NHL.com examines how John Tavares' decision to leave the New York Islanders and join the Toronto Maple Leafs impacts the overall fantasy landscape in 2018-19.
MORE FANTASY COVERAGE: Free agency roundup | Mock draft for 2018-19
IMPACT OF TAVARES SIGNING WITH MAPLE LEAFS
Elite center John Tavares will have his highest fantasy ceiling yet after signing a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tavares boosts an already talented Maple Leafs forward group that includes center Auston Matthews, giving them one of the NHL's premier duos at the position -- right up there with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tavares had the second highest scoring total of his NHL career with 84 points (37 goals, 47 assists) in 82 games. And there's little reason to worry about Tavares' production being impacted by Matthews considering Tavares and Mathew Barzal (85 points as rookie) had offensive outbursts on separate lines last season.
Matthews and Tavares should each be considered in the mid-to-late first round of fantasy drafts once Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Crosby and Malkin are off the board (similar range to Patrik Laine).
Video: Tavares introduced as a member of the Maple Leafs
Tavares, who finished 31st in Yahoo and is a three-time 80-point producer, boosts the value of Maple Leafs forwards Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Patrick Marleau and Zach Hyman. Toronto coach Mike Babcock has already projected Marner and Hyman to play on Tavares' line.
Marner gains the most value because he spent the majority of time playing away from Matthews and now has an elite playmaking center on his line. Marner had a career-high 69 points (22 goals, 47 assists) with Kadri as his center and is likely to reach 45-50 assists playing with Tavares. Hyman has been a fixture with Matthews over the past two seasons and could be a sleeper on Tavares' wing. Marleau scored 27 goals on a line with mostly Marner and Nazem Kadri, so he also has a higher ceiling if he flanks Tavares or Matthews. Kadri may bump down to the third line but remains one of the top category coverage assets and a fringe top 100 fantasy player with potential power-play exposure to Tavares and/or Matthews.
The Maple Leafs already had a strong power play, which ranked second in the NHL despite Matthews and Nylander playing on a separate unit from Marner. With the departures of left wing James van Riemsdyk (signed with Philadelphia Flyers) and center Tyler Bozak (signed with St. Louis Blues), there will be two spots available on Toronto's power-play units. Defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner gain value from this signing with even-strength and/or power-play exposure to Tavares. Starting goaltender Frederik Andersen (.918 save percentage over past three seasons) could now be ranked as high as fourth at the position in fantasy with an even-stronger offense in front of him.
Ultimately, Tavares will have more talent around him in Toronto than he had in any season with the Islanders and is worth targeting in the mid-first or early-second round in fantasy drafts. A realistic expectation for Tavares will be to produce a point-per-game or better (0.93 in NHL career) and drastically improve his minus-12 from last season (minus-42 in career). It's very reasonable to expect Tavares to set new NHL career highs in multiple fantasy categories. Considering the production Tavares has gotten from players like Lee, Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek and PA Parenteau over the years, Tavares and Marner should be targeted together early in fantasy drafts and have as high of a ceiling as any duo in the NHL.
Projection: 82 games played, 38 goals, 52 assists, 90 points, 32 PPP
Draft range in 12-team fantasy league: Rounds 1-2 (picks 6-18)
Video: Tavares agrees to seven-year deal with Maple Leafs
IMPACT OF TAVARES LEAVING ISLANDERS
The Islanders hired Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations and reigning Stanley Cup champion Barry Trotz as coach this offseason, but those moves came too late in the game to convince Tavares to stay with the team that selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft
Tavares leaving the Islanders should negatively affect the fantasy value of most of their players in the short term, with the only potential exceptions being Calder Trophy winner Barzal, right wing Jordan Eberle and left wing Anthony Beauvillier. None of these players necessarily gain value from this development, but all three should take on bigger roles this season.
Barzal (85 points in 82 games; 48th in Yahoo) was the first NHL rookie to average a point per game or better (minimum 75 games) since Malkin in 2006-07. Barzal is now the clear No. 1 center for the Islanders moving forward and will have an array of wing options on his line. His production will likely dip, but he remains worthy of a top 50 overall fantasy pick with clear potential for 65-70 points. He will be matching up against the opponent's No. 1 center on both ends with Tavares out of the picture, but still carries multipoint upside any given night.
Video: Arthur Staple on Tavares' deal with the Maple Leafs
Eberle, who did not play on the first power-play unit for most of last season, will be elevated to that role and likely the first line with Barzal, his frequent even-strength linemate last season. New York's first power-play unit will likely be rounded out by two of the following: forwards Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, prospect Kieffer Bellows and either defenseman Nick Leddy or Ryan Pulock. Eberle and Lee can become unrestricted free agents July 1, 2019.
Lee and Bailey, who had well-documented chemistry and production on Tavares' line, lose significant value without the elite center. Lee had 40 goals last season and 34 in 2016-17, and Bailey had an NHL career-high 71 points last season. Each is likely to regress drastically if deployed on a separate line from Barzal.
Candidates to take on No. 2 center duties include Brock Nelson, Leo Komarov (signed four-year contract) and Beauvillier (if moved to center), and forward prospects Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom could also be integrated into New York's top six as early as this season. The Islanders' team fantasy value could improve if they address their defense and/or goaltending this offseason. Trotz will also implement his trademark defensive, neutral-zone checking system, which could have a positive impact on their individual players and current roster as a whole.