Each week of the fantasy hockey season, we’ll take a look at some suggestions for players that you might want to put into your lineup (“Green Light”), as well as players you might want to stay away from starting (“Red Light”). Sure, it’s easy to say “start Ovechkin and Crosby” every week, but our telling you that wouldn’t be of much use, would it? So we’ll try to emphasize players that you’d consider borderline cases on most weeks, to give you insights into why they might be unusually good or bad plays this week.
Early on, we’ll primarily be leaning on VUKOTA projections—goals, assists and points for skaters and save percentage for goalies—and number of games per week (which applies more to leagues where lineups are set weekly, as opposed to daily), while also keeping an eye on strength of opponents, number of home and road games, and number of back-to-back games.
For Week 1, keep in mind that your specific league may either play a short week (Thursday, October 7 – Sunday, October 10) or probably more commonly a long week (Thursday, October 7 – Sunday, October 17). We’ll assume the latter for our Green Light and Red Light suggestions below.
Finally, the fact that six teams start the season with a pair of games in Europe is a major consideration as well. Minnesota and Carolina meet in Helsinki, Finland for a matchup of Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom and Antti Miettinen versus Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. San Jose and Columbus—an odd pairing there—face off in Stockholm, Sweden where Douglas Murray of the Sharks and Sami Pahlsson, Kristian Huselius and Anton Stralman of the Jackets look to enjoy some home cooking during the week. Finally, Boston and Phoenix meet in Prague, Czech Republic where David Krejci’s Bruins will play a Coyotes squad including his countrymen Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Petr Prucha. In all of the cases, the teams will play back-to-back games at the neutral site to start the season, with 4-5 days to hopefully recover from the jet lag upon their return to North America. The schedule maker did not make it easy on these teams as a whole, facing more road than home games in the remainder of Week 1, and facing tough opponents in general.
The extended Week 1 features 3-6 games per team. Teams getting the benefit of the half dozen games are Anaheim, Buffalo, Chicago, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. Not surprisingly, many of these teams will provide you some of the best choices (in leagues setting their lineups weekly), allowing you to comfortably start more marginal players from these squads.
“Base rate” = VUKOTA projected rates for the 2010-11 season.
Asterisk denotes second game of back-to-back games.
C Tim Connolly, Buffalo Sabres
Base rates: 0.29 G, 0.57 A, 0.86 P
Overview: 6 games. 4 home, 2 road. 2 back-to-back.
Schedule: @OTT, NYR*, CHI, NJD, MTL, @CHI*
I’ve chosen the much-maligned Tim Connolly to represent the Sabres here, but Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and the like—any of their other top six forwards—are also good choices given the full slate of games. The slight drawback to the Sabres is a tougher than average schedule, but keep in mind that regressions from Chicago and Ottawa are possible, and that VUKOTA expects postseason Cinderella Montreal to fall to the league’s cellar. Connolly’s been an excellent playmaker when healthy and will put up his share of power play points.
LW Matt Moulson, New York Islanders
Base rates: 0.34 G, 0.30 A, 0.64 P
Overview: 5 games. 3 home, 2 away. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: DAL, NYR, @WSH, @PIT, COL*
Will Matt Moulson be able to duplicate his surprising 30 goals from 2008-09? While VUKOTA looks for a slight dropoff compared to the 27 year old winger’s breakout year, signs point to the ex-King’s ability to keep putting the puck in the net at close to the same clip. Yes, the Islanders have got both Washington and Pittsburgh on the road, but their skaters do have five games to work with this week, and as far as scoring is concerned, you’re looking at question marks in goal for their opposition aside from Henrik Lundqvist and Craig Anderson—and Peter Budaj may be a possibility in goal for the Avalanche, who face the Isles after a visit to The Rock the previous night.
