Fantasy Nuggets Week 17

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What a week it’s been. There’s been some major stories and we’re gearing up for the playoffs, but all of that has been drowned out by Tom Wilson’s actions on Monday, the lack of suspension, and the subsequent response by the Rangers in Wednesday’s rematch.

Without retreading a lot of ground that’s already been exhaustively covered throughout the hockey world, I think even if you were to ignore the potential moral arguments against what Wilson did and if he crossed a line, his actions were selfish and an example of him putting himself ahead of the team. The Washington Capitals are preparing for a playoff run while the New York Rangers are already eliminated and thus just trying to evaluate talent.

Monday and Wednesday’s contests should have been primarily tune-up games for Washington, but Wilson decided to punch Pavel Buchnevich when he was already down and then repeatedly knock Artemi Panarin to the ice in the subsequent fight, resulting in Panarin suffering a season-ending injury, Wilson gave the Rangers a reason to prioritize physical play Wednesday night. Washington’s primary goal right now should be to simply stay as healthy as possible, and Wilson jeopardized that.

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Let’s also not forget that actions like that can result in a suspension, even if it didn’t happen this time. Wilson is an important part of the Capitals, but can’t contribute anything when he’s suspended. Obviously, him playing hard is part of his appeal, but you can play a hard game and still be disciplined. You can deliver big hits without being dirty – or for that matter doing things like punching a downed player. Wilson’s habit of crossing the line hurts his team and for that reason if no other, the Washington Capitals should be pushing for him to be better.

On top of everything else that surrounded that incident, the Rangers fired president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton on Wednesday, elevating former player Chris Drury to the roles of president and general manager. Gorton served as the Rangers’ general manager for six years and oversaw their rebuild over the last four years. This season was a disappointing one for the Rangers, which presumably played a big role in Gorton’s dismissal, but the future is still bright for New York.

Panarin has been as advertised since signing a seven-year, $81.5 million contract, Mika Zibanejad has emerged as an elite forward and the Ryan Strome-for-Ryan Spooner trade with Edmonton back in 2018 has ended up being an absolute steal for the Rangers. Combine that with the potential Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko bring to the table along with the rise of rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin, and the Rangers have the foundation necessary to be a contender.

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With that in mind, Drury’s task will be one of filling in the supporting cast rather than making any major moves. Perhaps the biggest question mark is if he’ll decide to keep head coach David Quinn or hire someone else. Drury was asked about Quinn this morning and he declined to talk about it. We’ll probably have to wait until after the season to learn the fate of Quinn. The bench boss has a 95-86-25 record through three seasons with the Rangers.

When it comes to battles for a playoff spot, there’s a few left, but none of them are particularly close. In the North, even if Montreal loses its final four games, they’d only miss the playoffs if Calgary went 5-0-0 or Vancouver went at least 8-1-0 the rest of the way. In other words, it’d be shocking if the Canadiens didn’t secure the last playoff spot in the North. The West Division is in a similar situation, where the Blues would need to go 0-5-0 in their final five games while Los Angeles would need to go 5-0-0 at the same time for St. Louis to miss the playoffs. Only the Central Division has a real battle for a playoff spot and even then, just barely. If the Nashville Predators lose their final two games and Dallas goes at least 2-0-1, then the Stars will make the playoffs. If Nashville goes 0-1-1, the Dallas could still best them with a 3-0-0 record. The two teams won’t play again this season, so the Stars’ fate isn’t their own.

There is still playoff positioning to fight for, but clearly these final games don’t have a ton of weight remaining for the teams participating in them. What that means is fantasy managers should anticipate veteran players getting games off and teams out of contention leaning more heavily on their younger players in order to evaluate them.

One example of that came on Tuesday when Mathew Barzal was a late scratch with an undisclosed injury. That gave Barzal a chance to get to or at least closer to 100% ahead of the playoffs. He’ll be back in the lineup on Thursday. Meanwhile, if the Stars get eliminated then it wouldn’t be surprising to see Roope Hintz miss Dallas’ final games. He’s been playing through something for a while so if the Stars are removed from contention, Hintz might be shutdown in order to begin the healing process. Those are two examples, but they are far from the only ones.

Finally, let’s close out today by highlighting two players who have done well since being traded: Jeff Carter and Sam Bennett. These are two very different situations. When the Penguins acquired Carter, they knew more-or-less what they were getting: a veteran goal scorer who isn’t what he used to be but can still serve in a middle-six capacity. Carter has lived up to those expectations for the Penguins and is providing them with some valuable depth going into the playoffs.

Bennet on the other hand was a bit of a gamble. Clearly talented, but he never really worked out with the Calgary Flames. Part of the problem was he never got much of an opportunity with the Flames, but the Florida Panthers were happy to give him one. He’s been averaging 18:13 minutes in Florida, up from 13:28 minutes in Calgary, and has responded with five goals and 13 points in nine games since being traded. Unfortunately, Bennett is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but keep him in mind for playoff leagues because he could be a big part of the Panthers’ attempt to best the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Even with Calgary where Bennett was never great in the regular season, he had a habit of stepping up for the postseason, so it will be interesting to see what Bennett does this time around.