Fantasy Hockey News & Updates (2021)
Welcome back to hockey, everyone. This past year has been crazy for all of us, and with that, I would like to wish you and yours health, happiness, and safety. In one of the rare shining moments of 2020, it was great to see the NHL handle the ongoing world events safely yet still give us a crazy, wild, unforgettable tournament ending with a Stanley Cup Final. A cup that the Tampa Bay Lighting hoisted proudly. There may have been a little tear in my eye when Stamkos took his skate with Lord Stanley.
Where do we go in 2021? If you haven’t had time to catch up on some NHL news, let’s do a quick recap. The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to a 56-game season that will begin on January 13th, 2021, and end May 8th, 2021. New divisions have been made to create less travel to keep everyone involved in hockey operations safe.
League Changes for 2021
This year, all games will be played against the division opponents, with the top four in each division making the playoffs. Being from the suburbs of Chicago, I must say that I am longing for a Detroit-Chicago rivalry again.
Let’s dive into how these changes are going to affect fantasy hockey. Stating the obvious, we are going to have a fantasy hockey season, which is exciting! The total of 56 games will shorten the weeks used for any head-to-head style fantasy season. Some thoughts on why these changes will alter your fantasy hockey season and draft will include one of the most glaring factors. The divisions. These teams will be playing each other in back to backs, home and homes, and against only the teams you see in the above columns. This is a big factor in drafts as you may see some higher ranked players fall down the draft board because of being in a tougher division than another player who may be ranked lower, and I agree with that thought process.
Another issue to be mindful of is the effect of COVID-19. Taking cues from the NFL, other sports have noted conditions that have and have not worked well while dealing with this pandemic. The NHL is no different. A modified IR and added bench spots should be considered when starting up a fantasy league this year. One last thing worth noting is the NHL trade deadline will be April 12th, 2021.
With all that said, NHL teams will be playing in their own stadiums for the start of this season, and as of this moment, only a handful of venues will allow fans. Nevertheless, we will have hockey to talk about this year, and with many player and coaching changes, we already have much to discuss. Here are some of the more impactful offseason moves and newsworthy items.
Free-Agent Signings and Trades
Free-agent signings and trades have been nothing short of shocking this summer. Big-name goalies on the move were Henrik Lundqvist signing with the Capitals. Unfortunately, we now understand King Henrik may never see the ice again as shortly after Christmas, it was revealed he would be having open heart surgery leaving the door open for Craig Anderson to step into back-up Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov is expected to be the No. 1 goaltender, with Braden Holtby departing for Vancouver during free agency.
Another goalie on the move was former netminder for the Pittsburgh Penguins and now Ottawa Senator Matt Murray. This one I did not see coming as Murray has been a solid goaltender for years and, in my opinion, was the playoff and Stanley Cup MVP in 2017. The Penguins will look to go in a new direction with Tristan Jarry this upcoming season. Jarry did outplay Murray for most of last season and should slide right into the workload with ease.
No, we are not done with goalies. Corey Crawford has found a new home in New Jersey but is it as a backup? Most reports out of New Jersey are that Crawford will split time 50/50 this year with past fantasy free-agent pickup of the year Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood inked a three-year deal to stay with the Devils, so Crawford’s addition was certainly a little head-scratching as he, without a doubt, has starting potential for many teams in need of a solid goaltender.
Other transactions around the league that you should know entering into draft time include the elder forward Joe Thornton wearing a new sweater this year in Toronto along with many other changes below:
- F Nate Schmidt traded to the Canucks.
- F Brandon Saad and D Dennis Gilbert traded from the Blackhawks to the Avalanche for D Nikita Zadorov and D Anton Lindholm.
- F Paul Stastny to the Jets, Vegas receives D Carl Dahlstrom.
- F Mikko Koivu signs with Columbus Blue Jackets.
- G Mike Smith, D Tyson Barrie Sign with Edmonton Oilers.
- D Torey Krug signs a big seven-year deal with St. Louis Blues.
- G Jacob Markstrom signs six years with Calgary Flames.
After all the moves, we have already been bitten by the injury bug around the NHL, and the season has not even started. Some of these will play a big factor in my tier rankings this year, and it should be in your rankings as well, seeing as most of these injuries may put a player out for the majority, if not all, of the fantasy season. Here are some notables.
Anaheim Ducks – F Ryan Kesler still has no update on if or when he would be able to return after a diagnosis of Crohn’s, among other medical issues.
Chicago Blackhawks – Where to begin? F Andrew Shaw seems to be recovering from the concussion issues that plagued him all of last year. D Brent Seabrook is excited to return after hip surgery, and fans hope the injury hasn’t cost anymore of the veteran’s speed. The heavy hitters heard throughout the NHL, and hockey fantasy world are the injuries to second-year player F Kirby Dach (wrist) and F Captain Jonathan Toews (illness). Dach injured his wrist during World Juniors and has a possible return date towards the end of the year, so he most likely will not be fantasy relevant. Toews has an undiagnosed illness at this time that has left the star player with general weakness. The team states he is working with doctors to understand the condition more. However, there is no timetable for his return.
Columbus Blue Jackets – F Gustav Nyquist has been out since November with a shoulder injury. However, the team states he is progressing well and may return in the middle to the front half of the season.
Dallas Stars – G Ben Bishop (knee surgery) and F Tyler Seguin (hip) are both slated to return in April. This time estimate means these two players on the Stars would only be useful come fantasy playoffs.
Edmonton Oilers – D Oscar Klefbom has been announced as out for the season due to a shoulder injury.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Zach Aston-Reese suffered a shoulder injury, but it looks like it was found and fixed quickly enough to where the Penguins have offered an early February return date. This is good news for fantasy players. Just make sure you cover him if you draft him.
St. Louis Blues – F Vladimir Tarasenko is on track to be re-evaluated in February. This puts fantasy managers in a tough spot seeing as he will be gone for the first month at a minimum. On top of that, there is still shady language regarding whether he will return or not in February.
Tampa Bay Lightning – The obvious one here is one of the NHL’s elite talents F Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov was dealing with a groin injury since the Stanley Cup Final and, at the beginning of December, noted a hip issue as well. It is unclear if the two are related. In any light, Kucherov is out for the year. F Marian Gaborik does not look like he will suit up for the Lightning at all, dealing with a back injury and nearing the end of his career. G Anders Nilsson is also on the long term IR with concussion problems.
Winnipeg Jets – F Bryan Little is continuing to deal with a head injury, and doctors are advising him not to play this year.
I hope this has in some way caught you up in the NHL world. It’s going to be great to have hockey back again and with it fantasy hockey. As always, have fun hockey friends.
Mat Vilcek is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mat, check out his archive and follow him @Mat1Thockey.