Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Is it time to drop Vitek Vanecek, given his recent slide?

New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) and defenseman Damon Severson (28) defend against Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) during the third period of an NHL hockey game. (Noah K. Murray/AP)

There are no sure things in fantasy hockey.

Linus Ullmark appeared to have the easiest possible matchup of all on Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, only to deliver probably his worst performance of the season. The Boston Bruins netminder conceded five goals and took the loss, only his fifth in regulation all season. Ullmark had given up more than three goals in a game only one other time this season.

That outing may have sunk a number of fantasy hockey seasons because playoffs have started in a lot of leagues, and that night from Ullmark is going to be tough to recover from. Instead of getting off to a strong start to the week, now those rostering Ullmark have to dig themselves out of a major hole.

With so much on the line, it’s hard to feel confident in any goalie this time of year.

Let’s get to your questions:

Both are worth considering, but I’d lean more toward Barrett Hayton. Evgenii Dadonov hasn’t been as consistent, and Hayton has the benefit of playing on an Arizona Coyotes top line that has been incredible over the last month or so. Even with Nick Schmaltz injured, Clayton Keller’s production alone should be strong enough to help Hayton’s value to continue to remain high. Finding someone like Hayton, who has attached himself to a player or two having a career season, is a good strategy for success.

I think you can make a case for that. There’s no denying Hayton is the hotter player right now and playing on a more productive line, even though Elias Lindholm is coming off a solid game Thursday. Lindholm, and the Calgary Flames in general, have been very underwhelming this season, so in a playoff situation sometimes you have to do what you have to do to survive another week. This move is probably something you wouldn’t consider in November, but you can certainly justify it at this point in the season.

It’s impossible to play at an extremely high level for a full 82-game season, which is why it’s no shock to see the Bruins, for example, stumble a bit here down the stretch. In fantasy, though, we know there is plenty of value with players from weaker teams, so when a strong team isn’t playing well for a handful of games, it’s no reason to panic. That said, goalies will feel it the most, though, so if you’re rostering a netminder on a team that isn’t playing well at this time of year, you may have to consider a switch in a win-or-go-home scenario.

Finished third and in the playoffs after salvaging my goaltending with waiver adds of Jeremy Swayman and Pyotr Kochetkov, as well as trading for Filip Gustavsson. The player who’s been a rock for my team has been Tim Stutzle. He’s really had a breakout year and fills almost every category like points, hits, blocks and faceoff wins.

The player I probably should have dropped a while ago is Evan Bouchard. I had a bunch of injuries so I kept him around, and then when Tyson Barrie got traded his value trended up again, so I’ve still got him. Not the most reliable but he’s definitely produced some big performances lately.

Good question. Juuso Valimaki is someone I would look at, as he’s taking advantage of a huge opportunity with Jakob Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere no longer in Arizona. Valimaki should be the No. 1 defenceman there next season.

Kochetkov is another name to look at in goal. Both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta are free agents this summer and almost certainly at least one of them won’t be back. In a worst-case scenario, Kochetkov is splitting time on a really good defensive team and in a best-case scenario he takes over the starting job.

This last one is a bit off the board and probably only makes sense in really deep leagues, but I’m a huge fan of what Thomas Novak is doing with the Nashville Predators. He has 29 points in 35 games and will hopefully be with the team full-time next year.

I would say yes because I never like carrying more than three goalies. You could use Vitek Vanecek’s spot for a skater or even a streaming option. With four goalies, you’ll likely be benching one or two of them regularly while skater spots often sit. For maximum roster flexibility, I wouldn’t hold more than three goaltenders.

Alexandar Georgiev is probably playing a bit too much. When you consider he hadn’t played more than 34 games in a season coming into this year, the Colorado Avalanche probably didn’t expect him to be at almost 50 games already in the middle of March. I don’t think the Avs have much confidence in any other goalie besides Pavel Francouz, though, and it doesn’t sound like he’s that close to being healthy. Expect a steady dose of Georgiev going forward and probably his numbers outside of wins to be a little inconsistent the rest of the way.

