With the draft behind us, we’ve entered that portion of the season during which free agency takes the spotlight. To celebrate this joyous period, I took a look at a couple of big-name UFAs that might be shedding their Blue Jackets. Follow me on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza and let me know what you’d like me to discuss next week!
You don’t trade away P.K. Subban for less than market value unless it’s part of a bigger plan. In this case, it would seem that Predators’ General Manager David Poile offloaded Subban’s contract in an attempt to create space for Matt Duchene. Nashville’s offense was below average last season and the team’s power-play converted on just 12.9 % of their opportunities – the lowest success rate in the league. At first glance, it would seem that Duchene’s offensive abilities make him the perfect addition to the Predators, especially considering the 70 points he tallied in 73 games last season. Even beyond hockey, Duchene’s love for country music makes Music City the perfect place for him to play. However, I’m still not convinced that Duchene is someone you should be targeting in your fantasy hockey drafts if he ends up in Nashville.
An underrated aspect of free agency is the attention given to certain players in the weeks that lead up to a contract signing. For the past little while, you’ve probably been bombarded with rumours that speculate where Matt Duchene is going to sign. Matt Duchene. Matt Duchene. His name has probably been ingrained in your brain at this point – so when it comes time to draft your fantasy hockey team, Matt Duchene is not a name you’re going to be forgetting. But why is that important? Well, your fellow fantasy managers have probably experienced the same thing. There’s a good chance that everyone in your league has been blasted with the Matt Duchene hype, with at least one person buying into it. When a free agent signs with a new team, it’s intuitive to think that his new surroundings will impact his fantasy hockey value. There’s an exciting ‘mystery box effect’ because despite every logical projection, we’ve never actually seen that player in that exact situation – so there’s a certain aspect of thrill that comes with the unknown. As I said, there’s probably someone in your league thinking that Nashville is the best team Duchene has ever played for and he’ll finally be able to focus on actually playing hockey with a long-term contract in a city that he loves. My advice to you: allow that person to draft Duchene.
It’s important to remember that hockey players often require an adjustment period when they join a new team. They need time to build chemistry with their teammates and get familiar with a coach’s system. If you take a look at Duchene’s career, he has experienced this ‘adjustment period’ twice and his production suffered in the short term. He arrived in Ottawa after eight full seasons with the Avalanche and managed just five points in his first 20 games as a Senator. Last year when he was shipped out of the Canadian capital, he tallied just 12 points in 23 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets. If Duchene signs with a new team, it’s likely that he’ll need time to adjust to his new surroundings, providing the perfect opportunity for you to buy-low with a strategic trade.
TL; DR: If he signs with a new team, there’s much less value in drafting Matt Duchene than there is in trading for him early on in the season.
It’s been a long time since a free agent of Artemi Panarin’s caliber was available, you’d have to go back all the way to 2018 when John Tavares was a UFA – that was hundreds of days ago! At this moment in time, we can’t say with certainty where Panarin is going to kick off his 2019-2020 campaign. Reports indicate that he met with the Avalanche and Panthers and will travel to New York to possibly sit down with the Rangers and Islanders. Panarin is the cream of this year’s free agent crop, so it’s safe to say that other teams have also expressed interest and even the Blue Jackets haven’t given up on re-signing him. For now, let’s take a quick look at the frontrunners in the Panarin sweepstakes – the potential breadwinners, if you will.
With Joel Quenneville taking over coaching duties in Florida, Panarin has the opportunity to reunite with the coach that guided him to a Calder-winning rookie season. There’s also something to be said about Panarin’s relationship with fellow Russian Sergei Bobrovsky. The two share an agent in Paul Theofanous and as Panarin told George Richards of the Athletic, their families have become close. Florida is one of a few teams with enough cap space to accommodate both Panarin and Bobrovsky’s contracts. It’s no secret that the Panthers need a goalie as they can’t rely on an aging Roberto Luongo anymore, and newly drafted Spencer Knight is still years away from his NHL debut. While Panarin doesn’t exactly address a need in the same way, it never hurts to have a player of his caliber on your roster. If Panarin does take his talents to South Beach, he leaves Columbus’ 28th ranked power-play (15.4%) for a unit in Florida that converted on 26.8% of their chances last season – second to only the Tampa Bay Lightning!
Nathan MacKinnon. Do I really need to say anything else? Okay, fine. Mikko Rantanen. Satisfied? While Panarin saw a great deal of success on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson in Columbus, it’s hard to argue that Rantanen and MacKinnon aren’t the more talented linemates. I know we say “that team is going to be filthy in a few years” a lot, but that really seems to be the case for the Avalanche. Aside from the obvious Mackinnon, Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, there’s also Samuel Girard, Cale Makar, Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook. If I’m signing with a team for seven years, it’s nice to know that they’ll be competitive for the duration of my contract.
New York Rangers
Last year, NHL sources told The Athletic that the Rangers were at the top of a list of teams that Panarin would want to join. Adding Kaapo Kakko to the organization since then has to make the Big Apple an even more attractive destination. At first glance, the Rangers don’t seem ‘a Panarin away’ from being cup contenders, but it’s important to respect the parity that exists in today’s league. Hockey is such an exciting game because the ‘best’ team doesn’t always win – a reality which was highlighted when the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning were swept by the Blue Jackets in this year’s playoffs. The Rangers have some really talented pieces in Jacob Trouba, Anthony DeAngelo, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. While Henrik Lundqvist appears to be past his prime at the crisp age of 37, you should never bet against the King.
Throughout his time in Chicago, many discounted Panarin’s offensive output as a product of Patrick Kane’s talent. When he arrived in Columbus, he proved that he was a superstar and wasn’t dependent on others for production. If he joins the Blueshirts, he’ll have the opportunity to play with Mika Zibanejad – a guy who put up 74 points in 82 games last year, without much of a supporting cast. This Rangers team is on the rise and adding Panarin wouldn’t just accelerate the rebuild – it would put the pedal to the metal.
New York Islanders
The Islanders really tidied up their defensive game under head coach Barry Trotz last season, but their offensive production suffered. Their 2.72 goals per game ranked in the bottom third of the league and their power-play clicked at just 14.5% – only Nashville and Montreal were worse with the man advantage. The addition of Panarin – another scoring threat – would shift some of the weight off of Mathew Barzal’s shoulders, so he no longer has to carry as much of the offensive load. Further, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee (if he re-signs) can settle into secondary scoring roles and hopefully draw weaker matchups. To be completely honest with you, I didn’t know the Islanders were making such a push for Panarin, but it appears they want to make a splash in free agency.
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