Hockey

1 week ago

2020 NHL Playoffs Fantasy Preview. Western Conference

Hello, my fellow hockey lovers! ‘Tis that time of year again…wait, is it October? (checks calendar) No, it’s not. (checks calendar again) Oh yeah, it’s 2020, the weirdest year in the history of man.

Anyhow, NHL is back! I for one am very excited about that, and what better way to celebrate it than by looking at 24 teams that are going to vie for the coveted Stanley Cup. I will also highlight players worthy of your attention fantasy-wise in every team. Fanteam is rolling out a €10K guarantee tournament for the first 4 matches of the Qualifying round on Saturday, August 1st.

There are a lot of teams to cover, so we’re going to try to keep it short. We’ll begin with the Western Conference and first analyze four play-in matchups, and then we’ll cover the other four teams. The analysis will cover several aspects, like overall quality of the lineup, goaltending, X-factors, and, of course, picks from DFS standpoint. I will also try to give my predictions, at least for each play-in series. I will deliberately stay away from things like power play because there’s no telling how it’s gonna look like after such a long pause.

A little disclaimer: again, this year is the strangest one ever. The play-in round is even shorter than the actual playoffs (best-of-5 and best-of-7 respectively), so anything can happen in this short period of time – a goalie can steal a series, a well-rested team with several key players back from injuries after the COVID layoff can beat a strong Cup contender, etc. Take any stats and predictions with a grain of salt.

First off, here are the odds to win the Cup. Pens are at 16.0, hmmm.

Team Odds to win Stanley Cup
Boston Bruins 7.5
Tampa Bay Lightning 7.5
Vegas Golden Knights 9.0
Colorado Avalanche 10.0
Washington Capitals 11.0
Philadelphia Flyers 11.0
St. Louis Blues 11.0
Dallas Stars 16.0
Pittsburgh Penguins 16.0
Edmonton Oilers 24.0
Toronto Maple Leafs 30.0
Carolina Hurricanes 36.0
Nashville Predators 36.0
Calgary Flames 38.0
New York Rangers 41.0
Vancouver Canucks 41.0
Minnesota Wild 44.0
New York Islanders 44.0
Winnipeg Jets 51.0
Arizona Coyotes 56.0
Florida Panthers 56.0
Columbus Blue Jackets 66.0
Montreal Canadiens 71.0
Chicago Blackhawks 76.0

 

Nashville Predators – Arizona Coyotes

Overall quality of the lineup

The Preds take edge in this one. The best line of the team (Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson) has been reunited, there is also some serious depth down the middle (Matt Duchene and Nick Bonino). There are at least three good attacking defensemen (Josi, Ellis, Ekholm). Arizona, on the other hand, has been underwhelming offensively – Hall, Kessel and Keller have a combined 109 points in 175 games. The entire team averages 2.71 goals per game, which is good for 23rd best in the league during the regular season. To put it in perspective – the Senators, which have 12 points less than the ‘Yotes, scored the same amount of goals (although Arizona had had a game in hand on the Sens before the pandemic struck).

Goaltending

Arizona gets the nod in this one. Darcy Kuemper has 0.928% saves percentage and 2.22 GAA in 29 GP, Antti Raanta – 0.921% saves percentage and 2.63 GAA in 33 GP. Pekka Rinne is getting older – his 0.895% saves percentage is abysmal. Juuse Saros is better (0.914% and 2.70 in 40 starts), but this doesn’t guarantee anything.

X-factors

  • Taylor Hall. He showed what he is capable of back in New Jersey, so maybe he can recreate that magic.
  • Arizona goaltending. Coyotes may be a couple of scorpion saves away from advancing into the actual playoffs.

DFS perspective

I expect this series to be a low-scoring one. Arizona can’t score to save their lives but will rely on their excellent goaltending to prevent the Preds from scoring a lot. So, scores like 3-2 OT won’t surprise me at all.

Roman Josi should be a regular in your DFS teams. If you’re feeling creative, you can pick the Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson trio as a stack. There aren’t that many useful names at the other end of the matchup, but you can pick either Kuemper or Raanta, hoping they steal a game or two for you. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been pretty good at scoring empty-netters, so he may be a differential pick if the price is right.

Prediction

Preds in five.

Read more: Using xG Metrics and Other Advanced Data in Fantasy Hockey

 

Chicago Blackhawks – Edmonton Oilers

Overall quality of the lineup

The Oilers are better of the two teams in this regard. McDavid and Kane may be on par, but Draisaitl is way better than Jonathan Toews. Edmonton has also made several good signings before the deadline, having inked Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou to bolster their ranks. The Hawks’ personnel is limited – Kane, Toews, DeBrincat, Strome, Kubalik, and (that’s a stretch) Dach. Plus, Oilers have a better defensive corps (Klefbom and Nurse against the aging Duncan Keith).

