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2016-17 Fantasy hockey league & preview

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Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The NHL season is finally almost upon us, with just a World Cup of Hockey standing in our way, and that means it’s almost time for fantasy hockey season (or pool season for you Canadians). And this season, All About the Jersey will be hosting its own fantasy hockey season for the readers, commenters and staff of the site.

The draft for this league will be held on September 27 at 8:00pm eastern time through Yahoo!. If you are interested in joining our fantasy league (that allows draft pick trades!), email me at matthew.torino75@gmail.com, slide into my DMs on Twitter @mtorino75 or use the link here. It's a 12 team league, so get your name on the list quickly!

Now, if you’re cool enough to join or league, you’re probably wondering who you should draft, when you should draft them and which Devils are actually going to be useful in fantasy. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Our full fantasy hockey preview for the 2016-17 season is here.

First, a short fantasy primer in case you’ve never played fantasy hockey before or just never understood what was going on when you did. Generally, leagues have categories of goals, assists, +/-, penalty minutes, shots on goal and powerplay points for skaters, while goalies are evaluated on wins, save percentage, goals against average and shutouts (while meeting a minimum of three games played for your team overall for a single week). Teams face off head to head, with our league here getting a point toward your win provided you win a category. For example, if you have more goals than the other team, no matter the number, you get a point. The point totals become that week’s win/loss record for your team. So if you win 5 points, lose 4 and tie 1, your record would be 5-4-1 for the week.

The first thing to know regarding the Devils is that they will actually have a meaningful fantasy presence this season outside of Cory Schneider’s save percentage. Taylor Hall brings a firepower and scoring ability not seen since Ilya Kovalchuk left for more Putin-filled pastures. His chemistry with Adam Henrique, should they play together, could bring Henrique back to his assist totals of his rookie campaign while Hall's +/- should actually be positive for once on a team with defense and goaltending. Sidenote: I know +/- is a horribly flawed stat, but it does matter in fantasy, so roll with me here.

If Mike Cammalleri can stay healthy, he has shown the recent ability to almost put up a point per game, with 38 points in 42 games last season. Unfortunately, that's about as likely as Patrik Elias turning into the 2001 version of himself and scoring 96 points again. Even still, if he only puts up 38 points again, there are far more useless fantasy players out there. Keep him active until he gets hurt, stick him on IR in case he ever comes back and forget about him. He'll be a boost for sure until he breaks his glass bones and tears his paper skin.

The Devils’ defensemen are probably about as useless in fantasy as any team’s group gets. Damon Severson led the team’s D with just 21 points and only one goal. That’s not good. Andy Greene is a really good defenseman, but for fantasy purposes, he just doesn’t score enough to be worth your time. Severson could presumably break out with enough minutes, though don’t expect his +/- to be stellar if he’s working Adam Larsson’s defensive-zone heavy minutes from last year.

Cory Schneider remains possibly the most safe and dependable goalie option in fantasy. His save percentage hasn’t dipped below .920 in his time in Newark and hasn’t gone below .910 since an eight game audition for Vancouver in 2009. With the Devils getting an infusion of talent upfront greater than what they lost on defense, one could assume that could translate to at least a few more wins on the season. However, losing Larsson may allow more quality chances, causing his goals against average to rise. His save percentage will likely remain close to what it has been, but when Ben Lovejoy is possibly a top 2 defenseman, there could be GAA issues for Cory. That said, any issue Cory Schneider has is probably of lesser concern than that of any other goalie in the league.

Goalie remains the most important fantasy hockey position, with only ten goalies playing sixty games last season, causing the dropoff between Braden Holtby and Cory Schneider at the top and the Eddie Lacks and Jimmy Howards of the world to be even bigger than they are ability-wise. Playing for a winning team also plays a big role as wins are one stat for goalies, while good teams tend to give up fewer goals against, obviously, so the goalie's GAA would then be lower, even if they had a mediocre save percentage. If you're a mediocre goalie who gets a shutout facing no shots, you've won three out of four fantasy categories. Save percentage is likely our best indicator of actual goaltending performance, but in fantasy, it's just one out of four stats that matter equally. You make think Kari Lehtonen is not good at being a goalie, and you'd mostly be right, but playing for Dallas will rack him up wins even if his save percentage is poor. That's the difference between fantasy goaltending and real life goaltending.

