While a few key figures remain in flux, including defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Max Pacioretty, here’s a look at the fantasy impact of several players who have found new NHL homes, either via trade or signing as free agents.
Players on the move
If July 1 wasn’t already a national holiday in Canada, the blue and white faithful in Toronto might have declared it as such with the free-agent signing of the former Islanders captain. Leafs fans are excited, and who can blame them? Projected to center wingers Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, Tavares should enjoy greater scoring freedom with opponents already challenged with shutting down Auston Matthews‘ unit, along with a dangerous third line centered by Nazem Kadri. The Leafs are going to score a lot in 2018-19. Tavares has yet to earn 90 points in a regular NHL season, but he might this season. Additionally, considering the circumstances, Hyman should already be thought of as a noteworthy sleeper pick in deeper fantasy leagues.
The last time Kovalchuk competed on NHL ice, he scored 11 goals and 20 assists in 37 games with the New Jersey Devils. That was more than five years ago, during the league’s lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Fast forward 63 months, and the now-35-year-old is coming off a 63-point/53-game stint with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL with nearly half of those points counting as goals. Maybe he has lost a bit of a step, but he’s gaining Anze Kopitar at center. That relationship could work out wonderfully for both, along with Dustin Brown, should the career King stick on the top scoring line. While there’s an element of unknown after such passage of time, the potential upside of Kovalchuk skating with Kopitar — or even with Jeff Carter — is too rich to pass up.
On paper, the Blues present as a strong threat to rebound well off this past season’s disappointing showing. The signing of center Tyler Bozak, along with wingers David Perron and Patrick Maroon, provides additional depth down the lineup, while a healthy Robby Fabbri offers extra scoring punch (should the gifted 22-year-old actually manage to stay healthy). But, acquired via trade with the Buffalo Sabres, O’Reilly strikes as St. Louis’ most captivating addition, tapped to serve as the club’s No. 2 center behind Brayden Schenn. With whomever he skates (goodness knows coach Mike Yeo has a host of options in this regard) the former Sabres forward is almost guaranteed to equal, if not improve on, last year’s 61-point total. Draft him accordingly.
Jetting Calgary for a clean slate in Carolina, Hamilton slides in as the club’s No. 1 offensive threat from the blue line, hurdling Justin Faulk. Logging heavy, quality minutes while quarterbacking a top Hurricanes’ power play peppered with young talent provided by the likes of Sebastian Aho, Valentin Zykov, Martin Necas and 2018 No. 2 pick Andrei Svechnikov, the former Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins defenseman could be in for his most productive season yet. Reliably sturdy — he’s missed just one NHL game in three years — the 25-year-old Hamilton presents as a solid No. 2 fantasy defenseman in most leagues.
Following his altogether necessary exit from Ottawa, via a brief stop in San Jose, Hoffman finds himself in a promising spot within the Panthers’ top-six. Projected to skate on the left side of center Vincent Trocheck, who is himself coming off a cracker of a 75-point campaign, the 28-year-old scoring winger should burst through the 30-goal mark for the first time in his NHL career, along with amassing a similar number of assists. That goes especially if he gels well with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, along with Trocheck, on what forecasts to be a rather dynamite top power play.
James Neal, LW/RW, Calgary Flames
In joining the Flames, Neal is cast to complete one of the NHL’s more intriguing new trios up front. Penciled in alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan at even strength and with the man advantage, the experienced sniper could break the 35-goal barrier for the first time since 2011-12 (with the Pittsburgh Penguins). In turn, Monahan might experience a minor dip in goals scored, but a potential bump in assists. Assuming there are no issues with chemistry, there should be plenty of scoring to go around for this hypothetically dynamite top line. If, however, Neal falters in the role, look for fellow newbie Elias Lindholm to earn a go with Calgary’s two top scorers.
As roughly prognosticated back in April, Nichushkin is indeed rejoining the NHL club that selected him No. 10 overall in 2013. A spot on a top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, in place of Alexander Radulov, could result in a 50- or 60-point season for the now-23-year-old. A role on the Stars’ top power play wouldn’t hurt, either. Fantasy managers in all but the shallowest of leagues should give him a thought, especially deeper in the draft.
