Ilya Kovalchuk is off to Russia. What does that mean for your fantasy squad?
The benefit of owning star players in our fantasy leagues is twofold. They are the ones who produce the best results and their performance is generally reliable from one year to the next. In cap leagues these players are almost always among the most highly-paid in the league. Regardless, their ability to do the heavy lifting for your squad makes them well worth the money.
Despite their reliable production, there are rare instances where one of your key players abruptly leaves the game. There could be a number of reasons: family, injury, defection to another league, age, etc. Regardless of the motivation, it can be a fatal blow to your fantasy team’s championship hopes if one of your pillars suddenly disappears.
One such example is Ilya Kovalchuk, who “retired” on July 11 to go play in the KHL. The news sent shockwaves through the fantasy hockey world because he is owned in every fantasy league. He has been one of the league’s best players for more than a decade and at the age of 30 still had plenty to give statistically. But now he is gone and someone in your fantasy league has a gaping hole in their roster.
6-3, 230 pounds, and he could do this:
If it was you that lost Kovalchuk then it is pretty obvious that you will have to take steps to fill the void. You can do like the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and find a cheap replacement on a short-term contract. Given that they were left out to dry after the main crop of free agents had already signed elsewhere, they took the path of least resistance and signed Jaromir Jagr. The risk is minimal because there is no commitment beyond this season. Once they are done with Jagr they can re-assess their situation next summer.
In your fantasy league the path of least resistance is the waiver wire. This is an ideal alternative for shallow leagues where sometimes borderline star players are available to be claimed without having to agree to a trade with one of your rival GMs. Not only is there a lot of talent available but there is also choice. You can add the best player available to your roster but keep the salary cap in mind. Even though you just lost a star player you want to avoid a knee-jerk reaction that puts your team in financial trouble later.
In deeper leagues the waiver wire is a less ideal solution. There is less talent available and those who are not owned typically have bad contracts. Again, you want to help your roster without crippling it financially. It may be a better option to go the trade route. At this time of the year a lot of GMs are trying to dump their garbage onto other teams. But among that garbage you can sometimes find a good trade that will put your team back in the right direction. If your league has farm positions it always helps to put a lot of effort into stockpiling good prospects. In times like these your extra assets could come in handy.
If the right trade cannot be found it may be best to be patient and wait for a more permanent solution. Remember that any team that loses a Kovalchuk-level star will be worse than it was when he was around. He cannot be replaced immediately. You can go into the season and wait for another GM to overreact and start selling or you can fix your team through incremental upgrades.
Your best ally in this process could be the trade deadline. This is a time when people make decisions on the future of their teams. Some decide to gear up for a title run while others abandon ship and go the rebuild route. Keep in mind that a lot of rebuilding owners go too far with their selling and will part with players who are great contributors today and have several years of good hockey left.
And once your rival’s mind is made up about selling assets, he may overlook the fairness of the trade and be satisfied that he is adding draft picks and unproven youngsters. This is a great time to make your move and find your permanent Kovalchuk replacement.
Depth is key.
Likewise, if your opponent owned Kovalchuk he may become desperate for a fix. If you have extra depth to spare this is a good time to check in and see if you can unload one of the contracts you would rather not have on your team. The other GM may be willing to compromise and overpay for an undesirable player like Olli Jokinen, for example, hoping for a bounce-back year.
What we can learn from the departure of Kovalchuk is that the fantasy hockey landscape is always changing. As much as we work hard to build our teams into championship contenders, life will sometimes throw us curve balls that will turn a star player into a dead asset in a split second.
It is important to remember that we cannot control what happens on and off the NHL ice. We can only prepare our teams to give them the best chance possible to win. That includes stocking up your organizational depth with quality talent to prepare for a crazy scenario like a star winger suddenly leaving the league. You just might have enough to get yourself out of trouble quickly.
Previously from Daoust: