The NHL landscape has changed drastically over the past five weeks, including the NHL Entry Draft, free agency, and teams' prospect development camps. With that in mind we will begin a series of articles looking at each division on a team-by-team basis to discern the important alterations that affect Fantasy Hockey. We will look at departures, additions and those rookies/prospects that are knocking on the proverbial door for roster spots.
This examination will not cover every player movement but rather those that are considered more pertinent for roto players. Thus don't be overly concerned if some fourth liners, backup goalies and sixth and seventh defensemen are omitted.
The Ducks continue to await Teemu Selanne's decision. The person who's most affected, other than second-line center Saku Koivu, is rookie Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri could land anywhere from the second line to possibly not making the team out of camp. The first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan has few comparables while the second line without Selanne is mediocre at best for an NHL second line with Koivu and Jason Blake. The gritty Matt Beleskey should see time on the third line at left wing alongside new arrival Andrew Cogliano. Cogs' speed makes it intriguing to consider him as a second-line winger, but his atrocious shooting percentages tell another story, making it far more sensible to simply plug him into the now retired Todd Marchant's third-line center role. If Selanne returns, the third line right wing spot is Dan Sexton's to lose with Palmieri pushing him. The 24-year-old Sexton, signed as a free agent after two years at Bowling Green, has 13 goals and 32 points in 88 NHL games and 29 points in 30 AHL games. Palmieri, drafted 29th overall in 2009, had 29 goals and 51 points in 63 AHL games last season and one goal in 10 games with Anaheim. Palmieri and the hockey world await Selanne's decision. Meanwhile Mark Bell was signed to a one-year contract after spending the past two seasons in the Swiss league for Kloten where he scored 29 goals and 53 points in 80 games. Bell, drafted eighth overall in '98, has not played in the NHL since 2007-08 and is more likely to start the year with their AHL team in Syracuse.
Defensively, the Ducks have a great pair of power play QBs in Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler. Nevertheless, Cam Foster's arrival is a big upgrade as far as having a good anchor for the second power play unit who can play on the first unit when needed. Foster has 70 points in his last 155 games. At this point in their careers Foster is a much better point man than Francois Beauchemin.
Jonas Hiller's vertigo symptoms have subsided but one can't help but wonder how many games northward of 50 that Hiller can start next season. That makes Dan Ellis worth drafting late. Ellis filled in reasonably well last season, 21-10-7 with a 2.77 goals-against average, before giving way to the now-departed Ray Emery. Ellis has had trouble staying healthy himself and his consistency has never been his greatest strength either, which brings us to No. 3 goalie Jeff Deslauriers, drafted 31st overall in 2002 yet who's played just 58 career games. Hiller owners hope it doesn't come to that.
Knocking: Philip Larsen
The Stars cannot replace the talent of Brad Richards, now a New York Ranger. What they need, for the offensive drop off to be less felt, is for the further development and maturation of Jamie Benn. Benn made huge strides over the course of the past season and his ability to switch to center makes for an interesting question: do the Stars keep Ribeiro on the second line at center in order to maximize the chemistry that Ribs has with former Montreal linemate Ryan, or do they shelter Benn and play him at second-line center? A first line of Benn, Loui Eriksson and Steve Ott combines a nice mix of skill and grit. A second line of Ribeiro, Ryan and Brendan Morrow also has a good blend of finesse and sandpaper. If you switch Ribs for Benn each line still has both. If you switch Ott and Morrow each line still has both. Do not concern yourself with any other Dallas forwards, barring a last-minute free-agent addition, for there is not much in the way of tantalizing talent on the third line should injuries afflict the top six.
Sheldon Souray is a great late round dart in most fantasy leagues this fall, thought it would be foolhardy to assume that he'll return to his former 50-point prowess. Alex Goligoski is most likely to be the 50-point D-man in Dallas (46 points last season but 15 pts in 23 games after the trade to Dallas). Goligoski saw his ice time jump 5:17 per game to 26:03 after joining the Stars, with an average of 4:19 on the power play. Should Souray suffer injury or fail miserably, Stephane Robidas (30 points in 81 games) and Trevor Daley (27 points in 82 games) would be next in line for first power play deployment. Neither Robidas nor Daley has the potential upside of a rejuvenated Souray. The 21-year-old Danish rookie Philip Larsen had 22 points in 54 AHL games last season, his first in North America. Larsen could be another option on the power play but first he must vault ahead of at least two of the following trio - Adam Pardy, Mark Fistric, Brad Lukowich - on the depth chart just to make the team.
By adding Mike Richards the Kings have made themselves even stronger down the middle and on the penalty kill. Richards is the complete package and a reunion with former Flyers' teammate Gagne bodes well for both of them. Expected to come along for the ride is Dustin Brown while hulking left-wing Dustin Penner is expected to line up on the first line with star center Anze Kopitar and two-time 30-goal scorer Justin Williams on the right. The third line is anchored by former No. 2 center Jarret Stoll, flanked by the likes of Brad Richardson and Kyle Clifford. Should any of the top three centers get injured 21-year-old Andrei Loktionov would be the first to get the call from their AHL farm team in Manchester, N.H. Loktionov has 17 goals and 55 points in 63 games for Manchester over the past two seasons and four goals and seven points in 20 games for the Kings.
