Here we are, already half way through the NHL season. We hit the midway point just before Christmas, and the season has been filled with so many surprises. We had an opening night where Auston Matthews scored four goals on only four shots. Yeah, he was the number one pick overall, but no one expected that. Not to be outdone, Patrick Laine of the Jets has solidified himself as the future of Winnipeg. He has been fully consistent this season to the tune of 19 goals, which is currently second in the NHL. Speaking of offensive forces, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been just that. Leading the NHL in goals with 23 (and that was after missing the start of the season with a concussion), Crosby has the ability to be a 50-goal scorer this season. Let us break down some of the things that have happened this year, and what to look forward to in the second half of the season.
As I mentioned above, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine have been giving the fans a show on the ice. But they are not the only ones in the NHL that have been bringing fans to their feet. Connor McDavid (42) and Evgeni Malkin (39) are the top two point producers in the NHL at the halfway point. I have seen these two alone win people a lot of money in DFS.
As far as team stacks go, look no further than the aforementioned Pittsburgh Penguins, as they have three players (Crosby, Malkin, Kessel) in the top 10 in scoring.
The next team that has 2 or more players in the top 10 is the Chicago Blackhawks, with Artemi Panarin (36 points) and Patrick Kane (34). As we look at this list, we see some names that people would not have expected when the season started.
Cam Atkinson comes to mind as he is sitting at 35 points at the halfway mark. In contrast, Cam had 53 points all of last season, and is on pace to eclipse that mark within the first month and a half of the second half of the season. He is one of the big reasons that the Blue Jackets sit atop the Metropolitan division at the break.
One name no one could expect to see on this list, and mainly because of his teams dismal play all year, is Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars. He is currently tenth on the list, sitting at 33 total points despite playing well below his ability. On track to score 66 total points, this would end up being his worst statistical season since 2010-2011 with Boston, when he scored 22 points in 74 games played. I don't see him keeping the pace up, as I feel the Stars may be sellers at the deadline, but more on that later.
Something that you don't see too often, well with all the offensive skills, is a defensive player in the top 15 in scoring. That is what we have with Brent Burns, currently sitting 11th with 32 total points. Now people know why his price is so high on both DFS sites. You truly must Fear The Beard! His current pace will net him 64 total points on the season, which will be his second highest total in his career, as he had 75 last year. To be honest though, I think he passes last year's total and goes on a huge run to open the second half of the season.
Another name I am surprised to see in the top 15 is Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers. The fact that he is currently sitting at 13th with 31 total points is mind blowing to me. No one could have expected this kid to have the breakout season he is producing. Lets not forget though, the Oilers do have McDavid and Lucic and most of the attention falls on them. On pace for 62 points, this would be his most productive season of his young career, eclipsing last year's 51 points. He will be a force as he matures in the NHL, and if you play season long, you will want him in your keeper leagues. I think he ends the season with 68 total points, and helps a few people win a lot of money. He is one of my favorite Oilers to play, as he is always under owned in most DFS formats.
Last, but certainly not least, is the scoring tandem of Alexander Wennberg (29 Points) and Brandon Saad (28 points), of the Columbus Blue Jackets. These two have been DFS gold for most of the season, and with the Blue Jackets playing at the level they are playing at, these two could easily surpass 65 total points on the year. In contrast, Weinberg's best season was last year when he scored 40 total points, and Saad had his best season last year as well, scoring 52 points, and 51 the year prior with the Blackhawks. These two, along with Atkinson could set some records for the Blue Jackets team, when all is said and done.
As for the defensive side of the puck, I am going to focus on some of the stats most don't consider when building their DFS lineups. You see, so many people fall into the, “Which defender will score a goal” trap, and overlook the importance of secondary stats. There are only a few defensive players that really fall into the category of the ability to score nightly. I have seen that thought process sink a lot of people's lines, as they pay huge for defenders and end up losing out on the offensive side of the puck. Remember, you only get two defenders when building your lineup, so why not get two that won't cost you much, but can score you double digits, more often than the handful can score a goal?
I look at things like Blocked Shots….this category can put your defender over the top and help you win nightly. The top player in the NHL in blocking shots is Calvin De Haan of the Islanders, with 98 blocks in 32 games played. That is a guy I love in my lineup. With over three blocked shots per night, plus the ability to net a goal or set a goal up, De Haan is a great player to own in DFS. On the season, he also has 42 shots on net, so a bit better than one per game. I will take three blocked shots and one shot on goal every night.
