There are many Western Conference candidates you might be able to snap up for a bargain based upon down 2016-17 campaigns. Injury, a less-than-stellar supporting cast, or a role change can contribute to reduced production that may cause poolies to undervalue players on the cusp of returning to previous effectiveness. After an offseason of recovery, moving to a new organization, or seeing squad improvements here are a few potential rebounders.
Tyler Toffoli, C/RW - Los Angeles
Coming off knee problems and a 24-point drop, and with the new brass emphasizing speed and offense, entering his fifth year Toffoli could return to 2015-16’s thirty-goal form. If line mate Jeff Carter, who registered his best scoring totals since 2008-09 last year can continue his upward trajectory, a healthy and still young 25-year-old Toffoli might approach his previous campaign’s 14.6 shot percentage. That dropped significantly in 2016-17 to 9.7% (6.55% at even strength). Through it all, his play-driving numbers remained strong at 56.9 CF% and 3.1 Corsi rel. With presumably a full year of Jonathan Quick in net the Kings won’t need to resort to their slow-it-down, grind-it-out style so much. Bank on Toffoli reaping some of the rewards.
Patrick Sharp, LW - Chicago Blackhawks
With many rebound candidates injury recovery has much to do with a reinvigorated game. Sharp is no exception after recent hip surgery, a litany of concussions and reaching age 35. Back to the scene of his greatest NHL success (78 points in 2013-14 compared with just 18 in 48 contests last year) he can serve Chicago in a variety of roles. Whether it’s on a top line with Patrick Kane or a bottom-six role lending his experience, if healthy he can contribute much, and if he’s on a scoring line Sharp can bring much to your fantasy team. He’s also just one campaign removed from 55 points in 76 Dallas Stars games. Landing a power-play role would contribute immensely to his upside. After consecutive years of 25, 14 and 24 points on the man advantage he landed a lone goal, his only power play point, last year. On a one-year deal at just $1M after bonuses, particularly if your league maintains a salary cap he’s a low-risk, high-reward gamble you may want to take.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D – Arizona Coyotes
After a down year by his standards (12 goals and 27 assists in 79 games) while playing the majority with a broken thumb and still finishing second on the squad in points, expect a revitalized, healthy and perhaps undervalued OEL in 2017-18. If Arizona’s young talent gets in gear he could rival his thus far career-best 2015-16 campaign of 21 goals and 34 assists with 27 power play points. With Niklas Hjalmarsson alongside to free him up for more offensive production, barring injury Ekman-Larsson’s a lock to bring his shot totals nearer to 2015-16’s 228 or even approach the previous campaign’s 264. Last year’s 145 shots should be an easy hurdle. Never having an outstanding shot percentage, he may also be able to clear his career-best 9.2% success rate with an improved supporting cast to better divert opposing netminders.
Semyon Varlamov, G – Colorado Avalanche
Maybe. If the groin stays healthy, Varlamov should improve on his 6-17-0, 3.38, .898 and return to 50 or so starts with a reasonable amount of wins and some hot streaks on the rebuilding Avalanche. It’s “lineup dependent” for sure, and that lineup hasn’t seen many upgrades this offseason, especially on defense, but something’s gotta give. The MacKinnon/Grigorenko/Andrighetto line clicks, Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher ignite a young forward corps, Matt Duchene either scores more than 41 points or fetches a nice haul of young NHL contributors and prospects, Gabriel Landeskog himself rebounds, something. Even being a regular presence in net with ample rest from Jonathan Bernier would seem to bring Varlamov at least 20 wins and lots of save opportunities with that leaky blueline. He’s only 29 years old, just one campaign removed from a 27-25-3 record and three past his monster 41-14-6, 2.41, .927 year. There’s a reason the Avalanche didn’t expose him and the remaining two years of his $5.9M AAV deal in the expansion draft. They will start him frequently. If your league has a dearth of available goalies, and better yet no salary cap, take a chance.
