Sure, I know the Stanley Cup playoffs are over, but it is never too early to start thinking about the 2013-14 Fantasy Hockey season. This will be a shorter off-season than usual, as the schedule had to be pushed back about two weeks due to the lockout that delayed the start of last season approximately three months. Therefore, by the time the Stanley Cup finals end, we will only have about two and a half months before training camp opens. Some moves have already been made (defenseman Mark Streit traded from the Islanders to the Flyers and goalie Jonathan Bernier from the Kings to the Maple Leafs), with a few more to be expected before the June 30th NHL Entry Draft, and then the floodgates will open as free agency begins on July 5. With all this in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened since the end of the regular season.
The Islanders and Streit could not come to an agreement on a new contract before the trade deadline (April 3). This forced the Islanders’ hand, as they had to make a decision about what was more important : making the playoffs to appease a fan base that hasn’t always been in agreement with decisions made by upper management, or trade him for what could’ve been a strong haul as defensemen were in demand at the deadline. Right or wrong, the Isles chose to hold onto Streit and then dealt his rights to Philly for a fourth-round draft pick and forward Shane Harper after the season. What does this mean in Fantasy land? Well the Islanders have been having problems acquiring defenders for quite a few years now, as free agents (Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff) have been known to accept less money elsewhere rather than play on Long Island. Streit is not as strong in his own end (-41 the past two seasons) as he used to be, but still possesses plenty of offensive potential, especially on the power play despite only having six power play goals the last two years. He leaves one superstar (John Tavares) for another (Claude Giroux) and goes from a young, up-an- coming team to a more veteran one. His Fantasy value will more than likely remain the same. He is certainly not a tier one d-man, but someone that should not be forgotten about come draft time. Think Top 10-12. Whomever starts in net for the Islanders, however (Evgeni Nabokov or Kevin Poulin most likely), is certain to face a ton of rubber next season.
Acquiring Streit also forced the Flyers to make a couple of other decisions. What to do about signing him to a long term deal? The Flyers were either up against the cap or possibly even over it depending on who you ask, so someone was going to have to go either via a trade or a buyout (each team is allowed two buyouts under the new CBA). The most obvious choices for a buyout were forward Daniel Briere and/or goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov is certainly outspoken, but played pretty well last season, although his play did tail off as the season went along. Then there were rumors that the Flyers were one of several teams talking to the Kings about Bernier. However, once those rumors were put to rest it was clear that Bryzgalov would stay while Briere would go. Briere leaves the organization on good terms and will help whomever he signs with, but also isn’t the player he once was. He has only scored 22 goals in his past 104 games and has also missed 26 games during that span. At $6.7 million a season, he was an easy choice to receive a buyout. Bryzgalov’s value doesn’t really change with the Streit addition. Streit is far from a shutdown defender, and although he will help the PP, it might not be enough to offset what he does on defense or what the team may lose in Briere. Before we get to see all of the other off-season moves the Flyers make, it’s hard to see Bryzgalov cracking my Top 10, he just hasn’t been the same since leaving the Coyotes defensive system.
The Bernier trade was finalized Saturday and it should come as no surprise that he ended up with the Maple Leafs. The Leafs were the only team to talk to Vancouver about possibly acquiring goalie Roberto Luongo during the season and may have actually acquired him had the season begun on time. One might have thought those desires may have gone away with the play of James Reimer (19-8-5, 2.46 GAA, 92.4 SV%) during the regular season, but the playoff collapse (they were up on Boston 4-1 with 11 minutes remaining in Game 7) may have rekindled some doubts about whether or not Reimer can lead this team to playoff success. Now, if you’re someone who is looking to draft Bernier, this is not really the situation you wanted to see him in. It’s unlikely that he will be handed the starting job, no matter how high the price was to obtain him (second-round draft pick, top prospect Matt Frattin, and backup goaltender Ben Scrivens). Bernier will more than likely be in a training camp battle with Reimer for the starting job. This would seem to be fair. After all, Bernier has only played in 62 NHL games over five seasons. Now sure, this past season was his best, but he was also playing behind the Stanley Cup champions and also one of the best defensive units in the Kings. Pressure will be on in Toronto. Once again, neither is a Top 10 goalie for me in re-draft leagues, but in a keeper or dynasty league I would be looking to grab Bernier once all of my sure-fire goalkeepers are off the board. Keep in mind, though, that Toronto, like so many other young teams (Islanders/Oilers) have plenty of offensive talent but the defensive side is lacking, which could lead to a higher than expected GAA and SV% until that area can be addressed via free agency and the draft.
