It's never a bad time to acquire some assets, even in this shortened NHL season. The Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars made a big trade this week, while the Calgary Flames made a bold move that ended up helping the Colorado Avalanche get their reigning top scorer back. Let's have a look:
Michael Ryder, Canadiens: Back where he first made his name as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later winger, Ryder's fortunes are difficult to gauge. He was well on his way to a fantasy-relevant season in Dallas, with six goals and 14 points in 19 games, this after transforming from a fringe, occasionally owned winger in fantasy to a respected asset last season with a career-high 35 goals. It was the first time he hit the 30-goal threshold since he was with the Canadiens in 2006-07. Not coincidentally, it was also the first time he topped 200 shots and 16 minutes of average ice time since that season. It's clear that, when given the ice time and the responsibility to shoot, Ryder will pile up some points. However, that role is not assured with the Habs. In his debut with the Canadiens on Wednesday, Ryder skated with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk on the third line, playing only 14:34. That kind of ice time and depth-chart role will not be conducive to Ryder scoring at a clip that is useful to fantasy owners. We can give him a few games to get acclimated with the club, but unless he quickly climbs the depth chart and earns power-play time, Ryder won't be winning the hearts and minds of fantasy owners.
Erik Cole, Stars: Going the other way in the Ryder deal, Cole has been useless so far in the shortened NHL campaign. Following a season in which he finished among the top 100 forwards on the ESPN Player Rater, Cole has started this campaign with just three goals and three assists in 19 games. That follows a career-high 35 goals and 241 shots with the Canadiens last season on the top line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. The trio really hadn't found its groove this season for the Habs, with the team looking much deeper than it did last season. Cole has by no means looked listless (43 hits), but he hasn't had the same attack instinct when in the offensive zone (41 shots). The Stars debuted him on a line with Derek Roy and Antoine Roussel. Roussel might not be a household name, but he has worked his way up the depth chart, and Roy's attributes as a playmaker should be well known to fantasy owners. That said, it's not a line combination that jumps off the page for fantasy purposes. Cole did get some power-play time, but that's not guaranteed to continue, especially once Ray Whitney returns. Whitney is skating again as he rehabs a broken foot and could be back in a week. While Whitney might help Cole at even strength, he likely takes away Cole's chance at power-play time. Overall though, Cole has a better chance than Ryder to carve out a fantasy niche in his new home. The Stars are still seeking a potent trio to be the second line. Cole is available in 72 percent of ESPN leagues if you want to take the gamble on him.
Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche: First it was an inability to hammer out a contract with the restricted free agent. Then O'Reilly got hurt while playing in the KHL. We never heard much about whether his ankle sprain healed, but the Avs got no closer to a deal with the player who led the team with 56 points last season. Then the Calgary Flames forced the issue on Thursday by signing O'Reilly to an offer sheet that the Avalanche matched just hours later. First things first, O'Reilly is available in 91 percent of ESPN leagues and is absolutely worth a pickup if you need help on offense. However, don't go dropping quality assets for him just yet. There are two ways this situation could shake out for the Avalanche depth chart. One of them would see all the important players get a slight boost in fantasy value. The other would upset the balance of power on the team and leave us wondering where to look for value. The first and more likely scenario would see Paul Stastny (or possibly David Jones) bumped from the second line so O'Reilly can play with Gabriel Landeskog. The Avs' young captain (Landeskog) bears much of the responsibility for O'Reilly's strong showing last season, as his style of play makes his linemates better. In this scenario, everyone who matters in fantasy leagues gains a little.
In the scenario where the apple cart is upset, coach Joe Sacco would use O'Reilly to piece together his two lines that were both clicking at the end of last season. That would mean Landeskog, O'Reilly and Milan Hejduk playing together while Stastny, Jones and Jamie McGinn re-form their unit. That leaves Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau as the top offensive players on the club, yet without a proven linemate. Hopefully this is not the route Sacco decides to go, but the end of last season was the last time the Avalanche had two lines of offense, and all the same puzzle pieces are available. This would leave us waiting to see how the line combinations interact with each other.
Looking for offense
Detroit Red Wings: Only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more goals in their home rink than the Red Wings. Detroit will welcome goaltenders Semyon Varlamov, Devan Dubnyk and Sergei Bobrovsky to the Motor City next week, plus the Wings have an extra road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If that doesn't bode well for the team's offense, nothing does. The Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Jackets offer the Red Wings a great opportunity to score at will. The absolute best recommendation that is available in fantasy leagues is Daniel Cleary. The physical winger has been earning his stripes on the first-unit power play with the Wings' elite. But Cleary has been finding a way to score at even strength on a line with Pavel Datsyuk as well. He has six points in the past eight games and is available in 81 percent of ESPN leagues. Another option to start is Valtteri Filppula. While he is day-to-day now with a shoulder injury, Filppula has time to heal before next week. Available in 44 percent of ESPN leagues, Filppula would join Datsyuk and Cleary at even strength.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts draw an "O:9" on the forecaster this coming week, with four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Winnipeg Jets and Canadiens. Only the game against the Devils isn't individually rated an O:10 by the forecaster, and that game is rated as an O:9. If you've been among the fantasy faithful shying away from Cory Conacher lately or have been tentative to pick up Benoit Pouliot, now is the time to act. Conacher was dropped in a number of leagues during a February swoon but has since picked things back up, posting six points in his past seven games. Pouliot has been making his name playing with Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell on the second line. While the trio has a three-game slump as a unit, this positive schedule next week should get them back on track. Pouliot is available in 43 percent of ESPN leagues, but that number is shrinking.
