With the ESPN standard fantasy league trade deadline closing and the NHL's own cut-off date for deals pending on Monday, here are a few bold -- and perhaps a few not so bold -- fantasy-flavored predictions, team by team, to carry you down the stretch.
Note: The default trade deadline in standard ESPN fantasy hockey leagues is Friday at noon ET. Check your league's settings to see when your deadline falls.
Battling for and hardly assured of a spot in the postseason, the Ducks will do all that's necessary to get themselves there. That includes promoting one of their more effective forwards up the lineup. A standout for Anaheim in his second season, Kase has been especially impressive of late, with five goals and four assists in nine games. Capable of competing on either wing, the 22-year-old might soon join center Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg on a second scoring line in place of Andrew Cogliano. That's barring a relevant trade, of course. A keeper asset regardless, Kase is rostered in only 22.2 percent of ESPN leagues.
It's not that shocking a prophecy, considering GM John Chayka has repeatedly insisted his No. 1 defenseman isn't going anywhere. While those who maintain Ekman-Larsson could still be moved for the right return aren't necessarily delusional, that's a deal that likely goes down in the offseason, if at all. For now, the 26-year-old seems destined to finish off the campaign in the desert, a fate that has a less gloomy feel than before. After a wretched December and first half of January, Ekman-Larsson has appeared more himself, amassing 10 points in 15 games. A plus-1 rating through that stretch also strikes a different chord in sequence with his minus-36 on the season.
The possible trade for another defenseman, even after corralling Nick Holden from the New York Rangers, could result in the Bruins asking less of McAvoy offensively down the stretch. After contributing regularly though the opening three-plus months of his first NHL season, the 20-year-old has only two assists in nine games since missing time with an abnormal heart rhythm. Despite seeing regular power-play minutes, he hasn't contributed with the extra skater since mid-December. McAvoy brings so much to the blue line in Boston, but a new body, depending on who he is, could bump the rookie from that particular special-teams role. If so, fantasy managers in re-draft leagues may want to go in a different direction.
As far as Kane himself is concerned, he's not long for the shores of Lake Erie, accepting (relishing?) his perceived fate of serving as a rental with a Stanley Cup contender. Such a transaction would only help the UFA-to-be, providing instant inspiration in the form of potentially competing in the NHL playoffs for the first time and determining his next NHL contract. Before hitting the wall near Christmas, Kane launched this season with 33 points in 35 games, including 15 goals. Once moved, he also leaves a hole within Buffalo's top six that is well worth monitoring.
Not the gutsiest of predictions after David Rittich surrendered seven goals in Wednesday's loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, but whether Gillies earns more than the one start will largely depend on how he manages against the Coyotes on Thursday. If offered that opportunity, and if all goes well, the imposing 24-year-old could see more action while No. 1 Mike Smith convalesces with a groin injury.
It took only three-plus months, but Skinner finally appears to be back in his goal-scoring groove. After comfortably leading Carolina last season with 37 goals, the speedy winger floundered through all of this November, December and January with a total of just eight. However, five goals in his past five contests emphatically suggests Skinner has shrugged off whatever had him so snakebitten, and if the Hurricanes are to have any shot at securing a playoff spot in the East, they'll need more of the same from the 25-year-old forward.
The news hasn't been all bad for the Blackhawks this season. At least one player is earning a little love from his otherwise frustrated head coach. "[DeBrincat has] been the one guy," Joel Quenneville recently said. "For a new guy, he's had a real good year for us. Good start, then an ordinary stretch, now he's going at a real good pace again. I give him credit. I don't want to talk about too many other guys, but certainly he's done a real good job." The 20-year-old rookie should earn even more quality minutes once the retooling Blackhawks deal away some of those "other guys" ahead of the deadline. After a quieter run though most of January, DeBrincat appears back on track with eight goals (including a late-January hat trick) and three assists in 13 games. With 22 goals on the season, 30 feels well within reach, particularly if filling a more prominent role.
With defenseman Erik Johnson sidelined indefinitely, others are being required to step up on Colorado's blue line. No finding fault with Barrie in that vein, after the club's top offensive defenseman played nearly half an hour and registered five points -- all with the power play -- in Tuesday's 5-4 OT win over the Vancouver Canucks. Having a healthy Nathan MacKinnon back in the lineup and on the top power play with Barrie doesn't hurt, either. Despite playing significantly fewer games this injury-riddled season, Barrie could still near his career-best 53 points accumulated in 2014-15. Available in more than a quarter of ESPN leagues, he should be spoken for across the board.
Well, bigger in any case. Whether he's dealt ahead of the deadline or not, Jenner is in better shape to make something of what has otherwise been a disappointing run to date. Subbing in the top six in place of an injured Nick Foligno, the power forward has a goal and assist in two recent games. As mentioned, he's also rumored to be on the Blue Jackets' trade block. A fresh start in that regard certainly wouldn't hurt. Available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues, Jenner could conceivably provide a fantasy spark in deeper leagues down the stretch. It was only two years ago that the now-24-year-old scored 30 goals and 19 assists.
