May 25, 2024

Waiver watch – Final pickups and keeper strategy

It’s a bittersweet moment, as we enter the final stretch of games to preview for the 2023-24 fantasy season.

It’s sweet because, if you are taking the time to read this, you are still playing for something. Whether it’s your fantasy championship or just pushing into a finishing position or winning out your consolation bracket in head-to-head, those are all noble goals and worthy of one final effort to set a winning lineup.

But it’s bitter because, regardless of where you finished in your league, we have a long summer on tap before regular season fantasy hockey returns.

In weekly lineup leagues, you have already been locked into your current lineup since April 8, so there isn’t too much you can do here. But in daily leagues, we still have four more days in which to maximize your fantasy returns.

You definitely should take one final glance at your games-played restrictions for your fantasy league in season-long formats, as there is a chance — especially if you are a very active player — that you will be pushing up against those boundaries. When you reach the maximum for any one lineup position, you will still get the rest of the starts from the same day, but the position will be locked the next day.

With that said, there is still a lot of opportunity to min-max your roster between now and Thursday in that push for the victory.

There are 26 games remaining on the NHL schedule: eight on Monday, eight on Tuesday, four on Wednesday and six on Thursday. But with the season ending in the middle of the week, there isn’t one last gasp with all teams in action and some will watch from the sidelines.

The New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators are all finished as of Monday. Add in the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets as of Tuesday.

So, yes, that means that in a redraft (not keeper) league with transactions continuing for the week, you can drop Artemi Panarin on Tuesday to seek help elsewhere on your roster, as the Rangers don’t have any more games. As teams finish their season, you can stock up on players from teams still going. For the record, the Oilers will be the only team with two games remaining heading into action Wednesday.

But there is also the consequences in the standings to consider when teams are deploying their roster. Take the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have the awkward position of being now locked into their playoff seeding. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that their Tuesday opponent, the Panthers, will be their first-round matchup when the playoffs start. So what do you do? Bench some of the stars and starters to give them a break and not show your cards to soon? Go in guns blazing to set the tone for a playoff round that will start within the week? In fact, if the Leafs beat the Panthers it guarantees they meet in the first round (as Florida is still jostling with the Bruins for top spot in the Atlantic). But if the game doesn’t matter to Toronto, do you sit Auston Matthews or let him chase 70 goals?

All those questions… and it’s just one example among many as the season winds down.

The top of the standings in the Eastern Conference are so tightly packed, that not a single playoff matchup will be set in stone on Monday morning. We do have one settled in the Western Conference, as we know the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche will square off in the first round — we just don’t know who will have home advantage.

Still, most of the schedule that remains will matter in one way or another for at least a couple more days, especially with the very unsettled picture in the East for the final berths.

Perhaps the Tampa Bay Lightning are the lone playoff team as of Monday with almost no personal consequences remaining on the docket. Whether they win or lose in their final games against the Buffalo Sabres and Leafs, it will have no bearing on their first-round matchup or any home-ice advantage. We’ll see on Monday whether Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy or Victor Hedman get some extra rest.

The Oilers are the only team with three games remaining in the final four days, and Connor McDavid‘s status is certainly worth monitoring after he missed time this past week. Anze Kopitar, Noah Dobson and Tim Stutzle are other fantasy pendulum swingers that are day-to-day at the moment.

We can do away with the usual stock up/stock down sections here, as it’s not like there is anything but the short-term for your investments to mature. But, in addition to some streamer specials for the week, let’s look at some stashing specials below. These will be players that, depending on the format of your keeper league, you may want to have on your roster when the season ends because there is a chance their stock will be way up by the time October rolls around for the 2024-25 season.

Streamer specials

Viktor Arvidsson, W, Los Angeles Kings (68.5% available): It’s too bad all the injury troubles have plagued what, on a per-game basis, looks like it would have been a solid season from Arvidsson. Of late, he’s posted 23.1 fantasy points in his past 10 outings (2.31 fantasy points per game) while playing with Trevor Moore and Phillip Danault. Be warned, however, as there is a decent chance their final game of the season on Thursday won’t matter. It depends on whether the Golden Knights will be in position to pass them in the standings.

Chandler Stephenson, C, Vegas Golden Knights (52.0% available): Looks like Stephenson and Tomas Hertl will be a nice set heading into the postseason for the Knights. They have been paired up at even strength and are both members of the top power-play unit. The Knights can still chase down the Kings in the standings. These are good matchups for forwards so long as the games still matter, with Vegas taking on the Blackhawks and Ducks.

Evander Kane, W, Edmonton Oilers (32.6% available): The three games for the Oilers is a big positive overall, but, for Kane in particular, his status could be further elevated if McDavid doesn’t get back in game action this week. With McDavid out, Kane is filling his role on the top line with Leon Draisaitl and on the top power play. Until the Canucks win a game (Vancouver plays Calgary on Tuesday and Winnipeg on Thursday) or until the Oilers lose a game, technically the Pacific Division crown hasn’t been spoken for.

