Anybody who’s anybody who’s played any kind of fantasy sport knows that in order to win your league, unless you had an absolutely stellar draft, you need to capitalize on the waiver wire and pick up players who exceed any kind of reasonable expectations. After all, if anyone had that much hope in them, they would’ve been picked.
HOWEVER (extremely Stephen A. Smith voice), if you sacrifice players who are off to slow starts for those having fast starts, there’s a reasonable chance you’re giving up the better player.
There’s a reason, say, Auston Matthews gets drafted but William Nylander generally doesn’t. One has much higher hopes and expectations behind him. But if Nylander (quite possibly) gets off to a better start, dropping the guy who worked up to Connor McDavid’s wing on Team North America probably shouldn’t be dropped.
If someone like Patrick Laine is a free agent in your league (and he shouldn’t be-go pick him up yesterday), getting off to a fast start is probably a safe bet that he’ll keep something comparable going. But what if someone like Reid Boucher starts randomly, finally putting goals in the net?
That’s where you have to take a more cautious approach. In the standard 12 team leagues, really, really good players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t get picked. But not every really, really good player who did get picked is going to get off to a fast start. So it’s understandable that a player a la Boucher in this scenario looks like a quality pick up based on his start.
This is where advanced stats and analytics as well as basic stats should really be your best friend. Look at the players’ Corsi at 5 on 5 even strength. Look at their shooting percentage. Look for bumps in the latter especially that don’t look sustainable. If Boucher is shooting 20%, he’s probably not going to keep it going. That’s why Adam Henrique probably isn’t scoring anywhere near 30 this year unless Taylor Hall sets him up like Mario Lemieux to Warren Young.
Look at their powerplay time. Look and see if they’re on the first or second unit. Look at primary assists versus secondary, as the former are more repeatable. Look at their stats in the past. The best indicator of future performance is past. If Jacob Josefson scores 10 goals in the first 20 games, that seems great, but based on his past performance, I’m not going to pick him up since he may not score another for the rest of the season.
There’s the possibility that players just get better, which happens. But weight all the factors to see what you think is more likely. If Josefson in that example does keep it going, he may just carry you to a league title.
Even in the penalty minutes category, if a player is registering a lot, look farther into his team role. See if his coach is decreasing his ice time because of it. Someone like Brad Marchand or Brendan Gallagher will keep putting up PIM because they’re too valuable to take off the ice despite their pest-ish tendencies. But enforcers may bring short term gain and then get thrown into the minors if the coach doesn’t think they’re utilizing their abilities best for their role, or really any other reason.
Goalies are much easier to have their future performance determined, at least to more of a modicum of certainty. The most important thing a goalie can have is playing time. A goalie that plays a lot, unless it’s on the Coyotes or some team of that ilk, is probably going to get you wins at least. Look at their goalie depth chart and see if there’s someone coming. See if you think they’ll win the job and get more playing time.
Save percentage at 5 on 5 even strength is a solid determination of whether that goalie’s actually good, and that could lead to more playing time, but if he’s hardly facing any shots, that’ll likely lead to wins, shutouts and a quality goals against average regardless of who he is. As long as he’s in the NHL he can be a .905-ish goalie.
Playing time may not indicate ever getting to play again or be good (Ondrej Pavelec!), but it does help you for your fantasy season if you missed out on the Ben Bishops and Cory Schneiders of the world.
Connor Hellebuyck is a good example there. He’s shown nothing but promise in Winnipeg, but he’s probably not worth picking up and starting right now. If he ever gets more playing time though, he’s a potential number one goalie.
Forwards and defensemen are a much riskier proposition, however, and your safest bet is probably just to stick with who you drafted if they have any kind of scoring pedigree. If they fall out of favor or aren’t getting as much powerplay time as they used to, that’s a reason to get rid of them, but otherwise, in all likelihood, they’re going to outperform the upstarts over the entire season.