All throughout North America, hockey fans are pumped for Fantasy Hockey. While some drafts have already taken place, ours isn’t until next Saturday due to hectic schedules.
The South River League has been in existence for over two decades. I was introduced to it by old St. John’s classmate and now best friend and brother, Brian Sanborn. Outside of the lockout which canceled ’04-05, our league has stayed intact thanks to loyalty and respect.
It takes a lot of commitment and dedication every year. When it comes down to a keeper format, you have to really be calculated in how you decide to build your roster. Each of the 11 teams must choose five players to keep, including our new arrival.
The thing which makes this league tough is the draft picks. By that, I mean every January we get to decide if we’re going for it. Obviously, it depends on how good your roster is and where you are in the categories. That can mean sacrificing high draft picks in trades to improve enough and finish in the top three. Ultimately, the goal is to win the trophy 🏆.
Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for my team. I didn’t pick until Round 12. Somehow, I drafted so well that I contended. So, I gambled and lost. I made one too many moves that didn’t work out, sacrificing protectable assets Brady Skjei, Cam Talbot and Matthew Tkachuk for rentals that ranged from Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Lundqvist, Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Corey Crawford.
On paper, it looked like upgrades to a roster that featured Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane, Logan Couture, Martin Jones, Mark Giordano, Justin Schultz, Alexander Wennberg, Ryan O’Reilly, Brandon Dubinsky and Brandon Saad. But what I didn’t account for were injuries to key stars along with inconsistent performances from Lundqvist and Crawford. Malkin sitting out all those games to be ready for the playoffs killed me. So did the miscalculation that I traded the wrong goalie (Talbot), who should’ve been up for the Vezina over Canadian darling Carey Price.
Sometimes, it happens. The way it ended was gut wrenching. I gave up so many high picks and good young talent to finish in the money. When it became clear I wouldn’t, I vowed that 2017-18 would be different. With the contracts of Kane, Malkin, Lundqvist, Crawford, Karlsson and Weber expiring after three years of service, I had no choice but to commit to a full rebuild.
Luckily, Marchand and Jones are still under contract for two more years. Marchand is one of the best fantasy players due to his penchant for shorthanded and game-winning goals. He also has become one of the top snipers and was just outside the Hart race in ’16-17. Jones is a good fantasy goalie who should get you between 35-40 wins with a solid goals-against-average and save percentage. I wonder though about San Jose, who are another year older.
Knowing I’m in rebuild mode means I can fully assess if it’s going to be better to keep Marchand or trade him to a contender. He should have good value with a year left and be able to get me a high draft pick. For the first time ever since the new keeper format, I won’t be trading any of my top 10 picks. I’m planning ahead.
With that in mind, I opted to keep Jonathan Drouin, who should see a hike in production as a second line center in Montreal. The 22-year old produced career bests across the board with Tampa in goals (21), assists (32) and points (53). He’s the perfect young player for my rebuild. In selecting him over Josi and Giordano, I was able to make both available. I struck a deal last night sending Josi and my 108 in round 10 for a 55 in round 6. Ironically, the same round I own my first pick at 54. That enables me to make two straight picks and get the rebuild going.
My other two keepers are Zachary Werenski and Scott Darling, who’ll get the chance to be a number one goalie with Carolina. If he performs similar to Jones did when he got moved to the Sharks, my goaltending should be okay. I only need to draft one more unless strategy tells me I should get four including a tandem. A high possibility given how many elite netminders will be on rosters or gone already. I love Werenski and see him improving on a great rookie year that saw him go 11-36-47 with 22 power play points. Columbus boasts two big blue liners in Werenski and Seth Jones who should make opponents’ lives a living hell. Don’t forget they picked up Artemi Panarin from the Blackhawks in a trade for a Saad reunion in Chitown with Jonathan Toews.
In a loaded draft that takes place in Keyport, NJ this Saturday at Matt’s, most of the big names are going back in. Unless you have Connor McDavid, Austin Matthews, Patrik Laine or Jack Eichel, superstar players such as Sidney Crosby, Kane, Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Karlsson, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Weber, P.K. Subban, Price, Tuukka Rask, Lundqvist are all available. Knowing that, I know I won’t contend.
With my team only having three picks in the first eight rounds with the next two not until Round 11, the strategy is simple. With an eye towards the future, think outside the box. With the exception of maybe one or two best availables who could become tradeable assets by next February/March, the plan is to take as many young, up and coming players as possible. That way I can give myself plenty of options towards a run in ’18-19.
Planning ahead isn’t easy. Nico Hischier likely will be off the board to one of two Devils fans. But there should be plenty of young talent who are still fairly new to the NHL. I have loaded up my prerankings accordingly. I’m ready and excited for this year!
As for projecting players, this is something I used to do. I’m gonna do a few big names and a couple of new kids on the block so we can later check back to see how I did. Let’s get started.