Defensemen are similarly strange in fantasy. Some teams love big defenders and some love defensive defenders, but those guys, while possibly useful in real life, are pretty much useless in fantasy, unless they're racking up a +/- the likes of which we haven't seen since Jeff Schultz was a +50 in 2010 or putting up penalty minutes. So defensive enforcers who get soft minutes are uniquely valuable in fantasy for that reason.

Offensive defensemen like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, who provide so much more offense than the 20th or 30th ranked defensemen may be the singularly most valuable players in fantasy hockey. Karlsson put up 31 more points than just the 10th ranked defenseman in scoring. He put up 38 more than the 20th ranked defenseman in scoring. As you can see, it gets more tightly packed as you go farther down the rankings, but nobody besides Burns is touching the guy who probably should've won the Norris last season again. I don't think it's crazy to take one of these guys in the top 5 of your draft just for how far apart they are from the rest of their position group. Kris Letang is in that group as well, though health with him is more of an issue, so he'd just be a solid second rounder for me.

Forwards who are valuable in fantasy, though, more or less jive with who you think is valuable in real hockey, unless your name is John Tortorella. The chief thing you’re looking for there is scoring. You want goals. You want assists. You want powerplay points. You want shots (so get those guys with high Corsi!). Unless you believe that a good defensive forward will have a better +/-, there’s really no reason to try to find those role players unless they rack up big penalty minutes. There’s a reason Sean Avery was a fantasy god circa 2007: he was a decent forward who put up ungodly amounts of penalty minutes. Enforcers may be your best bet in terms of PIM, but pests like Brad Marchand also give good value in terms of that combination. Nobody’s approaching Avery’s insane PIM totals though, loathe as this site will be to here my fantasy love of him.

The difference between scoring leader Patrick Kane and the scoring leader of 2015 was 19 points. Sidney Crosby put up 104 points in 2014, however. Scoring totals are dropping to dead puck levels and the difference between the league leader and second place, both last season and 2014: 17 points, gives a big advantage to anyone who can correctly predict the league leader in scoring. It's a bigger gap than between Karlsson and second place for defensemen. The trouble is, nothing is as predictable as Karlsson leading defensemen in points. Kane is really good, character aside, but most wouldn't have predicted that Artemi Panarin could help him vault that high last season.

A healthy Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin are probably the safest bets to lead the league in scoring, with Kane following closely after that. Jamie Benn has also led the league in scoring, in 2015, but did it with only 87 points. Those would be my top four forwards, in some order, but that order is completely up for personal interpretation.

And now you’re going to get my personal interpretation, with my top 10 centers, left and right wingers, defensemen and goalies, along with a sleeper and bust at each position.

Top 10 Centers:

  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Tyler Seguin
  3. Steven Stamkos
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov
  5. Joe Pavelski
  6. Joe Thornton
  7. Nicklas Backstrom
  8. John Tavares
  9. Anze Kopitar
  10. Evgeni Malkin

Center sleeper: Elias Lindholm

Center bust: Patrick Marleau

Top 10 Wingers:

  1. Alex Ovechkin
  2. Patrick Kane
  3. Jamie Benn
  4. Vladimir Tarasenko
  5. Taylor Hall
  6. Max Pacioretty
  7. Brad Marchand
  8. Johnny Gaudreau
  9. Wayne Simmonds
  10. Phil Kessel

Wing sleeper: Nikolaj Ehlers

Wing bust: Artemi Panarin & Milan Lucic

Top 10 Defensemen:

  1. Erik Karlsson
  2. Brent Burns
  3. Roman Josi
  4. Kris Letang
  5. Dustin Byfuglien
  6. P.K. Subban
  7. Mark Giordano
  8. John Klingberg
  9. Shayne Gostisbehere
  10. Aaron Ekblad

Defense sleeper: Zach Werenski

Defense bust: Shea Weber

Top 10 Goalies:

  1. Braden Holtby
  2. Carey Price
  3. Cory Schneider
  4. Ben Bishop
  5. Brian Elliott
  6. John Gibson
  7. Roberto Luongo
  8. Henrik Lundqvist
  9. Corey Crwaford
  10. Semyon Varlamov

Goalie sleeper: Joonas Korpisalo

Goalie bust: Tuuka Rask