Rest-of-season fantasy hockey rankings

With the Florida Panthers leading the pack in remaining games down the stretch, Aleksander Barkov could be a key player for your fantasy roster. John Crouch/Icon Sportswire

The trade deadline for the NHL approaches at the end of the month. While fantasy hockey managers can get excited about potential value swings as the franchises wheel and deal, the only trade deadline that really matters in fantasy hockey is the one in your league.

It's possible that deadline is before the NHL's trade deadline, but it might also be shortly after. Depending on your league's playoff setup (if applicable), there is some flexibility to where your league's deadline falls. If you don't know it, you should find out.

Today, I want to suggest fantasy managers consider the schedule in their dealings, both now and toward the end of the season.

The imbalance of schedule in the remaining games becomes more and more impactful as the season winds down. Right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 28 games remaining in the season, while the Florida Panthers have 32 left. However, considering that those games take place over more than two months, it's tough to factor the four-game imbalance into a roster decision.

In a one-for-one deal right now, does Aleksander Barkov playing four more games than Auston Matthews tip the scales that much in your mind? Probably not. Especially given the ups and downs that could come during the next nine weeks of hockey. Even a nagging injury could even that playing field quickly.

But what about on Feb. 26? On that date, the Leafs will have 18 games remaining in their season, while the Panthers will still have 23 games to play. All of a sudden, the five extra games that Barkov gets now represent more than 25 percent of Matthews' total remaining games.

This can be an even more pronounced advantage in head-to-head leagues, where a strong regular season means nothing once the playoffs start. Head-to-head leagues that use a three-week playoff format will watch the Panthers play 13 times during the fantasy playoffs, while five NHL teams play only nine games. That's a pretty significant advantage at the most important time of the year for any managers with Barkov or Jonathan Huberdeau.

Some schedule notes to keep in mind:

Feb. 26 to end of season: All teams will have between 18 and 23 games remaining as of the morning of the NHL trade deadline. The Panthers will stand alone with 23 games left to play, with 14 of them on home ice. The Boston Bruins will be next with 22 games remaining, while the Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights will have 21 games remaining. Of the 14 teams with 20 games remaining, the Tampa Bay Lightning match the Panthers with 14 home games. The Anaheim Ducks join the Maple Leafs at the rear with only 18 games left at that point in the season.

March 19 to end of season: For the final three weeks of the season, which is when many head-to-head leagues will run the playoffs, the Panthers are still the team with the biggest advantage by having 13 games remaining. Thanks to the rescheduled game between the Panthers and Bruins from Jan. 4 to April 8, the Bruins remain next on the list with 12 games. The Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Predators and Senators are next with 11 games. At the other end of the spectrum, the Ducks, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers will only have nine games remaining.

March 26 to end of season: The final two weeks of the season, which some head-to-head leagues will use as an extended two-week championship, still show some imbalance. As you may have guessed, the Panthers will still be out in front with nine games left. The Bruins and Senators play eight times. Nine NHL teams will only play six times in the final two weeks: Ducks, Flames, Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Canadiens, Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks.

Forwards on the move

Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames (up 21 spots to No. 88)

The Flames' second line has finally heated up to match the fantasy-relevant pace they held for much of last season. Tkachuk enjoyed a climb in his average ice time per game with each subsequent month this season, culminating in a January that featured 11 points in 11 games, while playing 17:34 per contest. Mikael Backlund is enjoying a similar overall boost to production thanks to coach Glen Gulutzan switching up his top power play to include both forwards with catalysts Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. While Tkachuk is 65th overall on the ESPN Player Rater for skaters this season, his ranking over the past month is 40th.

Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (up 52 spots to No. 152)

Atkinson is getting a chance to redeem himself from a pretty terrible season thus far. Since coming back from a foot injury just prior to the All-Star break, Atkinson has shown some wheels on the ice with scoring chances. He has scored a point in each of the four contests. This is surely due in part to him moving onto the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin. The move hurts Josh Anderson's fairly constant fringe value thus far, but if Atkinson can start scoring like he did last season, he can provide more overall output than Anderson in this role.

Remember that Atkinson managed 35 goals as the club's premier scoring winger last season. His rostered percentage has fallen drastically due to horrible numbers and an extended injury, so he's available in 45 percent of ESPN leagues and makes for a sneaky pickup.

Defensemen on the move

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (down 34 spots to No. 156)

Given his proven skill and continued opportunity, Keith's poor numbers don't add up. He's fired 121 shots with zero goals this season, which is the watermark for shooting percentage futility in the NHL this campaign. The next highest shot total for a player with no goals this season is 77 (Radko Gudas). Keith isn't known for his keen shot, as his shooting percentage has always trended low, but if Keith continues to be incredibly unlucky with goals, he'll easily set the record for a single-season shot total with no tallies. His current season already ranks fifth all-time (since shots were tracked in 1959-60) for most shots on goal in a season with zero goals. The record is 153 from Gilles Marotte for the Blackhawks in 1967-68.

Of course, logic dictates that Keith will score a goal sooner or later. Firing 121 pucks at the net should have resulted in some accident goals already, but the results are starting to take a toll on his opportunity. Brent Seabrook has been playing more frequently on the power play of late, while Keith's ice time dropped by almost 90 seconds per game from October to January. Given that he's on the wrong side of 35 as of this coming summer, his status as a league-leading fantasy defender may have to be permanently degraded.

Goaltenders on the move

Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues (down 37 spots to No. 118)

Although it was in a losing cause, Allen performed admirably by stopping 43 of 45 shots against the Bruins last Thursday. In normal circumstances, that should have been enough to get him back in the saddle with regularity in favor of a plucky backup. But Carter Hutton is anything but a plucky backup this season. Hutton followed up Allen's performance with his third shutout of the season on Saturday against the better-of-late Buffalo Sabres. Hutton, at this point, should be considered the starting goaltender for the Blues, which means his presence on only 60 percent of ESPN league rosters is lower than it should be. That said, if I see Allen on the waiver wire in any league, I'm scooping him up with an eye to March and April. The balance of probabilities still suggests that he should emerge as the go-to starter, while the 32-year-old Hutton should regress.

Quick hits

You'll see quite a few injury returnees jump to their former position in the rankings this week, including Victor Hedman, Jaden Schwartz, Filip Forsberg, Matt Murray, Sebastian Aho, Tyson Barrie, Nino Niederreiter, Atkinson and Bo Horvat. The result is a few undeserved drops in the rankings for other players because, well, something has to give. ... Anthony Duclair seems to make the highlight reel on a nightly basis for the Blackhawks, despite somewhat muted results on the score sheet. The results could be coming soon after playing recently with Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Yes, that means Brandon Saad has been relegated to the bottom six for the time being. Also, consider Nick Schmaltz's role in the top six set in relative stone. Even with Artem Anisimov returning to a top-six role, Schmaltz stayed on a line with Patrick Kane. ... Michael Cammalleri has been taking shifts on a top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That's a combustible situation for the veteran sniper and should be on your radar if it continues. Cammalleri is plus-5 in his past two games. ... It took half a season of playing a role in the bottom six, but Nolan Patrick finally has an opportunity to shine on a second line with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. The rookie has three points in as many games since the All-Star break. ... Chris Kunitz should be added in basically every league where he's available. He's played on a top line with Steven Stamkos in every win on the team's current eight-game road trip. The Bolts quickly abandon him from the top line when they start losing, but the fact is that they keep going back to the well to start contests. Kunitz has six points in the five games in which he's stayed on the top line.