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NHL Fantasy: Prepping for the playoffs

It was tough living without hockey for so long in 2020, but since the NHL returned in January this year, it’s been a wildly entertaining season. Not without its fair share of postponements, injuries, and seeing teams navigate a uniquely condensed and limited schedule.

The NHL trade deadline is still a couple weeks away, but the playoff picture is starting to take shape and teams are already starting to make trades, highlighted by the Buffalo Sabres trading Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens this week.

The same rings true for fantasy hockey. The playoffs are fast approaching, and anybody who has played fantasy hockey in the past knows that prepping for playoff weeks is crucial to securing the fantasy championship. Across most leagues, playoff weeks are through weeks 13-16. Here’s what you need to know about the schedule, teams, and players in these key weeks.

Team game totals

Having more man games than your opponents is critical to winning fantasy weeks. Most fantasy playoffs span three weeks, either in weeks 13-15 or 14-16.

Weeks 13-15

If your playoffs are in weeks 13-15, these teams are the most and least valuable in terms of raw game totals.

There are five teams that have 12 games over these three weeks: Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights.

On the flip side, there are four teams that have just nine games over this span: Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators.

22 teams have either 10 or 11 games.

Weeks 14-16

The addition of week 16 and subtraction of week 13 bumps up several teams into the high game total category.

Three teams play 13 games over these three weeks, all in the Central Division: Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars

Three more teams play 12 games, all in the West Division: Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights

On the other side, only one team has nine games: Edmonton Oilers.

The 22 remaining teams play 10 or 11 games.

Strength of schedule

Normally I’d use Left Wing Lock‘s strength of schedule calculation, but because of the division exclusivity, I looked at each team’s opponents and summed all their ranks within their division right now. The higher the value the easier the schedule for each team.

Weeks 13-15

The teams with the easiest and hardest schedules are as follows.

Easiest SchedulesS.O.SHardest SchedulesS.O.S
Vegas Golden Knights74St. Louis Blues28
Minnesota Wild62Nashville Predators30
New York Rangers62Winnipeg Jets31
Los Angeles Kings59New York Islanders32
Dallas Stars56Edmonton Oilers36
Carolina Hurricanes55Columbus Blue Jackets36
New Jersey Devils53Buffalo Sabres37
Pittsburgh Penguins53Arizona Coyotes37
Tampa Bay Lightning53Vancouver Canucks38
Boston Bruins52Washington Capitals/
Ottawa Senators
40

There is a fairly wide margin between the number one Golden Knights and the rest of the teams, and then another drop off after the Hurricanes.

On the other side, the Blues, Predators, Jets, and Islanders have the hardest schedules by far. The difference from the Golden Knights to Blues is very substantial and could dramatically impact fantasy matchups.

Weeks 14-16

The teams with the easiest and hardest schedules are as follows.

Easiest SchedulesS.O.S Hardest SchedulesS.O.S.
Los Angeles Kings67San Jose Sharks34
Boston Bruins63Buffalo Sabres36
Minnesota Wild59Montreal Canadiens37
Pittsburgh Penguins59Nashville Predators37
Vegas Golden Knights58Chicago Blackhawks38
Tampa Bay Lightning58Washington Capitals38
Colorado Avalanche54St. Louis Blues38
Arizona Coyotes54Edmonton Oilers40
Carolina Hurricanes53Winnipeg Jets40
Dallas Stars52Florida Panthers42

The shifting of weeks didn’t really change much here. Only the Devils and Rangers move off the list in favour of the Avalanche and Coyotes. Of note though, the Coyotes appear in the hard side of the first three weeks but jump to the easy side in the next three.

Waiver wire options

The most valuable teams in the playoffs, based on how many times they show up on the high team game count and the easy strength of schedule count, are the following:

Tier I: Lightning, Golden Knights, Wild

Tier II: Bruins, Hurricanes, Stars

Tier III: Kings, Penguins, Sharks

A few waiver wire options that might be available from the Tier I teams are:

Lightning: Blake Coleman (36% rostered), Alex Killorn (49%)

Golden Knights: Alex Tuch (39%), Chandler Stephenson (20%)

Wild: Mats Zuccarello (40%), Jordan Greenway (19%)

Consider trading or dropping

The least valuable teams in the playoffs based on the same criteria as above are the following:

Tier I: Oilers

Tier II: Sabres, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, Predators, Senators, Blues, Jets, Capitals

There are a lot of teams on the list, so the list of players you might want to consider trading or swapping is a long one. Definitely try and dump any Sabres players you can, ditto for the Predators and Blue Jackets. If you’re able to get value for Oilers depth players like Kailer Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi, this might be the time to pull the trigger.

managing your options

The upcoming weeks can be make or break in the fantasy hockey world. Playing your cards at the right time can make a huge difference. Set your lines, play the waiver wire, and make the trades you must. Good luck heading into the 20201 playoffs.

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