Nothing rivals a bit of hope in helping to fuel otherwise frustrated and despondent sports fans and fantasy managers. Even a glimmer, during the darkest spells, will keep us invested and engaged. This week, two struggling NHL organizations offered supporters a sniff of such hope by replacing their respective head coaches (plus an assistant and a GM), serving message that this season isn't necessarily a write-off before Christmas. A needed show of optimism and solidarity - we're not going to take this losing nonsense anymore either! - that should keep even the wariest of fans engaged for a little while yet.
Unfortunately, Mike Yeo's Flyers team looks all too similar to Alain Vigneault's underperforming version. Particularly in Yeo's second round behind the bench as top boss. Wednesday's night 3-0 loss to the Devils - a team battling to consistently secure their own W's - provided no indication that Philly is about to immediately turn matters around. They looked discombobulated and disconnected in all three zones. Each of the 25 shots fired on New Jersey goalie Mackenzie Blackwood appeared manageable (and were, in fact, stopped). If Philadelphia's skaters feel at all motivated by the recent personnel changes - assistant Michel Therrien was also let go - they're hiding it well.
But that doesn't mean it's time for invested fantasy managers to cut ties with their Flyers assets altogether. Give it a minute. Yeo is going to fiddle, and fiddle, and fiddle some more, with his lines until a combination strikes (or his interim leadership might be even more short-term than anticipated). Packing a bit of patience, if possible, could provide a decent payout in the fantasy field. On paper, this squad is better than we've seen in action.
Both Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier are enduring historically terrible seasons. Sporting an average shooting percentage of 13.8 since his sophomore campaign, Konecny (age 24) is currently rolling along at an uncharacteristic 7.3%. Averaging 0.91 points/game since 2017, Couturier (age 29) has five goals and seven assists in 24 contests (a mere 7.1% shooting). Under Yeo, or anyone else really, these two are destined to turn matters around, and could be worth targeting for proverbial pennies on the fantasy trade dollar.
Another Philadelphia skater worth fantasy attention is Kevin Hayes, who's been held off ice for all but six games because of injury. Seemingly healthy again, Hayes is skating, for now, on a potentially dynamic line with Cam Atkinson and Scott Laughton, and the secondary power play. One the league's streakier performers, the 29-year-old center often serves as a scoring machine when in a groove. Rostered in only percent 9.4% of ESPN.com leagues, Hayes should be exploited, without delay, when he heats up. When, not if, because history tells us he inevitably will.
Forward Morgan Frost is another intriguing character to keep in fantasy sight while Yeo and the Flyers (try to) figure it out. Called up from the AHL earlier, the 22-year-old remains in the NHL lineup even with Hayes and Derick Brassard back in action. If he continues to stick with the big club, Frost could serve as an under-radar gem in deeper fantasy leagues. He banged out 15 points in 16 games with the Phantoms before joining the Flyers - most recently skating on a line with Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.
As for between the Flyers' pipes, Carter Hart deserves a few more games before cutting the fantasy cord. Before losing six straight, the 23-year-old was 5-3-2 with a .935 SV% and 2.19 GAA. Since then, the Flyers have allowed 35.9 shots/game - third most in the league behind Montreal and Arizona - while scoring only 1.80 goals/game (second-worst in the NHL). If the club manages to right the ship, Carter - who's been altogether fine to better-than-fine - will benefit handsomely. As will his fantasy managers. Also worth noting is Philly's kinder, gentler schedule coming right up. After Friday's tilt in Vegas, the Flyers face the Coyotes, Devils again, Canadiens, and Senators. Three wins out of four - well within grasp - could help clear the clouds of misery for Carter and all those out front. We're talking a span of nine days. Well worth the minimal wait.
Across the country, the Canucks are having a much better time of it through their first pair of games under new coach Bruce Boudreau. As discussed at length by my colleague Sean Allen, this particular change behind the bench bodes well for improved results from some underwhelming performers to date - led by Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson - and is already paying out dividends. Vancouver probably still isn't a playoff team, but with improved individual showings, they should be on the upswing. Rewarding Canucks fans (to a degree) and patient fantasy managers alike.
In other fantasy-related news:
Dallas Stars: The Stars have too many goaltenders. A fine enough problem from an organizational standpoint, especially compared to having too few, but still one that requires action. Once Ben Bishop is ready to go, which feels soon-ish, Anton Khudobin appears out the door via trade. Rumored interest in the veteran netminder's services as a backup from around league suggests a deal might not be long in the forging. Khudobin, who hasn't had a great time of it in Dallas this fall, should benefit from a fresh start elsewhere. His situation is worth keeping in view, if only as a potentially valuable Daily Fantasy asset on occasion.
With Khudobin gone, and we're not there yet, the crease would remain jammed in Dallas. Either the Stars roll with a healthy Bishop, Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger, or send Oettinger - who's been superb for the Stars - down to the minors. Even with the team playing well, there are too many variables involved for my fantasy taste. Oettinger only sports value if he plays in the NHL. Bishop hasn't appeared in a competitive game since summer 2020. Holtby, the safest fantasy bet of the lot, still can't be counted on to shoulder the majority of starts. If your goaltending is deep in the muck, then sure, give Holtby - or even Bishop - a whirl in re-draft leagues. Both are largely available in the ESPN.com game. Otherwise wait out the situation in case one netminder constantly rises above the rest.
Boston Bruins: Having his interest in a trade loudly advertised, and knowing the Bruins are keen to play ball, Jake DeBrusk will likely play for another NHL team in the not-too-distant future. As outlined by ESPN's Emily Kaplan, as long as his pending arbitration eligibility doesn't serve as too great a hindrance, DeBrusk could end up with one of several interested clubs, including St. Louis, Calgary and New York. Stumbling along recently, the still-only-25-year-old potted 27 goals in 68 games only three seasons ago. Just because the marriage with the Bruins is broken, doesn't mean DeBrusk can't forge another healthy, and productive, relationship elsewhere. A top-six role could see the 14th overall draft pick (2015) return to fantasy-relevant form quickly. He's overwhelmingly available in the ESPN.com game at present.
Montreal Canadiens: Goalie Carey Price appears to be progressing in his return journey to Montreal's crease. The star netminder was spotted skating with goalie equipment for the first time on Wednesday. However, according to the Canadiens' website, Coach Dominique Ducharme warns Price still isn't expected to play in an NHL game until late December, at the earliest.
"He was skating without equipment and now he's skating with equipment," Ducharme said, "Probably the next step is going to be some more movement in the crease, and after that getting shots. But you won't see Carey before Christmas in games. That doesn't change."
Still, the timeline offers fans of the troubled Canadiens a beacon of hope, if largely for the boost to morale (on his own, current No. 1 Jake Allen hasn't been the problem this season). Rostered in less than 45% of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, Price could be worth stocking away, in case of an early-year turnaround in Montreal. Like the Flyers, the Habs are better than what they've showed us so far. However the timeline unfolds, having one the game's best back in action, whenever he feels good and ready, will be great full-stop.