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NOTE: These teams could be considered under the fantasy radar despite their offseason developments and any other factors in their favor (notable players, prospects, lineup/injury trends, coaches, performance last season, etc.).
New York Islanders
The Islanders were a huge surprise last season, making the Stanley Cup Playoffs and sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round despite losing their captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency on July 1, 2018. This offseason, New York re-signed its captain Anders Lee, along with forwards Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson, keeping together the core that had success in its first season under coach Barry Trotz. Although Lee's goal total dipped a bit last season (40 to 28), he is still 13th in the NHL in that category over the past three seasons (102), and that shouldn't change with his exposure to center Mathew Barzal and Eberle on the top line. Eberle, who had a strong showing in the playoffs (nine points in eight games), could be in line for a bounce-back season.
The Islanders also improved in net by signing Semyon Varlamov from the Colorado Avalanche. He is a veteran No. 1 goalie whose play last season wasn't as bad as it seemed. Although Philipp Grubauer excelled down the stretch and started for the Avalanche in the playoffs, he struggled for the majority of the season, and it was Varlamov who kept Colorado in the postseason hunt. Through Feb. 28, Varlamov had a 2.80 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and two shutouts, and Grubauer had a 3.26 GAA and .896 SV% and one SO. Colorado's penalty kill ranked 25th in the NHL (78.7 percent), and the Avalanche allowed the 12th most shots per game (31.9), neither of which helped Varlamov's cause. Working with Mitch Korn (director of goaltending) and Piero Greco (goaltending coach) in Trotz's defensive system -- New York allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (191) last season after allowing the most (293) in 2017-18 -- can only help as well.
Although Lehner is coming off a breakout season, his NHL career numbers were similar to Varlamov's before signing with New York. Lehner had a .915 SV% and 2.82 GAA in 219 games prior to signing with the Islanders, including three seasons playing for a weak defensive team in the Buffalo Sabres. Varlamov has a .916 SV% and 2.68 GAA in 448 career games, and the Avalanche have also struggled defensively in recent years. Varlamov, a capable No. 1 goalie in the past, could be just as good, if not better, than Lehner was with the Islanders last season. Varlamov, who will compete for the starting job with Thomas Greiss, was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2014, and his connection with Russian goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin makes this signing even more intriguing for the long term. Especially after offseason improvements for the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders will likely be overlooked again in fantasy.
Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Barzal
Arizona fell just short of qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2012, finishing four points behind the Avalanche for the second wild card in the Western Conference. The Coyotes had a 10-win improvement in Rick Tocchet's second season and could end their drought (seven seasons) after some key offseason additions.
Last season, Arizona relied heavily on its defense, which was tied for the fifth fewest goals allowed per game (2.68), to remain in the playoff race up until the final days of the season. However, the offense finished tied for 28th in goals per game (2.55), and the Coyotes were also derailed by 380 man-games lost to injury last season. Brad Richardson and Alex Galchenyuk (now with Pittsburgh Penguins) were tied for their lead in goals with 19 each, the fewest among all NHL team leaders.
But Arizona should see a ripple effect offensively after acquiring right wing Phil Kessel from the Penguins on June 30. Kessel had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games last season and ranked second on the Penguins in points (303 points) behind Sidney Crosby (363) in four seasons with Pittsburgh. But, in addition to his elite scoring and power-play production, Kessel provides lineup security (has played 774 straight games; eighth longest streak in NHL history) and championship pedigree (two Stanley Cup titles with Penguins). Players who could gain the most fantasy value from the Kessel trade include wing Clayton Keller and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The Coyotes also acquired center Carl Soderberg from the Avalanche; Soderberg had 49 points last season, including an NHL career-high 23 goals, and can provide Arizona with added forward depth as a big, power center. The Coyotes also have center prospect Barrett Hayton (No. 5 pick in 2018 NHL Draft), who had 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 39 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League last season and could crack the roster this season. Forward Nick Schmaltz, who had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games with Arizona after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, and goalie Antti Raanta (5-6-0, 2.88 GAA, .906 SV%) missed significant time with injuries but bring bounce-back appeal in fantasy.
Vancouver hung around the playoff race for a while last season before fading down the stretch and missing out for the fourth consecutive season. Offense was again an issue for the Canucks, who were tied for 25th in goals per game last season (2.67) and rank last in the NHL (2.44) over the past four seasons.
However, the Canucks have a bright future with elite center Elias Pettersson, who led all rookies with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) and won the Calder Trophy last season despite being limited to 71 games because of injury. Center Bo Horvat took a big step forward on a separate line from Pettersson last season, scoring an NHL career-high 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) and leading the League with 2,018 face-off attempts (won 53.7 percent). Right wing Brock Boeser was also limited by injury but had 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 69 games.
This offseason, the Canucks acquired forward J.T. Miller (from Tampa Bay Lightning on June 22), who had 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists), 20 on the power play, in 75 games in mostly a third-line role last season. Miller scored at least 22 goals in each of the prior three seasons and will likely play with either Pettersson or Horvat at even strength. Vancouver also signed wing Micheal Ferland on July 10; he has had consecutive seasons of at least 40 points and provided strong hits coverage (182 in 71 games) for the Carolina Hurricanes last season.
The Canucks defense should also be improved after they signed Tyler Myers (31 points; nine goals, 22 assists with Winnipeg Jets last season) and Jordie Benn on July 1, and Vancouver will have rookie Quinn Hughes, the No. 7 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who had three assists in five games, for a full season. If sleeper goalie Jacob Markstrom can perform like he did in his final 40 games (20-14-6, .921 SV%), Vancouver could claim a wild card or possibly even sneak into the top three of the Pacific Division.
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