Before you could blink or watch the Chicago Blackhawks take their ceremonial trip with the Stanley Cup to their hometown, several parts of the puzzle that fit perfectly to win the finals, had already been disbanded from the champions.
The result of some hefty contracts pushed the club to the very edge of the salary cap and in turn, General Manager Stan Bowman needed to dispose of those ingredients that resulted in defeating the Philadelphia Flyers for the organization's first Stanley Cup win since 1961.
Gone are the likes of goalie Antti Niemi (Sharks); defenseman Brent Sopel and forwards, Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager (Atlanta); Kris Versteeg (Toronto) and Adam Burish (Dallas).
The result of the mass exodus for fantasy purposes is a team of solid players and some big sleepers.
You have your heavy hitters like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. But on the other side of the spectrum, you have the likes of Jack Skille, Bryan Bickell, and Nick Boynton, among others who will be battling for more ice team with the mass departure of the full-time players.
Additionally, the trades and release of players opens up several spots on the roster for some even fresher prospects, including recently-drafted players like Kyle Beach, who was selected a couple of years ago, and Mike Brennan who was the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs Rookie of the Year.
One of the players to get a big leap in fantasy value is veteran backstop Marty Turco, if only because of the quality defensemen in front of him like Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell. Going from the Dallas Stars to the Blackhawks will allow him to collect wins and his goals-against average should go down.
A beneficiary of the loss of Niemi and the expected release of another goalie, Cristobal Huet, could be Corey Crawford. With the loss of those pair of keepers, Crawford could get new life. The signing of Turco is sure to give Crawford some more starts. However, this could be Crawford’s last shot. He’s had a couple of opportunities to snatch the starting goalie spot, but missed those chances. With Turco expected to be only a one-year replacement, a fine showing by Crawford could give him the starting nod in 2011-12.
THE BIG GUNS
Jonathan Toews (C): By default, Toews often shares the limelight with Patrick Kane, though the former player prefers to let his game do the talking. Chicago fans were happy to see Toews take home a little extra hardware for his stellar postseason play. In addition to winning the Stanley Cup with the 'Hawks, he also wrapped his mitts around the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the playoff's Most Valuable Player. Oh, the regular season, you ask? That was fine, too, as Toews gave his fantasy owners 25 goals, 43 assists, and a plus/minus rating of 22. Expect about the same from No. 19 in 2010-11, but this time with even more consistent production.
Patrick Kane (RW): We'll refrain from cracking any taxicab jokes and tell you the important stuff: Kane continued to pile on 88 points in the regular season, and ultimately went on to score the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Without question, he is one of the game's best young talents but his actions have gotten him in trouble. On the rink, he's a prolific goal scorer and setup man, but to be ranked among the elite he could afford to act with more professionalism. With a Stanley Cup victory and three seasons of 70-plus points, it's easy to forget that he's only 21 years old, with room for growth.
Marian Hossa (RW): After having the Stanley Cup barely elude him in consecutive seasons with two different teams, Hossa was finally able to hoist Lord Stanley in his first year with Chicago. And thanks to a 12-year, $62 million contract that he signed ahead of the 2009-10 season, it's important for Hossa to consider Chicago to be a happy place to play. From a fantasy angle, Hossa can be viewed as an upper-tier winger with a knack for shorthanded goals - he had five shorties last season, which led the league. Keep that in mind during draft day when deciding which forward to grab in the earlier rounds.
ON THE RISE
Tomas Kopecky (RW): Kopecky is the other free agent that came from the Detroit Red Wings (in addition to Marian Hossa). The 28-year-old right winger has seen his numbers climb after skating full time the past three seasons, although not spectacularly. In 2009-10, his point total was up by two points to 10 goals and 11 assists. By Chicago losing the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and others, Kopecky might be able to pounce on more ice time and increase his points significantly in 2010-11.
Troy Brouwer (RW): The Blackhawks are hoping that the Troy Brouwer in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals is the Brouwer that will be for the rest of his career starting with the 2010-11 season. He had a pair of goals and an assist in that game and could see time with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the first line. If that is the case, he will improve on his 22 goals and 18 assists, which were both career highs, along with his four goals and four assists in the postseason. Without several players from the Stanley Cup team, Brouwer will certainly get more opportunities to add to his stats.
Duncan Keith (D) : If you need a high-scoring fantasy defenseman, consider pursuing Duncan Teeth.. er, Keith. This hard-nosed blueliner lost seven teeth in the playoff clinching game, and later flashed several fan-induced toothless smiles in Chicago's Stanley Cup victory parade. He's been good for 80-plus games in three of the last four years, while acting as a staple on the team's blue line. Best of all, he’s the reigning Norris Trophy winner. He’ll be an attractive buy in all fantasy leagues.
TWO TO AVOID
Cristobal Huet (G): Sacrebleu! This affable Frenchman got the yips shortly after he hit the contract motherload and by the middle of last season, he was stapled to the pine as a $5.625 million backup. The bottom line is simple: he's 35, has no consistency and his contract makes him unmovable. The Hawks are on the hook until the end of 2011-12, and Huet will spend that time in the AHL. The team needs the cap relief and minor-leaguer Corey Crawford only costs $750,000. You get the picture. Don't draft him.
Niklas Hjalmarrson (D): This might be a strange one, but he signed a relatively big contract. Because there are several good defensemen on the team, he somewhat gets buried. Hjalmarsson is an outstanding rearguard who is emerging as a top-notch, shot-blocking, shutdown specialist. But the 23-year-old boasts some impressive offensive skills that are unfortunately underutilized on an extremely deep Hawks blue line. He's a Dan Hamhuis clone, just a few years younger. Expect 20-25 points this season with slow growth dependent on his role. Just beware he may become so valuable killing penalties and shutting down the opposition's best forwards, that he may never fully develop his offensive game.
Kyle Beach (C): Beach might make a big jump to the Blackhawks after just finishing his junior career with the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs. Last season, he collected 52 goals and 86 points for the Chiefs. But the biggest number that sticks out is the 186 penalty minutes that he collected. Beach scored three goals in four playoff games for Rockford of the AHL. A fair warning: he has a checkered past with his feistiness and even had a couple fights during the Blackhawks' prospect camp.
Viktor Stalberg (LW): Stalberg, in his first season in the NHL, skated in 40 games for the Maple Leafs, and scored nine goals with five assists. In Stalberg, Chicago has added a very speedy winger who should thrive with some extra ice time, especially on a team like the Blackhawks. He can stretch the ice and contribute on both ends. Stalberg also brings a desire to win as if he hasn't won before; that should help keep the Blackhawks motivated to be victorious again.