NHL trade season is in full swing now. The Bo Horvat trade kicked off a month that will be filled with plenty of rumors and deals.
This trade, on its own, is a fairly big one by NHL standards. It becomes bigger because it alters the course of the Islanders' franchise -- Horvat promptly signed for a max-length extension with an $8.5 million cap hit before he ever played a game with his new team. It's a sign of faith that the team as its currently constructed can find success with some small adjustments to the depth.
What does it mean for fantasy managers? Horvat's matched his career high in goals with 31, but he's done it while shooting 21.7 percent. The Canucks may have been a dumpster fire in many regards, but there was no doubting the top-six talent assembled in Vancouver. The Isles, on the other hand, are known to prefer a defensively sound structure. Horvat won't hurt them there -- he's an all-situations guy, but that new deal is an expensive one. He needs to frequently land between 60 and 70 points while playing his usual sturdy defense for it to be a good move. In fantasy, that high shooting percentage should be a warning light rather than a beacon, but I wouldn't expect the bottom to just fall out.
Going the other way, Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty should have more opportunity. Whether alongside Elias Pettersson or J.T. Miller, Beauvillier will have a more significant chance to chip in offense. His 20 points in 49 games this year won't get much attention, especially for a winger that's never eclipsed the 40-point mark in his first six NHL campaigns. Raty may not immediately get a chance to make an impact, but the second-round pick from 2021 shouldn't be too far away from getting a shot at a bottom-six role in Vancouver.
In other recent trades, Matt Nieto being back with the Avalanche is intriguing. He's a player head coach Jared Bednar trusts, but Nieto's still a bottom-six guy at his core. He's not going to move the needle much in fantasy, unless the Avalanche's injury woes resurface en masse again.
It's a 30-game sprint to the finish line now. Fantasy manager have about four or five weeks to get where they want to be in head-to-head formats, and those in roto leagues will want to be especially sharp at shoring up weak spots and maintaining category leads. There's not a lot of recent play to look at thanks to the ongoing bye weeks sandwiched around the All-Star Game, so it's a good time to take a look at guys that have been hovering under radar a bit for the whole season.
Sticking with the Islanders theme from the intro, this might be your last chance to buy in on Anders Lee. Whether he sticks with Brock Nelson or gets paired up with Horvat or Mathew Barzal, the big trade should provide a boost to the team's top six. Lee has 19 goals, 16 assists and 142 shots on net through 52 contests already, and he closed out January with four goals and an assist over his last five games. The upcoming schedule is pretty favorable -- let's see if he benefits from his team's aggressive addition.
Between the holidays and the All-Star break, Brandon Tanev racked up four goals, four assists, 36 hits and 31 shots on goal while averaging 14:19 of ice time per game for the Kraken. In that 17-game sample he was mainly a bottom-six winger with PK time. The narrative for the last few years is that he's just playing above his level too much to be trusted, but he's been virtually right in line with a 0.5 points-per-game and an immensely physical game since the start of 2020-21. His shooting percentage this year is a much more reasonable 11.1 percent, so it appears it would take an injury to deny him a 40-point season -- which is always a risk for a player that has no brake pedal.
There's simply no excuse for Dylan Cozens to be below 60 percent rostered in Yahoo! formats, yet he sits at 56 percent as of Sunday. He's the second-line center on a top-tier offense, having contributed 17 goals and 26 assists in 49 contests. The 21-year-old was a first-round pick in 2019, and he's grown into a larger role in his third season. You can't leave 60-plus-point guys on the waiver wire in anything but the most shallow formats, especially when they're doing good work on the power play (14 PPP this season).
In a similar vein, David Krejci needs more attention. He's the second-line center on the best team in the league. There's a risk he might be rested more down the stretch, but that's only a concern once the Bruins clinch everything they can. His 42 points in 46 games at 36 years old is impressive. I've made the case here before -- unless you're completely set at center, go get him.
Sticking with the Bruins, there's a deep-league case to be made for Connor Clifton. He's not exciting, but his 14 points in 51 games represents the best season of his career. His plus-17 rating is also a high mark. He's been a fixture in the lineup for the Bruins, and his 141 hits and 76 blocked shots will help him generate some value in banger leagues even though his offense can't fully be trusted. The only thing that dims his rest-of-season outlook is if the Bruins add a blueliner at the trade deadline, but I don't think they'll mess with what's been a winning formula all year -- and such a trade would likely be a bigger concern for Derek Forbort's playing time.
