A common theme in this column is finding players whose situation has changed within their team, and then using these players in DFS lineups as cheap “punt plays.” In daily hockey, it’s those third-line forwards that get moved to the top line or third-pairing defensemen who get second-unit power-play duties that carry exploitable costs. They’re still a punt play, but there is a reasonable chance of success. Most of that success comes because of the price, but part of it can be attributed to the new context.
With that in mind, here are some players who have found themselves in a fortunate situation of late. The skaters will all be under $4,000, at least at time of writing.
Erik Haula, Minnesota ($3,100)
Haula burst on the scene last year in the playoffs when he had four goals for the Wild through the first two rounds. As a depth player, his chances were limited, but he was able to use his speed very effectively. That’s the one thing that will stand out about watching Haula play -- when he’s in full flight, there are few defensemen who can keep up with him.
Where the Wild draw a lot of their value is their even-strength play. Per Hockey Analysis, the Wild average 43.9 unblocked shot attempts on net per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That number is fourth in the NHL, trailing only the Blackhawks, Kings, and Islanders. In addition, the Wild are giving up the fewest unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. That bodes well for Minnesota players on FanDuel, because suppressing shots and creating offense can lead to a good plus-minus number.
Haula found himself on a line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle of late. On the depth chart, they won’t be a focus for opposing teams. With Haula getting off the fourth line, and moving to a line with better offensive talent, there’s a good chance for success this week. The Wild will get a Los Angeles team that hasn’t looked quite right this season, and a defensively-deficient Dallas team over the weekend.
Nick Spaling, Pittsburgh ($3,200)
The medical issue with Pascal Dupuis -- a blood clot in his lungs -- is quite the unfortunate development. That’s the second significant malady that has ended his season in as many years, with a knee injury doing the job last year. His loss in fantasy terms means that a new opening now exists in Pittsburgh’s top-six forwards. Sidney Crosby’s line has now become a trio of Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Spaling.
Spaling was the forgotten part of the package that came from Nashville with Hornqvist in this summer’s James Neal trade. The center isn’t inept offensively, but he had cracked 30 points just once in his career, and his highest goal total for a season is only 13. Instead, what this is about is Sidney Crosby. Though he’s not The Kid anymore, he’s still the best player on the planet. For reference, Dupuis was seventh in the NHL from 2011 through 2014 in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Seventh. There are a lot of world class players that produced at a lower rate for three years than Dupuis did. That’s what playing with Crosby can do.
This is purely a play for the next few games, as Pittsburgh has Toronto and Carolina twice for the rest of the week. That first game is especially a good matchup for using Spaling, provided he stays on the line with Crosby.
Linden Vey, Vancouver ($3,100)
Earlier this year, Vey was a fixture on the top power-play unit with the Sedin twins. He was then moved off the unit in favor of a second defenseman at times, or Zack Kassian at others. All the same, Vey has recently been placed on that top unit in Vancouver, which is quite the coveted position.
Looking ahead at Vancouver’s schedule this week, their first two games are against the Devils and the Blue Jackets. Those two teams are ranked 28th and 26th respectively by percentage of penalties killed, while Columbus is the third-worst team at giving up unblocked shot attempts at 5-on-4. New Jersey’s penalty kill may be improving a bit after a really bad start, but the Columbus penalty kill is still just bad.
The Sedin twins and Radim Vrbata are all in the top 25 of the NHL in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 (via Hockey Analysis). Vey getting to play with that trio is a huge jump in value for him. Three of Vey’s four goals this year have been on the power play, and hopefully he can cash in against some of the weaker penalty kills this week.
Cam Fowler, Anaheim ($3,700)
While Anaheim doesn’t have a great conversion rate on the power play this year – they rank 19th in the NHL in percentage -- they’re a top-10 team in terms of generating unblocked shot attempts, and do have two of the most talented forwards in the NHL. Things should hopefully improve for them moving forward.
For most of the year, the Ducks had been using a four-forward power play. Of late, though, Ryan Kesler was replaced on the first unit with Cam Fowler, who plays alongside Sami Vatanen on the top power-play unit.
Anaheim’s first game this week is at home against the Calgary Flames. Calgary is 29th in the NHL in penalty killing. Much of this is due to Calgary goalies posting a .794 save percentage while down a man, but Anaheim is a team that relies on percentages anyway. These two teams faced off a week ago, and the Ducks went 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
Fowler himself is a skating, puck-moving defenseman, though not necessarily a shooter. Considering that he is used in the defensive zone quite a bit, there is the potential for Fowler’s plus/minus to hurt. With the opportunity he’s given, and his price, it’s still hard to pass him up.
Thomas Greiss, Pittsburgh ($7,100)
Pittsburgh has three games in four nights later this week, and two of them are on a home-and-home with Carolina. While the Hurricanes are playing better hockey of late, it’s still a plus matchup for the Penguins.
Typically, using Pittsburgh goalies is a means of getting a win. With Greiss, though, this could be a very good goaltender on Pittsburgh’s bench. From 2007-08 until this season, there were 84 goalies with at least 2,000 minutes of 5-on 5 play; Greiss was 10th in save percentage. It’s still not a big enough sample to say he’s among the best in the league, but the evidence is starting to pile up.
Regardless of the game Greiss gets to start this week, they’re all good matchups for him. Because of his price, he should be somewhat highly-owned in tournaments, but he’s a solid cash game play regardless.