Introducing fantasy hockey’s “Team Zero”
As we take a look around the fantasy landscape this week, we bring you the “Team Zero” edition.
All of the following players have been on the radar for fantasy managers this season — though some by mistake, as you’ll see. Some of these guys have been hurt, some are in contract limbo, and some are suspended. The one thing they all have in common, is that not one of them has touched the ice in an NHL contest this season.
Team Zero’s must-have names
William Nylander, W, Toronto Maple Leafs (91.0 percent rostered in ESPN leagues): The deadline for Nylander to sign and play in the NHL this year (Dec. 1) is fast approaching. Fantasy managers aren’t wrong to be holding on to him tightly. Nylander has produced 61 points in consecutive seasons alongside Auston Matthews and, presumably, has that role waiting for him if he does come to terms with the Maple Leafs on a contract. That per-game production still has plenty of value in fantasy hockey leagues — provided a deal gets done this month.
Another scenario has the Maple Leafs, unwilling to budge on Nylander’s salary because of the looming cap crunch that will come with signing both Matthews and Mitch Marner, finding a trade partner to help their blue line. Nylander would succeed anywhere he lands, but maybe not quite to the same elite level as he would on a line with Matthews.
It’s hard to envision a scenario in which Toronto lets this asset provide them with no value this season. Management has seen enough from their team to know that they are in a “win now” situation. They can’t afford to waste value, whether it’s Nylander himself or trade commodities. I think the safe assumption here is that something will get done that sees Nylander contributing to fantasy teams this season — and within the next three weeks.
If I’m a fantasy manager looking to improve my lot, I am trading for Nylander. He should come at a healthy discount given the current situation and a trade done today would likely only mean another 10 lost games or so. Even if he doesn’t play, I think he can be acquired for the kind of asset that is close enough to replacement level from a fantasy standpoint. Would Bo Horvat, Jason Pominville or Tyler Johnson get the deal done? That’s the kind of range I’m looking to offer for Nylander. If a fantasy manager has been struggling without him, that may be enough to get a deal done.
Corey Perry, W, Anaheim Ducks (68.6 percent): He’s out until February after knee surgery, yet a lot of fantasy managers are still holding on to Perry for the final, let’s say, 25 games of the season. If you have plenty of bench space or room on injured reserve, I get it. Perry can still provide plenty of value over that time frame to end up as a worthy member of your fantasy team. Yes, he scored at a reduced level for the second season in a row last season (17 goals, 49 points), but it was still enough to be rosterworthy.
Then again, Perry is 33 years old. A mid-February return from his injury is considered a “best-case scenario” as his recovery was tabbed at 20 weeks from his late-September surgery. If holding him on your roster is preventing you adding a player such as David Perron, Tomas Tatar or Micheal Ferland, you need to reconsider your decision to do so. I mention those three specific players because they have scored more points-per-game this season than Perry has averaged over the past two campaigns.
Perry’s name carries a lot of value and I think he’s worth keeping if it costs you nothing on your roster, but I don’t think he’s a “must hold” player if dropping him allows you to bring more scoring to your team now. February is a long way off, and an on-time return is no guarantee.
Shea Weber, D, Montreal Canadiens (52.8 percent): Speaking of 33-year-old players who underwent offseason knee surgery, Weber’s projected return date is drawing ever closer. Using the same 20-week timeline as Perry, Weber could be looking at a possible return two weeks from now, though December was suggested as his goal date. Weber participated in a Montreal practice back on Oct. 11, so he’s been skating for a while now.
The new captain of the Canadiens will be able to waltz back into a high-value role on the team’s blue line. Jeff Petry has done an admirable job of keeping his seat warm on the power play, but Weber’s shot is not an asset you leave off the top unit. He was on pace to be his same, dominant self last season before the knee gave out. His 82-game pace in 26 contests was 18 goals and 32 assists. Those kind of numbers upon his return would easily put him among the top-25 fantasy defenseman and a clear D2.
Even looking at a mid-December return, Weber’s per-game stats dictate that he’s worth rostering now. He is absolutely worth targeting in a trade, but you may want to act sooner, rather than later. His value will rise with the next report on him working toward a return. I would bring players like Ryan McDonagh, Zach Werenski or Cam Fowler to the table with a trading partner. They all look quite good from a fantasy perspective right now, but even as their best selves on this ice, they wouldn’t match Weber’s per-game output when he’s finally back.
Tom Wilson, W, Washington Capitals (51.9 percent ): Certainly in leagues using penalty minutes, Wilson shouldn’t be on the free-agent pile anymore. His return from suspension is Nov. 21, which is approaching at a rapid pace. Luckily for Wilson, the Washington top-line wing spot that he tends to occupy has been a revolving door in his absence. Playing with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin could have been a prime opportunity for someone on the Capitals roster, but not one of Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, Devante Smith-Pelly, Dmitrij Jaskin or Chandler Stephenson have been able to create any separation in the role so far. Another suitor or two may get a chance before Wilson’s return, but they would have to, ahem, capitalize immediately in order to threaten his role.
