NHL.com identifies the fantasy implications of the 2018-19 schedule, including most and fewest back-to-back sets and games on lighter days, playoff and championship week schedules for head-to-head leagues, bye weeks and home/road splits. Planning ahead with various strategies can set you apart from your competition.
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The NHL average of back-to-back sets is 12.9 this season. The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers each have the most back-to-backs (17), followed by the Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators with 16 each (T-3rd). This means if you draft goaltenders Roberto Luongo, Sergei Bobrovsky or Carter Hutton, you may want to handcuff each backup (James Reimer, Joonas Korpisalo, Linus Ullmark) for insurance. It could also mean sleeper goaltender Petr Mrazek, who could be the No. 1 in Carolina, may split starts with incumbent Scott Darling.
The Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets play the fewest back-to-back sets (10). The Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks each play 11. This adds to the case that Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck should be the first two fantasy goalies off the board. Some other workhorse goalies (e.g. Pekka Rinne, Antti Raanta, Cam Talbot) have an advantage from this schedule trend. Others (Matt Murray, Mike Smith, Semyon Varlamov) with existing injury concerns, may not benefit as much from this schedule note.
Final four weeks
It's imperative to maximize the amount of players you have during the fantasy playoffs in head-to-head leagues. The schedule is balanced this year with 14 teams playing 14 games in the final four weeks of the season (ARI, BUF, CAR, CBJ, CHI, DAL, EDM, NYI, NYR, PHI, SJS, STL, TOR, WPG). Be wary of loading up on players from the Predators and Vegas Golden Knights (fewest games in span with 12 each).
Video: Breaking down the NHL's opening night schedule
The final two weeks of the season are either the fantasy semifinals and finals or a two-week championship in head-to-head leagues. The Sabres, Rangers and Los Angeles Kings are tied for the most games in the span (eight), and the Ducks play an NHL-low five. Every other team plays either six or seven games. For example, if you draft center Ryan Getzlaf, you'd potentially have three fewer games than if you draft players in his range like Jack Eichel or Anze Kopitar. This adds more late-round intrigue to breakout candidate Mika Zibanejad.
If your head-to-head championship is in the final week of the regular season, avoid Ducks goalie John Gibson, since Anaheim has only two games. Ten teams (CHI, COL, EDM, LAK, NYR, OTT, STL, TBL, TOR, WPG) each play an NHL-high four games in the final week.
Knowing when each team will be on its bye week is also important since you may need to add or drop players to compete in your head-to-head matchup and/or reach minimum goalie appearances in some leagues. From Jan. 20-24 (Sunday to Thursday), 10 teams (BOS, BUF, CBJ, DAL, NJD, NYR, PHI, PIT, TBL, WPG) have their bye week leading up to and including NHL All-Star weekend (Jan. 25-26). The bye week for the other 21 teams includes and follows the All-Star break. More than twice as many teams have their bye week after All-Star weekend, it's a slight advantage to have players from the 10 teams.
Read: Complete list of bye weeks for all 31 teams
Light game days
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are typically the days with the most NHL games each week, with Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday having much lighter schedules. For greater lineup flexibility on busier days and added value in rotisserie formats, target the Ducks, who play by far the most games on lighter days (52). The Flames, Avalanche, Capitals (42 each) and Rangers (41) are the next highest.
The Blue Jackets play the fewest games on lighter days (22), followed by the Canadiens (23) and Kings, Predators and Lightning (24 each). You may have to bench certain players if you have too many from these teams.
-- In the 2018-19 schedule, 29 of the 31 teams play between 19-22 home games in the first half of the season. The Blues play a NHL-high 25 of their first 41 games at home, including 11 of their first 15. Especially with St. Louis' offseason improvements, fantasy owners could get off to a hot start by drafting Blues players.
-- The Golden Knights play the fewest home games in the first half (18), meaning they play 23 of their final 41 games at home. That includes a stretch of 10 of 12 at T-Mobile Arena, where they were 29-10-2 last season (T-3rd in NHL). This adds to the concern that Vegas could start much slower than in its inaugural season.
Video: Big matchups for the Golden Knights in 2018-19
-- The best home teams last season (at least 60 points in standings) were the Jets, Wild, Penguins, Bruins, Predators, Lightning, Golden Knights and Maple Leafs (who could be even better after signing John Tavares).
-- The best road teams last season (at least 48 points in standings) were the Predators, Lightning, Bruins, Golden Knights, Kings, Jets and Philadelphia Flyers.