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The Market: A Look at the NHL Offseason

by James Meyerriecks - Thu Aug 24
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    With the salary cap now in place, hockey fans were finally able to head into the offseason with the optimism that NFL fans do each season. Even if your team was out of the playoff picture last season, there's more of a chance for a quick turnaround in today's game because of how many skilled players seemed to be hitting the market because of cap constraints. With just $44 million in cap space, extremely talented stars both young (Martin Havlat/J.P. Dumont) and old (Brendan Shanahan/Rob Blake/Jeremy Roenick) will be changing uniforms in the 2006-07 season.

    Some teams like the Blues and Penguins have gone from being amongst the worst franchises in hockey to being fringe playoff contenders in just one short offseason. St. Louis' signings of Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Manny Legace, and Jay McKee give them viable options on the wing, at center, defensively, and between the pipes. In the old NHL, player movement was minimal among the top teams, as they were able to hoard their talent and overspend for them a bit. Now, they finally have a limit to what they can spend to keep their talent in town, or to lure some of the stars away from the smaller markets.

    As we gear up for the 2006-07 NHL season, let's take a look at some of the highest impact deals of the offseason, and what they should do for each player's fantasy status.

    Roberto Luongo traded to Vancouver for Alexander Auld and Todd Bertuzzi

    Luongo has been a star goaltender in the league for some time now, establishing himself as one of the top young stars in hockey in the league when he first took over the starting job in Florida in 2000-01. After five superlative seasons in which he kept a Save % of .914 or better, Luongo's reward was a trade to Vancouver in the offseason. While Florida appears to be a team on the rise, they don't have nearly the pieces in place that could be ready to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup that the Canucks do. Luongo should benefit from both superior defense in front of him and improved scoring punch from the forwards. Expect him to improve on last season's career high in wins (35) and cut down on his Goals Against Average significantly with his new team.

    Auld will immediately step in to take Luongo's place as Florida's number one goalie. He looked strong in his first shot at extended playing time last season, winning 33 games with a 2.95 GAA that was actually superior to Luongo's and a solid .902 Save Percentage. He should expect a lot more pucks to come his way in Florida, which should lead to an increase in his GAA, but it won't all be bad for him fantasy-wise. Auld's status as a starter in Vancouver was questionable heading into the offseason, and he'll have little to worry about with the Panthers. Eddie Belfour was brought in to give him a veteran backup who can help mentor him.

    Trading Big Bert was addition by subtraction for the Canucks. He was a bit of a distraction even before the Steve Moore incident, but became even more of one after it. Bertuzzi has the power game to score a ton of goals, and did so earlier in his career. However, his vision on the ice, passing ability, and poor decision making (particularly when it comes to the Penalty Box) are issues that Florida will have to deal with. Regardless, they'll appreciate having a bigtime scorer to line up alongside Olli Jokinen, and both should enjoy fantastic seasons. Expect slightly better production this year than what we've seen out of Bertuzzi in the past two years.

    Chris Pronger traded to Ducks for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and draft picks

    Pronger's impact will be immediately felt in Anaheim, where they now boast the best 1-2 punch in terms of defensemen in the league (they already had Scott Niedermayer). As they're both tremendous offensive forces on the blueline, it's unlikely that they play together on a pairing, though they should share the Power Play quite a bit. He goes from one stacked young team to another, and his numbers shouldn't change much this season.

    In forcing his way out of Edmonton, you would think that Pronger would have hurt their return a little bit. That certainly wasn't the case, though. The Oilers did better than anyone could have hoped in this deal. Lupul emerged as a star last season, scoring 28 goals and adding 25 assists during the regular season. It may have been the playoffs where he shined brightest, though, as he added nine goals in just 16 playoff games, including a four-goal performance in a 4-3 win in the second round. Throw him on a line with Ales Hemsky and watch the sparks fly!

