After a little bit of craziness, hockey is back and it feels so good.
The week leading up to the NHL's holiday pause was anything but normal. There were more games being postponed than played, and numerous players from pretty much every team in the league were being added to the COVID-19 protocol. It was a tough one for fans, and especially fantasy hockey managers who had to navigate all of the madness just to put a lineup together.
With the league ramping back up for the most part over the past few days, there've been some developments that have caught my attention. Here are my 10 fantasy hockey takeaways from the past week.
1. Welcome to the John Gibson (80 percent rostered on Yahoo) buy-low window
No goaltender has been unluckier than John Gibson since December rolled around.
His numbers this month have been fine as he's posted a .911 save percentage across six games played, but fantasy managers haven't seen very desirable results. Despite the passable save percentage, Gibson's earned just one win in his six outings, and to make matters worse, he's lost four of those contests in overtime or shootout.
That's some serious bad luck which has likely lowered Gibson's fantasy value in your league. Just based on this unfortunate run of events for the 28-year-old, it'd be wise to send out an offer for the netminder. He's still one of the better goalies in the league, and the Anaheim Ducks have been impressive this season.
2. Mike Smith (67 percent rostered on Yahoo) roughed up in return
Fantasy managers desperate for Mike Smith to return and salvage their goaltending situation didn't exactly get that in his first start back since suffering a lower-body injury.
The veteran puckstopper surrendered four goals on 33 shots in a losing effort to the St. Louis Blues. The outing lowered his save percentage to .910 and raised his goals-against average to 3.38 across the four games he's played. It also served as a cautionary performance that should force fantasy managers to temper expectations.
Smith, 39, is coming off what was quite easily the second-best season of his career. In 2020-21, he posted a .923 save percentage and a 21-6-2 record. Considering his recent track record and age, however, it seems highly unreasonable to expect him to post another near-career year.
In the two campaigns before his breakout 2020-21, Smith owned a .900 save percentage and a -20.4 goals saved above average, according to Hockey Reference. Naturally, it's very rare for goaltenders to start reaching their peak 16 years into their NHL careers, hence why there should be some reservations about Smith's ability to deliver another elite campaign, especially in a season where he's missed extensive time with an injury.
The wise move in fantasy is to send the Mikko Koskinen manager in your league a message. He's also been dropped in a number of leagues, but the Edmonton Oilers will likely employ a hot-hand approach the rest of the year. Koskinen hasn't been great, but Edmonton profiles to be right near the top of the standings in the Pacific Division, and wins are important in fantasy hockey.
3. Now back in the lineup, Robert Thomas (24 percent rostered on Yahoo) is worth an add
St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas returned to the lineup on Wednesday for the first time since being sidelined with a lower-body injury on Dec. 4, and now that he's back, he should be a priority add in every league where he's available.
In his return, Thomas netted a goal and earned a plus-3 rating in a 4-2 victory over the Oilers. When healthy, the 22-year-old has provided stellar two-way play and can be an asset for fantasy managers in a number of categories.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) December 30, 2021
Centring one of the best second lines in hockey with Jordan Kyrou and Vladimir Tarasenko, Thomas has registered 20 assists and 23 points in 25 outings this season. His mark of 0.80 assists per game is actually tied with Kirill Kaprizov for 25th-best in the league. Additionally, he's tallied seven power-play points which sits sixth on the Blues, and his 8.60 faceoff wins per game rank 28th in the NHL.
Averaging 19:21 in time on ice, opportunity is not an issue for Thomas. He's a top target on the waiver wire.
4. Tanner Jeannot (33 percent rostered on Yahoo) is nothing more than a short-term pickup
It's hard to advocate for adding players like Tanner Jeannot.
You can't argue with the fact the 24-year-old has been highly effective recently, potting two goals and seven points over his last six games. He's a great story, too. Undrafted into the WHL and undrafted at the NHL level, he's managed to find ice time in the best hockey league in the world.
The unfortunate issue that arises for most undrafted players, however, is that they have to run ultra-pure with every opportunity they receive. A sudden scoreless stretch or a couple of mistakes is all it could take to cost them a spot on the main roster. That's a much different reality than the one experienced by high draft picks. Walk-ons have to prove they belong in the NHL, while early-round picks just have to play well enough to stick around.
Jeannot took advantage of the expanded role he was thrusted into while the Nashville Predators dealt with a number of COVID-19-related absences, but with the team now nearing full health, he's been relegated to the third line. Without seeing time in the top six or on the power play, it's hard to trust Jeannot moving forward.
Enjoy the short-term point rush and solid stream of hits, but it's unlikely Jeannot is someone fantasy managers can depend on in the long run.
5. Incoming Cole Caufield (27 percent rostered on Yahoo) second-half explosion
Wayne Gretzky once said "you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." Unfortunately for Montreal Canadiens youngster Cole Caufield, he's pretty much missed 100 percent of the shots he's taken this season.
Through 24 games, Caufield has rifled 58 shots on goal, which shapes out to 2.42 shots per game. The problem is, he's recorded just one goal during the 2021-22 campaign. That's earned the former Wisconsin Badger a 1.7 shooting percentage, a mark much lower than the 13.7 percent rate he scored on in 13 games last year. Lately, however, the 20-year-old has had an increasingly active stick, as he's thrown 21 pucks on net over the past five games. The uptick in shooting is a major positive and a trend to follow.
