Free agency means addresses are changing for players around the NHL, and it's never too early for fantasy owners to wonder how signings and trades will impact the landscape in 2014-15.
Here's an early look at how you can expect these players to stack up with their new teams in 2014-15 -- for better or worse:
The biggest UFA signing in terms of potential fantasy impact is Iginla's move from the Boston Bruins to Colorado. He had 30 goals (13 in third period) for the 12th time in his career to go along with 31 assists and a plus-34 rating (tied for 4th in NHL). He was dynamite alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic on the Bruins' top line in 2013-14, giving him enough momentum to revitalize his career.
Now he joins another strong goal-differential team with a 1-2 punch down the middle as good as any League-wide with Matt Duchene and Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon. PA Parenteau has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens, so MacKinnon will shift back to his natural position (center). The addition of a dynamic, veteran right wing like Iginla should be a perfect fit.
There are some concerns about the 37-year-old keeping up with the speed of MacKinnon and Duchene, but the bottom line is, either way, he'll be playing with a top-35 overall fantasy asset. Iginla, one of the most explosive finishers the game has seen, could finish with 70-plus points, 250 shots on goal, and 20 power-play points this season.
Spezza missed most of the 2012-13 season after back surgery and got off to a slow start last season with the Ottawa Senators, but he managed to score 60 points for the sixth time in his career. He benefited largely from Ottawa's NHL Trade Deadline acquisition of Ales Hemsky and finished strong, with 10 multipoint games in his final 30.
After a flurry of moves by the Stars on July 1, Spezza and Hemsky are heading to Dallas, where they likely will play together again on the second line. Spezza, 31, had a forgettable final season with the Senators rating-wise (minus-26) but brings experience and secondary scoring to a Stanley Cup Playoff team that was carried by its top line of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn last season (53 team goals when each had a point, 2nd in NHL).
Spezza's power-play expertise (22 points, 25th in NHL) should boost a unit that converted on 15.9 percent of its regular-season chances (23rd in NHL). Fantasy owners should consider drafting Spezza in the fourth or fifth round then eye Hemsky in later rounds.
Miller, who turns 34 this month, was expected to join a contender after entering the unrestricted free-agent market for the first time.
Instead, he signed a three-year contract with a team in a rebuilding phase that just traded away its third-best scorer (Ryan Kesler) to a fellow Pacific Division club. The Canucks have 15 games next season against the California teams (Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks), who have, by far, more complete rosters than Vancouver and, as a result, the inside track on the three divisional playoff spots.
Miller is used to having a heavy workload from his time with the Buffalo Sabres, so he could finish as a top-20 goalie, but don't bank on him being valued much higher than that. When he joined the St. Louis Blues in a trade last season, his value spiked to the top-10 realm at his position when he went unbeaten over his first eight games. But his disappointing postseason and new contract with Vancouver indicate that these precious "prime" years for Miller may continue to pass by fantasy owners.
Many signs pointed to Thomas Vanek's homecoming to Minnesota when he bounced around from the Buffalo Sabres to New York Islanders to Montreal Canadiens before hitting the UFA market. The Wild's second-line left wing spot is there for the taking, which makes the situation intriguing.
But when you consider the Wild have Zach Parise and Jason Pominville as surefire top-line wings, and young, top-six-caliber standouts Nino Niederreiter (RFA) and Charlie Coyle, owners should be concerned about how Vanek will fare if the Wild hit a wall at any point. If their coaching staff is patient with Vanek and keeps him alongside either workhorse Mikko Koivu or playmaker Mikael Granlund, taking Vanek anywhere from round 5 to 7 in fantasy drafts could pay off. If they avert from the plan to incorporate Niederreiter in that spot, you probably won't get proper return for your fantasy investment.
Vanek had one shot on goal or fewer in 11 of 17 playoff games, lost his top line spot in Montreal during the playoffs, and was a passenger at points throughout the season, even during his successful stint with the Islanders. Vanek should finish next season as a top-100 overall asset, but owners might regret reaching for him.
Moulson, who spent 44 of his 75 games last season with the Sabres, returns to Buffalo after a brief stint and disappointing postseason with the Wild. He is a great character signing for the Sabres, along with the addition of veteran wing Brian Gionta, to slide alongside some of their young forward talent (Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Sam Reinhart).
Moulson spent more than a quarter of his ice time in Buffalo on a line with Girgensons and Tyler Ennis (RFA) and will regain a top-six spot in 2014-15. Though there's some long-term potential in this five-year contract for both sides once that talent blossoms around Moulson, he should not be drafted in one-year, multicategory leagues until after the 10th round.
Much of Moulson's time in Buffalo last season was a waiting game for fantasy owners in the hope he would be traded to a contender. He was on the cusp of the top 50 overall fantasy assets entering last season, but those times have changed. His points (0.66) and shots on goal (2.39) per game dipped with Buffalo compared to his career averages (0.69 points, 2.61 SOG). The Sabres had the worst goals-per-game average (1.83) in the League by far, and it's not a safe bet to invest in him until we see how the prospects around him develop as this rebuild rolls along. His infrequent penalty minutes and low hits count also hurt his cause in such leagues.
