<
>

Fantasy hockey championship round: Sit 'em, start 'em watch

Mike Hoffman has seven goals in his last eight games for the St. Louis Blues. Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

As the regular season draws to a close, we have a couple of busy days coming up in the NHL, with 15 games scheduled for Saturday and another 14 on Monday. Which means contending managers in a variety of fantasy leagues that allow for daily adjustments will have some decisions to make. You (probably) can't play everyone.

In competition with limited lineup spots - which accounts for most leagues - some prominent fantasy performers will be forced to sit in place of others. Those choices can be tough. In a rare NHL addition of Sit 'em/Start 'em, here's a look at which otherwise quality players might be better off on your bench, at least over the next day or three. And a handful of who you might look to instead. With fewer than two weeks to go in ESPN.com competition altogether, the correct choice on just one day could make the difference between winning it all and settling for not-first place.


Sit 'em?

The New York Rangers: Out front of the net, there isn't much incentive in activating any member of the Rangers - including fantasy heavyweights Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and defenseman Adam Fox - in Saturday's match-up, presuming Semyon Varlamov gets the start in net for the Islanders. In five previous meetings, Varlamov shut out New York three times (including this Thursday), and held them to a single goal once. I suppose coach Barry Trotz could instead start Ilya Sorokin versus Panarin and Co. but why? If flipping a coin between a Ranger and other prominent fantasy figure on Saturday, go with the latter.

Anthony Mantha, RW/LW, Washington Capitals (Rostered in 83.9% of ESPN.com leagues): After scoring a goal in each of his first four games as a post-trade-deadline member of the Capitals, Mantha has since drummed up all of one assist in four matches since. Bench the former Red Wing in place of another reasonable forward asset until he snaps back to it, beginning with Saturday's game against Pittsburgh and Monday's test versus the Rangers.

Josh Anderson, RW, Montreal Canadiens (73.4%): The Canadiens' forward has two goals - scored in the same Edmonton game April 21 - and zero assists in his past eight contests. And he wasn't exactly lighting it up much before then. The latest shuffling in Montreal sees the power forward on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, which doesn't inspire much immediate enthusiasm either. I would turn to other options through the next few days, especially in Monday's tilt with the visiting Maple Leafs.

Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks (83.0%): The San Jose defenseman has all of one goal on seven shots through four previous match-ups with the Avalanche this season - the Sharks' opponent Friday, Saturday, and again Monday. Hardly an encouraging output for the former Norris Trophy winner, who's been just so-so as a fantasy asset altogether in 2021. Plus, Philipp Grubauer is loosely expected to return to Colorado's crease after sitting out for two-plus weeks under the league's COVID-19 protocol. Fantasy managers with other adequate blue-line options might give Karlsson a pass Saturday and Monday.

Cam Talbot, G, Minnesota Wild (87.9%): Amongst the gaggle of goalies from which to pick over the weekend, the Wild's current No. 1 isn't a frontrunner. Saturday's opponent, the visiting Blues, totalled nine goals on Talbot in this week's two-game set (both Minnesota losses), while Monday's match-up with Vegas is even less appealing. The Golden Knights have averaged 5.4 goals per game in winning 10-straight. There isn't a netminder on the planet worth testing against those scoring vibes at present.

Darcy Kuemper, G, Arizona Coyotes (54.3%): It bears repeating, the Golden Knights have averaged 5.4 goals per game in winning 10-straight. Kuemper has won twice in six attempts since returning from injury April 17. The Coyotes host Vegas Friday and again Saturday. I'm looking at other options in net over Kuemper on those dates, without question.

Start 'em?

Mike Hoffman, LW/RW, St. Louis Blues (82.5%): It took the better part of three months, but seems he's finally figured it out in St. Louis. After sitting out a pair of games earlier this month, Hoffman has since erupted for seven goals and four assists in eight contests. Fantasy managers who had (understandably) soured on the struggling winger should re-commit when the Blues face the Wild on Saturday and Ducks on Monday. Hoffman has his mojo back.

Nazem Kadri, C, Colorado Avalanche (56.7%): I know, I know, the spirited center hasn't enjoyed the most productive month for the Avalanche, contributing a pair of assists total. However, Colorado head coach Jared Bednar recently implied Kadri was doing a lot right and would snap out of his current funk in short order. How about during the club's looming four-game set against the porous Sharks? Only the Devils have shown more generosity in allowing goals since mid-April. And Kadri has more points against the Sharks than any other club - seven, including three with the extra skater - despite having faced them just four times. The former Maple Leaf could be in for a rather (much-needed) productive weekend indeed.

Josh Norris, C, Ottawa Senators (39.4%): The Senators are scoring goals and winning games and having a good deal of fun these days, including the team's top-line center. Racking up fantasy points with aplomb, Norris has seven goals and six assists in 12 games since April 5. He should be active in just about any scoring league across the ESPN.com fantasy spectrum. Ottawa plays the still Carey-Price-less Canadiens on Saturday.

Sam Bennett, C/LW, Florida Panthers (34.2%): The Florida newbie has failed to register a point only once since joining his new squad mid-month, otherwise generating five goals and six assists in seven games. Even with the one dud showing versus Carolina, the second-line center is averaging near three fantasy points per contest. The Panthers face the Blackhawks - who have surrendered 3.62 goals per game in April - Saturday, and the Stars on Monday. Get Bennett in your lineup.

Additional notes: Play your favourite Boston Bruins over the next few when they host the Sabres Saturday and visit the Devils Monday and Tuesday - and not just the elite fantasy performers. Center David Krejci, for instance, presents as an underrated commodity with massive upside, match-ups considering. ... Same goes for the Philadelphia Flyers, when they play New Jersey on Saturday. Particularly the Sean Couturier/Jakub Voracek forward combo.