Coaching changes in the NHL this season were inevitable. After all, 2017-18 was the first season without an in-season switch behind the bench in 50 years. Still, to already have four firings is somewhat unexpected.
The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks made their changes in early November, letting go of John Stevens and Joel Quenneville, respectively. Willie Desjardins and Jeremy Colliton have been guiding their respective clubs for three weeks now.
In similar consecutive fashion last week, the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers decided to relieve Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan of their duties. They were replaced by Craig Berube and Ken Hitchcock. Both coaches have had only about a week to pull the strings.
While we can glean a little bit more from the Kings and Blackhawks due to a larger sample size, we do have enough information from all four squads to take a look at what impact these managerial moves have had on the fantasy value for several players from each club.
Alex Chiasson, W, Edmonton Oilers: He was already performing well before the team switched to Hitchcock, and Chiasson has remained heavily involved on the Edmonton depth chart. He's playing on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as well as joining him, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the top power play. Chiasson wasn't on the depth chart to begin the season, but has collected 10 goals in his 17 games with the Oilers since Oct. 20. He has three power-play points in the past four games and is going to remain involved as long as he's scoring. While his value may not make the cut in a 10-team fantasy league, those in 12-team leagues or deeper can benefit from his presence.
Brandon Saad, W, Chicago Blackhawks: In the doghouse with Quenneville, the coaching change has restored Saad's fantasy relevance. So far, he's getting top-line minutes under coach Colliton and has responded with five points in the past five games. Assuming Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome don't upset the applecart with their arrival, Saad looks locked back in as a top-six forward for Chicago. He's topped 20 minutes of ice time in each of the past three games.
Robert Thomas, C, St. Louis Blues: Before the coaching change, there was some open musing about whether or not Thomas was going to be returned to his OHL squad before playing in his 10th game of the season. Demotion doesn't appear to be on the table anymore, as coach Berube inserted him onto the second line and has started to get some muted results. Three points in his past three games puts Thomas in the mix for ongoing work in the top-six, even if Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn get healthy at the same time. I'm not picking him up yet in non-keeper formats, but I'm watching the St. Louis boxscores to see if he sticks on a scoring line when the team has Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O'Reilly, Schwartz and Schenn all healthy at the same time.
Ilya Kovalchuk, W, Los Angeles Kings: Playing fewer than seven minutes of ice time on the fourth line on Sunday, it seems coach Desjardins has a message for Kovalchuk. This, despite the fact he's still tied for the team-lead in points this season. Guess what, coach? Kovalchuk is not your biggest problem. Still, the winger has not taken kindly to the coaching change. He had three points in Desjardins' first game behind the bench, but hasn't earned a point in the nine games since (minus-7 in that span). The scoring touch is obviously still there as, even with the nine-game slump, he's on pace for 50 points. Still, we expected better overall from an elite sniper -- even if he is past his prime. Now might be a good time to explore a trade for Kovalchuk, as his value can't go much lower and his potential remains much higher.
Worth taking a look
Ryan Spooner, C, Edmonton Oilers: Getting a chance under coach Hitchcock to play with McDavid and Draisaitl at even strength could go a long way in helping Spooner's fantasy value. Now with his second team since last year's trade deadline, Spooner hasn't looked inspired this season. He had a measly two points in 16 games with the Rangers before being dealt to Edmonton. Compare that to the 16 points he scored in 20 games with the Rangers after the deadline last season and you see the potential here. It's too early to call Hitchcock's depth chart anything more than "experimentation" after just three games behind the bench, but with ingredients like McDavid and Draisaitl, there is always a chance of an explosion. Whether it's Spooner or someone else, monitor the top-line wing spot here closely.
Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago Blackhawks: Under Quenneville this season, Seabrook was sixth on the Blackhawks with 33 shots in 15 games. Under Colliton, Seabrook is second to Patrick Kane with 30 shots on goal in nine games. At times, he's been back on the top power-play unit, and that is really all Seabrook needs in order to be a No. 4 defenseman in fantasy hockey. It's nothing to get super excited about, but he can help your team as a bit player.
Zach Sanford, W, St. Louis Blues: While I though it might be a role reserved for a healthy Patrick Maroon, instead it was the equally big-bodied Sanford who has been given the top-line power forward job alongside Tarasenko and O'Reilly -- for now, at least. Sanford has points in both of the last two games, which is to be expected of a player sharing the ice on this top line. Will it remain Sanford over Maroon? I wouldn't commit to it but, as I said when the coaching change was made, Berube has shown a tendency in the past to have a bruising player skating with his skilled forwards. Be it Sanford or Maroon, someone has a shot at decent value here.
