Fantasy hockey rankings: Why Mathew Barzal is important to your playoff run

Mathew Barzal and the New York Islanders have the most remaining games in the NHL. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The cancellations over the past month are starting to push some disparity into the NHL schedule again. Last season, the number of games remaining was a constant fantasy story due to imbalances in the schedule. There is also some at play, but the COVID postponements last season pushed the issue to the forefront.

Of course, remaining games has less of an impact in head-to-head leagues, as you still have to manage your lineup and are limited to what fits in any given week. But in season-long formats, the remaining games can give you a monstrous advantage by trading for the right player at the right time.

The extremes on the disparity front at the moment are the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights, both with 44 games remaining, versus the New York Islanders, with 54 games remaining. A 10-game advantage to players on the Islanders could be enough to swing fantasy leagues under the right circumstances.

Not all fantasy managers think of the future when wheeling and dealing, so those who think in the now might not realize that the 10-game edge to members of the Islanders allows them to make up a lot of ground on better per-game fantasy assets.

Trevor Zegras and Mathew Barzal are averaging an identical 1.7 fantasy points per game (FPPG). But with an extra 10 games in hand, Barzal would put up an additional 17 fantasy points on Zegras if the season played out the way it has so far.

Brock Nelson, Noah Dobson, Anders Lee and even Oliver Wahlstrom are more valuable than they appear at a glance, simply because they haven't played as much as most of their peers this season.

Similarly, Zegras, Troy Terry, Alex Pietrangelo and Jonathan Marchessault aren't as valuable as they appear, they have just played more than others.

The Ottawa Senators are in a similar boat as the Islanders, with 53 games remaining. Drake Batherson and Josh Norris are two players having their first fully successful fantasy campaigns and might be ideal trade targets. The manager with either player might already be a little nervous about their assets since they are breakouts, so offering up a similar player with a scoring history in trade could get some nibbles. Of course the trump card in this scenario is that you trade someone from a team with 44 to 45 games remaining, thus making a huge leap in overall point potential.

Now, a word of caution here: There are probably some folks who played into this strategy last season only to get burned by the Vancouver Canucks. Due to a bad COVID outbreak last season, a handful of the Canucks games had to be pushed well beyond the normal bounds of the NHL season. They were pushed so far, in fact, that they weren't even captured by the fantasy game at ESPN.com. Anyone who loaded up on Canucks at the right time hoping for a late season push last year would have been devastated to never get the games in.

It's impossible to say whether that might happen again this season, but it's certainly a risk. A total of 104 games have been postponed, with only two of them made up so far. And we aren't out of the woods yet when it comes to potential for more cancellations. The game managers at ESPN.com did everything in their power to capture as many of the NHL games as possible last season, and they certainly will again, but there are no guarantees that the solution will cover 100 percent of the NHL schedule.

So going after remaining games does not come without risks. I would categorize this kind of strategy as optimal for mid-tier teams; you aren't at the top of your standings, but you're not at the bottom either. You need a move to climb the rankings, but don't need to sell the farm for high-risk, high-reward assets.

Forwards on the move

Evgeni Malkin, W, Pittsburgh Penguins (enters ranks at No. 147): Slated as a game-time decision for Tuesday, Malkin will surely make his debut this week. He's been with Kasperi Kapanen and Jeff Carter at even strength in practice and, of course, has taken his usual spot on the top power-play unit. The Pens won't be at full strength for the top six just yet, as Bryan Rust is now in COVID protocol -- but the time is coming soon. Malkin wasn't a fantasy force last season, but if we are to believe that his surgery has refreshed his knee, perhaps some of the old Malkin can shine through.

Taylor Hall, W, Boston Bruins (up 25 spots to No. 130): It's been to the benefit of both Hall and David Pastrnak that the latter has been slipped down to the second line. Pastrnak has responded with his strongest scoring stretch of the season, while Hall is racking up the assists. It remains to be seen if the separation is a permanent fixture, but I think we've seen enough to make sure Hall is back in lineups again. But going out on a limb to trade for him is another matter; one slow stretch and Pastrnak might be back with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand again.

Defensemen on the move

Devon Toews, D, Colorado Avalanche (up nine spots to No. 48): Cale Makar gets all the fanfare (and rightly so), but what Toews is doing is also astounding. Here is the list of defensemen with more fantasy points per game than Toews: Makar, Roman Josi, Adam Fox and Drew Doughty. It's a short, impressive list. In fact, if it weren't for Makar basically being a forward when it comes to scoring goals, these two might be even in the fantasy realm.

Alec Martinez, D, Vegas Golden Knights (up 33 spots to No. 112): Unfortunately, Martinez is in COVID protocol. But, to get in that protocol, he was practicing again with the club. It was his first practice since he was cut by a skate in early November. Let his inclusion here serve as a reminder that Martinez was the most valuable fantasy defenseman last season and that the Golden Knights are setup for a late-season push.

