Fantasy hockey forecaster for the week of Feb. 12-18

NHL


“Deadweight” might be too harsh a term for what I want to get into here, but there are more than a few players who are riding on the coattails of their earlier success this season and taking up space on more than a few fantasy rosters. Should they still be there? Let’s address just that with the five players below.


Brandon Saad, LW/RW, Chicago Blackhawks (rostered in 59.5 percent of ESPN leagues)

All looked rosy in the world of Saad in October. Back with the franchise where he previously collected two Stanley Cup rings and still in his prime at 25 years old, Saad scored six times in October en route to nine points in 12 games alongside his former linemate Jonathan Toews. But that was the watermark for his season so far.

Since then, his contributions have been muted, at best. The first month of the season was successful enough to bolster his overall numbers, and his position in the lineup remained consistent; it made sense to hold on to him, hoping the slump would end. It didn’t. Now he’s been relegated to the Blackhawks’ bottom six, doesn’t sniff the power play and didn’t even crack 10 minutes of ice time in a recent contest. The Blackhawks are arguably out of playoff contention and have plenty of younger talent to showcase on their top lines between now and April. Saad can safely be ditched in all formats.

Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings (79.7 percent)

Green’s season still ranks strongly among fantasy defensemen overall, and his status was bolstered by an All-Star appearance. But in reality, he hasn’t been helping fantasy managers since November. After 18 points in his first 26 games this season, Green has eight points in his past 26 contests. With Niklas Kronwall now playing equal or greater minutes on the power play, there is little reason to hold Green in your lineup.

Jeff Skinner, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (72.5 percent)

What has changed since last season, when Skinner scored 37 goals? The kids took a massive step forward. With Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho coming into their own this season, Skinner is no longer the default goal scorer for the Hurricanes. He’s slipped into a supporting role in the past and re-emerged from it, but it’s typically because the team has no choice but to turn to him for support. With new offensive leadership in Carolina, Skinner doesn’t have a clear path to the important minutes and key line combinations that breed success. In deeper leagues where plus/minus isn’t an issue, Skinner still has a role for his shots on goal and halfway-decent point production, but that’s about where his deployment should end for fantasy purposes.

Milan Lucic, LW, Edmonton Oilers (81.1 percent)

Not only have the Oilers been without the services of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins due to injury, but they have further shortened their depth by using Leon Draisaitl on the wing with Connor McDavid. The depth that was present earlier this season and allowed for players who were not on a line with McDavid to contribute is gone. If you’re not with McDavid in the Oilers lineup now, you’re nothing but chaff. Lucic hasn’t scored a goal since late December, and even worse for his usual contributions, Lucic only has 10 penalty minutes since November.

Will Butcher, D, New Jersey Devils (74.3 percent)

Butcher has actually been pretty consistent this season, but I wanted to include him here because he is still probably on more fantasy rosters than he should be. Why? Because he hasn’t improved his numbers. That may not sound like a fair statement, but when a 23-year-old rookie tallies 11 assists in his first 10 games, we have some expectations. Butcher doesn’t score a lot of goals, nor take a lot of shots. The Devils have kept his minutes to a dull roar, despite the potential he’s shown. With no goals, shots, minutes or penalty minutes of which to speak, Butcher’s overall fantasy value just isn’t there. Keeper leagues will want to hold on tight, but in re-draft formats, you can get those assists elsewhere and have a stronger overall defenseman on your roster in the meantime.


Fantasy Forecaster: Feb. 12-18

The action stays busy in the NHL with 12 teams sporting a four-game schedule for next week. Only three franchises get a bit of a break with a two-game schedule. Everyone else is playing three games.

Weekly leagues should still start their Boston Bruins despite the two-game week, but the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues (the other teams with two games) have slightly tougher schedules on tap, including a meeting with each other. You probably still want to start your studs here, but don’t get too cute down the depth chart.

For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense) and “D” (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.