On defense Drew Doughty remains unsigned, though all parties appear positive that a deal will get done before training camp starts in a few weeks. The Kings have fewer needs on defense for their power play point spots because Stoll plays the point on the second power play unit. Should promising prospect Vyacheslav Voynov get a fair shot he could be a deep sleeper for 30-plus points. Voynov has the pedigree and requisite experience on the smaller ice - he scored 50 points in 72 games last year in the AHL. Pushing him will be 22-year-old Jake Muzzin, who was an impressive plus-20 in his first pro season playing 43 games for Manchester last season while registering three goals and 15 assists.
The Coyotes will need internal growth to avoid total decimation this season. They've lost their best player in goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and one of their top four D-men in Jovo Cop. Eric Belanger and Vernon Fiddler can be replaced but Bryzer can't and wasn't. The Russian netminder carried them for the last three years in the desert. The goalie tandem of Mike Smith (67-66-19 lifetime with a 2.71 goals-against average and .906 save percentage) and Jason LaBarbera (52-55-14, 2.90/.906) scares no one and will be one of the league's worst. There's no hot prospect on the farm this year, as their AHL tandem will be Curtis McElhinney (18-26-4, 3.13/.896) and Justin Pogge (1-4-1, 4.35/.844).
Back to that internal growth… Where will it come from? They'll need Kyle Turris (22), Mikkel Boedker (21), Martin Hanzal (24), Lauri Korpikoski (25) to all have the best seasons of their early careers. They'll need good health and at least 90-95 goals from Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney and Taylor Pyatt. They combined for 84 goals last year. Fantasy wise, only Doan and Whitney merit attention in standard 12-team leagues, while Vrbata is worth putting on the watch list as he hit 56 points just three seasons ago and only just turned 30. If potential No. 1 center Daymond Langkow can stay healthy, a big "if", he could be worth a late-round dart in many leagues - on the condition that he plays with Doan and Whitney and receives first power play minutes. Brett MacLean, who has nothing left to prove in the AHL with 115 points in 122 games over the past two seasons for San Antonio, will probably need an injury to crack the top nine. Andy Miele, the reigning Hobey Baker winner, will likely start his pro career in the AHL.
Phoenix's greatest fantasy asset is now Keith Yandle. That's how bad things have gotten in the desert, when your best player by a wide margin is a 59-point defenseman. Yandle jumped from 41 points to 59 points last season, his third in the league. After Yandle, the drop-off in defenseman scoring was massive, partly due to Jovo missing 47 games last season, with Adrian Aucoin's 22 points the next best total on the team. It's slim pickings with Michal Rozsival (21 points) and Derek Morris (16 points) next. The Yotes would be wise to give more power-play time to 2009 sixth-overall selection Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Larsson, who only turned 20 years old last month, had 11 points in 48 games for Phoenix last season and 10 points in 15 AHL games for San Antonio.
The Sharks’ management team, led by general manager Doug Murray, came to the conclusion this offseason that the team wasn’t good enough to win a championship. They lacked another elite defenseman, having only Dan Boyle. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that they had little room under the salary cap, so they couldn’t just go out and sign an elite defender in free agency. By flipping LW/RW Dany Heatley for RW Martin Havlat they saved $2.5 million. This gave them the Sharks some wiggle room to then trade Devin Setoguchi in a package for star defenseman Brent Burns. This left the team with enough cap space to pick up former Devil Colin White while still having cap space for a possible in-season acquisition or two.
The emergence of Logan Couture last season is one of the main reasons that they could move out two top six forwards and only receive one back in trades. Couture surprisingly outperformed Heatley last season in just his first full season in the league. Newly acquired sniper Havlat projects to start on the first line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, while Couture is expected to play on the second line with Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe. The third line will be anchored by the hulking veteran center Michal Handzus with two converted centers - Torrey Mitchell (23 points in 66 games) and Benn Ferriero (nine points in 33 NHL games, 33 points in 43 AHL games) -- expected to be his wingers. James Sheppard, who missed all of last season due to an ATV accident in the summer of 2010, that both broke his knee cap and wore out his welcome in the Minnesota organization, is an interesting reclamation project for San Jose which could pay dividends by next spring. Sheppard had another procedure this summer on the knee and won’t be ready for the start of the season. Drafted ninth overall in 2006, Sheppard is a skilled player who’s yet to realize any NHL success but he’s still just 23.
Defensively, the Sharks have improved their depth and top-six talent with the acquisitions of Burns and White. While the killer Bs Burns (17 goals/46 points) and Boyle (nine goals/50 points) will man the points on the first PP unit, the second unit QBs will likely be Jason Demers (34 points) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (18 points), though projected seventh defenseman Justin Braun (11 points in 28 games, 23 points in 34 AHL games) could become fantasy relevant should an injury occur to one of the expected four point men. Overall, five of the Sharks top seven D-men are considered decent to high-skilled puck moving defenders with only Doug Murray and White considered traditional stay-at-home types. Jim Vandermeer was a depth signing who will have a hard time making the team, unless they decide that Brauns development is better served with another year of logging heavy minutes on their AHL farm team in Worcester, Mass.