Considering the prospect profile and the opportunity Caufield continues to see as a member of the Habs' top-six forwards and first power-play unit, there's a lot to like about the winger and I'm expecting him to rebound.
Bonus: Please enjoy this local news hit that featured Cole and his brother, Brock, from when they were younger.
In honor of @colecaufield being so awesome with the @CanadiensMTL and @BrockCaufield scoring the game-winner for @BadgerMHockey Here are their 1st and 2nd ever TV interviews from parts of my stories in 2008 & 2009. For as great as they are at hockey, they are even better people. pic.twitter.com/LrMYsuO1sQ
— Mike Jocko Jacques (@jockosports) December 29, 2021
6. The James Reimer (66 percent rostered on Yahoo) regression has begun
James Reimer was one of the biggest surprises entering the holiday pause, as the San Jose Sharks' puckstopper owned a sparkling .936 save percentage and a 9-5-1 record before the break. It was a start that really caught me off guard considering Reimer's track record, but it appears regression has already begun.
Ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, Reimer had earned a middling .909 save percentage and a -5.7 goals saved above average mark over the past four seasons. Joining a Sharks team that was a clear downgrade from the Carolina Hurricanes squad he was part of last year, I had little belief Reimer would ever truly appear on the fantasy radar.
While the netminder has certainly been useful to fantasy teams thus far, expect to see more outings like Wednesday's from the 33-year-old. Against the Arizona Coyotes, Reimer surrendered seven goals but somehow managed to eke out a win. That game alone dragged his save percentage down to .928, and that number should only continue to drop as the year rolls on.
Reimer is a clear sell-high candidate in fantasy hockey, and anyone who has him should scope out the goalie-needy team in their league and try to get a deal done soon.
7. Adding Cal Petersen (24 percent rostered on Yahoo) is the move in the Kings' crease
Similarly to Reimer, Jonathan Quick is about to undergo some pretty rough results.
Through his first 17 appearances of the season, the 35-year-old was stellar. He earned a .935 save percentage and a 8-5-4 record. The veteran goaltender has faltered in his last two appearances, however, and that trend should only continue.
Quick has been tagged for 10 goals in his last two outings and has been served a loss in each. What we saw from the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner through the early portion of this season looked nothing like what we've seen over the past few years. In his last three campaigns, Quick owned a .896 save percentage and a rough -40.9 goals saved above average mark.
Knowing this, the move fantasy hockey managers should make is to add Cal Petersen. What makes the Los Angeles Kings' goaltending situation interesting is that unlike Quick, Petersen is actually due for some positive results. The 27-year-old has been shaky during the 2021-22 campaign, posting a .893 save percentage and a -5.6 goals saved above average rating. His recent body of work suggests that those numbers will climb over the remainder of the season, though, as Petersen owned a career .916 save percentage and a 11.0 goals saved above average mark before this season.
8. Rasmus Andersson (35 percent rostered on Yahoo) is the defenseman you need to add
Defensemen who are frequent offensive contributors and top power-play quarterbacks aren't lying around on many waiver wires.
On a very good Calgary Flames team, Andersson plays on both the top paring and first power-play unit. He's produced 15 assists, which is tied for 18th among defenseman, and his six power-play points are tied for 27th at the position. Additionally, Andersson has been an excellent source of plus-minus as his plus-10 rating is tied for 10th among all blueliners.
One other positive with Andersson is that he's clearly due for some goal-scoring luck. The 25-year-old has registered zero goals on 42 shots and even though he doesn't profile as a lamp-lighting defender, he'll definitely raise his 0.0 shooting percentage.
9. Sell Erik Karlsson (79 percent rostered on Yahoo)
It's been a minute since Erik Karlsson found himself in the Norris Trophy conversation, and although he hasn't been quite that good this year, he's shown pretty significant improvement from a season ago. Through just 25 games he's already matched his goal total of eight from a year ago, and his 20 points are just two fewer than his 2020-21 output as well.
But I'm not buying that Karlsson is back, not for a second.
A lot of it has to do with his shooting percentage. The Swedish rearguard is potting pucks at a 13.1 percent rate this season, which is nearly six ticks higher than his career shooting percentage of 7.3 percent. Secondly, the gap between the eight goals he's scored and his 3.35 individual expected goals mark is the second largest of any defenseman in the league, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Now seems like the perfect time to swap the blueliner for someone else. There's a lot of brand value with someone like Karlsson, so you should be able to net a nice return.
10. Michael Bunting (25 percent rostered on Yahoo) is the first Maple Leafs player ever that's under-rostered
It feels like there's a Toronto Maple Leafs fan in every single fantasy hockey league. Speaking from experience, the Buds fans I play with are always adding any member of the team that puts together two or three solid performances and I'm never able to add these players because they're gone before I even get the chance.
For the first time ever, there's one guy that I was able to grab, and I can't figure out why it's Michael Bunting.
The rookie winger is in one of the most fantasy-friendly positions playing alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. I don't have to do too much explaining there.
#Leafs lines at practice Dec. 30/21 correction** Sandin on left
D’Agostini (practice goalie)
— David Alter (@dalter) December 30, 2021
For a forward, Bunting also provides some decent production in the hits category, totalling 28 in 30 contests.
Playing with the linemates he is, it won't be too hard for the 26-year-old to find the stat sheet. He should be added where available with the Maple Leafs returning to action.
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