Fantasy Hockey Mailbag is a weekly column, answering your questions every Tuesday. No question is too big or too small, so if you want advice or feedback on any topic related to fantasy hockey, just ask away in the comments below.
There have been a half-dozen trades since the holiday roster freeze lifted in the NHL.
Who won them, in real life, is the first question that comes to mind for hockey fans. Followed by, what does this mean for my fantasy team?
Let’s start with that Ryan Johansen-for-Seth Jones blockbuster because a few people have asked for my two cents.
Jones is going to be a heckuva player for the next decade, but defencemen typically take longer to hit their stride and he hasn’t yet emerged as a fantasy stud. Some say that’s because he was “stuck” behind Shea Weber and Roman Josi in Nashville, but I’m not expecting overnight success for Jones in Columbus. He’s going to get more opportunity with the Blue Jackets — including time on the top power-play unit — so that should translate to more points, but I’m only expecting a slight boon for Jones.
Johansen, on the other hand, could be in for a massive — and immediate — boom. Especially if he clicks with James Neal the way that Tyler Seguin connected with Jamie Benn upon arriving in Dallas. So far, through only a couple of games, there doesn’t appear to be instant chemistry for Johansen and Neal — no more than Johansen showed with Brandon Saad — but give it time. Neal’s best seasons were alongside Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, and Johansen’s skill-set could mimic Malkin once they get a feel for each other.
Fantasy Hockey Impact: Assessing the Jones-Johansen trade. https://t.co/QPCacbiRm2
— Stephen Laidlaw (@SteveLaidlaw) January 7, 2016
— THW Hockey (@HockeyLinks) January 7, 2016
This deal was good news for Jones owners, but great news for Johansen owners. Both teams stand to benefit in real life, but Johansen is the man in Nashville now — the Preds’ offence is going to run through him — so he’d be the better guy to get your hands on in fantasy, especially in a single-season league. In a keeper, Jones could close that gap in time and perhaps make a similar impact in his prime — providing he lives up to his lofty potential. But, if tomorrow, somebody offered you Johansen for Jones straight up in fantasy, that’s a no-brainer no matter how badly you need a defenceman. Take Johansen without thinking twice.
The wheeling and dealing started with Montreal sending Zack Kassian to Edmonton for Ben Scrivens. Kassian is getting up to speed in the minors and should get recalled after the All-Star break given the Oilers need for size up front. I’d take a wait-and-see approach with Kassian, no need to run out and grab him off the waiver wire just yet. Scrivens is 0-for-2 with the Canadiens and not looking like an NHL goaltender, at least not one worthy of a spot on your fantasy team. Man, oh man, are the Habs ever missing Carey Price, who won’t be returning prior to the All-Star Game.
Long story short, leave them both alone, but keep an eye on Kassian’s situation, his progress in the AHL, and be ready to strike if and when that call-up comes. He’ll be a motivated player with plenty to prove to himself and the Oilers, along with the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks for giving up on him.
Speaking of the Canucks, they acquired Emerson Etem — another former Medicine Hat Tiger — from the New York Rangers in exchange for Nicklas Jensen and a sixth-round pick in 2017. That could be a nice buy-low move by Vancouver if Willie Desjardins can get the most out of Etem the way he did during their junior days together. Etem’s game hasn’t translated to the pro ranks thus far, with failed stints in Anaheim and now New York, but I wouldn’t totally write him off. Let’s see what he can do in Vancouver, surrounded by Tigers alumni from the top down. Team president Trevor Linden was Mr. Tiger back in the day — back in his playing days — and Desjardins had a lengthy coaching stint there, while Vancouver’s roster (present and potentially future) is littered with Tigers in Linden Vey, Derek Dorsett, Hunter Shinkaruk and Curtis Valk, plus Etem now. That’s a handful.
Benning expects newly acquired Etem to regain scoring touch for Canucks https://t.co/jAPGU55pH5
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 9, 2016
What does that have to do with fantasy implications? Well, it’s a welcoming environment for Etem to possibly thrive in. The Canucks are, literally, handing him Chris Higgins’ roster spot, and it’ll be up to Etem to make the most of that opportunity. If you’re in a deep league — 20-plus teams, 20-plus players per roster — Etem might be worth a waiver claim. Or, if you have Jensen among your prospects by some chance, maybe try swinging that real-life deal in fantasy. I like the upside of landing Etem in that swap. I see Jensen as more of a career minor-leaguer, or perhaps the next Viktor Stalberg in a best-case scenario. See, nothing special.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 6, 2016
The other trade of consequence sent Philadelphia castoffs Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to Los Angeles for Jordan Weal and a third-round pick in this June’s draft. Chances are, you had long since dropped Lecavalier, but now might be a good time to pick him back up. He had an assist in his Kings debut, and although he’s centering the fourth line, he’s at least in the lineup, which is more than can be said of his stint with the Flyers. I don’t expect Lecavalier to turn back the clocks to 2004 when he led the Lightning to their only Stanley Cup, but I could see him chipping in a goal here and an assist there. Los Angeles has 40 games remaining on its regular-season schedule, so set the over/under at 20 points for Lecavalier in a Kings jersey. I’d be tempted to take the over, but smart money is still on the under.
