Nathan MacKinnon is one of several Colorado forwards to target in fantasy pool trades. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Which struggling stars will pay dividends if you acquire them on the cheap in your hockey pool? Here are five names to consider
Good fantasy hockey GMs know when to sell high, as I outlined earlier this week. They also know when to buy low. That's just as important, if not more, as a well executed buy-low could net you a superstar that puts your team over the top later in the season.
Which struggling studs are worth targeting right now? Here are five names to consider.
5. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
I strongly considered Carey Price for this space, but I'll go with Schneider because he's probably dirt-cheap to acquire right now. He entered 2014-15 with a .925 career save percentage, he finally had a starting NHL gig to himself and the advanced statistics favored him, as he played for a team that did a great job pushing possession toward the other team's goal.
So what's happened? For one, Schneider may be a little burnt out. The Devils played him 15 straight games to start the season and he's never faced a workload like that. The other problem: the Devils have by far the worst penalty kill in the NHL at 64.4 percent. Schneider has been shelled with his team down a man. Among the 35 goalies with a least 30 minutes of shorthanded ice time, Schneider ranks 34th in SP at .790. At even strength, among stoppers with 300 minutes or more (five starts), he's a respectable 11th at .926. As the Devils' penalty kill regresses to the mean and allows fewer high-percentage chances, Schneider's numbers should improve. He's a good goalie, and he could really help you down the stretch a No. 2 option who performs like a No. 1.
4. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
The 10 points in 15 games look ugly, but we wouldn't notice at all if that stretch came between, say, games 50 and 65. The flashy Kane is prone to streaks and slumps, and there's a peak on the horizon after this valley. Last season, he had 23 points in 14 December games and seven points in 14 January games. Hot as hell, then cold as ice, and in the end the 30 points in 28 contests were about right. He's good for roughly a point per game, meaning he's a safe bet for 72 points over his next 67 games this season. That's elite fantasy production. Why not try and get him for Jakub Voracek? I would.
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
The most concerning thing about Kopitar's five points in 12 games? His shooting percentage is just fine. At 13.6, it's actually higher than his career mark of 12.3. So what gives? The advanced stats tell us he's closer to the middle of the pack in possession this season after being among the elite last season, but the real answer comes from the medical chart, not the hockey stats. Kopitar and linemate Marian Gaborik are still finding their groove as they recover from injuries. Kopitar in particular will be fine. He's still just 27 and he averaged between 0.85 and 0.99 points per game in all eight seasons entering this one. That 0.42 mark will double in no time.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
'King Henrik' isn't just hockey's most cosmopolitan cover boy. He's also the buy-low poster child. Slow starts have become common for him. Remember his ugly October last season, when he went 3-5-0 with a 2.84 goals-against average and .908 SP? He finished the year with Vezina-caliber numbers (33-24-5, 2.36, .920). He's started just as slowly this season. There's absolutely no reason to expect anything but a rebound, especially as the Rangers start to get healthy. The only problem is that Lundqvist's secret is out and his owner in your league probably knows not to panic. Still, Lundqvist is worth a high slot on this list because he's such a good buy low every season.
1. The Colorado Avalanche Forwards
I'm cheating with this category. Sue me. Nathan MacKinnon? Matt Duchene? Gabriel Landeskog? Ryan O'Reilly? Name the Avs forward and he's fallen short of considerable expectations. The stat heads saw the crash to Earth coming. The Avs didn't generate enough scoring chances, ranking among the worst Corsi and Fenwick teams, and relied too heavily on quality over quantity. Now, their tendencies are coming back to bite them in the standings. But here's where you can use the stats against your fellow GMs to get a discount.
The Avs as a team don't generate enough chances, but Mackinnon (22nd), Landeskog (29th), Duchene (32nd) and O'Reilly (58th) rank decently high among the NHL shots leaders. Each guy's shooting percentage sits well below his career average. All four are too talented to stay down for long. Even if the Avs are doomed for an overall regression this season, their most skilled forwards will still get their points. Each member of the young quartet makes for a nice buy-low target.
DON'T BUY LOW
These big names may seem like strong bets to bounce back, but buyer beware:
1. Eric Staal – it just isn't happening in Carolina this season. Staal often has strong second halves, but it's too soon to trade for him. Wait a month.
2. Drew Doughty – I've said it a million times: he's a great real-life player but not a great fantasy player.
3. Thomas Vanek – Before we assume his production will spike, it's worth waiting to see how his personal situation plays out. Maybe the gambling debts are affecting his mental game.
4. Marian Gaborik – We can't treat him the same way we treat Kopitar. 'Gabby' is five-years older with a lengthy injury history. He might simply be running out of steam.
5. Matt Niskanen – Shame on you if you bought him expecting last year's production. It was never going to happen.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin