Shots on Goal: Early Look - Northeast Division
The NHL landscape has changed drastically over the past five weeks. This five-week window has included the NHL Entry Draft, the start of free agency, and all 30 teams' prospect development camps. With that in mind we will begin a series of articles looking at each division on a team-by-team basis to discern the important alterations that affect fantasy hockey. We will look at departures, additions, as well as those rookies/prospects that are knocking on the proverbial door for roster spots.
This examination will not cover every player movement but rather those that are considered more pertinent for roto players. Thus don't be overly concerned if some fourth liners, backup goalies, and sixth and seventh defensemen are omitted.
Departures: Marc Savard (sadly his retirement, due to repeated concussions, seems virtually certain), Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle
Arrivals: Benoit Pouliot, Joe Corvo
Knocking: Jordan Caron, Steve Kampfer, Matt Bartkowski, Jamie Arniel, Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight
Late season arrival Rich Peverly and former Canadien Benoit Pouliot are expected to compete for Mark Recchi's former right wing spot on the second line alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Pouliot has a chance to jumpstart a career that began with being a high pick (fourth overall in '05) to being eventually a third-fourth line forward last season in Montreal. He's a big body with hands that needs to use his large frame more. Bruins coach Claude Julien has compared him physically and talent wise to Nathan Horton. Peverley played quite well in a top-six role in last spring's Stanley Cup Finals after Horton was knocked out of the playoffs due to the late hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome. Peverly scored three points in the four games that Horton missed, including two goals in Game 4. The winner of that second-line gig alongside Bergeron and Marchand could be looking at 20+ goals and 45+ points. Caron, a 20-year old drafted 25th overall in '09, had 12 goals and 28 points in 47 AHL games last season and should be top-nine worthy no later than the following season though it looks as though the Pouliot signing has left him out of the loop right now, for the third line will most likely include Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin and one of Peverley or Pouliot. Should Pouliot fail miserably, like last season in Montreal, then Caron could be playing with Bergeron and Marchand. Jamie Arniel, 21, has already completed two AHL seasons and is close to making the jump. He scored 23 goals and 50 points in 78 games last season. While draft picks Ryan Spooner (2010 first-round) and Jared Knight (2010 second-round) have signed entry-level contracts with Boston they're expected to play one more season of junior hockey.
On the blueline newcomer Joe Corvo should get significant power play time and be in the 36-to-40+ point neighborhood. Corvo has been in that range in six of the last seven seasons, with a low of 36 and a high of 48. Meanwhile, his main competition for the first power play unit - Dennis Seidenberg - has registered 32 points in each of his last two seasons (each a career high). Were an injury to hit the top six on defense, Steve Kampfer would be the first to get the call. Kampfer performed admirably last season when called upon with 10 points in 38 games along with a plus-nine defensive rating. Kampfer, just 20, is an offensive D-man with 19 points in 28 AHL games and 60 points in 147 NCAA games. After Kampfer on the B's defensive depth chart is Matt Bartkowski, a 23-year-old who just completed his first pro season scoring five goals and 23 points in 69 AHL games.
Departures: Steve Montador, Rob Niedermayer, Chris Butler, Mike Grier, Patrick Lalime
Arrivals: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regher, Ales Kotalik
Youngster knocking: Luke Adam, Zack Kassian, Marcus Foligno
Ville Leino received a huge contract and is expected to center the second line but first power-play deployment remains unknown. While Leino's addition makes the Sabres that much deeper at forward the fantasy landscape is murky, for after Tomas Vanek and Derek Roy the pecking order is up in the air with Leino (19 goals/53 points last season), Jason Pominville (22/52), Tyler Ennis (20/49), Drew Stafford (31/52), and Brad Boyes (12/41) all capable of 20+ goal and 50+ point seasons. Ales Kotalik is a long shot to make the team, for his career has hit a brick wall with just 15 goals and 33 points in his last 97 games covering the past two seasons.
With the Sabres' new owner Terry Pegula spending liberally on forwards, both at the trade deadline (Boyes) and in July (Leino), the opportunities for a trio of young potential power forwards - Luke Adam, Zack Kassian, Marcus Foligno - are less than abundant. It will take some injuries, and a possible shedding of Boyes' contract, for them to get a chance at cracking the top nine. Kassian is perhaps the most intriguing of the trio, for he has that rare combination of size, skill, and a mean streak that could prove quite effective.
Defensively, the Sabres have added the power play QB they so desperately sought in Ehrhoff. Who plays alongside him on the point on the first PP unit, either Jordan Leopold or Tyler Myers, will be important to know come draft day. Leopold, 30, is coming off a career-year in goals (13) and points (35) while Myers had 10 goals and 37 points in his sophomore season as a 21-year-old. Andrej Sekera, with 29 points in 76 games last season, figures to play on the second PP unit with either Leopold or Myers.
