In fantasy competition, it isn't always about putting the puck in the net, even though, for the most part, it certainly used to be. Back in the infancy of make-believe hockey management - we're talking the 80's here - goals and assists counted with little concern for other contributions, beyond the odd nod to netminding. But we've evolved since then, and for the better. Now players are rewarded for impacting the game in other manners, that holistically helps their teams succeed. With an eye to points leagues in particular - ESPN's most popular form of fantasy competition - here's a look at some non-scoring categories, including a handful in net.
Incorporated into competition to reward defensive play, throwing half a point at each blocked shot tangibly boosts what defensemen bring to the fantasy table. Vegas' Alec Martinez was an absolute machine in this department while also contributing to the scoresheet this past season - averaging 2.7 fantasy points/game in ESPN's standard competition - and served as a difference-maker in helping many a manager ultimately win their league. I'm just not so sure he pulls off that feat again, at least not to the same degree. In his new role with the expansion Kraken, former Flame Mark Giordano boasts intriguing fantasy value as a habitual shot-blocker and someone who needs to re-discover his productive touch on Seattle's power play and otherwise. A fresh start in L.A. should see Alex Edler improve on last campaign's uncharacteristically low points total. A sneaky late-round pick in re-draft leagues for me, the 35-year-old vet can unquestionably be counted on to play heavy minutes and block shots with reckless abandon. A few more assists and there's your dark-horse gem.
Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk is the league's current king when it comes to throwing the body around, in addition to putting up solid scoring numbers. The 22-year-old has amassed 551 hits over his past two seasons, which works out to 4.3/game. Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals serves as another perennial threat to both throw bodychecks and mark notches on the scoresheet - never mind accrue penalty minutes for full-out poor or on-the-edge behavior. Go figure, skaters who play with heightened aggression spend more time in the bin. If your league counts scoring and hits and PIM, Tkachuk and Wilson should sit high on your fantasy draft list. On the blue line, I like perennial banger Rasmus Ristolainen, who's about to experience a much-needed fresh start in Philly.
While this category serves as an alternative to average-time-on-ice in points leagues, collecting a significant number of shifts can help separate your fantasy squad a titch from the competition. Here again, defenseman and their minute-munching ways shine. Only two - Philadelphia's Provorov and Blues defender Justin Faulk - averaged more than 30 shifts in 2020-21, followed by 14 blueliners logging 28 or more. Standouts from that crew, who sport impressive fantasy resumes otherwise, include Brent Burns, Seth Jones, Charlie McAvoy, and Adam Fox. Up front, after a run of 50 or so D-men, a few versatile forwards (mostly centers, obviously) start to dot the standings, led by J.T. Miller with 26.2 shifts/game. Miller already presents as a solid bounce-back candidate with the addition of Conor Garland from Arizona and return of a healthy Elias Pettersson, assuming the RFA re-signs. The hefty shift count just adds to Miller's already appealing fantasy charm.
See also: Sean Couturier, F, Philadelphia Flyers; any minute-eating defenseman who also scores/block shots
While they usually don't count for much, these fractional points can add up in a hurry for a group of (mostly) usual suspects. Only a dozen centermen scooped more than 500 faceoff wins in a shortened 2020-21 season, with Patrice Bergeron topping out at 714(!) through 54 games. Along with the Bruins' forward, L.A.'s Anze Kopitar and Blues center Ryan O'Reilly serve exceptionally well in this fantasy department while keeping up their end of the scoring bargain. Vancouver captain Bo Horvat is another solid contributor who puts in an extraordinary number of shifts and blocks more shots than most other forwards.
Chicago's Jonathan Toews, reportedly healthy again and "ripped", is expected to pick up where he left off in enjoying regular success in the faceoff circle. My sleeper favourite in this fantasy vein (and others) is new-to-Montreal forward Christian Dvorak, who finished 9th in faceoffs won with Arizona this past campaign. Dvorak could be in for a career season all around if he sticks on an impressive scoring line with Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson.
The busier the netminder, the better. As with victories and other stats (not including goals-against average) in straight-up category competition, the more often your quality goaltender plays for a winning team, the more fantasy hay you're going to make in this department. With each individual save adding up (0.2 points per in ESPN's standard competition) a hectic, victorious match can yield a significant haul. Beyond Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck sitting one and two, Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames finished sixth in number of saves in 2020-21, while maintaining a reasonably respectable 2.68 GAA. Unless backup Daniel Vladar chews into an unanticipated number of starts, Markstrom's stats should remain similar this season round.
No team has allowed more shots on net over the past two seasons than the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite the team undergoing defensive improvements on the blue line itself (Seth Jones, Jake McCabe) and up front (Jujhar Khaira) - an altogether good thing - veteran Marc-Andre Fleury should still accumulate some serious fantasy points on any given action-packed evening. Despite a dismal showing in the postseason, Pittsburgh's Tristan Jarry remains Penguins management's go-to, game in and game out. Anaheim's No. 1 John Gibson serves as a valuable sleeper in deeper leagues through the season's first two months or so, when he remains optimistically jazzed. Just be prepared to let him go once the frustration of a competing for a re-building club sets in once more.
On the flip side of racking up saves count by count, busy isn't necessarily better in light of this punitive category. As far as goals allowed are concerned, the stingier the goalie and the team, the better. A collection of 40 saves from a starting netminder loses a lot of fantasy shine once four or five goals are surrendered. The eight points earned (40 X 0.2, typically) are quickly wiped out, nullified by the -2 penalty lobbied for each puck in the net. Makes for ugly fantasy math. This is why balance is so important. In points leagues that acknowledge wins, saves, goals allowed, shutouts and whatever else, the quality of teammates out front matters as much as the netminders themselves. But once my strong corps is secure, I still support taking a late-round or free-agent flier on a rebuilding team's No. 1 as a fun, low stakes fantasy gamble. Just in case that particular club plays well above preseason projection. I'm looking at you, Alex Nedeljkovic of the Detroit Red Wings.
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