Another great shot blocker, who also happens to be one of the best offensive defenders in the NHL is Erik Karlsson of the Senators. Granted he is an expensive defensive player, but like De Haan above, he blocks shots without any fear. He is averaging 2.7 blocked shots per game, and just over 2.5 shots per game, with seven goals on the season. It is harder for him to hit 2x or better value based on his price, but he is a huge asset on defense if you can afford him.
Rounding out the Top 5 in blocked shots is Kris Russell of the Edmonton Oilers with 86 on the season. He is like De Haan where he averages three per game. He has yet to score a goal this season and only has five assists, but his other stats make him well worth his price tag. He does average just over a shot per game.
Radko Gudas seems to always find a way to get you points for your DFS lineups nightly. He has 69 blocked shots in 27 games, averaging 2.6 blocks per clip. He, like Russell above, is not going to light the lamp often as he has only one goal, but does have nine assists and averages around 1.5 shots per game. Again, he is a lower cost guy that can score you points in areas other than goals.
Another stat to consider, which most do not, is the Plus/Minus stat. Although this stat is no longer a category in DFS like last year, it is an important stat when considering defensive players. The better the +/- stat, the better chance you have that your guy is getting assists and/or goals. So with that in mind, who do we consider from these stats? Well….
Ryan Suter of the Wild currently leads the NHL with a +24. Why is this important? Because Suter has scored 19 points towards that +24 with five goals and 14 assists. Couple that with the fact that he takes two shots per game and throws in a blocked shot, he can win you money, without costing you a ton of bankroll.
If you look at the +/- leaderboard, the top 5 is comprised of only two teams. The Wild with 3 of the top 5 and the Blue Jackets with 2 of them. This is a great stat to look at when considering defensive players. A lot of people do not even look at this stat, and if they did, they would see players like Justin Schultz and Ian Cole of the Penguins within the top 15, and both of them are lower cost defensive players. Even more important, is that five of the top 11 are from the Wild, so basically all of their defensive guys are great plays. Keep that in consideration when creating your DFS lineups. A guy that costs you $3500 in cap space, can outscore the top guys nightly.
For everyone that knows me, they know this is my favorite position in the NHL. I played goalie at a competitive level until I was 14 and blew out both my knees in one game. I have always followed this position closely as this is the position that can make or break your lineup. So let us look at some of the leaders in this category and take a look at their first half of the season.
This first guy is as big of a surprise to me as it is to you. Sergei Bobrovsky is currently leading the NHL in wins with 21. I can admit I did not see this coming. Right now he is one of the hottest goalies in the NHL, heading into the break with a 10-game winning streak. He has yet to lose a game in the month of December. He has more wins at this point of the season then he did in the entire 2011-2012 (14), 2012-2013 (21) and last season where he had only 15 wins. He is currently on pace to win 42 games this season, which would be ten more than his all-time best. Bobrovsky currently is one of the front runners for the Vezina trophy. Personally I do not think the Blue Jackets will keep this amazing run going. I hope they do for that franchise’s sake, but the wheels will fall off. It will all depend on how they handle it though.
Of course Carey Price and Martin Jones, both with 18 wins on the season, are always on the top of everyone's lists when it comes to goal tenders, but don't overlook Cam Talbot of the Oilers or Devan Dubnyk of the Wild. Both goalies have 17 wins on the season, and I for one, love using them in DFS. Talbot has exploded on to the scene this year, and I have always liked his game play in general. He plays a bit unorthodox compared to most, but that is what makes him good, the fact that he is not your normal goalie. Dubnyk on the other hand, is a great solid goalie, that has one of the best technical games in the league today. He does not overthink plays, and does not try to out guess a shooter. He just squares up, and lets his reflexes take over.
Then there is Matt Murray of the Penguins. The amazing thing about Murray is, not only did he win the Stanley Cup last season, but he can win Rookie of the Year this season. I know, it's odd, but that is how the NHL classification works for how they figure out if a player is truly a rookie. He did not play enough regular season games last year to have it considered a NHL rookie year. He missed the first few weeks of the season due to a broken hand, then came in and has played lights out hockey. In only 16 starts he is 13-3-1 this year with a .928 save percentage and two shutouts, along with two assists on the season. The only bad part, DFS wise is that his price keeps going up, and rapidly.
