With the NHL free agency period in full swing, now is the time for fantasy owners to start analyzing which players to consider for the 2015-16 season. The pool of quality forwards is much larger than that of viable defensemen, so it's important to be selective on which blueliners to target.
Assembling a deep group of defensemen is key; getting good fantasy numbers from your third or fourth option can help bring home a championship.
The following players were recently traded or signed with new teams and could see a boost in fantasy value this season:
Dougie Hamilton (Calgary Flames) – Acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins on June 26, Hamilton joins a deep defensive unit in Calgary that last season had two top-15 scoring defensemen, Dennis Wideman (15 goals, 56 points) and Mark Giordano (11 goals, 48 points in 61 games). Hamilton paid dividends for fantasy owners in 2014-15, leading Bruins defensemen with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists), and should see his numbers improve playing for what was the third-highest scoring team in the Western Conference last season. Owners should consider drafting the 22-year-old Hamilton in the early rounds. The prospect of Hamilton being on the power play with 2015 Calder Trophy finalist Johnny Gaudreau, or playing with other young forwards like Sean Monahan or Sam Bennett, should bring some major upside to your team.
Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings) – Once considered one of the best fantasy options on defense, Green steadily fell out of favor because of injuries between 2010 and 2013 while playing for the Washington Capitals. But owners shouldn't discount Green on draft day considering his 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists) with Washington last season were his most since 2009-10. Green turns 30 at the beginning of 2015-16 and possibly will see ice time with offensively potent veteran forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Considering the Red Wings will be led by rookie coach Jeff Blashill, it remains to be seen whether Green will join Niklas Kronwall, Detroit's incumbent lead defenseman on the power play, on the first man-advantage unit. Owners should select Green in the middle rounds and wait to see if he works his way up to the top pairing with either Kronwall or promising young blueliner Danny DeKeyser.
Andrej Sekera (Edmonton Oilers) – Landing a six-year contract with the Oilers on July 1 means that the 29-year-old is part of the long-term future with one of the NHL's youngest and most promising teams. Sekera led Carolina Hurricanes defensemen with career bests of 11 goals and 44 points in 2013-14. His offensive output stands to improve in Edmonton if new coach Todd McLellan uses him as a top-pair defenseman, which would increase the possibility of playing even-strength and power-play minutes with forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov or rookie Connor McDavid. Sekera should be considered in the middle or late rounds of fantasy drafts after you have squared away your top two defensemen. Sleeper picks can help win your fantasy league, and Sekera has enough potential to put your team over the top.
Paul Martin (San Jose Sharks) – The Sharks added to their veteran lineup when they signed the 34-year-old to a four-year contract July 1. It's possible Martin could skate with Brent Burns on San Jose's top defense pairing, but he'll certainly be in the mix for a spot in the top-four group with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun. Fantasy owners should wait to see if Peter DeBoer, who is entering his first season as Sharks coach, opts to use Burns as a forward, a move that would boost Martin's chances of playing on the top pairing. Don't draft Martin unless your league is particularly large, but watch him closely early in the season to see if he gets ice time with fantasy-worthy forwards Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
James Wisniewski (Carolina Hurricanes) – The journeyman defenseman is a season removed from his career-best 51 points (seven goals, 44 assists) and 166 shots on goal with the Columbus Blue Jackets and finds himself in position to be a top-four blueliner with Carolina after being traded by the Anaheim Ducks for goalie Anton Khudobin on June 27. Though the Hurricanes don't figure to be a favorite in the Eastern Conference, it's worth considering Wisniewski as a waiver-wire addition since he could chip in with some assists, shots and decent penalty minutes.