Today we’re launching a new feature on the site – Fantasy Chatter.
That’s a working title. It’s what I could come up with at 3am on a Friday. This is an idea that’s been tossed around and has a few years of rust over it. But two year’s too late is how I’ve operated most of my life. Better late than never, though. At least here.
With the start of the NHL season less than a week away, we know a lot of folks have fantasy drafts right around the corner. Even if you’ve already picked your team, fantasy vets know it’s the roster moves you make along the way that separates the pretenders from the contenders.
So with that I’ve enlisted Lane Myer, who has been putting me to shame in our various TTMI Fantasy Hockey Leagues over five seasons now. Lane has emailed me after a live draft, mocking some of my prized selections. He’s lived to tell about it (because we’ve never physically met) and has now even parlayed that into a weekly space here on the site. And hopefully it will be both insightful and beneficial to our readers, whether you’re a fantasy player or not. I’m excited about this feature and the potential it brings to involve more ongoing statistical analysis and player prospectus on the site.
Before I turn it over to Lane, I do want to make mention that we have still have a few spots open in a TTMI league we are Live Drafting this Monday night at 9pm. If you’re interested, contact me at ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com – we’d be glad to have you aboard and you can shame me too. –Chris Block
Note: Part two of this week’s Fantasy Chatter, Hawk Factors and Goalie Wars, will reveal here at noon Friday 10/3.
By Lane Myer
For a brief introduction, I’m Lane, and Chris has asked me if I wouldn’t possibly maybe mind writing a weekly fantasy hockey column for TTMI. All you need to know is that I’m no expert but I do have a pretty good track record. Probably luck, but if Block wants to point out that my current 87% Yahoo League performance rating is way better than yours – that’s ok, I guess. I’m basically just the only guy who didn’t say no. Largely because the pay is decent.
This first post will not be a typical TTMI fantasy article. They will not be this long in the future.
We wanted to get a draft-centric post up as the first article to give potential readers a partial example of what we’ll do from here on out. However, after this post, we’ll likely not discuss draft positions again until the off-season unless we’re referencing where a player’s value has increased or decreased since the beginning of the season. Each week we’ll try to highlight the goaltending situations around the league just as fantasy baseball posts tend to have a closer watch for those closers with a tentative hold on their designated role. We’ll also try to help out the head to head league streamers by listing the teams who have 4 games for the upcoming week as opposed to the teams on a 3 game schedule week. Each week we’ll also look at players who are warming up and who may be found on your league’s waiver wire. Plus any fantasy hockey relevant Blackhawk news or notes. Among other things that haven’t been fully hatched out yet. We just worked this out two days ago so this is a fluid situation. That said, we’re looking to get the post up by the end of each week for the typical Monday morning roster doctors.
A quick glossary explanation; over the course of the season you’ll likely hear terms such as standard 5×4 or 6×4 leagues or ADP. ADP = average draft position. Since most US fantasy players use Yahoo as their hosting site, and the fact that the TTMI Leagues are hosted on Yahoo, we’ll generally refer to Yahoo when citing ADP. 5×4 or 6×4 standard leagues refers to leagues that use standard stat categories. They’ll typically include….
Goals, Assists, Power Play Points, +/-, Penalty Minutes and sometimes either Short Handed Points or Shots on the offensive side and Wins, GAA, SV%, and Shutouts on the goaltending side.
Hence, 5×4 or 6×4 leagues because those are the standard stat categories most often found in various fantasy leagues. These are also the categories that Yahoo bases their assigned ADPs to each player to. Yahoo does not adjust the rankings for non-standard leagues such as the TTMI Leagues. Obviously if you play in multi-category leagues or keeper or dynasty leagues, you’ll have to adjust relevant info to your league’s settings. We probably won’t deal with a whole lot of keeper leagues or points leagues at TTMI because they’re just not very popular in fantasy hockey. At least in the US. So we’ll largely concentrate on Roto and Head to Head (H2H) leagues for the most part. Off we go….