Dallas Stars: Top line reunion
Regardless of the latest injury to befall the always-injured Martin Hanzal, this experiment of skating Jamie Benn in the middle, away from his usual center Tyler Seguin, isn't working. The Stars aren't scoring or winning with that formula in play. Hanging onto a playoff spot by a thin strand, the Dallas club won't wait long in reuniting its big three of Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov. They can't afford to. If anything, a top-six trade acquisition should only help bolster the second scoring unit. Concerned fantasy managers shouldn't fret.
Detroit Red Wings: Strong conclusion from the kids
Playoffs or no playoffs -- and we're near certain it's no playoffs -- there's no easing up on effort in Detroit. Veteran Henrik Zetterberg won't have any of that. Once Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar is dealt, the Red Wings' top six will be riddled with kids looking to end this campaign on a high. Namely, pending restricted free agents Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi. Loose, motivated and talented can serve as a delightful combo in fantasy play.
One advantage of getting rubbed out of the playoff picture early is the freedom to loosely experiment with a look ahead to next year. Once Patrick Maroon is traded elsewhere, Puljujarvi appears to be at the front of the line to fill the void aside McDavid. It's not only because the (still) 19-year-old has shown significant signs of improvement this season, but also why not? With a year left on Puljujarvi's entry-level deal, the Oilers may as well gauge the sophomore as best they can. Rostered in only 3.6 percent of ESPN leagues, the 2016 fourth overall draft pick could be in for a solid finish, free of pressure.
Totally underrated for his contributions as a returning NHLer in Florida, Dadonov is poised for a impressively productive finish. With 15 goals and 22 assists through 49 games to show for his efforts so far, the 28-year-old KHL export has struggled to contribute only when not skating on the Panthers' top line with Aleksander Barkov, and that hasn't been the case for some time. Dadonov's latest run of four goals and two assists in five contests points further to a strong finish. He remains available in nearly half of ESPN leagues.
Playing hard, taking dangerous shots and hitting posts and crossbars, a bedeviled Toffoli can't seem to shake off his cursed start to 2018 (six points in 21 games). Fortunately, as is often the case, one minor catalyst is all it takes to break such a frustrating spell -- like, say, the much-anticipated return of a treasured linemate. Back skating with his team after a serious ankle injury in October, Jeff Carter could compete as early as this weekend. A reunion with Toffoli and Tanner Pearson should shortly follow.
Fantasy managers anticipating a surge from Niederreiter through late winter and early spring can probably shelve those hopes. After suffering both a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula at different points this campaign, the 25-year-old admits his health won't be "completely right" until 2018-19. Fated to fill a supporting role following the trade deadline, barring other injuries up front, Niederreiter has averaged 0.53 points per game in this injury-shortened season, as compared to 0.70 in 2016-17 (25 goals and 32 assists).
Suffering a second setback in his recovery from a foot injury, Shea Weber could realistically be shelved for the rest of the season. In any case, the veteran defenseman isn't returning soon. That leaves Petry to continue anchoring Montreal's top power play, as he has adequately managed since mid-December. Even if a prominent forward (Max Pacioretty?) or two jettison the Canadiens pre-deadline, there's enough talent left in Montreal to form a formidable enough top unit. Rostered in less than half of ESPN leagues, Petry has in 14 points in 18 games, including eight with the extra skater.
Hammering this topic all season long, we're not easing up now. Nashville wants Pekka Rinne fresh for a wishful postseason marathon. Management would prefer he didn't start 60 games this season, and 14 more bring the star netminder to 57 contests. That leaves nine for Saros, who has been excellent more often than not when called upon (2.39 goals-against average, .926 save percentage). The 22-year-old -- tapped to take over for Rinne eventually -- is rostered in all of 4.6 percent of ESPN leagues.
Wisely, the Devils appear to be taking their sweet time in bringing Schneider back into the active fold. Helpful in this regard has been the consistent play of backup Keith Kinkaid while Schneider has worked to fully recover from a groin issue. There's little worry of the club prematurely pulling the trigger, and don't disregard the added value in Schneider taking this time away to hit the reset button. Awful in seven straight after Christmas leading up to his shelving, Jersey's No. 1 goaltender should be fresh both mentally and physically once fully fit.
New York Islanders: No new blood in net
Unless GM Garth Snow throws us an unexpected curve, look for the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss (when healthy again) to wrap up 2017-18 in splitting time between the pipes. There's little point in going for broke -- and coughing up valuable picks or prospects -- when other issues need attending, as well. For one, no other team in the league allows more shots than the Islanders (36.1 allowed per game). Plus, both Halak and Greiss have been better of late, each enjoying a shutout victory this past week. Goaltending prospects Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom represent hope for the future.