Schenn isn’t much of a fantasy player, not unless hits and blocks count in your league. Even then, he’s hardly relevant. Weal could be the best of this bunch going forward, depending how he fits in with the Flyers. Weal’s another one of those junior scoring stars trying to adapt to the NHL, but his AHL numbers are quite promising. He’s somewhat similar to Sam Gagner in playing style, and also to Vey for that matter. The Kings traded Vey to Vancouver for a second-round pick at the 2014 draft and he hasn’t amounted to much, so perhaps Dean Lombardi sensed the same fate for Weal and thus cut bait. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest targeting any of these guys as of today, but Weal could turn into a fantasy player down the road.
Ignore the trades of Max Friberg for Dustin Tokarski and Jeremy Morin for Richard Panik. You have a better chance of winning the Powerball lottery — even as a Canadian — than they do of playing another NHL game this season. I’ve always been a Tokarski fan — from his midget days with the Prince Albert Mintos — but he’s way down the goaltending depth chart in Anaheim now, while Friberg joins a very long line of forward prospects looking to catch on in Montreal. He’ll start out at the back of that line and have to work his way to the front. Panik could get a look in Chicago, with the Blackhawks still auditioning wingers and trying to find the right roster mix after losing the likes of Saad, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg. Panik probably has the most hope of this group, at least for this season, while Morin is another career minor-leaguer at this point.
Speaking of trades, one of our Mailbag regulars, Kris Noble, pulled off this blockbuster over the last week:
INCOMING = Vladimir Tarasenko and Nikolaj Ehlers
OUTGOING = Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle
ANALYSIS: Even by fantasy standards, they don’t get much bigger than that. I applauded Kris here, with Tarasenko arguably the best player in the deal. I know Hall got off to a hot start and was a first overall pick, but I still think most would take Tarasenko in that 1-for-1 swap, both in fantasy and in real life. Kris is in a keeper league and targeted Ehlers as a budding star, although Eberle is likely to put up more points over the second half of this season. That trade-off could be short-term pain for long-term gain, but landing Tarasenko should more than offset the loss of Eberle, making this a win for Kris going forward.
Ryan Stewart asked via email: This is my second time asking for advice, and last time you were pretty accurate, so here it goes again. Looking to shake things up, someone offered me two intriguing deals. I’m Team B, let me know what you think.
Team A gets John Carlson
Team B gets Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Datsyuk
Team A gets Evgeni Malkin and Connor McDavid (or Carlson)
Team B gets Zach Parise, Artemi Panarin and Justin Faulk
BACKGROUND: Ryan is in a single-season rotisserie league, with goals, assists, points, power-play points, hits, shots and plus/minus as categories.
ANSWER: Intriguing indeed, especially Trade 2. I’ll have to think on that one for a bit. Trade 1 is a reject for me, assuming Ryan would need to drop somebody decent to take on Datsyuk. He’d be downgrading his defence, a position that is harder to upgrade. Datsyuk’s best years are behind him and he’s a bit injury-prone too, so I wouldn’t make that move. Keep Carlson, he’s the best player in the deal.
Now back to Trade 2, Ryan tells me Team A is after Malkin because its roster already features a plethora of Penguins in Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang. That guy must be a fellow Mailbag reader, aware of how high I’ve been on Pittsburgh players since that coaching change. All kidding aside, the value is pretty fair here. Ryan would be getting a trio of players who enjoyed great success in the first half — well, Panarin and Faulk more so than Parise, who was hurt for an extended period. The Oilers are being extra cautious with McDavid’s recovery from a broken collarbone, holding him out until after the All-Star break. But Ryan has waited this long for the kid to come back, he may as well see what McDavid’s capable of the rest of the way. If this offer was on the table a month ago, then sure — well, maybe — but I can’t endorse trading McDavid now, not when he’s on the verge of returning.
Hypothetical: if Connor McDavid returns Feb. 2 and tears it up, finishes 40+ pts in 45 GP, is he Calder candidate?
