You can't keep a struggling player on your fantasy team in perpetuity. At least, you can't do it if you want to give yourself the best chance of winning. But what if you cut bait too soon? What if the player just needed a little more than a month to get going?
There are several players in the fantasy realm who are still rostered in more than 75 percent of ESPN leagues that probably have their fantasy managers wondering when they will get going. I've highlighted a few here with a quick round of "keep" or "cut."
Reilly Smith, W, Vegas Golden Knights (rostered in 94.6 percent of ESPN leagues): The Golden Knights have lost some of the magic from their expansion season and the top line has suffered. Coach Gerard Gallant will have a lot of patience with Smith, given the way he clicked last season with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, but patience is never infinite. With Smith struggling to reach even six points in 16 games, change could be in the air -- especially considering the Knights have a top-line winger, ahem, waiting in the wings in Max Pacioretty. The former Montreal captain and routine 30-goal scorer is also struggling and a shuffle could spur him into action.
Verdict: I'm OK with cutting Smith. He wasn't the best member of the "golden trio" from last season and it doesn't look like they will be anywhere near as potent this season.
Nikolaj Ehlers, W, Winnipeg Jets (91.4 percent): Only five points and a minus-7 rating through 14 games is a pathetic start for Ehlers after he posted 60 points last season (29 goals). Still, the Jets are committed to him and even slid him next to Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler in their last game to try to get him going.
Verdict: Ehlers is still on pace for 200 shots and his shooting percentage is stuck well below his career mark. Hold for now.
Patric Hornqvist, W, Pittsburgh Penguins (86.9 percent): Sure, six points in 16 games isn't horrible, but five of those points came in back-to-back games a couple weeks ago. As a whole, the Penguins have been struggling to score over the past couple of weeks, so Hornqvist's woes aren't all on him. He's still playing a top-six role at even strength and is still on the team's top power-play unit.
Verdict: This is a format-based call. Hornqvist always runs "hot and cold" over the course of the season. In rotisserie leagues, he's worth holding for the end result. In head-to-head leagues, I think he can be cut and then rostered again later -- and then cut and rostered again. You get the picture.
Andrei Svechnikov, W, Carolina Hurricanes (85.0 percent): The rookie has four goals and six points through his first 16 NHL games, which doesn't quite cut the mustard for fantasy leagues. However, there are positive signs. Svechnikov is taking a ton of shots (per minute) and is on pace for more than 200, despite only 13:18 in average ice time. While he's stuck on Carolina's third line for now, his minutes have been trending upward and he's snuck into a role on the top power-play unit.
Verdict: Keep him for a bit longer. There is a path to top-six minutes by passing fellow rookie Warren Foegele on the depth chart and, if Micheal Ferland's first month proves to be a flash in the pan, maybe even a path to the top line at some point.
Brandon Montour, D, Anaheim Ducks (82.6 percent): So far this season, Montour has shown up on more highlight reels for his poor defensive play, rather than his trademark offense. That's not a good sign and partly explains his diminishing role -- especially on the power play. With five points through 17 games and a minus-6 rating, Montour has some work to do to regain his role on the man-advantage. It doesn't help that Cam Fowler seems to be heating up.
Verdict: The Ducks need to get a bit healthier and start playing better as a whole, so this could be a slow turnaround. I don't think cutting him will immediately come back to haunt you, but it very well could down the stretch. This is a judgement call based upon the depth of your league and how likely it is you can get Montour back later when he inevitably heats up. He has the most offensive talent on this blue line.
Fantasy Forecaster: Nov. 12-18
Teams playing four games: The Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks all play four times this week. I'll touch on the Ducks, Blackhawks and Devils below in team notes. ... Devan Dubnyk gets some home cooking for three of the four games, though it's not clear which one he would sit in the back-to-back set on the weekend that includes a visit to Chicago. Still, he's one of the top goaltending plays of the week and could get you the stats you need in head-to-head formats without much support from a second goaltender on your squad. ... The Predators are on a Pacific Division run, with three road games and one at home. If Juuse Saros catches the Ducks instead of the Sharks in the back-to-back set, he could help boost your goaltending at the start of the week. ... With no Anders Nilsson around, Jacob Markstrom is the workhorse in the crease for the Canucks, but he's allowing too many goals in wins to be of much use.
Teams playing two games: Only the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators and Jets have a reduced schedule next week. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Thomas Chabot, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien should start for you anyway. ... I could see an argument for benching Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, but probably wouldn't. ... Anyone else can be benched if you have better options in weekly formats. ... Connor Hellebuyck's fantasy managers would benefit from extra support for their goaltending.
Highlights from teams playing three games: Thanks to back-to-back sets, we'll see at least one game from both Mikko Koskinen and Garret Sparks. Both have a chance to be a beneficial spot-start for fantasy. If you're ranking them, I like Sparks (in the hope he catches the Ducks) over Koskinen (in case he faces the Golden Knights next Sunday). ... The Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins are all on the road for all three games. That's fine for Toronto as they are the league's best road team on a per-game basis. Stack the lineup and make sure Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen are being used. On the other end of the spectrum, the Capitals have struggled on the road. That said, they have no fantasy assets you can justifiably bench. Just don't get cute with Brett Connolly or Jakub Vrana.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based on 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, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 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, but this space will also include players below 10 percent whenever possible to try to cater to deeper formats.
