I'm straying from the usual format for Open Ice to focus on the final week of the season. I have a quick preview of the week ahead for all the teams still in the playoff hunt, followed by some quick hits from those already out of contention. The idea is to get as much information out in this final week of the season, which will decide your fantasy hockey league title.
Yes, there are rankings this week. But they are volatile, fluid, wacky and disposable. In trying to account for a top 250, while considering injuries, games remaining and playoff races, we have some crazy swings this week. Make sure you throw these rankings aside and never refer to them again in the future. Remember: They are for the remainder of this season only. Next week, we'll check back with our "way too early" rankings for next season.
Anaheim Ducks: Three games are left for the Ducks, who need to push right to the finish line if they hope to hang on to the division title and earn a first-round matchup against a wild-card team. With Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm both hobbled at the moment, future defensive stars Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are getting a chance to shine -- sometimes together on the second power-play unit. The Ducks are home for all three games, and we will probably see a split of goaltending duties, which has been well-earned by Jonathan Bernier.
Boston Bruins: With two of the teams behind them in the playoff seeding holding two games in hand this week, plus with three teams out of the playoffs still mathematically able to match the Bruins for points, Boston can't take its foot off the pedal for a moment. The Bruins hold a lot of their own fate, as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators to start the week -- two teams that could overtake them -- before closing against the Washington Capitals. Ryan Spooner is still doing something with nothing. For the past eight games in which he's played at least 10 minutes, he has a point in six of them. Don't forget that Zdeno Chara is available in about a third of leagues and has been a rock-solid fantasy asset since the team's midseason coaching change.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are locked into the playoffs but won't get home ice in the first round no matter what happens. With three games remaining, the Flames will be jockeying with the San Jose Sharks for third in the Pacific Division, possibly providing western Canadian hockey fans with a battle of Alberta in the first round. Kris Versteeg is on fire as the fourth forward on the power play with Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Micheal Ferland. He has five power-play points in his past five games.
Carolina Hurricanes: Technically not eliminated from postseason contention, the Hurricanes play four games this week against the Minnesota Wild, fellow playoff hunting New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers. It will take a perfect week from the Canes and a complete collapse from either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Senators for this to happen. But don't tell that to the Hurricanes, who are still getting hot play from Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, both largely free agents in fantasy.
Chicago Blackhawks: All bets are off, as the Blackhawks have clinched the division and play only one more game of any consequence to the playoff brackets. We may very well see all the fantasy stars get a game or two of rest down the stretch. Both the games with the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings have zero potential impact on the playoff picture. Perhaps coach Joel Quenneville, good sport that he is, still marches out his stars to take on the Ducks midweek, but even that's not a sure thing. While you could still potentially get three games of production from Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the rest of the crew, you shouldn't count on anything.
Columbus Blue Jackets: For better or worse, the rest of the Blue Jackets' season is simply jockeying with the Pittsburgh Penguins for home ice in the first round. Neither team is likely to catch the Capitals for the division title. The Blue Jackets are one point back of the Penguins and the teams go head-to-head in a swing game on Tuesday. Sam Gagner has responded to an assignment alongside Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad by scoring four points in his past three games. Zach Werenski left Sunday's game with an injury, and any amount of missed time would mean more responsibility for Seth Jones down the stretch.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers could still conceivably catch the Ducks for the Pacific Division title, especially the way Connor McDavid has been playing lately. Six of his past 10 games have been multi-point efforts, with three of those games featuring three points. If Patrick Maroon, McDavid's linemate, is available, don't hesitate to use him for the final week. The Oilers face the Kings and then are in a potential first-round preview on Thursday against the Sharks, before closing the season with a back-to-back set of games against the woeful Vancouver Canucks.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild, thankfully, get to close the season on an easy note. Thankfully, because they've struggled defensively for the past month or so. After getting a chance to end the Hurricanes' season on Tuesday (if the Leafs or Senators didn't already end it with wins on Monday), the Wild face the cellar-dwelling Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. Minnesota's postseason positioning isn't changing no matter what happens between now and the end of the regular season, so it's possible there will be some players getting a rest. That said, the Wild can ill afford to go into the playoffs with their goaltending a mess. After benching Devan Dubnyk for two games, the struggling starter was back between the pipes on Sunday for a decent win against the Avalanche. Just because Dubnyk has abandoned you for the past month, doesn't mean he can't finish strongly, given this soft schedule and need for defensive play.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs may as well start sizing up the New York Rangers, as their first round playoff matchup appears all but locked into place. Depending on how the Lightning fare in the early part of the week, the Canadiens could finish the season with four games against non-playoff teams. That should give them some time to rest a player here and there, and could mean Carey Price might only have two starts left in him this season.
Nashville Predators: The Predators could still change their playoff fate, whether by overtaking Calgary for the first wild-card spot or pushing past the Blues for third in the division. The Preds face the John Tavares-less Islanders, then the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars. Don't be surprised to see the Predators earn a heap of their six remaining possible points and end up facing the Pacific Division winner in the first round. Pekka Rinne has been relatively dialed in of late and looks reliable heading into a final week when the Predators will be pushing hard for wins. James Neal remains out with an upper-body injury, leaving top power-play time available for Kevin Fiala.