    Smid, another top ten overall pick (Lupul went seventh overall in 2003), will ease the loss of Pronger a bit. The Ducks' former top prospect is developing into a terrific all-around defenseman who is strong in his own zone as well as the offensive zone. His height is ideal, though we'd like to see him add a little more bulk up top. He's probably a little closer to the NHL with the Oilers than he was with the Ducks, though I'd be surprised to see him break camp with Edmonton.

    Throw in two more first rounders (2007 and a conditional pick in 2008) and a second rounder, and the Ducks mortgaged their future for a shot at glory with Pronger. While I'd love to have Pronger on my team, I'd deal him for four first-rounders and a second-rounder in a heartbeat, particularly in the new NHL.

    Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski traded to Chicago for Tom Preissing and Josh Hennessey... Mark Bell traded from Chicago to San Jose to complete the deal

    Havlat is the unquestioned star in this deal, though Smolo, Preissing, and Bell will all make their presence known immediately in their new homes as well. Havlat was simply going to count too much against the cap for the Sens to hold him. Still just 25, Havlat has scored at nearly a point a game clip over the past two seasons, and excels on both ends of the ice. He has tremendous speed and will immediately give star young center Tuomo Ruutu someone to play with on the wing.

    Bell's move from Chicago to San Jose should do wonders for his worst statistical category, +/-. He still has fantastic potential as a power forward, and should benefit from the opportunity to play alongside Patrick Marleau on the second line with the Sharks. Look for his goal total to be on the rise a bit this season to go with his usual fantastic production in PIMs.

    Preissing could be the big loser here, as he was set to assume the duties as the top Power Play QB in San Jose prior to the deal. He'll likely have a lot more competition for the role in Ottawa, where Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros are more firmly entrenched as the defensemen on the top units. Expect Preissing to still see plenty of time on the Power Play's second unit. In Ottawa, that would leave him with numbers similar to last season when he didn't take over as the main Power Play QB until midseason.

    Smolo certainly loses out here as well, particularly as he's no longer a lock to finish +10 or better. Though he has fantastic skill as a two-way player, Smolinski will find far less support on the ice from his teammates in Chicago. He'll likely struggle a bit in the scoring categories while taking a severe hit to his +/-. Were he to have an opportunity to play alongside Havlat, I'd feel differently, but Ruutu simply has too much talent to waste away on the second line if he's healthy.

    Alex Tanguay traded to Calgary for Jordan Leopold

    Tanguay could be one of the better pickups of the offseason. He's tremendously gifted as both a scorer and a terrific playmaker on the ice. Put him alongside Jarome Ignila and just imagine how dangerous the two could be together. Expect Tanguay to set a new career best with his assist total and point total.

    Though he's coming off a horrible season, expect Leopold to challenge John-Michael Liles for the top Power Play QB spot in Colorado. He's bursting with offensive potential along the blueline, but the Flames' system never really gave him enough freedom. Expect that to change a little bit, and we should see a nice comeback season out of him for the 'Lanche.

    Nils Ekman traded to Pittsburgh for a draft pick

    In what would ordinarily be a trade we'd pay a little attention to, the Sharks moved Ekman to the Pens on draft day. Why does it get enough attention to be included in this article, you ask? He's supposed to be playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Colby Armstrong as the Pens' top Left Winger. There's a chance that Evgeni Malkin will step in and steal the spot, but it's unlikely. Ekman is coming off of a pair of fine 55+ point seasons, and has tremendous defensive skill that he'll add to the top line in Pittsburgh as well. Over the past two seasons, Ekman was a +50 in San Jose, and figures to add a little grit and some great skill in the defensive zone for the Pens. By the way, he's a lock for 60 points if he's playing alongside Sid The Kid all year.

    Marc Denis traded to Tampa Bay for Fredrik Modin and Fredrik Norrena

    Denis should step in for the Lightning and provide them with something they didn't really have last season... a number one goalie. He's shown a propensity for stopping pucks with the Jackets in his four-year tenure as the club's starter, and should benefit from a vastly superior team in front of him down in Florida. He's no Bulin Wall, but he's a significant improvement for a team that had one of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL last year.

