This week's edition of the Eastern Edge looks at the 2016 offseason outlooks for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins …
After covering the offseason outlook for the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators last week, we continue our climb up the Eastern Conference standings. This week will shine the spotlight on the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins, two teams with different sets of expectations heading into the year and ultimately failed to qualify for a playoff spot in the East. The focus will be put primarily on the short-term rather than the long-term future, although the developments of the next few months will certainly have a great impact on keeper leagues as well.
Teams previously covered
Heading into this year, there was very little hope for the Hurricanes. The team had already missed the playoffs six straight years and had a dreadful roster on paper. To make matters worse, the team’s captain and face of the franchise Eric Staal was beginning the final year of his contract with a strong possibility he would not finish the year in Carolina. Furthermore, the rapid decline in his production in recent years was chipping away at his trade value.
Ultimately, Staal was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for prospect Aleksi Saarela and two second-round picks. While all three assets could help he Hurricanes down the road, none are likely to be an impact player to help offset what Staal once meant to the franchise. This leaves the team in a difficult spot moving forward, as the roster is already lacking in high-quality players, especially up front.
With that said, the Hurricanes finished higher in the standings than expected with 86 points, 10 short of a playoff berth. This marked their highest total since 2011 when they had 91 points. Their strength was keeping the opposition’s shots on goal to a minimum, as they ranked fifth averaging just 27.6 shots against per game. They also finished sixth in penalty killing at 84.3 percent. Meanwhile, they were 18th in goals against due to below-average goaltending. Offensively, the Hurricanes struggled mightily finishing 27th in goals and 24th in power-play efficiency.
Up front, the Hurricanes lack star power and as a group possess very limited upside. The most fantasy relevant is Jeff Skinner who has had an up-and-down career but can be a lethal when he puts it together. After a down year in 2014-15, he bounced back with 28 goals and 51 points this year. Unfortunately, his strong campaign will likely see him drafted too high in fall drafts given the risk factor.
Jordan Staal had a solid year with 48 points, which was his best total since 2012. However, he has never had more than 50 points in a season, so his offensive upside is quite limited, especially with the lack of quality linemates. His fantasy value is much higher in multi-category leagues that make use of hits and his outstanding faceoff abilities.
Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm offer some promise in the top-six group. Rask improved upon his rookie campaign with 48 points ,while Lindholm had his second consecutive 39-point campaign. In fact, Lindholm was quite unlucky having scored on just 6.3 percent of his shots. He is a solid buy-low candidate for the late rounds in drafts this fall.
With top-six spots up for grabs, there will be opportunities for a good waiver wire pickup from the Hurricanes in the first couple weeks next year. From this year’s roster, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom are the leading candidates. The latter is better suited as a defensive forward in a bottom-six role, and while Di Giuseppe and Nestrasil showed glimpses, neither has done enough to solidify a scoring-line job to date. It is very possible a prospect could steal a spot or the team could also dip into the free-agent market for bargain additions looking for minutes.
The blueline is led by Justin Faulk who played just 64 games this year but produced at a 47-point pace after putting up 49 in 2014-15. While his keeper-league value is obviously high, be careful about drafting him high in yearly setups. The Hurricanes do not score a lot of goals which makes it difficult to sustain such good numbers. Additionally, his plus/minus can be a real burden in multi-category leagues.
Jaccob Slavin emerged as a big-minute defenseman this year and showed good signs with 20 points in 63 games. However, with Faulk being the top option on the power play and Noah Hanifin, a former fifth-overall pick, in the mix it will not be easy for him to be put in a spot to succeed offensively and take the next step.
Beyond Slavin, there are other candidates to provide some decent secondary scoring. James Wisniewski, who missed the year with a knee injury, has a year left on his contract and a long history of putting up points in the NHL. Of course, there is Ryan Murphy who has played three partial years in the NHL but has not yet been able to put it together for a full year.
In goal, Eddie Lack is the only NHLer under contract for next year. He had a difficult first year in Carolina with just 12 wins and a .901 save percentage. Obviously, he should improve upon those numbers, as it is unlikely he will be this bad two years in a row, but his fantasy appeal remains limited in Carolina.
The Hurricanes have no NHL-ready option in their pipeline, so they will look to free agency to bring in some competition for Lack. Given the lack of goalie spots available in the NHL they should have no trouble finding competent help. The other option is to bring back Cam Ward at a discounted rate.
Thankfully, the Hurricanes could be getting some help from their prospect ranks. Sebastian Aho was outstanding in Finland this year with 45 points in 45 games and given the holes up front could immediately step into a top-six role. Brock McGinn had 19 goals and 35 points in just 48 games down in the AHL and saw extended time in Carolina but lacks Aho’s upside, both short-term and long-term. Andrew Potularski, an undrafted signing out of college, also has an outside shot to make the Hurricanes.
The Carolina blueline is the team’s strength at the NHL level but the unit could receive additional reinforcements. Hayden Fleury, the seventh-overall pick in 2014, is turning pro and could spend the year in the NHL but could also benefit from some AHL seasoning. Trevor Carrick, coming off of two strong years in the AHL, stands a better chance to make the jump and could be a decent secondary scorer out of the gate.
