Ramblings – Key Players With Long-Term Injuries – Will They Be Back When NHL Returns? (Mar 30)
The NHL is heading for a return…at some point. They seem to think June is a remote possibility, with each month that follows having increased odds as the likely date. Myself, I think August or possibly September. Regardless, even a return in mid-June is going to see a crap-load of players coming back to play in the 2019-20 season when they shouldn't have. Oh boy, does this ever mess up a lot of fantasy hockey strategies, eh? I mean, how many of you were winning leagues and then Jake Guentzel went down until May? So you traded him (if it's a keeper) or you dropped him (if it's a one-year)…and now you have whatever stop-gap replacement you got for him. Meanwhile, he's going to play the last XX games of the season! (Whatever amount of games the NHL decides to get in, before having a condensed playoff tournament).
I'm going to look at some key players who suffered long-term injuries, yet could be back as soon as the league returns. With the understand that the NHL could return with a regular season schedule that has zero remaining games (with a mini-tournament, or nothing at all), or to 72, 74, 76, 78 or even 82 games, I'm going to reference the 82 and the 74 here…
Conor Garland – Garland was supposed to be out week-to-week with a lower-body injury, as of March 8. That puts him out until early- to mid-April, which is basically the rest of the season. Not anymore – now he'll be back to play the final 12 games (or four games, if the league decides to play until 74 get done by all teams). Garland had 14 goals and 22 points in 43 games to start the year, but then Coach Rick Tocchet realized that no matter how little he played Garland, the guy was scoring. So, in a sudden brainwave, decided to – this is crazy, I know – play him more. His ice time went up by three minutes, and his PP time nearly doubled. Garland had 17 points in 24 games before leaving the 25th game a little early.
Dougie Hamilton – He suffered a fractured left fibula on January 16 and was looking at an early-April return. The Canes have 14 games left on the slate (or six, if season is reduced). Since Hamilton was sidelined, Jake Gardiner has seven PPPts in 22 games and nearly two minutes per game of PP time to lead all Hurricanes. He can kiss that goodbye when the NHL resumes.
Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen – Kadri (LBI) was set to return within a couple of games, before the league pause. So we know he'll be good and ready. Kadri had 36 points in 48 games – 11 on the power play – prior to his injury, which was the second-best pace of his career. One guy to watch when Kadri returns is Valeri Nichushkin. He was clicking really well with Kadri and Burakovsky, when suddenly he lost both of his linemates. Now he'll have him back for the final 12 (or four) games that Colorado has left. Rantanen was also set to return, which would disrupt the nice run that Vladislav Namestnikov was on. There is, of course, the chance that Namestnikov disrupts a Nichushkin rebound by stealing his spot. Both Rantanen and Kadri were expected back soon regardless, so this league pause really just saves them a game or two.
Oliver Bjorkstrand – Possibly the most underrated player in fantasy hockey (big words, but I stand by them), Bjorkstrand was set to return in mid-April from his ankle injury. Getting extra time for that to heal is a great thing. Bjorkstrand gets a lot of respect in fantasy hockey. A lot. But still not enough. He's still that "young guy who is finally showing his potential and should be a solid 70-point guy with upside for more". No. To me he's that "young guy who is finally showing his potential and will be a solid 80-point guy with upside for more". Bank on it. He had 30 points in his last 30 games, including two points in the game in which he got injured. And this is on a team that probably won't have a 60-point player. It doesn't matter who he plays with. Always ask: who gets to play with him? Treat Bjorkstrand as if his name was Mark Stone.
The Rest of the Blue Jackets – This is going to be a scary team. Because they were the team most beset by injury…and now they'll be fully healthy. Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Alexandre Texier and even Josh Anderson will be back if play resumes in August. Anderson won't be back if it resumes in July. But this has been a dark horse team all year long and doing it with team defense and strong goaltending.
James van Riemsdyk – JVR (broken hand) was likely out for much of the first round of the playoffs and the Flyers had been surging. Now they get him back for whatever gets played in the season and, other than Oscar Lindblom and perhaps Nolan Patrick, will be at full strength come playoff time. Speaking of Patrick – he wasn't cleared to take contact in practice as of late February…but does that change in late July?
Philippe Myers – Myers was out until the playoffs with a fractured patella (kneecap – I don't know why they don't just say kneecap). Myers had been doing great, posting a plus-17 rating in 50 games, and producing at a 26-point clip. An awesome rookie debut, despite virtually no PP time. Another player to factor on the Flyers is Shayne Gostisbehere, who returned for just one game after a knee injury and a couple of healthy scratches, now gets to return just as rusty as the rest of his teammates. He's been playing terrible, but this counts as a fresh start. Almost a 'new' season. Whatever we were used to seeing from the Flyers' defense over the last two months you can throw out the window. That means Travis Sanheim's nine points in his last 14 games is at risk of fizzling out.
