All fantasy owners need help in the short term AND the long term. The Looking Ahead feature identifies one player to plug into lineups in the short term, a second to invest in for the long term, a third to bench for the coming week, and a fourth who will struggle to meet expectations for some time. All players discussed are selected based on their upcoming schedule.

Stats updated through Wednesday, January 1

Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader for noticing the holiday break had messed up the Best Bet/Steer Clear dates!

The Immediate Fix (Grab this guy and use him for the next several days)

Nick Suzuki, W, Montreal Canadiens (Available in 89 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – After picking up five goals and four assists on 27 shots in his first twenty games, topping 16 minutes only three times, Suzuki’s next twenty games were (mostly) a large improvement: only two goals, but 12 assists and 40 SOG while topping 16 minutes nine times (including games of 19:48 and 20:26).

Suzuki has moved into a second-line role with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen, but he gets power-play time with the top unit, and with the recent injury to Brendan Gallagher there’s the possibility of more ice time for Suzuki. Currently it’s Nick Cousins who gets to skate on the top line, but the ice time changes point to Suzuki gaining coach Claude Julien’s trust.

At 5v5, the line of Suzuki-Domi-Lehkonen have scored at a 4.42GF/60 rate which is unsustainably high – their xGF/60 rate is 2.64/60 – but they’re generating high-danger chances at a strong clip (13 per 60 minutes) and have 66 shot attempts per 60 as well. The line tends to play weaker opponents – Nate Thompson or Phillip Danault tend to take the tougher matchups – which is good for fantasy purposes.

The Building Block (Buy now, sit back and enjoy the production)

Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets (Available in 83 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Joonas Korpisalo’s loss is Merzlikins’ gain, as Korpisalo – who had started 31/39 games this season – has a torn meniscus and is out for the foreseeable future. In leagues where goalies are valuable, he’s probably already owned, but

Merzlikins hadn’t shown much in the small smattering of games he started this season, starting the year off by allowing seven goals in a Pittsburgh rout, but beyond that bad start he’s allowed three goals or less in seven of the nine other games he’d played in. His numbers don’t scream “quality starter” as he’s rocking a save percentage of 0.900 and a GAA of 3.14, but in the Columbus system installed under John Tortorella tends to aid goalies, Korpisalo had seasons of 0.920, 0.905, 0.897 and 0.897 before becoming the starter and managed to win 17 games with a save percentage of 0.913, so talent may not matter (see also: Sergei Bobrovsky’s 0.897 in Florida this year).

Given the amount that Korpisalo was playing, there’s no reason to expect that changes for Merzlikins, which means he’ll be a clear starter for the next four-to-six weeks. If his play can be elevated enough – he was a stud in the NLA for HC Lugano – there’s even the possibility that Merzlikins Wally Pipp’s Korpisalo.

The Odd Man Out (His short-term value is cause for concern)

Johnny Gaudreau, W, Calgary Flames (Owned in 98 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Over the past few weeks, Gaudreau’s role on the Flames has shifted from top-line winger playing alongside Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan, to a third-line checking role with Derek Ryan and Milan Lucic, to now a middle-six winger whose linemates change on a whim.

It’s no surprise then that Gaudreau’s production has dropped dramatically from prior seasons – he’s on pace for a 60-point season, which is still good but given Gaudreau topped 60 assists in each of the past two years, it’s a major disappointment. His shooting percentage is currently a career-low 9.1, but that’s still a strong goal-scoring rate, and Gaudreau is shooting less (2.6S/game) than either of the past two games.

Over the past five games, the diminutive winger has picked up two assists (both at even-strength) and has only fired two shots on goal while adding zero hits and one block. Gaudreau has never been known for his peripherals, but with the line changes, that’s taken a step back from what he was accumulating earlier in the year. His value is shot for the time being – the Flames’ schedule is pretty weak – so look elsewhere and adjust expectations until/unless serious changes happen out west.

