We're in a strange part of the season now, where it still feels early but it's closer to the midpoint. There's a lot that can go wrong at this time of the year. You've got the holidays -- life's busy, may you get caught up in the season and forget to set a lineup at some point.
Other things that can take you off your game are performance-based. That forward you picked up off the waiver wire in early November? He's quietly gone cold, but you think he'll turn it around. Your top goalie hits a skid -- yeah, I'm talking to you Ilya Sorokin managers hoping his five-game losing streak snaps. He's too good to cut and you don't want to trade him, but you have to ride it out here.
Hockey's a streaky game. How many times have we thought Connor McDavid's going to obliterate post-lockout scoring records, only for a midseason slump to bring him a little closer to Earth? If he racks up 150 points, that's fantastic for the game, but you've got to be prepared for the occasional goose eggs.
On the flip side, maybe there's a player you like that started off slow and is just now getting back into form. Take Teuvo Teravainen for example -- he scored his first goal of the season Saturday. An upper-body injury cost him 10 contests in November, but his game was off long before the injury. The 28-year-old plays a top-six role in a strong offense, so it's worth doing your due diligence to see if he's lurking on the waiver wire. Ten points in 21 games isn't pretty, but he's topped 60 points in four of the last five years, and the exception was an injury-plagued 2020-21.
Perhaps no team has embodied the slow start to midseason surge quite like the Rangers. They got stale with very little changes to the top six, then shuffled it all up by moving Chris Kreider and Vincent Trocheck to the third line. It hasn't led to a material change in either player's ice time or role, especially since they both park themselves in front of the net on a power play that's clicking at 24.0 percent this year, good for 12th in the NHL. Trocheck won't be easy to add in most fantasy formats, but again, take a look. If you really want to get in with this offense, go the trade route. There's a lot of productive pieces here.
Another Ranger to consider is K'Andre Miller. The 22-year-old defenseman will be in the shadow of Adam Fox as long as he's on Broadway, but Miller has two goals and five assists in his last six games. For the season, he's at 15 points, 70 hits, 40 blocked shots and a plus-2 rating in 33 contests. His career high in points in 20, so there's potentially a slowdown on the way, but he's flirting with a 40-point pace and brings the physicality. Miller's stat line is in the mold of Darnell Nurse or Neal Pionk, and there's always room for a skill set like that as a fourth blueliner in fantasy.
For help in goal, Filip Gustavsson looks like a goalie on the rise. He's won six starts in a row, allowing a total of nine goals in that span. Over the last week or so, he's carved out a split of playing time with Marc-Andre Fleury. The Wild will likely want to keep Fleury as fresh as possible -- he's still the No. 1, and he's found some success recently too, but Gustavsson is forcing the issue. With a 7-4-1 record, a 2.31 GAA and a .922 save percentage in 12 outings overall, it's well-earned playing time.
If you're just looking for wins, Craig Anderson could help. The Sabres are shockingly the top offense in the league right now, and they seem to play well in front of Anderson. He's in a 50-50 split with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, but Anderson is 4-1-1 with a 2.48 GAA and a .933 save percentage since Nov. 22 (six games). I like Gustavsson better rest-of-season, but the 41-year-old Anderson has some appeal as a stopgap if you're trying to patch over some injuries in net.
Blake Wheeler's going to be out for a month after undergoing groin surgery. Who fills the top-six spot he vacated is yet to be firmly determined, but Sam Gagner made a great case for the gig Saturday with a two-point effort. He has 10 points and 53 shots on goal in 28 contests this season. The 33-year-old has functioned best as a power-play specialist in recent years, though he's just as likely to end up as a healthy scratch in favor of Karson Kuhlman or Mikey Eyssimont. Gagner's worth a look in deep formats because of his role when he plays.
While not on a team that's gotten hot, Shayne Gostisbehere is reaching last-call status in fantasy. The 29-year-old has thrived since Jakob Chychrun returned, with Gostisbehere logging four goals and nine assists in his last 12 games. The Coyotes have looked a bit more stable at home, and their hefty road schedule to start the year means they'll be hanging out in Tempe a lot of the rest of the way -- they've played just eight of 29 games so far at Mullett Arena. If he gets his way, Chychrun will be traded at some point, but Gostisbehere did pretty well without him last year, so I'd consider the latter a solid long-term add.
Dillon Dube has been gifted with a significant opportunity, a reward for his strong play of late. In his last 11 games, he has three goals and eight assists, and he's spent the last couple of contests alongside Elias Lindholm, bumping Jonathan Huberdeau down a line. The Flames snapped a five-game losing streak Sunday, so it looks like those line combinations could stick for a bit. Dube's made it work -- he doesn't produce much on the power play, but he's netted two of his six goals this season while shorthanded, so he's clearly trusted in key situations.
There's still value in players that play on bad teams. Frank Vatrano can't be ignored -- he's averaging 17:48 of ice time per game this season, 2:30 more than he saw after he was traded to the Rangers last season. He's gone from middle-six energy guy to a top-six winger, albeit on a very weak offense. Still, he's earned a goal and five assists in nine games in December, and he's added 30 shots and 14 hits. It's not full category coverage, but it's enough to bolster weak spots in deeper formats.
It's tough to trust anyone on the Flyers, but I'm taking a look at Morgan Frost in my deepest formats. He's been bolstered by a four-point explosion versus the Coyotes on Dec. 11, but the encouraging thing is his newfound top-six role. Head coach John Tortorella changes his line combinations on the slightest whims, so this could all be a short-term bump for Frost, but when he's playing big minutes and seeing power-play time, he can help. If nothing else, he's a matchup-based streaming option. The 23-year-old has 11 points and 32 hits through 31 contests, so he's not going to be a fixture on your roster.
It's been a stretch of hockey lately where it seems like the best players are playing their best. When the waiver wire feels stagnant, the best thing you can do is look for an undervalued player on a hot team. The next-best plan is grabbing a player that has a large and steady role anywhere -- those guys are easy to manage since there's little drop-off in their game. I prefer to aim for stability over speculation as much as possible, since I want to have a reliable floor for my teams' performances.
The other key point this week is to go where the league's momentum takes you. Buffalo's got a young offense, but they're looking pretty talented right now -- buy in while they're still free to add. Whoever won you games in October isn't doing you good if they've gone cold now. With a short week ahead due to the holidays, getting the most out of your limited games this week is more important that usual. Adapt and keep your team strong, and I'll check back in after the break with more adjustments.