Unlike the Edmonton Oilers, you don't have the option to fire your fantasy hockey team's general manager in an effort to save your season. Well, that is, unless you play in an extremely layered next-level type of league, which, quite frankly, I would like an invite to so I can participate in the fun.
No, unlike the Oilers, there is only one person who can shoulder the blame for your fantasy hockey team's fortunes (or lack thereof) so far this season -- and the last thing you want to do is fire yourself. Sure, if the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn't be opposed to hiring deposed Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to run my fantasy hockey team, but that's probably not an available option.
If, for whatever reason, your fantasy hockey season has gotten away from you, there is -- in most cases -- still time to turn this thing around.
This column is inspired by André Snellings' take on how to fix your fantasy basketball season, and several of his suggestions transcend the sport. That's probably a good place to start, as you'll find several solid suggestions there about how to up your waiver-wire game, approach trades and swing for the fences.
In addition to those strategies, however, I have a few ideas, more specific to fantasy hockey leagues, to add to the discussion. Be forewarned, however, that most of these efforts are more likely to fail than they are to succeed in resuscitating your season. Still, if you live by the old mantra that "If you ain't first, you're last," then dive on in. After all, a slim chance of redemption is better than no chance at all.
Stop living with failure
Could Shayne Gostisbehere once again lead all defensemen in power-play scoring thanks to a re-ignited Philadelphia squad? Could Cam Talbot seize back the reins of an Edmonton team he led to 40 wins just two seasons ago? Could Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn rediscover the magic that propelled them to sit among the top five NHL scorers for the first two months of last season?
Sure, they could. That's why they are all still on a majority of fantasy hockey rosters. Certainly they aren't there based upon their production this season, which has been price-less. No, not priceless. Price-less, as in having absolutely no fantasy value whatsoever.
If your team is struggling and you have a player sitting outside of the top 200 on the ESPN Player Rater -- at least one who has not been injured for a decent amount of time -- cut him loose. Will someone else pick up Gostisbehere? Maybe, but the jury is still out as to whether or not that fantasy manager will gain anything from the move.
This isn't a new strategy. It's just a reminder that sometimes you need to strip away the name on the back of the jersey and make a decision based solely on the numbers on the stat sheet. It could burn you. Then again, you're losing anyway.
Take a chance on failure
Of course, the "opposite but equal" approach to what I've detailed above is to start collecting players who appear to be broken this season. Not physically, of course, but those who are broken statistically. You can take the same questions asked above about Gostisbehere, Talbot, Schwartz and Schenn, and answer them like someone who is holding a half-full glass.
Sure, they could. After all, they've done it in recent memory. When your season is slipping away from you and you want to swing for the fences, one way to create a sea of change is to pick some cheap or freely available underperforming players. Get them on your roster via waivers or a trade, and hope that more of these lost souls find their way than not.
I'll even give you some possible targets:
Up front, in addition to Schwartz, Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Clayton Keller may not cost a lot in trade. Taylor Hall, Patrik Laine, Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jamie Benn will all cost a ton, but certainly not as much as they did at the start of the season -- and the potential return will be much higher.
On the blue line, Gostisbehere may have been dropped in your league, along with his teammate Ivan Provorov. Mikhail Sergachev, Drew Doughty and Dougie Hamilton have all sunk in value since the start of the season. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo still have a clear path to value if they can find their groove.
In the net, how about Martin Jones and Jake Allen? It wouldn't take much for them to settle down. Braden Holtby and Connor Hellebuyck have been winning games, but their fantasy managers can't be pleased with the ratios. If you really want to throw darts, there's always Talbot or Mike Smith.
In direct contradiction to the previous strategy -- strip away the numbers and not the name. If you didn't know what happened in the first half of the season and your fantasy roster currently featured Laine, Voracek, Tarasenko, Keller, Doughty, Gostisbehere, Hamilton, Jones and Holtby for the second half, you'd probably feel pretty good about your prospects.
Look, there are plenty of players every season who rebound from poor pre-All-Star splits. Make a collection of them and hope the majority finds their form. Doing this requires sacrifice. You will need to take a deep breath, realize that Elias Pettersson isn't going to single-handedly save your sinking fantasy squad, and trade him. In return, you'll want multiple players whose values have bottomed out since the start of the season.
Sure, it can hurt to do this, but you can't acquire these reclamation projects by trading away mediocre players. The fantasy manager in your league who currently holds one of these guys is doing so tightly, hoping for a turnaround. You need to make a trade offer that far exceeds that glimmer, faded or not.
