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NHL Off-Season Moves – Fantasy Impact

NHL Off-Season Moves – Fantasy Impact

Most of the major off season moves this summer were obviously made with an eye towards capturing the Cup. The Penguins and Devils restructured their defense in a big way and role players were shifted all around the league. While these deals will play a big role in the fortunes of these NHL franchises, they barely register on the radar in terms of fantasy hockey impact. The likes of Anton Volchenkov, Dan Hamhuis and Zybnek Michalek won’t get much attention on draft day. Even with some of the top end scoring talent like Kovalchuk and Gonchar, the change in scenery likely won’t have much effect on their point totals. In terms of fantasy impact, you have a digger a little deeper on the transactions to appreciate the impact these moves will have this fall for your fantasy draft and the effect these moves will have on the players’ fantasy value. Let’s take a look at the players whose stock has risen and fallen in the past few days.

Going Up

1. Antero Niittimaki

So far this summer, the big surprise winner is Niittimaki. For the first time in his career, he looks to start the season as the #1 goalie, and what better place to do it than in San Jose. Niittimaki turned in a pretty good season for the Lightning, but there’s no comparison here in terms of locale. Assuming the Sharks don’t sign a 1B option, you should expect his win total to double next season. His GAA and Save % should also improve with the Sharks.

2. Nathan Horton

Horton has been toiling faithfully in Florida for years, with the promise of Rocket Richard potential. He never had the talent in Miami to set him up the way a goal scorer needs. Boston suffered last year with the loss of their trigger man in Phil Kessel. The match couldn’t be more perfect. Assuming Savard stays puts (and even if he doesn’t), the Bruins have plenty of options down the center who can dish the puck to Horton on a nightly basis. Don’t be surprised to see Horton approach 40 goals in Boston next season if he’s healthy.

3. Jaroslav Halak

Halak escaped a dysfunctional goalie situation in Montreal to join a Blues team that should be back in the playoff hunt next season. St. Louis has a good stable of defensemen that helped Chris Mason put up some decent numbers last year. Halak proved last season that he’s an upgrade over Mason, and for the first time in his career, he’s unopposed in net. Expect big things for Halak this year, without the soap opera with Price to distract and eat in into his playing time.

4. Dan Ellis

Ellis had a short run of glory in Nashville before being bumped from the crease by Pekka Rinne last season. He figured to see very little playing time in Nashville going forward. However, with Niittimaki moving on from Tampa, that leaves a golden opportunity for Ellis to have a second crack at stardom. He’ll have to battle Mike Smith for honors, and may ultimately split the crease in 2010-11. Either way, he’s in a better situation today. Tampa’s defense has become respectable and should continue to improve this year, so Ellis will have adequate support in front of him, even if it’s a step down from the protection he saw in Nashville.

5. Paul Martin

Martin has never been a top fantasy option on defense; however, going to Pittsburgh has a tendency to change things for a player. The Penguins will still be looking to Goligoski and Letang to pick up the slack for Gonchar, but neither has proven they’re ready yet. Martin should get some opportunities to carry the puck and hand it off to the powerful Penguin offense, which can only help his point totals. Martin peaked at 37 points in his sophomore season of 2005. Expect him to get back to that level and more with Pittsburgh next year.

6. Andrew Raycroft

Raycroft makes this list, simply because he goes from having no fantasy value, to having some potential value this season. In Vancouver, he was relegated to monthly cameos behind Luongo. In Dallas, the only thing standing between him and a starting role is Lehtonen’s health. That’s pretty good odds for the former Calder winner who has roamed from town to town since the lockout. Consider him for a bench role on your roster, or simply keep him in mind for when Lehtonen faces his next injury.

7. Dustin Byfuglien

Byfuglien’s stock could go either way with his move to Atlanta. On one hand, he faces a major drop in surrounding talent. After peaking in the playoffs with regular time next to the likes of Toews and Kane, Byfuglien will be on his own in Atlanta. The good news is, he’s fully capable of being the man. Most of the highlights he generated this spring were powerful individual efforts that he should be able to recreate with a blue sweater on. The positive side of this move for Byfuglien involves his role with his new club. In Chicago, he was juggled from line to line, and from offense to defense, depending on the opponent, the needs, and the alignment of the stars. In Atlanta, he can expect to get a regular shift on the top line as the team’s go-to power forward. It’s a no-brainer that he should top his career high of 36 points in his debut season with the Thrashers.

