Happy New Year! One New Year’s resolution that I hope to keep is to spend more time on each of my fantasy leagues. During the season, I normally set my line-ups every Sunday for the following week, but I often find that in week adjustments are not happening. As well, I rarely initiate trade offers due to a lack of time to dedicate to each league. With the second half of the season nearly upon us, I hope to be able to commit sufficient time to each of my six fantasy hockey leagues and bring home at least one title.
This week, I’ll be looking at the New York Islanders and their surprising offensive output.
The Isles are third in goals scored per game with 3.44, behind only Tampa Bay (3.74) and the amazing (there is no other word for this team) Vegas Golden Knights (3.51). The reason the Islanders are not higher in the standings is that they are tied with Arizona for the most goals against per game with 3.54.
The net result has the New York Islanders currently hanging onto the last wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. There are several teams nipping at their heels, including the defending back to back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. A playoff berth is far from assured with more than half a season to play.
One of the biggest individual surprises of the season has to be Josh Bailey. He closed 2017 with an incredible 11-game point streak, recording 19 points. Bailey’s 50 points are second in the NHL to the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov and his 56 points. Six of the top ten scorers in the NHL are from three teams. Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (49 points), Bailey and John Tavares (49 points) and the Flyers Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who have 46 points apiece.
Bailey has spent the majority of his even-strength shifts with Tavares and Anders Lee. While he ranks second in league scoring, Tavares is tied for third and Lee sits 15th overall. Bailey has 21 power play points, tied for third in the league with Kucherov. Only Stamkos and the Pens Phil Kessel with 24 and 23 respectively have more points with the man advantage.
With 50 points in 39 games, Bailey is on pace for 105 points. That total is unlikely as the 28-year-old is only six points back of his previous career high of 56 points set last season. December saw him score 22 points in 15 games. In October and November, he recorded 14 points in 12 games each of those months.
My money has December as simply a hot month for Bailey. I see his points per game numbers coming down somewhat. Do I think he will hit the 100-point mark? Definitely not, but at this point, it would not be surprising if he finished inside the top ten. This unexpected scoring surge will have a significant effect on the pending unrestricted free agent’s next contract. With Tavares, Jaroslav Halak and Bailey’s contracts all expiring, has Bailey played himself off the Island?
Most of us aren’t really surprised at where John Tavares is in the scoring race this season. The first overall pick from the 2009 NHL entry draft was coming off of two sub-par years of 66 and 70 points. That’s well off the 86 points he put up in the 2014-15 campaign.
Unlike Bailey, there is a certain confidence in predicting Tavares surpassing the point per game mark as he’s done exactly that two time previously and missed it by a single point twice more. On pace for 44 goals and 103 points, but coming off of a very hot December, where he had 21 points in 15 games, JT has a legitimate shot at setting new career highs.
The real question is, can the Islanders re-sign their franchise player, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season? Even if Tavares decides to re-sign, the team will have to nearly double his current $6-million annual stipend. At least Nikolai Kulemin’s $4,187,500 cap hit comes off the books at the end of this season. One thing is certain, General Manager Garth Snow will have a challenging summer ahead of him.
The third wheel on the Isles top line, Anders Lee is also in the midst of a career season. He has 39 points in as many games and is on pace to obliterate last year’s career best 52 points. A big part of his success can be attributed to being a part of the seventh ranked power play. Lee has 12 points with the man advantage, which is only two less than his total from all of last season.
Lee is on pace for a 50-goal season and has a 24.7 per cent shooting percentage. That is above last year’s 17.8 percent and more than 10 points higher than his 14.6 per cent career average. Consider it a wildly successful season if he finishes with 40 goals.
While it’s highly unlikely that he will end the season with point per game numbers, it’s not impossible to envision a 70-point campaign. It’s not like head coach Doug Weight is going to break this trio up for any length of time unless he wants to lose his job.
One guy that doesn’t get much love in fantasy hockey circles is defenseman Nick Leddy. His durability is something you can count on; heading into this campaign, he’s missed a total of six games over the last six seasons. Leddy’s point totals have gone up four consecutive years and he’s on pace to best last season’s career high 46 points.
Since coming to the Island from Chicago, Leddy has seen a jump in his ice time to a team leading average of 22:34 minutes per game. He also tops the team in power play ice time, averaging 3:36 minutes per contest with the man advantage.
Over a 19-game stretch from October 26 until December 7, Leddy recorded 22 points. Unfortunately, the flip side is that over the remaining 20 games, he had only four points. Even with this in mind, I’m still on board for a 50-point campaign.
All the best in the new year! Thanks for reading.
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