NHL

The fantasy hockey schedule hack you should be taking advantage of

They can’t accrue you valuable fantasy points if they’re stuck on your bench. A dazzlingly obvious statement, sure, but still one worth remembering. Any manager with a reasonably-sized roster and the ability to make daily lineup adjustments – the overwhelming majority of competitors in the ESPN.com NHL fantasy universe, as it happens – can speak to the frustration of being forced to choose between this skater/goalie and another when that day’s slate is bursting with an overwhelming number of games. So why not hack the schedule, so to speak, by investing in players who actually play more often when others don’t? All else being relatively equal, of course.

Every year a handful of teams feature more frequently on extra light schedules than others. Just like a near equal bundle of clubs (by mathematical necessity) play more often on heavier timetables. Investing in fantasy commodities from the former over the latter immediately provides your roster with a boost. Simply by being on the ice when others aren’t. You can bench them on the busier days when they’re idle and seemingly everyone else is playing.

In that view, and setting the benchmark at six games – when much more than half the league is idle – I tabulated which clubs are booked to compete on such termed slower nights, from Dec. 12 until the season concludes on Apr. 13. As is usual, there’s a wide gap. While one team (more on them below) competes on 25 such lighter dates, the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blues Jackets figure in only eight. It doesn’t matter what variety of fantasy league in which you’re competing; as long as you’re able to make daily adjustments, the ability to maximize your lineup every calendar date can make the difference between wearing the crown by season’s end and falling just that little bit short.

Anaheim Ducks: They don’t need to win a lot of games, or even keep the puck much out of their own net, for some Ducks to still harbor considerable fantasy value. Outside of the crease, at any rate. Forward Troy Terry – rostered in 84.2% of ESPN.com leagues – is a star, fantasy and otherwise. With 11 goals and 16 assists on 88 shots through 27 contests, the 25-year-old is averaging 2.1 fantasy points/game in standard ESPN.com leagues. More than Artemi Panarin, Johnny Gaudreau, and Nazem Kadri.

Trade for him. Really. Offer an asset of equal measure and make the deal. The bonus games on drier nights will more than make up any difference. Same goes for Sophomore Trevor Zegras (89.3%). Those afore-hinted 25 games on less-busy dates blow the rest of the NHL out of the pond.

Beyond Terry and Zegras, the fantasy herd thins out a bit in Anaheim. But watch for scoring trends. Is Adam Henrique (6.3%) on a heater, alongside the two young stars? Stream him. Keep a view of how Mason McTavish (8.1%) is making out. The rookie has a bright future. Defenseman Cam Fowler (19.0%) is helpful when anchoring the top power play, like he is right now.

Colorado Avalanche: Just another reason to check on the availability of Valeri Nichushkin – who’s due back healthy any moment now – and/or Artturi Lehkonen – who’s lightly listed as day-to-day. Or, like with Anaheim’s Terry, volley a trade offer to a league mate. Both Avalanche forwards serve as relatively underrated, top-tier fantasy commodities. While he only played seven games before falling hurt, Nichushkin launched 2022-23 with an outlying average of 4.2(!) fantasy points/contest in ESPN standard competition.

Not in the same offbeat-schedule league as the Ducks, Colorado competes on 20 dates when much less than half the NHL is active between now and season’s conclusion. Which allows a favorite Avalanche asset to earn valuable fantasy points without beating out another coveted commodity for a lineup spot.

On the subject of trades, how’s your fantasy goaltending corps looking these days? If the answer is “could be better, Victoria, to be honest”, then consider tossing out an offer for Alexandar Georgiev (91.3%). Beyond the advantageous schedule hack, Georgiev has floundered a bit of late. That’s helpful, since some managers might be growing impatient. Such struggles feel altogether temporary while the cream of the club’s forward crop remains in the infirmary. Georgiev is a No. 1 netminder for a top team in the West. Once most everyone – Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Evan Rodrigues, Nichushkin, Lehkonen – are healed up, Georgiev will settle back to his winning ways.

Arizona Coyotes: As with the Ducks, the rebuilding Coyotes aren’t exactly teeming with treasured fantasy talent. Still, their off-stride schedule of 19 games adds that appreciated extra shine to those deep-league individuals who pitch in, reasonably, here and there.

Like 25-year-old forward Lawson Crouse and Sophomore defender J.J. Moser. Both of whom demonstrate the ability to not only contribute to the NHL scoresheet, but in other fantasy facets (i.e. hits). If at all concerned by Moser’s recent decrease in minutes, know that that number should swing back up once the Coyotes trade Jakob Chychrun. (Can’t be long now.)

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers equal the Coyotes in rounding out the league’s “Top-four” in playing 19 contests when only six or fewer other games are scheduled from Dec. 12 onward. Just another reason to monitor who might pitch in a titch outside of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Zach Hyman.

Forward Kailer Yamamoto is one such candidate, back healthy and playing on RNH’s line. Rostered in only 5.7% of ESPN.com standard competition, he tossed in a pair of assists against the Coyotes on Wednesday. On the blue line, Tyson Barrie is an underrated fantasy gem, available in 43% of leagues. The offensive-defenseman is already up to 10 power-play points and another seven at even-strength.

In net, Stuart Skinner is coach Jay Woodcroft’s go-to of choice at present over a self-doubting Jack Campbell. Stuart is 6-3-0, averaging 2.5 fantasy points/contest since Nov. 12, including one blistering dud that plunged him well into the red against the Devils (Nov. 21). An overall serviceable haul that adds up when out there enough.

Even if none of the above specific personnel suit your roster, keep their respective clubs in mind. Along with the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, and Minnesota Wild. All who play more often when others don’t. A useful tidbit to consider, especially when debating fantasy investment in one player over another.

Then there are those teams who play more when most everyone else is also in competition. On the opposite end of the desired busyness spectrum, the following are booked in on 10 or fewer lightly-scheduled (six or less) dates between Dec. 12 and Apr. 13:


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