The trade deadline is behind us, but I'm not going to spend this column talking about it. Rotoworld has already covered it extensively and if you're interested in reading up on what happened, you can check out the achieve of my live blog here, my post-deadline winners/losers column here, and Corey Abbott's look at the deadline's fantasy impact here.
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Being out from the other side of the deadline does help cement the rift between the contenders and the rebuilders though. Teams that are dedicated to rebuilding have spent the last month trading off assets and whether they're tanking or not, the reality is that they're not going to win a lot of games, but they will have an opportunity to test out their young players. That's most obvious with Toronto, which now has 19-year-old forwards Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander as well as 22-year-old goalie Garret Sparks on the roster, among others. Those are players the Leafs hope will be a big part of the team's rebuild and could have significant fantasy value in a few years.
This is also a time where teams that are attempting to claw their way into the playoffs will lean even more heavily on their starter or, in the case of Philadelphia, the goaltender that's simply been performing better. If we were earlier in the season, the Flyers might not be starting Michal Neuvirth Thursday night for the fifth straight game, but at this point Philadelphia can't afford to take a chance on abandoning the hot hand, whereas at this point in November, the Flyers probably would have gone back to Steve Mason.
The theme there is that a team's position will play an increasingly important role in how it operates going forward and evaluating each player needs to be considered in that context. For example, Washington is running away with the Presidents' Trophy at this point, so pretty soon the Capitals will have the luxury of shifting their focus towards the playoffs. One way we might see that materialize is by them keeping players sidelined for longer than they might need to be when injured for the sake of making sure the player is completely healthy and rested.
It will also be interesting to see if Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby starts less frequently in the final weeks of the season to both keep him fresh and make sure Philipp Grubauer is in a position to assume the starting job at a moment's notice if Holtby gets injured. The sticking point there is that Holtby has 40 wins in 52 contests while the single season record is 48. So would the Capitals start resting Holtby if it would mean potentially denying him a good shot at that record?
Although wins might be harder to come by for Washington regardless. It's going to become increasingly difficult for the Capitals to stay dominant when they're facing clubs that have so much more to play for then them. You might start to see that with other teams that pull away, although right now the Capitals are the only obvious example.
Another way team positioning might impact player value going forward is with teams outside of the playoffs simply shutting down their injured players rather than try to push them to return. Obviously the severity of the injury is still going to be the biggest determining factor, but why rush a player back for the sake of a lost season?
Goaltenders Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky both potentially fall into that camp, although neither of them want to declare their season over. Both Price and Bobrovsky have made progress towards rejoining Montreal and Columbus respectively and both hope to return before the end of the season. We'll have to see how that plays out.
Finally, there's the question of if we're going to have a rally team this season. A squad that appeared to be out of the running, but stuns the hockey world in the final weeks to make a strong push towards the playoffs, regardless of whether or not they actually get in. The 2014-15 Ottawa Senators were a prime example of that. The Flyers might be this year's version of that, although they weren't so far behind that them making the playoffs would be a real shock. Ultimately, the rally team this season might have simply made their push early as Anaheim has been on fire for a while now, but it's gotten to the point where they're almost certainly going to clinch a playoff berth with plenty of time to spare.
Who knows, maybe if Price comes back in the not too distant future, they can still rally around him to claw into the playoffs, proving those that thought he should just be shutdown wrong in the process.