Jake Guentzel – Set to return in June, Guentzel now likely gets until July or later to finish rehabbing his shoulder. He will almost certainly now play the remaining 13 (or five) games that the Penguins have in their schedule. Playing 13 games would actually give him a shot at a 60-point season! I can't imagine how good a Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Jason Zucker line is going to be. The Penguins 'should' also have Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon and Nick Bjugstad back, which is an entire line. That would put Conor Sheary suddenly at risk of getting scratched.
Erik Karlsson – Karlsson was missing the rest of the regular season with a broken thumb. And the Sharks are not making the playoffs. Now it looks like EK will be back to finish off the remaining 12 games if they are to be played.
Tomas Hertl – This one is not so certain. Hertl underwent season-ending surgery on his left knee on February 6 and was said to be ready for September. Let's say August is a possibility. If so, then he 'could' be back for a mini-season held late. But anything held in July will still likely see him miss out.
Vladimir Tarasenko – He had missed most of the season with a shoulder injury and was honestly just inches away from returning from that anyway. The extra healing time can only help. Of the players who were unexpectedly hot over the past month, Robert Thomas and Zach Sanford (13 and 12 points in 19 games respectively) stand to suffer. I think Thomas is safe, as he has top-line potential and is only getting better. And while I think Sanford has some potential and upside as well, he doesn't have the Golden Boy status that Thomas has, and his 1:23 of PPTOI per game since February 1 will disappear, as well as his sweet linemates.
Steven Stamkos – Another situation with Stamkos that pads his fantasy value. You see, Stamkos is bit of an injury risk. A Band-Aid Boy. And yet…he's pretty much played a full season in four of his prior five seasons! But the truth is, he missed much of 2016-17 with a broken leg, and he suffered a blood-clot issue in 2015-16. But that ailment struck at the end of that year, so it only cost him playoff time. This means that looking at his career stats, you see a high game total year after year. And now you could see it again this year. Instead of missing 25 games with a core muscle injury, the damage will be just 13 games. So his five-year career stats numbers will look only softly hit, with really just the 2016-17 injury that jumps out. That's three times in five seasons where, with different timing and circumstances, he was looking at missing at least 35 games each. But the untrained eye won't see that, and evaluate his risk accordingly. Don't.
Andreas Johnsson and Ilya Mikheyev – The two Leafs could return to the lineup and offer much-needed scoring depth to an already potent offensive team. Johnsson is set to return in early August, so there is no guarantee on him (knee surgery – yes, it was successful). Mikheyev (wrist) was probably going to be back before March was done. He is a fantasy hockey secret, because he was getting better with every game and then an injury took him out before enough fantasy owners caught on. He has oodles of untapped potential, and his work ethic is unmatched. Mikheyev is the type who gets stuck on the third line, gets a chance on the second line and over-achieves and forces the coach to keep him there. And then he gets a chance on the top line with the same result, suddenly making himself a reliable star.
Josh Leivo – Leivo was finally having the season of his life, posting 19 points in 36 games and eight in his last 11 before suffering a knee injury. As always, the hard-luck forward's untimely injury cost him his lineup spot and he's back to Square 1. The injury forced the Canucks to trade for Tyler Toffoli, which in turn pushed Brock Boeser down to Leivo's spot alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson to form a very effective second line. Leivo will once again be battling just to stay in the lineup on a line that will not help his production at all.
Max Pacioretty – Patches was having the year of his life, just one point off a career high with 11 games left to play. Then he suffered a season-ending lower-body injury. But wait! The NHL put the season on pause, almost as if they were doing him a favor. He now won't miss a single game of time, and will need eight goals and six assists in those 11 games to get to 40 goals and 80 points (first time for both).
Mark Stone – Pacioretty will have an easier time of getting there, because Stone (LBI) will also be back in the lineup.
Bryan Little – Little had a procedure done on his ear drum back in early February and it will keep him on the ice until mid-May. His return at full health will be a huge help to the Jets.
Website News: I have scheduled for today a review of the new DobberHockey website (the current format is the bare-bones edition that we are building on). Assuming the suggested fixes are few and errors minimum, I hope to finally launch this week.
Guides/Lists/Packs News: I will not be releasing the Interactive Playoff Draft List next week as planned. I'm sure you know why. I have also decided to delay the release of the Ultimate Fantasy Pack and Keeper League Fantasy Pack for 2020, until I know more about the NHL's plans. This means a delay in the Fantasy Prospects Report. I usually make the Packs available for pre-sale on May 1. The Playoff List will go out as soon as, well, the playoffs approach. We'll know more in a month I'm sure. The Packs I will tentatively put up for pre-sale on June 1, and the Prospects Report out on July 1. The FPR will be updated when the draft order is finalized (one update – could be as late as October, if draft order isn't set until then).
I know this may be confusing, as customers of the Ultimate Pack get this year's playoff list as part of that package, and customers of the next pack will get next year's playoff list as part of that package – so it's likely that you'll have bought next year's playoff list before this one is even out. But I'll do my best to navigate us all through that.
See you next Monday. Be safe. Thanks for continuing to support the website, and if you're bored and need a fantasy hockey fix – visit the gang in the forum here.
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