For all intents and purposes, former Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault and former Ranger head coach John Tortorella were traded for each other. Tortorella will be named coach of the Canucks and Fantasy owners may not think this is all that big a deal, but personally I worry that Torts may decide to institute his defensive system in Vancouver. He believes in playing from the goaltender on out, which means the forwards are expected to come back and help out the defense as much as possible. The defenders aren’t asked to chip in offensively as much and are certainly not expected to get in the offensive zone leading to an odd man rush. Theoretically this should lead to lower scoring games, good for Cory Schneider or Roberto Luongo (assuming Luongo isn’t traded), but bad for the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, and Alexander Burrows.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather also stated that one of the reasons Tortorella was let go was because he insisted that his players block as many shots as possible. This led to several injuries and just general wear and tear. One can certainly argue that blocking a shot is a players’ job, but you can’t argue that this will lead to injuries, so keep that in mind when there is a coin flip situation between drafting a Vancouver d-man or a equivalent player on another team.
One last thought on the Canucks: Perhaps the reason they brought in Tortorella and his defensive approach is because the wide-open game plan favored by Vigneault worked great during the regular season, but not so much during the playoffs. If nothing else, Torts will make sure the Canuck players are responsible for their actions.
As for Vigneault and the Rangers, well I’m not sure they will play a wide-open style of game, they don’t have the offensive skill players that the Canucks do (Marian Gaborik where are you), but they should be more interesting on offense this season. Now Rick Nash may be an elite wing, but he is a power forward, not someone who is going to make highlight reels by skating around defenders. The switch to Vigneault should be good news for Ranger blueliners, as they will be expected to join the rush as three on twos and four on threes will be encouraged. How will this affect the best goaltender in hockey, Henrik Lundquist? Have to think his GAA and SV% could head slightly in the wrong direction, but more goals should also take some of the pressure off of the King. He is still my number one goalie next season and Top five to seven overall.
The NHL Entry Draft will be held June 30 in New Jersey and the Colorado Avalanche have the first overall pick. Most pundits agree that the top overall player is defenseman Seth Jones, who not only would help solve Colorado’s biggest problem, defense, but also has ties to the Denver area (his father, Popeye Jones, once played for the Denver Nuggets and talked to Avs GM Joe Sakic about how to handle his son). The surprising thing is that Joe Sakic came out Friday and announced that if the Avs keep the top pick, they will forgo taking Jones in order to take one of the top forwards (Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Aleksander Barkov). Why would Sakic announce this? Is he trying to drive up the price for Jones? Does he and new coach Patrick Roy not believe the hype on Jones? We all should know by now that when it comes to the draft, everyone lies, but this is definitely strange. The Avs seemed to have been handed a gift when they won the draft lottery. They get a player who would be an instant fan favorite at a position they are desperate for, yet they want to take another offensive player. Not sure I’m buying this. No matter who they take, that player is likely to make an impact in Fantasy leagues, but is not someone you should be looking at early in your draft.
Feel free to follow me and ask any Fantasy related questions you like on twitter, @georgekurtz.
Born in Howard Beach, NY
Moved to Elmont when I was 5
Own a home in Coram, NY (Long Island)
Married in 2001 (Maria)
2 Beautiful daughters (Dakota, 6 Madison, 2) If I had a son his name would’ve been Dallas, and that would’ve had nothing to do with me being a Cowboy fan. I’m 3/4 Irish, Dallas means wise in Ireland (and if you believe that……).
George Kurtz got his start in the Fantasy business by accident. A friend of his, Terry Neofitos, started his own site, The Fantasy Sports Forum, and eventually asked George to write for him. He enjoyed doing so, and covered for Terry on podcasts when he couldn’t make it. George then working for Rotowire in January of 2007. He has also written for FFReport.com, Leatherheads.com, Seamheads.com, Going9.com and GothamBaseball.com. He joined the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. George started co-hosting on Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports Radio on the Going9 Fantasy Baseball show in March of 2012, and then joined the FantasyPros 911 show in August of 2012. He now is a co-host on the RotoExperts weekend editions on the channel.