The 2023-24 NHL schedule kicks off on October 10, 2023, and runs all the way to April 18, 2024. Opening night features a triple-header with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks, the Tampa Bay Lightning hosting the Nashville Predators, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, hosting the Seattle Kraken.
This offseason has felt like one of the longest in recent memory with significantly less action than one year ago, but the upcoming season should prove to be as exciting as ever.
In fantasy hockey, 2023-24 offers intrigue we haven’t seen in quite some time. The rookie crop this year features players who could become household names for decades to come including Bedard, Adam Fantilli, and Logan Cooley. However, creating a successful fantasy team comes down to much more than just picking the best players.
Veteran fantasy hockey managers know how important it is to consider the schedule when drafting, trading, and making weekly pickups. If you’re new to this, allow us to give you a head start.
Off days in the NHL
A key thing to consider when it comes to the NHL schedule is off days. The schedule is weighted to feature more games on certain days. “Off days” refer to days when there are fewer games on the calendar than others. In the past, off days have been Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, a trend that continues this season.
64% of NHL games will be played on just three days: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This is a 1% increase from last year and a 4% increase from two years ago. The remaining 36% will happen on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, the off days. This split is important to keep in mind up front, so you can mitigate against having to bench players on days when your whole roster is playing.
A roster that allows you to maximize the games that are being played will give you a higher overall man-game total for each week, which is a huge advantage.
Breaking down this trend further, there are some teams you should keep a specific eye on. Traditionally, the Ducks have led the league in off-day games. This trend continues as they have 43 off day games this season, over half their total games. The next highest team is the Blackhawks with 37, a sharp drop from the Ducks.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Predators have just 20 games on off days, with the remaining 62 games on busy days. Close behind are the Lightning and Canadiens with 21 games on off days.
|Off Day Games||Team(s)|
|33||BUF, COL, NYR|
|30||CAR, PIT, SEA, STL, WPG|
|29||CBJ, DAL, LAK, VGK|
|25||BOS, PHI, SJS|
The team that stands out the most in terms of boosted value due to off-day games is the Devils. They are expected to be one of the best teams in the NHL off one of the most potent offenses. Investing in players who will be in the top-six and power play for the Devils will be key this year. Other solid teams are the Sabres, Avalanche, Rangers, and Oilers.
On the other side, additional caution should be used when drafting players from teams that are uncertain like the Predators, Flames, and Bruins. It’s already tough to predict how these teams will do after such a turbulent 12-24 months, and they get almost no boost from the schedule.
In terms of spread, the Coyotes have the most even distribution of games with eight each on Mondays and Sundays and 16 on Thursdays. This spread of eight is the tightest among any team. The Lightning are on the other side with one Friday game all season, and 24 games on Saturdays. The average spread is 16 this year.
The most important day to consider in fantasy hockey is Sunday. Outside of Monday when managers generally make changes to accommodate for the new fantasy week, Sundays are an essential day to pick up streamers that could help flip close categories as the week comes to an end. Last season, the Oilers were a team with almost zero weekend streaming appeal as they had just two Sunday games all season long.
|9||WSH, NJD, NYR, DET, CBJ, SJS|
|8||ARI, BUF, COL, PIT, WPG|
|7||EDM, STL, CGY, OTT|
|6||LAK, VGK, NYI, MTL, NSH|
|5||SEA, DAL, PHI, VAN, TBL|
This year the teams to watch on Sundays will be the Wild and Hurricanes. They have 11 and 10 Sunday games respectively and are both teams that should be among the league’s best in 2023-24.
Teams that have much less Sunday streaming appeal are the Bruins, Panthers, Maple Leafs, and Lightning. With very few Sunday games, they won’t offer much help late in the week and you’ll likely see most of the production from players on those teams end on Saturday night. You’ll want to have some options you know will be playing on Sunday to give you that extra edge at the end of the week.
