Top Budget Plays ($3000 or under)
Cody Hodgson – Nashville (vs. CAR) – $2600
Hodgson is getting essentially a third opportunity in the NHL. Not a lot of players get that chance, so in the back of my mind, I’m hoping he is playing with a bit of an edge. He is playing on a one-year deal for a little over $1-million, which means this season is make-or-break for him.
For this game specifically, there are a couple reasons I wouldn’t hesitate to use him as a cap-saving centre. The first reason is that other than Robby Fabbri of St. Louis, there isn’t much for bargain centres tonight. The second reason is Hodgson’s position in the lineup. Carolina has a couple of young guys like Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy in the lineup, and with Hodgson on the third line, the depth defencemen are good matchup for him.
Again, Hodgson does not instill a lot of confidence in general for fantasy. With Calle Jarnkrok on his line, and in soft matchups at home, I think he has a chance to repay his minimal price tag. If DFSers are looking to use a lot of stars, he’s a good option for cap relief.
Sergei Plotnikov – Pittsburgh (@ DAL) – $3000
This option does not need a lot of explanation. Sure, Plotnikov will not be on the top power play unit for the Penguins. But with the Russian winger coming in from the KHL and playing alongside Evgeni Malkin, it will be hard to look anywhere else for salary relief.
I don’t think it is realistic to project Plotnikov to be alongside Evgeni Malkin all year. That top-six mix will see a shakeup. But until his price rises, or he is moved down the depth chart, Plotnikov just seems like a plug-and-play bargain option. Similar options in his price range for a winger include Zach Boychuk, Lauri Korpikoski, and Chris Terry. None of those guys are playing with Malkin.
Brett Connolly – Boston (vs. WPG) – $2900
I know Connolly’s box numbers don’t look great last year. He managed just 17 points in 55 games. From Hockey Analysis, though, his points/60 minutes at five-on-five was 1.58. Not a great number, but inside the top-half of forwards, and ahead of names like Phil Kessel, Loui Eriksson, and Paul Stastny. So while the raw numbers weren’t great, they weren’t that bad as a rate.
Connolly is playing on the third line, which should keep him away from the Andrew Ladd line for the most part. He is also (perhaps) a part of the second power play unit. Considering Ondrej Pavelec is in net for the Jets, and easier matchups, Connolly is in a decent spot. While I would prefer Plotnikov as a bargain winger given his line mates, it’s safe to say Connolly will be the far less owned player. In a tournament, I would take Connolly for salary relief.
Jonas Brodin – Minnesota (@ COL) – $2900
Brodin is surely one of those defenceman who is much better in “real” hockey than “fake” hockey. There are a lot of those guys, like Anton Stralman and Nick Leddy. That doesn’t mean they are irrelevant in fantasy hockey, though.
Coming into his Age 23 season, and his fourth full season, Brodin should really start rounding into his true top talent form. He won’t rack points, but he will be solid on the blue line. Even though he won’t have great production rates, he appears to be on pace to play nearly 25 minutes a game this year. Any defenceman that approaches that total can’t help but be productive. Just look at the list of guys who were around that mark last year.
In five games last year against the Avalanche, Brodin had four assists, but also had 10 shots on goal. At two shots per game against Colorado, he is way ahead against most of the NHL. With such a cheap price, a fairly soft opponent, and so many minutes likely coming his way, his floor is solid enough to rely on for cap relief in cash games.
Robin Lehner – Buffalo (vs. OTT) – $6300
The Buffalo Sabres were absolutely terrible last year in an effort to ensure at least a top-2 pick in the Entry Draft. They have made a lot of good additions, though: Trading for Evander Kane; trading for Ryan O’Reilly; signing Cody Franson. While it likely won’t make them a playoff team, they are headed in the right direction, and they will improve.
Robin Lehner was also added to be their starting goalie, as they traded pretty much every goalie that dared to win a game last season. Coming in from Ottawa, he was expected to be the goalie of the future in Canada’s capital, and after a couple great showing in short spurts, he was pedestrian over the last two years. Hence the trade.
As I mentioned, the Sabres probably aren’t a playoff team without a lot of luck. By the same token, I don’t think Ottawa is a playoff team this year, either.
While there are much safer options in net, it’s hard to ignore Lehner’s price. He hasn’t been a great goalie for his tenure so far in the NHL, but the Senators are not a strong team, and looking at the goalie pricing, Lehner is the best bargain option. The only goalies cheaper are backups, and the next-cheapest starter above him is Cam Ward.
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Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay (vs. PHI) – $7200
It is always kind of weird how expectations can skew the perception of a player. Stamkos finished second in the league last year in goals scored (42), and yet his season was seen as kind of a disappointment since he finished under a point-per-game pace for the first time since his rookie season in 2008-2009.
A big part of Stamkos’ struggle last year was lack of productive line mates. He played most of his time with Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, neither of which are top producers at this point. Even with those two, he the Lightning managed over three goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five, and that is elite.
The biggest reason for liking Stamkos is that Philadelphia is a mess defensively. None of their current d-men were on the ice for fewer than 28.99 shots per 60 minutes last year at five-on-five. That mark would put all their defencemen in the bottom half of the entire NHL.
Not much has changed from the Flyers lineup last year, and in three games against the Flyers in the 2014-2015 season, Stamkos managed 11 shots (scoring four goals). Those looking to draft an elite centre, but wanting to avoid high-owned players like Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin, should be fine with Stamkos.
Vladimir Tarasenko – St. Louis (vs. EDM) – $7000
Tarasenko was a breakout star last year. His 37 goals, 73 points, and 264 goals were all ranked tenth or higher among NHL forwards. He was especially hot during the first (nearly) half of the season, posting 39 points in his first 37 games.
A big reason why I think he will not decline this year is that, at least for now, Tarasenko is slated to play with Paul Stastny. In a limited amount of ice time together – about 12 games worth – they have been exceptional together; the Blues have averaged over 71 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five with those two on the ice. For reference, not a single regular in the NHL last year was on the ice for at least 69 shot attempts per 60 minutes. In their time together, they were offensive juggernauts.
The Oilers are coming to town, and while they sport an improved roster, I don’t see a defensive pairing that can hold down Stastny/Tarasenko for an entire game. I think Tarasenko has a nice floor of at least three shots on goal for cash games. I wouldn’t be surprised if the line combined for a couple goals. Considering he has the same price as Zach Parise, the choice is clear.
Kris Letang – Pittsburgh (@ DAL) – $5900
At this point of the season, for DFS purposes, it’s important to separate Letang’s injury history with his value. As long as he’s in the lineup, he’s truly one of the most productive men in the game; over the last three years, he’s sixth in points per 60 minutes at five-on-five among defencemen, and fifth on the power play. Those are elite rates.
I do think Dallas is better defensively than last year, but with the top-six forward mix Pittsburgh is sporting, any team in the NHL will have a hard teaming holding them down for a full game. For consideration: Letang on the ice with Crosby over the last three years has generated over 70 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five. As I mentioned with Tarasenko, any individual mark at that level is beyond elite. I would assume those two get a lot of ice time together in this game facing the Tyler Seguin line.
If the pricing were truly sharp for prior production, Letang should probably be about $1000 more expensive. I expect this contest to be wide open, and loaded with opportunities. With no concern over plus/minus, I think Letang is the top elite option for expensive d-men on DraftKings.
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