Goaltending

Both teams have been subpar in this aspect. Mikko Koskinen’s numbers edge out Mike Smith’s (0.917% and 2.78 against 0.902% and 2.95, almost identical number of games played).

Chicago’s goaltending woes are well documented – when Corey Crawford isn’t good, the team struggles. To his credit, Crawford has been pretty good this season (0.917% and 2.77 in 40 GP); however, he has been tested for coronavirus, and the results came back positive, so there is no info as to whether he starts the play-in series or not. Check the lineup for the Hawks’ upcoming exhibition game. If Crawford is out, Chicago’s chances in this one are slim to none.

Upd. What do you know, Crawford played Wednesday night against the Blues. That bumps Hawks’ chances up a little bit, but not enough to think they will go through McDavid and company.

X-factors

Kane and Toews. If they have their 2010s mojo back, maybe Chicago can eke out a win.

DFS perspective

It’s pretty upfront in this regard when it comes to Oilers. Connor-Leon-Klefbom – set and forget. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be a cheaper option as he plays with McDavid both at 5v5 and on the power play. Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear could be your differential D picks as they both play on the second PP unit.

As far as their opponents, it’s also pretty simple. There’s no best scoring line on this team – its best players are scattered throughout the lineup. These are Kane, Toews, DeBrincat, Strome, and Kubalik. Kirby Dach has been decent in his debut season and may provide some value given that he appears on the power play with Toews, Kane and the Cat. Duncan Keith anchoring the top PP unit? Thanks, but no thanks.

This series should be a high-scoring one – both teams struggle defensively and in the net, so fire those boys up in your DFS squads.

Prediction

Oilers in 4. The German-Canadian duo is just too good.

 

Vancouver Canucks – Minnesota Wild

Overall quality of the lineup

The Canucks have the edge here. They have strong top-6 (Brock Boeser is back from injury), and their defensive personnel is pretty darn good too (Quinn Hughes is in the running for the Calder; and don’t forget Tyler Myers and Alex Edler). The Wild have some pretty good names too – Kevin Fiala, Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, D-men like Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, and Matt Dumba, but Vancouver’s lineup seems much more balanced.

Goaltending

Once again, Vancouver gets the nod here. Jacob Markstrom’s numbers are good, 0.918% and 2.75, while Thatcher Demko has been fine – 0.905% and 3.06 GAA. The Wild have a strange goaltending conundrum – Devan Dubnyk has been terrible (0.890% and 3.35 GAA), Alex Stalock is pretty good (0.910% and 2.67 GAA), and the other backup, Kaapo Kahkonen, has held his own with 0.913% and 2.96 GAA. Yet, for some reason, the Finn played just 5 games during the regular season. We’ll see who gets the nod as the Wild’s starting goalie, but for now the Canucks have the advantage here.

X-factors

Minnesota goaltending. Alex Stalock may steal one for the Wild (assuming he starts the series, of course).

DFS perspective

The Wild have stingy defense, but Vancouver can score, so I’d consider some of the Canucks’ assets. The Toffoli-Petterson-Miller line has been generating scoring chances at a good rate (57% CF, 56.2% SCF, 59.5% HDCF) and should find their way into your lineups. Quinn Hughes anchors the top power play unit and is a pretty good option too. Consider Tyler Myers and the Horvat-Boeser duo to be your differential picks.

Minnesota doesn’t have a lot to offer DFS-wise. I’d focus my attention on several personalities like the aforementioned Fiala, Suter, Spurgeon, and Dumba. Other than that, there’s no point treading these waters.

Prediction

Vancouver in 4 or 5. There’s just more talent on that team.

 

Calgary Flames – Winnipeg Jets

Overall quality of the lineup

There is a rare tie here. Both teams have two quality top lines. The Flames may be deeper defensively, but the Jets’ bottom-six is a tad better in my opinion. But it’s a close battle, for sure.

Goaltending

Jets take this one. Connor Hellebuyck is in the running for the Vezina trophy, David Rittich is not – simple as that.

X-factors

Winnipeg power play and Patrik Laine. If the Finn gets his howitzer going, there’s no stopping him.

Connor Hellebuyck. He has emerged as one of the top NHL goalies.

