The 2021 NHL Season Preview: How I Learned to Love Covid Pt. 1

Welcome friends, readers, and friends that are readers! This is going to be the first segment of my NHL Season Preview. We’re going to go division by division and discuss the teams within, how they should fare over the season, and the most relevant players for fantasy and DFS. Two things we should know about the Covid-shortened season:

  1. The divisions have been realigned to limit travel as much as possible.
  2. Teams will only be playing other teams within their division.

The second is very important for us because instead of seeing every team a minimum of twice, increasing variety and variability, we will see an increase of repetition which should swing pricing. Maybe I’m over-speculating, but I plan on taking advantage of teams that get to see Chicago and Ottawa seven times this year over the others.

To start the preview, I will go with the Central Division. It should be noted that I will discuss teams in reverse order of success, meaning that if I start with your favorite team, then I believe they will not do very well this year. Let us jump right into the dumpster fire that is the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago

Well, before the holiday season approached us and we received confirmation that there will be an NHL season, I speculated that Chicago had a real shot at being a possible bubble team, especially if the NHL expanded playoffs again like they did last season.

Then the WJC happened.

Kirby Dach, the Blackhawks upcoming franchise centerman and current second line center, fractured his wrist in a tournament he probably shouldn’t have been playing. Just like that, one of the Blackhawks’ most vital players is out for the year.

One whole day later, future Hall of Famer Jonathan Toews reports that he severely lacks energy and feels unfit to report to training camp. His timetable is completely up in the air for when he comes back.

All of a sudden, a decent team became a basement favorite in 24 hours. No, Jack Bauer cannot save this team and neither will he try or return my phone calls.

The Blackhawks now have two massive holes to fill with three likely candidates but I will get to them later. Second future hall of famer Patrick Kane will have to drag this team to any kind of substantial offense and any potential wins. He is an elite scoring winger through and through and will likely never be priced appropriately due to how bad the Blackhawks will be every week. You can use Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat  in a nice little power play stack as they are both the most solid tertiary options on the Blackhawks. Strome will likely be the candidate to receive the top line centerman position as he is the most experienced center on the team. Now we have two centers left to fill in the second line role. One is Pius Suter, a Swiss league product who the Blackhawks took a shot on after a 30 goal season overseas. It will not be an apples-to-apples transfer and I would not expect that kind of production in a much tougher league like the NHL. The second option is Lucas Wallmark, a former Carolina prospect that was sent to Florida in a trade and found himself in Chicago over free agency. I think they are probably similar players at this point and both are definitely over-slotted. Dominik Kubalik had amazing chemistry with Jonathan Toews last season and it should be interesting to see if he can repeat his success. He should be the fourth forward on the power play unit.

The defense is definitely nothing to make eye contact with as they are going to take beatings most of the season. Duncan Keith is a very meh option for DFS but he does have an occasional game or two at this stage of his career. Adam Boqvist will have the upside, though, as he should take the reins from Keith on the power play unit this year. The only other defender  I will likely look at this year is Calvin De Haan as he loves to rack up points with blocked shots and an occasional assist.

Unless you are a masochist, I could never recommend Malcolm Subban or Collin Delia as a potential goalie play. Both are going to let in so many goals that this could be Vietnam levels of trauma.

Detroit

With the absences of Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, there is a big likelihood that the Red Wings are not the basement team of this division. It won’t be surprising to me, either, to not be second last either. Weirder things can happen in a shortened season. All in all, they will likely be the second worst team in this division but they’re growing stronger compared to last season. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi will be a very popular stack for me this season as they are all three players that love to shoot the puck and should be power play correlated together. It was nice to see Bobby Ryan make a strong return with the Senators last season and show that he is completely suitable for a secondary scoring role. He should get to play with upcoming prospect Filip Zadina a whole lot. I can see them being quite viable one-offs or even a mini-stack, as long as they’re lined together. Robby Fabbri has also come into his own after a nasty, injury-plagued start to his career. Overall, this top six forward grouping is fairly impressive considering where Detroit was two years ago.

