The Canucks finished third in the West last season, but were swept in Round 1 by the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
It's the 11th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically, but switch starting points each year. This year I began with Anaheim and will finish up with Winnipeg in early September. Time to take a look at the Maple Leafs and the Canucks.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Gone – Mikhail Grabovski, Ryan O'Byrne, Mike Kostka, Jussi Rynnas, Ryan Hamilton, Mike Mottau, Clarke MacArthur, Mike Komisarek, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, Tim Connolly, Leo Komarov
Incoming - Christopher Gibson, Troy Bodie, Trevor Smith, David Clarkson, T.J. Brennan, Dave Bolland, Jonathan Bernier
Ready for full time - Defensemen Morgan Rielly and Korbinian Holzer are ready to make the jump on a full-time basis. But unfortunately, a logjam on the blueline will prevent Rielly from playing more than the nine-game trial unless he blows everyone away with his play. There are 10 defensemen, including Rielly, who could play for the Leafs. That's obviously too many, so Rielly has a tough road ahead. If he plays another year in junior, it's quite possible he will become the most coveted prospect in fantasy hockey. His upside is just that high.
Holzer will also have a tough time, but he needs to clear waivers to be sent down so look for him to be one of three defensemen rotated in and out of the press box until a move happens to clear some space.
Joe Colborne is ready to take the next step, which will likely be on a depth line for the Leafs. He will be called upon occasionally to fill in on a scoring line if injury strikes, but for the most part Colborne's production will be modest. There is an outside chance he’ll play with his Marlies buddy Nazem Kadri. That would, of course, bump Colborne’s production up - especially early on.
Fantasy Outlook - Speaking of Kadri, he is currently embroiled in heavy contract negotiations that will likely drag on throughout training camp. It's looking more and more as though he will miss the first few games of the season until this gets resolved.
As for the players who will actually be playing next week, look for the offense to continue. The Leafs were sixth in league-wide scoring and would have been higher, but were passed late in the year by the Capitals. A lot of the offensive teams rely on strong puck-movers at the blueline and Toronto is no exception. Cody Franson (also with an unresolved contract situation, but he's in a much better place than Kadri), Jake Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf are each capable of 50-plus points, while T.J. Brennan and John-Michael Liles have the talent to top 40. Phil Kessel has been a top 10 NHL scorer two years running and Joffrey Lupul, if he can ever stay healthy, is right there with him. Kadri himself is an emerging first liner with good upside and James van Riemsdyk is coming into his own. The pipeline isn't as flush with potential offense as most teams are, but coach Randy Carlyle's style of play makes up for that in fantasy circles. Fantasy Grade: B (last year was C+)
Gone – Steve Pinizzotto, Derek Roy, Andrew Gordon, Keith Ballard, Maxim Lapierre, Andrew Ebbett, Cory Schneider, Cam Barker, Manny Malhotra, Mason Raymond, Alain Vigneault (coach)
Incoming - Benn Ferriero, Zach Hamill, Mike Santorelli, Yannick Weber, Brad Richardson, Joacim Eriksson, John Tortorella (coach)
Ready for full time – There are between two and four spots available up front, depending on injuries (such as David Booth) and the play of journeymen (can Mike Santorelli show that he's an NHLer?). Forwards Jordan Schroeder, Bo Horvat, Kellan Lain, Brendan Gaunce and Nicklas Jensen will get long looks in training camp, each offering different skill sets and boasting varying degrees of upside.
In the case of Lain, if the 6-foot-6 giant makes the squad then he'd be great for, you guessed it - penalty minutes. In the case of the others, there is potential for moving up the lineup and into the top six. Eventually. I would guess that Jensen would need a full season in the American League, while Schroeder is closest to being NHL ready. He's already seen his fair share of games with the big club.
Horvat and Gaunce will probably compete for the same spot. I doubt both will make the team, but one of them certainly could. While many insiders would give the nod to Gaunce, my impression is that Horvat is underrated and brings a game similar to Ryan Kesler. If you recall, most people (myself included) felt that Kesler's upside was in the low-60s. Then he surprised us by posting 73 points in his sixth year. I could see a similar road travelled by Horvat. Worth watching, though neither Gaunce nor Horvat will contribute fantasy points immediately.
Eddie Lack is penciled in as the backup for Roberto Luongo. And that has been the plan for a couple of years now (except, replace "Luongo" with "Schneider"). But not so fast. Joacim Eriksson is highly regarded by the organization and they did sign him to a two-year deal back in June in case Lack didn’t bounce back from his hip surgery. That's another situation worth watching.
Fantasy Outlook – If the Sedin twins can bounce back to 90-plus points under the new coach and if Kesler is finally healthy and plays 75 games, then the Canucks are deserving of a much higher grade. But those question marks exist (for now) and fantasy owners are cautious as a result. In your keeper league, can you trade your Daniel Sedin and get a 90-point guy? I didn't think so. But this year could change the minds of many and it will all depend on Coach Tortorella. Fantasy Grade: B- (last year was B+)
*Remember folks, the grades are based on the fantasy appeal of the players, and not a projection of on-ice success. And this is the perfect example - I don't believe Toronto will beat Vancouver this season in the win column, but the style of play and number of players ready to put up fantasy-worthy points is more appealing with the Leafs.
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