Yahoo Fantasy Hockey: 5 steps to succeed in the playoffs

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NEWARK, NJ – NOVEMBER 08: <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/3980/" data-ylk="slk:Jordan Staal">Jordan Staal</a> #11 of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/car/" data-ylk="slk:Carolina Hurricanes">Carolina Hurricanes</a> waits for a faceoff during an NHL hockey game against the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/njd/" data-ylk="slk:New Jersey Devils">New Jersey Devils</a> at the Prudential Center on November 8, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ – NOVEMBER 08: Jordan Staal #11 of the Carolina Hurricanes waits for a faceoff during an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 8, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

(Ed. Note: We’re once again pleased to partner with Dobber Hockey to provide fantasy hockey insight throughout the NHL season. Here’s Steve Laidlaw, the Managing Editor of Dobber Hockey, as your new fantasy hockey smarty-pants!)

By Steve Laidlaw

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Finally, the fantasy playoffs are here. This is what we’ve competed for all season. Hopefully, your team was successful enough to make the championship round. If not, there’s always the consolation side. The fantasy playoffs, much like the NHL playoffs, are a crapshoot. Anyone can win, as long as you make it to the dance. There are some ways of enhancing your odds but you ultimately need some good fortune to come out on top in the 21-28-day grinder. Here are a few tips to help you come out on top over the final few weeks of the season.

1. Patience is no longer a virtue

The time for patience has passed. There is no tomorrow. You need players who can produce for you in a seven-day stretch to help you advance to the next round. If they cannot, they should be jettisoned to the waiver wire. There is no room for sentimentality or bias. It doesn’t matter if you picked a certain player in the first round or in the final round, if he isn’t producing you can no longer afford to wait.

Here are some players owned in at least 80% of Yahoo leagues who are ice cold:

Claude Giroux – C – Philadelphia Flyers – 97% owned: Giroux has one goal and just four assists over the last month. He is an elite power-play scorer but cannot do anything at even strength. He has scored just 0.85 points/60 at even strength, one of the worst marks for a forward this season.

Ryan Suter – D – Minnesota Wild – 93% owned: Suter was a top defenseman in fantasy leagues for much of this season as the Wild ran teams over. Some of that depth scoring has dried up and Suter’s production has gone with it. Suter has just five points in the last month. Defensemen are the most fickle players because their bar for productivity is so much lower. A 45-point defenseman on a cold streak is waiver fodder. It is worth noting that Suter has scored in back-to-back games. Maybe that’s enough to keep him on your roster.

Ryan McDonagh – D – New York Rangers – 88% owned: Everything said about Suter goes for McDonagh. They are essentially the same guy in terms of role and fantasy production. Both have gone quiet at the wrong time for fantasy owners. He was a draft day steal but you may have to cut the cord.

Nick Foligno – LW/RW – Columbus Blue Jackets – 85% owned: The Blue Jackets’ once vaunted power play is in freefall. Since New Year’s, they’ve clicked on just 13.0% of their opportunities, which is 27th in the league. Naturally, their scorers have gone up in smoke. Sam Gagner has dropped from relevance and Foligno has just 13 points in his last 30 games. That won’t cut it in the playoff meat grinder.

Cam Fowler – D – Anaheim Ducks – 80% owned: Just like the Blue Jackets, Anaheim’s power play has collapsed. They’ve scored on just 10.4% of their power play chances since New Year’s. Fowler, rode the Ducks’ hot power play to an excellent first half but he has just 10 points in 28 games in 2017. That’s waiver fodder in any and every league.

2. Game the schedule

Who is more productive: a player who puts up 3 shots per game over 3 games or a player who puts up 2.5 shots per game over four games? The answer is the second player. While the first player would be better to own over 82 games, we don’t have 82 games to work with. We have only seven days and the players who give you the most games played increase your odds of winning, especially in high-event categories like Shots, Hits, Blocked Shots, Faceoff Wins and Saves.

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Over the common H2H playoff slate from March 13 to April 2, no team has more games than Carolina’s 13, while Buffalo and Montreal play the fewest games at only nine apiece.

Does that mean you should drop Jack Eichel for Victor Rask? No, don’t be silly. You keep your studs around for as long as they can be useful. Eichel has been a top-20 fantasy player since returning from injury putting up nearly a point per game and nearly four shots per game. He is awesome. With three games in each of the fantasy playoff weeks, Eichel will be around enough to affect your matchup positively.

Instead, look to make these adjustments on the fringes of your roster. Carolina’s Rask, owned in just 16% of Yahoo leagues, has been a dud for much of the past few months but he has picked up his scoring of late with four points in his last five games. With five games in the first week of fantasy playoffs (March 13-19) he could be an impact player.

Other Hurricanes who could make an impact:

Elias Lindholm – C/RW – 6% owned: The fourth-year winger has 24 points in his last 29 games.

