Here’s this week’s installment of Eastern Edge where we take a closer look at the new additions in Florida and Buffalo. We’ll get to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and more in next week’s edition!
Colin Miller – The Sabres’ acquired a really good puck-moving defenseman for a second-round pick and a fifth-round pick. There’s a decent chance that neither player selected with those picks even plays a game in the NHL, so I really like this trade for Buffalo. From what I’ve heard, Miller was an extremely effective bottom-pairing defenseman in Vegas and held a prominent role on the team’s power-play. With that being said, there are a couple of things stopping me from commenting on how exactly this move will affect Miller’s fantasy value. For starters, as good as the Golden Knights are, it’s hard to pick any ‘standout’ offensive defensemen from their blueline. Sure, you can make the argument that guys like Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore have good offensive instincts, but I’d argue that Buffalo’s defensive core features better offensive options in Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin. I do believe Colin Miller will be given an opportunity on the top power-play unit with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, but I’m not convinced he’ll hold onto that spot throughout the season as he has more competition than he did in Vegas. Miller certainly has the tools to be a threat on the PP, as he has an extremely strong shot that can be improved with more accuracy. I’m also curious how Miller is deployed at even strength considering he appears to behind Brandon Montour and Rasmus Ristolainen on the depth chart for defensemen on the right side. Buffalo enters the 2019-2020 season under the supervision of new head coach Ralph Krueger who doesn’t have much experience being a head coach at the NHL level. I think there’s a lot of unknowns surrounding the team and it’ll be important to observe how the roster is managed during the first couple weeks of the season.
Marcus Johansson – The 28-year-old put up an impressive 11 points in 22 playoff games during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals this past year. At first glance, that production doesn’t seem very impressive, but when you consider he was seeing about 14 minutes of ice-time per night, you realize it was no small feat. There’s still a lot of discussion surrounding where exactly Johansson will fit in the Sabres’ lineup next season, but it seems safe to say he’ll act as a middle-six winger. The trio of Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart saw a lot of success last season and will probably remain intact through the beginning of next year. Buffalo also have Conor Sheary, Kyle Okposo and Jimmy Vesey as middle-six winger options, so it’ll be interesting to see where everyone fits. Johansson has the tools to be a 50-point player in the NHL, he just needs to stay healthy and be placed in the right situation.
Jimmy Vesey – There was a lot of hype surrounding Vesey after his success at the college level, but he has been relatively underwhelming during his time in the NHL. But maybe that’s unfair to say considering how many goals he has scored in a limited role. In his time with the Rangers, Vesey saw about 14 minutes of ice-time during his first two seasons and 16 minutes of ice-time in his final season. He managed at least 15 goals in each of his three NHL seasons and the majority of those goals were scored at even-strength. I think Vesey is a really underrated acquisition for the Sabres and he really boosts the overall quality of the team with his depth-scoring abilities. If he ends up on Eichel’s wing at some point next year, I think he could be a great addition to your fantasy roster off of the waiver wire.
The Panthers allowed an average of 3.33 goals against per game – making them a bottom-five defensive team last season. The team’s goalies saved less than 90% (89.15) of shots directed at them – only San Jose’s goaltending struggled more (88.90). A 40-year-old Roberto Luongo and James Reimer just couldn’t cut it anymore, so Florida bet the farm on the best goalie available in free agency. At first glance, this seems like a home run addition – your team wasn’t getting good goaltending, so you added an elite goalie. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. While Sergei Bobrovsky certainly appears to have the tools to be a perennial Vezina-candidate, it’s important to remember that a goalie’s performance can be drastically affected by the team in front of them. I don’t know about you, but Columbus’ defensive core of Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and David Savard seems better to me than Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson and Anton Stralman. While Stralman’s veteran presence should strengthen the Panthers’ blueline, it’s important to note that Florida was expected to allow more goals per game than Columbus last season. This ‘expected goals against per 60 minutes’ stat attempts to account for the quality of shots a team faces as well as the situations the shots are faced in. During the 2018-2019 season, the Panthers were expected to concede 2.92 goals per game while the Blue Jackets were expected to allow just 2.69 goals against per game (via Corsica). I know that doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it’s a difference that gets amplified through the course of a season.
Predicting success of goaltenders is one of the most difficult aspects of fantasy hockey as we see different names at the top of the leader board every year. During his seven seasons as a Blue Jacket, Bobrovsky only posted a save percentage below .910 once (.908) and it was back in the 2015-2016 season. Bobrovsky has been consistently excellent in the NHL and while the defense in front of him might have seen a minor downgrade, I don’t think his play will be severely affected.
In my opinion, Florida has one of the best top-six groups in the league. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck – oh my! That leaves one spot open in the top two lines and the Panthers have plenty of young talent wanting to step into that position. While Brett Connolly was undoubtedly acquired for his depth-scoring abilities, I’m curious to see if he gets a shot in the top-six at some point. Connolly tallied 22 goals in 82 games last season while seeing just under 13 and a half minutes per game.