It’s over. Technically, there are still several weeks to go this fantasy season, but the capitalized, fluorescent writing on the wall already assures your dynasty/keeper team isn’t winning squat. That collection of players that looked so good on paper in mid-January hasn’t lived up to billing and fantasy teams ahead in the standings are steadily pulling away. Time to shift gears and look forward to 2021-22 and beyond. With ESPN’s fantasy trade deadline still a week away, it’s occasion to build for the future in talking trade with contending managers who want to win it all right now. Here’s the ideal opportunity to target underperforming (or inactive through injury) assets who project to serve as fantasy monsters down the road, in exchange for a player, or a package of players, who can help a dynasty/keeper team battling in the here and now.

With an eye to next season, it’s also worth checking on the availability of lesser-rostered/injured players on the waiver wire. For example, Chicago’s Kirby Dach and Edmonton’s Oscar Klefbom could be available and worth securing in dynasty and deeper keeper leagues. Otherwise, trading for one of the following could also serve as tomorrow’s refreshing sip of lemonade squeezed from your present-day lemon-riddled roster.

Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres (97.8%): The inspiration for this column was recently traded in one of my established keeper leagues for a handful of present-day performers, including goalie Mike Smith. This deal serves both of my league-mates well – as every trade should – in providing the contending manager with additional fantasy firepower to close out this particular season, and the non-contender with one top-notch keeper for years to come. (This exchange works best, but not only, in leagues with limited, or zero, injured reserve spots.) Even before suffering a neck injury, Eichel was laboring through a historically awful year, particularly in the goals department. One the 24-year-old isn’t likely to repeat.

Taylor Hall, LW/C, Buffalo Sabres (83.6%): Maybe he waives his NMC and is traded before the deadline. Perhaps he instead sticks around and signs an extension in Buffalo. Or maybe he’s dealt as a rental and then re-signs with the Sabres in the summer. However it shakes out, Hall has nowhere to go but up after this campaign’s uninspired showing. Two goals in 29 games. He scored 39 (plus 54 assists) in winning the Hart Trophy only three years ago. I’m all over the not-yet-30-year-old as a strong rebound candidate in 2021-22. And it might not be too difficult to pry him away from a competing manager right now.

Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (20.7%): Swinging this deal would admittedly be tough. Kucherov – nearly ready to go soon, never mind next regular season – is fantasy elite. Keeper managers with IR spots on hand aren’t relinquishing the top-tier winger. No chance. Otherwise, as in the real-life NHL, anyone can be traded. Managers with a serious eye on this season’s prize might be cajoled into a trade for the right return. Just keep in mind, Kucherov won’t come cheap.

Patrik Laine, RW/LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (96.7%): The Columbus sniper might be my favourite underperforming asset of the lot to pursue for future competition. He’s contributing so incredibly little at present, it’s really something. And it won’t – can’t – last. Before this season, the 22-year-old had amassed 138 goals in 305 regular-season contests (plus a good bunch of assists). That works out to 0.45 goals per contest from day one of his NHL career. Playing for a new coach in Columbus, assuming that’s where the RFA-to-be sticks, might help.

Alexis Lafreniere, LW, New York Rangers (35.4%): No dynasty manager in their right mind would trade away a future star with so much potential, right? Perhaps. Unless the incentive to win now trumps fantasy aspirations down the road. Lafreniere still appears a year or two away from establishing himself as a true force. After “breaking out” for a pair of goals and three assists over four games as February bled into March, the 19-year-old rookie has since collected a single assist in seven contests, and tumbled out of the Rangers’ top-six. He isn’t helping any invested fantasy manager emerge victorious today.

Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils (47.2%): Ahead of his two-point effort in Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Penguins, Hughes had collected two goals and a single assist in his previous 13 contests. Quite a turnaround after flirting with a point-per-game pace through January and most of February. He’s also shooting on net less frequently. Contending managers with an eye on this season’s prize are undoubtedly frustrated with the 2019 first-overall draft selection. If you feel Hughes – still only 19 years old in his second season – will flourish in years to come, as most insightful NHL pundits do, make an offer now.

Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings (37.6%): The Red Wings’ best forward is still only 24 years old, and GM Steve Yzerman is bound to properly build around him at some point. Or maybe Larkin signs elsewhere when his contract expires in two years. However it unfolds, Detroit’s top center could pay out hefty fantasy dividends for seasons to come. Fortunately, for managers looking ahead, Larkin is plodding though his least productive campaign in years. His recent point-per-game flurry isn’t likely enough to re-engage most frustrated fantasy managers. Make an offer, especially in dynasty leagues.

Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens (71.8%): Breaking out earlier this season, Suzuki has since slowed down considerably. Two goals and four helpers in 17 contests draw stark contrast to the sophomore’s point-per-game pace through the season’s first few weeks. The 21-year-old boasts an incredibly bright, and productive, future in this league, but we’re not (consistently) there yet. Suzuki isn’t contributing enough in the fantasy realm at present, frustrating managers with a legit shot at first-place glory. Offering the right player(s) in exchange should jostle him loose.

Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues (91.4%): He’s won one game in the past month while averaging -1.13 fantasy points per contest. Fantasy managers would have been better off playing no one over that stretch than rolling out the freshly-extended No. 1 netminder. If a believer that Binnington’s impressive run over the past couple of years was no fluke, table an offer for him ASAP. The Blues are a much better team with Colton Parayko and Jaden Schwartz in the lineup – especially the high-end defender – and both are due to return from injury soon. St. Louis is going to start winning games again.

Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers (71.8%): Hart is a good young goaltender having a not-great year. Consider sendiing an offer his fantasy manager’s way, providing they have a genuine shot at this year’s title. Hart’s inconsistent play this campaign has been maddening and surprising in equal measure. But he’s too talented to not turn matters around, beginning in 2021-22.

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