Though much about fantasy hockey is unpredictable -- who will be this season's Devan Dubnyk, and who will come out of nowhere to score 30 goals? -- it's always good to know as much as possible about each team's schedule before drafting.
For example, knowing how many back-to-back sets a team has is key when drafting a goalie. So is knowing a skater’s home and road splits so you know who to draft and which weeks to start them.
And you can't forget to look at game loads the final two weeks of the NHL regular season, usually reserved for fantasy championships. How many games your players have over those two weeks is critical to your chances of winning your league.
Here are five schedule-related notes to keep in mind when drafting:
When drafting a goalie, it's always good to look at the number of back-to-back sets each team has. The Columbus Blue Jackets have the most back-to-backs (18) in the NHL this season. That means if you draft Sergei Bobrovsky, you should expect him to get a breather in a number of those situations.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings each have 17, so the workloads of Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist and Jimmy Howard/Petr Mrazek will be affected as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes are next with 16 back-to-backs each.
On the other end, the Edmonton Oilers play the fewest back-to-backs (nine). The Colorado Avalanche play 10, and the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins each play 11. This would seem to benefit Cam Talbot, Semyon Varlamov, Frederik Andersen and Tuukka Rask.
All other teams play between 12 and 15 back-to back sets.
Don't get shut out
Shutouts are always important, whether you're in a head-to-head league or a rotisserie one. Fleury, who led the NHL in shutouts last season with 10, averages a shutout every 15.1 starts.
Of the 31 active goalies who have at least 10 shutouts, Brian Elliott (St. Louis Blues) and Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals) are tops, averaging a shutout once every 8.5 starts. Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders is next (9.0), followed by Rask (9.7).
Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes) has the lowest ratio (22.7), Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks) is next (21.3), and Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets) is third worst (20.2). Crawford, Bobrovsky (20.1) and Ryan Miller (Vancouver Canucks, 17.0) each could have 25-35 wins, but look elsewhere for shutouts.
You might not think it matters all that much, but knowing which players do most of their offensive damage at home could be the difference between winning and losing a weekly matchup. There were 10 players who had at least 41 points on home ice last season, led by Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty who had 21 goals, 45 points and a plus-20 rating at Bell Centre. The only player to have more points per game at home than Pacioretty (1.13) was Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (15 goals, 40 points in 35 games; 1.14 per game).
Rounding out the top-10 point-scorers at home were Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars) and Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks), 44 points; Alex Ovechkin (Capitals), 43; Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers) and Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings), 42; and Sidney Crosby (Penguins), Nicklas Backstrom (Capitals), Jeff Carter (Los Angeles Kings), and John Tavares (Islanders), 41.
Obviously, each of these players likely will be selected in the first or second round, but be sure to check out the home and road splits before your draft, then monitor the schedule for long homestands or road trips throughout the season to determine who to start each week.
In the past five seasons, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning leads the League with 208 points at home in 170 games.
Zetterberg has 443 points in 422 career NHL home games; Anze Kopitar of the Kings has 337 in 343; and Jarome Iginla of the Avalanche has 496 in 496. Each player is worth targeting in later rounds.
That brings us to the players who excelled away from home. Tavares had 21 goals and 45 points in 41 road games. Benn and Crosby were next with 43 points each. Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks had 42 road points. Tyler Johnson of the Lightning had 41 and ranked first in points per game on the road (1.14).
Looking at a larger sample size, over the past five seasons, Ovechkin, Tavares, Claude Giroux of the Flyers, Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks and Henrik Sedin of the Canucks are the top five in the League in road points. Joe Thornton (153 points, 185 road games), Joe Pavelski (148 in 184), Logan Couture (147 in 180) and Patrick Marleau (141 in 188) all rank in the top 21 in that category, so drafting San Jose Sharks might not be a bad idea.
Scheduling in last two weeks
Generally, the fantasy championship occurs during the final two weeks of the season. In some cases, the semifinal is the second-to-last week and the final is the last week. Either way, the last two weeks of the season are the most important.
That being said, it's a good idea to look all the way to the end of the NHL regular-season schedule. As tempting as it may be to draft Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers play a League-low four games in the final two weeks, meaning it will be hard for him (or Taylor Hall or Talbot) to put up numbers as good as other players who play more games. The Maple Leafs are the only team to play eight games (four each week) in that stretch. Of the 28 other teams, 18 play seven games and 10 play six times in the final two weeks.
If you plan on winning the championship, make sure you draft players with a heavy schedule down the stretch.