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Fantasy Hockey: Head-to-Head Primer Week 1

The NHL season is here, and Jason Chen has everything you need to know to kick off your fantasy hockey season this week.
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Courtesy of Jason Chen

Courtesy of Jason Chen

Welcome to Week 1 of the fantasy hockey season. As part of THN’s new series this season, yours truly will be here every Monday for the rest of the season to hold your hand as we celebrate the wins and mourn the losses together.

Each week, I will put together a schedule matrix as seen below, outlining each team’s individual schedule, the breakdown of home and away games and their opponents’ points percentage. These types of breakdowns have been warmly received in the past, and I hope they will prove useful for your fantasy season.

The idea in head-to-head leagues is pretty simple: quantity is king. Generally speaking, players on teams playing multiple games in a week are much more valuable than players on teams playing just one game, regardless of how good their team may be. Schedule quirks, especially if there are postponements of any kind, can skew fantasy values very quickly and by significant margins. For example, three games of Jeff Carter on the Penguins can be much more valuable than just one game of Ryan O’Reilly, even though there’s zero debate about who is the better option over the course of the entire season. Starting goalies will also have their fantasy values affected since it’s become increasingly rare to see goalies start both games of a back-to-back.

The other factor to consider is the quality of competition. Currently, the opponents’ points percentage is a simple average and based on last season’s numbers. This means teams facing the expansion Kraken this week will not have an opponents’ points percentage calculation, as there is no possible way to judge how the Kraken will fare until the season officially starts.

The opponents’ points percentage is merely a guide, though generally speaking, the lower the points percentage the easier the matchups should be. The difference, which is simply the team’s points percentage minus the opponents’ points percentage, should also provide an idea of how tough the matchups should be. If Total Games, P%, Opp. P% and Diff. are all shaded green on the schedule matrix, that is usually a sign that they’re a good team to focus on that week.

As the season rolls along, the schedule matrix will be expanded to include more information, and the opponents’ points percentage will be updated to the current season and calculated on a rolling basis using two separate time periods. This should give you an idea of which way teams are trending, though keep in mind that not all opponents and games are created equally.

The write-ups will provide more context as to which teams and players you should target or avoid. The schedule matrix will follow the head-to-head schedule as set up on default Yahoo leagues and this column will run for the entirety of the regular season.

Good luck and have fun. All advanced stats courtesy naturalstatrick.com.

START

New York Rangers

The back-to-back start isn’t ideal, but D.C. is just a train ride away and the Rangers won their first two meetings last season against the Caps last season, who will be without Nicklas Backstrom. This could potentially be a matchup nightmare for the Caps; Backstrom played the second-most minutes at 5-on-5 (30:19 total) against Mika Zibanejad, and asking Lars Eller and Nic Dowd to shut down Zibanejad’s and Artemi Panarin’s line will be a tough task. After a date with the Caps, it’s a home matchup against the Stars, who were 10-12-6 on the road last season, and then the Habs on Saturday night, with Jake Allen likely getting the start. Allen is 1-3-0 with a .846 Sv% and 3.75 in his career against the Blueshirts.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Kicking off the season against the Carey Price-less Habs and then a home-and-home series against the Sens should wipe away any sour feelings from last season’s early playoff exit and an overpromised and underdelivered “All or Nothing” documentary. Auston Matthews’ status for the opening week is questionable as of this writing, but the Leafs went 12-4-3 with 69 goals scored against the Habs and Sens last season. Even without Matthews, the Leafs should have enough firepower to crush both teams. It’s still early in the fantasy season, so taking a risk on depth players expected to play in the top half of the lineup, such as Nick Ritchie or Michael Bunting, isn’t a bad idea.

Winnipeg Jets

Maybe the Jets are rueing their California road trip isn’t later during the winter, but in the tough Central Division, getting a chance to build a lead early in the season should be capitalized. The Ducks and Sharks’ combined points percentage of .411 is the second-lowest this week; they’re tied with the Wild, who face the Ducks and Kings but in back-to-back games, and trail the Coyotes, who visit the Jackets and Sabres (combined .380) but are bereft of any elite fantasy options. Note the Jets will not have Mark Scheifele in the opener, who is serving a suspension handed out last season, which gives Paul Stastny a slight short-term boost in fantasy value.

Jeff Carter, C, Penguins

It’s going to be a tough start for the Pens without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That loud crash you hear is the sound of a legion of Pens fans smashing their head on the table upon realizing Carter will start the season as their No. 1 center, who will likely be flanked by Bryan Rust and Danton Heinen. But a three-game schedule still puts the Pens among the most active teams to start the season, and asides from a matchup against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning, the Pens should have no problems scoring goals against the Panthers, who will likely start Sergei Bobrovsky in their season opener, and the Blackhawks, who have revamped their team but whose up-tempo style last season cost them on defense.

AVOID

Seattle Kraken

No, this isn’t some Canucks bias creeping through. Well, maybe. But the Kraken have truly been as mysterious as their namesake – what is their identity? What style will they play? Who are their go-to guys? We got a glimpse during the preseason, but it’ll be different when the games really count, and they’re being thrown into the fire right away in Vegas, where the home crowd is always raucous. It’s three straight road games to start, followed by Nashville, which is another tough venue for road teams, and Columbus, who have a reputation for being tough to beat. It’s safer to see what kind of damage the Kraken can do before committing to them.

Vancouver Canucks

See? I told you there was no bias. The Canucks are one of four teams to start the first week with three straight road games, with stops in Edmonton and then Philadelphia and Detroit in a back-to-back. The opponents aren’t particularly difficult, save for Edmonton where the Canucks have always had trouble containing their speed through the neutral zone, but the Canucks defense is still very much in flux, having waived veteran Travis Hamonic and traded former top pick Olli Juolevi on Sunday. You’ll be fine picking the Canucks; it’s just not gonna be an easy start to their season. Total miles traveled from Vancouver to Edmonton to Philadelphia to Detroit? Just under 3,000 miles, more than any of the other teams with three road games this week.

Bruins, Flames, Devils, Flyers, Sharks, Blues

These six slackers play just one game this week, putting them at the bottom of the totem pole. The Flyers have the most desirable matchup against the travelling Canucks, who will be playing the first game of their back-to-back. The Blues will have a tough matchup against the Avs, who get two days’ rest following their season opener Wednesday against the Hawks. 

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