The Anchors (They’ll do nothing but disappoint even over the long haul)

Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues (Owned in 50 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Once an analytic darling who was named to the All-Rookie team in his first year, Parayko has been a fine hockey player for the Blues, but a bit of a disappointment for fantasy owners. His career started with 9G-24A in 79 games, but he topped out at 35 points the next two years before dropping to 28 last season. Parayko is currently on pace for just 26 this year.

Although Parayko plays 22:50 per game (+3 seconds/game over last year), one of the main reasons he’s taken such a big step back was due to the Blues’ acquisition of Justin Faulk just prior to the season. Faulk has taken Parayko’s power play time with the second unit and after getting paired with Alex Pietrangelo, Faulk has seen more time at 5v5 (picking up 1G-1A in five GP) while Parayko has stayed stagnant and hasn’t touched the scoresheet.

In points-only leagues, there’s no reason to own Parayko when players like Cam Fowler and Filip Hronek are available; in peripheral leagues, Parayko is fine own – he adds two blocks/game and a hair over one hit/game – but even then, lower-owned players like Jakob Chychrun or Sami Vatanen offer more point upside while collecting similar peripheral rates.

Love ‘Em (These squads are sure to pay dividends in the coming days)

Montreal – Although the Habs are now missing their second-best point-scorer in Brendan Gallagher (along with Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron), the schedule is still very inviting for the remaining fantasy-relevant players like Shea Weber, Tomas Tatar and Carey Price. Montreal plays the maximum seven games between the 3rd and 15th, and play weak opponents in Edmonton, Detroit, Ottawa and Chicago as well as games against Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and Calgary.

Tampa Bay – The Lightning have scored 20 in their past five games and on the season have scored two or less only 11 times in 38 games. They can always be counted on, but even more so when the schedule is strong: they get to play seven games this stretch – including a Sunday game – which includes matches against Ottawa, Philadelphia and New Jersey. The remaining games come against Carolina, Vancouver, Arizona and Los Angeles.

Washington – The Capitals only play six games this stretch, but they make the Love ‘Em list thanks to playing four of those six at home, playing teams prone to allowing high shots against, and most importantly, Washington plays on three off-days (Friday, Sunday and Wednesday). They’ll play in Carolina and Philadelphia, and their home games come against San Jose, Ottawa, New Jersey and Carolina.

Leave ‘Em (These squads will leave fantasy owners sorely disappointed in the short term)

Colorado – The Avalanche are an interesting bunch this week, as they’ve been juggling lines recently as they’ve lost six of their last ten games, which can only hurt the value of studs like Mikko Rantanen (now on the third line) and Gabriel Landeskog (shifted to PP2). Beyond that, the Avs have only five games this period – which includes one back-to-back – and although their opponents are mostly enticing (NYI, NYR, NJD, PIT, DAL), don’t count on much production out of Colorado.

Buffalo – There are really only four viable fantasy players on the Sabres now that Jeff Skinner’s hurt, and the Sabres’ schedule does none of them any favors: home games against Florida, Vancouver and Vegas, and road games in St. Louis and Detroit (second half of a back-to-back).

Calgary – After breaking up their regular top line of Sean MonahanElias LindholmJohnny Gaudreau, Calgary has scored five goals in a game twice, but scored only 15 times in five games combined. The Flames’ opponents this stretch are appealing – Minnesota twice, Chicago, Edmonton and Montreal – but having spread-out scoring has been bad for fantasy.

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January 3 to January 9

Best Bets

TBL 4.3 – Away OTT CAR – Home VAN ARI

MTL 4.19 – Away DET – Home PIT WPG EDM

WSH 4.1575 – Away CAR PHI – Home SJS OTT

FLA 4.1575 – Away BUF PIT – Home ARI VAN

LAK 4.1525 – Away VGK- Home NSH CBJ DAL

Steer Clear

OTT 1.8475 – Away WSH – Home TBL

BUF 1.9525 – Away STL- Home FLA

CGY 2.845 – Away MIN CHI – Home MIN

ARI 2.855 – Away FLA TBL- Home PHI

VGK 2.8875 – Away – Home STL PIT LAK

January 4 to January 10

Best Bets

TBL 4.3 – Away OTT CAR – Home VAN ARI

MTL 4.19 – Away DET – Home PIT WPG EDM

FLA 4.1575 – Away BUF PIT – Home ARI VAN

LAK 4.1525 – Away VGK – Home NSH CBJ DAL

PIT 3.995 – Away MTL VGK COL- Home FLA

Steer Clear

DAL 1.7575 – Away LAK ANH – Home

BUF 1.9525 – Away STL – Home FLA

CGY 2.845 – Away MIN CHI – Home MIN

VGK 2.8875 – Away – Home STL PIT LAK

EDM 2.8975 – Away BOS TOR MTL – Home

January 5 to January 11

Best Bets

MTL 4.3375 – Away DET OTT- Home WPG EDM

WSH 4.2575 – Away PHI – Home SJS OTT NJD

CHI 4.2525 – Away – Home DET CGY NSH ANH

ANH 4.2475 – Away CHI- Home NSH CBJ DAL

TBL 4.1575 – Away CAR PHI- Home VAN ARI

Steer Clear

MIN 2 – Away CGY – Home CGY

BUF 2.11 – Away STL – Home VAN

TOR 2.1525 – Away – Home EDM WPG

DAL 2.7075 – Away LAK ANH SJS- Home

ARI 2.755 – Away FLA TBL CAR – Home

January 6 to January 12

Best Bets

MTL 4.3375 – Away DET OTT – Home WPG EDM

TBL 4.1575 – Away PHI NJD- Home VAN ARI

LAK 4.105 – Away VGK CAR – Home CBJ DAL

WPG 3.895 – Away MTL TOR BOS – Home NSH

NJD 3.895 – Away NY Rangers WSH – Home NY Islanders TBL

Steer Clear

BOS 2.85 – Away NSH NY Islanders – Home WPG

MIN 2.1575 – Away CGY – Home VAN

COL 2.8925 – Away NY Islanders NY Rangers – Home PIT

DAL 2.7075 – Away LAK ANH SJS – Home

PHI 2.8925 – Away CAR – Home WSH TBL

January 7 to January 13

Best Bets

MTL 4.39 – Away DET OTT – Home EDM CGY

WSH 4.2575 – Away PHI – Home OTT NJD CAR

TBL 4.1575 – Away PHI NJD – Home VAN ARI

STL 4.305 – Home SJS BUF NY Rangers ANH

ANH 4.1525 – Away CHI STL- Home CBJ DAL

Steer Clear

COL 1.9425 – Away NY Rangers – Home PIT

EDM 1.9475 – Away MTL CGY – Home

TOR 1.9475 – Away FLA – Home WPG

MIN 2.1575 – Away CGY – Home VAN

DAL 2.7075 – Away LAK ANH SJS – Home

January 8 to January 14

Best Bets

BUF 4.2525 – Away STL DET – Home VAN VGK

WPG 4.105 – Away TOR BOS – Home NSH VAN

LAK 3.91 – Away VGK CAR TBL- Home DAL

TBL 3.895 – Away PHI NJD – Home ARI LAK

BOS 3.8475 – Away NY Islanders PHI CBJ- Home WPG

Steer Clear

COL 2.1 – Away – Home PIT DAL

FLA 2.31 – Away – Home VAN TOR

PIT 2.8925 – Away COL ARI – Home MIN

CAR 2.8975 – Away WSH – Home ARI LAK

CBJ 2.8975 – Away SJS VGK – Home BOS

January 9 to January 15

Best Bets

MTL 4.4525 – Away OTT – Home EDM CGY CHI

STL 4.305 – Home BUF NY Rangers ANH PHI

BUF 4.2525 – Away STL DET – Home VAN VGK

CHI 4.085 – Away OTT MTL- Home NSH ANH

TBL 3.895 – Away PHI NJD – Home ARI LAK

Steer Clear

TOR 2 – Away FLA – Home NJD

COL 2.1 – Away – Home PIT DAL

WSH 2.1 – Away – Home NJD CAR

FLA 2.31 – Away – Home VAN TOR

LAK 2.755 – Away VGK CAR TBL – Home