As keeper league hockey pools increase in number each year, fantasy junkies become more active in the off-season as they prepare their team for the coming year. Rebuild? Retool? Tweak? Whatever your intentions, it helps to get all the information you can about your players.
Throughout the off-season, FPL will look at a pair of teams each week and give you the fantasy lowdown. To kick things off, we'll buck the trend of past years and start alphabetically Â– in reverse. Just to be different.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Potential UFA's Â– Mike Peca, Jeff O'Neill, Travis Green, Yanic Perreault, J-S Aubin, Bates Battaglia.
Potential RFA's Â– Carlo Colaiacovo, Nik Kronwall, Jay Harrison, Jeremy Williams
Looking to Add - The Leafs signed UFA Nik Antropov on Wednesday. Besides that, the team is desperate for a scoring winger to better compliment Mats Sundin and they are also looking for a backup goaltender who will push Andrew Raycroft. Bringing back former Leaf Curtis Joseph is one rumor that won't go away.
Ready for full-time - Reports out of the organization indicate Jeremy Williams has a roster spot waiting for him. Naturally he will have to earn it, but if he makes the roster he could have a Kyle Wellwood-like impact in terms of rookie production (mid-40s). Jiri Tlusty is Toronto's top prospect and has an outside chance of cracking the lineup, but his development would be better served with a year in the American League.
Fantasy Outlook - If the Leafs can effectively solve the two problems mentioned above, then, with the great coaching they have, Toronto will finish eighth. The goal scoring will remain eerily similar to last season. Down the road, the team has dramatically improved their scouting. Besides Tlusty, they have goaltender Justin Pogge (three years away) and winger Nikolai Kulemin (next year) on the horizon.
Fantasy Grade: C+ (last year was C-)
Tampa Bay Lightning
Potential UFA's Â– Ruslan Fedotenko, Nolan Pratt, Cory Sarich, Luke Richardson, Eric Perrin
Potential RFA's Â– Doug Janik, Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien, Karl Stewart, Kyle Wanvig, Ryan Craig and Nick Tarnasky.
Looking to Add - The goaltending situation is not yet settled. Not only has Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist left the door open for Kari Ramo, but they have opened it further and allowed Vasily Koshechkin into the mix. Koshechkin was their eighth-round pick in 2002 and he has the potential to do everything Niklas Backstrom did for the Wild this past year. Watch him.
As always, the Lightning is desperate to add scoring support for Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards. St-Louis and Lecavalier had each other last season, but Richards was left on his own and his production suffered for it. If the team can find another scorer, Richards will get back over the 90-point mark. If not Â– it will be another struggle to reach 75. With the increase in the salary cap, combined with the loss of Fedotenko's salary, the team might be able to pull it off. Stay tunedÂ…
Ready for full-time - Most experts agree that Tampa Bay has the weakest group of offensive prospects in the NHL. Don't look to their prospects for scoring help on your fantasy squad. Between the pipes, keep an eye on Koshechkin.
Fantasy Outlook - Outside of their Â‘Big 3,' as well as Vinny Prospal and Dan Boyle, it would be wise to just stay away from this team altogether. The future? Not so bright either.
Fantasy Grade: D+ (last year was C)