It's really, really, really - can I throw in one more really? - difficult to set everything else going on in the world aside and just finalize some fantasy hockey rankings. Think of the questions and rabbit holes one has to consider...
How does the next regular season get structured and started? We've had hints that the Stanley Cup wouldn't be presented until maybe October, which leaves a new season, what, sometime in December?
How does the draft and free agency work with a postponed playoff tournament?
In fact, how is the whole offseason structured and how might it impact an eventual start date for another season?
If we do get a new season under COVID-19 guidelines, will physical distancing and self-isolation protocols remain in place? Does that mean more time between games so players are rested?
Are injuries easier or more difficult to manage with a four-month layoff already under players' belts? Does that make it better or worse for players in their mid-30s that would normally fade? Better or worse for younger players finding their rhythm?
What about the effect on the NHL players who contracted COVID-19? We know some have, but don't know in every case the identity of the player. We also don't know the long-term impact of having the disease, especially for high-level athletes.
What about the mental impact of playing during these trying times? Will players be OK not seeing their families and living on lockdown? We've already seen some MLB players start to take a hard pass on playing during the pandemic.
Heck, do we even get a reasonable 2020-21 season at all if a second wave of COVID-19 occurs before a vaccine is found?
But I'll try to tame my general neurosis and desire to account for as many variables as possible in order to boil this down and get it done.
These are the top-250 fantasy rankings for a theoretical 2020-21 season that starts sometime in the fall (winter?) with close-to-normal protocols established for offseason movement between now and then. In other words, this is an attempt to do these rankings with blinders on to the bigger issues. That may seem like a silly approach, but after attempting to run through the alternatives, believe me - it's the only approach that will make this ranking possible.
There is a lot that will change between now and whenever we get a proper fantasy hockey regular season again, but it's something we can hopefully start looking forward to. With that in mind, here's the top-250 players for the ESPN standard fantasy hockey game. Their ranking from July 2019 is included in parenthesis to show how things have changed in a year.
Players of note
Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina Hurricanes (No. 20): Last summer, Hamilton wasn't ranked very highly. He had just come off a ho-hum debut season with the Hurricanes in which he never managed to unseat Justin Faulk as the lead defenseman on the team's budding power play. Just before the 2019-20 season, however, the Canes offloaded Faulk and cleared the way for the then-26-year-old Hamilton to take the reins. He answered the bell. In just 47 games before the season was called off, Hamilton eclipsed his 82-game point total from the previous season. He's now ranked in a pocket with John Carlson and Roman Josi as a fair choice as the No. 1 defenseman in fantasy.
Alex Ovechkin, W, Washington Capitals (No. 32): No, that's not his age; 32 is his rank. Ovechkin will be 35 years old when another season resumes, so it's not far off. This certainly feels like a low rank for a player coming off a season with 48 goals in just 68 games, but it's not unreasonable to approach with caution. Even if Ovechkin keeps scoring 50 goals per season, his overall fantasy output isn't going to be top-10 worthy in the ESPN standard game. There are too many other categories to account for and Ovechkin isn't stuffing them like he used to. He's a three-category dynamo and a no-brainer for the top-30 skaters, but as he enters the Teemu Selanne-phase of his career (best example of a sniper aging gracefully), Ovechkin isn't a surefire first-round pick anymore.
Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers (No. 36): Hart is just the poster boy for the young, fresh goaltender movement - particularly in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers sophomore showed he can be the team's new No. 1 in the crease, and he won't be alone in claiming new ground across the league. Ilya Samsonov (Capitals) and Igor Shesterkin (Rangers) made strong in roads last season, with Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), Kaapo Kahkonen (Wild) and Alex Nedeljkovic (Hurricanes) are in a position to do so when we get another regular season. As these new stars come to light, we will get some fantasy heavyweights from the last decade stepping aside. Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury are in the danger zone for fantasy age that has already taken some fantasy favorites from us in recent seasons, such as Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick. And it should be noted for keeper leagues that Tuukka Rask and Carey Price aren't getting any younger.
Tony DeAngelo, D, New York Rangers (No. 45): There were some surprises from the Rangers offense last season. No, not Mika Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin, as there were signs that the Herculean fantasy effort would come from both of them (they were top-50 skaters in this space last summer). Specifically, the Rangers defense was a bit of a shock in how it shaped out. Fantasy prognosticators, including this one, had a Rangers defenseman being among the elite in the game, for sure; it was just the wrong one. Jacob Trouba was supposed to escape the shadow of Dustin Byfuglien and become a fantasy force for his new team. But it was Tony DeAngelo and rookie Adam Fox making the impact. DeAngelo finished with an elite 15 goals and 53 points, placing him in the top five for defenseman in both statistics. Fox, for his part, was top-15 in points and top-10 in plus/minus.
Taylor Hall, W, Arizona Coyotes (No. 63): We'll use Hall as the example for this already-postponed free agency period. It's weird to think that Hall would already have a new contract at this stage, if it weren't for the league shutting down. Now, he'll likely have to wait until October (and, for his sake, hopefully show off in the playoff tournament) to get a rich new deal. Certainly, the 28-year-old Hall didn't make a case for elite money in his 30 games with the Devils, nor his 35 games with the Coyotes, last season. He totaled 15 goals and 52 points in 65 games. Not terrible, but far from the MVP-calibre stuff he put up in 2017-18. But it's not just Hall that will have a new contract and possibly new team before regular fantasy hockey resumes; Mike Hoffman, Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug, Robin Lehner, Tyson Barrie, Jacob Markstrom, Evgenii Dadonov, Tyler Toffoli, MIkael Granlund, Sami Vatanen and Dustin Byfuglien are among the rankings here with a team listed next to their name that could be misleading.
Alexis Lafreniere, C, undrafted (No. 186): It's hard to even begin speculation about how new arrivals to the NHL will be able to acclimatize during a pandemic. We see so many stories every season about the rookies being taken under the wing of the veteran to find his footing in the NHL ... it's hard to be under wing from six feet away under COVID-19 lockdown guidelines. The draft, at this point, looks like it will be in October. Lafreniere is the likely top pick, which belongs to a yet-to-be-determind team that is still in the mix for the postponed playoff tournament. The initial drawing for the draft lottery was won by a "placeholder" team, with the Los Angeles Kings getting the No. 2 pick and the Ottawa Senators (via San Jose) getting the third. Jack Hughes was irrelevant to fantasy this past season as the No. 1 pick, but three of the last five have come out of the gate quite strong - and there are always rookies and newcomers worth grabbing for fantasy. How Lafreniere and other prospects and picks will fare in this new world is a fair question to ask. The approach in these rankings is to play it safe with known quantities and start making the risky picks after the top 150 players are off the board. You can make an argument for going earlier, but there are more Nail Yakupovs than there are Connor McDavids when dealing with the unproven.