Special to Yahoo Sports
It may only be January, but this is the stretch run of the fantasy season. The schedule will be slightly different depending on your league settings, but with a minimum three-week playoff, you’re probably somewhere between halfway or three-quarters of the way through the head-to-head regular season.
Given the amount of parity and talent in the NHL at the moment, the margin for error in fantasy probably remains as thin as ever, but that also means it’s all the more important to pay attention to which players may get hot for the rest of the season.
Here are your trade targets for this week.
Kevin Fiala, LW/RW, Kings (96 percent rostered)
Fiala snapped a seven-game goal drought with a hat trick against Vegas and then followed it up with four points against Edmonton. He’s really starting to craft a reputation as a second-half player. Last season, Fiala scored 13 goals and 34 points in the first half before exploding with 51 points in the second half with the Wild. According to hockey-reference.com, Fiala is averaging 0.69 points per game before the All-Star Game but 0.76 points per game after.
Though the sample size is not the same, Fiala’s recent outburst is just more evidence that he’s a bit of a slow starter and has a tendency to ramp it up later. It’s even more understandable this season with a new team, and the Kings did struggle earlier in the season when their goaltending was in flux. Fiala’s second-half performances make him a sneaky under-the-radar trade target.
Claude Giroux, C/RW, Senators (94% rostered)
This one’s for those who like picking apart advanced stats. Among forwards with at least 250 minutes played at 5-on-5, Giroux ranks sixth in the league in the difference between expected goals and actual goals, according to naturalstattrick.com. There are only two notable players in fantasy who rank ahead of Giroux: Paul Stastny, who ranks first with an astonishing 12.15 difference and remains an excellent streaming option as long as he stays the No. 2 center in Carolina, and Brady Tkachuk, who is coincidentally Giroux’s linemate.
Both Giroux and Tkachuk have a difference of over eight goals. It’s not unusual for good players to outperform their expected goals, but it’s always curious when good players underperform. But when you consider Giroux ranks 260th and Tkachuk 229th out of 372 forwards in on-ice shooting percentage, it starts to make a little more sense. Note that Giroux’s shooting percentage is higher than his career average, and the same goes for Tim Stuetzle, their center, but Tkachuk’s is a little lower and it’s making a big impact, as he also tends to take the most shots. The thing about shooting percentages is that they tend to normalize over time. Even if Giroux’s goal-scoring efficiency regresses, Tkachuk’s should pick up, and in turn, Giroux should manage far more than the 21 assists he’s earned this season. The Senators offense is supremely talented even though they rank 24th in GF/GP, and it may pick up in the second half.
J.T. Miller, C/LW/RW, Canucks (99% rostered)
The Canucks have lost five of their past six and just blew a 3-0 lead against the Penguins on Tuesday night during the toughest, but also arguably the most vital, part of their schedule. The Canucks can talk about their playoff chances all they want, but the reality is they’re eight points out of a wild card spot, and each loss brings them closer and closer to one conclusion: Sell.
It’s unlikely Miller gets moved, but key pieces of their power play, including impending UFA and captain Bo Horvat as well as impending UFA Andrei Kuzmenko on the second unit, could be moved. That’s going to take a big bite out of their power play, arguably the Canucks’ best feature and where Miller has scored 17 of his 35 points this season. Without Horvat’s shooting, Miller’s already up-and-down season will likely trend downwards. However, with triple-position eligibility and near point-per-game production, there should be a good trade market for Miller in fantasy before the Canucks start their fire sale.
Linus Ullmark, G, Bruins (94% rostered)
No player is untouchable in fantasy. Make no mistake, Ullmark is having an incredible season, and barring some sort of horrendous second half, he likely has the Vezina locked up. But, interestingly, the Bruins have elected to return to a 50/50 rotation over their past 11 games. In fantasy, quantity matters, and if the Bruins’ rotation holds for the rest of the season, that’s only 20 more starts for Ullmark. Compared to some true workhorses, such as Connor Hellebuyck, that might be 10 fewer starts the rest of the way. On a per-game basis, Ullmark is the better goalie, but it may be very difficult to make up that difference. If we assume that both goalies maintain their level of play, if Hellebuyck plays 30 more games and Ullmark plays only 20, Hellebuyck will outpace him in both projected saves (895 vs. 551) and wins (20 vs. 17).
Fantasy managers in the hunt for the league championship should obviously keep Ullmark, but for those whose chances are fading, or those in keeper leagues who don’t intend on keeping Ullmark, this is a great chance to sell when Ullmark’s fantasy value is still arguably at its highest. Getting a mid-level starter and perhaps a player who can plug a hole in other parts of your lineup might not be such a bad idea.