    Modin gives the Jackets something they've lacked for a while... a veteran winger who can actually put the puck in the net. He's strong on both ends of the ice, and should be a positive influence on youngsters like Rick Nash and (hopefully) Nikolai Zherdev.

    Speaking of Zherdev, he's signed with a team in the Russian Superleague for the time being, which means that the Jackets have until October 5 to get a deal done. Talks are at an absolute standstill, and have been for a few weeks. Columbus would like to get a deal done by the time training camp starts in early September....

    Andrew Raycroft traded to Toronto for Tuukka Rask

    Raycroft bombed just a season after winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, and wasn't going to get a chance to even sniff the ice in Boston behind Hannu Toivonen (has anyone noticed a tremendous influx of Finnish goalies?!?!?!). The Leafs, desperate for someone to challenge J.S. Aubin for the starting gig, took the chance, dealing off their top goaltending prospect in Rask. Rask is at least a few years away from challenging at the NHL level, though, while Raycroft, 26, should be ready to go now. Toronto re-signed Raycroft to a three-year deal, paying him legit starter money, so the assumption is that he'll be the number one for the Leafs this season.

    Manny Legace, Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, and Jay McKee sign with St. Louis

    The Blues certainly aren't likely to be the laughingstocks of the league again this season. With Guerin and a healthy Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis will have two elite power forwards. Both are coming off of down seasons (Tkachuk's was due to injury), and neither is getting any younger. Guerin had just 40 points last season, his lowest total since 1997-98, when he played in just 59 games because of a holdout. His move to St. Louis should allow him to work in an offense that's more geared towards attacking, rather than focusing on solid play on both ends. Expect better scoring numbers and a ton of PIMs again.

    Weight must have really liked playing in St. Louis, as he signed back with the Blues after being traded to Carolina by them at the deadline last season. He was productive even on the worst team in the league, scoring 44 points in 47 games as St. Louis' top center, and should continue to be a solid assist guy this season.

    McKee won't give the Blues the Power Play QB they need to challenge Christian Backman (whom they also re-signed) a bit more, but he will give them a terrific stay-at-home defenseman with a bit of a mean streak. His numbers shouldn't change much from last season's 5 goal/11 assist performance, though his +/- could drop off a bit if the Blues don't show improvement.

    Legace is the wildcard here. St. Louis seems intent on making him challenge incumbent goalie Curtis Sanford for the starting duties, despite the fact that he finished fifth in the Vezina voting last season. His signing in St. Louis likely hurts two players fantasy value significantly... his own and Sanford's. Legace isn't likely to post quite the win totals or GAA that he could have if Detroit had opted to re-sign him, but don't be surprised if he carries his strong play south to the Gateway City. Legace has a .917 Career Save Percentage, and should outduel Sanford for the starting duties. Just expect it to be a healthy split, as Legace should only start about 50 games.

    Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Paul Mara sign with Boston

    Savard remains one of the more underrated players in the NHL in both the real and the fantasy world. In fact, the four letter network recently ran a poll asking if signing Savard as a third-line center was the most important move Boston made this offseason. As talented as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, and even Phil Kessel are, Savard should step in and immediately take the reins as the top center in Boston. Bergeron will likely move out to the wing, where he's shown he's more than capable of playing in the past. Savard is a fantastic playmaking center coming off a 97-point season in Atlanta. Granted, he won't have the opportunity to center Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa in Boston, but a line of Bergeron-Savard-Murray could strike plenty of fear into opposing defensemen.

    Talk about improved blueline play in front of a young goaltender. Hannu Toivonen will have one of the most imposing figures in front of him on the ice skating on the Bruins' top defensive pairing. Chara is a mountain of a man, at 6'9, 260. He'll add a lot of bulk and a heck of a mean streak up front, and even has some offensive skill to speak of. Don't expect him to produce quite at the same level with his point totals as he did behind the deepest front line in the league in Ottawa, but expect him to be a major factor regardless.