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 11, 2016
Could McDavid outproduce Panarin the rest of the way? Yes, I think there’s a very real chance of that happening. Panarin could still hit that proverbial “rookie wall” at some point, playing a significantly longer schedule than he’s been used to in Russia’s KHL. But will McDavid return refreshed or rusty? At worst, they are going to be a wash in my opinion. Ryan likely included McDavid rather than Carlson in the original negotiations in hopes of bolstering his blue-line with the addition of Faulk. Trading Carlson for Faulk kind of defeats that purpose, so I’d probably suggest a counter-offer, to try plugging some forward other than McDavid into that scenario if possible.
Regardless Ryan was resisting Trade 2 for the same reason I’m telling him to reject Trade 1 — Ryan feels Malkin is the best player in Trade 2, which he is, and typically the team that gets the best player in any deal, wins the deal more often than not. Malkin is certainly the biggest name in the trade, but Panarin is actually tied with him for the best stat-line (both have 39 points to date). Most pundits would take Malkin over Panarin based on second-half potential, and I’d be among that majority. Some would take McDavid over Parise as well, but Parise should be more a sure thing.
In all honesty, Trade 2 could go either way. Based on the first half of the season, I would say six out of 10 people probably lean towards accepting. But I, personally, might be among the four out of 10 that opts to reject — especially if Team A is demanding McDavid, not Carlson, but either way. That said, it’s unlikely anybody would say Ryan lost Trade 2 if it was approved today. Many would say he won and extend congratulations but, in hindsight, it “could” also backfire. The temptation is obvious, but the more I think about it, the more I want to stick with Malkin and McDavid.
My Fantasy World
I’ll keep these pretty short and sweet this week. I settled for a 4-4-2 tie here, but I would have been happier with another defeat. As you know, if you’ve been reading the Mailbag on a weekly basis, I’ve been busy selling off secondary assets in this league ahead of our Jan. 27 trade deadline in hopes of “tanking” my team towards a higher draft pick. With results like this, I’m hanging around the middle of the pack among 20 teams, and that’s the last place you want to be. If you’re not first or knocking at the door of the top five, you might as well be last or bottom four. So that’s the direction I’m trying to go, and this week should give me a good push in facing our new standings leader.
After trading away the likes of Craig Smith, Benoit Pouliot, Nail Yakupov, Josh Bailey, Zemgus Girgensons and Jacob Markstrom, I’ve started to replenish my roster with random waiver claims including Lecavalier and Kassian — because, why not? — along with Phillip Danault and Brad Hunt. Remember, I’m not adding these players with the intent of winning from week to week, but rather reshaping my team should I plummet into that bottom-four rookie draft tournament with a chance to select first overall.
Here are the trades from that league over the last week:
INCOMING = Devan Dubnyk
OUTGOING = Nick Bjugstad, Anders Nilsson, Derrick Pouliot, Rasmus Andersson and a second-round pick (currently 37th overall)
ANALYSIS: That seems like a lot to pay for Dubnyk, but he’s got another year left on a cheap contract in this league. This buyer needed to upgrade his goaltending with Sergei Bobrovsky still hurt and Nilsson now the backup in Edmonton. Still, he paid a steep price. Bjugstad and Pouliot are potential impact players for next season — Bjugstad needs an extension, Pouliot has one year left on his entry-level deal in our league — while Andersson and that pick will be decent prospects for the future. Reality is, the buyers have had to pay up this season — more so than in years past — and this was another good haul for a seller.
INCOMING = Evander Kane, Anders Lee, Michael Dal Colle, Travis Sanheim and Malcolm Subban
OUTGOING = Jonathan Drouin, Nick Ritchie and Trevor Carrick
ANALYSIS: Drouin better become something special for this deal to pay dividends. Kane is probably a rental for this buyer based on his salary in our league, but Lee is on an identical contract to Drouin and all the prospects will enter on those same entry-level deals. Is Ritchie a better prospect than Dal Colle? Maybe, but give me Sanheim over Carrick long-term and call those four a wash. So that leaves Kane, Lee and Subban, the goaltender, for Drouin. I get that Drouin has massive upside, but that’s still an overpayment in my opinion.
