This week's edition of the Eastern Edge takes a closer look at more free-agent signings from the Eastern Conference …
After covering the Eastern Conference winners in free agency last week, today we shift to the losers. While much of the time has been spent evaluating the dollar figures and contract lengths, the signings also cause a stir in fantasy leagues that do not use player salaries. When a player switches to a new team, his ice time, quality of linemates and opportunities on the power play are all subject to change. This week we will cover players who have had their fantasy value drop now that their new deal has been finalized.
Note: This will focus strictly on one-year leagues for the 2016-17 campaign.
Steven Stamkos (C) – Tampa Bay Lightning
Stamkos surprised many when he decided to return to the Lightning days before the start of free agency. Although this is a great move for the Lightnng to get their franchise player locked up for much less than was expected, fantasy-wise there could be more frustration over the next year. Stamkos has been well below the point-per-game mark the last two years in part due to Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, the team’s best two wingers, spending the majority of the time on a line with Tyler Johnson. This meant Stamkos would get the best of the rest.
The Lightning have Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov as former first-round picks on the roster who are on the verge of breaking out which could give Stamkos a boost. However, neither has been able to put it together over a full schedule and will likely experience more growing pains. Otherwise, the best options available are Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan who are less than desirable as top-line players.
Jason Chimera (LW) – New York Islanders
Coming off a great bounce-back year, the 37-year-old Chimera was able to earn a two-year contract with the Islanders to prolong his NHL career. His resurgence came as the Capitals were firing on all cylinders. He had great chemistry on the power play where he registered a career-high nine points and also benefited from scoring on 12 percent of his shots – his highest percentage since 2006. With the Islanders, Chimera will have to compete with prized free agent Andrew Ladd and several younger forwards with upside for minutes in all situations. Essentially, it will be very difficult to recreate the same magic.
Making matters worse is Chimera’s inconsistency over the years. Three of the past five years he finished in the 40-point range but twice finished with about a point every four games. Given his age, the risk of additional setbacks is increasing. With the age bias present in all drafts, Chimera should be available fairly late in multi-category leagues. Grab him if his skill set fits your setup but be ready to act fast if he flops early.
Brett Connolly (RW) – Washington Capitals
The former sixth-overall pick has failed to find a place in both Tampa Bay and Boston despite posting a career-high 25 points this past year. Looking for his next opportunity, Connolly signed with the Capitals. While this is a good landing spot to play a depth role in a winning environment, his chances of climbing the depth chart are slim. After being a decent sleeper pick in one-year leagues last fall, it would not be wise to classify him as such this time around.
Ideally, Connolly will use this as an opportunity to play a bottom-six role effectively. From there, he can pounce on opportunities to climb into a greater role. Unfortunately, that day will likely not come this year and potentially not with this organization.
Jason Demers (D) – Florida Panthers
Heading into free agency, reports suggested Demers was on his way to the Oilers. From a fantasy standpoint, joining Edmonton would have given him a tremendous boost. Not only do they have Connor McDavid among other talented forwards, they also have major needs on the blueline. Demers would have had a good shot of playing on the top power-play unit which would have made him a candidate to push for 40 points.
Instead, Demers signed with the Panthers who are very strong on defense. The power play will be led by Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad, leaving Demers with a secondary offensive role. Not to mention, the Panthers also have Mike Matheson, a former first-round pick, in the mix to challenge Demers for priority on the depth chart. Ultimately, this signing should leave Demers in a status-quo situation putting up 20 to 30 points per year. The disappointment is seeing him land in a spot that does not allow him to shine offensively.
Al Montoya (G) – Montreal Canadiens
After a hot start there were whispers Montoya could be on his way to a greater role once he hit free agency and perhaps challenge for a starting gig. Ultimately, he settled with the Canadiens who were looking to add depth in the crease after a collapse following an injury to former Hart Trophy winner Carey Price. While there are concerns with Price’s durability, unless he suffers additional long-term injuries, Montoya will be sitting on the bench a lot. There is no opportunity for him to outright steal the job, and there is even a slim chance Mike Condon could re-emerge as the team’s backup goaltender, leaving Montoya out of the mix entirely.
Lee Stempniak (RW) – Carolina Hurricanes
Stempniak’s 51-point effort was his best total since 2007 when he was with the Blues. This can be attributed to some incredible chemistry developed on the top line in New Jersey with Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri. The trio performed like a true top line until the trade deadline where Stempniak was shipped to Boston.
As with Chimera, recreating great chemistry in a new environment will be extremely difficult. He will get top-six minutes, at least to start. However, the Hurricanes lack top-line talent up front to help Stempniak along. In all likelihood he will go back to his old ways teasing with fantasy relevance but ultimately falling short.
Thomas Vanek (LW) – Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings did well to bring in Vanek on a cheap one-year deal. Despite his flaws, he is a proven scorer who at times can play at an elite level. For Vanek, and his fantasy value, the move to Detroit might prove to be damaging. The team has a trio of young wingers with upside in Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist in their top-six along with Justin Abdelkader who has signed a long and lucrative contract. Vanek will get looks on the top two lines but with these alternatives in the mix his usual slumps could leave him on a lower line getting fewer minutes much like the final months of his tenure in Minnesota.
There are rumors that the Red Wings will try to ship a winger for help on defense. This would increase Vanek’s importance to the club and would no doubt help his fantasy value tremendously. However, until a trade happens, Vanek should be considered a major red flag in fall drafts. Pick him late to minimize the damage if things do not work in his new environment.
Dale Weise (RW) – Philadelphia Flyers
During his time in Montreal, Weise emerged as an effective bottom-six winger who could play a role on a scoring line at times. In fact, his best year was in 2013-14 when he played the majority of the season in the Canadiens’ top-six. In Philadelphia, there will not be the same opportunities available as the team is set with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the right side. Furthermore, Matt Read has had some strong years in the past and a young player like Travis Konecny could also cut into Weise’s ice time should he be kept on the main roster this fall. Essentially, Weise lost his appeal as a short-term pick-up and could see his offense sink depending on how the line combinations play out.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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