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 I find myself a little surprised at how early I’m doing these two. I don’t think anyone expected the Islanders and Canucks to finish anywhere close to 26th and 25th (respectively). Either one of these teams could bounce back in a huge way in 2014-15. Or not…
New York Islanders
Pending UFAs – Radek Martinek, Evgeni Nabokov
Pending RFAs – Aaron Ness, Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, Anders Lee
Looking to add – The Islanders needed, first and foremost, some stable, quality goaltending. They addressed that need with the acquisition and subsequent signing of Jaroslav Halak. Whenever Halak is healthy, he’ll get the start. He gets injured frequently, so that could mean only 50 starts, but it could also mean 65 or more if he can beat the bug.
Next up, the team could use a full scoring line. Are Ryan Strome and Anders Lee ready to take on those kinds of minutes? If so, and with a healthy John Tavares back, perhaps the Islanders can get by. Thrive even. But it couldn’t hurt to kick tires on a scoring winger such as Mike Cammalleri, Milan Michalek, Marian Gaborik or Jarome Iginla.
Looking at the blue line, with Mark Streit traded, and Visnovsky likely to go soon as well, there is a need for veteran help. Tops on the available list include Matt Niskanen, Andrei Markov, Dan Boyle and Marek Zidlicky.
Ready for full-time – There will be no shortage of players making the jump this season – either for the duration or perhaps they make the jump for good at some time in December or January. Ryan Strome tops my list, as we are all well aware of what his upside is. In fact, you can probably pencil him in for 45 points and feel pretty good about it.
Anders Lee made a big splash when he joined the team on Feb. 27, tallying 10 points in his first nine contests. But he tapered off and managed just four in the next 13. Still, he’s a big (6-foot-2, 225-pound) center with a lot of skill and very little to prove at the American League level. He’ll get looks on the John Tavares line. He could be next season’s Ondrej Palat.
Goaltender Anders Nilsson may in fact be ready for a full-time NHL backup role, and probably performed better than Kevin Poulin down the stretch. However, a Newsday report has Nilsson leaning towards returning to Europe for next campaign.
As already noted, the Islanders have a number of spots open on the blue line and wouldn’t you know it – they have a fantastic crop of defensemen in the pipeline. With Calvin de Haan already proving that he belongs, the team will probably take on one more youngster. Ryan Pulock and Griffin Reinhart are two of the best defensemen outside of the NHL right now and either one of them, maybe both, could make an impact. And you should probably not count out Finnish sensation Ville Pokka, although he would be best served with a season in the AHL first.
Fantasy Outlook: Because the Islanders were recently in the postseason and because they solved their goaltending woes (on paper), and of course, because Tavares is back and healthy…this team is ready to contend for the post-season again. Goals will be plentiful, which is music to a fantasy owner’s ears. A great team to build your keeper squad around. Fantasy Grade: B (last year was B)
Pending UFAs – Mike Santorelli, Andrew Alberts, Jeremy Welsh, Benn Ferriero, Pascal Pelletier, Colin Stuart
Pending RFAs – Chris Tanev, Yannick Weber, Zac Dalpe, Jordan Schroeder, Zack Kassian
Incoming – a new coach to replace John Tortorella
Looking to add – Assuming the Canucks do not have a fire sale – and I think any decision that big wouldn’t take place until closer to the deadline – they have their usual need for high-end talent on the wing. And if Alexander Edler cannot find his old form, they need a serious puck-mover on the back end. Let’s assume the team starts the season with an Eddie Lack – Jacob Markstrom tandem in net, though that’s far from assured.
Vancouver has about $12 million in cap space to fill five spots. It may push the big names like Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla and Paul Stastny out of range. But secondary guys such as Ales Hemsky, Radim Vrbata and Matt Moulson could be had.
Ready for full-time – Ready or not, here Markstrom comes. At one time not so long ago, he was considered the best goaltender outside of the NHL. But every time he plays in the show, he shows flashes of brilliance…but only flashes. New GM Jim Benning has a lot of big decisions to make quickly, and what to do in net is arguably the biggest.
Many scouts consider last summer’s ninth overall pick, center Bo Horvat, ready to make the jump. One of the last cuts in camp last year, Horvat has little left to prove at the junior level and with a strong camp he’ll almost assuredly start the season with the Canucks. If that happens, an expectation of 35 to 40 points is fair.
Speedy winger Nicklas Jensen played the final 17 games for Vancouver, including a stint playing with Henrik Sedin when Daniel was injured. Overall, he had his ups and downs, though that stint with Henrik looked pretty sweet at times. A new coach changes everything, though, and nothing is even remotely assured when it comes to what league Jensen plays in, let alone what line he’s on.
Fantasy Outlook – Right now, the Canucks players hold little fantasy appeal. After all, the Sedin twins led the way in offense with 97 points combined. Combined! They used to each rack up that many points, let alone combined! So a fantasy owner’s faith is relying on this team’s ability to bounce back under new coaching and new management. So most owners of Henrik, Daniel, Edler, Ryan Kesler et al are in full waiting mode. Or they’re selling. Fantasy Grade: D+ (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.