Goaltenders on the move

Ilya Samsonov, G, Washington Capitals (down 30 spots to No. 121): I don't necessarily agree that Zach Fucale is the answer for the Capitals, but I will admit that Samsonov has been disappointing and some thing needed to be done. This is getting a bit messy now, as Fucale has put together some good games since being given a chance in the net. Samsonov's record is pristine (13-3-3), but his ratios are poor (2.76 GAA, .903 save percentage). But the big thing hurting his fantasy production is his 50.4 percent crease share that doesn't come close to what a starter should get. Adding a third goalie into the mix is exactly the opposite of what fantasy managers need for Samsonov.

New to rankings

Tuukka Rask (he's back soon), Evgeni Malkin, Robert Thomas, Tyler Myers, Tim Stutzle, Bowen Byram, Damon Severson (PP QB while Dougie Hamilton is on shelf).

Just missed

Nino Niederreiter, Jeff Skinner, Adam Boqvist, David Savard, Jakub Vrana, Ilya Mikheyev, Warren Foegele, Sonny Milano, Kevin Fiala, Matt Grzelcyk, Seth Jarvis, Marco Rossi, Matthew Boldy, Carson Soucy.

Dropped out

Brandon Saad, Jakub Voracek, Alexander Radulov, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Dahlen, Mike Hoffman, Pavel Zacha.

