Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Thanksgiving week showdowns

Updated: November 21, 2008, 5:14 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

On tap: Thanksgiving is here! Cook up the turkey, mash up the potatoes, pour up the gravy and … uh … can-opener up the cranberry sauce? Because, you know, it's just not Thanksgiving if I can't see the ripples in the cranberry log. Oh, I can see the nasty, proverbial "ripples" in this week's hockey schedule, too … they're those mediocre-at-best Turkey Day games, Maple Leafs-Senators and Flames-Canucks. Sorry to those four teams' fans -- nothing personal -- but when you're talking quality couch time, those matchups have nothing on Cardinals-Eagles in the Thursday night NFL game. (Hey, you have your couch-time choice, I have mine.) Sure, I'll probably switch to Flames-Canucks during the commercials and/or if the football game is a blowout, but a note to the NHL: You did better with the Thanksgiving schedule last season. This season, it seems "Black Friday" was your aim for must-watch TV.

Check these Black Friday matchups: Canadiens-Capitals. Penguins-Sabres. Blackhawks-Ducks. Yes, please! I can tell you one fella who won't brave the 24-hour shopping spree at the local mall. (Hint: He likes day-after, turkey-plus-scoop-of-stuffing-and-gravy sandwiches, and he wore a gray sweater on the day his column pic was taken.) Those all are top-12 teams in Jim Wilkie's Nov. 17 Power Rankings. Oh, and by the way, Nos. 3 (Red Wings) and 4 (Bruins) battle in Boston the very next night. Great weekend for hockey. Just beware the tryptophan -- that stuff sneaks up on you!

Quick click by section:

Week 8 schedule | Favorable matchups | Unfavorable matchups | Daily picks

The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 8 schedules. In order to help those of you targeting quantity of games, the teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are broken first by greater number of home games -- a home game is almost always better than a road one -- and then alphabetically.

TeamMon. 11/24Tue. 11/25Wed. 11/26Thu. 11/27Fri. 11/28Sat. 11/29Sun. 11/30Total gamesHome games
PanthersCAR NJ NYR @NYR43
WildWAS DAL TB@NSH 43
Avalanche@ANA STL @PHOTB 42
CanadiensNYI @DET @WASBUF 42
Capitals@MIN ATL MON@CLS 42
Coyotes@NYR @CLS COLSJ 42
FlyersDAL @CAR CAR@TOR 42
Hurricanes@FLA PHI @PHI ANA42
Islanders@MON PIT @BOSOTT 42
RangersPHO @TB @FLA FLA42
Red Wings@VAN MON CLS@BOS 42
Stars@PHI @MIN SJ EDM42
Thrashers @TOR@WAS NSH STL42
Blues @NSH@COL  EDM@ATL41
Blue Jackets  PHO @DETWAS 32
Bruins  @BUF NYIDET 32
CanucksDET  CGY @CGY 32
DucksCOL   CHI @CAR32
Flames LA @VAN VAN 32
Maple Leafs ATL @OTT PHI 32
Predators STL  @ATLMIN 32
Sabres  BOS PIT@MON 32
Kings @CGY@EDM  CHI 31
Lightning  NYR @MIN@COL 31
Oilers  LA  @STL@DAL31
Penguins  @NYI @BUFNJ 31
Sharks  CHI @DAL@PHO 31
Blackhawks  @SJ @ANA@LA 30
Senators   TOR @NYI 21
Devils  @FLA  @PIT 20

Quantity might be all well and good for some fantasy owners, but not for all. Quality matters, too, so if you're picking and choosing from individual matchups -- most important in daily leagues or those with caps on games per position -- I'd take a look at the following four teams as strong Week 8 stat sources:

Flyers (DAL, @CAR, CAR, @TOR): Since starting the season 0-3-3, the Flyers are 7-3-1, so they have returned to the realm of fantasy respectability, meaning almost any four-game schedule classifies as a favorable one. This one is especially attractive, with games against the defensively challenged Stars and Maple Leafs bookending a home-and-home series with the Hurricanes, only a league-average team defensively speaking. Flyers goalie Martin Biron might have yet to earn our trust, but Jeff Carter, Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul should enjoy fine weeks. Daniel Briere might even return from his groin injury by Monday, in which case, the 95-point performer of two seasons ago is well worth slotting back into your lineup.

Oilers (LA, @STL, @DAL): If you're worried about Edmonton's schedule featuring two road games, keep two things in mind. One, the Oilers are 7-7-0 on the road thus far, with a number of challenging assignments. And two, their opponents couldn't be off to much more miserable starts. Did you know that neither the Blues nor the Stars have won a home game in November? (In four games total, sure, but still a fact.) The Oilers' goaltending picture couldn't be more clouded -- if I had to pick a one-week play, it'd be Mathieu Garon, and even he is shaky -- but their offense has been rolling, averaging 3.09 goals per game this month. Erik Cole might be shaking his early funk, having had assists in back-to-back contests, and Andrew Cogliano seems on the rise with goals in back-to-back games, while Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and the veteran defensemen are must-plays.

Rangers (PHO, @TB, @FLA, FLA): This might be a more defensive-minded team than the Rangers squads of the recent past, but looking at the schedule, it plays right to that strength, as these are three offenses this team surely can bottle up. Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Florida all rank in the bottom 10 in terms of goals per game and none boasts a winning record. Plus, the four contests are spaced out rather nicely, with a day off in between. Henrik Lundqvist is a top play for Week 8, and plus/minus shouldn't be nearly the problem for Daniel Girardi, Michal Rozsival and Nikolai Zherdev that it has been the past few weeks.

