Fantasy hockey calendar hack: The scheduling quirk you should be taking advantage of

Ryan Getzlaf (L) congratulates Adam Henrique (R) after a goal, one of many for the NHL's top-scoring team. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

We've all been there. Facing a full slate on a hectic Saturday, forced to make tough decisions in daily adjustment leagues on who to play and who to bench. The NHL's habit of rolling out lopsided regular-season schedules - 14 games one day and two the next, etc - is often frustrating for devoted fans and invested fantasy managers alike.

Sure, there's quality of player, strength of matchup, and other factors to take into account, but points will be left on the bench regardless. While such decision-making is par for the fantasy course, it can be frustrating nonetheless.

So why not maximize your fantasy assets' FPG-potential by playing to the schedule's feast or famine rhythm? As is usual, some teams play more often on lightly-scheduled nights than others. Setting the benchmark at seven games - when more than half the league is idle - I tabulated which clubs are booked to compete on such so-called slower nights, from Nov. 19 until the season concludes on Apr. 29.

There's plenty of discrepancy. While the red-hot Anaheim Ducks (more on them below) compete on 24 such lighter dates, the Nashville Predators figure in only nine. As such, in striving for icing as balanced a lineup possible on any given day, and maximizing value, and all else being equal in ESPN's standard game, there's an argument to be made for rostering Ryan Getzlaf over Matt Duchene. Just for example. In that view, here's a fantasy tour of a handful of squads that often play when others don't.

One important note: This applies to the NHL regular-season schedule as of Nov. 18. Other COVID-related postponements (see: Ottawa Senators) could still shuffle games about.

Winnipeg Jets: Scheduled to compete on 26 days with less-concentrated action, the Jets are one of several Western Conference clubs to look to for calendar-friendly fantasy talent. Defenseman Nate Schmidt (rostered in 32.8% of ESPN.com leagues) is proving valuable in leagues that reward blocked-shots in addition to scoring. Widely available, Schmidt currently leads Winnipeg's blue line in power-play points with six.

Up front, Blake Wheeler (92.8%) might be worth targeting via trade after being shelved several games in step with the league's COVID-19 protocols. Some of Wheeler's fantasy managers - undoubtedly frustrated with the forward's slow post-COVID warmup - might be in the mood for change. On a line with a red-hot Kyle Connor, the points will soon come for Winnipeg's captain. The same applies to Mark Scheifele, who is once again showing signs of scoring life with a goal in each of his past two contests. Both Wheeler and Scheifele, as top-six assets with impressive fantasy resumes, are due to rebound before two long. With a record of 7-1-2 in their last 10, the Jets have won three straight.

Colorado Avalanche: By my count, the Avalanche compete on 24 dates when less than half the league is active between now and season's conclusion. Which allows the likes of Nathan MacKinnon (when healthy), Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog to earn valuable fantasy points without beating out another valuable asset for a lineup spot.

But never mind the Avs' heavier hitters, who are overwhelmingly rostered across the ESPN spectrum. There's a secondary forward fantasy gaggle worth watching in Colorado, led by Nazem Kadri and his sizzling-hot, seven-game scoring streak. Collecting four goals and nine assists on 21 shots, Kadri is averaging 3.66 fantasy points per contest. Leading his team in power-play scoring, the feisty second-line center is rostered in only 37.5% of ESPN.com leagues. That's wild. Linemates Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin - just recently returned to action - are also viable options in deeper fantasy competition. On the blue line, Samuel Girard merits grabbing up ASAP, if free.

Anaheim Ducks: As if fantasy managers need another reason to love the Ducks this season. A revitalized Getzlaf already has five more assists (17) than he did all of last year, Troy Terry is finally emerging as a genuine scoring force with which to be reckoned, and rookie Trevor Zegras is commanding fresh attention with four goals in his past two games.

Veteran defensemen Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk are humming along on the blue line, and goalie John Gibson is riding a seven-game win streak, allowing backup Anthony Stolarz the single victory during Anaheim's perfect ride dating back to Halloween. And, as is tradition over the years, the Ducks compete on lesser-scheduled days more often than most, totalling 24 lightly-booked dates between now and season's end. So the likes of Getzlaf (55.4%), Fowler (57.5%), and top-line winger Adam Henrique (46.0%), might be around to make some fantasy hay when other teams are idle. Gibson - a top-five goaltending asset at present - remains available in nearly 40% of ESPN.com leagues. Currently centering a second scoring line with Sonny Milano, Zegras (19.9%) also merits monitoring, if not rostering outright, in deeper fantasy leagues.

New York Rangers: In the Eastern Conference, along with the Washington Capitals, the Rangers play an inordinate number of contests on slower days. In fact, of the 23 total, Gerard Gallant's squad competes 10 times between now and Dec. 22 when fewer than half the league is active. They also often feature often on eight-game slates. As far as rostering fantasy-friendly New York skaters, there's no time like the present.

While stars Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider are undoubtedly spoken for - and good luck wrenching goalie Igor Shesterkin away from a rival manager - a few under-radar assets remain available. Centering a scoring line with Panarin, Ryan Strome (74.7%) might be free in shallower leagues. Sidelined under COVID protocols to start the season, the 28-year-old has a goal and four assists (plus-four) in his most recent four contests. That works out to an average of 2.0 fantasy points per game in ESPN standard leagues. Why not have them count on lighter nights when others are off? Projected for a breakout this preseason, Kaapo Kakko (6.6%) is finally demonstrating some scoring spark with a goal in each of his past two contests, plus an assist. Wagering on a continuation of this trend, the second-overall draft selection (2019) might be worth a flier in deeper leagues, competing alongside Panarin and Strome.

Vancouver Canucks: Forwards Elias Pettersson (96.7%) and Brock Boeser (80.1%) won't struggle forever, regardless of who's managing the team or running the bench. Competing for the underachieving Canucks - another Western Conference team that sees more regular action on lighter nights - the club's best skaters will earn ample opportunity to play better on days where few other clubs are active. I know there isn't a lot to adore about what this Vancouver club is doing right now, but they can't keep up such sub-mediocre play much longer. Consider testing the market for what a discouraged manager might want in return for Petterson in particular. Mind you, I'd steer right clear of rolling out goalie Thatcher Demko until there's true sign of winning life back on the B.C. coast.

On the opposite end of the heavy-action spectrum, the following teams are booked in on 13 or fewer lightly-scheduled (seven or less) dates between Nov. 19 and Apr. 29: Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators.