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Fantasy Spin: Trending up, down after 2014 playoffs

by Pete Jensen

The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs were as unpredictable as ever, and fantasy owners can expect many developments from around the NHL to impact next year's landscape.

There were elite-level players (Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Henrik Lundqvist, Patrick Kane, P.K. Subban, etc.) who fueled deep playoff runs for their respective teams, as well as breakout stars from the regular season (Nathan MacKinnon, Jamie Benn, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Johansen, Matt Niskanen, etc.) who carried over their strong play to the big stage.

But the players who will stick in the minds of fantasy owners all summer long are the playoff surprises and disappointments. Here are some players who are trending in fantasy, for better or worse, heading into the offseason as a result of their postseason performances.

Marian Gaborik and Brandon Saad lead the list of playoff surprises who should see a fantasy value boost entering 2014-15. (Photo: Getty Images, Bill Smith/NHLI)


Marian Gaborik: It's safe to say the champion Los Angeles Kings won the NHL Trade Deadline by acquiring Gaborik, who scored 14 goals this postseason -- tied for the most in a single playoff year since Sidney Crosby had 15 in 2008-09. Gaborik is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but it's hard to envision him leaving Los Angeles given his career revitalization and chemistry in a complementary role. Gaborik, who was mired by injury in the regular season, teamed with Kopitar to form the NHL's best postseason point pair (13 team goals on which each had a point). If Gaborik stays, that should be a dangerous duo in 2014-15.

Paul Stastny: The Gabriel Landeskog-Stastny-MacKinnon line exploded in the Colorado Avalanche's Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild. Stastny had 10 points in seven games with four of his five goals coming in the third period or overtime. He hasn't hit 70-plus points since 2009-10, but had a strong fantasy showing in 2013-14 (60 points, 15 power-play points, 150 shots on goal). The UFA will either stay with the Avalanche to be a part of something special with MacKinnon or be the most sought-after center on the market.

Brandon Saad: Saad, 21, had five multipoint games this postseason (T-2nd in NHL) and nearly helped the Chicago Blackhawks rally from a 3-1 series deficit with stellar efforts in Games 5-7 against Los Angeles in the Western Conference Final. He finished tied for the second-best rating (plus-10) behind Conn Smythe Trophy winner Justin Williams (plus-13) and was especially effective when playing alongside Andrew Shaw and Kane. The Blackhawks reportedly will not re-sign Michal Handzus and are likely to either acquire a new No. 2 center or turn to touted prospect Teuvo Teravainen in that role. Given Saad's maturation and the talent around him, fantasy owners should target him in middle rounds of standard drafts and expect 25-30 goals next season.

Boone Jenner
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 16 | +/-: -4
Boone Jenner: The Columbus Blue Jackets have one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL, but Jenner has still found his niche on their top line with Johansen. Jenner, 21, finished 25th in the League in regular-season hits (212) and came alive offensively in the playoffs, especially with the man advantage (four power-play points). Jenner had points in five of six games in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins and scored three goals (two PPG, T-8th in NHL). Johansen, one of the biggest fantasy steals this season, could have an even greater "splash effect" on Jenner in 2014-15.

Goalies on rise: Per Elias Sports Bureau, the Anaheim Ducks were the only team ever to have more than one rookie goalie win two-plus games in one playoff year. Anaheim was eliminated by Los Angeles in seven games in the Western Conference Second Round, and there was a shift from UFA-to-be Jonas Hiller to John Gibson and Frederik Andersen over the course of the postseason. Expect those two to carry the torch for the Ducks next season and be one of the more efficient fantasy timeshare tandems. ... The Philadelphia Flyers didn't have Steve Mason for their entire seven-game Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers due to injury, but his playoff showing means the Flyers (finally) won't have to worry about that position entering the offseason. Mason won 30-plus regular-season games for the first time since 2008-09 and posted the best playoff goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.939) among goalies with at least five appearances.


