If you are settled into a somewhat comfortable "set it and forget it" attitude with your fantasy hockey team, next week is going to hit you like a ton of bricks.
The NHL's byes -- a league-mandated five-day break for every team -- take place over the next couple of weeks, leaving us with an incredibly light schedule. But this also leaves you, as a reader of the Forecaster, with a significant advantage going into this weekend for waivers.
Assuming you have some flexibility and/or fringe players on your bench, you can make a couple of moves to greatly improve your chance to push ahead in the standings. This applies to both head-to-head and rotisserie formats. In head-to-head, there is rarely a penalty for maximizing your games played. In rotisserie leagues, most teams should have at least a little wiggle room to push up their games played against any imposed limits, as by this time of the season your roster has surely suffered a few surprise absences. Just be sure to check how you are trending in terms of your games played maximums in rotisserie before exploiting the bye weeks.
I'm breaking the usual format for the column this time around with a few team notes at the top, since there are only four teams with four-game schedules next week. Every one of this quartet can offer you a big advantage or a chance to make up some ground.
The Wild roster should be your first stop to go mining for assets to help you for next week. Minnesota plays three games at home (against the Flames, Jets and Canucks) and visits the Blackhawks. The four games comprise a pair of back-to-back sets. The Wild have switched up their lineup in recent games, thanks to consecutive returns of Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter to the lineup.
With a healthy forward group, Minnesota boasts three scoring lines -- and a pretty dangerous fourth line, if we're being honest here. However, the hottest trio at the moment has to be Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Niederreiter, who returned to action from an ankle injury with a hat trick on Thursday. Consistently underrated as an asset, Niederreiter finished last season ranked No. 38 among forwards on the ESPN Player Rater -- higher than Patrik Laine, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jonathan Toews. He's available in 50 percent of ESPN leagues.
Deeper leagues should give Charlie Coyle a look. He's available in 66 percent of ESPN leagues and is skating on a line with Parise and rookie Joel Eriksson Ek. With Parise back in the lineup, Coyle has had three points in two games, a plus-2 rating and seven shots on goal, this despite playing fewer minutes with the balanced lineup.
Seeking a spark against the Rangers on Wednesday, Richard Panik was relegated to the press box and Vinnie Hinostroza was elevated to a scoring line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. He scored himself a goal, fired four shots and even found himself on the power play. The move resulted in a win, so we should expect coach Joel Quenneville to ride the depth chart while it works. Deeper leagues can consider Hinostroza for next week, assuming the Hawks make it through this weekend unscathed.
A safer pickup in shallower leagues for the four-game week against the Senators, Wild, Jets and Red Wings would be Nick Schmaltz. Rather than going with a recent promotion, it's Schmaltz who has been given a shot as the full-time replacement for Artem Anisimov as Patrick Kane's center. In the four games Anisimov has been injured, Schmaltz has six points.
While he may be a little light on the assists, Micheal Ferland sure knows how to finish the chances provided to him by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the Flames' top line. Now up to 16 goals on the season, Ferland is the only one of 30 players with 16-plus goals that is rostered in under-25 percent of ESPN leagues (17 percent). Admittedly, his fantasy profile is limited by a dearth of assists, penalty minutes and power-play points. Still, the Flames have four road games on tap for next week. Four games of Ferland will certainly beat one by many NHLers whose teams are on a bye.
When Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Staal get hot, they get scorching hot. Using Aho as the example, the winger had four points in his first nine games of the season, 14 points in his next 11 games, five points in the next 14 games and is now riding 10 points in his past six games. In theory, we are at the apex of the most recent peak of this roller coaster, making it a good week to get Aho, Teravainen and Staal (in that order for league depth) into your lineup. The Hurricanes have a tougher schedule on tap, with the Lightning, Capitals (twice) and Flames in their four-game week. However, what they lack in terms of quality of opponents, they make up for with quantity during this bye week.
Teams on a bye with only one game: Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights.
