With 51 games on the docket for next week, no team is getting a light schedule. Everyone plays either three or four games.
The New Jersey Devils are among the teams with three games and have one of the worst ratings on the Forecaster, but they are one of the clubs to keep a close eye on this coming week. They have played one game since canning coach John Hynes and promoting Alain Nasresddine in the interim - and already we are seeing some big changes.
Nasreddine immediately split up the trio of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Nico Hischier at even strength. Hall anchored a line with Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha, while Palmieri and Hischier were joined by Jesper Boqvist. The Devils lost 4-3 to the Golden Knights and one of the goals came late when Hall, Hischier and Palmieri were put back together again for the third period. So we can't read too much into the actual combinations.
But the new lines out of the gate are a very, very good sign for fantasy.
It means the new coach is willing to try some new things to get this team playing to its potential. So far this season, Palmieri and Hall are arguably the only fantasy-relevant Devils - and despite that, both have been below expectations. Coming into the season, we expected Hall, Palmieri, Hischier, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Jack Hughes and even Nikita Gusev to be on the fantasy radar after the team made some major changes.
We know Hall has the capacity to put this team on his back, as he did in 2017-18, and we know Palmieri is his main sidekick. They both need to be treated as "holds" for the time being in fantasy. Don't trade them away, but don't necessarily target them either. The discount you want to take on their current trends just won't be there. Everyone knows Hall is MVP caliber and everyone knows Palmieri is his wingman. That makes it difficult to trade for them, and the same logic applies if you are thinking of trading them: Your trade partner likely wants a discount they don't deserve.
But after those two, we can start building cases for acquisition for the rest of these Devils. And I want to start with Subban.
Why on earth is a defenseman with one of the 10-best fantasy seasons by a defenseman in the past three years not being deployed as the power-play quarterback here? This has to change. It didn't on Wednesday against the Golden Knights, but maybe that's because Nasreddine only had one day to prepare. Keep a close eye on how the power play looks in the next few days, because we should see Subban get a "clean slate" shot at being the QB.
While we have a fresh start, it may also be worth scooping up a freebie Hughes, Simmonds or Gusev.
The rookie Hughes was back at practice this week and could return from injury in time for the weekend. He should get another chance at top-six minutes under a new coach. Hughes has probably been dropped in about half the leagues out there given his slow start and subsequent injury.
In addition to Subban, Simmonds could be a choice to help revamp the struggling power play. Only Alex Ovechkin had more power-play goals than Simmonds between 2013-14 and 2017-18, a stretch of five seasons that wasn't that long ago. It seems a no-brainer for a new coach to put Subban and Simmonds on the top unit and give them some run there. Simmonds will be available in maybe two-thirds of leagues, depending on whether hits are used as a category or not. He won't be available in leagues that count hits.
Gusev had an OK start to his NHL career, but faded fast. His ice time has been nearly non-existent under Hynes, so it's been hard for him to get going. I noted this on Oct. 18 and the stat has plummeted since then, but almost three weeks into the season, Gusev was 20th in the league in goals per 60 minutes at even strength. At that time, that was better than Leon Draisaitl and David Pastrnak. Gusev will be available in 90 percent of leagues, but is probably the more-desperate grab here. There just isn't a clear path for those top-six minutes he needs. Still, the first sign of a more prominent role would be reason enough to stash him.
After hosting the Blackhawks on Friday, the Devils are on the road for four games (three of them on next week's schedule). Watch the lines, check out the power play and follow the results. This team has the talent to turn this thing around - at least for fantasy purposes, anyway.
Fantasy Forecaster: Dec. 9 to Dec. 15
No team gets a short schedule this week, with a minimum of three contests for all. Nine teams get an extra game by playing four times, including the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are all light on contests next week, and the Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals are the two teams to stack for daily-moves leagues. Both play three games on those off days, which can complement the rest of your roster. Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller are your targets here. Even with Gabriel Landeskog returning, the Avalanche kept Donskoi on the wing with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. That meant Burakovsky got Landeskog as a linemate. It also looks like Nazem Kadri might miss a few games, so J.T. Compher may also be an option playing with Landeskog and Burakovsky. Meanwhile, Nicklas Backstrom remains out for the Capitals, giving Eller more run as the second-line center.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, 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 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Minnesota Wild: Don't keep sleeping on Kevin Fiala. The winger is playing a big role in the Wild turning around their offense of late. He's been locked into an even strength role with Zach Parise and the pair are thriving no matter who is at center (it was Mikko Koivu at first, but Luke Kunin since Koivu was hurt). After getting only one point in October, Fiala had 11 points in 13 games during November and has started this month with three in three. He'll be one of those guys that was a late pick in most leagues, but then dropped after the first couple of weeks. Fiala should be available in 85 percent of leagues and is a must-add for the Wild's approaching four-game week.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are shaking up the lines, big time. Elias Lindholm stayed on the top line, but Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan slipped down the depth chart together. Lindholm skated with Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane on Thursday, while Gaudreau and Monahan were with Mikael Backlund. The result was a win and Gaudreau's first goal since Nov. 7, so we'll call this move a win. If it continues to work, Backlund is going to be available in about 80 percent of leagues and is a worthy addition to your bench.
Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues: By no means would I be sweating too much as a possessor of Jordan Binnington in fantasy. But Tuesday's game was not a back-to-back and could have easily been started by a Binnington. But after recent solid performances, the start was given to Allen and he responded with a shutout. That's three rock-solid starts from Allen in a straight rotation with Binnington since Nov. 25. Handcuff him now if you have Binnington.
Ilya Mikheyev, W, Toronto Maple Leafs: It was very notable that in Mitch Marner's return, coach Sheldon Keefe did not reunite the trio of Marner, John Tavares and Zach Hyman. Hyman was bumped down the depth chart to the third line, while Mikheyev stayed with Tavares and Marner. It was one game, and one game only, but if there's a guy available in 90 percent of leagues that is going to play with Tavares and Marner, I'm at least looking at them.