As more and more teams are eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, increasing fantasy attention is being paid to the impressive crop of UFAs set to hit the open market in just over a month. While most poolies are focusing on the potential landing spots and impact of the biggest names like Erik Karlsson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Jeff Skinner and Joe Pavelski, this poll will be about which lower tier UFA you think will have the greatest fantasy impact in 2019-20.
Note that I use the term “fantasy impact” on purpose, rather than asking you to base your votes on who’ll purely do the best. That’s because in some cases a player might not put up great stats but make his mark in other ways, such as on defense to help pad a goalie’s numbers, as a #2 center to help the #1 center excel due to defenses focusing less on his line than in the past, as a big body to keep the other forwards on his line safe, or as a defensive anchor who allows an offensively-focused rearguard the freedom and flexibility to play a style that’s more likely to lead to increased scoring. What I’m trying to stress is, don’t necessarily vote for the player you think will himself have the best stats – really think about the fantasy impact each player will make on his team and, in some cases, its other players too.
What follows is a list of the 20 “next best” UFAs according to my opinion and some sources I consulted. Since we’re looking to determine the UFA who’ll have the greatest non-tier 1 UFA fantasy impact during the 2019-20 season, I’m letting you only vote for one player, so be sure to consider your options and land on the best choice, as the goal is to have this be a fun exercise but also help inform your fellow Dobberites. Or to put it another way, take your vote seriously – don’t just click on the first name you think makes sense, and don’t just reflexively vote for a favorite player or one on your fantasy team. With all that out of the way, here’s the list of 20 voting choices in alphabetical order, with the poll being available here.
Brett Connolly – At first glance Connolly’s stats from 2018-19 don’t jump off the page. But considering his low ice time was (13:20 per game) on what was essentially Washington’s third line, Connolly’s accomplishments become more impressive. In fact, no one who scored more points this past season than Connolly without averaging at least 14:00 per game; and the next highest point total for someone who averaged less than Connonlly’s 13:20 per contest was Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had 36 points as compared to Connolly’s 46. Moreover, as he’s still a relatively young 27 years old, Connolly might be following a similar path to other big men who truly found their game in their mid-to-late-20s.
Pavel Datsyuk – With the whispers about Datsyuk eyeing a return to the NHL and his superb past track record, I had to make him a voting choice even though he’s not a lock to come back. The question is whether his return will be a splash as was the case with Jaromir Jagr, or an unmitigated disaster as occurred with Ilya Kovalchuk last season. Given that Datsyuk plays a more finesse-based game, plus with him being unlikely to return unless he truly feels he can contribute, chances are he fares better than Kovalchuk, and perhaps even as well as Jagr did (102 points in 127 games at age 40 and 41).
Ryan Dzingel – Hitting the market with only three full seasons under his belt, it’s difficult to know if Dzingel is a late bloomer or upped his game due to his impending pay day. His point totals have increased with each passing season, so the trends suggest he could do even better once he signs a new deal, particularly with it likely to buy him a permanent home in the top six and more PP time.
Jordan Eberle – If Eberle was trying to position himself for a huge UFA deal, he certainly didn’t do himself any favors this past season, failing to even crack the half-point-per-game mark. That being said, he did have 50-60 points in both 2016-17 and 2017-18 and is still only 28, so it’s possible he could be a factor on a team, particularly one with a playmaking center.
Alex Edler – Although he’s now 33 and as much a Band-Aid Boy as ever, Edler also scored at a 50-point pace last season for an offensively challenged Canucks team, so clearly he has some gas left in the tank. The issue is given his age and his value as a shutdown d-man, would he get the all situations deployment he received in Vancouver if he signs with a new team?
Micheal Ferland – Over the past few seasons Ferland has managed to secure a predominantly top six role and even score from time to time. However, injuries and inconsistency has kept him from morphing into a true power forward capable of both stat stuffing and scoring. On a team that’s willing to ink him to a UFA deal, Ferland might find a way to take that next step and become an even better fantasy asset.
Jake Gardiner – After 95 points in his prior two seasons, Gardiner didn’t manage a point per every other game in a 2018-19 campaign that saw him miss a chunk of time due to injury. The best (only?) offensively elite rearguard on the open market this summer aside from Karlsson, Gardiner is sure to be inked to a large deal – large enough as to likely result in him being given every chance to produce gaudy numbers.
Kevin Hayes – Yet another player whose best season coincided with him being on the cusp of a UFA payday, does that mean Hayes is likely to disappoint once inked to a new deal? Not necessarily, since he’s only 26 years old, so him doing his best this season could just be him starting to hit his peak. Plus, his better numbers also correlated to increases in ice time, especially on the PP, making them far less suspect than if he’d been older or had received the same deployment in past seasons.