Brad Richards
Center - NYR
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 12
SOG: 74 | +/-: -2
Brad Richards/Rick Nash: The Rangers could use their final compliance buyout on Richards, who had a refreshing season (20 goals, 31 assists, 259 shots on goal, 19 PPP) under coach Alain Vigneault before being bumped to the fourth line for the tail end of the Stanley Cup Final. He saw 4:39 per game of power-play ice time in the playoffs but had five power-play points in 25 games. He was a nonfactor over the Rangers' final 10 postseason games (no goals, two assists) and may not find a top-six role elsewhere if he isn't retained. ... Nash had a quiet postseason with three goals on a League-leading 83 shots. He had his moments in the regular season (11 goals in 11 games Jan. 6-26), but his unlucky playoff results (3.6 shooting percentage) will turn off fantasy owners. Nash played 65 regular-season games in 2013-14, but his 39 points still tied for 159th in the NHL. Don't take him in the first three rounds of drafts next season, but he's worth a look if he drops any further than that since he could be in line for a bounce-back season.

Thomas Vanek
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 10
SOG: 28 | +/-: -4
Thomas Vanek: Vanek had two multigoal games in the playoffs but was ultimately a disappointment for the Montreal Canadiens this spring. He turned down a contract offer from the New York Islanders prior to the trade deadline and failed to boost his stock the rest of the way as he enters free agency. After consistently feeding off an elite playmaker in John Tavares en route to 44 points in 47 games with New York, Vanek had one shot on goal or fewer in 11 of 17 playoff games as Brendan Gallagher stole his spot on Montreal's top line. Unless he lands next to a skilled center, Vanek should be considered a borderline top-100 overall asset as opposed to being the top-50 player he was for much of the past decade.

Matt Moulson: Moulson's fantasy value was in flux during his contract year as he was traded from the Islanders (nine points in 11 games) to the Buffalo Sabres (29 in 44) to the Minnesota Wild (13 in 20). He was in the top-six mix for Minnesota entering the playoffs but as young forwards Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle rose to the occasion, it became clear that Moulson (one goal, two assists, 21 shots in 10 playoff games) is not a long-term solution for the Wild. Like Vanek, his impending value for 2014-15 will depend on whether he is signed by a contender or not. Moulson is a proven 30-goal scorer who can finish on the power play if he has talent around him, but he should not be included in the top-75 overall realm entering the offseason.

Joe Thornton
Center - SJS
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 16 | +/-: -6
Joe Thornton: San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has stated that his team will turn to its young talent following its historic collapse against the Kings in the Western Conference First Round. Thornton signed a three-year contract extension during the regular season that includes a no-movement clause, but there's a chance the captain could still be traded considering the team has two other potent centers (Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture) in the fold. Despite the Sharks’ inability to break through in the playoffs, Thornton had been a near point-per-game player in the postseason (32 points in 34 games over 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 playoffs combined) prior to this spring, when he had three in seven games, including a four-game pointless drought in San Jose's four straight losses. The 34-year-old was as good a distributor as there was in 2013-14 (65 assists, 2nd in NHL) so he will remain in the top-15 range among centers if he stays with the Sharks next season. That said, he could see a drop-off with San Jose planning to move his linemate Brent Burns back to defense. If Thornton is traded, his fantasy value would be more severely altered.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
GAA: 2.40 | SVP: 0.915
Goalies on decline: Antti Niemi posted 39 wins (T-2nd in NHL) in 2013-14, but saw Alex Stalock steal time from him during the regular season. Stalock, who will remain in San Jose, started Game 6 of the Kings series after Niemi struggled in Games 4 and 5. Niemi's regular-season GAA (2.16 in 2012-13 to 2.39 in 2013-14) and save percentage (.924 to .913) have taken a hit over the past year, and he posted the worst GAA (3.74) and save percentage (.884) in the playoffs (minimum six appearances). The Sharks offense has helped him find the win column often in the past, but he could lose even more time to Stalock in 2014-15 if he struggles. ... Ryan Miller will not return to the Blues and will test free agency, as detailed in this earlier spin. ... Statistically speaking, Marc-Andre Fleury had his best postseason since 2007-08, but a second-round exit that came as a result of a blown 3-1 series lead against the Rangers means his future is uncertain. Like Niemi, there's a chance Fleury, a top-five fantasy goalie in 2013-14 (39 wins, 2.37, .915, five shutouts), could be traded or bought out if the new Penguins' regime is not sold on the chances of him winning the Stanley Cup again.


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