    Mara isn't quite the defensive presence that Chara is, but he's solid defensively and should slide right into Brian Leetch's former spot as a top power play quarterback. He'll see a little more support from his teammates than he found in Phoenix, and should produce a little more in the scoring categories while improving upon his shaky -12 rating from a year ago.

    Brad Stuart's status on the Bruins' blueline was likely hurt a bit by these additions, though it won't kill his chances of being a major factor on both the Power Play and at even strength. Stuart still ranks 22nd among defensemen in our rankings.

    Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez re-sign with New Jersey

    Perhaps the biggest news about these moves is how strapped it makes the Devils against the salary cap. Elias signed a long-term deal with the Devils, while Gomez was awarded $5 million in arbitration. While speculation was rampant that the Devils would let Gomez walk after winning his arbitration hearing, Lou Lamiorello didn't waste any time in ponying up. Together, they're a lethal duo on the ice, each capable of creating their own scoring chances. Both have tremendous vision on the ice as well, and have little trouble finding their linemates for an open chance. Expect monster fantasy seasons from each of them, though we're still at a loss about how the Devils will find a way to stay under cap. I can't imagine them letting Brian Gionta walk, but someone's going to have to pack their bags.

    Jason Arnott signs with Nashville

    Arnott has everything you're looking for in a fantasy center. He has a nice scorer's touch, decent passing ability, and a power game that's second to none. He's coming off of the best season of his career in Dallas, and will now join a young and talented Predators' team that needs a little more grit to protect small and speedy wingers Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan. Just having an opportunity to line up with either Kariya or Sullivan should give Arnott plenty of opportunities to get his name on the scoresheet, and we could be in for an improvement upon his career 2005-06 numbers.

    Dominik Hasek signs with Detroit

    Now we see why they let Legace walk. Red Wing fans hated this move, but it was truly a brilliant financial and hockey move by Ken Holland. While Hasek appears to be good for a groin injury a year at this point in his career, he was still brilliant when he was healthy last season, posting an astounding 2.09 GAA and .925 Save Percentage for the Sens. Though the Wings' run (like Hasek's) looks to be nearing an end, Hasek will keep them in a lot of games that they should be getting smoked in. Just do a little rain dance to keep him on the ice and he'll be a top ten fantasy starter again by the end of the year.

    Martin Gerber signs with Ottawa

    Gerber's numbers should stay stable with the Senators, as he goes from the Cup champs to the highest-scoring team in hockey. Despite the upside for Gerber, it looks like the Sens still don't get it, as they merely grabbed another middling system goalie who is better suited as a 1A goalie or a backup. Expect his GAA to come down a bit from last season's 2.78 and his win total to remain static in the 35-40 range.

    Pavol Demitra and Kim Johnsson sign with Minnesota

    Demitra had a fine fantasy season last year in Los Angeles, though he did miss some time. More should be expected of him this season, as he didn't have an opportunity to center a winger nearly as talented as Marian Gaborik in L.A. Though Alexander Frolov has fantastic skills, Gaborik is arguably the fastest skater in the league, and has a fantastic slap shot to go with it. Gabby managed to score at a point a game clip last season with less talent among his linemates than he'll have this season, and could be the primary beneficiary of this deal. Demitra will put up monster assist totals this season.

    Johnsson lost his job as the primary Power Play QB to Joni Pitkanen midway through last season in Philadelphia, and also missed much of the season with post-concussion syndrome. He's still extremely gifted offensively from the blueline, even if he's a little undersized. Expect him to take over as the top Power Play defenseman in Minnesota, though he'll have another kid nipping at his heels. Kurtis Foster's going to be a good one.

    Ed Jovanovski, Jeremy Roenick, and Owen Nolan sign with Phoenix

    The 'Yotes made a little noise this offseason, inking Jovocop and adding Bruins' malcontent Nick Boynton along the blue line. All three of the players mentioned above will bring tremendous grit to a team that can use some hard-working skill players (sorry... Tyson Nash doesn't count there) to go with Shane Doan. Jovocop gives them an elite two-way defenseman who can rack up the +/-, PIMs, and be a major factor on the Power Play. He'll replace Paul Mara as Phoenix's top Power Play QB.