RW Arron Asham, Pittsburgh Penguins
Base rates: 0.14 G, 0.19 A, 0.34 P
Overview: 6 games. 4 home, 2 away. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: PHI, MTL, @NJD, TOR, NYI, @PHI*
Here’s this week’s bargain choice for sure. Call it a fallback if you drafted poorly at wing, or if circumstances otherwise conspire against your lineup. Sound crazy? Arron Asham performed well when he played on Philadelphia’s top lines last season—don’t be shocked if he sees time as wingman for Crosby or Malkin at some point this season. But for Week 1, the schedule’s favorable for any Pens you might have, with six games, mostly at home, and generally against either weaker competition or weaker goaltenders. Really, other than Martin Brodeur, the Pittsburgh offense should feast on their opposition’s netminders this week—the likes of Carey Price, Roloson or DiPietro, Giguere or Gustavsson, and a double feature of Brian Boucher.
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Base rates: 0.08 G, 0.25 A, 0.33 P
Overview: 5 games. 3 home, 2 away. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @ATL, NJD*, OTT, NYI, @NSH
Aside from the favorable schedule—look for Atlanta, Nashville and perhaps even Ottawa to regress a bit, and for the Islanders to remain near the bottom of the league—consider the choice of John Carlson here to be an overall endorsement of this up-and-coming defenseman on the best team in hockey. After getting only 15 minutes of ice time in only 22 regular season games, head coach Bruce Boudreau finally awakened to utilize Carlson for 20 minutes of ice time in Washington’s seven postseason games. If your league hasn’t drafted yet, grab Carlson up by the middle rounds for sure—earlier if it’s a keeper league. He’ll be a top pairing defenseman before you know it—on the best team in hockey.
D Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim Ducks
Base rates: 0.13 G, 0.44 A, 0.57 P
Overview: 6 games. 3 home, 3 away. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @DET, @NSH*, @STL, VAN, ATL, PHX
With Scott Niedermayer finally riding off into the sunset, trade deadline acquisition Lubomir Visnovsky is in line to be the top power play quarterback on the Anaheim Duck’s potent man advantage, which should give his stats a nice bump across the board. Visnovsky put up 6 power play points in 16 games (0.38 PPP per game) with Anaheim last season after putting up 17 power play points in 57 games (0.30 PPP per game) with Edmonton, and that was while playing second fiddle to Niedermayer. The Ducks enjoy a full slate of six games in Week 1, though against above average opposition and goaltending.
G Marty Turco, Chicago Blackhawks
Base projection: .907 save percentage
Overview: 6 games. 3 home, 3 away. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @COL, DET, @BUF, NSH, @CBJ, BUF*
After he put together his first (slightly) above average season since the Lockout, the Chicago Blackhawks chose to give Marty Turco a shot in goal over Stanley Cup winning netminder Antti Niemi. While the Hawks could arguably have done better than the former Star, it’s not in goal where they'll be losing ground (but in forward depth). The nine season veteran should be a fine fantasy goaltender, at least from the standpoint of Wins and GAA, while decent in terms of save percentage. In particular, Turco’s an excellent choice this week, given a half dozen games. Chicago’s playing only one back-to-back contest could put him in line for five starts.
Boston, New York and San Jose are the only teams with three games over the 11 day stretch of “Week 1”, so you’ll get less bang for your buck from Bruins, Rangers and Sharks players. The other teams to be wary of are the six teams playing games in Europe to start the season: Carolina and Minnesota (who play in Finland), San Jose and Columbus (who play in Sweden), and Boston and Phoenix (who play in the Czech Republic).
C Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Base rates: 0.30 G, 0.75 A, 1.04 P
Overview: 3 games. 1 home, 0 away, 2 neutral (Stockholm). 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @CBJ, CBJ*, ATL
This isn’t about Joe Thornton-bashing, it’s about only three games. In addition, while the opposition is pretty weak, when you’re playing two games in two nights on European time, who knows what kind of equalizer that could provide, even against lowly Columbus. Also keep in mind that VUKOTA’s looking for a moderate dropoff for the Sharks in general, down to the 12th best team in the NHL—though this should be most evident on the defensive end.
LW Alexander Frolov, New York Rangers
Base rates: 0.29 G, 0.41 A, 0.70 P
Overview: 3 games. 1 home, 2 away. 0 back-to-back.
