Eastern Edge: Fantasy hockey takeaways – Part 4
Before we get into this week's Eastern Edge, I think it's important to highlight the movement towards equality that's echoing through our world right now. I know you didn't click on this article to read about social injustice. At this point, you may even be tired of seeing protests on your TV, or social media statements that proclaim solidarity against racism. If that's the case, I don't blame you, but I do hope that you'll bear with me for the next few lines. I understand it can be hard to passionately stand for a movement that doesn't necessarily affect you. It's easy to ignore a problem when you aren't faced with it every day. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
As a kid with brown skin growing up in Canada, I can promise you that racism still exists in our world today. I don't want to waste your time with my personal stories because I'm sure you've seen enough evidence to acknowledge that racism isn't a thing of the past. Instead, I'd like to share a different message. I want you think of a time where you were treated unfairly. Maybe you were accused of something that you didn't do, or maybe you were let go from a job after pouring your heart and soul into it. Regardless of your identity, I believe we've all experienced the feelings associated with inequality and I don't think any of us particularly like those feelings.
But imagine how much easier those situations would have been if someone spoke up for you, how quickly that feeling of worthlessness can turn into appreciation because you know someone is on your side. Well, friends, we now have an opportunity to speak up for our fellow human beings. By supporting this movement, you're not just helping others avoid a feeling of inferiority – you literally have a chance to save lives. A small action from you now can have a huge impact in making the world a better place for future generations. Whether it be exercising your right to vote, signing a petition or educating yourself and those around you about mistreatment of the black community throughout history and even during present times (check out 13th on Netflix if you have the time). No action is too small – every little bit helps. I don't care what your political views are, I don't care about the colour of your skin. If we live in a world where innocent people can be killed by authority figures, I think we all have a responsibility to change that world for the better.
In this week's Eastern Edge, I'll continue highlighting important fantasy hockey takeaways for each team in the Eastern Conference. I tried to include information from the 2019-2020 campaign that may be forgotten during this extended offseason. Hopefully, these reminders will be useful when NHL action eventually resumes. This is the fourth of five installments, where we'll cover the Rangers, Islanders, Senators and Flyers. Check out the following links to see previous installments:
New York Rangers – Hart-emi Panarin
A few weeks ago, I tried to answer a very important question – which Eastern Conference team possesses the most fantasy hockey value? After exhaustive experimentation, I concluded that the New York Rangers were the cream of the crop – rostering 12 players that I considered to be 'fantasy-relevant'. With this abundance of fantasy hockey talent, the Rangers produced their fair share of fantasy hockey storylines this year. Here are a few important ones to remember:
On November 27th, Mika Zibanejad returned to the lineup after missing about a month of action with an upper-body injury. Between November 27th and the end of the regular season, Zibanejad tallied 64 points in 48 games. Across the league, only one player outscored Zibanejad during that stretch – teammate Artemi Panarin, who managed 65 points in 47 games. It's hard to properly appreciate the offensive excellence of Zibanejad and Panarin because the shortened season limited their final point totals. When we look back on this season, we'll see that Panarin finished with 95 points and Zibanejad finished with 75. Although Panarin was on pace for 112 points over 82 games, we tend to remember the point totals that were actually achieved, rather than the point totals that a player was on track to achieve. In the same way, Zibanejad hasn't been recognized across the hockey community as a 100-point player, even though he was on pace for 107 points this year. Essentially, this shortened season may have prevented some people from acknowledging the immense fantasy value of Panarin and Zibanejad. I hope you're not one of those people.
Zibanejad and Panarin's achievements this season are so impressive because they didn't rely on each other to produce at even strength. Zibanejad spent most of his time alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich while Panarin played with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. In both cases, we saw a superstar elevate the play of his linemates. After a slow start, Kreider managed 32 points in his final 35 appearances of the 2019-2020 campaign and Buchnevich put forth a career-high 55-point pace. But most impressively, Panarin helped Ryan Strome put up 59 points in 70 games this year – a 69-point pace! Yes, that's the same Ryan Strome who produced at a 35-point pace over the past four seasons.
Finally, I think it's important to highlight a few strong showings from the Rangers' blueline this year. Tony DeAngelo led the way with 53 points in 68 appearances, which translates to 64 points over 82 games. He holds the most prominent power-play role among New York's defenseman and will continue to put up points as long as he maintains that role. Next up is 22-year-old Adam Fox who had an incredible rookie season, tallying 42 points in 70 games – a 49-point pace. He has a very bright future, but his offensive output remains limited without a major power-play role. Last but not least is Jacob Trouba, who didn't necessarily impress us with his offensive output, but managed to contribute to a number of peripheral categories, including shots, hits and blocks. Don't expect Trouba to match the 50-point total he managed back in 2018-2019 with the Winnipeg Jets. Most of those points came as a result of an increased role on the power-play that he took on while Dustin Byfuglien was injured.
