The microcosm that is the Forecaster meets the NHL schedule as a whole during these final weeks of the season. We spend the entire season in this space highlighting games played each week and looking for the right matchups. With barely two weeks remaining until the season ends on Sunday, Apr. 10, the rest of the season feels like a slightly extended version of the Forecaster.
And yes, there are most certainly places to take advantage of the schedule for the remainder of the season. As of Friday morning, the Edmonton Oilers have just five games left in their campaign. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders have 10 games left in the season. While Patrick Maroon might seem like an attractive free-agent find as he continues to play with Connor McDavid, is he really going to do more for your team than J.T. Miller in only half as many games?
This is crunch time, too. The final two weeks of the season have rotisserie and points league players jockeying for key statistics. If you've been pressing hard all season, you are probably in range of your games played limits in such leagues, but it's worth exploring whether or not you have some wiggle room to add some extra games in search of counting stats. Under your "My Team" page and under the "More" menu, you'll find your maximum number of games and your current pace at each position. If you have some room left in any of the offensive categories, it should be your goal to max out games played during this stretch run of the season. With offense, the only categories a player can negatively affect your team are average time on ice and plus/minus, so simply be cognizant of where you are in each category and work the waiver wire for help. Head-to-head players will be well aware of the fact that they want to maximize games played from the bottom end of their roster for these final two weeks.
Heading into the penultimate week of the season, you will want to target the fringe fantasy players from the Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals. All of these teams will have eight games remaining as of Monday morning, and the idea would be that you select the right player and get some extra starts during the remainder of the campaign. All the other teams with the exception of the Oilers will have six or seven games remaining as of Monday. The Oilers, by virtue of the NHL schedule, will only have four games left as of Monday. For a host of reasons -- mainly because we don't play in a vacuum and an opponent would pick him up -- you wouldn't actually drop Taylor Hall, but consider for a moment whether you'd rather have four games in your lineup from Hall or eight games from Tyler Bozak? Sure, Hall had two goals on Thursday night, but so did Bozak in his return from a concussion.
Looking ahead to the final week of the season, which begins on Monday, Apr. 4, you'll want to be stocked up on Islanders. The Isles have the magical five-game week for the final stats period of the season. Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and Travis Harmonic should be considered in any league, while deeper formats might even want to add Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome or Calvin de Haan. Playing more than double the number of remaining games than the Dallas Stars, Oilers or Minnesota Wild, who all begin the final week with only two games remaining, can make a big difference when considering your final lineup.
While it's OK to chase the offensive categories with moderate reckless abandon, we don't recommend the same strategy with goaltending. Stay careful and show some restraint down the stretch. The ratios can be impacted enough to nudge you ahead of an opponent easily enough, but also behind with a bad start. And typically any goaltender you're able to stream in at this point of the season will have a high potential for a stinker. Average time on ice will have such a sheer number of minutes built into your team's base at this point that a fourth-line player won't be able to drag it down, but goaltending ratios don't have quite as much of a baseline to absorb damages. Is trying to get that extra win or two worth potentially losing ground in the two ratio categories?
Week 26 Forecaster
"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.
Looking for skaters
Nashville Predators: The Preds lead the Forecaster ratings with an O:10 for a four-game week. There are clear recommendations to make for offense and defense for your fantasy team. On the blue, Matthias Ekholm still isn't quite getting the respect he deserves since Seth Jones left town and he started playing bigger minutes. Ekholm has moderate offensive upside with his assists on breakout passes, is a plus-16 and is available in 50 percent of ESPN leagues. Up front, the duo of Ryan Johansen and James Neal are heating up again after a bit of a cold spell that lasted the latter half of February. With Johansen and Neal finding their form, Calle Jarnkork will start to get some points through osmosis. He has four assists and a plus-5 rating through the past five games and is available in virtually all ESPN leagues (99.9 percent).
Toronto Maple Leafs: Winners of five of their past six games, the Leafs are in a good place heading into a four-game penultimate week of the season that draws an O:9 on the Forecaster. It's not as if the Leafs are beating chump opponents, either. Three of those five wins include the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs looked particularly dangerous on offense Thursday, with Bozak returning from a concussion to anchor the third line and contribute on the power play. The result was two goals for Bozak and two goals (and four points) for Nazem Kadri. But they aren't the only place to shop on the Leafs, as rookie William Nylander had five points in the two games prior to Thursday's. Nylander's big nights came against softer opponents, however, and next week's schedule features the Florida Panthers, Lightning and Red Wings (as well as the Buffalo Sabres). We'd rather have you consider Kadri or Bozak for your lineup.
Looking for goaltenders
Joni Ortio, G, Calgary Flames: With the sentimentality of starting Niklas Backstrom against his former teammates taken care of, we think the Flames will get back to the business of seeing what Ortio can do before this season is done. Backstrom and Jonas Hiller are not the long-term solution to the Flames' crease, but Ortio just might be. He's had one stretch of fantasy-relevant starts and will look to start stringing together another next week. It's not an ideal week for the Flames as they are on the road for four games, but at least two of those matches are against non-playoff teams in the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers.
But most importantly, remember to play the matchups with goaltenders and protect your ratios down the stretch. If you are trailing an opponent by more than five wins in a rotisserie league, Ortio or any other pickup probably isn't going to close that gap before the season is over. As we saw with James Reimer on Thursday, no matter how well a low-tier goaltender has been playing, they can blow up at any moment. The safest goaltending pickup at this point of the season might just be no one.
It's nice to get a glimpse of Scott Wedgewood debuting with style in the crease for the New Jersey Devils. But Cory Schneider is eyeing up a return as early as Tuesday, so Wedgewood won't be able to help fantasy owners beyond this weekend.
As quickly as he returned from a hand injury, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is back out of the Oilers' lineup with a concussion. Fantasy owners in re-draft leagues will want to pull the chute on him.
Both worthy of some fantasy attention immediately in medium-to-deep leagues, Jason Pominville and Nikolaj Ehlers are both back on the ice again. Pominville is playing on the Wild's third line, but the trio that includes Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula has been playing way above their heads when together. Ehlers was back on the Jets' top line again Thursday, with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Justin Faulk returned to action for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and John Carlson is expected back on Friday for the Washington Capitals. These are two guys who were both top-10 fantasy defensemen before injuries started derailing their season. Faulk is available in 32 percent of ESPN leagues and Carlson is available in 41 percent. Go check your league as soon as you're done reading this. Which is now.