8. Ray Whitney

Whitney has been a fairly consistent depth option on fantasy rosters for many years now. His numbers dipped last season, along with just about everyone in Carolina. He now finds himself on a Phoenix team on the rise, yet hurting for offensive power. Whitney still has a season or two of decent production to give, and should be a good fit with the Coyotes on their top line. He should rebound into the 65-70 point range next year, which would easily make him the leading scoring in Phoenix.

Going Down

1. Chris Mason

The bad news for Mason came in June when Halak showed up to steal his stall in the locker room. Mason had a strong 30-win performance last season, but found himself looking for work when Halak arrived. The good news came July 1 when he signed a deal in Atlanta, where he’ll battle Pavelec for the starting job. The Thrashers are building a better team, so there is potential for fantasy value with Mason in the future; however, at least for next season, the stock price has fallen here.

2. Kurtis Foster

Foster made a courageous comeback in Tampa Bay last season, posting a career high 42 points, which positioned him as a valuable fantasy option at the draft table. Moving to Edmonton won’t do much to help his numbers, as there is no comparable talent to match what he worked last season with the Lightning. Keep him in mind as a depth defenseman, but don’t count on another 40 point output.

3. Evgeni Nabokov

Just about anything at this point has to be considered a downgrade for Nabokov’s fantasy value next season. After years of putting up consistent top notch numbers, he finds himself leaving the comfort of the San Jose crease for the unknown. And most of the potential doors have been closing around him. Teams with opening for a number one goalie have started to fill those roles (Philly, Tampa, Atlanta, St. Louis, Montreal). Pending some surprise move from a team like Washington, it’s almost certain that his value will dive for next year.

4. Dennis Wideman

Fantasy owners already had question marks regarding Wideman’s value heading into next season. Now that he’s moved from Boston to Florida, you have to put even more doubt into his worth. Wideman struggled mightily for the first half of last season before going on a great run down the stretch. Now that he’s in hockey purgatory down south on a team with few scoring options, 30 points may be the ceiling for next year.

5. Sergei Gonchar

Leaving the Penguins for anyone has to have some negative impact on a player’s fantasy value, but don’t expect a sudden collapse from Gonchar. He put up great numbers with a below average Capitals team before coming to Pittsburgh, and as long as he’s healthy, he should be the same steady point producer for the Senators. He may have slipped from the top 5 on the draft list, but don’t knock him down too much further, or you’ll be missing out.

6. Johan Hedberg

Hedberg has made a decent career as a fill in goaltender. Apart from his early success in Pittsburgh, he’s hung around, filling in for injured goalies and doing a decent job at it. He managed to put up some good stats last season in Atlanta and made it into the fantasy picture for parts of last season. Now, despite joining a better team, he’s relegated himself to cameo appearances behind Brodeur. His minimal fantasy value just went to zero.

No Change

  • Olli Jokinen

It’s hard to justify all the fuss that was made over Jokinen the past couple years at the trade deadline. News of him returning to Calgary barely registered on July 1, as fans have come to realize that he’s not the player he was hyped to be. He didn’t catch fire in his first run in Calgary and made no significant impact in New York, so don’t expect a return to the Flames to get him back to the point-a-game player he once was.

  • Pavel Kubina

Kubina returns to Tampa Bay after a few years absence. He’s been a fairly steady 35-40 point man for the past decade, and there’s no reason to believe that he’ll fare much different than that coming back to the Lightning. Age, not location, is the factor with Kubina.

  • Ilya Kovalchuk

As I’m writing this, Kovalchuk is still a free agent. Unless he packs his bags and heads to the KHL, it probably won’t matter much where he lands. The top teams don’t have room for him, and he’s proven he can score as a 1-man show. No matter where he ends up, he’ll be a top fantasy option, so pencil him in on your top 10 and worry about the color of his sweater later. (Provided it’s an NHL sweater).