Wilson is by no means a scoring dynamo, but he gels with his team’s superstars and provides enough scoring and average time on ice to make his PIM the most valuable fantasy PIM in the NHL. The league leaders in PIM these days tend to be devoid of any fantasy value outside the minutes they spend in the box. But Wilson, because of his role, has the chance to add 30-plus points to his monster PIM numbers, all while not hurting your team in time on ice or plus/minus. The same logic applies if your league uses hits instead of PIM, as Wilson finished last season with 250 hits, good for fourth overall in the NHL.
Ondrej Kase, W, Anaheim Ducks (3.2 percent): His 20-goal, 38-point campaign last season doesn’t jump off the page for fantasy purposes. Still, Kase is exciting for this season because of the potential for an expanded role. A concussion suffered in an exhibition game has prevented Kase from playing so far, but he’s been skating with the team in a non-contact jersey.
Kase’s stats from last season are so promising because he produced them in a very limited role. He averaged only 13:55 per game last season in 66 contests. That puts him in decent company on a per-minute basis. He ranked 79th in the NHL with 2.48 points per 60 minutes last season, ahead of players like Brayden Point, Kyle Palmieri and Gabriel Landeskog. Kase also fired 9.54 shots on goal per 60 minutes last season. By comparison, Alex Ovechkin managed 12.89 shots per 60 and Patrick Kane fired 10.33.
The argument here is that expanding Kase’s role would lead to very relevant fantasy statistics. While it’s unfortunate that he’s missed more than a month of the season, he is lucky that the Ducks don’t have a clear depth chart at this stage. The team has been an injury-riddled mess when it comes to creating any kind of consistency up front. A return to the ice in the next couple of weeks should still provide plenty of opportunity for Kase to carve out a role, perhaps even on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf.
Let them go from Team Zero
Nate Schmidt, D, Vegas Golden Knights (2.4 percent): Holding on to Schmidt through his suspension is a mistake in fantasy. Fellow Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller is the poster boy for the wearing off of the “puck luck” that the team enjoyed last season. Miller, like Schmidt, was never fantasy-relevant prior to last season’s Cinderella run with expansion Vegas. They are both quality, stay-at-home defensemen who benefitted from the team’s magic last season. Miller’s measly two assists and minus-6 rating through 15 games this season should be all the evidence you need to stay away from Schmidt. For the record, he’s eligible to return on Nov. 18.
Jesper Bratt, W, New Jersey Devils (1.6 percent): Bratt is edging closer to a season debut following a broken jaw he suffered in Sweden during the preseason. While he played a top-line role for parts of last season with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, it’s very clear that Nico Hischier has taken the necessary developmental steps in his sophomore season to lock down the role. Bratt shouldn’t be of interest to fantasy managers.
Sebastian Aho, D, New York Islanders (1.4 percent): The few fantasy managers hanging on to Mr. Aho are simply confused by his name doppelgänger that’s scoring like gangbusters for the Carolina Hurricanes. For the record, this Aho is a defenseman who has seven points in 10 AHL games for the Islanders’ minor league affiliate. No, that is not likely to be fantasy-relevant at any stage this season.
Jaromir Jagr, W, Kladno Knights (1.3 percent): He’s not officially retired and has mused about a return to the NHL despite his age. Now 46 years old, there are suggestions that Jagr could be back on the ice with the Kladno Knights in his native Czech Republic soon. At least, that’s what one of the team’s promotional partners is saying in it’s ticket sales advertisements (as loosely translated by Google). Jagr has been trying to regain strength in the knee that ended his season after only 22 games with the Calgary Flames last year. I really don’t think there’s a point to holding him at this stage, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that.
Dylan Sikura, C/W, Chicago Blackhawks (0.0 percent): The leading scorer for the Rockford IceHogs is of interest because his coach just got promoted to the NHL. Sikura had been impressing new Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton in the AHL and is probably top of mind for the young bench boss when he muses about roster changes. Sikura was expected to earn a top-six role with the Blackhawks this season, but lost out to Dominik Kahun in training camp. I don’t mind Sikura as a deep-league stash to see if Colliton considers bringing him up.
Gabriel Vilardi, C, Los Angeles Kings (0.0 percent): Speaking of new coaches considering a roster shakeup, new Kings coach Willie Desjardins could have Vilardi as an option in the coming weeks. Practicing in a non-contact capacity with the Kings, the young Vilardi could soon be in line for a conditioning stint in the AHL. Originally projected to break into the Kings’ top-six before a back injury sidelined him, Vilardi arguably has a shorter route to the NHL with the coaching change if he can get healthy. Desjardins isn’t married to any of the depth chart configurations of his predecessor, so Vilardi could push for a role — if he can get on the ice soon. I prefer Sikura as the deep-league stash, but if you miss out on him, Vilardi was dominant in junior (when healthy).