With the season reaching its quarter mark this weekend, we are wrapping up the fourth week in fantasy hockey. With a shortened season and almost half as many fantasy weeks, each week has become even more important for playoff implications. At this point in the year the standings are starting to take shape and the contenders are beginning to separate from the bottom feeders. In such a short season, certain factors and decisions can play huge roles in determining your teams fantasy fate.
If what we have seen so far continues throughout the season then one of the biggest factors in fantasy this year is the NHL’s new divisions, in particular the all-Canadian North Division. We all predicted the North division to be exciting this season, but I don’t know if anyone could have predicted it being this chaotic. Why have there been so many goals being scored on a nightly basis in the division? This boils down to two main reasons; teams are generating a ton of dangerous chances, and there are some very bad defenses and goaltenders in the division. Let’s take a deeper look at why the North division has been a major factor in fantasy this year.
High Scoring OFFense
Coming into the season most people predicted the North division to be a wild ride with some of the top talent in the league playing over and over for months throughout the season. With the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Elias Pettersson, Johnny Gaudreau etc. playing each other all season we were bound to have some high scoring games. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how many high scoring battles we would have though. The elite talent in the division combined with some awful defensive play has created a goldmine for fantasy hockey managers.
To get a better understanding let’s take a look at the numbers. First let’s look at how much these teams are scoring. All numbers are all situations courtesy of naturalstattrick.com.
|Calgary||39 (15)||2.92 (19)||2.9 (17)||2.7 (11)|
|Edmonton||55 (1)||3.44 (8)||3.43 (8)||2.91 (T1)|
|Montreal||50 (4)||3.57 (4)||3.54 (3)||2.82 (5)|
|Ottawa||32 (24)||2.13 (29)||2.73 (10)||2.73 (10)|
|Toronto||52 (2)||3.71 (1)||3.7 (1)||2.91 (T1)|
|Vancouver||51 (3)||2.94 (16)||2.93 (16)||2.59 (15)|
|Winnipeg||46 (6)||3.54 (6)||3.5 (5)||2.44 (22)|
Now obviously we do need to consider the sample sizes as the Canadian division teams have all played more games than about half the league, however the ranks for each team are still very telling. The North Division currently has five of the top 10 teams for goals for, including the top four teams in the league. This isn’t just because of games played though as the division also has four of the top 10 teams in goals for per game. The division also has five teams in the top 10 for goals for per 60, with nearly all seven in the top half of the league.
Looking at expected goals for per 60 the story isn’t much different showing us that it isn’t just good luck that all these goals are going in. Four Canadian teams are top 10, with all of them in the top half of the league aside from Winnipeg. Even the terrible Ottawa Senators deserve much better as they sit an impressive 14th for xGF/60 but have had terrible luck with their league worst shooting percentage.
Simply put, North Division teams are scoring at ridiculous rates right now and generating a ton of fantasy points for owners. To put it into perspective, the average goals per game in the North Division sits at a very high 6.3 right now. It’s no surprise that 7 of the top 10 scorers in the league are from the North Division.
Now let’s take a look at the chances generated for each team and where they rank across the league.
|Calgary||697 (12)||53.19 (17)||26.55 (8)||10.57 (13)|
|Edmonton||885 (2)||55.27 (9)||27.85 (5)||12.87 (1)|
|Montreal||847 (4)||59.9 (3)||30.27 (2)||12.09 (4)|
|Ottawa||856 (3)||56.92 (6)||27.13 (7)||12.23 (3)|
|Toronto||743 (8)||52.81 (18)||30.28 (1)||11.87 (5)|
|Vancouver||917 (1)||53.68 (14)||26.46 (9)||10.48 (15)|
|Winnipeg||687 (13)||52.27 (20)||26.17 (12)||9.21 (24)|
North Division teams are generating shots and chances at an elite rate, with even the Ottawa Senators sitting top 10 in the league across the board. Three teams sit top 10 in the league for corsi for per 60, while six of the seven teams in the division are top 10 in the league for scoring chances for per 60, with Winnipeg sitting close at 12th. What is really impressive is the rate at which the division is generating high danger chances. Four of the top five teams in the league for high danger chances per 60 are from the North Division. With numbers like that you’re bound to see a ton of grade A scoring chances every night. It seems like more often than not every game in the division becomes a track meet with high danger chances at both ends of the ice, a beautiful sight for fantasy managers. More chances means more shots, more goals, and more fantasy points.