Backups or bust
This move isn't for the faint of heart, but if you have the time to monitor your lineup daily and the ability to make same-day moves, I would advocate for you to ditch your goalies. Yes, even the good ones. Use them to bolster your offense through trade.
What I'm recommending here is that, instead of rolling out a pair of reliable netminders, you should "stream" through a stable of, well, unstable ones. You will get your goaltending numbers by staying on top of the backups. There are many ways to track which backup goaltenders are about to don the mask on any given night. Simply deploy whichever ones have the most potential.
Classifying all NHL goaltenders as either workhorse, backup or timeshare, I had a quick look at the stats. Backups have started 20.8 percent of all games this season, while 43.5 percent of starts have come from players I tabbed as workhorse. Obviously, there is a significant disadvantage there for the backups, but with somewhere in the range of 80-or-so goaltender starts in the NHL per week, 20 percent means backups, collectively, are out there around 15 times in a given week.
Interestingly enough, the workhorse goaltenders won 52.5 percent of their starts, while the backups won 53.2 percent, so having a workhorse doesn't give you an advantage in wins. Yes, the workhorses do give you an edge in ratios -- sporting a collective .912 save percentage compared to .908 for the backups. The workhorses allowed 2.66 goals per game (not quite the same as GAA, but close enough for this purpose), while the backups allowed 3.03 GPG.
Now, not all backups are created equal. Laurent Brossoit would lead the league in save percentage if he had enough appearances to qualify. Jack Campbell does have enough to qualify, and is tied with Robin Lehner for the league lead in that category. Anton Khudobin is tied for fourth. Jaroslav Halak and Casey DeSmith are both in the top 12. If you consider Thomas Greiss to be a backup now, he's in the top 10 as well. Juuse Saros and Linus Ullmark are both inside the top 20.
Get a rotation of these goaltenders going and your overall results might be better than just using workhorse starters. Those eight goaltenders combined have won 58.8 percent of their 148 starts with a collective 2.58 GAA and .919 save percentage. Of course, this is a dangerous game to play, especially in head-to-head leagues where you run a serious risk of missing games-played minimums for a matchup if things don't fall right. Still, it can be done.
If, while rotating through your backups, you stumble into a player whose value is suddenly pushed to the forefront due to an injured starter, all the better. In roto leagues, you can then go ahead and parlay that newfound value into even more offense through trade. In head-to-head formats, if the injury looks like it is season-ending for the starter, hold tight. It won't hurt to have those goaltender minimums getting a slight boost through the playoff rounds.
You can punt in all league formats, but you can do it to more of an extreme in head-to-head fantasy hockey. After all, in H2H leagues, the extreme strategy is relatively simple. You only need to win one more category per week than your opponent, so you can pick a few categories and sell out everywhere else.
One strategy for ESPN standard leagues is to completely abandon offensive skill. If you target plus/minus, penalty minutes and average ice time (in addition to the three goaltending categories), you have enough to win any week 6-4, regardless of your team's goals, assists, power-play points or shots on goal. Get T.J. Brodie, Brian Dumoulin, Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino into your lineup for plus/minus, add in Antoine Roussel, Zack Kassian and Ian Cole for some PIM, and then finish it off with Hampus Lindholm, Esa Lindell and Jaccob Slavin to bolster your ice time.
Trade away your offensive assets for Evander Kane, Mark Giordano, Kris Letang, John Carlson and Mattias Ekholm. Stream any extra roster spots with high ice-time players. If your goaltending is good enough, this strategy may be enough to more than just squeeze you by, perhaps even enabling a deep run into the playoffs.
This is not a strategy that is likely to work if you are already way behind in the standings. However, if you're in the middle of the pack, but don't really like your chances of going anywhere with the team you've got, why not, as they say, go big or go home?
Punting in roto takes more finesse and isn't quite as formulaic. Every league is different, so this will be a judgement call on your end as to whether or not the strategy can work for you. Generally speaking, you need to do an estimate of how many points you stand to lose versus what the potential gain is for any punting strategy.
For example, if you're league-average in both penalty minutes and time on ice, it doesn't make sense to load up on Ryan Reaves and Cody McLeod to chase PIMs since any gains in that category will likely be equally negated in ice time. However, if you are already at the bottom of ice time, loading up on the closest thing the NHL has to goons these days could be a good strategy. You have nothing to lose in one category and plenty to gain in the other.
Spending a little extra time looking at the individual categories in your rotisserie standings and thinking about how each player on your team contributes can help to identify which areas you want to target, and which categories can be ignored.