Matt Luff, W, Los Angeles Kings: I'm half-kidding here because he's still playing in the bottom-six and didn't do a ton in his first pro season last year, but it's hard to ignore his response to more ice time from Desjardins over the last four games. He's scored in each game and tacked on an assist for his first five NHL points. He was scoring in the AHL this season, too, with 12 points in nine games. Perhaps last season's 29 points as an AHL rookie was just an adjustment period and there is something here with Luff? Before I recommend any action in a fantasy league, however, I want to see him climb the depth chart and get a scoring-line role.
Dylan Strome, C, Chicago Blackhawks: I don't think we have to recap Strome's potential here again, so suffice it to say he's destroyed every level of hockey at which he's played -- with the important exception of the NHL. Could a change of scenery under a rookie head coach be what Strome needs to finally find his game? I don't know, but I'm taking the chance at the end of my bench to stash him for a week or two to see what happens. The potential payoff if Chicago can turn him around would be worth it.
Forwards on the move
Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 14 spots to No. 10): Still fourth in the league in goals per game, Toronto could be getting their No. 1 center back by this coming weekend with Matthews on track for his original timetable for a return from a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, the William Nylander contract saga will come to a head on Saturday, one way or another. It does appear the two sides are inching closer to a deal, which should bear ridiculous fruit on the ice given the success of the Leafs this season without Nylander (and without Matthews for an extended stretch). Matthews jumps right back to near the top of the rankings, as he still has more goals than Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, despite missing a month of hockey. While there is a chance Nylander's season ends on Saturday, I think there's enough of a chance we see him sign that you should play your own game of "risky GM" and target him via trade in your league.
Mike Hoffman, W, Florida Panthers (up 32 spots to No. 81): While his scoring streak ended this past week, take a step back and realize that Hoffman is currently on pace for 45 goals and 86 points. I expected good things with the Panthers, but not a career year. If he keeps shooting the way he has been though, it's an inevitability. Hoffman is currently No. 15 in the NHL for shots on goal and his shooting percentage is close enough to his career pace for sustainability.
Defenseman on the move
Shea Weber, D, Montreal Canadiens (up 45 spots to No. 72): As was indicated earlier in this space, Weber is returning sooner than expected as he suits up for Montreal on Tuesday night for his first game as team captain. He had No. 1 defenseman-level stats last season before injury ended his campaign early. Jeff Petry has kept his seat warm on the first power-play unit, but Weber will jump back in almost immediately. He's still available in 45 percent of ESPN leagues.
Goaltenders on the move
Casey DeSmith, G, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 110 spots to No. 106): Matt Murray's lower-body injury is of the "longer term" variety, so the crease in Pittsburgh is DeSmith's for the foreseeable future. DeSmith has been the better goaltender anyway, but clearing Murray out of the way makes DeSmith a borderline No. 1 fantasy goaltender until the situation changes. His ratios are spot on and the Penguins have started scoring again. That's all we need to make him work in fantasy leagues.
Antti Raanta, G, Arizona Coyotes (down 33 spots to No. 119): Did Raanta return a little sooner than he should have from injury? Allowing 11 goals in two games, after allowing only 16 goals in his eight games through all of October, certainly suggests that as a possibility. Raanta has been aces in the Coyotes' crease with a giant asterisk next to his name that indicates "when healthy." It's too bad because he has the skill and opportunity to be a No. 1 fantasy netminder. Downgrade him for now, but I think he's a"buy low" for the bulk of the remaining season.
New to rankings
Alex Tuch (Chemistry is developing with Max Pacioretty), Kevin Hayes, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (He's looking good until Patrice Bergeron returns), Bryan Little, Robert Thomas, Dylan Strome, Patrick Marleau (Matthews' return and the end of the Nylander saga should lock down his place in Toronto's top-six) and Ryan Spooner.
Anthony Beauvillier, Dominik Simon (The latest "choix du jour" as Crosby's winger), Nick Bjugstad (I still wonder if Henrik Borgstrom is the answer while Trocheck is out), Brent Seabrook, Paul Stastny, Anthony Duclair, Carter Hart (A change in GM could change the direction of his development), Andrew Shaw, Zach Sanford, Boone Jenner and Jakob Chychrun.
Vincent Trocheck (If he's back this season, it won't be for a long while), Artturi Lehkonen, Ondrej Palat (The top-six is spoken for, even if he were healthy), James Neal, Henri Jokiharju (The coaching change didn't do him any favors), Sami Vatanen, Ryan Donato and Derrick Pouliot.