Averaging less than 15 minutes of ice time per game with the Maple Leafs this past season, JVR still managed to rack up 36 goals. That’s more than any member of the Flyers in 2017-18, including Claude Giroux (34 goals), who posted 102 points. In returning to his old stomping grounds, and targeted to serve within Philadelphia’s top-six and with the man advantage, the 29-year-old isn’t necessarily favored to reach the 35-goal mark once more. But I bet he easily bests this past season’s assist total of 18 by a substantial margin. He’ll see more minutes, too.
Needing a fresh gig unlike few others in the league, Galchenyuk is finally offered the opportunity to prove that his habitual underrated play can be blamed on a mismatch with personnel in Montreal (coaching staff, etc.). Joining a young Coyotes club, the 24-year-old forward is getting his chance to serve as a top-six center game in and game out. What he makes of this new chance remains to be seen. Fantasy managers with a more conservative mindset may be wary of overestimating the former No. 3 draft pick’s potential as a more consistent, productive performer.
Tapped to serve as the Knights’ No. 2 center on a line with Erik Haula, Stastny is in solid position to earn upwards of 50 points through a relatively healthy season with the Golden Knights. That’s historically his ceiling, which still has value in deeper fantasy leagues. Expecting more is likely to lead to disappointment.
Conor Sheary, LW, Buffalo Sabres
One of the more under-the-radar transactions this offseason sees Sheary leave the comfort of (often) playing on Sidney Crosby‘s wing in Pittsburgh. Mind you, a gig on a scoring line with top center Jack Eichel or even hot prospect Casey Mittelstadt would provide a soft enough landing in Buffalo. If that’s how it shakes out, Sheary should enjoy numbers closer to his 2016-17 output of 53 points in 61 games, in contrast with last season’s inconsistent production. The 26-year-old forward is certainly worth a later-round gamble in deeper leagues.
Vanek’s return to Detroit is made all the more intriguing by the No. 6 overall draft selection of forward Filip Zadina. If Zadina earns an NHL job out of camp, as anticipated by many, a spot on a line with Vanek and Henrik Zetterberg could be in order. That combination of spirited young talent and experienced skill sports much upside. At worst, we can count on Vanek’s recent output of 55-ish points in a full-ish season, which still has value in deeper fantasy leagues.
Landing in Montreal in exchange for Galchenyuk, Domi should also benefit from a change of scenery, particularly after last season’s ho-hum 45-point showing in Arizona. In fact, depending on the trade return for Pacioretty — assuming the Habs go through with moving their current captain as planned — Domi might even end up on a top forward line and power play with Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher. In such a case, a 60-point/80-PIM campaign could be in the cards for the 23-year-old with a Canadiens squad light on offensive talent.
Joining his third NHL club since entering the league in 2010-11, Lehner takes over as the Islanders’ projected No. 1 in net. Not much of an argument to made there, with Thomas Greiss available as the current alternative. Neither Greiss nor Jaroslav Halak (now with the Bruins) was very good in shouldering the bulk of the work for the Isles last season. Whether Lehner is able to enjoy a greater degree of success serves as a pressing question, especially considering he wasn’t exactly sparkling between pipes for Buffalo in 2017-18. Concerns with team defense haven’t been adequately addressed to this point, too. Fantasy managers should consider Lehner a fantasy wild card, at best.
Following a stuttering, and brief, debut to his NHL career seven years ago, Koskinen has since established himself as one of the better goaltenders in the KHL. He was nearly lights out this past season, to the tune of a .937 save percentage and 1.57 goals-against average with St. Petersburg SKA. How those numbers translate to this side of the Atlantic remains to be seen, but the 29-year-old could very well earn his fair portion of starts. Remember, Cam Talbot wasn’t very good last season. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues may want to roll the dice on one of the more volatile assets ahead of regular season play.
At a recent gathering, I heard a less-invested hockey fan ask if the former Hurricanes netminder was still active in the NHL. Another, (even-less invested) observer offered that the veteran netminder had retired last summer. Fact is, at just 34 years of age, it only feels like Ward has been tending net in Carolina forever. And for the first time in 13 years and counting, he’ll do so for a team other than the Canes. Now, in the fantasy scheme, the bulk of his workload will largely depend on the health of No. 1 Corey Crawford, who lost most of last season to a head injury. If Crawford is truly ready to return, Ward should serve as backup. If not, the experienced vet could see a fairly heavy dose of action for a Blackhawks squad promising to do better after their most recent lackluster campaign.