Is there anything more exciting than hockey around the holidays? I didn’t think so. Sports have been a staple around the holiday season in the United States for many years, the love has only grown with the introduction, and sustained attraction to fantasy sports. Heading into the middle of December most teams have played over a third of their season, and now a playoff picture for the NHL begins to unfold. The Boston Bruins are running away with the Atlantic Division, while the Washington Capitals are in a battle atop the Metropolitan with the surprise New York Islanders. Over in the Central Division, only 12 points separate the first-place St. Louis Blues and the last-place Chicago Blackhawks. Let’s not forget the Pacific, The Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes are doing battle for first place. The season unfolds as every week passes, making each game more exciting.
While all that is going on, your fantasy team is either in, or out. Let’s see if we can find some players to help climb the standings, or keep you at the top, and maybe a few players we can forget about.
Zack Kassian (RW – EDM)
He has returned from a few games off with a back injury and Kassian finds himself parked right on the number one line with Conner McDavid and Leon Draisaitl again. In his first game back he logged 19 shifts which is right on par with where he has been all season, this, in turn, shows no restrictions and he should be considered 100% healthy. Back injuries can be tricky, and they have a tendency to be a lingering issue, but anyone paired with two of the best players in hockey should be an easy buy. Many owners may fear the injury bug, and that he was held to nothing as far as fantasy production in his return game. You should still be able to buy him relatively low and add a player with high ceiling potential.
John Marino (D – PIT)
It seems Mike Sullivan has decided to give the young defenseman more responsibility and it looks to be paying off. Pairing him with Kris Letang has lifted the defense in both offensive categories, and stopping opponents in the defensive zone. In Marino’s most recent game against the Detroit Red Wings he able to grab a power-play goal while adding an even-strength assist. In his last 10 games he has eight points, most are assists, however being able to gain points, and logging minutes on the powerplay is exactly the type of player you may want on your bench.
Antti Raanta (G – ARI)
You may be surprised to find out that Raanta is rated in the top 25 fantasy goalies so far this year. I was. While the win totals are not stacking up every night, he still sees a lot of shots and is on a team that seems to be getting better every game. If you are in a league (like mine) that is goalie heavy on the stat sheet, why not grab a goalie that is on one of the top teams in the league as of now? Even if you are not in a goalie heavy league Raanta should be able to get your points in saves, and a win or two a week, provided Arizona keeps using him between the pipes.
Mike Hoffman (LW/RW – FLA)
I have not done very many “sell high” candidates this year, so for your consideration, I give you Hoffman. Since before the NHL season started, we know I have been very high on the Florida Panthers, but Hoffman himself has been very inconsistent, and now it looks as if he may be slipping down the depth chart as well. If this happens to be the case, his power-play time may also take a dip and obviously so will his stats. In his last five games Hoffman has two goals and two assists so another owner may look to scoop him up and overpay in doing so. Take the depth on your roster you will receive in trading him away.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (C – OTT)
The Senators are still making an attempt to rebuild their team. That is a fact. Every team has a player that can be fantasy relevant. Right now, on this team, it’s just too much of a gamble to think one of those players is Pageau. In his last five games he has two goals with an assist, and over the last 10, four goals and three assists. He does not give you any upside on the power play. The Senators are going to be sellers at the deadline again, and throughout the season younger players will be in and out of the line-up. Pageau may even be considered a sell high this week, but get value out of him now and pad your roster for the middle of the season.
Don’t lose your focus now. Shopping, eating, and being around family are some of the best things about this time of year, but don’t forget to manage your team. Every week something new can be found around the league that can give your team a slight edge, and always remember to have fun hockey friends.
Mat Vilcek is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mat, follow him @Mat1Thockey.