Top 10 Undervalued Players by ADP (We don’t like the term “sleeper” here at TTMI, we prefer undervalued)
- Patric Hornquist, provided that Evgeny Malkin is healthy enough to pilot the second line in Pittsburgh, is another of the recently transacted players who moves directly into an enviable position by essentially flipping spots with James Neal who rode that position to a 40 goal season (and if he’d been healthy, another 2 seasons of right around 40 goals). Even though roughly 90% of his shots are taken within 2 feet of the goal, Hornquist has never been shy about pulling the trigger having averaged 230+ shots per season over his tenure in Nashville. Despite largely being centered by checking liners in Nashville, Hornquist still managed 51 points last season, 17 of which came on the PP. Along with his shot total, Hornquist’s PP markers helped rank among the top 100 fantasy players last season at #82 overall in standard leagues. Remarkably despite that ranking, he’s barely rated higher this season despite moving to Malkin’s line. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee Hornquist will assume Neal’s 40 goals, especially considering Malkin doesn’t seem to currently be at full health, but if Malkin is Malkin, we’re looking at 30-35 goals and another 30 assists to equal a 65+ point player with a ton of PP ice time….and perhaps 275 shots this season for leagues that use shots as a counting stat. His +/- should also improve from breaking even to approximately +10/+15 with the move to Penguinland which would result in a top 50 overall fantasy player.
- Radim Vrbata, believe it or not, was a top 85 fantasy player last season despite a slightly down year largely thanks to his always reliable production with the man advantage (21 points, 10 of which were goals). Add in his 260 shots attempted and 30+ assists and he’s a standard league counting stat category filler. This despite a 7.6 shooting% which was down from 11.3% from the previous year and his career average of 10.1% as a Coyote. This production came with the likes of Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette feeding him the puck. Now he’s supposed to ride shotgun with the Twins in Vancouver, at least until they decide to distribute the scoring because Vancouver seems to be severely lacking in scoring prowess outside of the Twins, Vrbata, and Bonino. Should Vrbata maintain the RW position with the Twins then we could be looking at high 20’s goals and low 30’s assist production along with 20-25 points on the man advantage and 230+ shots this season. Not bad for an 8th or 9th rounder in standard leagues.
- Tyson Barrie is another young player who enjoyed a hot run down the stretch posting 30 points over his final 39 games which would equal a 60 point prorated pace. He looked strong at even strength as well compiling a +17 +/- with ‘only’ 10 of his points on the man advantage. He’s coming off of injury, so that needs to be observed, but he’s also another sneaky shot blocking PP quarterback. Fending aside 57 shots over his 64-game regular season. Barrie also chipped in 50 hits for those in hits & blocked shots category leagues so if he were to maintain that pace across a full season, we could be looking at a 45-50 point player with 80/100 hits/blocked shots respectively. I’d rather draft Barrie over the Dan Boyle types who will fall off of the board 4 or 5 rounds earlier.
- Troy Brouwer. Chances are you didn’t notice, unless you’re a Caps fan or hardcore fantasy hockey player, but while Brouwer only posted 42 points playing a good deal of first line minutes alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, he scored 12 of his 18 goals on the Capitals’ vaunted power play while kicking in another 9 assists with the man advantage. Now it’s risky to expect any player to repeat a season where nearly half of his point total came from the PP, unless your name is Kimmo Timonen, but in leagues where penalty minutes, and hits matter, he’s a top 100 player if he repeats anything close to this PP point total. Brouwer has a career 14.3 shooting% but has only offered more than 134 shots in a season once. That being last season’s 161 shots taken. If Brouwer manages a similar season in 2014, we’re basically looking at Scott Hartnell with fewer shot attempts. Hartnell is one of those classic 6 or 7 stat category contributors that subsequently has spent a good deal of time as a top 25-50 fantasy forward over the last decade. Brouwer’s current ADP is around #220. That’s waaay too low for non-standard category leagues. Especially if your league uses TTMI League style categories. Brouwer remarkably took over 400 face-offs last season winning over 50% of them to go along with 210 hits.