Poor Defense and Goaltending
Aside from the elite talent in the division, where are all these chances coming from? Well there has been some pretty terrible defensive play in the division too. Let’s take a took at how bad defensively some teams have been.
|Calgary||34 (14)||2.62 (8)||2.28 (4)||50.44 (8)|
|Edmonton||52 (29)||3.25 (22)||2.75 (24)||58.08 (31)|
|Montreal||37 (17)||2.64 (11)||2.43 (14)||52.97 (15)|
|Ottawa||63 (30)||4.2 (31)||2.84 (27)||57.05 (26)|
|Toronto||36 (16)||2.57 (7)||2.54 (18)||50.82 (10)|
|Vancouver||66 (31)||3.88 (30)||3.27 (31)||57.72 (29)|
|Winnipeg||35 (15)||2.69 (13)||2.83 (26)||55.77 (19)|
It’s pretty clear right away the main reason there has been so much scoring in the North Division. The Oilers, Senators and Canucks straight up suck at playing defense. They all rank near the bottom of the league in each category. The Oilers even boosted their numbers a bit with a shutout on Thursday night but they still sit bottom 10 in the league in each stat.
Meanwhile the Senators and Canucks are even more atrocious defensively and every game against them seems to be a high scoring affair with a ton of fantasy points to go around. The Canucks have given up at least five goals in nine of their 16 games. Just ask Tyler Toffoli owners how much playing the Canucks can help your fantasy team. With the baseball series type schedule this year, having your fantasy players get three or four games in a row against one of those teams can give you a huge boost in your weekly matchup.
Winnipeg isn’t exactly strong defensively either but Connor Hellebuyck makes their numbers look much better as they sit 13th for actual goal against versus 26th for expected goals against. The story of some of the other divisions goaltenders is much different though. Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and yes even Montreal have been getting some brutal goaltending to start the year.
Marcus Hogberg and Matt Murray have an average save percentage of just .859 on the year. In Vancouver Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko have an average save percentage of .890. Mikko Koskinen has struggled for Edmonton as well sporting a .896 save percentage. Mike Smith did return from this injury this past week however and put up two solid outings, but this is Mike Smith we’re talking about and he’ll no doubt suck again soon. Carey Price meanwhile has a save percentage of .896 and has looked shaky since last year, playoffs aside. Even Frederik Andersen has struggled a bit with a .908 save percentage. Only Winnipeg and Calgary have gotten consistently strong goaltending so far in the division. Opposing shooters are picking apart the majority of North Division goalies right now and racking up the fantasy points.
In such a strange year with so many games postponed and players missing almost entire fantasy weeks due to Covid protocols, fantasy managers have had to make some adjustments on how they operate their teams. Rosters have become clogged up with players on postponed teams making it much harder to add or drop players in fantasy this year.
One constant to start the year however has been that the North Division has been incredibly valuable in fantasy. Throughout the league there have been a total of 30 games postponed so far, with none coming from the North Division. Add this to the fact the division is producing high scoring games almost every night, and it’s been the main source of reliable fantasy points at the quarter mark of the season. With a couple terrible defensive teams in the division and Covid under control in the division for now, there’s no reason those numbers should change.
Considering the circumstances and if these trends continue, it may be in the best interest for fantasy owners to cut bait with some fringe players from other divisions and look to stack up on North Division players if possible. When looking to pick up a player from the waiver wire, favoring North Division players may be the best option and give you the upper hand in your weekly matchup. In other words, if a player you’re interested in is playing the Oilers, Canucks, or Senators that week you should probably add them.