Mark your calendars: The next fantasy hockey season begins Oct. 12.
The NHL released its 2016-17 schedule last week, and fantasy owners can always gain an edge on draft day by knowing each team's number of back-to-back games and schedule for the final two weeks of the season (fantasy championships in head-to-head leagues). Player home/road splits from recent seasons also are helpful when building a fantasy roster.
Here are some fantasy takeaways from the 2016-17 NHL schedule:
Knowing how many back-to-back sets each team will play is key in fantasy. For example, the Washington Capitals had 15 sets of back-to-back games this season. Braden Holtby, the Vezina Trophy winner, played all 15 of the first games but three times in the second (Philipp Grubauer made the other 12 starts). Grubauer, undrafted on average in Yahoo leagues entering the season, was 8-9-1 but had a strong goals-against average (2.32) and save percentage (.918). This proves handcuffing a true backup to go along with a workhorse goalie can be very useful. Grubauer was 209th (40th among goalies) in Yahoo's end-of-season rankings, with his quality outweighing the quantity of goalies such as Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Jonathan Bernier, Ondrej Pavelec and Ryan Miller.
The Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets each will play a League-high 19 sets of back-to-back games next season. That means you could expect Robin Lehner, the Sabres' projected No. 1 goalie, to get some nights off. Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo likely will trade starts in many of the Blue Jackets' back-to-back sets. The New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs are next with 18 back-to-back sets each, so the workloads of Cory Schneider and Frederik Andersen are worth monitoring. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are locked into a timeshare situation with the Flyers, so each will get his share of opportunities to be fantasy relevant.
Video: CBJ@BOS: Korpisalo makes two stops on Bruins
The Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers each have 10 back-to-back sets, the fewest in the League, but their goaltending situations remain extremely cloudy. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi each had subpar seasons for Dallas in every category except wins, and Oilers starter Cam Talbot wasn't consistent enough to instill much fantasy confidence. The Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche each have 11 sets of back-to-back sets, the St. Louis Blues have 12, and the Arizona Coyotes, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators each have 13. The remaining 17 teams have 14-16 back-to-backs.
FINAL TWO WEEKS
The most crucial time of the fantasy season is the final two weeks of the NHL regular season, whether your league championship spans two weeks or one. This is why it's extremely helpful to look at each team's schedule before drafting, especially for early-round picks.
There are 12 teams who play eight games in the final two weeks; the Avalanche, Capitals, Maple Leafs, Blues, Blue Jackets, Senators, Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings. Of these teams, the Maple Leafs and Senators play a League-high five games the final week, so drafting from these teams could be beneficial.
The Winnipeg Jets play the fewest games in the final two weeks (five); the Devils and New York Rangers each play six, and the remaining 15 teams each play seven. Having a fantasy goalie who has more games down the stretch obviously gives you the edge for potential wins and shutouts, two of the four standard categories.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jamie Benn of the Stars and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins may have been the finalists for the Hart Trophy, but none was the top scorer on home ice in the regular season. That honor goes to Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, who had 56 points in 40 home games. Kane was second (54), Benn was third (52), and Crosby was fourth (51). Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson rounded out the top five (47).
Video: NSH@CGY: Gaudreau tallies twice in 10 seconds
Each is a lock to be drafted in the first round, but the rest of the top 10 home-ice scorers are not. Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets was sixth (42), Derick Brassard of the Rangers, Jaromir Jagr of the Panthers and Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Capitals were tied for seventh (41), and Filip Forsberg (Predators), Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) and John Tavares (Islanders) were tied for 10th (40).
Over the past five seasons, the top five home-ice point leaders are Claude Giroux (198), Crosby (196), Evgeni Malkin (196), Steven Stamkos (193), and Tavares and Benn (183 each).
Schedule notes: Dissecting each team's schedule reveals that the Maple Leafs have five games the final week of the season, including their final four at home; the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Stars play their final three at home; the Boston Bruins play eight of their final 10 at home; and the Kings play four of the final five at home.
It's no surprise Kane (52 road points) led the NHL in this category considering he won the League scoring race by 17 points. Sharks teammates Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski tied for second (44), Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin was fourth (43), and Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom was fifth (40). The only other players to average more than a point per game on the road (minimum 10 games played) were Tyler Seguin of the Stars (37 points, 36 games) and Michael Cammalleri of the Devils (22 points, 21 games).
In the past five seasons, Kane leads the way with 181 points away from home. Alex Ovechkin (175) is second, Crosby is third (170), and Giroux and Thornton are tied for fourth (169 each).
Schedule notes: The Hurricanes begin the 2016-17 season with a six-game road trip, and the Ducks open with five straight away from home. The Coyotes are on the road for six of their first seven games, and the Stars will be the visitors in 10 of their first 16. The Detroit Red Wings have a stretch of 10 of 11 on the road, and the Kings have a season-high nine-game road trip in December, matching the longest of any team. The Islanders also have a nine-game trip from Feb. 21-March 11. The Sharks, who were the League's best road team this season (28-10-3), play five of their first six away from SAP Center.