It’s time for 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 each year. This year I’m doing something different. I’m reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. This week it’s time to tackle the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pending UFAs – Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak, Joni Pitkanen, Ron Hainsey, Mike Komisarek, Brett Bellemore, Justin Peters, Mike Murphy, Chris Terry
Pending RFAs - Aaron Palushaj, Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty, Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman, Nathan Gerbe
Not returning - Kirk Muller (Coach)
Looking to add – With Joni Pitkanen hopefully returning and Ryan Murphy ready to shoulder more responsibility, the Hurricanes are probably quite happy with the situation on the blueline. They are also set in goal with Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin.
What Carolina needs the most is a new coach who stresses a tight, structured system that the team will buy into. The offense would begin on the back end, with Pitkanen, Murphy, Andrej Sekera, Justin Faulk and John-Michael Liles each capable of moving the puck up the ice.
The team also needs a new look up front. You may see some restructuring there in the form of a trade rather than free agency. Will they bring RFA Jiri Tlusty back? How will the enigmatic Alexander Semin respond to the new coaching style?
It’s possible that management will look to the free agent market for a gritty winger capable of occasional second-line duties.
Ready for full time – Murphy was up and down from the American League last season and also had stints in the press box. Despite the return of the veteran Pitkanen, who has a similar skill set, Murphy is probably ready for full-time NHL duty, complete with no more healthy scratches.
Fantasy Outlook: After five years out of the playoffs and with Elias Lindholm already on the team (so no blue-chip prospects on the way) the players on the Hurricanes hold little fantasy appeal. They scored more goals than eight other teams in 2013-14, which is also a strike against them. Things should be better in the year ahead, but try convincing another GM in your league of that as you’re pushing Alexander Semin on him. Fantasy Grade: C- (last year was B-)
Toronto Maple Leafs
Pending UFAs – Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, Mason Raymond, Troy Bodie, Paul Ranger, T.J. Brennan, Drew MacIntyre
Pending RFAs - Peter Holland, Jerry D’Amigo, Spencer Abbott, James Reimer, Carter Ashton
Looking to add – The Leafs need size up the middle and more physicality on defense. Many Leafs fans (or non-fans, for that matter) will opine that the team also needs a No. 1 center, but really – most teams need that. If Toronto were to target Brian Boyle to replace McClement, they would have a 6-foot-7 centerman coming off a Stanley Cup final appearance. Nothing against McClement, who has been great, but with Boyle having similar success at the faceoff dot (52.9 percent) the upgrade in size would be worthwhile. Boyle only offers fantasy value in hits and faceoff wins, but unless Toronto makes a trade, you probably won’t see an impact fantasy player coming aboard.
Brooks Orpik is another player who could be targeted, as he offers bone-crushing hits and a “scare factor” on the blueline that the team currently lacks.
Granted, the Leafs could (and should) take a good hard look at skilled pivot Paul Stastny. A move like that would drop Tyler Bozak to the third line where he would offer tremendous two-way play and 40-point offense. But most teams will be targeting Stastny, who is the top center available. The cost will probably shock us. Would Toronto pay it? Adding Stastny would either necessitate trading Nazem Kadri, or it would keep Peter Holland out of the NHL (which would be a shame).
Ready for full time – Holland was ready for the NHL last year, but the numbers game pushed him back to the Toronto Marlies. He’s capable of running a third line and posting 35 points in the season ahead – more if the centermen ahead of him are injured and he gets long looks on a scoring line. What the Leafs do this off-season will impact Holland greatly, as he could end up anywhere between third-line center and press-box water boy.
Carter Ashton has finally found that extra gear offensively in the AHL, posting nearly a point per game for the Marlies. But in the NHL, his niche will be on the checking line and if he can stick around full time he has a real shot at 150-plus hits in the coming season.
Jerry D’Amigo showed a lot of energy during cups of coffee with the Leafs, but his decision-making and finish left something to be desired. But in the Calder Cup playoffs he has really shone, posting 14 points in 13 games. Still, his NHL future lies on the third line and his offense will probably never reach 40 points.
If you like long shots, Spencer Abbott is 26 years old and undersized at 5-foot-9. But he’s one of the best offensive players the AHL has to offer. However, he doesn’t get his nose dirty, doesn’t fight for pucks as much as he needs to in order to make it to the NHL and he creates his offense from the outside. The “long shot” I mentioned above would require both Bozak and Kadri to get injured and Abbott to then have a Mark Arcobello-type of impact when he gets the call. Possible, but highly doubtful.
Fantasy Outlook – Say what you want about the Leafs, goal scoring is not a problem with this team. They finished 14th in the league in goals in 2013-14 and that was considered an off-year for many of their players (the team finished sixth in goal scoring in 2012-13). From an offensive standpoint, when it comes to the prospects, there are really only three worth keeping an eye on – Holland, Matt Finn and Connor Brown, with the latter two being several years away. Fantasy Grade: C+ (last year was B)
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.