Winnipeg Jets: Despite rarely sharing the ice together, both Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd have managed to collect nine points during the Jets' past eight games. Headed into a four-game week, the Jets are an O:8 on offense on the forecaster. Both of the red-hot forwards have linemates that you can plug into your lineup. Bryan Little is available in 73 percent of ESPN leagues and has been very underrated this season as Ladd's center man. His 13 points in 20 games isn't going to knock you off your seat, but his plus-9 is a nice surprise. We also can point out that 10 of his points have come in his past 13 games. For Kane, it was Alex Burmistrov who has acted as a catalyst to his success. Since Burmistrov was promoted to his line, Kane has five points in seven games and a plus-6 rating. Available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues, Burmistrov is the best way to hitch your wagon to Kane's explosion of offense.
Looking for goaltending
Chicago Blackhawks: The first place to check is whether Ray Emery is available in your league. He is available in only 6 percent of ESPN leagues, so the answer is probably not. That said, Corey Crawford came out of Thursday's game with an upper-body injury. Emery could be back on the hot seat again.
Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer is back for the Maple Leafs, but he did not look sharp in a win against the New York Islanders on Thursday. While Reimer may be the No. 1 in the eyes of many, the statistics don't see it that way. If anything, this is a horse race between Reimer and Scrivens to see who can emerge as the starter. The Maple Leafs have some low-scoring opponents in the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators next week, so don't count out either goaltender as an option.
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Bernier continued his string of one-goal-allowed victories this week with a defeat of the Red Wings on Wednesday. The Kings face two opponents that Bernier has already held to one goal this season (St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames) during a four-game week. Expect him to see some more action next week. As long as he keeps up the great work, Bernier's one start per week will be more valuable than some goalies who start as many as three.
This chart shows you the top and bottom teams in the NHL in goals and shots, for and against, during the past 21 days.
Each week the Fantasy Forecaster will also include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary cap game that allows you free rein over your fantasy hockey decisions within a $100 million fantasy budget. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
The skeds: It's another crowded week in the NHL, with a lot of teams boasting a four-game schedule. The Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets all play four games next week.
But if you want to get true quantity for your roster, sound the five-game alarm: The New Jersey Devils play five contests in the coming week. Resting only Wednesday and Friday, the Devils should be your first stop to shop for offense.
Avoid the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators, as both clubs have only two games next week.
If you heed this advice and go looking for Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk ($8.6M) is the obvious first choice. Patrik Elias ($8.0M) and David Clarkson ($7.1M) have both slowed down significantly but are still no-brainers for a five-game week. If you want to save some coin, try Alexei Ponikarovsky ($4.5M). He is the only Devil on a hot streak at the moment, with assists in three straight games.
If you are starting to bump up against the wall for spending as players' salaries continue to rise, consider looking for a long-term low investment. Ryan O'Reilly's ($4.1M) price is super low because of his contract holdout. Now is the time to buy and watch his price tag skyrocket.
If you have the savings for an elite defenseman, Brian Campbell ($7.4M) has stepped up his game with five points in his past two contests. Roman Josi ($5.4M) had a coming-out party with a four-point night this week and is quite a bit cheaper.
Goaltending: If Martin Brodeur ($11.6M) wasn't banged up, he would be a must-start for a five-game week. That said, since he's expected to be back with the team as early as Monday, he still is probably worth the risk to start. If healthy, he could start all five games. Jimmy Howard ($12.5M), Carey Price ($12.4M) and Henrik Lundqvist ($12.4M) all face winnable four-game schedules.
My roster for next week:
Martin Brodeur, G ($11.6M)
Jimmy Howard, G ($12.5M)
Kevin Shattenkirk, D ($6.7M / $7.2M on market)
Niklas Kronwall, D ($7.6M)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($7.1M / $7.4M on market)
Brian Campbell, D ($7.4M)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.8M / $10.0M on market)
Ryan O'Reilly, F ($4.1M)
Steven Stamkos, F ($8.7M / $9.8M on market)
Ilya Kovalchuk, F ($8.6M)
Adam Henrique, F ($7.1M)
Patrik Elias, F ($8.0M)