We are getting to that time of year when many fantasy general managers are faced with tough decisions: Who to keep in your keeper pools?
In my main points-only keeper, I have to choose between Eric Staal, Adam Boqvist or Lias Andersson. I am leaning towards Boqvist since I need to rebuild slightly, but it’s a tough call that will probably haunt me for most of the season, especially if I am competing and could have used the extra points from Staal. Most of us are faced with these tough decisions. That’s why the challenge provided to us for bubble week is a fun one: Given a list of about 150 keepers, which names not on the list should you be keeping.
For this exercise, I am going to make it a little tougher and pretend the league has a rookie rule so rookies from this past season are also keepers.
Below are 10 players who are on the bubble that you should definitely keep.
10. Ondrej Kase
Okay, so maybe in a keeper league of 150 players, he would be the 150th keeper. But he should be right there, on the inside of the bubble instead of outside. The 23-year-old Ducks forward has shown improvement in every single season in the league, which is something you want to see from a young player. He averages three shots a game, has seen his ice time go up two minutes a year every season, has seen an increase in power-play time every year, and mostly plays on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf. His health is always a concern, but his opportunity is not.
9. Ryan Suter
All too often, fantasy general managers like to focus on young players as opposed to veterans, despite the veterans often being better producers. Suter definitely doesn’t get the love that he used to, despite still playing at a high level. Except for a decrease in shots, Suter’s production has been pretty even over the years. So, should you keep someone like Suter who will get you 45 points, 70 hits, 15 power-play points and 100 blocked shots while getting guaranteed ice time and power-play time, or keep someone like Charlie McAvoy (who was also outside of the Bubble Keeper List) who you hope may one day reach those numbers?
A few weeks ago, I never would have included Varlamov on this list, but now that he has signed with the Islanders, you have to give him a major bump in value. Islanders head coach Barry Trotz and director of goaltending Mitch Korn have worked wonders with netminders throughout their entire careers. Varlamov is now going to a team that is more defensively sound, and his numbers should improve greatly. The biggest concern now is if he is in a timeshare with Thomas Greiss, but Robin Lehner was last year and still put up great numbers.
7. Shea Weber
Because of injuries, in the last two seasons, Weber has played only 84 games combined (so pretty much a full season). In those 82 games, he notches 20 goals, 49 points, plus-seven, 42 PIM, 241 shots, 195 hits, 11 power-play points and 169 blocked shots. Reports have Weber now back to full health, so expect similar numbers if he can play all 82 games. Weber is so dominant at every aspect of fantasy hockey that even if he only plays 50 games, you get better value out of Weber and a waiver-wire replacement than many other full keepers.
6. Brandon Gallagher
There’s were only three Habs players that were guaranteed keepers on our list, including Jonathan Drouin, but Gallagher is easily the better player to keep. Drouin may have more upside, but Gallagher will be the better fantasy own as he produces more in many categories. Last year, Drouin has 18 goals and 53 points, but Gallagher had 33 goals and 52 points. As well, Gallagher had 49 PIM, 302 shots and 126 hits, numbers that Drouin will never come close to reaching.
Sure, Byfuglien has trouble staying healthy, but he’s a beast when in the lineup, and like Weber, he’s great even if you only get 50 games out of him. Buff doesn’t pot as many goals as much as he once did, but his points-per-game pace still remains high thanks to assists. We also have to remember that he is the top guy on a power play that was top five last season. Even if you take away his high number of shots, PIM, hits and blocked shots, he’s still producing at an elite level for points, with 31 in 42 games last year. Buff is one of those guys that even if you believe he is not an automatic keeper because of his injury history, you still keep him and trade him early in the season because he has name value.
4. Martin Jones
No matter what the league, every single hockey pool that includes goalies has wins as a stat. And just like the DJ Khaled song, all Jones does is win, win, win, no matter what. His 138 wins the last four seasons is tied for second-highest amongst goalies, trailing only Brayden Holtby. Jones is also one of only four netminders to hit 30 wins in each of the last four years (as a side note, Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky are the only two goalies to reach the 35-win mark in three of the last four years). He’s also one of only two goalies — along with Devan Dubnyk — to play at least 60 games in each of the last four years, which also helps in leagues that count saves (he’s sixth in that category in the last four years combined). The TLDR version is: If you want a goalie that is going to win and get plenty of starts, Jones is a must keep.
3. Yanni Gourde
Gourde is one of those sneaky undervalued players in fantasy leagues. He’s able to put up 20 goals, 50 points, 10 power-play points, plus-15, 50 PIM, 130 shots, 80 hits, and contribute a few faceoff wins and blocked shots. Except for maybe shots (I like players to reach 150 shots a season), there’s no fantasy category that he doesn’t contribute in. Remember, it was only two seasons ago he put up 64 points as a rookie, so don’t sleep on him going forward.
2. Tom Wilson
How great is Wilson in fantasy leagues? In one 14-team Yahoo head-to-head league last year that includes hits and PIM, I drafted Wilson in the 10th round despite him being suspended for 20 games to start the season. We dressed 10 players, and our bench was only three spots, and Wilson wasn’t qualified to go on IR. For a quarter of a season, I had Wilson taking up an important bench spot. Despite missing all those games at the start (the suspension was later reduced to 14 games), Wilson still finished as the 45th-ranked in the league.
Last year for bubble week, I had Ristolainen as my top choice among bubble defensemen, and last season cemented that ranking. I know there’s been lots of talk about how he’s not that great a defenseman and that the Sabres are looking to move him, but don’t let that type of tale drive you away from his fantasy value. This past year, he had 43 points, 38 PIM, 182 shots, 235 hits, 17 power-play points, and 121 blocked shots. You know how many other defensemen hit each of those numbers this year? Zero. In fact, Jeff Petry is the only other defensemen in the league to even reach 40 points and 170-plus hits, and Petry still trailed Ristolainen by 45 hits. Ristolainen is only a burden in leagues that count plus/minus, but don’t let that take away from his value in other categories.
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