If you were really desperate, you could consider dropping Sebastian Aho. He’s been ice-cold, and Andre Svechnikov’s injury isn’t exactly going to help matters. You probably won’t find someone with more talent than Aho on your waiver wire, but you might be able to take advantage of someone with a good schedule or on a hot streak.

I can’t say I have any insight into what the Minnesota Wild are planning with Kirill Kaprizov. When you have a handful of injuries all at once, though, there are a few things you should do to prioritize who to keep. First off, ask yourself, are any of these players keepers? Based on the names you listed, it sounds like they could be. Obviously, you can’t drop a keeper.

Second, who will be healthy the soonest? It sounds like a longshot that Kaprizov would be back in time for this fantasy season, so if he isn’t one of your keepers, you could probably let him go.

Lastly, look at schedules. If you have to decide between a couple of players to drop, see whose schedule is the worst over the next week and a half. That may help guide your decision. Getting a handful of injuries all at once is never ideal, so just try to put yourself in the best position moving forward.

I believe Alex Killorn has one fewer game than the other three, but I’d say it’s almost a coin flip between Brock Boeser and Anthony Beauvillier. Boeser has the top power-play time and Beauvillier gets to play with Elias Pettersson on the top line. I’d lean toward Beauvillier, just because I think all those minutes with Pettersson are more valuable.

Brett Ritchie could be a decent short-term add with Nick Schmaltz out, but I think his value probably plummets when Schmaltz is ready to return. You could definitely take a chance on him to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle, just don’t get too attached to Ritchie.

I don’t really see Michael Bunting putting up fantasy-worthy numbers unless he’s playing with two good linemates like he has with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If he re-signs in Toronto and continues to play with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, or Matthews and William Nylander, then Bunting should be able to produce points. I’m not saying Bunting’s value is entirely the product of good linemates because it’s not always easy to play with talented players, but I also don’t really view him similarly to a Zach Hyman, who can drive play on different lines.

Vanecek has been far from his best lately, so he’s the only one out of that group I’d consider replacing with Thatcher Demko. Vanecek has an .884 save percentage since the start of February and saw Akira Schmid get the start over him on Thursday night.

Even so, it’s not an easy call. I’d argue Demko’s schedule is easier than Vanecek’s over the next couple of weeks, but the Vancouver Canucks haven’t shown any form of consistency this season. Still, Demko has been lights-out since returning from injury and in a short-term window, I’d probably roll the dice with him over Vanecek based on the friendly opponents he has coming up.

Hard to say because Joonas Korpisalo is a free agent and the Los Angeles Kings have Pheonix Copley locked up on a pretty cheap deal for next season. Plus, there’s still the matter of Cal Petersen in the minors on a significant deal. That leads me to believe there’s a decent chance Korpisalo may not be back with the Kings. He’s also struggled in the previous two seasons, so Korpisalo would have to be in a pretty good spot next season to be worthy of a keeper position. I’d wait to see where he lands this summer before making a decision.

Great question. I should clarify here, these aren’t always bad fantasy options, but just players I feel are overvalued and end up just being OK. Miro Heiskanen was on this list for me until this season, where he’s finally breaking out. Heiskanen is a great defenceman, though he hadn’t scored more than 36 points in a season before this year.

Jonas Brodin and Mark Stone are a couple of others. Again, anyone in the NHL would want Stone on their team, but he’s hit 70 points only once and he’s never reached 200 shots in a season. You could argue he’s an elite player because of his defensive abilities, but if you’re expecting elite fantasy production, you’re going to be disappointed.

It’s definitely safe to drop Ondrej Palat at this point. He’s been very quiet of late and as you mentioned, is out of the top six and seeing minimal power-play time for the Devils. There are probably more productive options on your waiver wire, or you could just open up that spot for a streamer with a good schedule or upcoming favourable matchups.

Every team is different depending on their cap situation, roster space and amount of callups they have available. This is probably a bigger question for your league in general, as I always prefer to use the IR+ option for injured players. If one of your players is out with a legitimate injury, it shouldn’t really matter what designation their team gives them. You should be able to get roster relief and replace them with a healthy player. You can still limit how many IR+ spaces you have on each roster and how many total waiver adds you have per week and for the season, so things don’t get out of control. It’s not fun when you can’t replace injured players.

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