There are few worse feelings in fantasy sport than the nausea inspired by watching an player rack up a good number of (altogether useless) points on your bench. Such a depressing waste. Any manager with a large enough roster and the ability to make daily lineup adjustments can then speak to the frustration of being forced to choose between players on days when almost everyone is playing. Fourteen games on a busy Saturday? Cobbling together that active lineup requires a few tough decisions. So why not hack the schedule, so to speak, by investing in players who actually play more often when others don't? All else being somewhat equal, of course.
Every year a handful of teams feature more frequently on extra light schedules than others. Just like another bunch of clubs play more often on heavier timetables. Investing in fantasy commodities from the former over the latter immediately provides your roster with a boost. Simply by being on the ice when others aren't. Availability is the best ability, and all that jazz. You can bench them on the busier days when almost everyone else is playing and they're not.
So, setting the benchmark at six games - when another 20 teams, at minimum, are idle - we tabulated which clubs are booked to compete on so-called slower nights, from the season's start to conclusion. While the team out of Anaheim competes on 31 such lighter dates, the Tampa Bay Lightning figure in only 11. That's a wide gap worth respecting. As long as you're able to make daily adjustments, the ability to maximize your lineup every calendar date can make the difference between winning it all by season's end and falling just that little bit short.
Anaheim Ducks: Just because they won't win as much as others doesn't mean the Ducks are devoid of valuable fantasy figures. Once more, Anaheim leads the NHL pack with the most games - a whopping 31 - on dates featuring six matchups or fewer. Heading into 2023-24, a healthy Troy Terry is endeavouring to crack 70 points for the first time in his young career. Same applies to Terry's linemate, and the club's top fantasy commodity up front, Trevor Zegras. Before suffering a lower-body injury, rookie Leo Carlsson was a standout in camp. Once recovered, the teen is hoping to stick with the NHL club for most of the campaign. Forward Mason McTavish is another fun asset with 60-point potential. On the blue line, Cam Fowler remains a perennially underrated fantasy performer who's going to pitch in regularly on the power play. Radko Gudas is a hitting machine, while young Jamie Drysdale is expected to take another stride or two forward in the production department after losing most of last year to a shoulder injury.
Chicago Blackhawks: If needing another reason to invest in the most exciting prospect out there, how about knowing the Blackhawks play a third of their scheduled games when most of the rest of the league is off? And Connor Bedard isn't the only fantasy skater who shines a little bit brighter because of that schedule imbalance. Unlike his teen linemate, who's overwhelmingly rostered across the ESPN.com universe, Taylor Hall is much more available. As is second-line center Lukas Reichel, who's expected to take another leap forward after registering 15 points in 23 games this past season. The 21-year-old was also good for nearly a point/game in the AHL. Taylor Raddysh is intriguing in deeper leagues, if he sticks on Chicago's No. 1 power play (along with you-know-who). A power play quarterbacked by the club's top fantasy defenseman, Seth Jones, who's only a season removed from punching out 51 points in 78 contests. Jones would serve nicely as a No. 2 or 3 fantasy defenseman in most scoring leagues.
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Washington Capitals: There's still plenty of fantasy pop to appreciate on the oldest, player-age-wise, NHL team outside of Pittsburgh. Chasing Wayne Gretzky's record, Alex Ovechkin remains a top-20 fantasy forward with 50-goal potential. Currently tied with The Great One and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons (nine), Ovechkin is going to get plenty of support from his teammates in breaking that record. A recently extended Tom Wilson is fit again after losing a good part of last season to injury. The 29-year-old sports additional value in leagues that reward penalty minutes, in addition to scoring. A healthy-again John Carlson projects as a Top-15 fantasy defenseman after sitting out a hefty portion of last year with a head injury. If/when fully recovered from his latest Achilles injury, Max Pacioretty might be worth a roll of the fantasy dice in deeper leagues. If able to compete, the veteran sniper is going to score plenty. Like the Blackhawks, the Capitals play 27 on or so-determined light nights.
Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller, Logan Cooley, Barrett Hayton and Nick Schmaltz are, in order, my top fantasy forwards in the desert to start this regular season. Keller, who turned 25 years old in July, bested the 80-point mark for the first time this past season, potting 86, including 37 goals. Mattias Maccelli is worth monitoring if he cracks the Coyotes' top-six, while Jason Zucker merits consideration in deeper fantasy leagues. Give me Sean Durzi over J.J. Moser and Juuso Valimaki, at least at launch, as a shooting/shot-blocking defenseman with 45-point potential. Arizona plays 26 contests when only six or fewer games are scheduled, split evenly between 13 at home and 13 on the road.
Minnesota Wild: One of the league's most promising commodities between the pipes is also set to be more available more often than most others. In my view, Filip Gustavsson is a top-5 fantasy goalie heading into 2023-24. After posting a 22-9-7 record, .931 SV%, and 2.10 GAA through 39 games this past season, Gustavsson is now poised to play significantly more than the Wild's other netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury. Up front, Kirill Kaprizov is a full-on star, fantasy and otherwise, Matt Boldy is looking erupt for 30-plus goals after collecting 31 (and 32 assists) in his sophomore season, while Joel Eriksson Ek is hoping to prove this past year's 61-point output wasn't a fluke. Minnesota's second-line center also likes to bang bodies about and blocks more shots than your average forward. Keep rookie Marco Rossi on your fantasy radar in case the 2020 draft pick manages to climb out of Minnesota's bottom-six. When healthy, Mats Zuccarello deserves a lineup spot in most scoring leagues. Defenseman Calen Addison will pitch in upwards of 20 power-play points.
Along with the above-mentioned clubs, the Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, and New Jersey Devils round out the Top-10 of those who play more often when others don't. Useful info to consider, especially when debating fantasy investment in one player over another.
Then there are those teams who play more when most everyone else is also active. On the opposite end of the busyness spectrum, the following are booked in on 15 or fewer lightly-scheduled (six or fewer) dates: Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, and the aforementioned Lightning.
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