After failing to qualify for the postseason in 2014-15, the Bruins made some major changes including trading away Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. Expectations were not high initially, but the team performed admirably early, and it looked like the Bruins were on their way back to the playoffs. However, some late-season struggles were enough for the Bruins to ultimately fall short with Detroit securing the final wild-card spot via a tiebreaker.
The Bruins and fantasy owners benefited from an unexpected surge in offense. The team finished fifth in goals with 236 and fourth in shots on goal (32.0 per game) while the power play was tops for a large portion of the season before cooling down and finishing seventh at 20.5 percent. Meanwhile, the scoring increase came at a cost, as the Bruins finished 20th with 228 goals against, and Tuukka Rask had an off year.
Up front, the Bruins have some mainstays in the top-six group and have some spots up for grabs. Leading the way is Patrice Bergeron whose 32 goals were a career high and his 68 points were his highest total since 2007. His season will be difficult to repeat next as his 25 power-play points were abnormally high. Unless the Bruins can surprise again with a red-hot power play, look for Bergeron to take a step back next year.
David Krejci, on the other hand, has a bit better of a point-producing history than Bergeron, and Krejci did not benefit as much from the man advantage this year. However, it is worth noting he has been getting injured more often over the last two years, which makes him a bit riskier to draft this fall.
Brad Marchand had by far the best year of his career, as he set personal-best marks in goals, points, shots on goal and ice time. While repeating 37 goals would be difficult for almost every NHL player, he should still be a lock for around 55 points given his increased role with the team.
After a solid rookie campaign, David Pastrnak had difficulty following up in 2015-16 after running into injury trouble. And he was not much of a factor until the second half. Look for Pastrnak to see a bump in ice time in his third year, as he has averaged just 14 minutes per game so far in his career. With 53 points in 97 career NHL games, he has shown he is a legitimate top-six forward.
Meanwhile, veteran forwards Loui Eriksson and Lee Stempniak might be heading to free agency in July. There should be room for at least one key signing on the wing. The Bruins might also look to get an upgrade on Brett Connolly who has not been able to put it together in the NHL after being selected sixth-overall back in 2010.
Of course, there are candidates on the roster who could slide up and take on larger roles. Ryan Spooner, who served as the third center for most of the year could see some time on the wing on one of the top two lines. Also, last summer’s prized free-agent signing Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes could potentially take on the responsibilities. Both bring size to the table and they also have an inconsistent scoring touch.
The defense was led by the resurgence of captain Zdeno Chara whose 37 points nearly doubled the 20 he posted back in 2014-15. He still logs a ton of minutes at 39 years old, which could be linked to some of his offensive struggles down the stretch. While anything is possible it would be wise to be more pessimistic with his projections moving forward. In all likelihood, he will be drafted too early this fall based on this season’s total.
Torey Krug saw a small bump in ice time due to Hamilton’s departure and as a result saw a small increase in production. With that said, after back-to-back years with double-digit goal totals he found the back of the net just four times this year despite 244 shots. Look for Krug to get back on track with his goal-scoring next year.
Kevan Miller was a pleasant surprise with a career-high 18 points to go along with excellent multi-category numbers. He is due for a big raise this summer and cold leave the Bruins. If he signs elsewhere look for the team to sign a similar veteran as Joe Morrow and Colin Miller are not well suited to play a defensive-minded role.
Morrow spent the year in Boston but was usually a healthy scratch and only suited up 33 times. He has not shown enough in the NHL or down in the AHL to merit being considered more than a depth defenseman. Miller had his share of struggles in his first NHL campaign but showed the ability to put up points and could be a good buy-low option for the late rounds while looking to round out your defense.
As noted, Rask had a poor year by his standards. Given the Bruins’ failure to qualify for a playoff spot look for them to make some adjustments to tighten things up defensively. This should help Rask bounce back to around a .920 save percentage next year. Even with a subpar season, he is the team’s undisputed top goalie.
Jonas Gustavsson did a decent job in the backup role but could be on his way out the door in July. Malcolm Subban, a first-round pick in 2012, could be promoted to the backup spot. Otherwise, the Bruins should have no trouble finding a capable goalie on the market this summer.
In the system the Bruins have some NHL-ready prospects, especially up front. Unfortunately, Alexander Khokhlachev appears to be headed for the KHL instead of giving the NHL another shot in a year where there are opportunity on his parent club. He should not be ditched in keeper leagues just yet as a trade could help get him back on the NHL radar.
Frank Vatrano had some decent moments in Boston, but he teared the AHL apart with 36 goals and 55 points in just 36 games. Should the Bruins decide to push Beleskey or Hayes up the lineup a guy like Vatrano would be a good fit in a depth-scoring role.
After teasing us with a good showing in 2014-15, Seth Griffith was back in the AHL last year but finished second in the league with 77 points. At this point he has done everything he can to get ready for full-time NHL duty. He should be at the highest level next year in some capacity although immediate production is not guaranteed given the alternatives on the roster.
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