The "Look Ahead" feature is back, analyzing the upcoming NHL schedule and finding opportunity
Ah, good to be back! It’s nice to have a hockey season where we actually knew when it was going to start and could get some draft preparation done. Since the season hasn’t started yet, I’ve gone and given a couple teams to target and a couple to avoid for the entire month of October. Next week I’ll get back to the weekly analysis.
(Editor's note - this feature will be up every Friday going forward)
Teams to Target in October:
The Buffalo Sabres start the 2013-2014 season with 15 games in the month of October, which is tied with Vancouver for the most October games this season. Eight games are at home and seven are on the road. Of those 15 games, six are against teams that finished in the bottom ten of the NHL for goals allowed last season. Only four games appear to be against top defensive clubs in the NHL. Also, since Buffalo isn’t predicted to be great defensively this season, they will have to open things up every once in a while when they get behind by a few goals.
Look for Thomas Vanek to deliver his typical early season hot streak, which will only be exaggerated by the sheer number of games he will play in October. If you are a Vanek owner in re-draft leagues, it might be wise to look to trade him once November approaches since he will probably be in the top ten of scoring at the time, but will have already played nearly 20% of his games for the season. You might be able to land a struggling or undervalued stud that hasn’t played nearly as many games as Vanek.
Other players to target and then possibly move: Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Christian Ehrhoff.
The Vancouver Canucks are the only other team, along with Buffalo, to play 15 games during the month of October. Six games are at home and nine are on the road. Of their October games, four are against poor defensive teams from last year. Five games appear to be against clubs with above-average defenses, the rest are somewhere in the middle. The Canucks have a seven-game road trip toward the end of the month including games against Philadelphia, Buffalo and the NY Islanders.
Tortorella traditionally has success as head coach and Vancouver is still a strong team, so I’d expect them to get off to a good start with a new regime in place and be a top team in the Pacific Divison by Halloween.
Same as Buffalo, there may be some players on the Canucks that may be favorable to put on the block by early-November. The Sedin brothers are still top notch players and should remain there for at least two to three more years. However, their trade value is nowhere near where it was when Henrik potted 112 points in 2009-2010 or when Daniel netted 104 points in 2010-2011. In fact, both Sedins have been below a point-per-game since Daniel’s 94-point season. I’m not convinced they will ever return to the 100-point days, especially with Torts asking his best offensive players to lie down and block shots in the defensive zone. But possibly take this opportunity to sell high on some aging stars (32 years old) when they get out to an early lead in the points race, if Tortorella’s style doesn’t stifle them too much.
Also, look for Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows to play a ton of minutes since they play Tortorella’s style of game and thus reward their fantasy owners.
Teams to Avoid in October:
St. Louis Blues
While Buffalo and Vancouver are playing 15 games during October, the St. Louis Blues are only playing ten. Seven of the ten are at home, but it doesn’t change the fact they are playing the fewest games of anyone during the first month of the season. More than half of the Blues games will be against top defensive clubs in the NHL, including two games against Chicago and two games against Nashville. They will see the following goaltenders standing in their way in October: Pekka Rinne (twice), Corey Crawford (twice), Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Niemi and Roberto Luongo. Those goalies are all arguably in the top ten for fantasy this season.
St. Louis isn’t exactly known for lighting the lamp and this schedule isn’t going to help the Blues on your fantasy roster get off to a roaring start. While I still wouldn’t give up on any of the Blues, as they are still a very good team, you might see guys like Vladimir Tarasenko or T.J. Oshie struggle early on. If you own them, hold tight, better days are coming. If you don’t own them, see if another manager in your league is regretting taking them in the draft and try to buy them cheap.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers begin the 2013-2014 NHL season on a nine-game road trip that includes stops against notoriously defensive teams like: Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis and Detroit. The Rangers’ home opener isn’t until October 28th, and other than that, they only play one other game at home before the calendar flips to November. Tough way to start the season, if you ask me. Of their 12 games in October, only three are against teams that finished in the bottom ten defensively last year.
So their early schedule looks to keep the offensive production from your Rangers fantasy players down, but that’s nothing compared to the possibility of Derek Stepan’s contract negotiation turning into a holdout where he misses regular season time. If he misses time, that will have a negative impact on all the top Rangers players. Did I mention Ryan Callahan probably won’t be ready for opening night thanks to still needing time for his shoulder to heal from surgery?
Alain Vigneault is a heck of a coach, but pairing a tough opening schedule that has an extended road trip for practically the entire month (Oct. 3rd to Oct. 26th), missing one of his top offensive players due to a holdout as well has his leader and Captain still recovering from surgery may make Vigneault’s initiation to New York sports a rough one. I’m confident he, and the team, can recover, however.
Don’t be discouraged if Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard or Carl Hagelin get off to slow starts. I have New York pegged for a playoff spot and to score more goals than they did with Tortorella behind the bench, but you might have to wait more than a month to see that scoring show up.
Here’s a list of some players, owned in less than 30% of Yahoo leagues, to target during the month of October.
Buffalo: Steve Ott (24%) – If your league counts peripherals stats like PIMs, Hits or Faceoff Wins, Ott is a huge sleeper. He’s not going to score a ton of points (my guess is 40 or less), but he will more than make up for it in those other categories.
Vancouver: Jannik Hansen (5%) – Original rumors were that Zack Kassian would be the lucky winner of the Sedin sweepstakes. Now that he is suspended for five games for rearranging Sam Gagner’s face, it looks like Jannik Hansen will get those duties instead.
Winnipeg: Olli Jokinen (9%) – Remember when this guy was scoring 100 points in Florida? Yeah, me too. He was one of my keepers then. Well now he’s a 40-50 point iffy 2nd line center in Winnipeg. My how times have changed! Jokinen is still playing with Evander Kane and Michael Frolik. There are worse options out there.
Toronto: Mason Raymond (6%) – I’m really just taking a shot with this one. He was a borderline 2nd line player in Vancouver with a top six that featured both Sedins, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. David Clarkson’s suspension means he isn’t eligible to return until October 25th against Columbus. Raymond could get some top minutes until then.
Edmonton: Ales Hemsky (10%) – If he can line up beside one of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle or Nail Yakupov, Hemsky is rosterable. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will start the season on the injured list. Same thing for Sam Gagner, except he’ll probably be out longer than RNH. Other than David Perron, Hemsky is the only other real top six skill player available, until he gets hurt of course.