The start to the free agency period yesterday was kind of a bummer (unless you’re a Leafs fan).
Lots of big names that were rumoured to be dealt (Erik Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner, Phil Kessell, Artmei Panarin and a bunch more) stayed put, although Ryan O’Reilly being traded late in the day made it a little more exciting. Many big name free agents (James Neal, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash and Robin Lehner) haven’t signed yet.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t little nuggets of NHL signings. There’s always some good under-the-radar value for fantasy general managers in dynasty cap leagues. Yesterday was no exception.
It’s no surprise that some of the best under-the-radar signings involve one-year deals. This is a chance for players to step up in a show-me contract to prove they still have the tools needed to play a meaningful role in the NHL.
It should also be no surprise that many players on this list are netminders. They have more of an opportunity because an injury situation would thrust them into the starter’s role,
10. Matt Cullen, Pittsburgh, one year, $650,000
Cullen is a good depth player in dynasty leagues, and at this price, it would be tough to overlook him if he’s still on the board in later rounds. Sure, he’s not a 60-point player, but he has had moderate success in Pittsburgh, where he can get 15 goals and 30 points. He should also get more ice time and faceoff opportunities back in Pittsburgh than he did in Minnesota. Expect a small bounce-back season.
9. Chris Kunitz, Chicago, one year, $1 million
Kunitz has had a sharp decline in fantasy hockey circles for a couple of years, but there is still some value there. Especially now in cap leagues where he’s around $1 million as opposed to $3 or $4 million. He’s a bottom six guy, but Tampa had him at less than 12 minutes a game and no power play time. In Chicago, it’s quite possible both those numbers increase. If it does, more ice time could bring back his hitting game (he had 131 last year after averaging 230 the previous three seasons). Don’t expect a miracle, but he could be an excellent depth dynasty piece with his low cap hit.
8. Daniel Carr, Vegas, one year, $750,000
Carr had moderate success in Montreal but was not given much of an opportunity to do much. This past year, he put up 16 points in 38 games despite averaging 12 minutes a game and starting in the defensive zone on 56.4 per cent of his shifts. His 2.08 points per 60 minutes was third highest on Montreal. He’s also had some success in the AHL (19 points in 20 games this year, and 51 points in his last 63 games over three seasons). All he needs is an opportunity, and Vegas could be that chance.
7. Jaroslav Halak, Boston, two years, $2.75 million per year
Halak is nothing more than a backup to a goalie that normally doesn’t miss a lot of time. However, 25 starts are not out of the question for Halak. He’ll be with his best defensive team since he played with the Blues, so his numbers should improve in every category (win-loss, shutouts, save percentage and goals against average).
6. Cam Ward, Chicago, one year, $3 million
Ward is one of those goalies that is hard to figure. He doesn’t put up great numbers, but no one in Carolina has for a long time. Is that Ward’s fault, or the system the Hurricanes used? The Canes tried numerous other goalies but none of them had success either. Ward is now going to a team that is better coached and has better players. He will be a capable backup with a chance to get at least 30 starts.
5. Derek Ryan, Calgary, three years, $3.125 million per year
Ryan may not be a sexy name when it comes to fantasy hockey, but the newest Flame finds himself in the best situation imaginable for next season. He’s going to a team where he’s pretty much fully entrenched as the third-line centre while playing for his Carolina former coach. Ryan’s numbers (points, PIM, shots, hits, faceoff wins and time on ice) have improved in each of the last two seasons.
4. Thomas Vanek, Detroit, one year, $3 million
Many fantasy general managers don’t have a lot of faith in the 34-year-old Vanek, but he still has a lot of capable hockey left in him. He puts up points no matter where he goes (aside from Minnesota). This past year he notched 24 goals and 56 points in Vancouver and Columbus and is still a potent power play producer. He always seems to find someone he has strong chemistry with.
3. Petr Mrazek, Carolina, one year, $1.5 million
It’s been a few years since Mrazek was even an average goalie, so he’s going to be off the radar for a lot of poolies. He does provide an intriguing late-round option as he’s entering a situation where he can actually be a good 1B option. Scott Darling was awful in Carolina this past year, and he won’t be given as long a leash this year, opening the door for Mrazek to steal some starts.
2. Michael Grabner, Arizona, three years, $3.35 million a year
Grabner has excellent value in leagues that give extra points for goals. He’s netted 27 goals in each of the last two seasons despite not getting any power play time (he averaged three seconds a game this past season). He’s useless in leagues with peripherals as he doesn’t contribute much outside of goals. He should be a top-six option in Arizona, as opposed to a third-line player with the Rangers, so 30 goals are doable for Grabner.
1. Chad Johnson, St. Louis, one year, $1.75 million
Whoever the backup is in St. Louis is always a threat to steal starts just because starter Jake Allen can’t be trusted to be consistent. Allen hasn’t proven he can be anything above an average starter so far in his career. Meanwhile, Johnson hasn’t been a world beater, but he’s been okay on some pretty average teams. He has a good opportunity to steal starts and could find himself as the number one netminder at points next season.
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