by Johnny Fantasy
This week: the NHL shamefully favours the needs of real-life players over fantasy owners and we look at a couple of players against certain expectations.
The New NHL Bye Week
Some NHL news that came out this week that probably has a bigger impact on fantasy hockey than actual NHL hockey was the announcement that next season the NHL will be giving each team a ‘bye’ week in the first two months of the calendar year. Apparently, this is something that the players have been trying to get for a while now, and you start to understand why when you look into exactly how much time and travel is involved in an 82-game NHL schedule. Next year will also include the World Cup tournament before the season (and of course the NHL playoffs for those teams that qualify), which amounts to a lot of hockey for the top players in the league (i.e. the players you likely have on your fantasy team). From that perspective, I can see the value of resting those players for a bit mid-season. However, this will likely be really inconvenient from a fantasy perspective, as it means in the months of January and February, you will not have your full roster at your disposal.
The bye ‘week’ will actually a be 5-day period during which the players also have off from practice. A five day gap itself doesn’t seem that bad at first (teams occasionally go 4 or 5 days between games in the current schedule), until you realize that the bye week is not always going to be bookended by games (note that the rule will be that player will return to practice after 4:00pm on the fifth day if there is a game on the sixth day). That means we could be seeing six or seven day stretches where teams have no games. I expect it’ll feel similar to those time when always seem to have one or two guys on your team being ‘day-to-day’ for several weeks in a row. This is something we all deal with throughout the season, but when there’s a string of injuries (even minor), the feeling like your fantasy team hasn’t been operating at 100% effectiveness. On the plus side, unlike a string of injuries, we will know exactly when the players will return to play (and the break may actually help in preventing some injuries by giving the players time to rest). In the end, this will be something we will eventually get used to – fantasy football players have always had to deal with this reality (and for a much larger part of their season). If nothing else, we fantasy hockey players will just need to place a bit more importance on diversifying our fantasy roster for those months.
There has been a lot of lamenting about Matt Duchene for a while now. Last season was disappointing and the beginning of this season was a disaster, spurring talk that maybe Duchene wasn’t going to be the superstar that everyone thought he was going to be. This has led to recent rumours, suggesting that Duchene would be shipped out of Colorado. Despite all of this (or maybe partly because of it), Duchene has exploded in the month of November with 16 points in last 10 games, which is certainly a nice reward for fantasy owners that stuck with him (even after an abysmal 2 points through the first 10 games). Can he keep up this pace? Well, that will probably be heavily dependent on what may be the real reason Duchene has been doing so well lately: skating on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Skating with those guys certainly doesn’t guarantee this type of production (I mean nothing does – 1.6 points-per-game would be near the top of the league), but having such quality linemates certainly gives Duchene the opportunity to succeed (which opportunity he has fully taken advantage of so far). At the very least, this is a nice hot streak to ride, as even if Duchene sticks on the top line, he won’t be scoring at this clip for the whole season. Once Alex Tanguay returns from injury, Duchene owners may have to worry that the lines will get shuffled up again, but Duchene should have plenty of time to cement himself in this role, and he is at least proving that he has the potential to live up to expectations.
Kane & Panarin & that other guy
Speaking of expectations, playing on one of the hottest lines in hockey has to make a player a lock to be fantasy-relevant, right? I would have thought so, but one guy who seems to just be floating on the border of relevance is Artem Anisimov. Nothing can be said about Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin that even a casual hockey fan doesn’t already know – they’re having great seasons and scoring a ton of points. But Anisimov is the third piece of that line and he doesn’t seem to put up the same kind of numbers that one would expect as being part of that party. Not that anyone would expect him to be on the same level (I mean, he’s no Teemu Selanne), but I would think that he would be scoring a bit more often. He’s only got 14 points in 20 games so far – on pace for 59 points, which is admittedly far higher than his career best of 44. He has been more consistent lately, with at least one point in each of his past five games. Also worth noting is an increase in his powerplay time in those games, with the Kane/Panarin/Anisimov line essentially becoming the ‘Hawks top power play unit. This is certainly good news for Anisimov owners and if it continues he could conceivably end up with closer to 60-70 points by the end of the season (which would do some work towards justifying the absurd (given his body of work so far) 5-year, $22.75 million contract he signed at this summer). But, I’m not convinced that is particularly likely, given that his shooting percentage is an unsustainably high 28.1%. Since he takes such a low number of shots (32 in 21 games, or about 1.5 per game), Anisimov will be hard-pressed to continue scoring goals at his current rate. Given those weak peripherals and the chance of drop off after this current hot streak ends, he may just be on the border of being worth owning, depending on the depth of your league. In a couple of 10-team leagues that I am in, I’ve been very tempted to pick him up, but I always seem to side with another player in the end. In hindsight over the past 2 weeks, it would seem I made the wrong decision, but we’ll see if that continues to be the case as the rest of the season unfolds.
 Leon Draisaitl is at 1.7, also over 10 games, although that has been his whole season so far. Patrick Kane is at 1.52, over the course of his whole 21-game season thus far.