Eureka! After alternatingly hitting the highs and lows since July, the NHL and NHLPA finally found a solution. And it only took massive financial losses and the immediate threat of losing an entire season to get it done.
Even though the season is set to kick off next Saturday, compiling mini team reviews isn't a feasible or useful activity. Without any training camp or exhibition action on which to base analysis, we can assume certain forward lines or project player trends, but that's a process as easy to predict as the winning lottery numbers. But since the business of fantasy often forecasts based on statistics and other facts, then there's no reason to stop this business from running.
Jan Levine has already posted a nice piece detailing busts for 2012-13, so the following will act as its complement. And as this column has already handled sophomore surges, let's focus on more experienced skaters who could be considered sleepers either due to an off season, significant injury, people forgetting about them, or providing them an opportunity to shine. Don't expect any of these guys to post huge numbers but look for some sort of boost:
Mikkel Boedker, Phoenix
The regular season didn't really catch his fancy (24 points in all 82 games) but when it came to postseason magic, Boedker didn't disappoint. Back-to-back overtime winners versus Chicago (and eight points overall) placed him back on the map. But the Great Dane really shined during the lockout when he tore apart the Finnish first division (33 in 29). Success overseas is not necessarily a precursor for NHL success, but still positive news.
Simon Gagne, Los Angeles
You may remember Gagne from such shows as "The Philadelphia Story" and "Trouble in Tampa", but his latest production – "Away in LA" – has the critics baffled. After a serious concussion limited his appearances (17 in 34 and nothing in four during the playoffs), can the now 32-year old reclaim past Philly glory (peaking at 79 in 2005-06)? Or will Gagne drop out of the top-six forward core? [Cue suspenseful music, with a slightly upbeat tune considering he's healthy now.]
Jamie McGinn, Colorado
After coming over from San Jose in March, McGinn immediately developed some chemistry with Paul Stastny – and also a surprise scoring touch (13 in 17). With RFA Ryan O'Reilly sans-contract and remaining in Russia and with Milan Hejduk a smidge on the older side, the fifth-year pro may be able to climb the ladder to a more favorable forward foothold.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, Winnipeg
The Poni impressed after moving from Carolina to Jersey (18 in 33 combined with nine in 24 during their extended playoff run), enough so that Winnipeg came calling during free-agency. And now he is set to reunite with former Toronto teammate Nik Antropov, which should help the Ukrainian winger ease into the lineup. Look for at least 35 to 40 points. Anything additional is gravy (or whatever they call gravy in the Ukraine).
Brandon Sutter, Pittsburgh
Sutter has never served as a flashy scorer at any level (topped out at 57 in junior six years ago) but his tour in Carolina was marked by consistency (between 30-40 points) and dependability (only missed a few due to injury). Now in Pittsburgh, The Son of Brent will basically inherit the vacant third-line center role, a job Jordan Staal eventually turned into mega millions.
Travis Zajac, New Jersey
You can never really overcome the loss of Zach Parise; you can only try to contain the sorrow. Ilya Kovalchuk is threatening to finish his season in the KHL before returning stateside, so there's that. The Ponikarovsky defection counts as a minimal blow but Adam Henrique's thumb surgery may sting a bit more. Petr Sykora is 36 and unsigned, translating into another missing body. That leaves Zajac to lead the veteran charge. He missed 67 contests in the regular season but starred in the postseason (14 in 24). You can count on him for something in the 40-50 range but not a lot higher.
Roman Josi, Nashville
There's a gaping hole on the point left behind by Ryan Suter and somebody needs to fill it. And looking through the Preds' roster, there's no better candidate than Josi. He may only be 22, but the Swiss blueliner has already competed in professional hockey for five years. The power-play statistics aren't there yet (only four PPPs in 52 last season) but the inevitable step up should considerably increase those totals.
Andrew MacDonald, NY Islanders
With Travis Hamonic recovering from a concussion and Lubomir Visnovsky wanting no part of the Island, MacDonald should once again have the opportunity to earn additional minutes. In fact, if you recall the 2010-11 season (and who doesn't), then you'll discover MacDonald notched significant man-advantage stats (12 PPPs).
Brendan Smith, Detroit
Nicklas Lidstrom has finally sailed off into the sunset. And while no one will ever replace the seven-time Norris Trophy winner, there's hope someone can at least recover some of the offensive void. Carlo Colaiacovo was brought in via free agency to add some attacking punch but Smith has more than proved his offensive mettle. The NHL sample size (seven in 14) may not be relevant but the historical resume (86 in 152 from the AHL and 87 in 95 from the NCAA) says a lot about this kid's potential.
Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton
One wouldn't normally classify a majority starter as a sleeper, but it would be easy to overlook Dubnyk (20-20-3, 2.67 GAA, .914 SV%). After all, there was Nikolai Khabibulin's hot start (seven wins in nine)...followed by a steady decline (five wins the rest of the way). The Oilers stubbornly sticking to the basement of the Western Conference didn't help either. But if you believe a squad of young studs can overcome huge expectations and improve significantly, then Dubnyk might be the Tier Two goalie for you.
Anders Lindback, Tampa Bay
The Swedish giant (all 6'6" of him) would have been the #1 in Nashville had it not been for some Finnish pipsqueak (at 6'5") named Pekka Rinne. The Bolts, with a well-past-expiry Dwayne Roloson and a shaky reserve in Mathieu Garon, went out and acquired Lindback (with only 38 games in two seasons under his belt) for a few draft picks. That's quite the investment. If Tampa's time is now, then you might want to tie your hopes to their behemoth backstopper.