting for replacement level.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – I’ll never understand the affection here. He is the definition of replacement level described above.
Morgan Rielly – Sadly, Rielly also fits this replacement billing.
Jakob Silfverberg – He is the ultimate tease. I cannot imagine that now is the time that he breaks out with how banged up the Ducks roster is.
Andre Burakovsky – I still have optimism that Burakovsky will have moments but he is not a high-volume shooter, which will inhibit some of his potential alongside Nicklas Backstrom. He also doesn’t get exposure to the top power play unit. He isn’t in any different a boat from the likes of Hartman or Point (neither of whom sees top PP minutes on their respective clubs) but keeping Burakovsky isn’t getting you any higher upside than jumping to either those two.
This list includes players I took a swing at in at least one league who I am wavering on after just a few days. Here’s where I don’t want to jump to conclusions. They all have an extensive track record of productivity (except for Marchessault who at least is producing killer shot volume with seven SOG in two games.) I’m giving this group the benefit of the doubt for awhile longer.
I mentioned a couple of Sharks on this list and I have to admit that I am getting bad vibes about this team and it’s not just an overreaction to their early play, I wasn’t high on them coming into the season. Martin Jones was a third-tier goalie in my rankings and with that placement I knew I wouldn’t have him on any of my rosters. This roster feels a lot like last season’s LA Kings if they don’t have some youngsters step up for them.
Timo Meier is the guy I’m pointing fingers at. He was a top-10 draft pick and put up some decent numbers in the AHL last season. Meier has also put up some exceptional shot rates on a per-minute basis at both the NHL and AHL. A step forward for Meier could be enough to help keep the Sharks afloat. I really want him to step into Patrick Marleau’s minutes, especially on the PP but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Instead, Mikkel Boedker is gobbling up the top unit PP time, which shouldn’t excite anyone.
The Sharks’ power play quietly fell to the bottom half of the league last season, which you wouldn’t have noticed based on Brent Burns’ crazy production but the rest of the lineup regressed. The Sharks’ power play shouldn’t be that bad with talent like Thornton, Burns and Joe Pavelski but it may continue.
One game in the league yesterday with the Rangers and Canadiens slowing things down after they each got drubbed on Saturday night. Expect more of this going forward. Consider the following quote from Leafs head coach after his team beat up the Rangers 8-5:
Mike Babcock on his free-wheeling #leafs: "It's kind of fun, eh? But it's dumb."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 8, 2017
I totally get this perspective. Coaches are incentivized to win for self-preservation but the NHL is ultimately an entertainment business. I wish that incentives for coaches better reflected this.
Henrik Lundqvist bounced back with a shutout. He is still capable but is another goalie I wasn’t going to get because of my valuation relative to his average draft position. I expect a roughly average season, which wouldn’t be up to Lundqvist’s standard but would be great for a 35-year-old.
Pavel Buchnevich is one breakout candidate on my radar. He is a dynamic offensive talent who scored at over 2.00 points per 60 minutes at even strength in limited usage last season. That’s a good indicator of a player who could succeed in an expanded role. Buchnevich is now being used in a bigger role skating 17 minutes a night alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider with over 4:00 minutes per game on the top power play unit. Buchnevich has two assists in three games – not a bad start.
The early returns on the Ranger power play are positive. They have clicked on third of their 12 opportunities thus far. Their PP has been terrible for years but perhaps it will improve with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk. I am skeptical, neither Keith Yandle nor Dan Boyle improved things for this team but maybe this is the year. Stay tuned. The success of this PP will go a long way to keeping Shattenkirk as an elite fantasy defenseman. It will also help guys like Buchnevich and Zibanejad to reach new heights if it finally clicks.
Carey Price also settled in with a solid performance in a loss. He was the first goalie off the board in many leagues. While I wasn’t willing to use a draft pick high enough to get Price, I expect him to be excellent.
Alex Galchenyuk is without a point through three games. I don’t love where he is being used but he’s still getting time on the top PP unit so I am not too concerned. He has scored 100 points in 143 games over the past two seasons while getting jerked around the lineup. That’s a 57-point pace over an 82-game season. I expect something similar though my actual projection is 53 points with some missed games mixed into the recipe.
Coach Q says Nick Schmaltz (upper body) will not join the team on the two-game road trip to Canada. #Blackhawks— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) October 8, 2017
I wonder if this is going to be an on-going problem. Schmaltz has gotten hurt in each of the Blackhawks’ first two games. His potential is immense alongside Patrick Kane but would be stifled if he’s constantly getting banged up. It never gets brought up how important it was that Artemi Panarin never got hurt, playing 162 of 164 possible games as Kane’s partner-in-crime.
Another factor working against Schmaltz is a lack of top unit PP time but I suspect he’ll start to carve out some if healthy. The Blackhawks are using a washed-up Patrick Sharp on their top unit, so there’s room for Schmaltz to jump in. I’ll be hanging on to Schmaltz for now but I am by no means married to him for the season.
The Blackhawks are also using Brandon Saad on their top unit but at this point I’ll just assume he won’t stick because of how he has gotten the short end of the stick with regard to PP time throughout his career. He could be a 65-point guy if he does stick, however. Saad has averaged 46 even-strength points over the past three seasons. Goose that up a bit with some PPP and he’d be an asset to every fantasy team. Monitor this closely.
Do not underestimate how good Saad is at 5-on-5. I have Jonathan Toews projected to climb back above 60 points (63) after a couple of 58-point seasons specifically because I think Saad will have a positive impact on Toews’ declining game.
Mikael Granlund is out with a groin injury tonight. #mnwild— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 7, 2017
Another early injury that is on my radar. Mikael Granlund had virtually everything go right on route to a breakout 69-point season. Hard to see how he reaches those heights with groin troubles. And remember, Granlund was limited to 63 and 68 games respectively in his first two full NHL seasons. He was fine the past two seasons but there are injury woes in the portfolio.
I wouldn’t go so far as to drop Granlund yet. He is sitting on the waiver wire in one of my leagues. You can bet that I’ve got a claim in for him. I don’t even have to think twice about it. These are the sorts of early over-reactions that should be avoided. Conversely, you need to be ready to pounce on these opportunities when they arise.
Time to plug some stuff! My weekly column for Sportsnet should be out later today, looking at three players whose stocks are up and three whose stocks are down. Look for a link to that on my Twitter feed. If you aren’t already following me, do so @SteveLaidlaw.
You can also listen to my weekly segment on Hockey Unfiltered discussing five players to consider in your fantasy league.
Finally, a PSA. Today is Monday but we have some early games with puck drops at 1:00 pm EST. Make sure to your lineups early!
Good luck out there!
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