We're into the final stretch. Beginning Monday, fantasy managers in redraft head-to-head leagues are either prepping for playoff (hoped-for) success or packing it in with a look to 2022-23. Those still engaged now need to take advantage of any available edge, including getting a leg up, schedule-wise. The National Hockey League's penchant for rolling out a lopsided timetable - 13-plus games one day then four or fewer the next - endures through the regular season's final month (pictured). As we determined back in November, some teams feature more regularly on so-determined "lighter" nights than others. Which, with a nod to basic arithmetic, means those players aren't as often busy on cards featuring an overwhelming number of games. Removing themselves from consideration when tough decisions have to be made about who to roster or not. In these final pressing fantasy playoff rounds, icing a full fantasy roster, each and every night, can mean the difference between moving on or calling it a campaign.
So, in similar fashion to November's hack, here's a look at how to maximize your fantasy assets' FPG-potential by playing to the schedule's feast or famine rhythm when it matters most. Setting the benchmark at six games - when only 12 teams or fewer are active - I tabulated which clubs are booked to compete on slower nights, from the launch of the fantasy postseason, Apr. 4, until it all wraps up on Apr. 29. Once again, there's a significant gap between clubs through those 26 days. While the Winnipeg Jets compete on six such lighter dates, the Pittsburgh Penguins never do. If torn between adding two otherwise equal assts, why not side with the one more active when others are idle? With that in mind, here's a handful of squads that often play when others don't.
Winnipeg Jets (six games on lighter cards): I have a little extra time for Paul Stastny as a fantasy asset as the Jets scrap and fight for a playoff spot in the West. The versatile forward has a history of putting in clutch performances, and right now, Winnipeg is desperate for any such boost. Skating in place of Kyle Connor (COVID) on the No. 1 line for at least one more game, Stastny is destined to fill a prominent role even once the club's top scorer is fit to return. It's also worth noting the Jets play four games - including tilts with the Kraken and Canadiens - in the second week of ESPN's scheduled fantasy playoffs (Apr. 11 - 17). This should be of extra interest to managers who earned themselves a first-round bye.
While you're not dropping a recognized commodity in exchange, Stastny presents as a decent injury plug or substitute for another underwhelming asset. The experienced veteran is rostered in only 5.7% of ESPN.com leagues.
Beyond Josh Morrissey - who's been an absolute fantasy delight of late - Winnipeg's defensive corps doesn't sport too much razzamatazz. Sophomore Logan Stanley serves, perhaps, as the one available exception. The Jets' 18th overall draft pick from 2016 is finally seeing steady work, in his first full-ish NHL season. Fantasy-wise, Stanley enjoyed a fruitful March, averaging 1.8 points/game in standard ESPN leagues. The combo of 29 blocked-shots and 26 hits through 13 contests doing the heavy lifting in bolstering that number. He's also good for a few penalty minutes, here and there, if your league rewards such behavior.
Colorado Avalanche (five games): First, a note about the Avalanche's (seemingly) indestructible top center. Missing just the one game with what initially appeared to be a devastating upper body injury, Nathan MacKinnon returned to his usual spot Thursday, centering Mikko Rantanen and Valeri Nichushkin. While MacKinnon and Rantanen are sensibly accounted for in all realms of fantasy play, Nichushkin is not. Averaging more than 22 minutes and, more importantly, 2.74 fantasy points/game since mid-March, the formidably-sized left winger can help your squad down the playoff stretch. Especially the final two weeks of the regular season, when Colorado competes seven times in 12 days. For every dud of a fantasy showing, Nichushkin can be relied upon to make amends with an impressively valuable performance. It all works out over the span of a week or two.
Need help on D? On the blue line, the potential return of Bowen Byram should be monitored closely. Sidelined with a head injury since early January, the rookie defender is now on conditioning assignment with the AHL Eagles. That's promising. In only 18 games with the Avs this season, the fourth-overall draft pick (2019) potted five goals and six assists on 35 shots. Veteran Erik Johnson - rostered in 20.4% of ESPN.com leagues - remains an underrated asset in deeper competition that rewards hits and blocked shots.
Arizona Coyotes (five games): Just because they won't win too many games doesn't mean the Coyotes are completely void of valuable fantasy material this final month. The top duo of Nick Schmaltz and Nick Ritchie is still going to put up points, even with star forward Clayton Keller out until next season. Would you believe Schmaltz (rostered in 27.4% of ESPN.com leagues) served as a Top-12 fantasy forward through March, averaging 3.0 points/game, bettering Patrick Kane, MacKinnon, Rantanen and David Pastrnak? Because it's true.
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While a disappointment in his short run in Toronto, Ritchie (1.3%) is taking advantage of his fresh slate in Arizona, collecting eight goals and two assist in 14 contests. The 26-year-old is certainly of use in deeper leagues that honour putting the puck in the net. And don't sleep on Phil Kessel (54%), if/when the veteran shuffles back into Coyotes' Keller-less top-six. Just because everyone generally knows who/what the UFA-to-be is about doesn't mean he still wouldn't benefit from a strong finish to this contract-ending season.
Underappreciated all season long, Shayne Gostisbehere remains obtainable in too large a percentage of ESPN.com leagues. That the Coyotes are busier on nights when the majority of the league is idle only enhances his standing valuable fantasy status. With 41 points, including 15 with the extra skater, Gostisbehere has been a consistent presence all season long. And the Coyotes' No. 1 power-play anchor hasn't missed a single contest.
Shayne Gostisbehere nets goal vs. Senators
Shayne Gostisbehere nets goal vs. Senators
Seattle Kraken (six games): Please consider adding Vince Dunn, if in need of blue-line fantasy help. Since Mark Giordano bolted for Toronto at the trade deadline, the 25-year-old defenseman has nine assists in 12 games, including two with the extra skater. Adam Larsson provides steady fantasy returns via hits, blocked-shots, and the odd point. But now that Yanni Gourde's recent productive flurry has reached a conclusion, I'm less enthralled with what Seattle has going on up front. Find your fantasy playoff sleeper forwards elsewhere.
Worth noting for managers engaged in the first scheduled round of fantasy playoff competition, Apr. 4 - 10: The Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues play all three of their respective four slated games on more lightly scheduled dates. If desperate to emerge from that opening round, consider engaging available assets from the Lightning and Blues.
On the opposite end of the heavy-action spectrum, the following teams are booked on one or zero lightly-scheduled (six or fewer games) dates between Apr. 4 and Apr. 29: New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks.