Well it was an exciting few days leading up to and including the start of free agency last week in the NHL. We saw quite possibly the craziest half-hour of news in NHL history with the trades of Taylor Hall to the Devils and the Subban-for-Weber swap, and then the news about Steve Stamkos staying with the Lightning.
All that craziness dropped less than 48 hours before free agency began and all three left the hockey world in shock. The fantasy hockey impact was drastic to say the least. Then came Friday and Saturday and a flurry of moves led to the largest opening day of signings in NHL history. With the opening weekend having come and gone, and the majority of the big names off the board, let’s take a look at the fantasy implications going forward for players and their teams.
Taylor Hall Traded to Devils for Adam Larsson…and Milan Lucic
In one of the most shocking one-for-one trades in the NHL that anyone can remember, the Oilers traded top forward Taylor Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson. This was a head-scratcher to say the least when you look at the talent level between the two players and the perceived price tag on Hall being much higher than one player coming back in return.
What does this trade mean for the Devils? It gives the Devils the elite-level scorer that they lost when Ilya Kovalchuk bolted to the KHL years ago. Hall is young, under contract at a reasonable cap hit for the next four years, and is a former 80-point scorer who now has a massive chip on his shoulder. There are question marks with the deal going forward. Is Adam Henrique a number one center who can get more out of Hall? Will Mike Cammalleri return from his injury next season and resume his near point-per-game form from last year? And what will happen with the Devils power-play unit with point defender David Schlemko (12 PPPs last year) leaving for San Jose?
Over the last four seasons the following players have more 5 v 5 points than Taylor Hall:
— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) June 30, 2016
Hall’s fantasy stock will take a dip until these questions are answered. He is guaranteed to be a top-line player for the Devils and to see plenty of time on the power-play. But his supporting cast in New Jersey is not on par with the top-six rotation that he was playing in with the Oilers. He is more than capable of being a 65-70 point player for the Devils, and could easily jump higher than that. What we do know is that Peter Chiarelli has now traded the first two players drafted in the 2010 draft, for two different teams.
Hall’s departure opened up a spot in the Oilers top-six and $6 million in cap space for the team to spend. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s what Lucic signed for. While the Hall trade was a surprise, the Lucic signing was one that had been rumored throughout the offseason. Lucic slots into Hall’s spot in the lineup as the physical, scoring top-six winger. The question is where does he fit in?
The Oilers top-six last season was Connor McDavid centering the rather productive line of Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot. Hall flanked young center Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell for the majority of the season. With McDavid, Eberle, Pouliot, Draisaitl, Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and the newly drafted Jesse Puljujarvi the Oilers top-nine is potentially stacked.
Lucic, McDavid, Eberle and Draisaitl will make up 2/3 of the Oilers top-six. After a successful season last year playing on Anze Kopitar’s wing, Lucic should slot in with either McDavid or Draisaitl and will be potentially a top-50 fantasy forward going into this season, but is easily in the 50-70 fantasy forward range.
Canadiens and Predators Swap Subban for Weber
Right after news of the Hall for Larsson trade broke, news of an even bigger blockbuster hit the web. The Canadiens and Predators had come to terms on a one-for-one swap that sent shockwaves throughout the hockey, and fantasy hockey, world. The Canadiens got their wish and traded the outspoken, boisterous personality of Subban and got one of the best stay-at-home defensemen, and reining Mark Messier award winner, Shea Weber.
Shea Weber for @PKSubban1. Done deal. Details: https://t.co/lzxZ4L1UAF #NHLTrade pic.twitter.com/Yxuad5uc9C
— NHL (@NHL) June 29, 2016
The trade makes sense for both teams. The Habs get Weber, who is seen as less of a headache on and off the ice compared to Subban, with solid offensive ability. He also has has one of the hardest shots in the league and is a physical presence who is a stern team leader. He had 51 points last season and was fourth in the league among defensemen with 20 goals. In the last three seasons Weber has the third-most goals by a defenseman in the league.
As good of a deal as it was for the Habs, it could be better for Nashville. They get Subban in his prime and can pair him in their up-tempo offensive system with already stud defender Roman Josi on Nashville’s top pair. Couple that with a top six that includes Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Colin Wilson and Mike Ribeiro and Subban immediately becomes a top-10 fantasy defenseman, with him and Josi both capable of being in the top-five.
It is reasonable to expect Weber to put up similar numbers as the top defender in all situations for the Canadiens. Subban will be playing with better offensive talent around him and with Josi on his opposite side the combo could be lethal and each is a threat to break the 60-point barrier.
Steven Stamkos Re-Signs with Tampa Bay
This one was less surprising but it came on the heels of the other two big moves in the same half-hour period. Stamkos signing for 8 years, and saving the Lightning a bunch of cap space with a very team-friends AAV of $8.5 million.
As long as Stamkos is fully-healthy from his blood clot surgery he is easily a candidate to be a top-10 player once again. Expect him to move back to his natural center position going forward. The prospect of Jonathan Drouin being on his wing next season should have fantasy hockey players salivating after Drouin’s fantastic playoff performance in Stamkos’ absence.
A Trio of Islanders Leave the Island
I covered the Islanders losing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen weeks ago and both came to fruition, as did Matt Martin leaving for Toronto. Okposo was gone and that was known for some time. The Islanders made a solid effort to retain Nielsen but he opted to go as well.
It can be debated which one will be a bigger loss for the Islanders between Nielsen and Okposo. Okposo, a solid power forward, jumped between the Islanders top two lines over the last three seasons. He was the Islanders second-leading scorer in that time, but was prone to scoring streaks and could go long stretches without putting up many points. Still he goes to a very good situation in Buffalo, for less money than originally thought, and will be on the wing for either Ryan O’Reilly or Jack Eichel. Not a bad place to be.
JUST IN: @BuffaloSabres sign F Kyle Okposo to a 7-year, $42M contract. #TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/4bhGkD1dga
— SportsCentre (@SportsCentre) July 1, 2016
When Okposo was playing with Tavares he was a borderline top-50 forward, but was easily in that 50-70 range, the same as Milan Lucic. He should be considered in that range again playing with Eichel or O’Reilly, or both on the Sabres power-play, and could easily hit the 60+ point average that he has hit over his last three seasons.
The Islanders will probably feel the loss of Nielsen more than Okposo. It was a blow for the Islanders when he spurned them and took less money to sign with Detroit to replace the outgoing Pavel Datsyuk. Nielsen is a dependable forward and is one of the more underrated two-way centers in the league.
Like Okposo, Nielsen has seen the best offensive years of his career come over the last three seasons. He parlayed that into a big deal to solidify the Red Wings second-line center position. Nielsen will produce solidly with the Wings, but not to the level that Okposo will with Buffalo. It is reasonable to expect 15-20 goals and 50 points for Nielsen going forward, which makes him a top-100 forward, borderline top-80 but there are better options to go off fantasy draft boards before him.
Martin signed in Toronto to solidify their bottom-six. He can chip in points occasionally, but should only be targeted in deeper league where hits and PIMs, hits especially, are counted as either points or scoring categories.
Three Leave the Island and Three Come In
With the departure of Okposo, Nielsen and Martin, Garth Snow had work to do and he filled those shoes quickly. Snow responded to his roster losses by adding Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera on Friday before capping the weekend bringing back familiar face P.A. Parenteau.
The biggest move was Ladd. The Islanders signed the former Jets captain, and two-time Stanley Cup winner, to a seven-year, front-loaded contract to put him next to John Tavares for the foreseeable future. Ladd is an underrated winger who brings a strong combination of scoring ability and grit to a line with Tavares that had been lacking even with Okposo there. Ladd was coming off a 62-point season and had a down season in Winnipeg this season where he was shuffled around the lineup before being traded to Chicago at the deadline. He posted 12 points in 19 games with the Hawks and posted five PPPs there after nine with the Jets.
He will be the winger for Tavares going forward and is easily a top-60 fantasy forward while playing there. He will also help Tavares by adding a element of defensive responsibility that he has lacked over his time in New York.
He will be joined by an old friend of Tavares’. The Islanders announced on Saturday that they were adding former Islander P.A. Parenteau on a one-year, $1.25 million deal. The presumption is he will slot in on the right wing for the top line with Tavares and Ladd. Parenteau returns to the Islanders after four years away with the Avalanche, Canadiens and Maple Leafs.
He is coming off a 20-goal, 41-point season with Toronto last year. The 20 goals matched his career-high and the 41 points were his second 40-plus point season since leaving the Islanders. In his two seasons playing with Tavares from 2010- 12, Parenteau notched 82 assists and 120 points. The signings give the Islanders three forwards in the top 100 in fantasy hockey rankings going into this season.
The Islanders also added a solid piece to their bottom-six with the signing of veteran forward Jason Chimera. Although he might be 37-years old, Chimera is faster and more physical than players 10 years younger than him around the league. He also potted 20 goals for the first time in his career and added 20 assists to give him his second 40-point season. He will go a long way to replace the departure of Matt Martin to Toronto.
One of the more rumored moves of the offseason was Loui Eriksson heading to Vancouver to join countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin and form a super-Swedish first line for the Canucks. Well reality struck on July 1 and the Canucks brought the talented winger into the fold with a six-year deal.
Eriksson enjoyed a bounce back season last year with 63 points after two sub-par seasons that totaled 84 points in his first two years in Boston. Some will forget Eriksson notched three-consecutive 70-plus point seasons before his trade to Boston. His going to Vancouver will be a boon to an anemic offense in Vancouver that ranked 29 out of 30 in the league in scoring per game last season.
Eriksson slotting in on the Cancuks top line with the Sedin twins will have fantasy hockey owners salivating. The trio are friends and have a familiarity playing together from their time with the Swedish national team. The 2015-16 season saw a drop in production for both Sedin brothers, but with the arrival of Eriksson all three forwards are must own in fantasy hockey leagues. A 60-plus point season for each is very well within reach and fantasy hockey players should not hesitate to target any, or all, of the trio.
Alexander Radulov Heads to Montreal
In one of the more surprising twists of the first weekend of free agency was Alexander Radulov pulling a complete 180 degree turn from the report last week that he was using his desire to leave Russia and the KHL in order to drive up his asking price over there. Very few people expected Radulov to come over and play in the NHL, and now the Montreal Canadiens have taken a huge low-risk, high-reward step towards making them relevant in the Eastern Conference again.
Alexander Radulov plans an NHL return, where he has 102 points in 154 games with #Preds. He has 492 points in 391 games in the KHL.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) April 29, 2016
Widely considered one of the best players in the world not playing in North America Radulov will now show the world if he can compete against the best players in the world on a regular basis. Radulov joining the Habs helps to soften the offensive blow that they take trading away PK Subban for Shea Weber. Weber is a solid offensive defenseman, but Subban has elite-level offensive upside. Radulov could as well.
He has matured in his years since his brief comeback with Nashville in 2012. He will be going to a situation where that will be tested under the scrutiny of the Montreal fanbase and media and the hockey media is Canada. He could potentially be a game-changer for the Habs offensively and should be penciled in right now on their top line opposite Max Pacioretty. He makes the jump into the top-100 fantasy forwards heading into next season and depending if Alex Galchenyuk or Tomas Plekanec is centering him that could improve. 60-plus points in well within reach if he lives up to the hype.
Other Notable Signings
The David Backes era ended in St. Louis. Backes was the only player in Blues history to rank in the top-10 for the franchise in games played, goals, assists, points, PIMs, PPG, GWG and plus/minus. He slots into a Bruins top-six that already boasts Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci.
Backes is a consistent 20-25 goal scorer, who has topped the 30-goal mark twice, and could easily hit that mark this season while seeing significant time on the Bruins top power-play unit. A 20-25 goal, 50-plus point season should be what’s expected out of Backes heading into this fantasy season.
#SJSharks sign forward @Mikkelboedker to a four-year contract.https://t.co/8iHynvU9bl pic.twitter.com/6IrIu3TdFW
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) July 1, 2016
Boedker could end up being one of the steals of this free agent class. The Sharks nabbed the speedy winger to a four-year, $16 million contract on the opening day of free agency, while also adding depth defenseman David Schlemko. Boedker, like Backes above, slots into a stacked top-six out in San Jose. He joins a rotation of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture (all top-30 forwards), Tomas Hertl and presumably Joonas Donskoi.
This will be the best set of play-makers that Boedker will have ever skated with making him a huge breakout candidate for next fantasy season. Boedker broke the 50-point barrier for the second time in his career this past season. He will most likely slot in with Sharks playoff hero Couture on San Jose’s second line where the two could be dynamite together. The signing does not put Boedker into the top-100 fantasy forwards but he is right on the outside looking in and should be a target in the middle rounds of your fantasy drafts next season.
The @FlaPanthers agree to terms with James Reimer on a 5-year deal. #NHLFreeAgency pic.twitter.com/XCflNWaCtl
— NHL (@NHL) July 1, 2016
This was a bit of a head-scratcher for some. The Panthers already have a goalie under contract until 2022 in the form of Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lou is the goalie there for this year but this move screams of expansion draft. Neither goalie has a no-movement clause (NMC) so either one can be exposed in the expansion draft for Las Vegas next summer. You can presume that this will be a time-share to keep both goalies fresh, with Luongo getting slightly more playing time.
After next season the Panthers will make the determination which goalie they are more okay with losing in an expansion draft, but they also run the risk of neither being taken. Reimer had the best season of his career split between Toronto and San Jose last season. He posted a 17-14-7 record in 40 appearances with a .922 SV% and 2.31 GAA. He is also nine years younger than Luongo and would be an attractive trade piece with his contract for many teams at some point in the next year.
The offseason has really only just begun and there are many more players that have been signed and many more that will be signed/traded in the coming weeks and months. It was a record-setting start to free agency and it will pick up a little more soon before quieting down come August and September. Just remember fantasy hockey fans, we’re only 100 days away from the season and it can’t come soon enough!