Some big moves in early July completely changed the face of your fantasy squad. In part one of a four part series, let’s take a look at where some of these guys fit in with their new teams and, by extension, your fantasy league.
With superstar defenseman Scott Niedermayer on the cusp of retirement and sniper Teemu Selanne also looking in that direction, the Stanley Cup Champions needed to act quickly. They did so with the signings of former Red Wings Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi.
For the record, the only thing that stopped Niedermayer from officially retiring was the logic that if he waited until September he could avoid some embarrassment in the event that he changed his mind. Selanne seems to be 50-50 on the subject – he really wants to leave the game on top, but the competitive fires are still burning in his belly.
Schneider will be good for 50 points this season. If Niedermayer comes back, the Ducks will trade Schneider and he’ll get his points elsewhere. But rest assured, he’ll get his 50, while missing his usual 10 games due to injury. Defenseman Francois Beauchemin will again play second (third?) fiddle behind Chris Pronger and Schneider, so a 40-point season is likely out of reach for him this season.
Bertuzzi, on the other hand, will produce like Selanne, by any means. His bad back is causing him to play cautiously, which will cost him his usual point-per-game pace. Therein lies the big question. How many games will he play? Use a conservative approach here and put him down for 65 games and 55 points. The upside is no higher than 75, and you can imagine the downside.
As a team, the Ducks will be much weaker if they lose their two stars, however keep in mind that Ryan Getzlaf is clearly poised to break out this season.
The Thrashers managed to hang onto Slava Kozlov, so all of his owners can now breathe again. The problem that plagued this team last season persists now – they need a first and second line center. So far their solution has been to let Todd White, Steve Rucchin and Eric Perrin fight it out.
Last season, they had some success putting Kozlov at center with Marian Hossa. This year, White will center Hossa and Kozlov, with the latter going back to the wing. Remember – White and Hossa played well together in Ottawa.
Rucchin has already proven incapable of the role at this stage in his career, so there are a pair of dark horses to keep an eye on for your fantasy squad. Firstly is Perrin. A point-a-game player in the American League, he does have some offensive upside and if the chemistry is there with Kovalchuk, 70 points is not a stretch. The second candidate is blue chip prospect Bryan Little. Atlanta’s top prospect will get a long look in camp and it won’t be to stick him on the fourth line as a checker. If he makes the team, he will challenge Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews, Peter Mueller and Eric and Jack Johnson for the Calder Trophy.
Other UFA signings – Ken Klee and Pascal Dupuis – were strictly depth moves. Klee is a serviceable No.5 rearguard, while Dupuis has struggled ever since his contract dispute with Minnesota in 2003. He has been a healthy scratch several times over the past couple of seasons.
Tim Thomas just went from a serviceable 30-win goalie for your hockey pool to a guy who might possibly find himself without a job. The word out of Boston is that they are interested in promoting Toivonen to the backup role this year behind newly acquired Manny Fernandez. It seems hard to imagine, given what Thomas did for Boston last season, but they may be leaning towards shopping him and odds are he will not be a starter this season on another team.
If you own Thomas, your only hope is a trade to Phoenix. If that were to happen he would form a decent 1A and 1B duo with Mikael Tellqvist.
Other UFA signings – Shawn Thornton. Zero fantasy impact.
The only new addition is Jocelyn Thibault, who makes a great backup goalie. So let’s look at the massive changes that the team will undergo as a result of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere fleeing for greener pastures (green as in – cold hard cash).
The Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov line immediately moves up to the top. Roy becomes the No.1 center and could be everything that Drury was for this team. He has less experience, of course, but a higher offensive upside. Look for at least 70 points out of him this year.
Jason Pominville played over his head last year as the beneficiary of Briere’s passes. He won’t have that now, but he will likely line up with Tim Connolly, who can dish the puck just as nicely. The only problem is Connolly’s health. He’s a hit away from retiring, so makes an obvious risky pick. Expect 65-70 games out of Connolly at nearly a point per game, while Pominville will slip slightly to the low-60s.
The thinking by the Flames is that they already have a Cup-winning team, they just need a coach. So they brought in Iron Mike Keenan to bring discipline. The team went out and acquired Adrian Aucoin for their new coach and signed several Keenan-type players in Owen Nolan and Corey Sarich. Other than that, they tried to just keep the team as is.
They lost Roman Hamrlik to Montreal and his offense will be replaced by an improving Mark Giordano and newly signed Anders Eriksson. Do not expect either of them to reach 40 points…but then again, Hamrlik didn’t either.
Nolan is poised to build on his comeback season of a year ago. He makes an excellent dark horse to tally 60 points on a Keenan-coached team. The other big question mark is Kristian Huselius, who suddenly finds himself playing for the man who rode his ass up and down the ice in Florida before finally shipping him out of town. He found his game last season and all things being equal he would have 85 or even 90 points this season. Things are far from equal. My take on this is that Huselius has too much talent to ignore. His ice time may slip a little, but he is in his prime and should still be good for 70 or 75.
All this team did was hang onto the unrestricted free agents that they were about to lose, such as Scott Walker, Ray Whitney and Glen Wesley. They did add former Blackhawk Jeff Hamilton, but the hunch here is that Hamilton will be a frequent healthy scratch by season’s end.
Not a lot of players in the NHL can have a five-point game as Hamilton did against Phoenix back in March, so he could be considered a sleeper who could top out at 60 points, however he was on a team that was weak up front and injuries made them even weaker. He was still a healthy scratch on three occasions despite the desperate need for offense. With the emergence of Andrew Ladd, my money is on a 60-game season for Hamilton, tops.
The ‘Hawks added Robert Lang and Yanic Perreault to their roster via free agency. The biggest impact will be through the draft, as the team will add Jonathan Toews, Cam Barker (all season instead of midway through) and likely Patrick Kane. You can pencil in Jack Skille as well.
Toews will have a huge impact on this team, as he has already proven himself against men in the World Championships. Expect 60 points or more for his debut. Kane will likely be brought in slowly, so don’t be disappointed if he winds up with totals in the mid-50s to start. Both youngsters could one day score well into the 90s.
Lang’s career is winding down now. He was brought in to be the No.1 center so that Toews can be eased into the league, however what you are going to see is Toews steal the job by the 10-game mark and Lang will spend the season on the second line with the likes of Radim Vrbata and Tuomo Ruutu. That’s not a bad gig, but he will probably fall short of 60 points this season.
Other than their goaltending, the Avs will be icing an elite team again this season. A late surge in March and early April nearly had them eking into the postseason, so just think of what the additions of heart-and-soul winger Ryan Smyth and rearguard Scott Hannan will do.
With Smyth, you know what you’re getting, it doesn’t matter what team he is on. He’ll miss anywhere from five to 10 contests with injuries that are the result of playing a relentless, put-it-all out there style and put up 65 to 70 points. Could Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski have better mentors than Joe Sakic and Smyth?
Also keep an eye on Czech winger Jaroslav Hlinka. After tearing up the Czech League last season, the Avs signed him as a free agent and it won’t be shore up their penalty killing. If Marek Svatos stumbles again this season, Hlinka will be right there to steal his spot. I have him down conservatively for 38 points, but the potential is there to jump another 25 more. Also watch rookie T.J. Hensick’s camp, as he has an outside shot of making the roster and he is a prolific goal scorer and elite setup man.