If thereís one general piece of advice I can offer to DFS hockey players as we head down the stretch of the season, itís to always keep an eye on lineups. With teams pushing for the playoffs, coaches will have a short leash on players if they arenít producing at the rate that the team needs. This can offer great value opportunities for players that get shuffled around the lineup, as maybe a third-line player ends up on the top line. Also, backup goaltenders can start to figure in prominently for teams should the regular starting goalie start to falter as well.
With that in mind, here are my value picks for this week on Fanduel.
Nino Niederreiter (Minnesota) - $4200
After experimenting with Matt Cooke and Charlie Coyle on the second line with Mikko Koivu and Matt Moulson, Coach Mike Yeo has put Nino Niederreiter on that line for the last game and a half. The result in the last game was Niederreiterís highest time on ice in a game since January 25th (16:57).
The first full game for this newly-formed trio wasnít exceptional, as they got out-possessed by the Blue Jackets, but there are signs for future success: Niederreiter had two-thirds of his shifts start in the offensive zone, and being that heavily-weighted to offensive zone starts is conducive to offensive success. Not only that, but more importantly, there should be fewer opportunities for goals against. With Fanduel having a significant plus/minus component, zone starts are very important.
Itís a relatively small sample size (151:34 of five on five ice time as of Friday night), but Niederreiter and Koivu have produced a CorsiFor percentage of 63.2 percent. Along with the zone starts, this is another good indication of not being a minus-player in the future.
Minnesota gets a tough start to the week with Boston on Monday night, but they then get the Islanders and Devils (both on the road) before a home-and-home on the weekend with a decimated Detroit Red Wings team. At least three of those games are very good match-ups for the second line from Minnesota (Detroit x2, Islanders) so Niederreiter could do very well for his price this week.
Matthew Nieto (San Jose) - $4000
I will begin this by saying Nietoís price will probably rise throughout the week.
For several games, Matthew Nieto has bounced between the top line with Joe Thornton and the second line with Logan Couture. For his last couple of games though, Nieto has seemed locked on the second line with Couture and Patrick Marleau. The result of playing in the top six has been five points in his last five games with a plus-4 rating.
The line of Nieto-Couture-Marleau has been together only for the last couple of games, so the sample size is far from conclusive on anything. What works in the favour of this line is that they draw the secondary pairings from the opposing coaches while Joe Thorntonís line draws the top competition of the opposition. This becomes important this week, as the Sharks have three home games against Florida, Anaheim and Washington. Avoiding the top competition of the other team means avoiding Floridaís Brian Campbell, Anaheimís dynamic duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and the Alex Ovechkin line (along with defenseman John Carlson) of Washington.
Two of the three games this week (Florida, Washington) are glorious match-ups for the second line of the San Jose Sharks. Nieto doesnít get top power play minutes, but he does get secondary minutes for this team. The three teams that the Sharks face this week are all in the bottom-half in penalty killing for the season, so there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for Nietoís production this week.
Mike Richards (Los Angeles) - $3700
Mike Richards is not the player that he used to be in Philadelphia. In his first couple years with Los Angeles, Richards finished outside the top six forwards in terms of offensive zone starts. Things have changed this year though, as Richards is second on the team in offensive zone start percentage (60.4-percent) and heís not facing top line opposition either. Despite this lenient positioning, Richards is still a minus-2 on the season.
The Kings have not been known to be a high-scoring team over the last few years, so the upside of Richards is fairly limited if heís not a plus-player. There is hope for him this week and for the rest of the season, though.
Through his first 61 games of the season, Richards had a 5.8-percent shooting rate. For a bit of context on how unlucky that is, Richardsí lowest shooting rate for a season since 2007 was a 10.5-percent mark with Los Angeles in 2011-2012. There is also direct correlation between shot distance and shooting percentage. Through his 68 games this year, Richardsí average shot distance was 24.43 ft (per Sporting Charts). Last year it was 30.54 ft, and the year before it was 29.91 ft. This means his shooting percentage should be at least around his career mark of 11.1-percent or even higher. Instead, itís at 6.7 percent for the season. This should improve over the course of the next month.
This week, the Kings get three home games against Phoenix, Washington, and Florida. These are all prime match-ups for scoring and Richards should be able to produce.
Sami Salo (Tampa Bay) - $3200
Tampa Bay hasnít looked quite the same since they traded Martin St. Louis at the deadline. Most importantly, Steven Stamkos hasnít quite hit his stride yet since returning from his broken shin, as he has been held pointless in four of the five games since coming back.
Things have turned around over the last couple of games for Tampa, though, as theyíve won games against Florida and New Jersey, scoring eight goals along the way. This team has a very talented top six group so it was really just a matter of time before they found their groove. Even more important than the eight goals is that the team has won the possession battle over those games with a 54.4-percent FenwickClose mark.
Sami Salo figures in here, as heís replaced Victor Hedman on the top power play unit as the lone defenseman. Salo has always been known for his bomb of a shot, and that adds another dimension to the top unit, aside from the Steven Stamkos one-timer. Salo is still paired with Hedman at even strength though, so that does mean drawing the top opposition from the opponent. Luckily for Salo, the Lightning get Vancouver on Monday with the Canucks coming off a game the night before, Toronto and Ottawa on a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday, and are in Pittsburgh on Saturday. While that last game might be a bit tough (assuming Chris Kunitz and James Neal are both back for the Penguins by then), the first three could be fortuitous match-ups given how Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa have played lately.
Salo would normally be in tough against Toronto, but their top line has gone cold of late, so the chance is there for Salo to have a big week this week. Ottawa and Toronto are both among the bottom five teams in the NHL this year in penalty kill efficiency, so I would look to Salo in those two games in particular.
Chad Johnson (Boston) - $7400
There arenít many good value plays this week in net aside from Al Montoya of Winnipeg. The Jets have a couple of really tough games ahead, playing in St. Louis Monday and in Colorado on Wednesday, which means Chad Johnson would provide the next-best value.
Thereís no doubt that the Bruins are trying to give starting goalie Tuukka Rask as much time off as they can. Thereís no reason not to either, as they have a very comfortable 14-point lead on second-place Montreal. The result has been that Johnson has started 6-of-14 games since February 1st. They are seemingly giving Johnson all the ďcookieĒ games, which means games against easier teams; each of Johnsonís last six starts have been against non-playoff teams.
Boston has been absolutely dominant of late by winning eight games in a row. Johnson has seen his numbers improve as a result, as Johnson has only allowed four goals against in his last three starts, posting a .947 save percentage along the way.
Boston starts the week with back-to-back games against Minnesota on Monday and New Jersey on Tuesday. Later in the week, the Bruins head to the road to play back to back games in Colorado and Phoenix. If what the coaching staff has done in recent games is any indication, Johnson should at least get that game against Phoenix. He could very well get the game against New Jersey as well. With the way Boston is playing right now, heís a must-start on the nights he gets the nod in net.