Jhonas Enroth, who was 9-2-2 last season with a 2.73 GAA and .907 SV %, will be the backup and a possible last round pick for those Ryan Miller owners who want insurance.
Departures: Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern
Arrivals: Erik Cole, Alexei Yemelin
Knocking: Andreas Engqvist
Erik Cole is the big catch for Montreal, as he's coming off an excellent season in which he played a full schedule and potted 26 goals. The Habs have been short of power forwards seemingly for a decade now (since Shayne Corson left?). Now with Cole and the young Max Pacioretty (fully recovered from last season's horrific stanchion collision) the Canadiens can boast two power forwards in their top six. Cole is expected to play right wing on the first line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri while Max should form an all-American second line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Cole's signing and Pacioretty's emergence means bad news for Andrei Kostitsyn, as he appears headed for the third line unless the Habs can mercifully unload Gomez on some team needing to hit the salary cap floor (bad news Habs fans - the Isles have reached the cap floor by adding Brian Rolston). As it stands now Kostitsyn will be playing on the third line and start the season there with David Desharnais and Mathieu Darche. Promising young center Lars Eller is out until November at which point he should return to play third line center and bounce Darche down to the fourth line. Due to Eller's injury, Andreas Engqvist is expected to start the season as the fourth line center before likely returning to their Hamilton AHL affiliate upon Eller's return.
On defense the Habs expect their No. 1 defenseman Andrei Markov back in the lineup come October when the puck drops on the new season. Markov's signing represents a sizeable risk for the Canadiens, as they used money ($5.75 million per season) to retain him that they could've used to keep at least one of James Wisniewski or Roman Hamrlik. The Wiz, who scored seven goals and 30 points in 43 games for Montreal and was a plus-four, was acquired from the Islanders after Markov blew out his knee for the second time in two years. The tough blueliner signed with Columbus for $5.6 million per season but may have taken less to stay with the Habs. Hamrlik, who scored 34 points in 79 games with 81 PIMs and was a plus-six and then signed with Washington for $3.5 million per season, would have taken slightly less to stay. When healthy, Markov is better than either of them (he averaged 61 points between ‘07-08 and ‘08-09) but he's only played 52 games in two seasons due to three major injuries. Besides great production (when healthy), top defensive play and leadership, another reason for the Habs' continued faith in Markov lay in their desire for him to mentor NHL rookie defenseman Alexei Yemelin. The 25-year-old was drafted by Montreal in 2004 but has played his entire seven-year pro career in Russia. Markov will be expected to help explain both the North American game and culture to Yemelin. It was the younger Russian's breakout season last year in the KHL that gave him the confidence to cross over to the world's best hockey league this year. Yemelin scored 11 goals and 26 points in 52 games for Kazan Ak-Bars while being a plus-16. He's also familiar with aggression as he racked up 117 PIMs.
Josh Gorges, assuming a full recovery from his own knee injury, will be expected to play alongside Markov on the first defensive pair. The Habs have a potential young star in P.K. Subban, who scored 14 goals, 38 points and racked up 124 PIMs in 77 games in an outstanding rookie season - better than Washington's John Carlson, Anaheim's Cam Fowler, or St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk. Subban's game meshes so well with Hal Gill that they brought back the hulking 13-year vet, who's one of the leaders in the locker room and extremely popular amongst his teammates. The third pairing this season will likely rotate between a trio of defensemen: Jaroslav Spacek, Yannick Weber and Yemelin. The 37-year-old Spacek's game has declined with age but he's still a plus-nine in each of the past two seasons while Weber appears to have a bright future. The 22-year-old Swiss native, who has 88 points in 148 career AHL games, played both defense and fourth-line forward for Montreal last year scoring 11 points in 41 games.
Montreal signed Peter Budaj for two seasons to back up Carey Price, who's expected to play slightly fewer games this coming season after starting 70 games last season. It's hard to blame all of Budaj's 2001-11 numbers in Colorado on him (3.20 GAA, .895 SV %), for the defense was brutal and injuries decimated the forward ranks last year. More importantly, Price and his owners will feel Roman Hamrlik's departure from Montreal - especially if Markov and Gorges don't both return to the level of play that they displayed prior to their injuries.
Departures: Ryan Shannon
Additions: Nikita Filatov, Zenon Konopka
Knocking: Bobby Butler, Eric Condra, Stephane Da Costa, David Rundblad, Mika Zibanejad
Nikita Filatov, traded at the NHL draft in June to Ottawa for a third-round draft pick, will get one more chance to justify his high draft selection (taken 6th overall in '08). If he's placed on Jason Spezza's wing, as has been suggested by some members of the local media, the 21-year-old could really blossom. This acquisition is a classic low-risk investment with a high-reward possibility for Ottawa. Filatov makes for an interesting latter round dart in 12+ team leagues.
