It’s the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Next up, the Arizona Coyotes and the Washington Capitals
Phoenix (Arizona as of June 27) Coyotes
Pending UFAs – Radim Vrbata, David Moss, Paul Bissonnette, Jeff Halpern, Derek Morris, Thomas Greiss, Tim Kennedy, Andy Miele, Brandon Yip
Pending RFAs – Jordan Szwarz,, Brandon McMillan
Looking to add – If the ’Yotes decide not to re-sign Greiss, they will need a backup netminder and there is no shortage of good ones available. Chad Johnson is a former Coyote coming off an excellent year in Boston, while veterans Tim Thomas and Martin Brodeur would offer excellent stability and leadership in backup roles. Al Montoya is another solid option, having performed very well for Winnipeg when called upon. Other options include Justin Peters and Ray Emery.
The other major need for the Coyotes is one they thought they addressed last summer. Mike Ribeiro hit a wall Feb. 27, which was just late enough in the season for management to not realize there was anything wrong until the trade deadline had come and gone. Ribeiro had six points in his last 21 games and was a minus-8. That’s not what you want from your $5.5-million supposed-first-line center. Don’t worry, Arizona, just three more years left on that albatross.
Ready for full-time – Unless and until the team signs a backup goaltender, prospect Mark Visentin will be that guy. He could definitely use another full American League season, so do not count on this.
Connor Murphy was ready to stick full-time last year, but Arizona’s ridiculous depth on the blueline prevented it. Still, he got into 30 games and showed he won’t be held back this time around. This is exactly why the Keith Yandle trade rumors are heating up again. Murphy has a lot of upside in the long term, but for the short term I would be surprised if he reached 30 points.
Brandon Gormley is, to some observers, the top defenseman outside the NHL. There is still a little to be learned when it comes to his own end of the rink, but he is pretty much NHL-ready and will be tough to cut from training camp. The wait time on him producing in the NHL is probably shorter than Murphy’s and he is a must-own in keeper leagues.
Max Domi will probably make the team on a nine-game trial in the fall, and how he adapts to the pro game will determine if he will be sent back to junior. He doesn’t have anything to prove at the junior level, so it will be a tough decision for the offense-starved Coyotes.
Henrik Samuelsson is eligible to play in the AHL in 2014-15, so look for him to bounce back and forth between the two pro leagues. He and Domi make up the future of the Arizona attack.
Greg Carey was the most coveted free agent out of college back in March and the Coyotes landed him. Historically, looking at Andy Miele and Bill Thomas, college free agents haven’t worked out well for this organization, but the talented Carey should get a long look in September.
The Lucas Lessio, 21, was drafted in the second round in 2011 (56th overall) and after a productive career in the Ontario League he made a huge splash in the American League. He finished fourth among rookies in scoring (54 points) and also added 13 power-play goals for Portland. He actually made the Phoenix roster last fall, but was sent down after three games.
Fantasy Outlook: There are some pieces to the puzzle here that I like, such as the amazing defense corps and a coaching style that really helps the goaltending (i.e. Mike Smith). Offensively, the team lacks a game – breaker even if it re-signs Vrbata. Ribeiro seems to be a bust, and although help is on the way in the form of Domi and Samuelsson and, to a lesser extent, Lessio, it will be some time before we see that help. Fantasy Grade: C (last year was C+)
Pending UFAs – Mikhail Grabovski, Dustin Penner
Pending RFAs – Michael Latta
Incoming – Head Coach Barry Trotz
Looking to add – There are some who feel the Caps need a starting goaltender, but I think Braden Holtby will not only suffice, he will thrive under a Trotz system and is very much a “buy” in keeper leagues. Although Philipp Grubauer is NHL-ready, he is best served logging a ton of starts in the AHL, so look for Washington to bring in a backup goaltender on a one-year deal.
A second-line center is also on the wish list, with a strong possibility the team just brings back Grabovski. Although Grabovski’s stats were modest, keep in mind he was playing on one ankle for 10 of his games.
Ready for full-time – We already got a taste of what Evgeny Kuznetsov can do – and we were impressed. The Russian talent joined the team in mid-March and posted a three-assist game his third time out. He proved capable of handling the rigors of the NHL, and he should thrive in a second-line capacity in 2014-15. You may hear his name this time next year when the league hands out the Calder Trophy.
Chris Brown possesses a power game and can play either center or right wing. At 23, he’s ready to take the next step. Acquired in the Martin Erat deal, Brown will set his sights on a depth role to start, but could work his way onto a scoring line with a couple of seasons.
Defenseman Connor Carrick made the team as a 19-year-old and even scored a goal in his second game. He has some offensive potential, but we won’t see anything like that for at least four or five years.
Michael Latta was part of a different Erat trade – the one that brought Erat to Washington in the first place (for Filip Forsberg). Latta is a potential Steve Downie in that he is a shift disturber who can put up a few points. If he were to make the Capitals, he is a dark horse for 20 points and 150 penalty minutes.
And of course, I touched upon Grubauer above. He’s ready for an NHL backup role, and I’m sure we’ll see him a few times in the NHL this year, but he’s best served logging 55 AHL games.
Fantasy Outlook – Although Trotz is notorious for stifling the offensive numbers of his forwards, he’s definitely a goldmine for Holtby owners. He also tends to really lean on his key defensemen, which bodes well for Mike Green and John Carlson owners. And of course, it’s tough to hold Alex Ovechkin back. This is still a good team for fantasy hockey owners to look at, and there are a handful of great kids in the pipeline with good upside. 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.