    Roenick had a few good years in Phoenix earlier in his career, and will look to re-capture the magic this season with the 'Yotes. Though he's aging, he's still a fantastic two-way center who is capable of leading the rush and being a stalwart in his own zone.

    Nolan will return after a two-year absence from the NHL. He has fine power skills and a great slap shot, though it may take him a little while to find his groove.

    Rob Blake signs with Los Angeles

    In yet another homecoming, Blake finds himself back with his original franchise after four and a half seasons in Colorado. Blake will give the Kings blueline some credibility and will likely take over the spot as the top Power Play QB from Lubomir Visnovsky. Exceptionally gifted on both ends of the ice, Blake will also bring an attitude to the defense in front of goaltenders Mathieu Garon, Dan Cloutier, and Jason LaBarbera. Expect improved numbers from all three goaltenders when they play, while Blake will produce his usual 50+ point season with a solid +/- and 90+ PIMs.

    Brendan Shanahan signs with New York Rangers

    It's up in the air as to what line Shanny will play on. Even at his advanced age, he's still a first-line talent as a power forward who could help to free up some space and protect Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander. However, the three Czechs (adding LW Petr Prucha) clicked last season, and it would be difficult for the Rangers to break them up. Expect Shanny to do plenty of scoring and plenty of time in the Penalty Box even if he's relegated to the second line.

    Sergei Samsonov signs with Montreal

    Samsonov is the ideal player to fit in the Habs' system. He's fast, creative, and has a nice scorer's touch. He hit the 70 point plateau a couple of times with the Bruins earlier in his career, and should be able to turn the trick again if he can stay healthy. That has been a concern surrounding Samsonov for most of his career, as he's averaged just under 67 games a year.

    Michael Peca signs with Toronto

    Peca brings the Leafs an elite defensive center who should help to turn around the attitude in Toronto. His impact should be immediate, as the Leafs had the fourth worst scoring defense in the East last season. The fact remains, however, that Peca is a considerably better real player than a fantasy player. He'll always be good with his +/-, and he'll even tack on a handful of shorties. However, he's not a big scorer even strength or on the Power Play, and he's too smart and sound defensively to accrue a lot of time in the Penalty Box.

    Dwayne Roloson & Ales Hemsky re-sign with Oilers

    A few years ago, nobody would have expected Dwayne Roloson to ever be a huge signing. However, the former career backup had a few fine seasons in Minnesota before a deadline deal last season shifted him to Edmonton. You know the story from there. With a legitimate starter in net, the Oilers were brilliant down the stretch, improving from playoff also-rans to the eighth-seeded Western Conference Champs. Roloson will give them a legit starter all season long in 2006-07, and the Oilers shouldn't have to sneak in the back door to make the postseason party this year.

    Hemsky was a Restricted Free Agent, and wasn't going anywhere. However, the signing was significant. The Oilers inked their young playmaker to a six year deal that will pay him $4.1 million per year on average. Hemsky is a key to the franchise, as he's already establishing himself as one of the top young guns in hockey as both a passer and a speed winger. He's incredibly creative on the ice, and will continue to dominate on the front line.

    Eric Lindros signs with Dallas

    Ho-hum. Lindros avoided bouts with concussions last season for the second time in the past five years. Instead, he missed most of the year with a torn ligament in his wrist. Lindros' 33 games played last season were a career low, but his numbers in the category generally hover from 50 to 65. A healthy Lindros can be a dominant first-line center who can score, pass, and skate with the best of them. I'm not sure we're ever going to see that, and his tour around the league will likely continue after he disappoints Dallas this season.

    James Meyerriecks has been actively involved at FIC since its inception in 2001, and has been writing The Hook for the past four seasons. He's also represented FIC in a handful of Experts Leagues over the past three seasons and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

    Posted by James Meyerriecks: Aug 24, 06 at 2:50 PM

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