New York Rangers: Just a little Filip Chytil
Forward-looking dynasty/keeper managers might anticipate prospect Chytil playing a handful of games for the Rangers before the end of 2017-18. The club doesn't care to burn the first year of the 18-year-old's entry-level contract, and he's already played two of a maximum nine. Much will weigh on how the club's AHL affiliate manages, where Chytil has averaged 0.79 points per game, scoring nine goals and 17 assists in 33 contests. Hartford lurks outside the playoff picture right now. If, and when, a promotion is in order, the 2017 first-round draft selection could fill a top-six scoring role for GM Jeff Gorton's rebuilding squad.
Ottawa Senators: Big shakeup on the blue line
The Senators, with owner Eugene Melnyk navigating the ship, actually appear serious about trading Erik Karlsson now. Interesting stuff, especially for first-rounders Thomas Chabot (2015) and Cody Ceci (2012), who stand to enjoy more prolific blue-line roles, including with the man advantage, if Karlsson is out of mind.
Flying high on a scoring line Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, Konecny has 34 points on the season, including four goals and five assists in his past seven games. And there's nothing to suggest a pending slowdown for the 20-year-old sophomore, once he's recovered from his recent, very minor foot injury.
With Michael Grabner headed to New Jersey, the Penguins are believed to be targeting Ottawa's Derick Brassard. Whether or not GM Jim Rutherford lands the Senators forward -- pegged to slide in as Pittsburgh's third-line center -- the move hardly serves as an upgrade on Crosby's wing. The top-line center could play with a varied cast on his left, including Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon and Jake Guentzel. Aston-Reese is making the most of the opportunity at present, collecting four goals in four games. The 23-year-old rookie is worth investment in deeper leagues, even if only in the short term.
A slight overstatement, sure, but the Sharks have little incentive to return to their backup now that Martin Jones is healthy and playing well. San Jose's No. 1 hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of five straight starts, four of them wins. After Friday, the Sharks have only two back-to-back sets remaining on the schedule. Dell soared above and beyond when Jones struggled and fought earlier injury, but that chapter now feels closed. In the playoff mix, the Sharks will look to their top option whenever possible.
Acquired in a recent trade with the Maple Leafs, Soshnikov could make his Blues debut as early as Friday. While a third-line role appears imminent for the 24-year-old forward, quick promotion is possible if the Blues continue to struggle, and particularly if they don't make another significant deal ahead of the deadline. Soshnikov was nearly a point-per-game player on a stacked AHL Toronto Marlies squad this season.
There's little question that if the Lightning go through with coughing up the massive package required in snagging defenseman Karlsson in the coming days/hours, Sergachev won't be long for his role on the club's power play. That one-two anchoring punch will instantly belong to Karlsson and Victor Hedman on the primary and secondary units, respectively. The 19-year-old rookie blueliner already has seen his production level off considerably after a hot start, collecting only eight assists (zero goals) in 26 games. If the Karlsson deal does in fact unfold, Sergachev might be expendable in many re-draft leagues.
OK, this qualifies more as fun speculation than an unflinching prediction, even if TSN's Darren Dreger suggests such a deal could go down before 3 p.m. ET on Monday. Still, Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly might be in danger of losing valuable minutes with the man advantage should McDonagh jet the Big Apple for across the border. Treasured more for his defensive contributions, the 28-year-old blueliner has nonetheless been an effective mainstay on the Rangers' power play for some time. Invested fantasy managers should be aware, at the very least.
Vancouver Canucks: No more Thomas Vanek
Concluding a one-year deal and without ever having moved his family to town, Vanek has no reason to stay with the non-playoff-bound Canucks. The club has even less cause, aside from dressing-room leadership (hardly an ample justification), to keep the 34-year-old veteran. That means a top-six spot alongside the Sedins -- Henrik and Daniel -- should open up shortly. Fantasy managers in ultra-deep leagues might want to see how that shuffle plays out.
Vegas Golden Knights: Management is setting and forgetting
What you see is what you'll continue to get with the Knights' top six, with both David Perron and James Neal -- rumored trade chips before all the magic happened -- staying put. A boring prognosis, sure, but why fiddle with what's working? Also, Reilly Smith, skating alongside William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, has eight goals and nine assists in 12 games. How is the winger still available in more than a quarter of ESPN leagues?
Allowing 19 goals in four straight losses, including Tuesday's .789 save percentage performance versus Tampa Bay, Braden Holtby is clearly struggling. Surrendering five goals though his own three consecutive appearances -- two wins and one solid spot of relief -- Grubauer is evidently not. While having Holtby tuned in is an obvious advantage (necessity?) to the Capitals' playoff success, they won't sacrifice reaching the postseason for sake of letting their No. 1 work out the bugs now. If needed, Grubauer will get the call more often than usual. Washington's No. 2 is rostered in less than 7 percent of ESPN leagues.
With an eye to playoff success, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is being proactive in trying to secure extra help, ideally a top-six winger to skate alongside center Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, if one chooses to "brave" residence in Winnipeg for a shot at a Cup. Such an acquisition would instantly bump Connor down the lineup, possibly to the fourth unit. Skating with Scheifele and Wheeler right now, the rookie has an impressive 21 goals and 17 assists in 54 games.