Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit 2019: Three declining veterans to avoid

Jonathan-Quick

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick deflects a Minnesota Wild shot in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

When it gets late in drafts and you’re filling out your bench slots, it’s easy to be attracted to a big name and scoop them up thinking it’s a “safe” pick. But for players whose careers and/or production is tailing off, their upside is limited and it’s likely they’ll end up on fantasy waivers before too long.

Rather than be blinded by former greatness, it’s often better to take a swing on a younger player who could hit and wind up being a regular in your lineup. If these late-rounders are waiver fodder anyway, why not think big?

Here we look at three players who could be drafted, but who you should avoid in favour of a lesser-known player whose window could just be opening (see our sleepers article for some of those candidates).

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JOE THORNTON, SAN JOSE SHARKS

SN Rank: N/A
Position: C

A long-time favourite in the fantasy world, Thornton is eighth all-time on the assists list but hasn’t scored 20 goals in nearly a decade. He hasn’t announced his retirement yet, so at this point we’re assuming he’s still going to return to the NHL (likely with the Sharks) in 2019-20.

Thornton’s fit within San Jose’s offence had already diminished as he served mostly a third-line role for the team in 2018-19 and averaged just 15:33 per game, his lowest ice time as a Shark by nearly three minutes. According to Dobber Hockey’s Frozen Pool line combination tool, Thornton’s most common even-strength linemates last season were Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but he also spent a fair amount of time with Joe Pavelski, who has moved on to Dallas.

With that, Labanc is likely to move into the top six, leaving Thornton with even less scoring power around him should he stick on the third line. The future Hall of Famer is now 40 years old, and at this point any decline could rapidly pick up speed. If you want to take a shot on Thornton (after he signs) in the last round with the hope he returns 50-plus points and close to 40 assists again, with the upside of moving into San Jose’s top six when injuries hit, it’s not a terrible bet. But wouldn’t you rather spend that pick on a younger player with greater upside?

SEASON Pts/G Shots/G SH% (14.1 career average)
2014-15 0.83 1.67 12.2
2015-16 1 1.48 15.7
2016-17 0.63 1.02 8.6
2017-18 0.76 1.59 17.3
2018-19 0.7 1.23 17.8

JONATHAN QUICK, LOS ANGELES KINGS

SN Rank: 128
Position: G

Maybe you’re of the opinion Los Angeles bounces back next season and everyone – Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Ilya Kovalchuk – recovers to some higher level of fantasy relevance. Even if that’s true, Quick is unlikely to log the same 60-plus games he did in the prime of his career. He’s also a pretty high injury risk.

Though Quick is under contract another four years, he’ll turn 34 mid-season and the Kings may be interested to give Cal Petersen and Jack Campbell further opportunity after both outperformed Quick in 2018-19. Petersen is just 24 and posted a .924 save percentage in his first 11 NHL games last season, so he could be a late-bloomer. Campbell was a first-round draft pick all the way back in 2010 and had a .928 save percentage in 31 games last season. He is one year from becoming UFA eligible so has a new contract to play for, and the Kings may see him as a potentially cheap and capable tandem option to move forward with.

If Petersen, Campbell or both maintain a certain level of play in 2019-20, Los Angeles could even feel emboldened to explore trade options for Quick and that would change his fantasy outlook again. As long as he’s healthy, Quick will get starts and he obviously has the potential to catch fire again and be an elite netminder. But it just seems like the best days for him, and this Kings core, are in the past.

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

DUNCAN KEITH, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

SN Rank: N/A
Position: D

At 36 years old, Keith is heading down the stretch of his career and his relevance in fantasy hockey is fading. Though he’s only two years removed from a 53-point season, it’s more likely than not that’ll be the last time he’ll reach 50 points. The last two seasons (32 and 40 points, respectively) were the worst outputs since his first three years in the league. There were pretty favourable conditions for him to put up a lot of points last season, when Chicago finished with the eighth-best offence and threw caution to the wind. He did finish with 40 points, but is that his ceiling now?

For defencemen, having a spot on the power play is an important fantasy factor. We analyzed Kevin Shattenkirk‘s drop off in this regard earlier and Keith also saw his PP minutes shaved off. Importantly, this really appeared to happen after Joel Quenneville was dismissed and replaced by Jeremy Colliton behind the bench in November. Under Quenneville, from October to his firing, Keith averaged 2:34 per game on the power play to lead all ‘Hawks blue-liners. Under Colliton, he averaged just 1:07 behind both Erik Gustafsson and Brent Seabrook.

SEASON PP TOI/G PPP
2014-15 3:21 16
2015-16 2:49 18
2016-17 3:10 15
2017-18 2:36 10
2018-19 1:23 3

It’s entirely possible this continues in 2019-20 and that Gustafsson remains the top option on the power play. If Adam Boqvist makes the team out of camp, he may not be given more of a power-play role than Keith right away, but could at least eat into some of it.

Keith does bring some penalty-minute potential if your league counts that stat. He finished with 70 PIMs in 2018-19, but that was just the first time in six years he’d recorded more than even 30 of them. Only two other defencemen logged at least 60 PIMs and 40 points last season (Mark Giordano and Darnell Nurse), so if Keith sits in the box as often in 2019-20, it might save some of his fantasy value.

Looking at some defencemen ranked at the lower end of our top 250 compared to the unranked Keith: The Islanders’ Ryan Pulock is a better bet to take another step forward, while veteran Nick Leddy averages nearly three power-play minutes per game and could easily recover to his 40-plus point levels. Vince Dunn was on our list of sleeper picks. On an improved New Jersey Devils team, 24-year-old Will Butcher could have more point-scoring upside. Josh Morrissey seems like a lock to come through with a career year.

Let someone else draft Keith and drop him to the waiver wire when his output doesn’t keep pace with others. Then, if injury hits the ‘Hawks blue line or Gustafsson disappoints, scoop up Keith for free to see what unfolds.

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