- Craig Smith. Stop laughing. Do you know where Craig Smith finished in the rankings last season? #100 right behind Kesler, and two slots ahead of Daniel Sedin. Yet his average draft position is set around the time where 75% of your league has already cashed out from the draft room. The generically named Nashville forward posted the quietest 50 point season in recent vintage including 24 goals (7 on the PP) and 28 assists (only 3 on the PP) which indicates he was a pretty steady even strength performer which bodes well for his future. Craigers recorded 215 shots giving him a solid 11.2 shooting% and the question now seems to be where exactly he fits in among the new acquisitions. Thus far, it seems that Nashville likes the look of Ribeiro and Neal on the first line with current auditions for their line-mate ongoing. In recent days it’s been Filip Forsberg. New headmaster, Peter Laviolette, tends to run a more offensively minded system so this may further Smith’s standing as a top 100 fantasy player if the speedy pivot is allowed to run and gun outside of Trotz’s sludge-it-up style. If Smith could find himself on that first line wing with Ribeiro and Neal then we’re easily going to witness a top 75 fantasy player. If he’s held back to the second line with some combination of Cullen, Derek Roy, Mike Fisher, Olli Jokinen or Colin Wilson then I’m not sure we an expect better than another 50 point performance. Monitor this developing situation and give him a bump if he starts skating with Neal and Ribeiro.
- Christian Ehrhoff, like Brad Richards, moves into a position where his fantasy standing immediately jumps by at least 25% in his new home. Likely moreso in Ehrhoff’s case as he moves from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the top offensive clubs in the NHL. When Ehrhoff patrolled the point in Vancouver, he was good for 45-50 points per season with over half of his points (51 of 94) the result of the PP. He’;s now moving into a similar, if not superior, PP with the Pens this season and I think it’s safe to count on 45-50 points once again. He’s currently sitting around #110 but could easily return value of that at least two rounds earlier. It’s not a super undervalued draft position, but he’ll almost assuredly top his putrid -27 +/- that Buffalo drug him down with last year. For leagues that count blocked shots, he’s also pretty dependable for 100+ blocks per season.
- Jake Muzzin would rank higher on our list if the fantasy moles here at TTMI were made aware of his current pairing with a certain #8 to remain intact for the majority of this season. Muzzin was merely only the third most valuable defenseman on his own team last season…at least until playoff time rolled around to where Muzzin surpassed his regular season goal total of 5 by besting that count by one over his 26 game Cup run. If Muzzin sees the 2.5 minutes of PP time as he did in the playoffs carried over into this season, I think we’ll see an opportunity for Muzzin to wildly improve his laughable 2.9 shooting% and tally double digit goals. He’s also another of the blueliners who will contribute in the physicality stats department like hits and blocked shots by averaging over 2 hits and 1 blocked shot per game. Muzzin ended the season ranked 21st among defensemen in hits. All of this will come from a drafting position somewhere around the 15th round in standard leagues.
- Derick Brassard spent the majority of last season centering the Rangers’ third line alongside lollipop guild member, Mats Zuccarello, and at times, Brad Richards, to form one of the more productive third lines in the league. Even before Derek Stepen’s injury, Brassard was pegged to see more PP ice time in Richard’s stead, and now with Stepen out, we could conceivably see Brassard center the top line while Stepen is sidelined. Brassard has turned into a solid two way player, but one that has taken more than 160 shots per season once in his career. He registered 18 goals (7 on the PP) on 159 attempts last season good for a 11.3 shooting%. He’s averaged around that mark (10.8%) for his entire career so with perhaps at least 40 or more shot attempts this season we could see closer to 22-25 goals from Brassard in addition to 35-40 assists to put him around a 60-65 point performer. He’ll obviously face stiffer defensive match-ups if he moves up to the top line, but for his current late round draft position, it’s worth the gamble even if he’s only drafted as a bench option for your squad. For leagues that count face-offs and hits, he’s a 100+ hit per season hitter. and he’ll obviously bank at least 450 face-offs won this season.