Speaking of shutouts, one name that might surprise, is the guy currently tied for second in the league with 4, in Peter Budaj of the LA Kings. Now, once Quick comes back from injury, Budaj will lose his starting position. Let us not forget though, this guy started the season in the AHL, got called up and quickly took over for Jeff Zatkoff, who the Kings signed in the offseason to back up Quick. Budaj is always low owned in most DFS formats, but his game play is much like Dubnyk's, very sound and very technical. He does make some off the wall choices from time to time, like leaving big juicy rebounds, and is not a great stick handler when it comes to playing the puck behind the net. I can overlook that though as he has gotten us 17 wins in 26 starts while holding a .919 save percentage. Remember him when it comes to making your lineups. He is just as good as the high priced guys, but costs a lot less. I will take a shutout in one out of every six games in a heartbeat!
My surprise goalie of the year has to be Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He did not start the year off so hot, but has started dialing in his game play. With the help of goalie coach Steve Briere, Andersen has started to buckle down, and help his team win. I can see him helping his team in the second half, as the Leafs have a shot at making the playoffs. Will he end up leading the NHL in any stat categories? Doubtful. He will however win you games, and in the world of DFS, especially on FanDuel, that is what is important.
A Look Forward
As the second half of the season gets underway on Tuesday, December 27th, we will have a lot of questions that will need answering. Of course I can not give you all the answers, but I can give you a few things to look forward to as far as DFS goes.
A lot of players will tell you that they do not think of milestones or breaking records, and as a former player I can tell you one thing. That is a Lie! When you are approaching something, you know it is there, and you want to get there and past it so you can relax. Even when I played and broke the league record for shutouts in a season (AAA midgets), It was all I could think about game in and game out. Once I was able to break the record, I got more relaxed. But don't let anyone fool you when they say they don't think about it, cause the do. So let us look at a few milestones that can be reached during the second half of the season.
Henrik Sedin of the Canucks is currently at 992 career points, and can see the 1000 point mark just ahead of him. He is currently less than a point per game average, meaning he should hit the 1000 points total around the 10th or 11th game of the second half. I think the home game against the New Jersey Devils on January 15th will be the game he does it in. You might want to jot that down and file it away. If not the 15th then the home game against the Nashville Predators on the 16th. I will have him in my lineup on the 15 for sure. Now if he is close before then, I will let everyone know by putting him as one of my players to have in my writeup.
Roberto “Bobby Lou” Luongo of the Florida Panthers is currently three wins shy of 450 in his career and is currently the winningest active goalie in the NHL. The bad part is, he is averaging one win ever 2.25 games played. With that in mind I am projecting it will take him seven starts to hit the milestone. Which puts it around the 11th or 13th of January. I am hoping for it to be the 13th, a home game against the Islanders. As with Sedin, if it seems he may break it sooner, I will point it out in my write-up.
Matt Stajan of the Calgary Flames is only ten games away from playing in 900 games for his career. I realize this is not really an offensive thing, but some players have a lil pep in their step when it comes to a milestone, and they want to make it memorable. His 900th game will come on the 14th of January against the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton. What is more fitting than his 900th game coming in Canada, is considering in his entire career he has only played for two teams, The Leafs and the Flames. His 900th should be a fun game to watch as I think he shows up on the score sheet that night.
Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks is 10 goals away from 500 on his career. At his current streak, it will basically be near the end of the season, but it is a milestone to watch out for, as he can still heat up and go on a streak. I like him to hit that 500 goal mark to put a stamp on a great career.
Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks is currently three assists shy of 1000 in his career. Earlier this season he broke the 500 goal mark, and he should have no problems reaching this goal. He should hit that mark within the first 3 games back from this christmas break.
Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is only 10 assists shy of 500 on his career. With the way this season has gone for Malkin, he should hit that milestone within the first seven or eight games of the second half. It should come against the Red Wings on the 14th of January or the Capitals on the 16th. I hope it is against the Caps.
The best part of the NHL is the trade deadline. I love deadline day, and the few days leading up to it. There are a lot of names already floating around, and some of the trades will turn into DFS gold for us. Take a player from a team that is out of contention for the playoffs, and put him on a team that is going to make the playoffs, it can pay off big time. A lot of the times, it is the little deals that make the biggest impact. People will often not pay attention to a third or fourth line guy being traded. They consider it a depth move, which in most cases it is; but a lot of the time, the guy heats up and starts playing out of his mind. As the deadline gets near, and deals are made, I will let you know what type of DFS impact it may have. I look more at defensive deals than offensive ones. Put a guy on a winning team that plays defense, and watch as he plays better cause there is less pressure to be the leader of a team on the downward fall.
That is it for my look back and my look forward for this NHL season. I hope this helps you a bit while building your lineups for NHL DFS. Looking at the past trends, and the possible upcoming milestones. As always, if you have any question I am always free to answer them. I want to wish everyone a very safe and Happy New Year, and hope that 2017 is better than 2016 for you.
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