This week’s article started out as a way to look ahead at who may be able to make a depth impact next year due to opportunities opening up on the roster. Partway through I made the realization that I had to cut it short or I would end up writing a novel. I also seem to unconsciously be favouring Canadian teams, however I prefer to consciously think that they just have more problems because they know the media needs things to talk about – I do feel for the Montreal Canadiens right about now. That being said, for better or for worse, they do not have many expiring contracts, so roster turnover will be unlikely.
Let’s look into a bunch of teams that do have some free-agent uncertainty coming up this summer.
The Sens have a league high 12 free agents set for next year, with seven currently on the roster, and another five currently on the IR. A fair percentage of them will re-sign, but there will still be further turnover for the Sens. As a result, some of their fringe players may be able to have a permanent impact on the roster next season. We have seen players like Connor Brown, Logan Brown, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and others, step up and produce career numbers with the added opportunity, and the opportunity will be there again next season.
Who then might be the best fits to take a roster spot next October? Well, looking at the roster, there are only four forwards currently playing with the team who are signed beyond this season, plus Bobby Ryan who is away from the team with the NHLPA Player Assistance Program – we don’t know for how long. The Sens also have six RFAs, with only four or five that are likely to re-sign.
Drake Batherson is the obvious one to fill in an open slot, but Josh Norris and Alex Formenton should be the next two to get a look. Both are putting up solid numbers in the AHL and are highly regarded as future pieces of the Sens’ offence.
On defence, there are four players signed for next season, and with the likely return of Mark Borowiecki, that leaves only one regular spot open for the next-in-line group of Christian Wolanin, Lassi Thomson, and Christian Jaros. Jaros is the odds on favourite for the spot as he has already logged 64 games in the NHL and seems to be making a positive impact in the AHL this year.
Aside from the top four forwards on Edmonton, there is going to be another large turnover up front. With eight UFAs, and a lack of high end talent coming up from the minors, there may be at least a few role players that can make an impact with the Oilers next season. Two years ago, we had Ty Rattire jump out in the pre-season, with Alex Chiasson ultimately being the one to up his fantasy stock the most. This year there were Tomas Jurco sightings on the top line in pre-season, but ultimately James Neal and Zach Kassian have proven to be the ones to own. Next year, could we see a high-value impact from a player like Cooper Marody, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, or Tyler Benson? The opportunity will be there but remember to pay much more attention to the last game of the pre-season, and the first game of the season, than whoever the coach tosses out with the big guns for the first four games of the pre-season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs’ defence has been a topic of discussion for most of the season, usually centred around how to get the most out of Tyson Barrie, whether Martin Marincin or Justin Holl should be on the third pairing, the return of Travis Dermott from injury, and Cody Ceci’s lack of love from the analytics crowd (and the eye-test crowd for that matter). However, for Toronto media standards, the fact that Toronto only has one defenceman under contract for next season hasn’t really been discussed. Furthermore, from a fantasy perspective, it really hasn’t been mentioned much. With the cap crunch that the Leafs have, we can expect that a lot of the defencemen signed for next season, be them returning, or new faces, will be on very small contracts. This is ideal for top defensive prospects like Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Mac Hollowell, and others.
In one version of the universe, the first two, Liljegren and Sandin could even be forming a dynamic second pairing for the Leafs coming out of camp next season. Neither seems to be a player that will stuff your peripheral categories, but both can move the puck, and they have looked like a solid all-situations pairing in the AHL this season.
-The Pittsburgh Penguins have a league high nine players in the NHL who are up for arbitration next year, and four more in the minors. This could put them in an even tougher cap spot than where they are this year and see a further exodus of their depth players. Players such as John Marino, Zach Aston-Reese, and Teddy Blueger, could see their role increased due to the smaller contracts (and constant veteran injuries). Additionally, it is possible that an existing player like Jared McCann or Marcus Pettersson has to be pushed out as well, because the Penguins can’t afford to pay what they deserve.
-The Florida Panthers have two of their top-six wingers due for free-agency at the end of the season, and it seems like there is a high possibility that only Evgeni Dadonov is re-signed, while Mike Hoffman is left to test the FA market. This should make room for either Brett Connolly or Owen Tippett. My money is on the scoring efficiency of Connolly winning out.
-San Jose started the season with a handful of players on their roster I had never heard of going into the year. Players such as Daniil Yurtakin. That could be the case again next year, with possible retirements of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and departures of other FAs such as Melker Karlsson and Lucas Radil… Side note, the Sharks appear to have put the names of their minors players in the blender: Yurtaykin, Halbgewachs, Chmelevski, etc.
-The New York Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild, and there will be another new wave coming next year. With only six roster forwards signed beyong this season, players such as Lias Andersson, Vitali Kravtsov, and Tim Gettinger may be given opportunities to make an impact with a permanent spot.
-It’s not just possible, it may even be likely that next season Drew Doughty begins with more NHL experience than the rest of the Kings’ blueline combined. There will be some turnover here, and it starts with Kale Clague and Tobias Bjornfot (who looked invisible on the scoresheet in his cup of coffee this season – hardly and shots, hits, blocks).
-Be ready for Calgary to fill their blueline from within next season. Each of Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Jusso Valimaki should see a rise in opportunity. Extensions to the former two will give a glimpse into the possible pecking order behind Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin as the only two other blueliners under contract for next season.
-Only half of Buffalo’s current active roster is signed for next year. Dylan Cousins, Lawrence Pilut, John Gilmour, Matej Pekar, and C.J. Smith will all be given longer looks than they would on other teams.
Jesse Puljujarvi did not re-sign with the Edmonton Oilers before the December 1st deadline, meaning we will not see him play in the NHL this year. It is too bad, but at the same time it isn’t surprising, as Puljujarvi made it clear he was done with the Oilers. The most likely scenario is that Puljujarvi is traded at the draft, either in exchange for someone else’s prospect who has run out of strikes, or a future piece that isn’t as far along in their development arch. Ideally for the Oilers, they can find another 6’3” winger with offensive upside to replace him.
Oh, and Julius Honka is sitting out too, but he’s not really fantasy relevant at this point except for in the deepest of leagues.
If you have questions, comments, or article requests, you can find me on Twitter @alexdmaclean.
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