Marcus Johansson – For while it seemed like Johansson wasn’t capable of producing more than a 40-50 point output, that is until he hit the 58-point mark in 2017-18. Like Gardiner and Eberle, he took a step back this season. With him still being only 28 and having a versatile game that especially lends itself well to the power play, he could make waves if he lands on another offensive powerhouse squad.
Anders Lee – Without John Tavares, Lee’s numbers dropped by nearly 20%. But he still managed to post 51 points, which makes it three straight seasons of 51+ for the power forward, showing he’s likely smack dab in the midst of his prime and could do great things if he lands in the right spot.
Robin Lehner – You’d think a Vezina nominee would be a Tier 1 UFA but Lehner is just one season (and 46 games) removed from being nearly out of hockey. And although he does seem to have turned a corner both in terms of his skill and personal demons, there’s no telling if he’d fold under the weight of a big UFA deal or once away from a Barry Trotz/Mitch Korn system.
Petr Mrazek – As recently as the third quarter of the 2018-19 campaign it looked like Mrazek might not be poised to even be signed come free agency. With his end of season and playoff run, though, he looks to be back in top form, perhaps this time for good. Still though – it’s not clear whether he truly turned a corner in his career or instead just having one of those streaks that even a subpar goalie can have from time to time, especially since it’s not the first time Mrazek has looked great, with him faltering mightily after his last strong run on Detroit.
Tyler Myers – Although not the biggest fantasy name among UFAs, in terms of “real hockey” he’s one of the marquee UFAs of 2019, as he brings with him size, hockey sense, and the ability to produce. The only question is whether he gets put into a situation where he’s a “the guy”-type player like Ryan Suter or Alex Pietrangelo and, with that, gets a boost in his numbers due to increased deployment.
Brock Nelson – At first glance, Nelson’s career high 53 points this past season seemed suspiciously timed. Much like Kevin Hayes, however, it more likely came due to increased ice time – in his case over two additional minutes per game – and even more man advantage deployment. Nelson probably won’t be inked to fill a #1 center role; however, on the right team he could be a 1B, in which case his numbers could continue to climb.
Gustav Nyquist – It’s difficult not to notice that Nyqvist’s uptick in production this season just happened to coincide with him being a UFA this summer. And if you look at his numbers (highlighted in my Goldipucks column from March), coupled with his age, it does raise serious concerns that he’ll ease off the gas pedal once he’s signed. Then again, maybe things clicked and he’ll be a solid contributor on whatever team signs him. Time will tell, as it always does.
Wayne Simmonds – The worry with Simmonds is whether whatever team end up signing him will get Milan Lucic 2.0, especially since Simmonds has experienced a drop off from what were very consistent stats, signifying he could already be in decline. But again, perhaps being on a new team could reignite him and see his totals rise back to previous levels. It’s difficult to bet against a fierce competitor like Simmonds; however, his playing style may have already caught up to him.
Anton Stralman – Like Myers, Stralman is a player whose “real life” importance has overshadowed his fantasy value. But it’s players like these who command big bucks on the open market, and his salary, in turn, will ensure he gets deployment that should let him score more than in Tampa Bay, where he was at best a third banana when it came to rearguard offense, behind Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev.
Joe Thornton – Yes he turns 40 this summer and his ice time was under 16 minutes per game during last season, but Thornton still managed to post 51 points in 73 games, including 33 in his final 39 contests, making it seem like he’s poised to defy Father Time. Sure – he might not have as prominent of a role if he sticks with San Jose, but that team is so stacked he probably could put up numbers just as good next season, or he could opt to sign elsewhere and perhaps do even better like Jagr.
Semyon Varlamov – If the season had ended in December, Varlamov would be a prized UFA asset. But given his struggles in the second half and particularly fourth quarter, and losing the starting gig in Colorado to Philip Grubauer, Varlamov’s future is a bit more cloudy. Still though, his track record (20+ wins in every season where he’s played 49+ games) and him still likely having some good hockey left in him at age 31 should get him a shot at a starting gig, where he might just shine.
Mats Zuccarello – With a fantasy profile that sometimes matches his diminutive stature, Zuccarello had his best point-per-game average (68-point full season pace) in 2018-19 despite missing 34 games. And unlike other players where jumps in production are inherently suspect, in MZA’s case it’s more likely tied to playing for a team not coached by Alain Vigneault, resulting in MZA taking the ice for a full minute more per game and hitting 3:00 of PP time per game for the first time in his career. Once he signs as a UFA, he should get similarly favorable deployment, in which case I wouldn’t expect him to ease of the scoring gas pedal.
Again, you can cast your votes by clicking here. As noted above, I’m only going to allow you to vote for one player, as opposed to multiple players like in some of my other polls, so be sure to think about this carefully and cast your vote for the player who’s most truly deserving of your selection.
I’ll be back with another poll in a month, but next week is another mailbag and I could still use some questions, so please send them to me in one of two ways: (1) by private messaging them to me (rizzeedizzee) via the DobberHockey Forums, or (2) by sending an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line.