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NHL Waiver Wire: Targeting Categories

Dan Waldner

Dan Waldner covers hockey for RotoWire, and has been involved in fantasy hockey pools for 15 years. He's a lifetime Toronto Maple Leafs fan, a passion his wife puts up with and his daughter is starting to emulate.

As this is likely the last week for many of you leading into the playoffs -- or perhaps even the first round, for those pools who have opted for one week prior. In either case, all caution is thrown to the wind when you're fighting for your lives, which many of you are. Rather than merely listing out solid all-round waiver claims, I've separated the candidates based on a "cheat sheet" approach. Most of you will be fighting it out in one or two categories; these are the most common battleground statistics, and the people you're most likely to find on the wire who can help out the most.

Best of luck, and hopefully, you'll still be in it next week.

Goals

Mikael Backlund C, CGY -
If you need assistance in the ever-elusive goal category from the waiver wire, you'll be unlikely to find a hotter goalscorer right now. While the rest of Calgary remains ice cold, Backlund has found the back of the net in four of his last five games. He's also managed to put up some solid secondary statistics, such as a power play point and a short handed goal, along with six PIM in his last ten games. All signs point to Backlund being a lone bright spot in a team sorely needing something to hope for next season. Right now, his ownership rate is still in the single digits, so he's readily available. Given his production in the last 30 days, there are very few players with his performance anywhere close to his low ownership rate; in fact, the next best option at this ownership level, Charlie Coyle, is a significant step down in all-round performance. Only eight other players in the league have more goals in the last month than Backlund. At this time of year, options are scarce, and he'll be your best bet.

Assists

Mike Ribeiro C, NSH -
It's always been astounding to me that Mike Ribeiro doesn't get more fantasy love than he does. In the last 30 days, he has the second-most assists in the league with 13 - second only to assist machine Joe Thornton. Much like Thornton, Ribeiro has a big fantasy problem: while he's exceptional at producing prodigious amounts of assists, the rest of his categories are remarkably flat. Normally, that would be the reason why his ownership rates are so low, but at this time of year, having a single-category specialist available is a wonderful benefit to fantasy owners who can grab him and have need. His ownership level is 22 percent, meaning most of you can go out and get him if the assists category looks to be contestable. Owners also have the benefit of using Nashville's schedule to their benefit -- the Predators play Thursday and Friday, then not again for the rest of the weekend. If you're in tight, grab Ribeiro Wednesday evening, and dump him Friday night after the Washington contest. If you can find another player available who plays a Saturday/Sunday back-to-back, you might be able to parlay this into a solid four-evening performance.

Power Play Points

Elias Lindholm C, CAR -
Now, I'm going to have to stipulate right up front that this category is incredibly hard to both predict and acquire via waiver wire. That being said, if it's Thursday or Friday of this week, and you're within a few PPP of taking the category, all I can provide is the best possible candidate to help. In this case, it's Elias Lindholm. In the last month, only five players in the whole league have more power play points. Aside from Cam Fowler, who happens to be atop the league in PPP in the last 30 days, only Lindholm has an ownership rate under 50 percent. In fact, the 22-year-old Swede's numbers are so low, all but the deepest pools have him available. He's sitting with 13 PPP on the year, and seven in the last 30 days. He's also rather exceptionally good at getting assists, with 24 on the year and five in his last 10 games. With the departure of Eric Staal, he's also getting far more ice time than normal. All in all, you're not likely to find many options on this category, but Lindholm will probably give you the best chance. Carolina plays Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, giving three games in five nights. That's a pretty good opportunity for Lindholm to be able to contribute a few PPP to the cause.

Penalty Minutes

Radko Gudas D, PHI -
If Non from Superman II decided to strap on skates and play hockey, he'd be Radko Gudas. Namely, Gudas is nearly Kryptonian in how he mangles opponents, and finds his way serving two-or-fewer in the box. In the last 30 days, he's recorded over ten PIM in a game three times, and 49 PIM in those same 13 games. As every fantasy GM who recruits a goon will tell you, the hardest part is finding one that can not hurt the rest of your team. Not only does Gudas have a plus-six over the last 30 days, he's also managed to put up seven points. That level of secondary production is quite rare, and considering he has around a 20 percent ownership rate, the next best option is Max Domi, who's ownership is significantly higher. Philadelphia is playing rival Pittsburgh on Saturday night, and you can bet the farm that there's going to be at least one fight during that game. You can also bet that Gudas will more likely than not be the candidate to trade punches from Philly. If you need 15-plus minutes next Saturday to help lock up the PIM category, get Gudas.

Plus/Minus

Mattias Ekholm D, NSH -
I mentioned him in an article a few weeks ago; while his point production has dropped off, as I expected, his plus-minus performance has been as exceptional as I had hoped. In his last 30 days, he's recorded a plus-12, and averaged a plus-one for every game in that stretch. Being able to tack on a player who's almost guaranteed to play a neutral-to-plus rating in this incredibly hard category to predict is terribly rare. Considering his ownership rating is in the mid-teens, he's easily attainable in most leagues. He's also a solid all -round producer, with five points and six PIM in the last 12 games. As I mentioned in the Ribeiro recommendation, Nashville is playing a rare Thursday-Friday back-to-back, meaning you should be able to use him to boost your plus-minus, then trade him in Friday night for someone who can help other languishing categories for the weekend. Statistically, he's your best bet for this unpredictable category.

Save Percentage

Philipp Grubauer G, WSH -
The Capitals have very nearly clinched a playoff spot -- almost a month ahead of the end of the regular season. Once that occurs, which should be sometime this week, you can expect Grubauer to receive an elevated assignment as they look to rest Braden Holtby for April. Whether you chalk it up to an exceptionally good team in front of him, or a solid goalie in his own right (or perhaps both), Grubauer's numbers have been incredible. As a backup, his .930 SV%/2.02 GAA put him third among any goalie playing more than ten games. With single-digit ownership, he's underowned -- but that too is explainable. Holtby has played a lion's share of the games for Washington, so Grubauer has received the leftovers. Fantasy GMs who need a solid start or two from a goalie need look no further than the expected starters list for the next games. If Grubauer gets a start this week, there will be few goalies available that can reproduce his numbers that are also on the wire.

Wins

Antti Raanta G, NYR -
Frankly, your options are limited for wins. Your best bet might realistically be to watch the starting goalies for Sunday's games and snag a beneficial backup. Of those options, Raanta might be the one you end up going with. In the last month, Raanta has eight wins and a .912 SV%/2.46 GAA including one shutout behind a very solid New York Rangers team. With an ownership rate of 19 percent, he's the lowest owned goalie with five-wins-or-more in the last month. At this time of year, winning goalies are worth their weight in gold, so you're not likely to find a better option. Nonetheless, watch the projected starters as the week draws to a close, and grab any backups who have beneficial assignments.