Back-to-backs, or instances when a team plays on consecutive nights, are usually spread out evenly between teams. Last year we saw a very wide spread of back-to-backs between teams, however, and this year is more of the same. Some teams definitely have an easier schedule than others.
|8||CGY, COL, FLA, WPG|
|9||ARI, NSH, VAN|
|10||DET, EDM, NYI, TBL|
|11||ANA, DAL, STL, VGK|
|12||BOS, BUF, CHI, LAK, NYR, PHI, PIT, SJS|
|13||CBJ, MTL, TOR|
This similar to the range we saw last year (8-16). Back-to-backs are the most impactful to goalies as it is very uncommon for a team to start a goalie on consecutive nights. Teams usually deploy their goalies in two distinct categories: one bonafide starter who will play the vast majority of games, accompanied by a backup who will play significantly fewer games; and a more evenly split tandem where each goalie will see a similar number of starts.
Goalies who fit into the bonafide starter category will see a boost in value if their team has fewer back-to-backs, whereas backups in this setup will see a boost if their team has more back-to-backs. Tandems are largely unaffected by the back-to-back counts as they will generally see a shared workload regardless.
Once again, the Devils pop us an a team to watch. They are projected to have more of a tandem goalie setup this year, so if you’re picking up a Devils goalie, it is essential to try and draft both Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmidt late as the they lead the league with 16 back-to-backs this season.
On the other side, goalies like Jacob Markstrom, Connor Hellebuyck, Juuse Saros, and Thatcher Demko, get a boost as bonafide starters. They won’t have to relinquish too many starts to their backups with how few back-to-backs their teams have.
Last season, we saw a drop in value from previously elite goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin. One factor was their teams’ back-to-back schedule as both the Lightning and Rangers were among the league leaders in back-to-backs. This season, we see a reduction in back-to-backs for both these teams, which bodes well for Vasilevskiy and Shesterkin.
As well, the schedule is set up extremely well for Ilya Sorokin, who has already an elite fantasy option, to be the clear cut number one fantasy goalie. The Islanders have just 10 back-to-backs compared to 15 last year, which means more opportunities for Sorokin to play over Semyon Varlamov.
Games by fantasy 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, and the distribution is much tighter than it has been in previous years.
|Fantasy Week||Start Date||End Date||Total Games||Total Days|
The average number of games per week is 50, and outside of the first and last weeks of the fantasy year, the total number of games is fairly close to this average.
Most teams do have three games per week, but there are a few that have a more volatile schedules than others.
|Weeks with 1 or 2 games||Team(s)|
|3||ANA, CAR, FLA|
|4||BUF, COL, DAL, DET, MTL, NSH, NYI, PIT, SEA, STL, VAN, WPG|
|5||ARI, BOS, CGY, CHI, EDM, NYR, OTT, TBL|
|6||LAK, NJD, SJS|
|7||CBJ, TOR, VGK, WSH|
|Weeks with 4 or 5 games||Team(s)|
|5||ANA, CAR, DET, FLA, MTL, PIT, SEA, WPG|
|6||BOS, BUF, CGY, CHI, COL, EDM, NSH, NYI, STL, TBL, VAN|
|7||DAL, LAK, NYR, OTT, SJS|
|8||ARI, NJD, TOR, VGK|
|9||CBJ, MIN, WSH|
The Wild, Maple Leafs, Golden Knights Capitals, and Devils are teams to keep an eye on each week. Because their schedule is the most varied, top players from these teams will play a below average number of games in more weeks than others, which means their production will have to be supplemented accordingly.
There is nothing more annoying than scoring 20 more goals than you need to in some weeks and scoring 1-2 fewer than you need to in others. Ideally, you’ll want to have a good distribution of star players so you’re not overdoing into some weeks and seeing a reduction in production due to a lower game count in other weeks.
Outside of the key schedule observations we’ve discussed above, here are a few random quirks about the 2023-24 NHL schedule:
- The Lightning only play one game on Fridays
- The Ducks, who play the most off-day games, also lead the league in Saturday games with 26
- The Ducks and Blackhawks will not play a single home game on a Monday
- The Sharks will not play a single home game on a Wednesday
- The Flames, Kings, Canadiens, Predators, and Lightning will not play a single home game on a Friday
If you have noticed something interesting with the schedule that we haven’t, let us know on social media @wincolumnCGY or in the comments!