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Fantasy questions after 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Stamkos' future, goalie situations uncertain entering offseason

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

There are many players who have seen spikes in fantasy value as a result of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. At the same time, however, the postseason results of teams around the NHL can throw personnel situations into disarray.

Whether teams bowed out in the first round or made deep runs, many face performance and contract-related questions this summer. So much roster activity lies ahead with the 2016 NHL Draft (June 24-25), trade activity and the first day of free agency (July 1) around the corner, and fantasy owners are exploring all the possibilities while they mull keeper selections and prepare for drafts next season.

With past and future fantasy expectations in mind, here are five trending fantasy topics that will continue to be major questions until they are resolved.

SUMMER OF STAMKOS

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos missed all but one of their 17 games this postseason because of a blood clot. He returned for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, but did not have a point on two shots on goal in limited ice time (11:55). In addition to his health concern, the focus shifts from the playoffs to his future with the Lightning, considering he could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He leads the list of impact players who could potentially change teams this summer.

There has been speculation Stamkos could sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are projected to draft center Auston Matthews with the top pick in the 2016 draft. Whether he joins the Maple Leafs, another team, or stays with the Lightning, the results could have a sizable impact on the fantasy outlook for Stamkos and his team. Since Stamkos entered the League in 2008-09, his 312 goals rank second behind Alex Ovechkin (362).

It's rare to see a player of this goal-scoring ability up for grabs, but it's a legitimate possibility. Even after being taken on average with the third pick in drafts and finishing low by his standards in Yahoo (37th), Stamkos' landing spot could lead to first-round consideration for him yet again. He's 14th among forwards and 18th in my latest overall rankings after the conclusion of the playoffs.

DRAMA ON BROADWAY

The New York Rangers, who had 24 wins in the 2014 and 2015 postseasons combined (second behind the Chicago Blackhawks' 27), had a short-lived playoff run this time around. They allowed 21 goals in five games against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Their defense, which could lose Keith Yandle to free agency this summer, was exploited, and Henrik Lundqvist , 34, had consequent struggles that bring his status as a top-five, or even top-10, fantasy goalie into serious question.

Outside of Lundqvist, anyone could be on the trade block this offseason, including Rick Nash , who scored 42 goals in 2014-15 but took a sizable step back this season (15 goals in 60 games). Veteran forward Eric Staal , who could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was on the ice for no team goals and 10 goals against in the series against Pittsburgh and likely will be wearing a different sweater next season. How the Rangers retool and which players are re-signed and/or moved will determine fantasy implications for not only the players involved but also Lundqvist.

DATSYUK'S FUTURE

The Detroit Red Wings' outlook hinges on Pavel Datsyuk 's decision to either stay for the final season of his contract or retire from the NHL and head back to Russia. The Red Wings are on the hook for his salary whether he stays or goes, putting them in a predicament if they lose their longtime center. Datsyuk played more games this season (66) than he did in 2014-15 (63), yet finished with 16 fewer points. He had no points on 18 shots on goal in five playoff games.

It was an up-and-down year for Datsyuk and Red Wings that saw them extend their playoff streak to 25 straight seasons but exit quickly in the first round. Datsyuk's fantasy value would be lower than we've become accustomed to seeing if he stays in the NHL. If he leaves, the Red Wings likely would turn to their loaded prospect pool, which includes rising sophomore Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou or 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov to fill the center void in their top six. Datsyuk's decision this month will have ramifications on Detroit's lineup entering free agency and training camp, so this situation is worth monitoring throughout the summer to see which of these high-upside forwards could be fantasy sleeper candidates.

GOALIE DILEMMAS

Considering rookie goalie Matt Murray won the Penguins starting job outright en route to Stanley Cup glory, the fantasy future is uncertain for Marc-Andre Fleury , even though he had 35 regular-season wins and tied the best single-season save percentage (.921) of his NHL career. Fleury, still a top-100 overall fantasy asset, is far from the only goalie out there facing a summer of questions; the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars each have their hands full in their respective creases.

The Islanders are expected to give the early starting edge to once-backup Thomas Greiss , who usurped Jaroslav Halak (missed playoffs because of injury). The Blues need to make a decision on whether to invest long-term in Brian Elliott and/or Jake Allen , but appear to be content with riding the timeshare into next season; Elliott could become an unrestricted free agent and Allen a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017. The Ducks, fresh off another Game 7 letdown and the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, rotated goalies per usual in the playoffs; Frederik Andersen could become a RFA this summer. As of now, Greiss, Elliott, Allen, Andersen and John Gibson deserve top-20 fantasy consideration among goalies, but their projected playing time is uncertain and a lot could change in the coming months.

The Stars should remain an elite team in the Western Conference, but have a ton of salary cap space committed to Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi . That tandem combined for 50 regular-season wins, but finished tied for 23rd in team save percentage (.904), worse than seven non-playoff teams. In the postseason, the Stars offensive depth (even without Tyler Seguin) carried them to Game 7 of the second round, but their back end ultimately doomed them; their team SV% was .882, 13th out of the 16 playoff teams. Whether the Stars can unload one of their goalie contracts remains to be seen, but the peripheral category struggles and shared workload of Lehtonen and Niemi have each outside the top-20 fantasy goalie rankings.

And then there are the Lightning, who had the most efficient goalie in the League during regular season in Ben Bishop . He followed up his strong campaign with an 8-2 playoff record, a .939 SV% and two shutouts prior to being injured in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Andrei Vasilevskiy relieved Bishop in Game 1 and started the final six games of the season, going 3-4 with an impressive .923 SV% against the explosive Penguins.

Bishop remains the sure-fire starter, but the Lightning have an ongoing salary cap watch with potential new contracts on the horizon for Stamkos (UFA), Nikita Kucherov (RFA this summer), Victor Hedman (UFA in summer of 2017), Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin (RFAs in summer of 2017) and each of their goalies. Bishop could become a UFA and Vasilevskiy an RFA in the summer of 2017. That means roster activity this summer, performance and any injuries next season, along with a possible expansion draft, could determine how the Lightning map out their bright future.

OTHER FANTASY-RELEVANT UFA FORWARDS

In addition to Stamkos, three other top-100 fantasy forwards could hit the UFA market this summer: Kyle Okposo (45th), Milan Lucic (65th) and David Backes (90th). If the Islanders let Okposo walk, look for them to explore options to find a more explosive wing for John Tavares' line, especially with their new ownership group becoming the majority owner on July 1. Lucic and Backes, known for their perennial fantasy category coverage, could join new teams as well.

Lucic, who scored 20 goals and 55 points in a revitalized offensive season alongside mostly Anze Kopitar, has expressed his desire to stay with the Los Angeles Kings, but Backes likely would get a top-six role elsewhere. He had 14 points in 20 playoff games, including three game-winning goals and two overtime goals, despite playing in mostly a third-line capacity. Andrew Ladd , who had an underachieving fantasy season (165th) and was not as productive as expected after being traded to the Blackhawks, could also become a UFA this summer. If he lands in the right situation, he has the points, shots, hits and PIMs coverage to potentially return to the top 50 fantasy realm next season.

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