Hutch's Hockey: Perseverance

Hutch's Hockey: Perseverance

There's a few reasons why I never give up on a fantasy team. The first is competitive integrity. As much fun as it is to stomp over a league, I really prefer to be facing warm bodies. I can't control that factor in random leagues -- I rotate out the zombies in the couple of leagues I run. For all of my teams, I'll stay active until there's nothing left to play for, just so that I'm not giving away games. 

On a similar note, I hate losing. A team that starts slow is a challenge to correct course by the end of the season. A team that has performed poorly is a stain on my all-time record. It's not a spotless one, but I pride myself on being at least playoff-caliber in most fantasy formats. 

All of that culminates in why I don't quit. It's perseverance. I much rather prefer playing for bragging rights, but in one of my money leagues, this was a down year. At the end of November, I was a hair clear of last place in a 14-team format. Out of frustration, I dealt away Cale Makar for a first-round pick. Combined with holiday stress and some trying family matters, it would have been a lot easier to punt away that team for the season. 

Instead, I kept going. I continued to sell off from the roster for futures, though I did make one trade to bring in Connor Hellebuyck since I had built up a good crop of picks. The team flirted with the money spots (top-four) but never really got there. In the end, it was a sixth-place finish, which comes with the benefit of picking second in a non-snake draft in the fall. I'll have six picks in the first five rounds with a three-keeper core of Hellebuyck, Elias Pettersson and Alexandar Georgiev. I finished ahead of everyone I traded with and now I'm in a good position for the future. I still have to draft well, but I'd be in a much worse starting spot for 2024-25 if I had mailed it in over the second half. 

When you're playing for bragging rights, I understand it's a lot easier to let things go. Marie Kondo told people that if it doesn't spark joy, get rid of it. As a bit of a packrat, I can't relate to that for organization purposes, but it makes sense. It's about the pursuit of happiness. One of the things in fantasy that brings me joy in a lost season? Playing spoiler. Like the players on your roster, play to the final whistle. Sometimes, the journey is more fun than the destination. 

I've touted Alexis Lafreniere multiple times this season, but there's no ignoring his five-point effort in Arizona on Saturday. That included his first career hat trick. Lafreniere's development has been slower than expected, but he is a key part of the Rangers right now. He had 16 points and a plus-10 rating over 14 contests in March, so he's already in playoff mode. Grab him now and keep him locked in the lineup. 

Fantasy managers with long memories are likely reluctant to trust Jonathan Drouin, and for good reason. This is the time of year to bury the hatchet with players who have done you wrong. Drouin had 14 points over 12 games in March, with five of his nine helpers in the month coming on the power play. He's also gotten the bump to the first line again, which means playing with a Hart Trophy contender in Nathan MacKinnon. Sometimes the spark doesn't create a flame on the first two or three strikes of the match, but you have to keep going until it lights. 

For defensive depth, Dylan DeMelo has stepped up. He has eight points over his last 11 outings, and he's added 19 hits, 14 blocked shots and a plus-11 rating in that span. DeMelo isn't the steadiest contributor on offense, but he plays heavy minutes on the Jets' top pairing. Consider the offense a bonus while you look to shore up your non-scoring categories with this trusty blueliner, who is on track for a career year nearly across the board. 

Ivan Barbashev continues to find his way into the fantasy mix, and that'll stay true as long as he's a top-line player in Vegas. The winger has four goals and 13 hits over his last five games. Barbashev is a streaky scorer, but not in small bursts -- these are usually two-to-three-week runs that make him a strong option. He's clicked best with Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault, but Bruce Cassidy will be a little touchy with the line combinations as long as the Golden Knights' skates are hanging over the fire of the wild-card race. 

If Barbashev does move down the lineup at any point, he could land alongside William Karlsson, who is surprisingly still available in 46 percent of Yahoo formats as of Sunday. Karlsson's injury absence from January is long behind him -- he posted 11 points over 14 outings in March, though none of that came on the power play. He's got a chance at his best season since that magical first year in Vegas. Karlsson's at 52 points through 62 outings now, which means he could push for the 60-point mark if he stays hot when the Golden Knights need him the most in April. 

Things have gotten a little hairy for the Jets lately, but it's not Sean Monahan's fault. The veteran center has eight points over his last nine games, and just one of them has come on the power play. Gabriel Vilardi is back from dealing with an enlarged spleen, which could throw the Jets' top six into flux again. Monahan got by on power-play production early in the year when he was with the Canadiens, but getting Tyler Toffoli or Kyle Connor on his wing if head coach Rick Bowness gets creative could be another boost for Monahan. 

I'm still on the Dylan Strome bandwagon, and it's paying off. He's got three goals and seven assists over his last seven games. The Alex Ovechkin resurgence has helped, but Strome has found success throughout the year. Head coach Spencer Carbery has stuck to what makes Strome successful -- first-line minutes, a power-play role and limited defensive duties. The center can be a dead weight for plus-minus, but offense and shots are aplenty in his game, and he's on pace for a career year. 

Somewhat suddenly, Alex Nedeljkovic looks to be the No. 1 for the Penguins. Tristan Jarry has struggled, which has prompted the change, but it's also likely to be an evaluation of Nedeljkovic, who is set for unrestricted free agency this summer. The results in March weren't great -- Nedeljkovic went 3-2-2 with a 3.31 GAA and an .883 save percentage over 10 contests. They've got a hard schedule ahead, but the playing time shouldn't be ignored. 

Charlie Lindgren has been the one to guide the Capitals' pursuit of a playoff spot, going 9-4-1 in March with a 2.45 GAA and a .919 save percentage over 14 contests. Lindgren shouldn't be out there in most formats, but he's available in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Sunday. I've dumped a lot of my Darcy Kuemper shares out of necessity, and much like the Capitals, I'm turning to Lindgren when I make a move in net. The Eastern Conference's last two or three playoff spots will go down to the wire, so expect the heavy workload to continue in April. 

Cayden Primeau is finally starting to look like an NHL netminder. He's still the No. 2 for the Canadiens behind Sam Montembeault, but the flashes of potential have been brighter. Primeau has won three of his last four games, allowing seven goals in that span. Five of those goals came in a dud of a loss to the Flames. The Canadiens are far out of the race, so the 24-year-old Primeau should be primed for a longer look down the stretch. 

If you need another example of perseverance, take one from the best player in the league. At the end of November, Nikita Kucherov had 39 points in 23 games, while Connor McDavid was at a modest (by his standards) 29 points in 20 outings. That wasn't the bottom-out point for the Oilers either, but now McDavid's only one point back of Kucherov and two points back of league-leader Nathan MacKinnon. For much of the season, this was a two-horse race, but McDavid's the fastest thoroughbred on the track. The Art Ross race will be a blast of a storyline in April, and it's because McDavid overcame one of his roughest starts to a season. 

Even if you don't secure a podium finish, or a league title, take pride in how far you've come this season. Winning isn't easy, and very few champions are wire-to-wire. Make some adjustments this week and get ready for the fantasy semifinals. I'll be back next Monday with an eye on the finals. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. In 2023, he was named FSWA Hockey Writer of the Year. Shawn serves as a contributor for hockey and baseball, and pens the "Hutch's Hockey" column. He also enjoys soccer, rooting for his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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