Eastern Edge: Reviewing free agency winners and losers
In this week’s instalment, we’ll take a look at how the Eastern Conference landscape has changed early on in the offseason. While you’re here, check out our Moving Day Tracker for some really insightful analysis as to how moves around the league affect fantasy hockey value.
On a day that saw big name players join new teams, the Bruins chose to keep their roster intact for the most part. From a fantasy perspective, the loss of Marcus Johansson is the most notable transaction in Boston, as they lost a player who produced 11 points in 22 games during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. Johansson provides the depth scoring that many teams are looking for, but there is some concern surrounding his injury history as he’s played in just 87 of 164 games over the past two years. Going into next season, I think it’ll be interesting to see who rounds out the top-six in Boston. Obviously, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci will play on the top two lines, but who’s the sixth guy?
Throughout this article, I’ll be mentioning a lot of ‘underrated’ acquisitions. In my opinion, Colin Miller is definitely near the top of that list.
The Sabres will be an exciting team to watch next season, so we’ll do a detailed overview of the roster next week!
Recency bias is a real thing. A lot of us forget that Erik Haula put up 55 points in 76 games during the 2017-2018 season because he missed the majority of the most recent season with a knee injury. Haula is capable of being a good secondary scoring option and that’s exactly what he’ll be as Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter should draw the more difficult matchups. The Canes have a plethora of young talent in Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and Warren Foegele. The team will be losing a lot of key pieces in Curtis McElhinney, Micheal Ferland and Calvin de Haan, so I’m interested to see how they play next season. Personally, I don’t trust Petr Mrazek or James Reimer in net, but I hope they prove me wrong.
Columbus Blue Jackets
500 IQ Perspective (You, an intellectual): Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel didn’t play with the Blue Jackets for very long, their departure won’t have a huge effect on the team. Skaters can still put up points no matter who the goalie is, losing Sergei Bobrovsky won’t have a huge effect on the team’s offensive output. Artemi Panarin – okay this one hurts, but it’s important to remember that Cam Atkinson scored 35 goals during the 2016-2017 season – before Panarin arrived. Pierre-Luc Dubois is a very gifted player and he continues to develop. Finally, the newly-acquired Gustav Nyquist put up 49 points in 62 games last year for a Detroit team that wasn’t very good (outside of Dylan Larkin). While others ignore the fantasy value in Columbus, you’re going to steal some Blue Jackets in the later rounds of your draft.
Detroit Red Wings
At this point in time, there haven’t really been any fantasy relevant changes in Detroit. If we’re grasping at straws, we could discuss the return of Valtteri Filppula and new GM Steve Yzerman. However, I’m not a big fan of straws after they betrayed the first of the three little pigs.
In all seriousness, we’ll do a more in-depth review of the situation in Detroit at some point in the next few weeks.
Was there a team that did a better job of addressing their needs than the Panthers? I’m really curious to see if Sergei Bobrovsky can push the team into the playoffs. Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman could prove to be really underrated additions as well.
I think the situation in Florida is really interesting, so I’ll be doing a deeper dive into it next week!
The Habs were able to secure a back-up goalie in Keith Kinkaid, who didn’t have the most impressive numbers last season (3.36 GAA & .891 SV%) but should fare better with a smaller workload in 2019-2020. I thought Curtis McElhinney would have been a better fit for Montreal, but I guess anyone is an upgrade over Antti Niemi – who managed a shockingly bad 3.78 GAA and .887 SV% through 17 games last year. Don’t expect Carey Price to start 66 games next season.
While the Canadiens have an abundance of young talent competing for spots on the NHL roster, the team is certainly going to miss Andrew Shaw next season. Shaw was a great locker room presence and battled hard for every puck – often cashing in on rebounds at the front of the net. His departure will require a change in the team’s power-play personnel and I’m curious to see if the Habs are able to improve on what was one of the league’s worst PPs.