Top-250 rankings

1. Connor McDavid, F, EDM (F1)
2. Leon Draisaitl, F, EDM (F2)
3. Nathan MacKinnon, F, COL (F3)
4. Auston Matthews, F, TOR (F4)
5. Alex Ovechkin, F, WSH (F5)
6. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, TB (G1)
7. Roman Josi, D, NSH (D1)
8. Mikko Rantanen, F, COL (F6)
9. Jack Campbell, G, TOR (G2)
10. Brad Marchand, F, BOS (F7)
11. Adam Fox, D, NYR (D2)
12. Igor Shesterkin, G, NYR (G3)
13. Cale Makar, D, COL (D3)
14. Nikita Kucherov, F, TB (F8)
15. Frederik Andersen, G, CAR (G4)
16. Timo Meier, F, SJ (F9)
17. Sebastian Aho, F, CAR (F10)
18. Gabriel Landeskog, F, COL (F11)
19. Elias Lindholm, F, CGY (F12)
20. Jake Guentzel, F, PIT (F13)
21. Mika Zibanejad, F, NYR (F14)
22. David Pastrnak, F, BOS (F15)
23. Kyle Connor, F, WPG (F16)
24. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (F17)
25. Juuse Saros, G, NSH (G5)
26. Charlie McAvoy, D, BOS (D4)
27. Aleksander Barkov, F, FLA (F18)
28. Tristan Jarry, G, PIT (G6)
29. Drake Batherson, F, OTT (F19)
30. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (F20)
31. Jacob Markstrom, G, CGY (G7)
32. Victor Hedman, D, TB (D5)
33. Alex Pietrangelo, D, VGS (D6)
34. Artemi Panarin, F, NYR (F21)
35. John Carlson, D, WSH (D7)
36. Patrice Bergeron, F, BOS (F22)
37. Kirill Kaprizov, F, MIN (F23)
38. Seth Jones, D, CHI (D8)
39. Ilya Sorokin, G, NYI (G8)
40. Filip Forsberg, F, NSH (F24)
41. Vladimir Tarasenko, F, STL (F25)
42. Aaron Ekblad, D, FLA (D9)
43. Drew Doughty, D, LA (D10)
44. Sidney Crosby, F, PIT (F26)
45. Brady Tkachuk, F, OTT (F27)
46. Kris Letang, D, PIT (D11)
47. Nazem Kadri, F, COL (F28)
48. Devon Toews, D, COL (D12)
49. John Tavares, F, TOR (F29)
50. Brayden Point, F, TB (F30)
51. J.T. Miller, F, VAN (F31)
52. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, FLA (G9)
53. Patrik Laine, F, CLS (F32)
54. Mark Stone, F, VGS (F33)
55. Mark Scheifele, F, WPG (F34)
56. Jonathan Huberdeau, F, FLA (F35)
57. Josh Norris, F, OTT (F36)
58. Mitch Marner, F, TOR (F37)
59. Darnell Nurse, D, EDM (D13)
60. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (F38)
61. Bryan Rust, F, PIT (F39)
62. Roope Hintz, F, DAL (F40)
63. Zach Werenski, D, CLS (D14)
64. Andrei Svechnikov, F, CAR (F41)
65. MacKenzie Weegar, D, FLA (D15)
66. Matthew Tkachuk, F, CGY (F42)
67. William Nylander, F, TOR (F43)
68. Jack Hughes, F, NJ (F44)
69. Mario Ferraro, D, SJ (D16)
70. Tyler Bertuzzi, F, DET (F45)
71. Alex DeBrincat, F, CHI (F46)
72. Pierre-Luc Dubois, F, WPG (F47)
73. Thatcher Demko, G, VAN (G10)
74. Jason Robertson, F, DAL (F48)
75. Patrick Kane, F, CHI (F49)
76. Brock Nelson, F, NYI (F50)
77. Joe Pavelski, F, DAL (F51)
78. Johnny Gaudreau, F, CGY (F52)
79. Miro Heiskanen, D, DAL (D17)
80. Connor Hellebuyck, G, WPG (G11)
81. Dylan Larkin, F, DET (F53)
82. Jacob Trouba, D, NYR (D18)
83. Cam Talbot, G, MIN (G12)
84. Noah Dobson, D, NYI (D19)
85. Evgeny Kuznetsov, F, WSH (F54)
86. Jordan Kyrou, F, STL (F55)
87. Mats Zuccarello, F, MIN (F56)
88. Dougie Hamilton, D, NJ (D20)
89. Logan Couture, F, SJ (F57)
90. Darcy Kuemper, G, COL (G13)
91. Ryan Hartman, F, MIN (F58)
92. Elvis Merzlikins, G, CLS (G14)
93. Matt Duchene, F, NSH (F59)
94. Morgan Rielly, D, TOR (D21)
95. Boone Jenner, F, CLS (F60)
96. Tony DeAngelo, D, CAR (D22)
97. Nicklas Backstrom, F, WSH (F61)
98. Brent Burns, D, SJ (D23)
99. Thomas Chabot, D, OTT (D24)
100. Neal Pionk, D, WPG (D25)
101. Zach Hyman, F, EDM (F62)
102. Sean Couturier, F, PHI (F63)
103. Moritz Seider, D, DET (D26)
104. Tom Wilson, F, WSH (F64)
105. Ivan Provorov, D, PHI (D27)
106. Pavel Buchnevich, F, STL (F65)
107. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, EDM (F66)
108. Robin Lehner, G, VGS (G15)
109. Joel Eriksson Ek, F, MIN (F67)
110. Troy Terry, F, ANA (F68)
111. Erik Karlsson, D, SJ (D28)
112. Alec Martinez, D, VGS (D29)
113. Max Pacioretty, F, VGS (F69)
114. Teuvo Teravainen, F, CAR (F70)
115. Nikolaj Ehlers, F, WPG (F71)
115. Tuukka Rask, G, BOS (G16)
116. Anthony Duclair, F, FLA (F72)
117. Sam Bennett, F, FLA (F73)
118. Elias Pettersson, F, VAN (F74)
119. T.J. Oshie, F, WSH (F75)
120. Ondrej Palat, F, TB (F76)
121. Ilya Samsonov, G, WSH (G17)
122. Colton Parayko, D, STL (D30)
123. Tomas Hertl, F, SJ (F77)
124. Jordan Eberle, F, SEA (F78)
125. Vincent Trocheck, F, CAR (F79)
