Fantasy Forecaster: The Isles a recommended choice?!
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On tap: The NHL's trade deadline arrives at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, but we might not see quite as much wheeling and dealing as usual. Only the Islanders, Thrashers, Lightning, Senators, Maple Leafs and Avalanche can legitimately consider themselves out of the race (eight points or more behind the eighth seed in their conference through Thursday, Feb. 26), so with tighter playoff battles, fewer big-ticket trades should be expected. Among the more notable fantasy names rumored to be on the block: Chris Pronger of the Ducks; Olli Jokinen, Derek Morris and Ed Jovanovski of the Coyotes; Bill Guerin of the Islanders; Nik Antropov and Tomas Kaberle of the Maple Leafs; and Filip Kuba of the Senators.
The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 22 schedules. In order to help those of you targeting quantity of games, teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are first broken by greater number of home games -- a home game is almost always better than a road one -- and then alphabetically by team.
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 22 stat sources:
Capitals (CAR, TOR, PIT): The Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry will be rekindled Sunday, and be aware that while the Penguins dominated that series in years past, it's Ovechkin's squad that has won all three meetings this season. Washington should bring plenty of energy to that contest, and presumably the two before it, too, since those games are also home affairs and against beatable teams. That the Maple Leafs and Penguins rank 12th and 11th in scoring this season makes goalie Jose Theodore more of a second- than a first-tier option, but offense shouldn't be a problem for Capitals skaters. Viktor Kozlov, back from a groin strain, is skating on Ovechkin's top line and warrants a look, and Eric Fehr continues to excel, with seven goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating in his past 13 games.
Islanders (COL, NYR, NJ, PHO): Can you believe it? The Islanders, a recommended fantasy choice? Print, clip and save this one, because you probably won't see it happen again this season. Seriously, though, who doesn't warrant fantasy consideration in a four-home-game week? The Devils present a challenge Saturday, but take them out of the equation and the Islanders' other three opponents this week have combined to score 92 goals (2.09 per game) and allow 151 (3.43 per) since the All-Star break. (Incidentally, the Islanders did beat the Devils as recently as Feb. 21, when they won 4-0.) Though neither goaltender is a reliable weekly choice, having split the past eight starts, Yann Danis is the more attractive daily pick, with a 5-4-1 record, 1.89 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in his past 10 starts. Among skaters, Kyle Okposo should be showcased the remainder of the season as the Isles remain future-minded, as evidenced by his 24-plus minutes of ice time this past Thursday; Josh Bailey benefits with increased minutes following the Mike Comrie trade, skating nearly 19 minutes in that same game; and Dean McAmmond slides in at center in Comrie's old spot. Not that any of them is a fantasy standout, but you sleeper-seekers, take notice.
Panthers (@ATL, PIT, STL): The Panthers are playing much-improved hockey in the new year, with a 15-6-3 record since the All-Star break. Tomas Vokoun has had quite a hand in that, with a 12-5-2 record, 1.92 GAA and .941 save percentage in 19 games during that span, including a 5-2-0 mark and 1.55 GAA in his past seven contests. He should be fully recovered from the flu by Tuesday, and will be most tested by the Penguins of this bunch, making for quality matchups for him overall. Among skaters, Nathan Horton (five goals in his past nine games) remains as productive as ever, while both David Booth and Stephen Weiss warrant activating.
Sabres (MON, PHO, @OTT): Long-term injuries to both star forward Thomas Vanek and starting goalie Ryan Miller have adversely affected the Sabres, as they're 3-4-2 since Feb. 7, the day Vanek got hurt, and have lost back-to-back games since Miller joined him on the shelf. Still, this schedule favors the Sabres enough to not ignore them, and this is a team that tends to run five or six skaters deep in fantasy options besides. Ales Kotalik has three goals, all of them on the power play, in his past eight games; Drew Stafford has four goals and three assists in his past 11 contests; and Tim Connolly has seven assists in his past nine games, not to mention the potential to land with a contender at the trade deadline. All of them should be in your lineup for Week 22, facing teams only so-so defensively speaking.
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, such as Evgeni Malkin, 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.