One more from Boston, and that's Pavel Zacha. Any question about his role with the Bruins was squashed when he signed a four-year extension last month. Like Krejci, Zacha has produced quite well in a top-six role. Down the line, the 25-year-old might eventually end up in Krejci's second-line center spot, but Zacha's a winger with multi-position eligibility this season. His 35 points in 51 contests have put him on the edge of a career season, and he's also shown some durability that evaded him throughout his time with the Devils.
Jason Zucker is another player I've gone back and forth with throughout the season. His four-game point drought leading into the break is discouraging, as is the rather frequent risk of an injury. I still believe he needs to be rostered when healthy -- slumps happen, but there's not really anyone else pushing him for a top-six job right now. He's got 13 goals and 30 points through 45 contests, which is just five points shy of the mark he posted across 79 games over the previous two seasons. He's a good player who's had some rough luck, but he's looked pretty solid this year.
I was pretty big on drafting Neal Pionk back in the fall. Compared to Josh Morrissey's Norris-level play, Pionk has been a disappointment, but there's nothing too worrisome about 22 points, 117 hits and 83 blocked shots in 52 contests. He's added just two power-play points and a minus-5 rating. If Morrissey gets hurt, or if his play drops off, Pionk's a good bet to pick up the slack. He's well-rounded enough to help even if everything continues to go well for the Jets.
I'm a pretty firm believer in Brady Skjei this season. He's at 23 points and a plus-17 rating through 50 contests. Unlike some other defensemen I roster, Skjei has shown less physical play, but he's also managed five power-play points in limited usage in that situation. He had 39 points in 82 games last season, so the scoring rate is not all that unusual, and a solid supporting cast in Carolina makes me think he can keep it going long enough this year to offset the drop-off in physicality.
Another player I've gotten behind is the Rangers' K'Andre Miller. The 23-year-old hits plenty to help fantasy blue lines, and he's already picked up a career-best 25 points through 49 contests. He's averaged 22:14 of ice time per contest in a top-four role while seeing some time in all situations. He's out there in 49 percent of Yahoo! formats -- I'd expect that number to rise over the rest of the campaign.
To the crease, where I continue to have an eye on Filip Gustavsson. He spent much of January in a timeshare with Marc-Andre Fleury, who then started the last three games before the bye week. Gustavsson will need to draw 40 to 50 percent of the starts to be helpful in most standard formats, but the results -- 11-7-1 record, 2.26 GAA and .922 save percentage -- have been absolutely worthy of such a share of playing time. It's tough to tell what the workload will look like with the Wild in a tight battle for playoff positioning, but it should be a situation where the hot hand will get the time.
Similarly, Dan Vladar is an interesting goalie to have. It's tough to hold onto him when Jacob Markstrom plays well, but when Vladar gets a run in the crease, he's been the more consistent of the Flames' goalies. The 25-year-old went 5-0-1 with a 2.63 GAA and a .901 save percentage in January -- the ratios aren't great, but with the Flames in a similar position to the Wild, it's more about the wins than the process.
If you need a netminder to keep tabs on in trade talks, the potential of Karel Vejmelka getting moved before the deadline is a story to watch. The 26-year-old has maintained a .907 save percentage, a strong mark especially since the Coyotes have allowed the third-most shots per game (34.8). Vejmelka would probably return more fantasy value if he's moved, even if he gets stuck in a backup role. However, there's a chance he could be a starter if he's acquired by teams like the Kings or Sabres -- teams that don't have a particularly clear No. 1 already. Where he lands will be just as important as how he performs if a deal happens.
This is the point in the season where it's time to be bold. Make your moves, whether they're on the waiver wire or via trade -- see what sticks, and adjust as necessary. It'll feel like time moves a little faster now that we're past that slog through the middle of the campaign.
It's also important to be mindful of how real-world events impact the fantasy game. There will likely be a couple more big trades on the level of the Horvat deal -- Erik Karlsson's name has been in the rumor mill for months. If you don't like where a player gets traded, try to hammer out a deal before your fellow fantasy managers realize there's a situational downgrade in play. Not every move is a lateral one for every player, and there's also some risk that chemistry with new teammates will take time to develop. It can be better to sell than hold, even if you like the move from a hockey perspective.
I'll work on having a fantasy angle for all of the fantasy-relevant trades over the next month in each week's column, to go with the usual waiver-wire fare. This can be a challenging time of the season, but it's also an exciting one with the extra intensity, especially if you've got a competitive roster. Good luck this week as you get back into a rhythm for the fantasy stretch run.