New York Islanders: With John Tavares out for the remainder of the season, these already desperate playoff hopes have become all but diminished. That said, a new speedy top line of rookies Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier with Anders Lee looked pretty great on Sunday, scoring three of the four goals against the Sabres. While the Isles may not make the playoffs, their fantasy owners can still benefit down the stretch. Without Tavares around to support him, Josh Bailey should be left out of lineups. He played with Brock Nelson and Shane Prince on Sunday.
New York Rangers: The Rangers aren't going to catch the Blue Jackets for third in the division and, pending an epic collapse, aren't going to be caught for the top wild-card spot. It looks like they are destined for a first round against the Montreal Canadiens and, if the Rangers were to win against the Capitals on Tuesday, their final two games of the season wouldn't impact their standing. If Ryan McDonagh misses more time this week to get healthy for the playoffs, Brady Skjei should be in more lineups. The rookie rearguard already has 39 points this season, and he has filled in for McDonagh on the top power-play unit.
Ottawa Senators: With five games remaining and three of them likely against non-playoff teams, the Senators control their own fortune for the final week of the season. Mathematically, they can still win the Atlantic Division. Realistically, they are jostling with the Maple Leafs, Bruins and Lightning for three playoff spots. A midweek showdown with the Bruins on Thursday is circled on the calendar. Erik Karlsson, who the Senators desperately need, remains questionable for Monday, which puts him into question for Tuesday in a back-to-back set. Dion Phaneuf handles the blue line on the power play in his absence, but things haven't been pretty without Karlsson in the lineup. Kyle Turris remains in strong position to contribute well for the final week, as he's skating with Mark Stone and Bobby Ryan on and off the power play.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Unlikely to catch the Capitals and in a heated race with the Blue Jackets for home ice in the first round, the Penguins might have to be playing hard right to the final whistle. The Pens are up one point on the Blue Jackets in the battle for second in the Metropolitan Division, and both teams play four games this week. After facing the Blue Jackets in a big game on Tuesday, the Pens close against the Devils, Leafs and Rangers. We have no recent news on Evgeni Malkin making a return and Kris Letang is still referred to mostly as a possible playoff addition. Jake Guentzel is back from a brief concussion absence and is back on the top line with Sidney Crosby.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks can still conceivably be caught by the Flames for third place in the Pacific Division, but it's hard to see the Sharks overtaking the Oilers with the way McDavid has been playing. But they get to help decide what will happen, as the Sharks face both the Flames and Oilers in the final week. However, the Sharks have their top-two centers on the injury report, as Logan Couture recovers from a puck to the mouth and Joe Thornton was hobbled during Sunday's game. Tomas Hertl swung up the depth chart after Thornton was hurt and scored two goals on Sunday. He may be a worthy final week investment if the Sharks don't get healthy quickly.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are locked in with a final battle against the Predators to determine who gets to face the Blackhawks and who gets to face the Wild in the first round. Advantage, Blues. St. Louis will play four games against non-playoff teams, including a final contest against the last place Avalanche. All the Blues' fantasy assets have been on cruise control lately -- basically doing what they are supposed to do for owners. If you need to dig for help here, consider Patrik Berglund. He's on the top power-play unit as the fourth forward and has been riding at even strength with the suddenly hot David Perron.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos wasn't the hero on the weekend with a triumphant return, but that doesn't rule out the remaining four games, as the Lightning make a desperate playoff push. The stakes are high early in the week, as the Bolts face the Bruins and Leafs -- two of the three teams they are trying to bounce from the postseason. Tampa Bay also faces the Habs and Sabres to close out the campaign. Three points back of the Senators and Leafs, and four points back of the Bruins, the Lightning have a possible eight points left to collect. While Stamkos didn't make it back on the weekend, both Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson did. Both should be in fantasy lineups as the the Lightning make this run. And if any fantasy team is in need of a Hail Mary for the final week, Stamkos should be your first target.
Toronto Maple Leafs: With five games remaining for a possible 10 points, the Leafs just need to outpace the Lightning, Bruins or Senators to make the postseason with their incredible squad of rookies. Toronto added yet another one to the mix, bringing up Kasperi Kapanen to play on the fourth line down the stretch. Kapanen had 43 points in 43 games in the AHL this season but won't be able to do much with minimal ice time. Fantasy owners should not forget about Connor Brown's role on the top power-play unit headed into the final week.
Washington Capitals: The Caps need to win just two of four remaining games to solidify their top status in the Eastern Conference. Starting the week with games against the Leafs and Rangers, the Capitals finish against the Bruins and Panthers. Marcus Johansson has the hot stick and is available in 30 percent of ESPN leagues. He has 11 points in his past eight games.
With two of their three remaining games against fellow non-playoff teams in the Western Conference, the Coyotes have a chance to close strongly. Alexander Burmistrov has looked comfortable playing with Max Domi lately -- both on and off the power play. Burmistrov has three goals in his past two games, with two of them on the man advantage.
Tyson Jost is getting decent ice time in his mini debut for the Avalanche, but he's been on the third line so probably won't factor into fantasy equations. Continue to lean on Sven Andrighetto if you really need an option on the Avalanche.