DFS perspective

Both teams have talent aplenty, so I expect their games to be pretty high-scoring. Top-6 of both these clubs deserve your attention. The Flames’ second line consisting of Tkachuk, Backlund, and Mangiapane has actually been better than the first one in all metrics (CF, SCF, and HDCF), so they might be a better stack to have. As for the D, Mark Giordano has not been himself this season, so maybe his age is catching up to him. I’d rather focus on Erik Gustafsson who quarterbacks the top PP unit and sneaky (and likely underowned) picks like Rasmus Andersson.

The Jets’ top line may be just fine analytically, but they are a dynamic trio thanks to the emergence of a top-tier goalscorer in Kyle Connor, who is complemented well by the experienced passer in Blake Wheeler and the team’s top center Mark Scheifele. I’d also consider Laine and Ehlers as your differential picks. On the D, it’s either Neal Pionk or Josh Morrissey, so, not a lot to choose from. Pionk is my favorite of those two.

Predictions

Jets in four. Helly and company will get the job done.

Read more: Khan explains how to get ready for the NHL slate on FanTeam

 

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Despite replacing the head coach midway through the season, the second newest NHL team did not miss a beat and won the Pacific division. The Golden Knights made a couple of depth acquisitions before the deadline, the most important being Robin Lehner and Alec Martinez. This team has been consistently putting up good numbers and seems to have no weak spots. This year, there’s no Sharks to beat them, so I expect a deep-run from them, at least up to the Conference finals.

DFS perspective

The top-6 should be on your radar. The Pacioretty-Karlsson-Stone line has been on a tear throughout the regular season (jaw-dropping 61% CF, 64.7% SCF, and 72.3% (!!!!!) HDCF). However, the Pacman has stayed in Vegas due to a minor injury concern, so keep that in mind. The Marchessault-Stastny-Smith is also pretty good at this hockey thing, even though their underlying numbers are not that monstrous.

Shea Theodore is one of your best options on the D overall. Alec Martinez and Nate Schmidt may be your punt plays on some nights. You may even consider guys like Brayden Mcnabb or Deryk Engelland who may get an assist here and there and block a lot of shots (and deliver plenty of hits too).

 

COLORADO AVALANCHE

This is my pick to win the Western Conference this year. The time is now. The only thing that may stop them in their tracks is goaltending.

DFS perspective

Unexpectedly, Jared Bednar split the Landeskog-Mackinnon-Rantanen trio. Andre Burakovsky was the one playing left wing on the top line against the Wild. We’ll have to wait and see where this goes. Apart from those four, there’s not a lot of star power upfront. You may think about picking Big Val, Valeri Nichushkin, after his resurgence this year, but tread lightly.

As far as the D, it’s Cale Makar ruling the roost here. Sammy Girard and Ryan Graves are the alternatives (Graves is actually the league leader in the +/- category with +40). Be careful with Nikita Zadorov – he may chip an assist here or there, but there’s risk of him getting into a fight and ruining your night.

 

DALLAS STARS

I don’t know about these guys. They can’t score, despite having a very deep and talented roster, but their defense is stingy, and goaltending is elite. I guess it all depends on whether Tyler Seguin and company rediscover their glory days.

DFS perspective

As of this writing, Dallas’ top line consists of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Denis Gurianov. I am intrigued by the decision to insert the young Russian there because he is the team’s most prolific goalscorer in the regular season (20, Benn and Hintz had 19, Seguin 17). However, my expectations are tempered because this season’s version of the Stars has forgotten how to score (meagre 178 goals in 69 GP, which is third worst in the league). Feeling funky? Consider the Pavelski-Radulov duo (both appear on PP1) or Hintz as a one-off.

As for the defensemen, this is pretty much a coinflip between Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. God forbid you pick the wrong guy on a night when one of them erupts with 1+2.

 

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Here they are, the defending champs. The core has remained the same, and they got Vlady Tarasenko back. Jake Allen has turned his ways around, so now the Blues have two very good goalies. All ingredients for a deep run are in place.

DFS perspective

The Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line played just 10 games before Vlady got sidelined, but in that short timespan, they posted some pretty good numbers. Other than that, there are slim pickings offensively. Consider the O’Reilly-Perron duo as your differentials. If you’re looking for an ultra-differential, look no further than the fourth line of Steen, Barbashev, and Sundqvist. Yes, their underlying numbers are horrendous, but they have compiled 30 goals and 66 points in their limited ice time.

The future UFA Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko are two options on the Blues’ blue line (he-he). Pietrangelo has better upside, but Parayko has a blistering shot and may erupt with a two-goal game.

 

Legend

  • GAA – goals against average
  • GP – games played
  • CF – Corsi for
  • SCF – scoring chances for
  • HDCF – high-danger chances for
mihal2712
Author

mihal2712

DFS enthusiast and rather frequent player. Spreading DFS word within the sound of my voice. Love all things hockey.