On the blue line, it will be the Filip Hronek show as he should be the all-situations monster to incorporate into a stack. He has a bright future as a top pairing defensiveman for the Wings. Dennis Cholowski is no slouch either and will be the second defensiveman used for the power play and will take over the first unit role if Hronek ever misses time. One player to absolutely keep your eyes peeled for is future German star Moritz Seider. Big Mo looked like a stud in the AHL last year and should be able to make the jump to big minutes sooner than most think. He has some delectable upside that Detroit fans should be fawning over.

If Thomas Greiss is getting the start, then I have no problem taking a GPP stab on him here and there. I will not go near Jonathan Bernier in any lineup I ever make.

Florida

As far as variability goes, the Panthers have the widest array of outcomes in this division. They made a few very interesting moves in the offseason that will either pay off or completely bust. The good: they got rid of Mike Matheson, statistically one of the worst defensivemen in the league on a horrid contract in exchange for a quality forward in Patric Hornqvist. Is he past his prime? Yes. Are we ever going to use him? Hell no. But he is a semi-quality return for a negative asset. That’s good. The bad: letting Evgeni Dadonov and Mike Hoffman walk as UFAs. Two strong offensive forces in exchange for nothing. That’s bad. They did fill the void slightly with the signing of Anthony Duclair, but he is way too streaky in comparison to be a neutral move for either one of those guys. But they still have their dynamic duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, that’s very good. These two will likely average a point per game as the Panthers are absolutely relying on it to happen for any success. They have a slew of kids with upside to look out for, specifically Henrik Borgstrom, Aleksi Heponiemi, and Grigori Denisenko who we could use later in the season when we see what this Florida team looks like.

There’s only two guys we will ever use on defense: Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle. Yandle will be the favorite of the two as he is going to man the first power play unit and will usually be cheaper than Ekblad.

Sergei Bobrovsky has taken a fall from grace after career seasons behind one of the most defensive teams (shocker) and being moved to one of the least defensive teams (even bigger shocker). He is still worth a look in GPP but I would definitely fade him if he were ever chalky. The backup should be Sam Montembeault and can be used in GPP as well.

Nashville

Next up was a tough decision for me between Nashville and the next two teams. Ultimately, I had to choose Nashville because this seems to be where offense goes to die. I hope they can change that this season, though. I am still completely puzzled by the fact they sent Kevin Fiala to Minnesota for Luke Kunin. There is an obvious superior player there and he sees more snow nowadays. Looking at this roster, though, you would assume they score much more. Filip Forsberg can be a juggernaut any given night and is great for mini stacks when paired up with Matt Duchene or Viktor Arvidsson. The only other forward that we can consider most of the time is Ryan Johansen as he has had his offensive output nosedive ever since leaving Columbus.

Defensively though, this team is stacked. The king of all fantasy defensiveman is Roman Josi. You can play him solo or paired up with one of the forwards. His price will never reach his ceiling, though. That’s something we want to take advantage of as he just scores an absolute fuck ton along with points from shots on goal and blocks. If you learn one thing from this article, then its that you should play Roman Josi. Ryan Ellis has also shown respectable offensive upside and becomes very viable if Josi ever misses time.

Pekka Rinne is in the twilight of his career as this very well may be his last season in the league. He is beloved in Nashville and definitely worth a look when he is playing. But I want to target Juuse Saros a whole lot. Saros is likely the best backup in the league and should be the starter very soon.

Columbus

Next up are the Blue Jackets. Fresh off of a Pierre Luc-Dubois extension that was very much needed, Columbus will be in contention this year undoubtedly. They are stout at every position on the ice and will only miss the playoffs if they succumb to mass injuries. Dubois will be the number one center and likely the most often used Blue Jacket. Columbus also added a fantastic offensive player in Max Domi which will certainly help their depth a good bit. Wingers Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson will likely be the biggest beneficiaries of this addition as they love to shoot and score, two great complements to a pass first center like Domi. We can also use Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno, and Gustav Nyquist (EDIT: Nyquist will be out a long time with an injury) as pieces to a stack depending on how the lines and power play units are set. Emil Bemstrom is also a good upside player that can be used when he moves up the lineup. 

