It’s over. Technically, this fantasy season is still a few weeks away, but the fluorescent writing of the title already guarantees that your dynasty/maintenance team won’t be left behind. That collection of players that looked so good on paper in mid-January has not materialized, and the fantasy teams at the top of the standings continue to drift away. It’s time to shift gears and look to 2021-22 and beyond. With the ESPN fantasy trade deadline just a week away, this is a chance to prepare for the future by talking to rival managers who want to win it all now. This is a prime opportunity to target underperforming (or inactive due to injury) players who may turn out to be fantasy monsters in the future, in exchange for a player or set of players who can help struggling dynasty/maintenance teams here and now.
For next season, it’s also worth looking at players who are less on loan or injured on the waiver wire. For example, Kirby Dach (Chicago) and Oscar Klefbom (Edmonton) could be available and worth protecting in dynasty and deeper leagues. Any of the following could also serve as a refreshing drink for tomorrow’s lemonade that you squeezed from your list of lemons today.
Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres (97.8%): The inspiration for this column was recently traded to one of my prestigious goalie competitions for a handful of modern performers, including goalie Mike Smith. This deal serves my league partners – as any deal does – by giving a manager who is a contender extra firepower to finish this season, and a player who is not a contender a first-rate keeper for years to come. (This swap works best, but not only, in leagues with limited or no reserve seats). Even before his neck injury, Eichel had a historically bad year, especially in terms of goals. One that is 24 years old is unlikely to reproduce.
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Taylor Hall, LW/C, Buffalo Sabres (83.6%): Maybe he’ll waive the NMC and make a trade before the deadline. Maybe he’ll stay and sign an extension in Buffalo. Or maybe he rented it and enrolled in Sabre again this summer. As unsure as he is, things can only get better for Hall after an uninspiring performance this campaign. 2 goals in 29 games. Just three years ago, he scored 39 goals (plus 54 assists) and won the Hart Trophy. I’m a strong candidate for a rebuild in 2021-22 when I’m under 30. And it might not be that hard to get him away from a rival manager now.
Nikita Kucherov, RV, Tampa Bay Lightning (20.7%): It is true that the implementation of this agreement would be difficult. Kucherov – who will be ready to go soon, let alone next season – is elite fantasy. Goalkeepers with IR stains on their hands are not good wingers. Not a chance. Otherwise, just like in the NHL in real life, you can trade anyone. Managers with a serious eye on price this season can be included in the trade for a decent return. Keep in mind that Kucherov will not be cheap.
Patrick Lane, RW/LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (96.7%): Sniper Columbus might be my favorite for future games. He’s currently making such an incredibly small contribution that it’s really something. And this will not – cannot – continue. Prior to this season, the 22-year-old had scored 138 goals in 305 regular season games (plus a nice collection of assists). He has scored 0.45 goals per game since the first day of his NHL career. Playing for a new coach in Columbus, assuming the future RFA stays there, may help.
Alexis Lafreniere, LW, New York Rangers (35.4%): No sane dynasty manager would trade a future star with that much potential, right? It is possible. Unless the motivation to win now outweighs any fantasy aspirations for a run. Lafreniere looks to be another year or two away from establishing himself as a real force. After two goals and three assists in four games in February, the 19-year-old has since had just one assist in seven games and is no longer a top-six player for the Rangers. It doesn’t help any fantasy manager who wants to win today.
Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils (47.2%): Prior to his two goals in Thursday’s 3-2 victory over the Penguins, Hughes had two goals and one assist in his 13 games to date. A crucial moment after flirting with the scoring pace throughout January and most of February. It also runs less frequently online. Match officials who have been following this season’s awards closely are undoubtedly upset with the 2019 first-round picks. If you think Hughes, who is only 19 and in his second season, will blossom in the coming years, as the NHL’s most astute pundits do, make an offer now.
Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings (37.6%): The Red Wings’ best offensive player is only 24 years old, and general manager Steve Yzerman really needs to build around him at some point. Or maybe Larkin will sign somewhere else when his contract expires in two years. Regardless of Detroit’s performance, their center could pay plenty of fantasy dividends in the future. Fortunately for forward-thinking managers, Larkin is doing his best, even if his campaign is the least productive in recent years. His recent flurry of games scored is probably not enough to get most frustrated fantasy managers back in the game. Make a suggestion, especially in dynasty leagues.
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Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens (71.8%) : At the beginning of this season, Suzuki lost a lot of speed. Two goals and four assists in 17 games is a stark contrast to the first few weeks of the season when the sophomore was scoring his goals. The 21-year-old has an incredibly bright and productive future in this league, but we’re not there (yet). Suzuki isn’t contributing enough to the fantasy world right now, and that frustrates managers who have a real shot at the top spot. By offering the right player(s) in the exchange, they should lose.
Jordan Binnington, G, St. John’s St. Louis Blues (91.4%): He won one game last month and averaged 1.13 fantasy points per game. Fantasy managers are better off playing nobody at this stage rather than using a freshly stretched number 1. If you think Binnington’s impressive track record in recent years is no fluke, you should make him an offer as soon as possible. The Blues have much better players in Colton Parayko and Jaden Schwartz, especially in the elite defense, and both should be back from injuries soon. St. John’s Louis will start winning games again.
Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers (71.8%): Hart is a good young goalie who is not having his best year. Consider this a sentimental suggestion to the fantasy manager, assuming he has a realistic chance of winning the title this year. The inconsistency of Hart’s play in this campaign is as baffling as it is surprising. But he’s too talented not to turn things around from 2021-22.
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