So, what do you do with your high-ranking assets when they only have one game? Firstly, don't drop a bankable fantasy asset for one week because of the bye. This isn't the NFL, where the byes have a significant impact on the end result. A small gap in the schedule is a drop in the bucket over 82 games compared to one week out of 16 in football. Secondly, almost half the NHL shares this bye week, so your leaguemates are facing the same dilemma, mitigating the overall impact. Thirdly, depending on your league depth, one game from your elite players is still possibly better than four from the top waiver-wire adds. As quantified by the ESPN Player Rater, Nikita Kucherov (18.56) has contributed four times the fantasy value of Clayton Keller (4.55) this season.
In other words, don't bench your superstars and don't drop your regulars. Instead, try to find some wiggle room to add a player or two that will take to the ice more than once next week.
Fantasy Forecaster: Jan. 8-14
Note: For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I'll try to include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Alex Stalock, G, Minnesota Wild (rostered in 8.9 percent of ESPN leagues)
As I mentioned earlier, the four Wild games next week are represented by two back-to-back sets. The Wild have started Stalock in all five of their previous back-to-back sets when Devan Dubnyk was healthy. Stalock has very respectable ratios, especially considering that he was pressed into action as the starter for an extended period of time. His possible two starts could be significant, considering there are 13 NHL teams that play only once.
This is a hot-hand situation as to who will get the bulk of the starts next week. Right now, Glass is an awesome story as the 32-year-old rookie has won two of his first three NHL starts. However, it wouldn't take much to tip the scales back to Forsberg over the weekend, with the Hawks playing the Golden Knights on Friday and the Oilers on Sunday. The likely starter headed into next week, whichever guy it ends up being, should be worth a spot on benches for spot starts over the four-game schedule.
Cam Ward, G, Carolina Hurricanes (22.2 percent)
Huge credit must go to coach Bill Peters for going right back to Ward after he gave up five goals to the Capitals on Tuesday. The reward was a 21-save shutout on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ward has clearly usurped the starter's role in Carolina and now gets the benefit of a four-game week. Be careful, though. The Capitals are on deck for a back-to-back set of games midweek -- and that follows a tilt against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. It's not an easy week by any stretch.
Other notes: Don't read too much into Carter Hutton's run of success, yet. The Blues will lean on Jake Allen over the long haul. There might not even be short-term value, as St. Louis hits the bye week, which will be a momentum killer. ... Martin Jones is still on notice for losing more starts to Aaron Dell. The trend continues with Dell still having the better numbers. Perhaps most concerning is Dell's 73 percent win percentage compared to Jones' 48 percent.
Hands up if you pegged RNH as the Oilers' goal scoring leader entering 2018. Perhaps more impressive is that Nugent-Hopkins has not yet reached double-digit minutes of total ice time this season at even strength with Connor McDavid. The Oilers are keeping these pivots as two distinct centermen at all times.
So why is Nugent-Hopkins on pace for 30 goals, yet only rostered in two-thirds of ESPN leagues? Well, probably because he's only been a fringe-at-best fantasy asset since his rookie season. None of his peripherals are too far out of whack, either, with his minutes actually down from earlier in his career. Also, his current 15.2 shooting percentage is close enough to his career 11.2 percent. What we might be seeing here is opponents' going "all-in" defensively on McDavid, leaving Nugent-Hopkins' line with a little more freedom to skate against lesser defensive opponents.
The bottom line: Get him into the lineup for a three-game week and considering keeping him there going forward.
Calle Jarnkrok, C, Nashville Predators (8.8 percent)
Word is that Filip Forsberg's absence won't be a short-term thing. He's out for six weeks or so. As a result, the Predators have to move from three balanced scoring lines down to two. Originally, Jarnkrok made out the best by landing on a line with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson (the Kyle Turris, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala line isn't changing anytime soon). But, after Nashville was shut out by the Golden Knights, Pontus Aberg was given the chance instead of Jarnkrok.
The Predators didn't fare any better on Thursday, losing to the Arizona Coyotes. In fact, you could say they fared worse, losing to the last place team in the Western Conference rather than the one in first place. Given that the injury to Forsberg will last into February, look for Jarnkrok to get the bulk of action on this top line. The Predators only have one game next week, but Jarnkrok could pay dividends over the longer term.