We shoot past 50 games in a week for the first time this season with a grand total of 54 on the docket to take us into December.
Heading into the third month of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are under the microscope after parting ways with the highest-paid coach in NHL history. At the time of his dismissal, the Leafs were 9-10-4, with the eighth-most goals scored and second-most goals allowed in the NHL this season. The power play was ranked 18th and the penalty kill was 27th.
But little of that matters to the fantasy realm. Where it counts for us in fantasy, the Leafs were doing just fine. Auston Matthews has been a top-10 forward this season, while Morgan Rielly has been a top-10 defenseman. John Tavares and Mitch Marner have been OK, but also dogged by injuries. William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson were easily returning draft-day value and Jake Muzzin has even been in the mix as a commodity on the point. Heck, Frederik Andersen has been a top-10 goaltender on the ESPN Player Rater despite all the scoring against the Leafs.
This is a scary coaching change for fantasy purposes. If a player has been healthy all season for the Babcock-coached Leafs, they have provided value. What does the era under new coach Sheldon Keefe have in store? How will our players be impacted by this change?
The answer is, fortunately, probably not much at all. The reality is that this is a team built in the vein of stars and scrubs, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to tinker with.
Although it will take some time to see what the ultimate impact will be, you shouldn’t overreact to any hot takes on this coaching change. Matthews and Rielly will remain elite, Marner and Tavares are both buy-low candidates, Nylander remains a great value. No coach is going to mess with those dynamics much.
Johnsson’s value stems from his locked in role with Matthews and Nylander, and supplementary role on the power play. That is by no means a lock to continue, especially the power-play work. The Leafs didn’t have a power play in Keefe’s debut behind the bench on Thursday, but based on practice, Johnsson wouldn’t have been on it if they did. Barrie, who has been a disappointment for fantasy this season buried behind Rielly on the depth chart, looks to be Keefe’s choice to join the top unit in place of the fourth-forward, Johnsson. This isn’t a make or break role for Johnsson, as he would still have value as Matthews’ linemate at even strength, but it takes some of the shine off.
Barrie, on the other hand, is someone worth scooping up. This power play is still arguably one of the league’s most dangerous on paper, so a role on it should not be taken lightly – especially for a proven power-play quarterback. Barrie has been dropped in about 20 percent of ESPN leagues, so have a look at your free-agent pool.
Hyman is another interesting case. His role on a line with Tavares and Marner has largely been a Babcock commitment. A lot of players could have success on a line with these two superstars and without Babcock around to keep Hyman there come hell or high water, we could see a different player get that chance at some point. Marner is still two to three weeks away from being back, so it’s not an imminent problem. But for anyone hanging on to Hyman in deeper leagues waiting for the return of this line, I don’t see a reason to stay committed at this stage.
That could open up some opportunities for others. Ilya Mikheyev jumps top of mind here. He was moved into the top six with Tavares and Hyman by Keefe, and he responded with a pair of assists in Thursday’s 3-1 win. His production has been pretty good for short stretches this season, especially considering that Mikheyev has largely operated on the third line or lower for the Leafs. I think he’s a short-term add if you have room on your roster, with the understanding that you may be dropping him when Marner comes back in a couple weeks … Or, perhaps he stays on your roster at that point based on a couple of weeks in which he plays his trade with Tavares.
Muzzin, for his part, is a solid, minute-eating defenseman with a great floor, but low ceiling for fantasy. He should be immune to any change to his value – minimal as it is. He’s a No. 3 or 4 defenseman for fantasy, and that shouldn’t’ change.
And then there is Andersen, whose fate is difficult to read. On one hand, he’s maintained value despite the Leafs allowing the second-most goals in the NHL this season. On the other hand, Babcock was a defense-first coach and the Leafs still managed to allow the second-most goals in the league – is it going to get worse? We’ll have to see more than a single-game sample against the Arizona Coyotes to level judgement, but it’s worth noting that the Leafs looked awfully run-and-gun on Thursday, and the stats bear that out.
Toronto was already first in the NHL in Corsi for (shot attempts) this season, but Thursday’s game under Keefe was their highest single-game output for Corsi this season. In fact, it was the fifth-highest single-game Corsi output for any team this season.
Is that a one-game aberration? Or a sign of things to come with a new coach? Can the team already leading the league in shot attempts take even more shot attempts?
Fantasy Forecaster: Nov. 25 to Dec. 1
More than half the league plays four times next week, so it should be little trouble filling out your roster. The only team with a slack schedule is the Florida Panthers, who only play twice. And even then, I’m not so sure I’m benching any of the key offensive players due to a short schedule. Aleksander Barkov and crew can get then job done in two games.
For daily-moves leagues, it’s Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday that are light on games this week. The Montreal Canadiens play on all three of those days and the New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins check two of the boxes.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense), which is on the left for each game, and “D” (defense), on the right, matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I’ll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers get the Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens next week. Claude Giroux has been grooving with Travis Konecny of late, but it’s Morgan Frost that has our attention. He’s been called up from the AHL and placed next to Giroux and Konecny on and off the power play. The result has been three points in two games and he’s a must-add based on the deployment. Sometimes the schedule and hot free-agent pickups align.
Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s Nikita Kucherov’s upper body and Steven Stamkos’ lower body as both stars have been knocked out of consecutive games for the Lightning. There’s no clear timetable for either of these guys, so approach next week with caution and opportunity. Anthony Cirelli has five points in his past three games, while Patrick Maroon and Yanni Gourde are getting ice time spikes in the absence of the stars.
Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens: With Jonathan Drouin gone for up to eight weeks, Suzuki steps into a role as the team’s second-line pivot. He’s playing with Max Domi and Joel Armia at even strength and has a role locked down on the top power-play unit. Especially in leagues with daily roster moves, Suzuki is a great addition for next week. You can plug him in on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday next week when the rest of your roster has the day off.
Ivan Barbashev, W, St. Louis Blues: Sammy Blais leaves a role in the Blues top six up for grabs as he is out for 10 weeks or more. Barbashev joined David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly on what is more or less the Blues top line. The Blues don’t have the best schedule next week and there are other players I’d be more excited about getting a chance in the top six, but Barbashev is there for the time being. Deeper leagues should at least monitor the situation.
Lars Eller, C, Washington Capitals: If Nicklas Backstrom’s injury bleeds into next week, Eller should get some run. He steps up a line to center T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana in Backstrom’s absence. When he filled in on the top six during Evgeny Kuznetsov’s suspension, Eller had three points in three games.