- Kyle Okposo, despite missing 11 games to injury, still managed to finish the season as a top 70 fantasy player. Had he been able to skate the full 82, he was on pace to be a top 50-55 player. His current ADP is #94 which obviously doesn’t even equal his finish last season. The reason we’re not ranking him higher is his erratic career shooting%. Okposo posted a fantastic 13.8 S% over 195 shot attempts last season, but in the lockout shortened prior season, he checked in with a miserable 4.0 shot% and he found himself on most league’s waiver wires. 2011-12 his S% was over 15%, 2010-11 it was down to 6.9%. 2009 = 10.9%. So if we’re following the Bret Saberhagen -every other year routine, Okposo will be waiver wire fodder this season again. Of course over those previous seasons he wasn’t always lining up with a certain #91. So rolling the dice on Okposo this year will be based solely on John Tavares dragging him up to respectability should his shooting% once again fall off the table. Despite his 220lb frame, Okposo isn’t a real physical player so for those of you in hits and blocked shots leagues,, don’t count on more than 50 for either category.
- Jaden Schwartz is another guy who has already registered a top 75 fantasy season. Yet his current #151 ADP doesn’t seem to indicate much confidence. Considering his shooting percentage last season was pretty much in line with his lockout shortened rookie season, I’m on board. A good portion of his value last season is from his +28 +/- rating, but 56 points (only 10 of which came on the man advantage) also looks appealing. I’m not sure how much more growth there is for his points total, but with the manner with which his ADP doesn’t line up with his previous performance and the fact that he can slide over from the wing to center should Backes or Berglund go down to injury, he could also add some value in face-off counting leagues.
Top 5 Breakout Candidates
- Tomas Hertl. Were it not for Dustin Brown, Hertl would likely already be a top 40 fantasy forward heading into the season. Hertl primarily skated on SJ’s top line last season, and once again is slated to begin the season on Jumbo Joe’s left. It’s an even more appetizing position this season as Chewbacca moves back to the blueline and is supplanted by 40 goal scorer Joe Pavelski on the right. At least to open the season. Mirco Mueller and Taylor Fedun have played well enough in camp to give SJ pause in keeping Burns on defense for the duration of the season, but Burns running the point from the blueline seems like Doug Wilson’s plan. His current average draft position has him a round outside of the top 100 off the board, and I don’t think it will difficult for him to be a top 75 player immediately with full health.
- Brandon Saad really slowed down after January recording only 2 goals and 6 assists over the final 22 games. Burnout? Shaw/Handzus centering? Perhaps. That said, he did go on to bank 16 points in 19 postseason games which would prorate to a 69 point season at that pace. He’ll almost certainly spend the majority of his time in the top 6 with perhaps dropping down to the third line if Bickell catches fire or is moved up to ‘protect’ the Captain from the evildoers in St Louis or something. Prior to burnout, he was on pace for a 24 goal first full season, so I suppose 30 isn’t that far out of reach for this season. His current average draft position is around #132 while he finished #144 overall last season so he could very well provide top 75 or better value from a later middle round pick.
- Mikael Granlund reportedly spent his off-season working on his shot, apparently displeased with his 8 goal (on 7.7 shooting%) campaign. He did record 33 assists (10 on the PP) and was particularly hot in the second half racking up 30 points over the final 40 contests. A Dallas Stars era Mike Ribiero type (15 goals, 50 assists, and heavy PP contributor), at his peak perhaps. That would be good for a top 75 fantasy performer, and he’s already spent time this preseason skating with Parise on the top line which would bump incumbent first line center, Mikko Koivu, to the second line for good. Granlund currently sits at around #150 on most draft boards and health provided, could easily become a top 100 fantasy player.
- Tyler Toffoli has already become a semi-star in LA thanks to his 14 point, 2 game winning goal playoff performance last season, but this should be the season in which he challenges the 20 goal, 40 point plateau. Some of that will be determined by exactly how much PP time he will receive. Down the stretch and into the playoffs, Toffoli spent the majority of his shifts on Jeff Carter’s flank on the second line along with fellow rookie Tanner Pearson. Depending on how LA rolls their lines, he’s another guy who could have multi-positional eligibility sliding from the wing to center. His current average draft position is around #160 and I think it would be difficult for him not to earn at least top 120 value meaning he’s probably being valued about 3 or 4 rounds too low at present.