Danton Heinen, W, Boston Bruins (99.5% available): The Bruins still have an outside shot at a second consecutive President’s Trophy, and they won’t know that they are out of the running until after their final game on Tuesday, unless they lose Monday. So you better believe they will still be going full throttle. Heinen has been collecting decent fantasy stats while playing opposite David Pastrnak on the wing, with 1.77 fantasy points per game (FPPG) across his past 10.

David Perron, W, Detroit Red Wings (95.5% available): The Red Wings, who will still be battling for a playoff spot until they lose, play Monday and Tuesday in a home-and-home set with the Habs. Perron has been clocking in at better than 2.0 FPPG of late while riding with fellow veteran Patrick Kane on and off the power play. The Habs, as it were, have given up the third-most fantasy points against per game (FPAPG) to opposing forwards this season.

Ryan Pulock, D, New York Islanders (73.1% available): With a postseason berth still in the balance until later in the week, the Isles will still be pressing for points. If Noah Dobson can’t come back from an upper-body injury in time for Monday and Wednesday games, Pulock will be asked to play a much bigger role, including power-play duty.

Drew O’Connor, W, Pittsburgh Penguins (97.7% available): The Penguins still have a gambler’s chance at playoff hockey, but the dream could end before they play the Islanders on Wednesday (as both the Red Wings and Capitals could conceivably have 91 points, and the Islanders could have 92 by then). But assuming not all those teams win all their games between now and Wednesday, it sets up a barn-burner of a matchup between the Pens and Isles. O’Connor, as it were, has been tearing it up alongside Sidney Crosby as the Pens make their push (2.72 FPPG in last 10 games).

Stashing specials

If you aren’t playing for the title in a keeper league, and your league rules allow you to carry over any player that finishes the season on your roster, you may want to make a few speculative add/drops before the campaign wraps up.

These players won’t necessarily help you finish this season strong, but, depending on how the playoffs and offseason play out, they have a chance to be among the players you consider for keeping next season. Of course, that will change for every league depending on your rules, but it’s certainly worth getting these players on your radar.

William Eklund, W, San Jose Sharks (93.5% available): The future star scorer for the Sharks is just killing it in junk time for the team that’s already secured best lottery odds. In fact, he is a player that could also help in fantasy for this week. Since March 21, Eklund’s summary stats look like this: 12 games played, six goals, 14 points, 30.8 fantasy points (2.57 FPPG). That’s elite level contribution that will very much be on the radar headed into next season.

Andrei Kuzmenko, W, Calgary Flames (34.8% available): He was a consideration as a keeper coming into this season if you play in a league with any more than seven keeper slots. He was, however, a massive disappointment in his time with the Canucks. Let’s take a look at just his time with the Flames though: 26 games played, 13 goals, 22 points, 49.1 fantasy points (1.89 FPPG). Over a full season, that is top-75 forward territory. Depending on how the Flames re-tool this offseason, Kuzmenko could be at the top of a decent enough offensive depth chart next season.

Wyatt Johnston, C, Dallas Stars (43.2% available): What a wild close to the season for Johnston, who started breaking out before Logan Stankoven was called up and then really dialed it up after the fellow youngster joined his line. He cranked up his game in 2024, posting a line after the calendar flipped of: 46 games played, 23 goals, 44 points, 98.8 fantasy points (2.15 FPPG). That puts him 40th overall among skaters since Jan. 1. That is not a small sample size.

Jesper Wallstedt, G, Minnesota Wild (96.2% available): He’s the future of the crease for the Wild, but it’s still not 100% clear that the future will begin next season. The team is kicking the tires on Wallstedt down the stretch here, but the Blackhawks and Sharks are basically AHL teams, so it’s not clear we learned anything yet. Still, Wallstedt — as well as Dustin Wolf for the Calgary Flames and Yaroslav Askarov for the Nashville Predators — are going to be kicking on the door next season. Come October, they could have high draft stock depending on what happens with the goalie carousel this offseason.

Simon Edvinsson, D, Detroit Red Wings (99.3% available): Edvinsson will have a full-time job with the Wings next season and he has huge fantasy potential in the ESPN game thanks to his shot-blocking prowess. It was on full display on Saturday against the Leafs as he got in front of seven shots to help boost his fantasy total (that included a goal) to 6.0 fantasy points. With even second-pairing minutes next season, Edvinsson could be a roster-lock for leagues with blocks.

Olen Zellweger, D, Anaheim Ducks (99.0% available): He’ll have to compete at least a little with Pavel Mintyukov for the quarterback role on the power play, but Zellweger might have the inside track after the way he is finishing out the season. The Ducks are getting closer to their young core being dangerous on offense. In reality, it may be a year or two more before Zellweger becomes a fantasy star, but depending on your league’s keeper rules, now may be the time to strike.