New Jersey Devils
After the additions of P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Hughes, I think it’s safe to say the Devils’ roster has improved. One thing in particular to watch out for next season is the team’s power-play – which was successful on just 17.7% of opportunities last year. Over the past six seasons, Wayne Simmonds has scored more power-play goals (74) than everyone in the league except for Alex Ovechkin (120). P.K. Subban has shown he is capable of quarterbacking a power-play and I think he’ll benefit from being ‘the guy’ in New Jersey, as opposed to a secondary option overshadowed by a more talented blueline in Nashville.
New York Islanders
In my opinion, the Islanders came out of free agency as one of the league’s biggest losers. They offered term to Semyon Varlamov and not Robin Lehner. They chose a guy that posted a 2.87 GAA and .909 SV% through 49 games last season instead of a Vezina-finalist who put up a sparkling 2.13 GAA and .930 SV%. Sure, maybe there’s something to be said for coach Barry Trotz’s strong defensive system benefitting goaltenders – but I still think Lehner on the Blackhawks has more fantasy value than Varlamov on the Isles.
New York Rangers
New York, New York. It’s amazing how two teams from the same state can come out of free agency in such different states. Not only did the Rangers secure the biggest UFA in Artemi Panarin, they added some great talent in Jacob Trouba and Kaapo Kakko. I’m excited to see how head coach David Quinn decides to distribute his talent among the top two lines. You’d have to think that Mika Zibanejad and Panarin make up two thirds of the top trio, but the rest of the top-six doesn’t seem set in stone just yet.
Rumour has it that the Senators’ front office took a team-bonding trip to Toronto where they visited local thrift stores. They didn’t even need to take pictures during the vacation because the whole experience was documented through Uber Dash Cams! GM Pierre Dorion was over the moon to find Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown who were only slightly used. As a fan of antiques, he didn’t hesitate to add Tyler Ennis and Ron Hainsey to his collection. Ottawa’s executives used to be regular individuals, but now they’re a team!
So how ‘bout that Kevin Hayes contract…
We’ll get more into Philly’s situation next week in the Pennsylvania edition of Eastern Edge.
We’ll get more into the Pens’ situation next week in the Pennsylvania edition of Eastern Edge.
Tampa Bay Lightning
What do you get the team that already has everything? A new back-up goaltender of course! Curtis McElhinney seems like an upgrade over Louis Domingue, but I have a hard time believing this makes the Lightning any better. The team was still able to rack up wins when Domingue took over for Vasilevskiy last season, so I’m not sure why they need McElhinney. I am curious to see how the departure of J.T. Miller affects the team’s offensive dynamic. Miller was able to score at a 50-point pace despite seeing limited minutes. Although I feel silly saying that when the roster boasts the talent of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point (RFA), Yanni Gourde, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph (among others).
Toronto Maple Leafs
Did the Leafs get better? I’m not sure that’s a question that can be easily answered. When I first saw yesterday’s trade with the Avalanche, I thought GM Kyle Dubas did really well to strengthen his defense on the right side through the addition of Tyson Barrie. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel like Barrie offsets the loss of Jake Gardiner instead of drastically improving the roster. Then there’s the reality that the team lost a very effective shutdown centre in Nazem Kadri, who made a couple of questionable decisions at inopportune times but ultimately excelled in his role. I really like the addition of Jason Spezza and am eager to see how coach Mike Babcock utilizes the veteran center.
Sure, the Capitals added some grit in the form of Garnet Hathaway and Radko Gudas but I think they downgraded their offensive depth as they essentially swapped Richard Panik for Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky. Now don’t get me wrong, Panik isn’t bad by any means, but he scored 14 goals in 75 games while seeing about 16 and a half minutes of ice-time per game. In contrast, Brett Connolly tallied 22 goals in 83 games while seeing just under 13 and a half minutes per game. Connolly’s scoring was underrated and will be missed.
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