Columbus possesses two extremely high-quality defensivemen for DFS: Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. Werenski will likely get more power play time of the two but both are going to be in my pools anytime Columbus takes the ice.

It is very rare that we see a club with three quality goaltenders but Joonas Koorpisalo, Elvis Merzlikins, and Matiss Kivleniks will surely be viable. It just depends on who is starting any given night. We probably will not see too much of Kivleniks barring a trade or injury to the former two.

Dallas

The Stars were an absolutely fantastic story last season during the bubble but just could not handle the Bolts at the very end. This season, well, they’re starting off about as bad as any team could: six positive Covid tests. This could be something or nothing, so I will break them down as if they’re all false positives. Tyler Seguin will undoubtedly be the most expensive Star every night. (EDIT: No he will not, Seguin will be out almost all season with an injury.) Jamie Benn found some life in the bubble after looking very pedestrian during the regular season. Pairing those two with my favorite defensiveman in the league, John Klingberg, will be a go-to move for me as they beat up on the Blackhawks, Panthers, and Red Wings all year. Old man Alexander Radulov is the next best Stars winger and can definitely be used for power play correlation. Another favorite of mine is the Finnish Flash Roope Hintz as he should take the next step as long as they pair him with a finisher like Denis Gurianov this year. Joe Pavelski is also reaching the twilight of his career but we can use him here and there.

As I mentioned before, defensiveman John Klingberg will see a lot of my lineups this year as one-offs and in stacks. You can double that for wunderkid Miro Heiskanen. Both are formidable defenders for your lineups whenever you’re playing.

Goaltenders Ben Bishop (EDIT: Bishop will be out, like Seguin, almost all season.) and Anton Khudobin will be great cash plays most of the night but will likely be chalky whenever they play. I will go there occasionally for tournaments though.

Tampa Bay

With two teams left, ultimately it came down to Tampa’s best player Nikita Kucherov being out for the regular season. Was it something shady for cap circumvention? I won’t speculate (it definitely was) but the Bolts are still a strong team going into 2021. A popular move will be playing Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos together as they are two dominating players in the offensive zone. Anthony Cirelli will be a favorite ownership pivot of mine as teams focus on shutting down the former two all game. You can also play Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson in a stack to get correlation.

The blue line will feature two big dogs. One is Victor Hedman. If you follow hockey already, then you already know. If you don’t, he is an elite blueliner in every zone and can be played all the time. The other is Mikhail Sergachev. He is primed to take another step in his career and has very good offensive upside all things considered.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is a bit overrated in terms of DFS. He will always be popular on any slate. Cash? Sure. But for GPP, I would rather gamble on someone with a bit more upside. Curtis McElhinney is a capable backup but not a lock by any means, for similar reasons. Lightning goalies just carry ownership and they will until they’re bad.

Carolina

I think the Hurricanes will handle this division with ease. They’re arguably the deepest team in the league and definitely the deepest in the division. My favorite stack in the entire league is Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen. They will never get insane levels of pricing for whatever reason yet all they do is score. You can also use Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas whenever you like as well. They are not nearly as potent as the first three but they will, again, always be underpriced for the upside Carolina can procure in this division. Ryan Dzingel, Morgan Geekie, and Nino Niederreiter can also be used to gain correlation whenever needed.

Dougie Hamilton is a blue line cheat code. If he did not get hurt last season, he would have had more Norris votes undoubtedly. Use him whenever as he will get all the power play time. Jaccob Slavin is a good play as well, especially when Hamilton has to miss time.

Petr Mrazek and James Reimer were fine GPP plays last season. They did not get much in terms of ownership most nights. Now weeks of continually mashing on Chicago, Florida, and Detroit might change this a bit but I plan to still go here a good bit.

Central Division is down! Thank you for reading and be on the lookout for Part 2 of this four part series.

Follow me on Twitter at ZawaDFS and send me your thoughts on this season!