Jordan Staal – C/LW – 20% owned: The big centerman has 19 points in his last 25 games.

Sebastian Aho – LW/RW – 28% owned: Aho has tailed off over the last month but has flashed the sort of goal-scoring prowess indicative of a player who can get hot in a hurry. No Hurricane has more SOG over the last month.

Other teams with juicy schedules for March 13-19:

Calgary – 4 games, including the juicy off-night slate of Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
Pittsburgh – 4 games, including the juicy off-night slate of Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
Philadelphia – 4 games, with a mostly-off-night slate of Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday

Targets off those teams:

Mikael Backlund – C – Calgary Flames – 45% owned
Michael Frolik – C/RW – Calgary Flames – 16% owned
Matthew Tkachuk – LW – Calgary Flames – 56% owned
T.J. Brodie – D – Calgary Flames – 29% owned
Connor Sheary – LW/RW – Pittsburgh Penguins – 43% owned
Mark Streit – D – Pittsburgh Penguins – 26% owned
Jake Guentzel – C/LW – Pittsburgh Penguins – 4% owned
Valtteri Filppula – C/LW – Philadelphia Flyers – 11% owned

Other teams with 4 games for March 13-19: St. Louis, Winnipeg, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, Ottawa, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Florida, Columbus, Colorado, Chicago, Arizona.

3. Pick players who will actually fit into your nightly lineup

It’s not enough to know which teams play the most games in a given week. You could scoop Backlund off the waiver wire only to find that your center position is already full on most of the days when Backlund is scheduled to play. That would make adding him a wasted move since he won’t increase your volume of man games.

Figure out the roster position at which you have the most room and can best gain games played. Getting three extra games out of a defenseman will still likely be better than two extra games from a forward, assuming you can get a defenseman on a hot streak.

Maximizing games played is a puzzle. Moving all the pieces around to get the most out of your roster spots can be very rewarding.

BUFFALO, NY – MARCH 2: Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrates after scoring on the Arizona Coyotes during the second period at the KeyBank Center on March 2, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY – MARCH 2: Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrates after scoring on the Arizona Coyotes during the second period at the KeyBank Center on March 2, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

4. Know who to avoid

The flip side of figuring out which players fit into your schedule for the week is figuring out which ones do not. There are 13 different teams playing just three games in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.

Of those 13 teams, not all are created equal. For instance, the Bruins play on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday before taking the rest of next week off. You could ride a borderline relevant guy like David Krejci for three games over the first four days, drop him and scoop up someone playing a Friday/Sunday weekend schedule (Florida, New Jersey, Calgary and Pittsburgh).

Teams to avoid are the ones featuring the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule, which is always jam-packed. Washington, Toronto, San Jose and Edmonton are the four teams playing that schedule next week.

Again, we aren’t sitting our studs. Keep Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom and use them whenever possible but if you’ve got Backstrom, Joe Thornton, and Tyler Bozak, one of those three is sitting every night. In fact, if you carry that trio you could have a player on your roster make literally no impact in the first week of the playoffs. You may as well leave an empty roster slot. In this case, you’d dump Bozak to the waiver wire and find someone playing an off-night schedule to boost your games. You’d also steer clear of waiver wire options like Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins because he won’t play for you either.

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The full list of teams with only three games between March 13-19: Washington, Toronto, San Jose, Edmonton, Montreal, Anaheim, Boston, Vancouver, N.Y. Rangers, Nashville, Detroit, Dallas, and Buffalo.

Of those teams, five have only three games the following week as well: Washington, Anaheim, Montreal, Buffalo, and Nashville.

What is unfortunate is that those teams include some of the hottest players in the league including Backstrom, Filip Forsberg, Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Max Pacioretty. You can’t dump these guys but anyone on the borderline from those teams should be considered droppable. Maybe that means jettisoning Justin Williams, James Neal, or Brendan Gallagher. It certainly reinforces the notion that you should drop Cam Fowler.

5. Plan ahead

You likely have a limited number of waiver wire moves you can make each week. You want to make the most out of those. Assuming you’ve got your playoff spot all locked up. Make moves to add players for next week during this week’s period, saving your next week’s moves for emergency situations, like injuries, late scratches, or a last-ditch Sunday effort. If all goes to plan, your moves will be untouched come Sunday and you can swap in players who will help you in the next round of the playoffs.

At the end of the day, you can make this process as immersive as you’d like. If you don’t have the time on your hands to build a chart to help you maximize your number of games played, maybe you focus on simply dropping cold players for hotter ones. It doesn’t have to be extensive. Just do something to give yourself an edge. If you have more time on your hands, tinker every day to improve your odds. Ultimately, you are still at the mercy of the fantasy hockey gods. Best of luck!

Steve Laidlaw is the Managing Editor of Dobberhockey. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw

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