Fantasy Hockey: When Buying Low, Timing Is Everything
Just as knowing when to cut bait with a draft pick that is not living up to expectations can be a difficult process, knowing when to submit a trade offer for such a player can be equally trying. The period of time between an owner beginning to get frustrated with a player’s slow start and the moment when that player inevitably breaks out of his slump is often so brief that you have to act immediately once your initial assessment has been made. For example, I had the following queued up about Colorado Avalanche C Nathan MacKinnon before he went on a tear and scored four goals in his next three games:
After a Calder Trophy winning rookie season, an impressive 10 points in his playoff series, and reports of a 15 pound gain in muscle this off-season, MacKinnon was being heralded as the next Fantasy superstar. The hype reached such a level that despite a Yahoo! pre-season rank of 39, his average draft position ended up as 16. Now he has started the season with zero goals and four assists through 10 games, which sounds like a small sample size yet is essentially one eighth of the season. It is likely owners who reached for him in the second round of drafts-- ahead of consistent performers off to terrific starts such as forwards Zach Parise and Logan Couture--are beginning to get impatient. For owners who wanted to select MacKinnon on draft day but weren’t willing to pay a second round premium, there is now cause for optimism as he can be acquired for a modest price. MacKinnon’s goal drought is not for lack of trying; if his 10-percent shooting from last year held up he would already have three goals on the season. This situation seems eerily similar to Philadelphia Flyers C Claude Giroux’s struggles last season. Giroux went the first 15 games of last season without a goal yet still finished with 28. Trading for MacKinnon now while his value is so low is the type of transaction that can lead to a league championship.
Fast forward one week and the window of opportunity is effectively sealed shut as the same owner who was ready to cut bait with MacKinnon now likely has him on a list of untouchable assets. The good news for owners in need of difference makers for their rosters is that there are a number of early round draft picks who are still struggling this season and like MacKinnon may be ready to turn the corner any day now. Below I have outlined one forward, defenseman, and goaltender who can be acquired on the cheap if you act fast as their collective lull in production won’t last much longer.
Anze Kopitar C, Los Angeles Kings: A second round pick in most Fantasy drafts, Kopitar has struggled to begin the season, posting only two goals and one assist through ten games of play. Over a full 82-game NHL season that would amount to a point total of just 25, a level of production which would make him irrelevant in even the deepest of Fantasy leagues. However, a look at Kopitar’s career statistics show that this cold streak is just an anomaly in a large sample size of elite performance. The two-time Stanley Cup winner has been a model of consistency throughout his career, posting between 61 and 81 points in each of his first eight seasons, not including the lockout shortened 2012-13 season where he still put up an impressive 42 points in 47 games. The Slovenian pivot has also led the Kings in scoring in each of the last seven campaigns, while only missing a minuscule eight games during this period. While the Kings second line centered by Jeff Carter has done all the heavy lifting this season, scoring an unbelievable 60% of the teams total goals, a surge in scoring from Kopitar’s top line is inevitable. With sniper Marian Gaborik rejoining Kopitar’s right wing after missing eight games with an upper body injury, and LW Justin Williams leading the team in shots on goal with 36, all signs point to the goals coming in bunches in the near future. Send out a feeler to Kopitar’s owner this week and see if you can pry him away for a hot asset with less long-term potential.
Alex Pietrangelo D, St. Louis Blues: Despite being ranked in the pre-season as the sixth-most valuable Fantasy Hockey defenseman by Yahoo!, and ranked 13 by my own assessment, Pietrangelo now finds himself outside of the top 50 after the season’s first few weeks. Although his six points through 12 games isn’t too far from the pace he has set over his first four seasons, it is the lack of production across peripheral categories that present a cause for concern. With the Blues choosing to go with four forwards on their first power-play unit, with Kevin Shattenkirk as the lone defenseman, Pietrangelo has been relegated to the second unit away from elite offensive talent like C David Backes and RW Vladimir Tarasenko. This relegation has seen Pietrangelo post only two power-play points through 12 games. However, once injured forwards T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny return to the lineup there will be added depth both at five-on-five and on the second power-play unit, which should bolster ‘Petro’s offensive statistics. Oshie and Stastny are also two of the Blues' most responsible defensive forwards, and their impending return should help boost Pietrangelo’s minus-1 rating closer to his excellent plus-20 from last season. Despite signs indicating a resurgence in value for Pietrangelo, it is likely that his current owners are frustrated and kicking themselves for selecting him ahead of stand-out defensemen such as Brent Burns and Keith Yandle. Submit a below-value offer as soon as possible, and reap the rewards throughout the season.
Sergei Bobrovsky G, Columbus Blue Jackets: Due to return next week from a brief stint on injured reserve, now is the ideal time to structure a deal for the former Vezina Trophy winner. In addition to his time spent on IR, Bobrovsky’s pedestrian statistics this season have likely been a cause for despair for those who selected him in the second or third round of most drafts. Both his GAA and SV percentage are considerably worse than his career averages, and he has already posted four losses in only eight appearances. Nobody wants a goalie on a poor team, even one with a resume as impressive as Bobrovsky’s, and the Blue Jackets currently have the second lowest point total in the NHL. However, if you believe as I do that the Blue Jackets are a playoff caliber team off to a rough start due to widespread injuries, then Bobrovsky could be a sneaky addition to your goaltending corps. With key contributors such as forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Boone Jenner all missing significant time this season, the Blue Jackets have been icing a roster significantly inferior to the one that saw them threaten the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. With Jenner returning last night and other reinforcements on the way, the Jackets are going to experience the equivalent of hitting the jackpot at the trade deadline, only without having to lose any assets in the process. The chief benefactor of the added depth throughout the lineup is going to be the Russian net-minder’s win totals and percentages. You won’t get many opportunities to acquire a goaltender of Bobrovsky’s stature without blowing up your roster throughout the season, so pounce on him now.
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