Schedule: @BUF, @NYI, TOR
While former King Alex Frolov should be motivated to perform on his one year deal, he’ll only get a handful of games to prove himself this week. Other factors to consider for Rangers players include facing Ryan Miller on the road, and the Blue Shirts’ question marks at center, given serious injury concerns with Vinny Prospal.
RW Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets
Base rates: 0.42 G, 0.49 A, 0.91 P
Overview: 4 games. 1 home, 1 away, 2 neutral (Stockholm). 2 back-to-back.
Schedule: SJS, @SJS*, CHI, @MIN*
Rick Nash will be a top fantasy choice on most weeks, but he’s not a clear cut choice for Week 1 with a tough four game schedule. Back-to-back games in Sweden against perennial Western Conference powerhouse San Jose is a rough start. Following, Nash and the Blue Jackets face Stanley Cup champions Chicago and then travel to Minnesota in an away game, back-to-back—the Wild will be enjoying an extra day of rest at home while waiting for Columbus to arrive.
D Derek Morris, Phoenix Coyotes
Base rate: 0.05 G, 0.28 A, 0.33 P
Overview: 4 games. 1 home, 1 away, 2 neutral (Prague). 2 back-to-back.
Schedule: @BOS, BOS*, DET, @ANA*
While Derek Morris isn’t an elite choice, he figures to be starting on a lot of fantasy rosters. Aside from the difficult first week schedule—European games, two back-to-backs and above average opposition—make sure that you’re not evaluating Morris too highly in general. First of all, VUKOTA’s looking for only low twenties in points for the journeyman. Secondly, he’s been at an even zero plus-minus over the past three seasons combined. Finally, VUKOTA’s projecting a step back from 3rd to 13th in goals against for Phoenix. It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Morris in the red in plus-minus at the end of the season.
D Joe Corvo, Carolina Hurricanes
Base rates: 0.10 G, 0.31 A, 0.40 P
Overview: 4 games. 0 home, 2 away, 2 neutral (Helsinki). 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @MIN, MIN*, @OTT, @VAN
Three seasons ago, a 30 year old Joe Corvo put up 13 goals, 35 assists, 48 points and +17 with Ottawa and Carolina. But this is no longer your older brother’s Joe Corvo. In an injury-marred 52 games in 2009-10, Corvo put up a paltry 6 points, 12 assists, 18 points and -10, and that’s while playing part of the season with the Washington Capitals juggernaut. Sure, Carolina will be a bit better in 2010-11, but if you’re going to use Corvo, think at least twice about Week 1. The schedule maker’s got Carolina essentially on the road for four games, and that’s across eleven time zones.
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Base projection: .916 save percentage
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 1 away, 2 neutral (Prague). 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: PHX, @PHX*, @NJD
Everyone’s in love with 23 year old Tuukka Rask, off his great half-season and hot postseason, but let’s keep a few things in mind. First of all, Tim Thomas—you may remember that Thomas was the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner.C Especially given Rask’s young age, the Bruins would be wise to split playing time pretty evenly between the netminders. But even aside from overall considerations, keep in mind that Boston only plays three games in the extended Week 1, including back-to-back tilts in Prague against a solid Coyotes squad (look for one Thomas start there, for sure) and an away game against New Jersey upon their return to North America.
If your league’s forgotten about him, grab Jiri Hudler in the mid-to-late rounds of your fantasy draft.
C/W Jiri Hudler, Detroit Red Wings
2008-09 rates: 0.28 G, 0.41 A, 0.70 P
Before playing in the Kontinental Hockey League last season, Czech pivot Jiri Hudler had quietly put up very solid seasons of 42 points in 2007-08 and 57 points in 2008-09, and that was only playing 13 minutes per night. Looking to be lined up Mike Modano and Dan Cleary—likely as left wing—Hudler could make a jump towards 70 points this season. We’re looking for the Red Wings to again be one of the top teams in the NHL, and Hudler could be the sleeper to pick up from this elite squad.
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics and is co-editor of Hockey Prospectus 2010-11. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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