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Fantasy hockey mailbag: deciding whom to cut from your keeper league team

Matt Larkin
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Kris Letang (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Fantasy hockey mailbag: deciding whom to cut from your keeper league team

Matt Larkin
By:

Now's the time to ponder every keeper league conundrum. Matt Larkin answers your fantasy hockey questions to help you make tough roster cuts during the off-season.

May and June allow most fantasy hockey poolies to put their feet up. Their regular seasons are over, and most of them are eliminated from their playoff pools by this stage, too.

For the diehard keeper league players, though, there's never really a break. They must decide which players to retain for next season before a deadline. They must assess how the post-season and the NHL draft affect player values and the overall talent pool.

Today, I take questions from that demographic. The fun part about keeper league inquiries is that they are essentially hockey questions about the long-term value of player A versus player B or C. The answers can spark debate among fantasy players and general hockey fans alike. Let's get started!

Kyle Fenwick (@fenndawg) asks…
Three keepers in my league. Keeping Alex Ovechkin, and Tuukka Rask for sure, but Henrik Lundqvist or Nicklas Backstrom? Don't pick until 16th overall.

Answer: Interesting that you take Rask for granted as keepable. What makes you prefer him to Lundqvist? Their numbers were almost identical this season, but the Rangers are the better team, so would that be a good tiebreaker? I'd probably keep Lundqvist over Rask. As for the third keeper, go with Backstrom. It's great to pair him with real-life linemate Ovechkin, and you don't need to retain two netminders. The position is too easy to fill. Look at Devan Dubnyk and Andrew Hammond this year.

Robb (@robbhope) asks…
I (somehow) won my pool and managed to trade for the first two overall picks. I'm taking Connor McDavid. Should I also take Jack Eichel?

Answer: If you're only drafting from the rookie class, Eichel is a no-brainer at No. 2. I assume your draft includes the entire NHL, though. In that case, McDavid works at No. 1, but there should be plenty of young options on the board with a bit of NHL experience at No 2. The scouting reports tell us McDavid will be an impact player and lap the rookie field in scoring right away. Eichel will be a force, too, but his skills may take longer to develop, and he'll have a weaker supporting cast in Buffalo to start. A great freshman year might mean 50 points for Eichel, and that type of production can be found on most waiver wires.

That said, I don't know your league configuration. If most players are already kept, and if your draft allows for unlimited control, with no cap on how long you can keep a guy, taking McDavid and Eichel isn't the worst idea. Especially if you're looking at a long-term rebuild. Congrats on your title, by the way.

Paul Poirier (@PaulPoirer3) asks…
Who do I keep out of Nazem Kadri, Tomas Hertl and Mikkel Boedker?

Answer: Hertl's name jumps out at me for two reasons. First, he has the highest ceiling of the group. He showed that as a rookie when tallied 15 goals and 25 points in 37 games. That pro-rates to more than 30 goals and 50 points in an 82-game campaign. Boedker, 25, has never topped 21 goals or 51 points, and he's been in the league seven seasons. We know who he is. Kadri and Hertl in are similar boats, set to play under new coaches, and I like Hertl to flourish more. He'll play the wing again with one of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture or Joe Pavelski centering him, and we can blame Hertl's 2014-15 struggles on his return from knee surgery the season prior.

Gabe (@gbenschop) asks…
I'm allowed three keepers. Who should I keep: Devan Dubnyk, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Vladimir Tarasenko?

Answer: Easy decision. Boot Dubnyk. The very fact you found Dubnyk this year is the reason you shouldn't keep him. There will always be another out-of-nowhere goalie sensation, and surprise stars one year commonly become duds the next. A year ago, Ben Scrivens and Anton Khudobin were viable fantasy netminders. You're in great shape retaining Palat, Johnson and Tarasenko.

Craig Hendricks (@CDHendricks22) asks…
What three defensemen would you keep: P.K. Subban, Kris Letang, Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk?

Answer: Subban, Hedman and Shattenkirk. It's time to say goodbye to Letang as we know him. It's sad, and he's the most offensively gifted defenseman not named Erik Karlsson, but Letang might not be long for the NHL. He had the stroke scare in 2013-14 and a concussion ended his 2014-15. He's taken enough major head blows that we can't bank on him returning to hockey anytime soon. And if he does, how many hits can he take before he's out of the lineup again? I wish him all the best but, in a fantasy context, he represents fool's gold.

