Jimmy Hayes (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
Taking a look at what the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers need to do this off-season and what poolies need to know about these two clubs heading into 2014-15.
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 going to do something different. Let's review the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. So that means Buffalo and Florida, you're up!
Pending UFAs: Zenon Konopka, John Scott, Matt D'Agostini, Henrik Tallinder, Alexander Sulzer, Kevin Porter.
Pending RFAs: Luke Adam, Matt Hackett, Chad Ruhwedel, Jamie McBain, Marcus Foligno, Cory Conacher, Tyler Ennis.
Looking to add: Since "everything at every position, every role, top to bottom" isn't a fair answer, I'll try to be more specific.
I still have faith in Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Mikhail Grigorenko becoming stars in this league. Eventually. Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Myers and Rasmus Ristolainen will be great players in the roles that they are asked to fill, but that still leaves quite a few holes. A veteran scorer on the wing to replace Thomas Vanek (or two…or three) would be a start.
It would also be nice to get a proven – and healthy – goaltender. I don't think they go to free agency for the latter, even though there are plenty of goalies available on the market. I think the Sabres will look to Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. As talented as Neuvirth is, he can't seem to string together 10 games without getting hurt. As underrated as Enroth is, he still battles consistency issues and is probably not No. 1 goalie material.
Ready for full-time: Grigorenko's best bet is to play at least half a season in the American League and show he can produce at that level, especially with Ted Nolan as Buffalo's coach. His ice time would be limited in Buffalo and the last thing he needs is a further drag on development.
Ristolainen was up and down last season, but he's probably ready to stay up for good. Don't overrate his offensive potential; he's a stud rearguard defensively and in his prime he'll chip in 35 points or perhaps even 40, but he's not going to go beyond that.
Jake McCabe is the offensive defenseman of the future on this team and he had a cup of coffee with the club late in the season after turning pro. The best thing for him is a full season of AHL action and then making the jump in 2015-16.
Nikita Zadorov is another promising defenseman with high-end skills at both ends of the rink. He initially made the team last year as an 18-year-old before being sent back to the London Knights of the Ontario League. He dominated at that level and it's possible that the Sabres keep him up for good. There's nothing more he can learn in the OHL. As noted above with Grigorenko, Nolan would probably limit Zadorov's ice time (and thus his fantasy value) as a rookie.
Fantasy Outlook: The Sabres are still very early in the rebuilding process. If Ennis and Hodgson were to have that much-anticipated breakout year, the domino effect throughout the lineup would be huge. At this point, fantasy owners aren't exactly seeking to add more Sabres players to their roster. This is a team with a pretty good future, but not very much to offer in the next year or two. Fantasy Grade: D+ (last year was C-)
Pending UFAs: Scott Gomez, Krys Barch, Jesse Winchester, Tom Gilbert, Scott Clemmensen, Ryan Whitney, Matt Gilroy, Mike Mottau.
Pending RFAs: Dylan Olsen, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri.
Looking to add: The Panthers need help everywhere but between the pipes. They have plenty of prospects with very high upside, but no veteran star forward who can lead the charge. Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad could break out this year, three years from now, or never. Who knows? Without a top-end free agent being brought in, such as a Thomas Vanek, the breakout season for these kids is probably going to happen later rather than sooner.
Ready for full-time: In 2013-14, half of the Panthers team seemed to be prospects making the jump to full-time duty. That's the reason the team finished 29th. Huberdeau, Barkov, Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes are in the NHL to stay. By the end of the campaign, Drew Shore, Vincent Trocheck and Quinton Howden were up with the big club, and each of those three could feasibly stick for good in 2014-15.
Of the three, only Trocheck has a good shot at getting on any fantasy rosters. Down the stretch, he was often seeing more than 20 minutes of ice time and wound up with eight points in his last 16 contests (and a minus-6). He had 42 points in 55 games as an AHL rookie for San Antonio prior to getting recalled.
Fantasy Outlook: As is the case with all rebuilding teams, the Panthers are stocked with youth and prospects. But other than Tomas Fleischmann and Brian Campbell, the team does not have any veteran skaters with great upside. That will likely slow the rebuild process and will make for some painful seasons ahead. Without a rebound campaign from Huberdeau, and barring some of the other kids taking a big step forward, you're probably going to see another season without any 50-point players. In 2013-14, the top scorer (Bjugstad) had just 38 points. Not too many fantasy owners are targeting Florida players. It's nice to have prospects, but not when you have to wait three years on them. 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.