Ramblings: Free Agent Frenzy Day 1, Murray/Khudobin/Kubalik Sign, Johnson on Waivers (Oct 10)

Ian Gooding

2020-10-10

The first day of Free Agent Frenzy Day didn't disappoint, if you enjoy the volume of signings that happen all at once. You'll see the breakdowns of all the major signings (and a few of the minor ones) in our Fantasy Take articles, so I won't rehash them all here. Instead, I'll use the Ramblings to discuss other player news of the day, including some lesser free agent signings, the players signing with their current teams, and other notable happenings.

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The day kicked off with the news that the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning placed Tyler Johnson on waivers. The Lightning were rumored to be trying to move Johnson for much-needed cap space, but placing him on waivers was a real shocker. The undrafted Johnson looked like a breakout star in 2014-15 with nearly a point per game (72 points in 77 games), but he has failed to match that production since then. In fact, he was on pace for less than 40 points this season. As much as GMs are reluctant to use offer sheets, RFAs Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak are all vulnerable to one at the moment.

There are a number of possible outcomes to this. Simply put, this could either allow the Lightning to move Johnson and his contract (4 more years, $5 million AAV) to another team, or allow them to bury him in the minors (just over $1 million in cap relief). A sweetener will very likely be involved if Johnson moves to another team, so this is a situation to watch.

In spite of their cap issues, the Lightning were still able to re-sign both Patrick Maroon and Luke Schenn, both to a cap hit of under $1 million apiece.

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At about the same time as the Johnson news, Oliver Ekman-Larsson's agent informed teams that "time's up" for a trade and that he would remain in Arizona for the coming season. This deadline appeared to be targeted simply at the Canucks, who needed to move on to pursue other players. The Canucks reportedly made one final offer just before the 9 a.m. PT deadline, but it is believed the Coyotes wanted a better prospect in the package than the Canucks were willing to part with.

I would never say never on the door being closed on a trade this offseason, as the financially-challenged Coyotes appear desperate to unload salary and rebuild. OEL may figure out another potential destination, or maybe there's another potential deal with the Canucks or the Bruins (especially now that Torey Krug has moved on to the Blues). The Coyotes are not in a position of strength, given the limited number of teams he's willing to be traded to and since his contract is so onerous (7 more years, $8.25 million AAV).

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This news perhaps flew under the radar, but Bryan Little will reportedly not be able to play in the 2020-21 season. At this point, his career has to be in real jeopardy. This news is all the more reason for the Jets to re-acquire Paul Stastny. This is an important trade for the Jets because it could keep Patrik Laine happy if he doesn't get to play alongside Mark Scheifele. Little would be placed on LTIR, which will provide the Jets with much-needed cap space. 

Fantasy Take: Paul Stastny Leaving on a Jets Plane

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There were plenty of signings of players to their existing teams. They may not receive their own Fantasy Take article, but they're worth discussing from a fantasy perspective anyway.

Recently acquired Matt Murray signed a four-year, $25 million contract with the Senators just days after being acquired from Pittsburgh. That's a fairly significant AAV ($6.25 million), so I don't think there's any doubt that Murray will shoulder a major portion of the goaltending load for the Senators. Given Murray's injury history (only one season with 50 games), that will pose a significant challenge.

In addition, there is the current state of the Senators. Murray will be an extremely risky fantasy option not only because of the rebuilding team in front of him, but also because of his own spotty play (negative GSAA in two of his last three seasons). If the Sens are a much-improved team in 2-3 seasons, then I could see Murray being a potential top-10 goalie if he's able to shake off the Band-Aid Boy label. There are the two Stanley Cups, which no doubt got GM Pierre Dorion's attention.

Fantasy Impact: Ottawa Acquires Matt Murray

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Playoff hero Anton Khudobin decided that his heart was in Texas after all. The Stars re-signed their backup goalie (should we still call him that?) to a three-year contract with a $3.33 million AAV. The 34-year-old Khudobin tested the market briefly, but decided on a place that would likely have been better for his fantasy value anyway. Imagine if he took the money and went to a team like the Sabres or the Red Wings.

As for that backup/starter thing, I think this signing is a real hit to Ben Bishop's fantasy value. Bishop is already injury-prone as a Band-Aid Boy trainee who I think Dobber will upgrade to certified. I'd be willing to pencil Khudobin in for 40 games, which makes him a poor man's Tuukka Rask if his ratios don't drop off dramatically from the 2019-20 regular season. As much as he was noticed by a wider audience during the playoffs, his regular-season ratios (2.22 GAA, .930 SV%) were actually better than his playoff numbers (2.69 GAA, .917 SV%). Much of that may have to do with the level of competition in the playoffs, as you may recall that the Stars had series against sharp-shooting Colorado, Vegas, and Tampa Bay.