Johnnie (@DisneyDadSD) asks…
Nikita Kucherov or Nathan MacKinnon? And do I keep Cam Talbot?

Answer: Crazy that Kucherov and MacKinnon make for a compelling comparison. Imagine if you asked that question a year ago. MacKinnon was a hair away from superstardom. I talked him up as a top-20 fantasy asset and a strong bet for 80 points. Then came a nightmare season in which he slipped from 24 to 14 goals, from 63 to 38 points and from 82 to 64 games after breaking his foot. Kucherov, meanwhile, busted out for 28 goals and 64 points playing on a dynamite line with Palat and Tyler Johnson in Tampa. Kucherov, just 21, can get even better. A 30-goal, 70-point followup seems realistic.

Still, this is a keeper league question. We're thinking long-term. MacKinnon still projects as better than Kucherov at generating offense on his own. MacKinnon's 10 points in seven playoff games last year were the third-most ever by a player who started a season 18 years old. Kucherov's ceiling is "star NHL sniper," but MacKinnon's is "franchise superstar." He's still a teenager. He'll top every list of bounce-back candidates for next season. I'd keep him over Kucherov, though the decision isn't easy.

As for Cam Talbot, it all depends on your league. How many goalies are owned? Is the waiver wire a scrap heap? If not, don't retain him. He's blocked behind Lundqvist in New York. That said, if your keeper deadline isn't for a while, hold Talbot as long as you can. He has just one year left on his contract, and the Rangers will probably receive trade offers for him.

Brenden Purdy (@purdstheword22) asks…
Sean Monahan or Patrice Bergeron at center? Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar or Bobby Ryan on the wing? #professionalhelp!

Answer: Monahan by a landslide. He had 31 goals and 62 points at 20 years old in his second season. It took Monahan two years to equal Bergeron's career high in goals. Bergeron is still the better real-life player right now, but Monahan has already surpassed him in fantasy, and the gap should widen next year. Plus we're talking keeper league, here. Monahan is nine years younger.

The winger question is tougher, but I lean toward Tatar. Ryan has settled into the 50-point range at 28. Hossa, 36, has slid into the 60-point range as he begins his career decline. Tatar, 24, jumped from 39 to 56 points this season. Take the young, ascending forward over the plateauing or declining one.

Erik Kohl (@erikkberg) asks…
What's the best online site to use for a keeper fantasy league?

Answer: It's a boring answer, I know, but good ole Yahoo gets it done. Over the years it's integrated keeper options like managing payments, icons to denote keepers and trading draft picks. Yahoo's hockey engine always seems to receive its upgrades later than football's and baseball's, but it should be fully equipped for hockey keeper leagues now. It's the cleanest and easiest to navigate of the fantasy systems.

Robert Oakley (@rangerbob94) asks…
I have 1 open keeper spot left. Use it on Sergei Bobrovsky, Dustin Byfuglien or Tomas Tatar? Already have five forwards kept.

Answer: Unless your league's goalie landscape looks barren, keep Byfuglien. He brings an extremely unique skill set to the defenseman position. Tatar is solid, but plenty of players out there produce similar numbers. How many D-men can top the 15-goal mark, the 45-point mark and the 100 penalty-minute mark? The answer is one. Only 'Big Buff' eclipsed all three numbers this season. He's a beast, especially if your league counts PIM and/or hits.

Christopher Wallace (@jyur81) asks…
What's the best way to get involved in a money league? My friends don't know enough about the game to try and start one with them.

Answer: If you consider prizes the equivalent of money, you could enter one of the big yearly contests hosted by CBC or TSN. If you want the experience of a smaller league with every player staking some cash, I see two paths you can take: start a Reddit Hockey thread to recruit players for your league or play FanDuel. The latter is becoming more popular by the day, as you can play in mini-leagues for money every day if you want to. That said, I don't recommend FanDuel for hockey. It's better for football. Hockey is too volatile game to game.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

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Fantasy hockey mailbag: deciding whom to cut from your keeper league team