- Alex Galchenyuk posted merely 31 points in his (almost) first full season and this selection represents merely just a hunch as nothing down the stretch in Montreal would necessarily highlight a breakout campaign for the American. Galchenyuk compiled 23 points through his first 41 games last season, but struggled in the second half recording just 8 points across his final 24 games in addition to battling injuries down the stretch. He’ll likely bounce around the second and third lines moving from LW to center, but if there was one player, aside from Hertl who already built a name for himself prior to injury, to predict a Ryan Johansen like breakout largely out of nowhere (despite the high draft position) it would be Galchenyuk. One of those players who could either struggle and see bottom 6 minutes only and be dropped from the majority of fantasy rosters….or a 25 goal scorer with 30 assists and plenty of second unit PP ice time.
*Honorable mention: Brayden Schenn. If Schenn truly sticks on Philly’s first line for the majority of the season, you can make a convincing argument he belongs at #2 or 3 on this list. I’m expecting it’s going to be a Joel Quenneville-esque line roulette situation on most of Philly’s lines this season with Umberger, Lecavalier, Schenn, Couturier and Read bouncing around the center and wing positions on the second and third lines with perhaps the guy who is the most productive sliding up to the Giroux/Voracek first line.
Deep (League) Cuts
- A center by nature, Brock Nelson may be winning the lottery and allotted the opportunity to play on the left of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the Island. Nelson tallied 14 goals and 12 assists in 72 games for the Isles last season while spending time on each of the four lines. No, it’s not quite Pascal Dupuis lining up with Crosby & Kunitz, but you could do much worse with a late or final round pick for you deep roster 12 team or 15 team leaguers. If Nelson could stick on the first line for even half of the season, that should equate to 20 cheaply priced goals and the opportunity for 40 points. Of course lurking as a potential replacement for Nelson should he struggle or face the need to move back to center on an alternate line is
- Anders Lee. The former Notre Dame power forward entered camp as an almost probable linemate for Tavares and Okooso after flashing mid-round fantasy potential with 9 goals and 5 assists in his 22 game sample last season denting the net on a well above average 13.2% of his shots, seven of which came at even strength. Like Nelson, Lee is capable of playing center so we will likely see a very fluid situation on the Island all season long with Nelson, Lee, Franz Nielson, Grabner, Josh Bailey, and possibly Ryan Strome shuffling all over the top 9 depending on who is clicking at the most opportune times with Tavares and Okposo.
- Marty Havlat / Alex Tanguay. Hey go ahead on Havlat. I don’t think he’s skated a shift in about 3 years so he should be well rested and there are about 27 fellow Czechs even older than Marty on the New Jersey roster for him to gel with. He did score 12 goals on only 72 shots last season. As for Tanguay, he’s spent the preseason skating with MacKinnon and Landeskog on the second line and has looked pretty good, supposedly. In his brief 16-game sample last season (before disintegrating into a dust cloud), Tanguay did receive the largest average of PP ice time per game at just under 2.5 minutes for the AVs so there is that.
- Beau Bennett despite the news that he’ll likely miss 6 weeks with the dreaded lower body injury, Bennett is still a good option in the late rounds. For no other reason than who else is going to take a top 6 forward spot in Pittsburgh? Steve Downie? Blake Comeau? Good luck with that.; For those in 15 team leagues with 2 IR slots, draft Bennett late, perhaps with your final pick, move him to IR when the season begins, and then pick up the player on waivers who gets off to the hottest start. He’s currently ranked at #693 so unless you have some Penguin diehards in your league, everyone else has already forgotten about him.
- Jori Lehtera should bring some size and skill to the third line center role for the Blues coming off a 12 point performance for Team Finland in Sochi. If he’s either able to move up to the top 6 group or receive some second pair PP time, we could see a 40+ point season out of Lehtera with roughly 30-35% of those points as the result of the man advantage. With Steve Ott possibly lining up to his right, he might unintentionally pile up 40+ PIMs just from having to drag opposing players off of the human compost pile. 40 points, 12-15 PPs, and 40 PIMs could be a solid play for you 15 team leaguers.