Well, good luck. It comes down to this final week of action to determine if you will take home the fantasy glory this season. It’s been another fantastic season of forecasting the NHL action, and we all deserve a rest.
As do NHL players.
That’s right. As the end of the season approaches and teams become locked in their playoff position, players start getting to take a rest when they would otherwise have suited up. It’s a mini version of the NFL’s Week 17. Players who might be banged up or just a little worn down will sit the final game or two of the regular season.
Final week start and sit answers for every NHL team
It all comes down to this final week of play. One decision could mean the difference between a championship and a pretty good run. Victoria Matiash runs through all 31 NHL teams, helping make those difficult start and sit decisions to close the season.
Good for them. They earned it by being in a position to coast into the postseason. But it’s not good for fantasy managers looking to win the prize.
Playoff positioning can change between now and late next week, but at a glance, the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild are in a possible position to have their final games make no discernible impact on the standings, despite being bound for the playoffs.
The impact of this could be muted in the Eastern Conference this season, thanks to that cancelled game between the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins that will be made up on Sunday, April 8. It’s the only game remaining in the regular season at that point and could have playoff implications for both teams (seeding for Bruins, wild card for Panthers). Because of this, and because teams won’t know the outcome of other games on Saturday, April 7, the other Eastern squads may not be able to take the foot off the gas at all.
Note: That Sunday makeup contest between the Panthers and Bruins will not count toward your final fantasy score or matchup. The fantasy season concludes in standard leagues with Saturday’s action. However, if your league is of league manager format, your commissioner does have the ability to change scoring to reflect the final game’s statistics.
Let’s have a look at what’s left for each team that could be in a position to coast, as the last thing you want is to be competing for a fantasy championship with a roster full of guys taking a break.
Nashville Predators: The Predators will be locked into home-ice advantage as the top Western seed with just two more wins. They play twice this weekend. There’s a chance none of the three games on the docket next week will matter to the Predators’ playoff position. That doesn’t mean Roman Josi, P.K. Subban or Pekka Rinne will sit for the entire week, but it also means they could. If the Preds win on Saturday and Sunday, I’d be cautious about locking them into my lineup for the coming week. Hopefully, the Buffalo Sabres or Tampa Bay Lightning can steal one this weekend, and the Winnipeg Jets can win, forcing the Preds to stay honest.
Boston Bruins/Tampa Bay Lightning: These two should keep each other on their toes for the remaining week as they jostle for top seed in the East. One point separates them following the Bruins’ win on Thursday, and Boston has a game in hand. One win by the Bruins and two wins by the Lightning would make it impossible for either team to be captured by the Leafs, so this really is up to the two teams to push each other across the finish line. They play each other again on Tuesday, too. If the Bolts fall back by three points or more heading into action on Saturday, April 7, both teams could end up resting players, as they face non-playoff teams.
Winnipeg Jets: One win by the Jets (or a loss by the Wild) and two wins by the Predators will virtually lock in Winnipeg’s first-round position for the playoffs. With Patrik Laine looking banged up, the Jets could use the opportunity to rest the young sniper (and perhaps some others who need refreshing). The Jets play four non-playoff teams in the final week, including the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks at the tail-end of the season. There’s a strong chance that the outcome of either of the Jets’ last two games has no impact on the standings. Be careful here with locking them in for the week and perhaps check the standings again following this weekend to see if the Predators have closed the distance or if the Wild have fallen further behind.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild should be playing honest hockey through the week, as not only can they mathematically still catch the Jets, but the St. Louis Blues are charging hard, just five points back and with a game in hand. The Wild close with a California road trip that could have a massive impact on the overall playoff picture, but could possibly have little to no impact on their own fate. Depending on how the Blues’ next four games play out, the Wild could know heading into Thursday’s penultimate game of the season that the outcome won’t change their date for the postseason. At most, Minnesota can rest for two games, but a more likely scenario is the players getting a rest in their finale next Saturday against the Sharks.
Washington Capitals: If the Capitals win both their games this weekend, their playoff position is locked in before the final week even begins. With two of their final three games coming against Western Conference opponents, the Caps may have the luxury of resting guys for more than one game. With Alex Ovechkin in the hunt for the Rocket Richard Trophy and John Carlson in consideration for the Norris, they might not sit out, but others could. Evgeny Kuznetsov just came back from an injury. Washington’s final game of the season could be a first-round preview (if the New Jersey Devils can push into the first wild-card spot), so that game might not be one for the team to rest.
Pittsburgh Penguins: With the Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers at 94, 93 and 92 points, things should stay competitive for the Penguins at least through Thursday’s tilt with the Blue Jackets. However, if the Penguins win that and have a two-point separation on Columbus at that point, their season finale against the Ottawa Senators on Friday won’t mean anything to the standings. Big picture, the Penguins only have two games next week, and one of them might have no consequences. Last season, with the playoffs decided, the Penguins rested Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Matt Murray, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary, among others (and you can bet that Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang would have sat if healthy). That means that Crosby might only have one more game for your fantasy team during the final week of the season. The Penguins are a risky proposition to rely on for this final week of fantasy action.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Two losses by the Leafs or two wins by the Lightning and Bruins, and the Leafs can no longer catch the two teams ahead of them in the standings. For all intents and purposes, Toronto is already locked into playoff position, as the Panthers can no longer catch them from behind. It’s basically assured that the season finale against the Montreal Canadiens will be meaningless for the overall standings, while the game against the Devils on Thursday could impact others. This is a young team that is fairly healthy and playing well at the moment; even though their fate is basically sealed, look for them to keep rolling a playoff lineup through at least the game against New Jersey. There’s even a chance coach Mike Babcock still ices his stars on Saturday in the meaningless game against the Habs. That’s just his style.
Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights could very well be locked into their playoff position before the final week of the season begins. Friday’s game against the Blues doesn’t even matter if the Golden Knights can defeat the Sharks on Saturday, as the Sharks are the only team that can catch Vegas. Beating the Sharks on Saturday would mean that all three Golden Knights games next week have zero impact on any team in the standings at all. Vegas goes on a Western Canada road trip to finish the season against the non-playoff Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Flames. More than anything else, this means there is little reason for Reilly Smith or David Perron to hurry back from injuries, while Marc-Andre Fleury probably gets more rest than he usually would. Whether the team chooses to sit out some other stars ahead of the postseason remains to be seen, but they should have the luxury of choosing to do so. Approach with caution for the final week, especially in weekly leagues.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks magic formula for being locked into position is a loss to the Golden Knights on Saturday, combined with a win of their own or a loss by the Los Angeles Kings. It could mean they are already settled on their playoff position in time for Thursday’s matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, which is the Sharks second-last game of the season. Joe Thornton, although practicing, has little incentive to push for a return if the games don’t mean anything for San Jose. This could also mean a rest for the likes of Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane or Martin Jones.
Fantasy Forecaster: April 2-7
Overall, the week features some highlights and lowlights for teams to finish the season, regardless of the playoff positioning. As noted above, the Penguins play only two games (and one of them could feature players getting a rest). Overall, the Penguins are the only team with two games, while the Sabres, Panthers, Wild, Senators, Blues and Jets have the advantage with four games. The remaining squads all have three games. Again, the final Florida-Boston matchup on Sunday will not count in standard ESPN leagues.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense) and “D” (defense) 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 1-10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.
In the notes — team, goalie and player — below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I’ll include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Panthers should be locked into weekly lineups with confidence, and you can go deeper than usual by considering players such as Nick Bjugstad or Jamie McGinn. James Reimer is also an asset, as these final games feature two sets of back-to-back contests, which could easily mean two starts for the backup this week. That’s probably more than some other starters will get based on schedule and playoff positioning.
The Bruins are a solid 10 across the board for offensive potential in this Forecaster, as they are coming in hot thanks to an advantageous schedule. Get Ryan Donato on your bench, or consider him for a start in weekly leagues where you have a roster hole. He’s still playing on the top power play. David Backes should also get some consideration as he made a healthy return on Thursday. As already mentioned, the Bruins will be fighting it out for the top seed for the bulk of the week, so should stay competitive on the ice.
Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil are up with the big club to finish the campaign. Both of them have looked like they belong so far, with Andersson notching two points in two games with limited minutes, while Chytil, on the second line with Mats Zuccarello, notched an assist and fired 10 shots on goal in his two contests. The Rangers have a decent enough schedule next week, and these guys will be looking to make an impression.
After facing the Blue Jackets on the road, the Red Wings close at home against the New York Islanders and Canadiens in two games that are just playing out the string for all involved. The Wings tried out rookie Evgeny Svechnikov on a scoring line with Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin, and he responded on Thursday with a goal and assist. He’s a deeper league play for the latter half of the week.
Yes, this will be a tough week for goaltending, as playoff positing and possible rest days get taken into account. Marc-Andre Fleury, Frederik Andersen and Pekka Rinne jump off the page as the goaltenders most likely to get an extra day off or two ahead of the postseason. Fantasy managers relying on them may want to add an extra body on the bench, just in case. In weekly leagues, it’s best to give the standings another long look on Monday before settling on a lineup, as some of the scenarios I’ve played out above could be a reality. A second tier of starters who could end up resting include Martin Jones, Devan Dubnyk, Connor Hellebuyck and Matt Murray.
Goaltenders to consider adding for insurance might include Jacob Markstrom (rostered in 22.1 percent of ESPN leagues), James Reimer (26.1 percent), Antti Raanta (36.5 percent), Keith Kinkaid (38.7 percent) and Brian Elliott (24.3 percent).
Will Butcher, D, New Jersey Devils (rostered in 63.2 percent of ESPN leagues)
Butcher has played his way back into relevancy, stealing the power-play duties back from Sami Vatanen. Butcher was dropped in a lot of leagues when Vatanen appeared to take over the role, but Butcher has four power-play points in his past four games.
Neal Pionk, D, New York Rangers (37.6 percent)
Finally with definitive word that we won’t see Kevin Shattenkirk again this season, Pionk is good to lock and load for the final week of the season. He’s on the Rangers top power-play unit and has four power-play points in his past 10 games.
Zach Parise, LW, Minnesota Wild (39.1 percent)
Parise has found his groove again, following an extended absence to start the season. He’s missed the score sheet in only three of the past 10 games, with a total of eight points in that span. Now on a line with Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, Parise needs to be on rosters in every league. Given he already missed a bulk of the season, Parise is arguably less in need of a rest for the final week, even if the Wild’s playoff position gets locked in.