Thrashers (@TOR, @WAS, NSH, STL): Wait, wasn't Atlanta supposed to be a terrible team this season, one of the worst in the league? Look at the Thrashers' statistics; they're a middling offense -- 14th with 2.89 goals per game -- and boast a handful of pretty underappreciated fantasy scorers. It's like the sprinkle of cinnamon on your sweet potatoes; it might seem nasty at first glance, but trust me, it's pretty darned tasty. Ron Hainsey quietly has snuck into the top 30 among defensemen, and forwards Slava Kozlov and Bryan Little have been surprisingly productive as well. Just monitor Todd White's status; he'll be well worth using against three of the league's six worst defenses (Nashville, St. Louis and Toronto) if his concussion doesn't hold him out.

If you're picking and choosing your matchups, I'd do my best to avoid players from the following four teams. Keep in mind stud players -- like Thomas Vanek -- on teams with poor matchups shouldn't normally be benched, but it's worth keeping their schedules in mind if you're deep in high-quality alternatives.

Blackhawks (@SJ, @ANA, @LA): Thus completes the Blackhawks' six-game road trip, and this is the unappealing half of it, the West Coast swing with stops in San Jose and Anaheim, two tricky places to play. Plus, it needs to be said: The Blackhawks are 13-14-5 on the road since Jan. 1, not awful, but not great, either. Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin are practically splitting the starts between the pipes, and that's a nightmarish scenario, accounting for the schedule. Plus, guys like Martin Havlat, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are in minifunks, with one assist total in Chicago's past four games.

Devils (@FLA, @PIT): No. Way. Just, no way. In the eight games since Martin Brodeur was lost to surgery on his left biceps, the Devils are 3-5-0, with two of the wins coming in the shootout, totaling 16 goals compared to 24 for their opponents during that span. Sticking with the Thanksgiving theme, this two-road-game schedule is the "Uncle Milton" of Week 8. Don't lie; you know Milton. He -- and to be fair, Milton could be a she, and he doesn't have to be your uncle -- is the family member who just makes the whole thing awkward. Patrik Elias, Zach Parise. That's it. Anything else, and you, sir -- or madam -- are crazy.

Lightning (NYR, @MIN, @COL): The game's most offensively challenged team has to fend off the Nos. 1 (Minnesota, 2.00 goals allowed per game) and 3 (Rangers, 2.27) defensive squads, and Colorado does tend to tighten the screws at home, allowing 2.44 goals per game there compared to 3.44 on the road. Goalie Mike Smith will continue to have problems in the win department, making him a weak choice for Week 8, and the only Tampa Bay skaters who can be counted on to overcome the matchups are Vincent Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal and Martin St. Louis.

Sabres (BOS, PIT, @MON): All three of these teams can beat the Sabres. Can't state it more clearly than that. Boston is 10-1-1 in its past 12 games, matching San Jose as the hottest team during that span. Pittsburgh is 7-0-1 in the month of November, and Montreal, simply put, has the advantage in a home game. It doesn't help that goalie Ryan Miller is mired in a funk, 1-3-1 with a 4.44 goals-against average and .848 save percentage in his past six games, two of those losses to the Bruins. You know the usual Sabres to keep in there; avoid the fringe options, because plus/minus has been a huge issue for this team this month.

For those of you in leagues with daily transactions, I've picked a strong matchup on each side of the puck for each day of the upcoming week. My "defensive choice" doesn't always mean simply "play the goalie"; it means the goalie is a strong pick, but indicates every bit as much that the team will be safe and potentially productive in plus/minus. When possible -- and remember, some days boast fewer games than others -- obvious teams have been avoided in favor of sleeper-type selections.

DateOffensive choice (opponent)Defensive choice (opponent)
Monday, Nov. 24Ducks (COL)Ducks (COL)
Tuesday, Nov. 25Flames (LA)Maple Leafs (ATL)
Wednesday, Nov. 26Wild (DAL)Panthers (NJ)
Thursday, Nov. 27Senators (TOR)Senators (TOR)
Friday, Nov. 28Coyotes (COL)Thrashers (NSH)
Saturday, Nov. 29Oilers (@STL)Avalanche (TB)
Sunday, Nov. 30Thrashers (STL)Rangers (FLA)

David Booth, LW, Panthers: It sure seems like his work with strength and conditioning coach Andy O'Brien this summer has helped him, as Booth appears to have captured the leading-man role in the Florida offense thus far. I know, I know, this is Nathan Horton's team, but the fact remains that it's Booth, not Horton, who paces the Panthers in both goals scored (eight) and shots on goal (62). The second-year wing has developed into a nice little sleeper, and this is a four-game week with three at home.

Bobby Ryan, RW, Ducks: Remember back in the preseason, when this kid was a popular choice to win the Calder Trophy? Unfortunately, a salary-cap crunch cost Ryan a roster spot to begin the season, and he kicked things off in the minors, waiting out his chance. Well, that chance is here, and in his second game of the season, he potted two goals and added an assist, skating more than 16 minutes in each of the two contests. This one is less a schedule thing than it is a "pick Ryan up and start him" thing. Since we just passed baseball awards season, Ryan is the type of upside play Evan Longoria was; Longoria spent Opening Day in the minors but was promoted shortly thereafter and exploded. Like we say at my place come Thanksgiving time, it's OK if you arrive late; the cranberry sauce still tastes just as sweet. (And no "this kid's a turkey" jokes, please.)

Marek Zidlicky, D, Wild: I always admired this guy's talent back in his days in Nashville, and sharp, powerful shots don't exactly fade away when you're a 31-year-old in the top defensive pairing on your team, skating 20-plus minutes per game. That's endorsement enough for Zidlicky, but I'll toss in the fact that his somewhat sluggish start can be explained as problems with injuries. His two goals and four assists in eight games this month indicate he's turning the corner. This week, the Wild play four games, three of those against the Stars, Lightning and Predators.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.