Oh Canada – who’s ready for a CanCon overload?
From navigating through a compressed 56-game schedule, to a complete divisional overhaul, fantasy hockey owners will have a whole new set of obstacles to overcome in the 2021 fantasy season.
The NHL’s 31 teams have been broken up into four realigned divisions – among them: the newly minted North Division. From puck drop on Jan. 13 all the way through the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Canada’s seven squads will duke it out for national supremacy.
And thus, the conversation to be had – what are the fantasy implications? Who should you target? Who should you avoid? From a strategical standpoint, there’s no reason to shy away from anyone -- there’s plenty of fantasy value (even in the capital) to uncover throughout this great country.
Let’s take a closer look:
Brace yourselves, shorter than normal training camps and no pre-season action, among other factors, could mean turbulent times in goal to start the season. When it comes to the crease, 2021 could bring a whole new meaning to the word volatility in fantasy hockey. Rest assured, you’ll have to stay on top of things.
Indisputably, the insertion of the baseball-style back-to-backs will almost certainly boost the fantasy stock of backups league-wide. For my money, you’ll be able to find significant value on the waiver wire for a streamer play, if needed. With that in mind, because most teams implement some sort of tandem system, it would be wise to target a bona fide No. 1 goalie as quickly as possible. Especially in these times, stability is the name of the game.
Of Canada’s seven teams, five enter the season with an established No. 1 netminder – Vancouver and Edmonton will likely begin play with some sort of timeshare in place. With a 56-game slate over 116 days, it goes without saying that every start is an important one.
Here’s how I’d rank Canada’s crease tandems entering the season. Disagree? Comment below!
1. Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price (SN Rank: 68) & Jake Allen (SN Rank: 223)
Now 33, Price is still considered one of the best goalies in the NHL. The Allen acquisition was a sharp one – not only will the 30-year-old provide reliable relief behind Price, but he’ll also help to push him too. The Canadiens should feel supremely confident about their goaltending entering the season.
2. Calgary Flames – Jacob Markstrom (SN Rank: 77) & David Rittich (SN Rank: NR)
For the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames have themselves a legitimate No. 1 in Markstrom. In addition to that, Rittich is a more than adequate back-up behind him. Provided everyone can stay healthy, there’s great value to be found in Calgary’s crease.
3. Winnipeg Jets – Connor Hellebuyck (SN Rank: 29) & Laurent Brossoit (SN Rank: NR)
Coming off his first career Vezina Trophy, Hellebuyck should be viewed as a high-end fantasy option. That said, there’s a substantial drop off behind him – will the Jets get the Brossoit of two years ago (good) or last year (sub-par)? Nonetheless, Winnipeg will need both of their goalies in order to compete for a playoff spot.
4. Vancouver Canucks – Braden Holtby (SN Rank: 137) & Thatcher Demko (SN Rank: 149)
Markstrom out, Holtby in – undoubtedly, the 2016 Vezina winner will help to continue to push Demko along in his development process. Regardless of who plays net for them, the Canucks will need to clean things up defensively if they have any post-season aspirations. This duo will likely split playing time to start the year.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs – Frederik Andersen (SN Rank: 52) & Jack Campbell (SN Rank: NR)
On paper, Toronto’s off-season reshuffling – especially on the back-end - should make them a much better defensive team. That, in turn, should help Andersen out, who’s coming off an inconsistent season and is entering a contract year. Behind him, there’s finally some insurance in the form of Campbell. It might not be pretty all the time, but the Leafs should win a lot of games this season.
6. Ottawa Senators – Matt Murray (SN Rank: 179) & Marcus Hogberg (SN Rank: NR)
At the very least, the Murray pickup makes the Senators a much more competitive bunch. In addition to that, Hogberg is sneakily a very underrated backup. Ottawa will likely pile up the losses, but the crease numbers should be pretty decent. Lots of value to be found here, too.
7. Edmonton Oilers – Mikko Koskinen (SN Rank: 210) & Mike Smith (SN Rank: NR)
Not for a lack of trying, the Oilers failed to address their biggest need in the off-season. Instead, they’ll run it back with the same tandem – this time around, the starting job is likely Koskinen’s to lose. For me, there are too many question marks; buyer beware.
One thing is for certain: you’ll be looking to Canada frequently early on in your drafts. If there’s one thing we do know, there’s plenty of offence to go around. In fact, seven of the top-20 featured in Sportsnet’s top-250 pre-season fantasy player rankings are currently on Canadian squads. And if you can’t get your hands on one of them, don’t fret, the next best thing to do is target someone who plays with them. Employing this kind of strategy in daily fantasy could be beneficial as well.
Here’s a look at the top-three fantasy options for each Canadian team plus some other nuggets to consider moving forward:
Kailer Yamamoto is a great value buy; Consider taking a flier on Dominik Kahun and Tyson Barrie; Jesse Puljujarvi is a deep sleeper option.
William Nylander and Morgan Rielly are solid bargain buys; Zach Hyman is a fantastic streamer option; Nick Robertson could be fantasy relevant by season’s end.
Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers are fantasy monsters too; Temper your expectations with Paul Stastny; Neal Pionk is a phenomenal blue line value option.
Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano are primed for bounce back seasons; Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund are two stealth streamer looks.
Bo Horvat is so underrated, and Brock Boeser is primed for a bounce back season; Jake Virtanen is a superb value buy; Newcomer Nate Schmidt could provide sneaky category coverage on the backend.
Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson are worth taking a flier on; Tyler Toffoli is a solid daily play look.
Tim Stuetzle, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson should firmly be on your radar. Newcomer Derek Stepan gets a significant boost going from Arizona to Ottawa. Also, I love the new jerseys.