NHL Fantasy: Impact of the unique schedule on the 2021 fantasy hockey season

The NHL season is less than a week away which means many of us have fantasy drafts coming up this weekend. This year, The Win Column will be providing comprehensive fantasy coverage on a weekly basis and our first installment of the season focuses on the schedule.

This year’s NHL schedule is, in a word, different. With teams only facing off within their own division, lots of baseball style series, and 56 games compressed into a short amount of time, the schedule has never mattered more in fantasy.

We dissected the schedule and have extracted some handy trends that you should keep in mind when you are drafting, and week to week when you’re managing your fantasy squad.

Off days

Off days are days when there are fewer games on the calendar. In the past, off days have been Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. This season, that has completely changed.

70% of NHL games will be played on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Just 30% of games will happen on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. That’s a very significant split that will likely result in an abnormal number of days where you’ll have to decide who to bench because your entire roster is playing that day.

In the past, fantasy players know that when tied, players for the Anaheim Ducks had inherently higher value due to the fact that the Ducks tended to play more games on off days. This season, the Ducks are still one of those valuable off day heavy teams, but several more have joined the list.

In fact, the entire West division will be valuable in covering off days. These are the teams with the most games on off days this season:

TeamDivisionOff Day Games
Vegas Golden KnightsWest27
Anaheim DucksWest26
Los Angeles KingsWest26
San Jose SharksWest24
Minnesota WildWest23
St. Louis BluesWest22
Arizona CoyotesWest22
Colorado AvalancheWest22
Toronto Maple LeafsNorth21

The entire West division is represented here, but there is a significant drop off from the Golden Knights to the Avalanche, Wild, and Blues; the five games difference represents 9% of the season.

The only team in the top group not in the West division is the Maple Leafs, which gives them an edge over other teams in the North division.

Teams with the fewest games on off days are:

TeamDivisionOff Day Games
Carolina HurricanesCentral7
Dallas StarsCentral8
Columbus Blue JacketsCentral9
Florida PanthersCentral9
New York IslandersEast10
Tampa Bay LightningCentral11
Nashville PredatorsCentral11
Pittsburgh PenguinsEast13
Buffalo SabresEast13
New Jersey DevilsEast13

On this side of the list, the Central and East divisions are the most prominent. Six of the eight Central teams are among the teams with the fewest games on off days, which means players on these teams will likely be competing for a spot on your fantasy roster, and might be spending more time on the bench.

It will be important to spread out your drafting to ensure you’re not forced to bench the same player over and over again. What’s the point of having someone on your team if you can’t dress them?

Back-to-backs

Back-to-backs, or instances when a team plays on consecutive nights, are usually spread out fairly evenly between teams. This is the case this year as well, as most teams have a similar number of back-to-backs, but there is a significant gap between the top and bottom of the list.

Teams with the most back-to-backs are:

TeamDivisionBack-to-backs
San Jose SharksWest12
Edmonton OilersNorth11
Ottawa SenatorsNorth11

This is an interesting split because these three teams will be forced most heavily to rely on their backup goaltenders. This is particularly interesting because both the Sharks and Oilers appear to have a clear 1A/1B goaltending tandem this season, so if you are in desparate need of a goalie late in your draft, it might be wise to pick up one of these teams’ backups to almost guarantee yourself a decent number of starts.

The unfortunate part is that the goaltending of all three teams is quite weak, so you’ll probably be able to grab any of the six goalies from these teams, even off the waiver wire.

Teams with the fewest back-to-backs:

TeamDivisionBack-to-backs
Pittsburgh PenguinsEast6
Tampa Bay LightningCentral6
New York RangersEast6
Dallas StarsCentral7
Vancouver CanucksNorth7
Chicago BlackhawksCentral7
New Jersey DevilsEast7
Colorado AvalancheWest7
Florida PanthersCentral7

No real divisional bias here, but there are several teams with among the fewest back-to-backs. This has immediate impact on teams like the Penguins and Lightning, as this schedule makes goalies Tristan Jarry and Andrei Vasilevskiy even more valuable than they already were.

On the other side of the coin, it makes the tandems for the Blackhawks, Devils, Canucks, and Avalanche less enticing due to the unpredictability of the crease. If you draft Corey Crawford but Mackenzie Blackwood goes on a hot streak, there is very little opportunity for Crawford to steal starts during that hot streak due to the absence of back-to-backs.

For the Stars, will the heavy workload be too much for Anton Khudobin? Without Ben Bishop, he may be asked to start a very significant number of games.

Four Games per week

Man games are always important in fantasy, and it’s key to ensure you have as many man games each week as possible. In the past, three games per week has been the average for teams, four games has been above average, and two games below. That holds true this season, but there are weeks where there are many more teams with four games than in other weeks.

There are a maximum of 16 weeks of fantasy this season, with Week 1 stretching from the opening Wednesday to the following Sunday. These are the weeks with the most teams playing four times:

WeekTeams with four games
Week 1523
Week 1021
Week 919

These three weeks will be huge fantasy weeks. With so many man games, lots of players will be benched on game days, and nothing will be decided until the weekend. It will be very important to save add/drops for the weekend to ensure you can make up ground or extend your lead over your opponent.

On the other side, these are the weeks with the fewest teams playing four games:

WeekTeams with four games
Week 35
Week 710
Week 1210
Week 211
Week 511

After a long Week 1, the next two weeks will feature fewer games, especially Week 3. These weeks are ones where you can lose solely based on man games, so make sure you use add/drops wisely during these weeks.

Two games per week

For the below average side of things, here are the weeks with the most teams that play just two games:

WeekTeams with two games
Week 98
Week 16
Week 66
Week 86
Week 125

These weeks will see certain players on your team, even your best ones, perform worse than filler players solely due to them playing just two games. Theoretically you need a player half as good with four games to perform the same as a player twice as good with two games.

Week 9 is the big week here, with eight teams playing just two games. It’s very interesting that Week 9 also shows up in the weeks with the most teams playing four games. This means there is a specific group of teams that will be incredibly more valuable this week than others. When we get closer to Week 9, we’ll discuss this unique week in more detail.

On the other side, here are the weeks with the fewest teams playing two games:

WeekTeams with two games
Week 30
Week 100
Week 141
Week 22
Week 52
Week 112
Week 152

A baseball style compressed schedule means this was bound to happen. Seven weeks have two or fewer teams playing just two games. This is very important. When looking at man games, players on teams that have two games in the upcoming week should now be looked at with even more scorn than before. The average number of games per team is much higher than three this year, so two gamers should be avoided like Covid.

Specific day oddities

Here are some fun tidbits we picked out of the schedule that might be valuable throughout the season:

  1. DAL, CAR, NYI, NJD, and FLA don’t play a single game on a Wednesday this season. Am I the only one that finds this really weird?
  2. WSH is the only team to play at least 10 games on Sundays. Huge week-saving potential with the Capitals this season.
  3. WSH and VGK are the only teams with fewer than 10 games on Saturdays. Two good teams that have players who are unlikely to lose their roster spot on busy days.
  4. SJS, ANA, VGK, LAK are the only teams with at least 10 games on Fridays. West teams, especially those in California, will own Fridays this season.
  5. COL has the most balanced schedule in terms of days of the week with a maximum of 11 games on Saturday and seven or eight games on all other days. This might be nice for the players themselves but this might not matter at all in fantasy. Just a tidbit.

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