Butler, Condra and Da Costa all got a taste of top nine and even top six minutes this past season. Butler had 10 goals and 21 points in 36 games and, more importantly, he got better as the season progressed finishing strong with 21 points in his last 27 games. Butler is expected to be the right wing on the first line with Spezza while fellow right wing Condra will start on the third line, unless team captain Daniel Alfredsson struggles in his return from the back surgery that he underwent in early June. Condra had six goals and 11 points in 26 games for Ottawa and scored 17 goals and 47 points in 55 AHL games. Da Costa, who went pro after two seasons of NCAA hockey, where he scored 30 goals and 90 points in 67 games, will compete for the second line center job and has the advantage of health over one of his main competitors, Peter Regin, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and is not expected back until November. Nick Foligno, normally a left wing, played center for the last quarter of the season and could also man the second line center spot. Whoever wins the spot should have some talent on the wings in Milan Michalek (if he can ever stay healthy) and Alfredsson (assuming his back is okay). Rookie Mika Zibanejad, drafted sixth overall by Ottawa last month, is a long shot to make the team as an 18-year-old but his skill set, grit, and work ethic make him a viable candidate nonetheless. Zibanejad has NHL size (6-2,195) and he's already played one season of pro hockey in the Swedish Elite league (SEL).
Speaking of the SEL, prospect David Rundblad (taken 17th overall by St. Louis in '09) won the Salming Award as the SEL's best defenseman but the greatness of his season went far beyond that, for his body of work last year comprises one of the finest seasons ever for a defensemen aged 25 or under. He scored 50 points in 55 games, or .91 points per game (ppg), which ranks sixth all-time in the SEL in ppg. Rundblad, only 20, is just behind one Niklas Lidstrom who ranks fifth all-time scoring .92 ppg as a 25-year-old in 1995. Heady company indeed and Brian Lee will likely have to give way and assume the seventh spot as the other five positions are locked in: Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips, Matt Carkner. The Sens have been trying to unload Kiuba but have found no takers in the declining defenseman, who's scored just 44 points over the past two seasons combined (with a minus-28) after recording a career-high 40 points in 2008-09 and has a cap hit of $3.7 million this season. Expect Gonchar and Karlsson to play the point positions on the first PP unit with Rundblad and Kuba on the second PP unit.
Craig Anderson played so well for Ottawa after his trade from Colorado, posting an outstanding 2.05 GAA and ridiculous .939 SV %, that they rewarded him with a four-year investment worth $12.75 million. Anderson is not going to replicate those stats over 65-70 starts this season but he'll be a compelling No. 3 fantasy goalie to spot start.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Departures: Tim Brent, Brett Lebda, Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Additions: Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson
Knocking: Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne
On paper the four additions listed above seem all quality and fantasy relevant. In a perfect world they would be but Leafs fans know that there is no such thing as a perfect world, not when you miss the playoffs for a franchise-record six straight seasons. Moreover, none of the aforementioned four players plays "hostile," a term Leafs GM Brian Burke likes to refer to as an optimal temperament for his players to have. Burke prefers to ice a team full of tough guys or hostiles but none of these players plays an overtly physical style of hockey.
While Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi are both gifted offensive centers, each has injury issues. Connolly has been injury prone for much of his career, having missed 172 games since September, 2007, most due to repeated concussions. The last two seasons have been far more fruitful, health-wise, as he's played 141 out of a possible 162 games while scoring 30 goals and 107 points over those two campaigns. A vicious concussion also caused Lombardi to miss 81 games last season and he has yet to return to full health since the incident. Connolly projects to start the first line with Phil Kessel (32 goals, 64 points) and Joffrey Lupul (nine goals and 18 points in 28 games as a Leaf) and as such the former Sabre makes for a worthwhile late-round selection in standard leagues. Unfortunately, Lombardi projects to start the season on the long-term injury reserve list. The formidable second line (or the 1A line) remains intact with the re-signing of Clarke MacArthur, who enjoyed a career resurgence last season in scoring 21 goals, 41 assists (which led the team) and 62 points, all three stats career-highs, in 81 games while playing with Mikhail Grabovski (29 goals, 58 points) and Nikolai Kulemin (30 goals, 57 points). The third line should include Tyler Bozak, who's much more suited to third-line center duties (15 goals, 32 points in 82 games) than a top-six role, along with pest Colby Armstrong and the promising Nazem Kadri (taken seventh overall in '09). Joe Colborne needs an injury to crack the top nine but he should get an opportunity at some point this fall.
John-Michael Liles will be a boon to the Buds' power play and should form a dangerous duo on the point with Dion Phaneuf. His defensive zone coverage is another matter but he was acquired to improve the power play and he has the tools to do so. Cody Franson is a talented big defenseman (6-5) who should play on the second power-play unit; just don't expect much physicality as he only had 81 hits last season ranking him 100th among NHL defensemen.
James Reimer is expected to get the bulk of starts after an excellent coming out party last season (20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA and .921 SV %), while the oft-injured Swede Jonas Gutavsson (6-13-2, 3.28 GAA and .890 SV %) will back him up.