INCOMING = Steve Mason and Brian Flynn
OUTGOING = Brian Elliott and Matt Moulson
ANALYSIS: Fair deal here, which speaks to how much Moulson’s stock has dropped this season. Back in November, that same GM traded Marian Gaborik straight up for Moulson and now he moved him for a much lesser talent in Flynn. Granted, Mason is a slight upgrade on Elliott too, but Moulson should be worth more than Flynn in terms of fantasy trades. Should be, but he really isn’t. At the end of the day, this trade hinges on the goaltenders and it could go either way there too. Mason is a presumed starter, but he’s being challenged by Michal Neuvirth in Philadelphia, while Elliott will temporarily take over in St. Louis with Jake Allen sidelined week-to-week with a knee injury. The Blues should win more games than the Flyers — wins are one of our two goaltending categories, along with save percentage — so that should favour Elliott short-term but most would rather roster Mason for the long haul.
INCOMING = Brandon Davidson
OUTGOING = Xavier Ouellet
ANALYSIS: Our prospects activate their entry-level contracts after playing their 26th career regular-season game and Ouellet has played 25 to date. He’ll likely lose his prospect status at some point this season and would be an iffy keeper going forward unless a greater opportunity presented itself in Detroit or elsewhere. Ditto for Davidson, he’s a depth defenceman on an expiring contract, but he’s currently in Edmonton’s top-six, so any stats from Davidson are better than none from Ouellet for this buyer.
I accidentally won a week here (105.4-87.4), which again goes against my “tank” mentality. I’m actually sitting at a 6-8 record now despite my best efforts to worsen my roster. This week should be a sure loss against a 9-5 division rival, which could leave me in a tie for last place in our seven-team division of this 28-team league. It’s a battle at the bottom, with a 7-7 team in fourth, my team tied for fifth and a 5-9 team bringing up the rear, albeit with more fantasy points year-to-date than my team (1,838.0-1,669.2). We have seven weeks left in our regular season and I’d be pretty surprised if my team won any of its remaining matchups, so that bodes well for climbing the draft order down the stretch.
I did manage to make another trade last week, one that I’m lukewarm on:
INCOMING = Frank Vatrano and Nikolai Prokhorkin
OUTGOING = Anton Slepyshev and a third-round pick (currently 66th overall)
ANALYSIS: Vatrano is the only NHL contract that changed hands, along with two prospects and a pick. I had an open roster spot and wanted to give Vatrano a whirl. I don’t know what the future will hold for him, especially as a winger for the Bruins, who drafted two wingers in the first round of the 2015 draft — Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn — and also have Alexander Khokhlachev nearing the end of waiver eligibility. That’ll be a long-jam eventually, perhaps as early as next season, but I’m hopeful that Vatrano can earn a regular role going forward.
Rookie Frank Vatrano flashes his vast potential as offensive force for the Bruins w/1st hat trick vs. the Penguins https://t.co/TYTbFC4XuM
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) December 19, 2015
The last time I made a deal of this nature, ironically with the same GM, it backfired. I had identified Edmonton’s Anton Lander as a potential breakout candidate after an impressive finish to last season, but Lander bombed out and isn’t even on my roster anymore. I got Montreal’s Sven Andrighetto as a throw-in there, but I gave up my second-rounder, which is 38th overall at present. I’d probably take a mulligan on that one if possible, so hopefully Vatrano won’t leave me with the same regret. Prokhorkin and Slepyshev are similar Russian forward prospects. Slepyshev came over to North America this season and actually started out in Edmonton, but he’s fizzled out since getting sent down to the AHL and another call-up doesn’t appear to be on the horizon any time soon. Slepyshev could easily head home again for next season. Prokhorkin is putting up good numbers in the KHL again, but who knows if or when he’ll cross the pond. Should he take that leap, Prokhorkin would have to work his way up the Los Angeles Kings’ depth chart, which is no easy task.
There was only one other trade in that league last week, but it was a pretty big one:
INCOMING = Mark Giordano
OUTGOING = Dion Phaneuf and Chris Stewart
ANALYSIS: That’s a steal of a deal, getting Giordano for an inferior Phaneuf and a plug like Stewart. I used to be a big Stewart fan and thought maybe he could bounce back with the Ducks, but so far he’s been a bust in Anaheim too. That team would have been better off sticking with Giordano. This league has a bunch of categories, so Phaneuf does chip in with his share of hits and shots, etc., but he’s not close to Giordano’s level. A premier defenceman like that should have netted a better return, but maybe I’m not one to talk considering I dealt Erik Johnson for Anthony DeAngelo and a first-round pick, plus moved Hampus Lindholm for Jérémy Roy, Travis Dermott and two picks, a first and a second. My returns were futures assets, but Giordano’s former GM obviously wanted to stay competitive as opposed to entering a rebuilding phase. To each their own, onward and upward . . . or downward.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter at The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, and has been an at-large contributor for The Hockey Writers since August 2014.