What type of league do you play in? It makes a big difference. These rest-of-season rankings are just that: for the rest of the season. If I tried to cater them to ESPN head-to-head leagues, they would be very different.
For example, for the rest of the season, the Anaheim Ducks have only eight games remaining. That's the fewest in the NHL and they are only team with less than nine contests left. The Ducks also have zero hope at the postseason and are now playing out the string. On the other side of the spectrum, the Tampa Bay Lightning have nine games remaining and have already clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Then there's the Carolina Hurricanes, a team with 11 games left to play -- the most in the NHL -- but also one that is fighting tooth-and-nail for a wild-card spot.
How do you rank the players on these particular teams for the rest of the season?
This is where the type of league you play in makes a big difference. In ESPN head-to-head leagues (which is standard), championship week is played between March 25-31. Games played between April 1-6 aren't in the mix. The Lightning will play four of their remaining nine games after March 31, giving them only five left for the head-to-head format. The Ducks play only two games after March 31, giving them six remaining games in head-to-head leagues. Rotisserie leagues, however, include all games through the end of the season. Does that make enough of a difference? These games mean essentially nothing to both of these teams the rest of the way. How do we judge that?
What about the Hurricanes? Their schedule is so heavy that they play eight of their 11 remaining games before March 31. They play four games this week and then four games during the head-to-head championship week, making them a dream acquisition for that format -- especially since they have something to play for in the race for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That's the other factor at play here. How hard are the Lightning going to push knowing the ultimate prize still awaits? They have already locked down the Presidents' Trophy and home ice through the postseason. Winning the Stanley Cup is the goal, but you have to think that the 62 wins by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings is still a carrot dangling in front of them. How hard do they push for it though?
The Lightning have 56 wins already and need to win seven of their remaining nine to set the new league record. Do they start giving Nikita Kucherov and/or Steven Stamkos some nights off? Does Louis Domingue start with more frequency down the stretch? What if they lose three of their next five games (Capitals, Hurricanes, Blues, Bruins, Capitals), which would make the record unattainable? Do they then start resting players for the final four games of the season? The way the schedule falls, the Lightning only play two games during the head-to-head championship week anyway.
Consider that Kucherov and Stamkos will, at most, play only two games in the default head-to-head championship week and then only if the team isn't giving players a rest because they've clinched their playoff position. Andrei Vasilevskiy will probably only get one game during the H2H finals, if that. If I were ranking specifically for standard head-to-head leagues, Kucherov wouldn't be near the top. Neither would Stamkos, Vasilevskiy or any other Lightning players.
That's why I try to focus on rotisserie and true "rest of season" considerations when putting these rankings together. Will Kucherov and the Lightning get a game or two off? Probably. But I don't expect them to dog it for the next three weeks. Not having to worry about the specifics of when they play their games still makes Kucherov and Stamkos top fantasy plays for the remainder of the season. Vasilevskiy, I'm not so sure, but that's another story. We'll have to see this week how much we start to see Domingue.
As a final note on this theme, be careful with some other teams as the playoff positions begin to get locked in. Things in the NHL aren't quite as bad as the NFL's Week 17 when it comes to guaranteed rest for players, but it is still part of the game. The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are close to being locked into their positioning. The Montreal Canadiens aren't likely to catch Toronto, and Boston has a four-point buffer in the race to clinch second place in the division. It could mean rest for both teams once the positioning is determined, as early as the end of next week.
The Metropolitan Division should be kept honest until the final games, as the race between the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins is tight, with the Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets nipping at their heels. The races in the West are also tight enough that rest shouldn't be a consideration until the final few games of the season for any team. The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets will push each other in the Central, while the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks are neck-and-neck in the Pacific.
It's the Vegas Golden Knights who may end up having their position settled a little early, as they are seven points back of the Sharks for second in the Pacific, and nine points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in the wild-card race. With Marc-Andre Fleury listed as day-to-day for this week, the Golden Knights can arguably afford to let him rest.
Forwards on the move
David Pastrnak, W, Boston Bruins (up 14 spots to No. 11): If he's not back on the team's top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Tuesday, he will be by Thursday. That puts Pastrnak back in the conversation for the overall top 10 immediately. The secondary effects of his return will also be felt in fantasy. With Pastrnak in the lineup, Boston's top line was the only one that was fantasy relevant, so this likely impacts the usefulness of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, too. Plus, of course, Danton Heinen is relegated to the waiver wire as a result, as he no longer has the plum gig he did in Pastrnak's absence.
Phil Kessel, W, Pittsburgh Penguins (up nine spots to No. 33): With Evgeni Malkin tagged as week-to-week, Kessel takes on a larger role for the Penguins. He has been used on a third line away from both Sidney Crosby and Malkin of late, anyway, so this only grows his responsibility at even strength. On the power play, Malkin's absence means one less option to put the puck in the net. By way of additional fallout, Patric Hornqvist reclaims a role on the man-advantage and could be a deep-league option for the stretch run.
William Nylander, W, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 79 spots to No. 94): Finally picking up his game on a line with Auston Matthews, Nylander looks like he'll be keeping the role -- even though Kasperi Kapanen is again healthy. It's been a disappointing season overall for the contract holdout, but he's salvaging it now. Nylander has five points in three games and should continue to pile points on now that he's won back a scoring-line role.
Goaltender on the move
Frederik Andersen, G, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 24 spots to No. 55): Coach Mike Babcock complained about Toronto's depth this week, as injuries to non-fantasy relevant defensemen Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are having an impact on the fantasy-relevant Andersen. The Maple Leafs have allowed 23 goals in their past four games as the weaknesses on defense have been exposed by those injuries. I don't think I want to lean on Andersen for either my fantasy playoffs or the rotisserie stretch run. Check on the availability of Corey Crawford, Thomas Greiss and Philipp Grubauer if Andersen has been your mainstay goaltender this season.