Avalanche (@NYI, DET, @CHI): Advising you avoid Red Wings and Blackhawks matchups is an obvious call, but if I'm also recommending the Islanders for their Week 22 schedule, it follows that a road game at New York represents a weak matchup for the Avalanche as well. We're talking about the worst team in the Western Conference, an 11-19-1 road team and one likely to get obliterated by the Red Wings' powerhouse offense in its one home game. Milan Hejduk, John-Michael Liles, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny belong in fantasy lineups regardless of matchups, but beyond those four, there's not much to like this week.
Canucks (MIN, SJ): Two home games isn't always a must-sit type of schedule, but it's the case when both of those contests come against teams ranked in the top three in the league in goals allowed per game (Wild, 2nd, 2.29; Sharks, 3rd, 2.35). The Canucks have already dropped three meetings with the Sharks this season, totaling three goals, meaning their best chance for success this week is back-to-back stellar performances by goalie Roberto Luongo. Fantasy owners know obviously to keep him in there, but there's no need to take chances on shakier skaters like Steve Bernier (scoreless in his past three games), Ryan Kesler (scoreless in his past three), Sami Salo (one goal in his past six) and, surprisingly, even Mats Sundin (two assists in his past seven).
Penguins (@TB, @FLA, @WAS): The last thing the Penguins need right now is the distraction of the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry, especially in the midst of a five-game road trip ending in Washington on Sunday. Games in Tampa Bay and Florida are manageable for an offense like this, but there's a clear downside here, which diminishes the appeal of lesser Penguins skaters such as Kris Letang, Miroslav Satan and Jordan Staal. Besides, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's sieve-like performance lately has been killing the Penguins in individual plus/minus ratings, with his 3.73 GAA and .873 save percentage in his past six starts. He can't be trusted at all.
Rangers (@NYI, BOS): This team is an unqualified mess right now; it's no wonder the team fired its coach in the past week! The Rangers sport by far the weakest offense in the game since the All-Star break, having totaled 25 goals in 15 games -- a shockingly low 1.67 per contest. Though two of the Rangers' past six wins did come against the Islanders, that the Rangers have outscored their division rivals by only five goals total in five meetings this season demonstrates that's no slam dunk of a victory. Toss in a game against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins and you're talking a must-avoid schedule. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is about the only elite fantasy choice among Rangers right now, and with wins a problem, even he is a shaky Week 22 start. I couldn't fault anyone for picking a more attractive matchups play.
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.
|Monday, March 2||Avalanche (@NYI)||Avalanche (@NYI)|
|Tuesday, March 3||Flames (@OTT)||Panthers (@ATL)|
|Wednesday, March 4||Sabres (MON)||Red Wings (@COL)|
|Thursday, March 5||Predators (CLS)||Islanders (NYR)|
|Friday, March 6||Sabres (PHO)||Blues (@TB)|
|Saturday, March 7||Hurricanes (@TB)||Flyers (NSH)|
|Sunday, March 8||Islanders (PHO)||Islanders (PHO)|
• Patrice Bergeron, C, Bruins: Remember this name? A fantasy star on the rise as recently as a year and a half ago, Bergeron has had his career derailed by concussion issues, totaling 25 points in 46 games since returning to the ice this season. Still, the more time he logs, the more comfortable he seems, and in his past six games he has two goals, two assists and a plus-3, firing 21 shots during that span. The Bruins play four games this week, more than enough of a fantasy-friendly schedule to warrant activating him.
• Mike Modano, C, Stars: Amazing to think his stock has slipped to the point where he warrants sleeper potential in his good stints, but remember, he's 38, so it shouldn't be considered that shocking. Dallas is another of the five teams to play four games this week, and Modano's role should expand during Brad Richards' absence; he'll presumably man the point on the first power-play unit for the foreseeable future. With the Stars in a dogfight for playoff spots out West, a veteran, longtime Star like Modano should absolutely be expected to pick up his play a notch in the season's final month-plus.
• Pekka Rinne, G, Predators: The Predators might not have much of an offense, but they're pretty sound between the pipes, and certain to get better as Rinne develops. He's 8-2-1 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in 11 starts in the month of February, and that's in spite of his team scoring 29 goals total for him during that span (2.64 per game). He did handle the potent offenses of Boston (Feb. 14) and Chicago (Feb. 24), and this week gets home games against the Blue Jackets and Oilers, who combined have scored 73 goals in 30 games since the All-Star break (2.43 per contest).
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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