The NHL season is nearly here, so our experts ran through some last-minute questions to set you up to succeed this fantasy season.
Who is one player you need on your roster? One player you won't touch?
Matiash: I'm all over Tyler Seguin this year. New contract, new coach and new power-play option in Valeri Nichushkin. The 26-year-old, along with linemate Jamie Benn, is clearly frustrated after missing the playoffs for a second-straight season. I'm not asking for all that more, as he ranked second in shots (335) only to Alex Ovechkin in scoring 40 goals this past season.
While I obviously consider him a tremendous talent, Mathew Barzal interests me little as a high-end asset this season. With John Tavares gone for Toronto, the 21-year-old will be the top target on every opposition's list, night in and night out, as the Islanders' No. 1 centerman.
Allen: Steven Stamkos is my early go-to player. Lucky for me, since I'm comfortable with him at No. 7 overall, his mid-second round ADP means I can almost always take him. Aside from Connor McDavid, I think Stamkos has the best chance to lead the NHL in any or all of goals, assists, points, shots and power-play points.
I won't have a single share of Filip Forsberg this season. His projection and ADP basically require him to have a Nathan MacKinnon-esque breakout season. I'm not saying it can't happen, as he's only 24, but I just don't see a reason to assume it will happen.
What's your favorite fantasy-relevant nugget heading into the season?
Allen: In the past 10 NHL seasons, there have been 114 campaigns in which a player has scored at better than a point per game (in at least 60 games played). Of those 114 campaigns, only 13 have been done by a player who is age 31 or older. Martin St. Louis achieved the feat twice, but no one else did it more than once.
Some players who will be 31 or older this season: Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Anze Kopitar, Blake Wheeler, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Alexander Radulov, Nicklas Backstrom, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Getzlaf. Ovechkin, Malkin, Kopitar, Giroux, Kessel, Crosby, Wheeler and Getzlaf all finished at better than a point per game last season.
With an average of 1.3 players per season achieving a point per game after the age of 30, the cliff is coming for more than a couple of these guys.
Matiash: I'm not sure of how fun this fact is, but in the three seasons John Tortorella has coached the Columbus Blue Jackets, only one player has cracked the 60-point mark: Cam Atkinson with all of 62 in 2016-17 before Artemi Panarin busted out for 82 last season (defenseman Seth Jones ran second to Panarin with 57 points).
Yet the Blue Jackets have averaged a solid, middle-of-the-league 2.83 goals per game over those same three campaigns. It speaks to balanced scoring, which is great for the hockey club but less so for invested fantasy managers. My takeaway here is hold off on Jackets fantasy assets not named Panarin until later draft rounds.
What round are you starting to look defense? How about goalie?
Allen: Round 2. I don't hold fast to any rules about waiting on these two positions. In fact, more often than not, I'd rather push them up a bit versus their ADP. In Round 2, I'm starting to look at Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman and/or Brent Burns. Same goes for Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby. It's about going after the value against the ADP, and I believe all these guys are acceptable in the second round.
From a personal standpoint, I was left feeling that goaltenders were going late and defense went early in the ESPN draft our NHL team did. That's not a scientific assessment, but I was struggling to cobble together a late defensive core, while I was able to get Jake Allen, Corey Crawford and Cory Schneider outside the first 10 rounds.
Matiash: My strategy is more fluid. If one of the league's elite fantasy defensemen -- Hedman, Burns, Karlsson -- is available for my selection in Round 3, I'm pulling the trigger. Otherwise, I'm holding off until Rounds 5-6. There's too great a comparative glut of secondary performers at that position. As for drafting goaltenders, while open to reading the room, I'll rarely leave it beyond the fourth round. The position is just too important.
How do you fill your bench? Rather have a depth guy or a prospect with a late pick?
Matiash: Within the parameters of ensuring I have one substitute for every position, I'm after the most volatile go-big/go-bust prospect with the highest ceiling. There's always a significant number of pedestrian, reliable depth guys to pluck off waivers, if necessary. Give me a Miro Heiskanen (Dallas) over an Alex Goligoski (Arizona) in the dying rounds any day of the week.
Allen: For my bench, I seek the confluence of unrealized talent and potential new opportunity. This often means I'm stacking the back end of my roster with young wingers who are on the verge of top-six and/or first-power-play duty, defensemen who will be manning the power play for the first time (usually on bad teams) and goaltenders in new places.
I would always rather have a "prospect" (air quotes because prospect in this case has a broader definition) over a run-of-the-mill depth forward or defenseman. I'll pass on Jordan Staal and Brent Seabrook right through until the draft is over. You can pick them up (or someone just like them) at any time. It was easier to draft Mathew Barzal, Ryan Strome, Brock Boeser, Jonathan Drouin or Mikko Rantanen last season, hit on some of them and then ditch the ones who don't land, than it was to chase them in free agency and FAAB.
Do you boot any categories when drafting or look for balance?
Allen: I completely ignore plus/minus and average ice time. There is too much fluctuation with plus/minus from year to year, while ice time will follow talent naturally, so there is no reason to "target" it.
Ignore PIM at your own peril. If it's in your league, you need to take it into consideration. Guys who approach 80-plus penalty minutes on a regular basis need to get extra credit. Gone are the days when you could chase fighting majors for a boost at any time. Only three players had at least 10 bouts last season. Fighting hit its lowest level since the late 1960s.
Matiash: Plus/minus doesn't resonate with me at all, and I avoid participating in leagues that reward PIM, if at all possible. I will however, keep a view to average ice-time in deeper leagues. Other contributing factors nearing equal -- among defensemen, in particular -- those extra seconds can snowball quickly and make a tangible difference.