Another note: If you're a keeper owner waiting on Jake Oettinger but let down by today's news, you may receive your break if Seattle chooses whichever goalie is unprotected between Bishop and Khudobin. See Oettinger's Dobber Prospects profile.

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Calder Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik agreed to a two-year contract with an AAV of $3.7 million. If Kubalik is the real deal following his surprising 30-goal season, then this could provide great value for the Blackhawks. And he'll also still be an RFA after the 2021-22 season.

For more on Kubalik, I'll refer you to this Geek of the Week article from back in April. Remember that he was able to follow up his regular-season performance with eight points in nine postseason games, including that five-point explosion in his first postseason game (against the Oilers).

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Late Friday, the Flames pinched a second player from the Canucks' roster, signing Chris Tanev to a four-year contract with a $4.5 million AAV. (Go ahead and trade for Loui Eriksson while you're at it, why don't you Brad Treliving?) Tanev has been a shot blocker extraordinaire (159 BkS, 4th in NHL) for the Canucks, and I hate seeing this long-time warrior move to a divisional rival. However, the Canucks were wise to walk away. As much as Tanev is a reliable defender and will be missed by the Canucks, he's a major injury risk. Although he played every game in 2019-20, he averaged only 50 games per season over his previous three seasons.

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Earlier in the day, the Predators signed Mark Borowiecki to a two-year contract with a $2 million cap hit. Borocop will never be known for his offense, but he might have some specific category value in bangers leagues. Over the past six seasons, only two players (Matt Martin, Ryan Reaves) have more hits than Borowiecki, who has averaged about 250 hits per season (or just over three hits per game). Only the Wild took fewer hits than the Predators last season, so Borocop fills a specific need.

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There were too many other signings for me to mention in this article, but I'll just get into one more pair of under-the-radar signings that have a darkhorse chance of mattering in fantasy leagues at some point this coming season. The Penguins signed Mark Jankowski and Evan Rodrigues to one-year contracts worth $700,000.

The Penguins don't have a ton of cap space, so they had to concentrate on secondary scoring options. According to GM Jim Rutherford, Jankowski and Rodrigues are third-line forwards that can play center. And because it's Pittsburgh and there are always injuries, these two forwards could make their way up to the top 6 at some point. Don't be surprised if you see one or both of these names when you're scanning your waiver wire.

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Who is left over after the first day? This isn't a complete list by any means, but hopefully this contains the most meaningful names. There seem to be a few big-ticket skaters left, but not much left in the way of goaltending. You can bark in the comments if I left off someone important.

Skaters (sorted by point total last season)

Mike Hoffman

Taylor Hall

Alex Pietrangelo

Evgenii Dadonov

Tyler Toffoli

Anthony Duclair

Tyson Barrie

Carl Soderberg

Derick Brassard

Vladislav Namestnikov

Joe Thornton

Craig Smith

Dominik Kahun

Mikael Granlund

Jesper Fast

Erik Gustafsson

Ilya Kovalchuk

Andreas Athanasiou

Lucas Wallmark

Erik Haula

Alex Galchenyuk

Sami Vatanen

Conor Sheary

Patrick Marleau

Dominik Simon

Corey Perry

Matt Nieto

Mikko Koivu

Mattias Janmark

Jimmy Vesey

Goalies (sorted by wins last season)

Mike Smith

Thomas Greiss

Aaron Dell

Craig Anderson

Ryan Miller

Michael Hutchinson

Louis Domingue

Cory Schneider

Jimmy Howard

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Finally, I would like to give a special stick tap to Mike Clifford, who was the assigned editor for Friday. As we were organizing the plan for the week, Cliffy told us that this was his day and that he would make sure he would be available even though it is a holiday weekend, and he delivered. (Yes, it's Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday, in case any of you south of the border weren't in the know.) I should also mention Dobber himself as well, who also chipped in with a number of articles. Dobber amazes me at how quickly he works.

Aside from doing this, I have a normal Monday to Friday day job, and I wasn't able to take Friday off. Normally Free Agent Frenzy is on Canada Day, which is a day off for me (family commitments notwithstanding), so I'm usually able to take on a greater role with the Fantasy Takes that day. It just goes to show it takes a total team effort to make all of this happen here at Dobber Hockey.

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I'm sure I'll have lots more to talk about tomorrow. In the meantime, for more fantasy hockey discussion, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency PIT Players
23.6% PATRIC HORNQVIST EVGENI MALKIN JASON ZUCKER
16.3% ZACH ASTON-REESE TEDDY BLUEGER BRANDON TANEV
15.9% SIDNEY CROSBY JAKE GUENTZEL BRYAN RUST

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