126. Oliver Bjorkstrand, F, CLS (F80)
127. Rickard Rakell, F, ANA (F81)
128. Jordan Binnington, G, STL (G18)
129. Evan Bouchard, D, EDM (D31)
130. Taylor Hall, F, BOS (F82)
131. John Gibson, G, ANA (G19)
132. Ryan Pulock, D, NYI (D32)
133. Andre Burakovsky, F, COL (F83)
134. Claude Giroux, F, PHI (F84)
135. Mathew Dumba, D, MIN (D33)
136. Andrew Copp, F, WPG (F85)
137. Cam Atkinson, F, PHI (F86)
138. Quinn Hughes, D, VAN (D34)
139. Jonathan Marchessault, F, VGS (F87)
140. Samuel Girard, D, COL (D35)
141. Viktor Arvidsson, F, LA (F88)
142. Carter Hart, G, PHI (G20)
143. Lucas Raymond, F, DET (F89)
144. Artem Zub, D, OTT (D36)
145. J.T. Compher, F, COL (F90)
146. Andrew Mangiapane, F, CGY (F91)
147. Evgeni Malkin, F, PIT (F92)
148. Alex Iafallo, F, LA (F93)
149. Brock Boeser, F, VAN (F94)
150. Erik Johnson, D, COL (D37)
151. Shayne Gostisbehere, D, ARI (D38)
152. Adam Larsson, D, SEA (D39)
153. Esa Lindell, D, DAL (D40)
154. Valeri Nichushkin, F, COL (F95)
155. Zach Whitecloud, D, VGS (D41)
156. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (G21)
157. Chandler Stephenson, F, VGS (F96)
158. Alex Tuch, F, BUF (F97)
159. Ryan Johansen, F, NSH (F98)
160. Ryan Getzlaf, F, ANA (F99)
161. Jeff Carter, F, PIT (F100)
162. Jesse Puljujarvi, F, EDM (F101)
163. Mikael Granlund, F, NSH (F102)
164. Anthony Cirelli, F, TB (F103)
165. David Perron, F, STL (F104)
166. Tyson Barrie, D, EDM (D42)
167. Mathew Barzal, F, NYI (F105)
168. Alex Killorn, F, TB (F106)
169. Mikko Koskinen, G, EDM (G22)
170. Shea Theodore, D, VGS (D43)
171. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, ANA (D44)
172. Ivan Barbashev, F, STL (F107)
173. Rasmus Dahlin, D, BUF (D45)
174. James Reimer, G, SJ (G23)
175. Jakob Chychrun, D, ARI (D46)
176. Bo Horvat, F, VAN (F108)
177. Oliver Wahlstrom, F, NYI (F109)
178. Ryan Graves, D, NJ (D47)
179. Adam Henrique, F, ANA (F110)
180. Tyler Seguin, F, DAL (F111)
181. Mikhail Sergachev, D, TB (D48)
182. Connor Murphy, D, CHI (D49)
183. Jared McCann, F, SEA (F112)
184. Brayden McNabb, D, VGS (D50)
185. Blake Wheeler, F, WPG (F113)
186. Clayton Keller, F, ARI (F114)
187. Ryan Strome, F, NYR (F115)
188. Cam Fowler, D, ANA (D51)
189. Nico Hischier, F, NJ (F116)
190. Mark Giordano, D, SEA (D52)
191. Conor Garland, F, VAN (F117)
192. Pavel Francouz, G, COL (G24)
193. Jared Spurgeon, D, MIN (D53)
194. Yanni Gourde, F, SEA (F118)
195. Rasmus Andersson, D, CGY (D54)
196. Ryan O'Reilly, F, STL (F119)
197. Victor Olofsson, F, BUF (F120)
198. John Klingberg, D, DAL (D55)
199. Jake Oettinger, G, DAL (G25)
200. Jamie Benn, F, DAL (F121)
201. Anders Lee, F, NYI (F122)
202. Trevor Zegras, F, ANA (F123)
203. Nate Schmidt, D, WPG (D56)
204. Sam Reinhart, F, FLA (F124)
205. Justin Faulk, D, STL (D57)
206. Vladislav Gavrikov, D, CLS (D58)
207. Mike Smith, G, EDM (G26)
208. Max Domi, F, CLS (F125)
209. Travis Konecny, F, PHI (F126)
210. Jonas Brodin, D, MIN (D59)
211. Tage Thompson, F, BUF (F127)
212. Matt Roy, D, LA (D60)
213. Marcus Foligno, F, MIN (F128)
214. Joshua Morrissey, D, WPG (D61)
215. Evan Rodrigues, F, PIT (F129)
216. Adrian Kempe, F, LA (F130)
217. Nick Suzuki, F, MON (F131)
218. Jaccob Slavin, D, CAR (D62)
219. Jeremy Swayman, G, BOS (G27)
220. Jack Eichel, F, BUF (F132)
221. Rasmus Ristolainen, D, PHI (D63)
222. Jaden Schwartz, F, SEA (F133)
223. Filip Hronek, D, DET (D64)
224. Charlie Coyle, F, BOS (F134)
225. Braden Holtby, G, DAL (G28)
226. Lawson Crouse, F, ARI (F135)
227. Torey Krug, D, STL (D65)
228. Jesper Bratt, F, NJ (F136)
229. Reilly Smith, F, VGS (F137)
230. Radko Gudas, D, FLA (D66)
231. Ben Chiarot, D, MON (D67)
232. William Karlsson, F, VGS (F138)
233. Alex Goligoski, D, MIN (D68)
234. Carter Verhaeghe, F, FLA (F139)
235. Anthony Mantha, F, WSH (F140)
236. Brayden Schenn, F, STL (F141)
237. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, CHI (G29)
238. Robert Thomas, F, STL (F142)
239. Justin Braun, D, PHI (D69)
240. Tyler Myers, D, VAN (D70)
241. Anton Lundell, F, FLA (F143)
242. Tim Stutzle, F, OTT (F144)
243. Sean Durzi, D, LA (D71)
244. Bowen Byram, D, COL (D72)
245. Ryan Ellis, D, PHI (D73)
246. Linus Ullmark, G, BOS (G30)
247. Vince Dunn, D, SEA (D74)
248. Joel Farabee, F, PHI (F145)
250. Damon Severson, D, NJ (D75)