New Jersey Devils: I wish there were more points of entry for the Devils in fantasy, but outside of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri and Will Butcher, there isn't a lot to rely on in New Jersey. The Devils play four games against very susceptible defenses and should be in for a solid week, but how can you take advantage? The only safe answer is Brian Boyle, who remains largely available because his offense is mostly limited to his role on the top power-play unit.
My "Hail Mary" pick here would be to watch the lineup on Friday to see how Jesper Bratt is deployed in his 2018-19 debut. Back from a jaw injury, he's expected to play Friday. He spent most of last season on the top power-play unit and the top line, but Hischier has ascended to that role and looks good there. Has Hischier looked so good that coach John Hynes thinks he can get more scoring by moving Bratt down the lineup? Probably not, but keep an eye on it.
Chicago Blackhawks: Coach Jeremy Colliton lost his debut on Thursday and the Blackhawks offense is ice cold. Jonathan Toews' wingers, in particular, could be in for some heat from the new coach. Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun have combined for just one point and a minus-12 rating in the past six games. The Blackhawks four-game schedule next week has three winnable games on it (Hurricanes, Blues and Kings).
Colliton kept the lineup intact for his first game since the team fired Joel Quenneville, but perhaps he'll put his own stamp on the depth chart for Saturday's tilt against the Flyers. I'm watching that lineup to see where I can gain an advantage next week -- and whether or not that includes a recall of Dylan Sikura from the AHL.
The four games next week are all spaced out between days off, so Corey Crawford could potentially start all four games. Whether you want that in your fantasy lineup is debatable. Crawford will be fine when the team in front of him gets better, but I'm not sure how quickly that turns around with the coaching change.
Anaheim Ducks: Like Chicago, the Ducks have four games spread out during the week, opening the door to a potential four-start week by John Gibson. However, Ryan Miller has been a reliable backup and is more likely to catch one of the starts anyway. .Either way, this has to be one of the worst four-game schedules we've seen this season. The Predators, Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche are among the top seven teams in the league for goals scored per game. At the same time, those three teams (and the Golden Knights) are all in the top 12 for fewest goals allowed per game.
Jaroslav Halak, G, Boston Bruins: With Tuukka Rask announcing a somewhat (at least for now) mysterious leave of absence for personal reasons, starting Halak becomes a no-brainer. He's second in the NHL in GAA and third in save percentage, while already handling a more-than-backup share of the workload. Halak should be considered as a G1 for fantasy purposed until Rask returns.
Nolan Patrick, C, Philadelphia Flyers: The looming return of James van Riemsdyk looks like it may come at an inopportune time for the Flyers. Can you bury a player like him on the third line? Well, you shouldn't, but how can you break up the trio of Patrick, Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom? Patrick and Lindblom have combined for 13 points over the past five games, thanks to Voracek's presence. We don't have a specific date for van Riemsdyk to get back on the ice when it counts, but he is skating again and the Flyers return home next week. Until "JVR" is truly back, Patrick makes a decent addition to your roster. After that, we'll have to see how the lines shake out.
Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars: John Klingberg is out with an upper-body injury for three weeks, which means the rookie Heiskanen is going to get his chance to shine. Already playing a role on the power play, he'll have the blue line all to himself on the man-advantage until Klingberg returns. Add him now, and enjoy. Who know? You may even end up keeping him for the long term.
Brady Tkachuk, W, Ottawa Senators: Back in the Senators lineup on Thursday, Tkachuk was shut out on the score sheet, but did resume throwing his body around, picking up five hits in 14 minutes of ice time. Tkachuk will have to work his way back onto a power play that has been clicking this past week, but he deserves a role on your roster in the meantime. His now has three goals, three assists and 18 hits in just five games. Guess what? Tkachuk is basically Dustin Brown -- and Brown has a ton of fantasy value.
Neal Pionk, D, New York Rangers: When he's not scoring "video-game goals" going coast to coast, Pionk is anchoring the Rangers' top power-play unit. I'm not necessarily done with Kevin Shattenkirk here, but Pionk has security as a fantasy asset moving forward. He has five power-play assists and eight points in 13 games this season, after tallying 14 points in just 28 games in 2017-18. The offense is real.
Jake DeBrusk broke out with three points on Thursday in maybe the first game this season where the Bruins have had quality secondary scoring. DeBrusk also had a role on the top power-play unit that's been rotating skaters this season. Those in deeper leagues may need to act now.
The Avalanche have been putting a new spin on their power play. Samuel Girard has replaced Tyson Barrie, and Matt Calvert has been the fourth-forward on the unit. This bears watching, given that Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are also on the ice.
Ty Rattie is back for the Oilers and was only a few Roberto Luongo highlight-reel saves away from a two-goal game on the top line with Connor McDavid. I thought his absence would open up the door for someone else to steal his role away, but the Oilers have gone right back to the well -- as should you.
Brock Boeser's injury is starting to sound serious. He left the Canucks to visit a specialist. Stay alert for updates to his condition.