Tyler Myers charges down on former Sabre defender Chris Butler. (Photo by Bill Wippert/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. I’ll have 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 take a look at the Flames and Sabres.
Gone – Scott Hannan, Olli Jokinen, David Moss, Jordan Henry, Raitis Ivanans, Logan MacMillan, Tom Kostopoulos, Brent Sutter (coach)
Incoming – Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman, Roman Cervenka, Bob Hartley (coach)
Ready for full time – Sven Baertschi is a Calder Trophy candidate. The 13th overall pick from 2011 had a five-game audition last season and made a nice splash with three goals. The Flames aren't flush with offensive talent, especially in the pipeline, so Baertschi is seen by some Flames fans as the Second Coming. Poolies, however, will settle for a solid 50- or 55-point debut campaign.
Roman Cervenka is a top-scoring European who has been coveted by NHL teams for two years now. He settled on the Flames because he rightfully figured he would get a fair shake in the NHL in the top-six immediately. Expectations are high for the Czech, who scored 54 goals and 100 points in 105 KHL games over the past two seasons.
An intriguing player is power forward Akim Aliu. Once a highly touted prospect in the Chicago system, his inability to adapt to the pro game quickly saw him plying his trade down in the ECHL. The Flames gave him a two-game call-up to end last season, despite a rather weak showing in the American League. Aliu ended up tallying three points and a plus-3 rating, instantly putting him back on the radar. However, there isn't a spot for him on the NHL roster at this time. And for him to take one, he had better continue to play over his head. A player to watch.
Leland Irving is ready for the next step. The 24-year-old goaltender has posted two consecutive solid seasons at the AHL level and did not look out of place during seven games in the big show. He's ready to back up Miikka Kiprusoff, just don't expect a slew of starts until ‘Kipper’ moves elsewhere (assuming that even happens).
Fantasy Outlook – The Flames are slightly better on paper than they were a year ago. The changes bring a lot of potential, but at the same time a lot of question marks. Hartley, as the new coach, will continue with the tradition of team play, a polite way of saying “defense,” which is the bane of many poolies. The prospect pool remains shallow when it comes to offensive players. Fantasy Grade: C- (last year was C-)
Gone – Derek Roy, Brad Boyes, Shaone Morrisonn, Jochen Hecht, Ales Kotalik, Michael Ryan, Colin Stuart
Incoming – Nick Tarnasky, Mark Mancari, Kevin Porter, Steve Ott, Adam Pardy, John Scott
Ready for full time – Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan are two defensemen who are extremely close to earning full-time roster spots. But there are eight other defensemen with NHL experience already signed, so in all likelihood just one spot is up for grabs (and a veteran or two will be pushed to the press box or to the minors). While Brennan is the older of the two (23) and was drafted higher (31st overall in 2007 versus McNabb going 66th overall in 2009), McNabb was more impressive during his 25-game stint last year. Either way, the points will be modest, but the 6-foot-4 McNabb offers immediate upside of 25 points and 80 or more penalty minutes.
All fantasy owners are interested in Marcus Foligno. Not only does he offer decent across-the-board statistics, but he showed surprising offense over 14 games late last year. It's enough to win him a spot on the roster, not to mention a spot on the Tyler Ennis line again, but it would be wise to keep expectations lower. Think 40 points as a freshman.
Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons (say those names three times fast) were impressive in prospects camp. One or both of them could crack the lineup, but it would be at the expense of Luke Adam. The upside is limited for Girgensons, but Grigorenko has the upside of a star first-liner. The impression that he makes in main camp (assuming there is one) will tell us a lot about the upcoming campaign.
Fantasy Outlook - The Sabres have finally changed their look and philosophy and it's for the better. They are building around high-end skill and hockey sense (Ennis, Thomas Vanek, Nathan Gerbe and Cody Hodgson) with bigger, stronger and/or grittier players. Injecting the likes of Scott, Pardy, Foligno and Ott to go along with the size that they already had (Myers, McNabb, Adam) will provide plenty of protection for their skill guys. The pipeline is below average, since much of their fantasy-worthy talent will be on the NHL roster in the season ahead. Fantasy Grade: B- (last year was C+)
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.