While the Blues overachieved this season, the Lightning underachieved and fell out of the playoffs. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
This is the 10th off-season for Fantasy Pool Look and for the 10th summer in a row I’ll provide an outlook for each team with my fantasy hockey goggles on, of course. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. I began with Winnipeg and will work my way to Anaheim. Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com. Time to examine the Lightning and Blues.
Pending UFAs – Tim Wallace, Ryan Shannon, Adam Hall, J.T. Wyman, Brett Clark, Mike Commodore, Bruno Gervais
Pending RFAs – Brian Lee, Keith Aulie, Brendan Mikkelson
Looking to add – A second-line scoring winger. Perhaps by mid-season Brett Connolly will be ready for a regular scoring-line role, but he will be on the third line to start. It’s possible the Lightning will look from within here. It certainly seems as though Cory Conacher will get a look.
A third-line scoring winger. Assuming Connolly takes the right wing, the Lightning could use another third-liner in the mold of (or better than) Ryan Shannon and Sean Bergenheim, chipping in 35 or 40 points and not being a liability.
A puck-moving defenseman. Given they have Marc-Andre Bergeron and Victor Hedman (who is improving every year), the team may just leave this area alone. After all, Mark Barberio is knocking on the door and by mid-season, after some more time in the American League, he could be a great second option for the power play.
A starting goaltender. They have a couple of decent stoppers in the system who will come in handy in the future. Because of that GM Steve Yzerman may be reluctant to bring in a multi-year contract, but goaltending troubles cost this team a playoff spot and he won’t let it happen again. Mathieu Garon is decent in spurts, but not a full-time starter. Tampa will kick some tires in the trade market and free agency.
Ready for full time – In the middle of 2010-11, the Montreal Canadiens called up David Desharnais. He had an early impact and made it difficult for the team to send him back down. I see a similar path for Conacher, who was the AHL rookie of the year and MVP. A small, undrafted player loaded with skill, Conacher is worth owning in most keeper league formats (more on Conacher in my Fantasy Prospects Report).
Conacher will be competing with Alex Killorn, a fine prospect who graduated from Harvard and tallied 46 points in 34 ECAC games this season.
Goaltender Dustin Tokarski is close to being ready for a backup role and perhaps he’ll slide in there if the Lightning don’t bring in another goalie. Riku Helenius, the forgotten prospect, has turned his career around in Finland. The 15th overall pick in 2006 is apparently willing to return if he’s given a one-way contract. If either goalie gets the backup job, they’ll make for a decent fantasy option given Garon’s inconsistency and brittleness.
Fantasy Outlook – This is a better team than it finished in 2011-12 and a goaltender will make all the difference. The pipeline is decent and on any team with a high-end superstar such as Steven Stamkos, many of their players’ value increase simply from the tantalizing possibility of becoming a future linemate. Fantasy Grade: B- (last year was B)
Pending UFAs – Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, Chris Porter, Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, Kent Huskins, Danny Syvret, Jonathan Cheechoo
Pending RFAs – Chris Stewart, T.J. Oshie, David Perron
Looking to add – The Blues are deep up front and between the pipes, but they will need to re-sign or replace Jackman and Colaiacovo. A couple of big, physical stay-at-home defensemen would be just what the doctor ordered as they would beautifully complement puck-movers Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo.
A team that finished third in the entire league only needs a bit of tweaking to get over the playoff hump.
Ready for full time – The likely departure of veterans Arnott and Langenbrunner opens up enough space for Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Although, if everyone is healthy, Schwartz will likely start off in the American League.
Tarasenko, a right winger who recently announced his intention to join the Blues next season, is a top-five NHL prospect. His upside is as good as any top prospect’s has been over the years. Potentially, in his prime, he could be a top scorer in the league. He is easily a pre-season Calder Trophy candidate and should be drafted in most fantasy formats.
Big Evgeny Grachev is still looking to find his way at the pro level. He saw 26 games with the Blues this season, but has yet to find the scoring touch that he had at the junior level with Brampton of the Ontario League. It’s far too early to give up on the 22-year-old and due to waiver rules he may make this team by default. He isn’t draftable, but shouldn’t be written off for good either.
Fantasy Outlook – Behind the coaching of Ken Hitchcock, the Blues failed to have a 55-point player. So, right off the bat, any fantasy owner in a league that relies on offense (i.e. most of them) will shy away from St. Louis players. The arrival of Tarasenko helps, but to depend on a rookie to boost the offense of an entire team is pushing it. Rebound campaigns from the likes of Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart will go a long way to helping the offense. On the other side of the coin, owners of a St. Louis goalie (Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott) will make out like bandits. On the ice, this team gets an A. But this is fantasy hockey. Fantasy Grade: B (last year was A-).
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.
Want more fantasy insider information or to contact The Dobber? Check out dobberhockey.com or follow him on Twitter at @DobberHockey.