At this time of the year it is a good idea to start planning ahead for the playoffs. If you are in position to qualify for your league’s post-season, proper roster management at this stage can mean the difference between a first round exit and a championship. The first step is to determine which weeks your league holds its playoff rounds. Once that is determined, you have to analyze how many games per week the players on your team have. I have compiled data for all 30 NHL teams, and how many games they all have during each of the final four weeks of the season. Click here to download a PDF with the data.
For example, in my league four teams qualify for the playoffs, which are held during Week 23 (March 23 – March 29), and Week 24 (March 30 – April 5). There are five teams that have four games during each of these weeks: the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, and Ottawa Senators. By contrast, the Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, and Winnipeg Jets all have only two games during the crucial championship week. If you have players on the latter list and are able to exchange them via trade or the waiver wire for players on the former list, the increase in playoff starts will make your team incredibly difficult to overcome by any manager who isn’t following the same strategy.
For managers that are currently outside of the playoff picture it is more important to focus on immediate ways to strengthen roster depth. With the slim pickings currently available amongst goaltenders and defensemen on the open market, forwards are the best way to make improvements to a roster on the fly. The good news for managers in need is that the free agent market is currently flush with forwards that can make significant contributions on a weekly basis. Whether a standout AHL skater recently called up by his big club, or a veteran player being moved up the depth chart due to injury, there are multiple forwards flying below the radar that are worthy of not just being owned, but consistently started. Particular emphasis has been made to highlight utility forwards that produce in a variety of categories in an effort to make efficient use of each individual acquisition. Below are six forwards that are currently owned in fewer than 50 percent of standard Yahoo! leagues and are primed to make a difference throughout the second half of the season.
Justin Abdelkader LW/RW, Detroit Red Wings (Ownership – 32 percent): Currently skating alongside the Red Wings’ two most talented forwards, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Abdelkader has provided Fantasy value regardless of where he has been slotted in the lineup. The Michigan native is having his best season to date in front of his hometown fans, with 24 points through 36 games. That total is only four points below his career high, with half a season of hockey left to play. Even if the points per game slow down, Abdelkader’s variety of steady peripheral production will still make him a valuable component of any winning roster. Abdelkader currently leads the Red Wings in both plus/minus and hits, while coming in sixth on the team in penalty minutes and shots on goal. With a modest but not insignificant power-play point total of six, Abdelkader is making contributions across every standard Fantasy category, which is something few players can claim, especially one so widely available.
Mathieu Perreault C, Winnipeg Jets (Ownership – 27 percent): Moving from Anaheim to Winnipeg in the off-season, the former Duck has acclimated to his new surroundings rather quickly and has been a big part of the Jets’ surprising push toward a playoff berth. Perreault has been on fire of late, registering nine goals and four assists in his last 10 games, but has largely gone unnoticed by the Fantasy community. This lack of attention won’t last long, however, as Perreault’s coveted spot manning the Jets’ high octane power play alongside defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, in addition to his remarkable four-goal outing on Tuesday, is bound to start turning heads. With the Jets’ injury woes on the blue line, they have opted to go with a four forward set on their top power-play unit, with Perreault being the chief benefiter. Already matching his career high with nine power-play points, Perreault is clearly making the most of his added ice time and responsibility, a trend that should continue throughout the back half of the season.
Shane Doan LW/RW, Arizona Coyotes (Ownership – 21 percent): Doan is yet another underrated Fantasy performer that positively affects multiple areas of the score sheet. His five-shot, seven hit night on Saturday against Ottawa exemplifies Doan’s sneaky value and the sort of auxiliary production Fantasy owners crave. The Coyotes captain is in his nineteenth NHL season, but that hasn’t prevented him from playing aggressively on a nightly basis while dressing in all 42 of the Coyotes games this season. Leading by example with a hearty 99 hits and 35 penalty minutes, Doan sets the physical tone for his club every time the puck drops, all while scoring more than your typical grinding forward. With 23 points under his belt this season, including seven on the power play, Doan has a shot at the twelfth 50-point campaign of his career. Doan is a great pick up as a depth forward that can be spot started on nights when you need help in specific categories.
Bryan Bickell LW, Chicago Blackhawks (Ownership – four percent): Ever since the hand injury to winger Kris Versteeg at the Winter Classic, Bickell’s stock has skyrocketed due to a promotion to the team’s second line alongside American sniper Patrick Kane. The result of the expanded role has been dramatic, with Bickell scoring four of his nine goals on the season over the five-game span. While his increase in ice time may only be temporary, there is no question that Bickell is a viable Fantasy option during Versteeg’s estimated one month absence. At this stage of the season, when points are crucial, one month of prime production out of a depth forward could help secure a playoff berth. There is also the possibility that Bickell keeps his assignment long-term if he continues producing and the Blackhawks keep piling up the wins, as the coaching staff will be hesitant to shake up the lineup, making Bickell a worthy gamble.
Brett Ritchie RW, Dallas Stars (Ownership – four percent): It’s not often you see a midseason call up with only six NHL games under his belt as a recommendation, but the circumstances of Brett Ritchie’s entrance onto the Stars roster make him worth a long look. Perhaps the NHL’s most dynamic duo, C Tyler Sequin and LW Jamie Benn, has struggled to find long term chemistry with any of the team’s stock of right wings. The role was supposed to go to Russian phenom Valeri Nichushkin, but he has only managed to stay healthy for four games this season. Others have been given opportunities with middling results, which brings us to young Brett Ritchie, who has thrived in a small sample on the Stars top line. With three goals and an assist in six games of play, Ritchie has provided immediate production. In addition, his propensity to shoot and hit in equal measure make him an excellent multi-tool threat in Fantasy leagues. Don’t hesitate to put in a claim on Ritchie, as players that average more than three hits and three shots on goal per game don’t come along very often past the season’s midway point.
Melker Karlsson C, San Jose Sharks (Ownership – three percent): Another player with less than 20 NHL games to his name, Melker Karlsson is also benefitting from a choice position on his team’s depth chart. As long as he continues playing alongside elite forwards Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, Karlsson will acquire points at a healthy pace. Karlsson has the opportunity to become the next in a long history of NHL third wheels that have gained Fantasy value through osmosis. With six goals in his last ten games, it is clear that this process has already begun. While his single position eligibility and lack of playing time on the Sharks’ power play make him difficult to endorse as an immediate addition to managers in all but the deepest of leagues, he is certainly worth placing on the watch list to monitor as the season progresses.