In the notes — team, goalie and player — below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I’ll include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.


Team notes

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are showing a lot of red on the Forecaster table, suggesting some goals are on the way. Their four-game week includes stops in Toronto and Buffalo early in the week to conclude a ridiculous stretch with 10 road games in 12 contests. Then the Bolts are home to the Red Wings and Devils.

Some more line juggling by coach Jon Cooper has landed Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn in position to overachieve next week. The already-hot Gourde is now playing with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, while Johnson has landed with Steven Stamkos and Killorn. Gourde is still available in more than half of ESPN leagues despite a stretch of 10 points in eight games, while Killorn now gets even-strength minutes on a scoring line in addition to his power-play time. He has seven points in his past four games, bolstered by a five-point outing on Feb. 1.

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights are home to the Blackhawks, Oilers and Montreal Canadiens next week. That’s two teams with struggling goaltenders (Hawks, Oilers) and the league’s worst road record (Habs).

Somehow, Reilly Smith and Erik Haula, members of the first and second scoring lines for the Knights, have slipped under the radar in about a third of ESPN leagues. Roster them for the coming week. Nate Schmidt is the current defenseman with the hot hand, but I’d still make an argument for Shea Theodore here, who is still getting the bulk of the power-play time.

Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes are all blue on the Forecaster, but I’d be remiss not to mention them here since they face the same three opponents on home ice as the Golden Knights, plus have an additional road contest against the San Jose Sharks.

I would argue they never should have been broken up in the first place, but Derek Stepan and Clayton Keller are back together on the top line. Stepan has three points in the two games they’ve been reunited, and Keller has a goal and finished plus-3 on Thursday. Stepan is available in two-thirds of leagues, while Keller is on the wire in one-third.


Goalie notes

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers (rostered in 21.4 percent of ESPN leagues)

While next week should continue to be the Harri Sateri show (who we suggested in December might bring value at some point), Luongo is back at practice. That could mean an imminent return if he continues to progress. The Panthers are playing well defensively in front of Sateri, and a healthy Luongo would likely go back to eating the bulk of starts. While he may not be worth your roster next week, the time has come to scoop him up for the week after.

Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers (56.6 percent)

As for next week, Elliott now has four consecutive wins bookended around an injury. While his stats on the whole this season don’t look fantastic, he has been great for prolonged stretches (8-4-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average in December). The Flyers face the Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers next week with no back-to-back sets in the mix.

Eddie Lack, New Jersey Devils (0.2 percent)

One the whole, Keith Kinkaid hasn’t done enough to lock himself into the starting role while Cory Schneider is on the mend. His .893 save percentage stands out as reason to avoid him for fantasy managers and probably the Devils, too. Now that Lack is in the mix and has experience stepping in for an injured Schneider (back in Vancouver), it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Devils give him an extended tryout in the crease while Schneider rehabs. The dates with the Flyers and Bolts next week look dangerous, but wouldn’t it be poetic to see Lack get the two games against his former Hurricanes teammates?


Player notes

Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings (rostered in 65.6 percent of ESPN leagues)

I almost included Toffoli as the sixth “coattails” player in the introduction, but opted for him down here because the horizon offers hope. Toffoli has one goal and two assists in 14 games so far in 2018, but the Kings moved Toffoli to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Alex Iafallo in recent contests. With a quality schedule for next week and a plum position in the lineup, Toffoli could bust out of his slump.

Jake Guentzel, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins (72.1 percent)

The injury to Patric Hornqvist frees up key power-play time for Guentzel over the next little while. In the two games since Hornqvist was injured, Guentzel’s ice time spiked to more than 18 minutes.

Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets (96.5 percent)

Scheifele’s return is edging closer. Get ready for the entire Jets offense to pick things back up again. His return lifts all boats. Most notably, Nikolaj Ehlers has been struggling to score and has been dropped in about 10 percent of leagues.



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