1.Connor McDavid-the best fantasy player in the land hit 100 points in Year 2 going 30-70-100. What’s in store for the rating MVP this year?
2.Auston Matthews-the 2016 top overall pick took Toronto by storm scoring 40 goals with 29 helpers to win the Calder Trophy. Featuring plenty of young talent around him, Matthews should take the next step and possibly lead the Leafs into the upper echelon of a improved Atlantic.
3.Jack Eichel-in a injury riddled second year, Eichel returned from a high ankle sprain and quietly produced at close to a point-per-game clip posting 24-33-57 in 61 games. Perhaps due to that, he’s been overlooked. He’s determined to do better and lead the Sabres into wildcard contention.
4.Patrik Laine-the Finn’s first year in Winnipeg was astonishing. Much like Teemu Selanne, Laine possesses lightning quick hands and a lethal shot that should make him a Rocket Richard contender for the foreseeable future. He went 36-28-64 in 73 contests.
5.Sidney Crosby-the Rocket Richard winner had a amazing season leading the league with 44 goals while adding 45 helpers for 89 points in 75 contests. He would add a second Conn Smythe and third Stanley Cup. It all depends on health. He could do even better this year.
6.Evgeni Malkin-he’s easily one of the most talented Russian players to ever play. Though streaky with a mean edge, his career has him way over a point-per-game with 832 points in 706 games. If only he could stay healthy. He hasn’t played in 70-or-more games since ’11-12 when he went 50-59-109 in 75 to win the Hart. Last year, he still got to 72 points in just 62 games.
7.Steven Stamkos-After missing most of last year due to a torn lateral meniscus, the Lightning captain comes back healthy and motivated after his team just fell short of the postseason. Look for Stammer to return to form.
8.Nikita Kucherov-the best kept secret also resides in Tampa. The electrifying Russian nearly carried his team to the playoffs with an MVP caliber performance going 40-45-85 in 74 GP. Playing for a new contract that’ll make him a fortune, the 24-year old could be in line for a Hart and long playoff run with his team.
9.Jamie Benn-last year was a disappointment for one of the game’s premier players. I would expect big things from Big Benn following a off season that saw him post 26 goals with 43 helpers. Figure him and Seguin to be big movers in Big D.
10.Tyler Seguin-one of the best finishers, he had a down year only getting 26 markers. They 46 assists were one off a career best. He’s never hit 40 goals. I think he can do it.
11.Erik Karlsson-there’s no doubting the Ottawa captain’s talent. He’s a legit point-per-game defenseman who can do it all. He played on one leg in the playoffs and still had two goals and 16 assists, nearly leading the Sens to a big upset over the Pens. The question is when will he be ready. His production could suffer but not the average.
Prediction: 13-44-57 in 65 GP
12.Brent Burns-the Norris winner did it by scoring 29 times with 47 helpers to lead all blueliners with 76 points. At 32, what can he do for an encore with the game’s most lethal point shot?
13.Ryan Johansen-he was dynamic in the postseason for the Predators before having emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome following an overtime win over the Ducks in the Western Conference Final. A tremendous playmaking pivot, it all depends how he can perform following the recovery. He’s healthy. On a talented roster that fell shy of its ultimate goal, he should do well.
14.Filip Forsberg-if he can ever start the way he finishes, there’s no telling what Forsberg can do. Stolen from the Caps for Martin Erat (seriously), the former first round pick continues to improve all the time. He might be in line for a big season.
15.Carey Price-considered the best goalie by most experts, the franchise Canadien is the straw that stirs the drink. As he goes, so does Montreal. He posted a 2.23 GAA, .923 save percentage with 37 wins and three shutouts in 62 games last season. Expect better.
Prediction: 41 W 2.21 GAA .927 7 SHO
16.Johnny Gaudreau-Johnny Hockey didn’t produce as many goals in Year 3 not even reaching 20. His 61 points were a career low. I think he gets back on track on a good team that can contend out West.
17.Patrick Kane-the game’s most polarizing player is also one of its brightest stars. The former MVP can do things most can’t. The wheels along with the finishing ability and playmaking makes him one of the best fantasy players. A slow start couldn’t stop him from piling on the points the final two months. He still wound up with 89. More to come from Showtime.
18.Vladimir Tarasenko-does anyone have a better release than the gifted Russian on the Blues? He’s a electrifying player to watch. He’s totaled 116 goals the past three seasons including 39 in ’16-17. On one of the West’s best, he could do even better at age 25 in his prime.
19.Nico Hischier-why not. The gifted Swiss didn’t go number one overall for nothing. I believe he’s a can’t miss star player who’ll improve the Devils offense leaps and bounds.
Rookie Prediction: 28-39-67
20.Mathew Barzal-based on his immense talent which includes blazing speed and playmaking along with a little razzle dazzle, he’s on the Islanders at age 20. The question is which line does he center. If it were up to me, he’d anchor the second line behind Tavares. A little glimpse into the future:
Rookie Prediction: 15-35-50