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The regular season isn’t over, but at this point it essentially is. With each team having one or two games left on their schedule and many of the league’s top performers likely to get their team’s final contest off, it seems fair to use the final Fantasy Nuggets column of the 2021-22 campaign to look at the league’s standout 2021-22 performers from a fantasy perspective.
Below I’ll be providing my picks for the top fantasy contributor, the most pleasant surprise (who did the best relative to their preseason draft position in Yahoo leagues), and the biggest disappointment (who provided the least value relative to their preseason draft position) among forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders.
Top Fantasy Contributor: This really comes down to Connor McDavid versus Auston Matthews. McDavid has provided more overall points with 122 to 106 while Matthews has given fantasy managers an incredible 60 goals to McDavid’s 44. At the same time, McDavid has the edge in plus/minus at 27 to 20 and power-play points with 44 to 29 while Matthews has outshot him 348 to 312. Ultimately I’ll give this award to McDavid because I feel his work on the power-play gives him a slight edge, but the gap between them this year was marginal.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Timo Meier was only drafted in 16% if Yahoo leagues, so most fantasy managers were able to scoop him up as a free agent. For that minimal cost, Meier provided an elite performance with 35 goals and 76 points in 75 games. He also set a career-high in hits with 161, giving him a little more depth. Meier showed a lot of promise in 2018-19 when he finished with 30 goals and 66 points in 78 contests and while he struggled in 2019-20 and was a mixed bag in 2020-21, it seems he’s back on track. You can chalk up his previous campaigns to growing pains and look forward to him putting up big numbers again next season.
Biggest Disappointment: It’s not Mark Stone’s fault. He only played in 36 games due to injury and when he was in the lineup, he was reasonable with eight goals and 29 points. Still, for a player that had an average draft position of 42.3, those are extremely poor numbers. If there’s a silver lining to Vegas missing the playoffs it’s that Stone will have plenty of time to rest and prepare for the 2022-23 campaign. That could prove to be a comeback season for him.
Top Fantasy Contributor: Roman Josi and Cale Makar ended up having a similar rivalry to McDavid and Matthews. In this case, Makar had the edge in goals (27 to 22), hits (94 to 63), and led by a wide margin in plus/minus (49 to 12), but Josi got more points (93 to 85), power-play points (36 to 33), and took more shots (271 to 235). In this case, while it’s close, Makar seems like the clear winner to me. I’d much rather have a few more goals than a few more points, but that gap in plus/minus is the main selling point for Makar over Josi. While plus/minus is a flawed category, a lot of fantasy leagues use it all the same and that gives Makar a big boost in fantasy value. It’s interesting because I think the top fantasy players (McDavid and Makar) are ultimately not the ones who I believe will win the Hart or Norris (Matthews and Josi respectively).
Most Pleasant Surprise: Devon Toews had a great 2020-21 campaign with nine goals and 31 points in 53 contests and even ended up with some Norris Trophy votes for his efforts. Clearly fantasy managers weren’t expecting him to take another step forward though given that his average draft position was 139.6 and he even went undrafted in 5% of leagues. He managed to find another level though, scoring 13 goals and 57 points in 65 contests. He’s been overshadowed by Makar, but he’s a critical part of the Avalanche’s success in his own right.
Biggest Disappointment: Dougie Hamilton was typically the sixth defenseman taken in Yahoo leagues and had an average draft position of 45.7. It’s not hard to see why. From 2014-15 through 2020-21 he recorded at least 39 points every season and did that while playing for three different teams. He had even consistently gotten some Norris Trophy consideration in recent years even if he fell short of being a finalist. His first season with the New Jersey Devils was a huge step down though. He had nine goals and just 29 points in 60 contests. The Devils will have to hope that he bounces back given that he comes with a $9 million annual cap hit through 2027-28. Otherwise this could end up with another situation like P.K. Subban, who never quite worked out in New Jersey either.
Top Fantasy Contributor: The battles for top forward and top defenseman were close, but I think Igor Shesterkin is the clear winner in terms of goaltenders. He comfortably led the league in save percentage at .935 and GAA at 2.07 (min. 20 games played). He wasn’t the league’s wins leader, but his 36-13-4 record was superb. The only real goaltenders who come close are Frederik Andersen, who had the second highest GAA (2.17), tied for third best save percentage (.922), and finished with just one less win, and Jacob Markstrom, who provided fantasy managers with 62 starts all while posting a 37-15-8 record along with a great 2.21 GAA and .922 save percentage. Both of those goaltenders were amazing additions to any fantasy team, but they were still a step below Shesterkin.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Weirdly enough, Jacob Markstrom is an easy choice for this category. He didn’t come out of nowhere of course. In fact, he finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting in 2019-20. Clearly though, fantasy managers were scared off by his disappointing 2020-21 campaign and took him at an average draft position was 134.4. For that relatively late round pick, managers received one of the best goaltenders of the season, as noted above. Anyone who kept faith and snatched him up deserves recognition for that.
Biggest Disappointment: Robin Lehner was typically the second goaltender taken and the 19.5 pick overall. Unfortunately he didn’t end up having the season people where hoping for. His health was a big problem this season and even when he was in net, he was a mixed bag. He’s been shutdown now to have shoulder surgery, meaning that he’ll finish with a 23-17-2 record, 2.83 GAA, and .907 save percentage in 44 starts. If there’s any silver lining here for Vegas, it’s that the goaltending situation presented an opportunity for Logan Thompson, which he took advantage of. If Lehner bounces back in 2022-23, Vegas could end up with a strong goaltending duo between him and Thompson.