New York Islanders – Brock Rocks
During the 2019-2020 regular season, Brock Nelson was the most valuable fantasy hockey asset on the New York Islanders. At first, that seems like a big statement to make. I mean, this is a team with Mathew Barzal – an incredibly talented player who put up 85 points and won the Calder during his rookie season. While Barzal managed to outscore Nelson this year, it was only by six points – a miniscule margin when you consider the perceived difference in talent between the two players. As you can imagine, Barzal was drafted significantly earlier than Nelson in the average Yahoo fantasy league. In fact, Nelson wasn't even drafted in most formats and you could have acquired him for free from the waiver wire. Not only did Nelson 'cost' less than Barzal, but he proved to be more valuable in one major area: position eligibility. You see, in fantasy hockey, there's an abundance of good centers. However, good wingers are much harder to find. Barzal is only listed as a center in Yahoo leagues, while Nelson can be used as both a center and left wing. Why is that so important? Well, it means you have more flexibility when setting your lineup because you can slot Nelson in at either position to make room for other players on your roster. In addition, Nelson wins a lot of faceoffs. So, if you're playing him as a left wing, then you have an extra player contributing to the faceoff category (in addition to your centers), allowing you to significantly boost your faceoff totals. Trust me, implementing wingers that take faceoffs into your lineup is an easy way to win the faceoff category every week, helping you soar up the standings.
Ottawa Senators – Multicategory Mastery
I alluded to this when I was discussing the Red Wings in part two of this series (linked above), but I think there's a lot of value in targeting good players on bad teams when you play fantasy hockey. There's a stigma around bad teams that causes a lot of good players to be undervalued in fantasy formats. Although scoring wasn't abundant in Ottawa this year, a couple of players provided fantasy value through their contribution to peripheral categories. For starters, Brady Tkachuk put up a significant number of hits, penalty minutes and shots. He finished second in the league with 303 hits, third in the league with 106 PIMs and eighth in the league with 259 shots. The 20-year-old forward has now managed a 50-point-pace in both his rookie and sophomore season, all while surrounded by a lacklustre supporting cast in Ottawa. As he and the team around him continue to improve, I think we'll see Tkachuk's point totals rise, along with his fantasy hockey value. Another peripheral producer I wanted to highlight is Marc Borowiecki, who put up a significant number of hits, blocks and penalty minutes while setting a career-high point pace of 28. We obviously don't expect Borowiecki to be a top-tier fantasy defenseman, but he's certainly an underrated option who can contribute to many categories.
Finally, I think it's worthwhile to remind you of two hot streaks that may be forgotten among a lack of consistency and mediocre point totals. First, there's Connor Brown, who opened the 2019-2020 campaign with 12 points in his first 13 games. He was unable to sustain that momentum as he tallied 31 points over his next 58 appearances. With that being said, he was seeing a career-high 20 minutes of ice time a night and managed a respectable 50-point pace in the process. He makes for an intriguing option in deeper leagues going forward. Anthony Duclair is another player who experienced a short period of insane success this year. Nobody scored more goals than Duclair in December as he put up 11 goals through 13 games. Unfortunately, he struggled after that hot streak, scoring just twice over his next 26 appearances. He's shown a few flashes of brilliance during his young career, I'm curious to see if he can improve on the career-high 50-point pace he set this season.
Philadelphia Flyers – Reduced Roles
Philadelphia is another one of those teams that had many intriguing storylines written this season. First, the 2019-2020 campaign marked Travis Konecny's breakout, as the 23-year-old forward put up 61 points through 66 games – a 76-point pace! He managed to do that while seeing fewer than 17 minutes of ice time a night, which is pretty impressive considering most of the league's top scorers average between 18 to 20 minutes of action. I expect Konecny's role will increase over the next few years, which should hopefully result in more scoring chances going forward.
Next, there's Sean Couturier, who managed a 70-point pace for a third straight season. It's worth noting that Couturier's ice time dropped by two minutes since last season (from 22 to 20), but he still remained productive. Considering his status as a highly-skilled two-way forward, I wouldn't expect his ice time to be reduced any further.
Like Couturier, Claude Giroux also saw his ice time drop significantly this year as he went from skating 21 and a half minutes last season to 19 minutes this season. However, unlike Couturier, Giroux wasn't able to maintain his previous production as he tallied just 53 points in 69 games, which translates to 63 points over 82 games. That's a far cry from the 85 points he tallied last year or the 101 points he totalled the year before. I expect that this decline in production will cause Giroux's fantasy hockey value to drop below what it should be, heading into the 2020-2021 campaign. I definitely have him on my radar as an undervalued bounce-back candidate – especially because of the roster flexibility he provides as a center, left-wing and right-wing in Yahoo leagues.
This season also saw Ivan Provorov embrace the role of Philadelphia's top defenseman as he put up a respectable 43-point pace and took on a major power-play role. I hope to see the 23-year-old defenseman take another step forward next season as he continues to develop his game. While the 2019-2020 campaign was great for Provorov, it was one to forget for Shayne Gostisbehere, but I'm still not ready to write him off. I'm curious to see if Gostisbehere can compete with Provorov for a prominent power-play role next year.
One final anecdote about the Flyers pertains to Carter Hart and the contrast between his performance at home and his performance on the road. This season, he was 20-3-2 at the Wells Fargo Center, with a .943 SV% and 1.63 GAA. He was 4-10-1 away from home, with an .857 SV% and 3.81 GAA.
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