Top 10 unrestricted free agents, from a fantasy hockey standpoint
With the free agent frenzy starting tomorrow, it’s an important time for fantasy owners in salary cap leagues.
In a couple of weeks, those owners will know how much they are over the cap thanks to ridiculous deals signed in the next couple of weeks. Or hopefully, how much under the cap they are so they can make some sort of move to make their team better.
So here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents from a fantasy point of view.
10. Matt Niskanen
There’s a lot of red flag with Niskanen, and fantasy owners would be wise to not fall into the trap of expecting big things from free agent signings. Sure, Niskanen had a great year in Pittsburgh, as he posted 10 goals and 46 points in 81 games. But there are plenty of factors to consider: He received a lot of ice time thanks to injuries to Kris Letang and Paul Martin. Only once before has he ever been higher than 26 points in a season (what are the odds that he can post his best two seasons back-to-back in his seventh and eighth years in the league?). And of course, it wouldn’t be the first time a UFA had a career year.
9. Ryan Miller
Miller should probably be higher on this list, but there’s really no market right now for goalies. How many teams need a #1 goalie? Maybe the Canucks, Wild and Jets. And that’s about it. And those three teams are big maybes as they have potential number one goalies already. It doesn’t matter how Miller played on a bad Buffalo team or a good Blues team. There’s no market, and he may have to take a lesser contract to try and battle for the #1 spot somewhere. But if he does get onto one of those teams cheap, he’d be a smart pickup.
8. Ales Hemsky
Hemsky is one of the most interesting free agents on the market. Do teams treat him like a guy who used to be a point-per-game player, or do they look at his last three years in Edmonton and think that’s pretty much all he is? His points-per-game over the last three seasons is just 0.54 (or 44 points over a full 82-game season). His last 20 games with Ottawa will certainly help his paycheck.
7. Matt Moulson
Moulson’s stock has dropped further than probably any other free agent in the league this past year. After a couple of pretty good seasons playing alongside John Tavares in New York, Moulson started off the season on a hot streak, with nine points in 11 games. And although he played well in Buffalo (0.66 points per game) and Minnesota (0.65 points per game), he doesn’t seem to have the same level of interest as other free agents.
There are a lot of Richards’ owners in salary cap leagues that are about to become pretty happy owners. What was the point in having a 34-year-old guy on the downside of his career making so much money? But in the next few weeks, there could be a lot of rejoicing. If he signs anywhere less than $5 million, his cap hit becomes a lot more reasonable, and 50 points is more acceptable at that price range.
Cammalleri is still a decent option for most teams out there, and it’s really surprising a contender hasn’t made a move for him the last few years. While his point-per-game days may be behind him, Cammy can still be a 30-goal threat in healthy (34-goal pace this past year), and is proven playoff performer. In 2010, his 13 goals lead all players after three rounds, and in 2011, his 10 points in the first round led all players.
Although he wants to stay in Boston and the Bruins want him to stay in Boston, there may not be the cap space to do so. If Iggy tests the free agent market, he immediately moves up to one of the most desirable UFAs out there. Although with him only wanting to go to a cup contender, there’s not a lot of landing spots. But for a cup contender, he instantly adds some much needed depth. For example, if you’re the Ducks, wouldn’t you be going after Iginla? They still have $18 million, and only a couple of RFAs to sign. Couldn’t they offer $5-$6 million for the next three years and have some depth on their second line?
3. Radim Vrbata
Criminally underrated, especially in points-only pools, Vrbata will end up with a great cap hit but will still be overlooked in a lot of leagues. In the last three seasons, Vrbata has averaged 0.74 points-per-game, which puts him in the same group as Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash and Paul Stastny. Yet, he won’t get anywhere close to the same salary these guys command. But he will be able to help a team out on offence next year.
2. Paul Stastny
At this stage of the game, you pretty much know what you’re getting with Stastny: a pretty consistent 55- to 60-point guy, who brings one great intangible: faceoffs. In his last four seasons, he’s never had a faceoff winning percentage less than 52.4 per cent. He’s shown that he can be a good centre to young guys (in the last few years, he’s centred MacKinnon and Landeskog) and that he can step it up in the playoffs (15 points in his last 13 playoff games).
1. Thomas Vanek
While it’s easier to label Vanek as an underachiever for what he did in the playoffs (10 points in 17 games and a demotion to the fourth line), it’s important to remember how great he was in the regular season the last few years (which is important for us fantasy guys). He had nine points in 13 games for a bad Buffalo team, 44 points in 47 games for the Islanders, and then 15 points in 18 games with Montreal. Those are still decent numbers. Put in the right situation and the right players, there’s no reason to think the 30-year-old can’t reach a point-per-game pace again.
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