Stastny, the top-rated free-agent center, is going home. The 28-year-old is coming off a season with the Colorado Avalanche when he reached 60 points for the fourth time in his eight-year career and 20 goals for the sixth time. He finished the season strong and tied for the Avalanche lead with 10 points in the seven-game Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild.
The St. Louis native signed a four-year, $28 million contract, and early reports from general manager Doug Armstrong have him centering a line with United States Olympic teammate David Backes and sharpshooter Alexander Steen. Even if the Blues split up Backes and Stastny to create a top-two center duo to rival the rest of the Western Conference, he could still see time with talented forwards T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Stastny is used to young linemates; he excelled with Calder Trophy winners Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog last season.
Paul's father Peter Stastny finished his career in St. Louis with 18 points in 23 games, and brother Yan Stastny played 50 games and had 10 points with the Blues. One would think Paul will surpass those numbers in his first month with his new team and he should be targeted in the fourth or fifth round.
Taking the role of Niskanen for the Penguins is this offensive-minded defenseman. After Ehrhoff was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres, he landed a one-year contract worth $4 million, which will mean he is motivated in the short term.
The 31-year-old is coming off his best statistical season in Buffalo with six goals and 33 points, but that was far below his numbers with the San Jose Sharks (132 points in 341 games), and Vancouver Canucks (94 points in 159 games). On the offense-driven Penguins, 40 points should be the minimum expectation for the left-handed shot.
The one place we expect a big improvement is plus-minus. In three seasons with Buffalo, Ehrhoff was a minus-23; in seven seasons prior he was a plus-74. The Penguins will have to fill 3,981 total minutes played on the back line with the losses of Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland in free agency. Ehrhoff, who has a career time-on-ice average of 21:33, should get close to that amount with Pittsburgh, so target him in the 10th or 11th round as a great second defenseman.
We knew Niskanen was going to get a big payday after he scored a career-high 10 goals and 46 points last season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, considering the point total was the ninth-highest out of all free agents. The money came in the form of a seven-year, $40.25 million contract with the Capitals. We are not here to debate if one great season is worth all that money, but to point out he has put himself in another situation to succeed.
The 27-year-old moves from one top-rated power play (Pittsburgh connected at 23.4 percent) to another (Washington also converted at 23.4 percent to tie for first). That is great news for a player who has 10 career power-play goals and 54 career power-play points. The Capitals last season mostly used a power play that featured four forwards and either John Carlson or Mike Green as the sole defenseman, which resulted in those two combining for 37 of the Capitals' 39 power-play points from the back line. Expect Niskanen's production to continue on special teams.
Niskanen is not going to be the first defenseman taken off the board in fantasy drafts, but if you get him in the sixth to seventh round as either your No. 1 or No. 2 you can expect him to be productive in the Capitals system. Just temper your expectations that he'll match his 46 points of last season.
The writing was on the wall for Hiller's exit from the Anaheim Ducks when he sat and watched not one rookie, Frederik Andersen, but another, John Gibson, start ahead of him in their run to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now Hiller can turn the page on his seven seasons in Anaheim, where he won at least 26 games four times and played an NHL-high 73 games in 2011-12.
Calgary was one of 10 teams to start four goalies last season and none had a goals-against average below 2.51 or a save percentage higher than .911. Karri Ramo started the most games for the Flames and finished with a respectable 17-15-4 record. Ramo will combine with Hiller for a time-share in Calgary. It will be hard to have confidence in either next season, especially in Hiller, who ended 2013-14 winning five of his last 14 regular-season starts before he was benched in the playoffs.
The soon-to-be 38-year-old defenseman cashed in on a two-year contract with the Rangers after showing he could still put the puck in the net with 12 goals and 36 points last season for the Sharks. He also proved he could still produce on the man-advantage with 18 power-play points.
What makes us worried about Boyle is that 50 percent of his points came on the man-advantage, and that was on a team ranked 20th in the League in power-play success (17.2). The Rangers had a slightly better power play last season (15th at 18.2 percent), but lost its best power-play producer, Brad Richards, and his team-leading 19 points. A full season of Martin St. Louis, and his 96 career power-play goals, and the continued maturation of defenseman Ryan McDonagh should help improve the power play, but it still makes us worried. Look even deeper and 281 of Boyle's 561 career points have come on the man-advantage.
Six defensemen have had 40-plus points in a season as a 38-year-old, the most recent Nicklas Lidstrom in 2008-09. In fact, 12 defensemen 38 or older have had 40-plus point seasons. An expectation of 30-plus points is not out of the question, because Boyle has hit that mark nine times, but a lot of owners will draft him as their No. 1 defenseman when at this point of his career he is a good No. 2 or a solid No. 3.
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