Mike Smith, G – Calgary Flames
I’m skeptical. I know Calgary is much better than recent incarnations of the Coyotes, especially on defense, but Smith’s stats over the past few years are just so painful to look at I somewhat doubt that at age 35 he will post better than average production. That’s my problem though. You can pretty much bet he’ll be solid on a Flames team with a promising present and future. I don’t see him returning to his 38-18-10, 2.21, .930 totals of 2011-12, nor do I envision a 2014-15 repeat of 14-42-5, 3.16, .904. After so many tough years, he has to be looking forward to some winning hockey and playoff action. If all goes right expect around 30 wins, a 2.40 GAA and .915 save percentage - major improvements.
Ben Bishop, G – Dallas Stars
Though employing another pricy veteran with 2016-17 stats hampered by injury (18-15-5, 2.54, .910 in 39 contests) understandably worries some Stars fans, they had to try something, and ex-Vezina finalist Bishop brings hope. It’s always the chicken and egg thing when determining how much goalie performance is influenced by defensive quality, and Dallas’ reputation isn’t the best on d especially after allowing the second-most goals in the league (260), so we’ll see how it all plays out. With defense-minded Ken Hitchcock at the helm, as well as vet Mark Methot joining their developing blue line crew, Dallas is hoping to help Bishop by decreasing opponents’ abundance of quality shot opportunities. Knock on wood the Stars will have fewer injuries this year and, with the additions of Radulov and Hanzal, increased scoring to add significantly more wins.
Ryan Strome, RW – Edmonton Oilers
Expect Islander import Ryan Strome to initially assume top right wing duties alongside Connor McDavid and with the protection of Patrick Maroon, and to top his career-best 50 points in 2014-15. Known as a pass-first forward who fired just 114 shots in 69 Islander contests last year, and following up his career-best 17 goals with merely eight and 13 the next two campaigns, the Oilers have challenged Strome to shoot more. There is much incentive to do so, as he’ll have plenty of opportunities with McDavid drawing attention. Conversely, it wouldn’t be difficult to move Draisaitl back into that coveted right wing spot should the arrangement not work out. Despite just 30 points he did register his best shooting percentage last year at 11.4% and his lowest offensive zone start rate with a 43.19%, so top line work should increase his sheltered minutes. Strome’s 2:39 average power play TOI in 2016-17 yielded just eight points and two goals. That should increase also if he can claim some of now-departed Jordan Eberle’s previous second unit time.
Jussi Jokinen, LW – Edmonton Oilers
Bought out by the Panthers, Jokinen moves to northern Alberta as a middle-six left wing that may pick up steam with the prolific Oilers’ offense. Just one injury-plagued year removed from his second-best scoring campaign, 18 goals and 60 points, Jokinen’s experience along with distribution and two-way skills should play well alongside Edmonton’s youthful forwards. He could be a late-round steal coming off a down year and landing in a promising environment. The Oilers hope he’ll serve as an effective mentor for emerging winger Jesse Puljujarvi, a fellow Finn who played back home for Karat, a team Jokinen serves as part-owner. The two have also trained together for several summers and might continue to click should Puljujarvi make the jump from AHL.
Scott Hartnell, LW – Nashville Predators
After the Blue Jackets bought him out, 35-year-old fan favorite Hartnell returned to Nashville after a ten-year hiatus on a one-year $1M deal. Facing diminished minutes (12:03 per game) and power play opportunities, and totaling just two goals and one assist with 2016-17 Columbus’ powerful man-advantage corps, he should see more of both with the Predators. Landing 13 goals and 24 assists in minimal ice time, Hartnell squeezed an NHL eighth-best points per 60 minutes rate of 2.32. Familiar with Coach Laviolette from his salad days in Philadelphia, look for Hartnell to serve as a solidly productive middle-six left wing on Nashville’s revamped depth lines.
Steve Mason, G – Winnipeg Jets
With a streaky, overall down Philadelphia year (26-21-8, 2.66, .908) in the rearview mirror, Mason comes to Manitoba looking to wrest the starting spot from Connor Hellebuyck after a tough first full-campaign in the crease. While he’s professed to not enjoying sharing time in net, with a two-year, $8.2 contract in hand Mason will compete for the top spot on a Winnipeg squad that looks primed for a playoff berth. A gamble from a poolie perspective, but with goaltenders at a premium you might consider him for a reasonable price.
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