The NHL Fantasy Hockey season is upon us. Most of us have completed our drafts, although, I have my last one (SiriusXM) tonight. In today’s column we will look at each team’s Fantasy questions, little quick hits if you will. Fantasy Hockey is a long season much like baseball, so patience needs to be practiced. Just because a player gets off to a slow start doesn’t mean that player should be released. Hockey is a marathon, not a sprint. Good luck this season and let’s have some fun.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brad Richards won’t start on the second line after all. Richards has been moved down to the third line which lessens his value considerably. Will this remain all season? Probably not, but he’s a reserve player now, not a starter.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs had an extremely difficult time scoring during the preseason and have already made some changes. Most noticeably they have moved Jarome Iginla to a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene, and have moved young star Nathan MacKinnon back to wing, where there won’t be as much pressure on him.
Dallas Stars: If you’re looking for a sleeper player, look no further than Valeri Nichushkin. He is slotted to play on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. This could easily be one of the best lines in hockey. Benn and Seguin are early picks, whereas Nichushkin may actually still be available on the waiver wire.
Minnesota Wild: If I had my choice, I would stay away from the Wild goaltenders. Sure, they are a good team, but this could easily be a three headed monster. Niklas Backstrom is the veteran with the big contract. Josh Harding is the youngster that was supposed to back up Backstrom until he broke his foot during an off-ice altercation with a teammate. This forced the team to re-sign Darcy Kuemper, who then beat out Backstrom for the starting job. This is a mess, as there may be no clear cut starter all season long, and who goes away once Harding is ready to return?
Nashville Predators: I like James Neal, really do, but he is going to find out real quick that playing in Nashville is nowhere near the same as playing in Pittsburgh. Thirty goals shouldn’t be out of the question, but he certainly won’t approach 40.
St. Louis Blues: There are more goaltending issues here. Brian Elliott, who has backed up Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Miller in the past, will now sort of be handed the starting job. The problem is that the Blues top prospect, Jake Allen, is also on the roster and there is no way they are going to let him rot on the bench. Smart money says that Allen will start close to half the games, and if he is outplaying Elliott he will take over the starting job, as Elliott is more of a backup goaltender than a starter, and this team won’t play favorites since they know they are a Stanley Cup contender now.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have plenty of issues with defense and goaltending being at the top of the list, but even in the Western Conference they only missed the playoffs by a few points last season. This team can score goals and one player I’m looking at for a rebound season is Evander Kane. A 30-goal season shouldn’t be out of the question, but if he does struggle a change of scenery could also be forthcoming.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks will have to play the first few games of the season without Dany Heatley, who will be on IR with a groin injury. This is unfortunate, as he was about to play on the top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Heatley is nowhere near the player he used to be, but he will get a chance to revive his career if he sticks on that line.
Arizona Coyotes: I like Mikkel Boedker and he is a solid sleeper to add this season, but that top line is pretty ugly when it’s anchored by Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan. At this point in his career, Doan can still be productive but more in a supporting role, not as a top line guy, and Vermette should be a third line center. Things could get pretty ugly in Arizona this season unless goaltender Mike Smith has a big year.
Calgary Flames: This is another team that will be playing for the top draft pick next season. Jonas Hiller may have been a solid addition in net, but he’s not someone that you’re going to want to start on your Fantasy Hockey team unless you’re really desperate.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have already announced that Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth will split the first two starts of the season. Is this a sign of things to come? Possibly. The Oilers have little to no room for error and may just go with the hot hand all season. If I had to handicap this race however, I would go with Scrivens.
Los Angeles Kings: I’m not a big fan of the Kings second line. They have Jeff Carter centering Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. I’m just not seeing big things here and have downgraded Carter a little bit because of this. I felt this way before last night’s 4-0 loss to the Sharks.
San Jose Sharks: So the Sharks finally decided Antti Niemi would start in net for the season opener. They took their sweet time in announcing this, and one might believe they are sending a message to Niemi: produce or lose your job. Alex Stalock only played 24 games last season but his numbers were better than Niemi’s across the board, and the Sharks do have a history of blaming their goaltenders for playoff failures.
Vancouver Canucks: Will the Sedin twins have a rebound season? If they don’t, this team is in a world of trouble. If they do, however, well then Radim Vrbata and Ryan Miller will get a bump in my rankings. Perhaps last season was all about the coaching turmoil with John Tortorella, and not playing in such a defensive system will open up their creativity once again.
Boston Bruins: The David Krejci injury has forced the Bruins to make some lineup changes. The top line is Brad Marchand, Reilly Smith, and Patrice Bergeron while Loui Eriksson will play on the second line with Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly. This may not be the best news for Eriksson, as he still looks to justify his trade from Dallas last season for Tyler Seguin.
Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart made the team out of camp, at least giving the fans someone to root for, but Fantasy Hockey owners should remember that this may be a nine game tryout. After he has played nine games the team can no longer send him back to Juniors and his professional contract would start.
Detroit Red Wings: The Wings received some good news when they found out that Pavel Datsyuk will be back much sooner than first thought. He was originally thought to be out until later this month but could now play as soon as early next week.
Florida Panthers: Florida is another team that may not have a legitimate top line forward on their team. Brad Boyes, really? Sure, Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov may be worth a reserve spot, but there isn’t much else to look at here.
Montreal Canadiens: Can Alex Galchenyuk make the leap to productive forward? That is the question that fans and Fantasy owners want answered. He will play on the second line with Tomas Plekanac and Brendan Gallagher. Galchenyuk is one of those types of players that can win you a Fantasy Hockey league if this is the year he breaks out.
Ottawa Senators: In order for the Senators to be successful this season they will have to become a team that plays from the goaltender on out. This could be good news for Craig Anderson, but it could also stifle the offensive creativity of D Erik Karlsson if he buys into the system. Who will get the puck to Bobby Ryan?
Tampa Bay Lightning: The early favorite for the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) is Jonathan Drouin. He’s a must-get if available on the waiver wire. The thumb injury that was thought to sideline him for a couple of weeks has healed, and he could play as soon as Saturday. If he plays on a line with Steven Stamkos the sky is the limit.
Toronto Maple Leafs: If you’re looking for a contender for the first coach to be fired this season, look no further than Randy Carlyle. It was sort of a surprise that he survived after the Leafs missed the playoffs last year and Brendan Shanahan took over the hockey operations. What does this mean for Fantasy Hockey? Well a new coach could shake up lines or believe that James Reimer should start over Jonathan Bernier. This should be an interesting season in Toronto.
Carolina Hurricanes: Who will be the starting goaltender in Carolina this season? Cam Ward gets the nod Friday in the season opener, but that may not matter as much as the Canes also play Saturday which means Anton Khudobin will probably be between the pipes in that one. Ward is technically the starter, but it may only be a matter of time until he loses the job.
Columbus Blue Jackets: It has been a trying month of September for Columbus. Sure, they signed Ryan Johansen after a long holdout and now will have to worry if he gets off to a slow start this season after missing training camp. No one knows when Nathan Horton will return due to a degenerative condition in his back, and Brandon Dubinsky is out for about six weeks due to abdominal surgery. The future looked optimistic for Columbus just a couple of months ago, but right now it’s cloudy at best.
New Jersey Devils: This is a list of the Devils Top 6 forwards:Michael Cammalleri, Danius Zubrus, Patrick Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, and Martin Havlat. What is the common denominator here? Age. It’s hard to imagine this group surviving the season. These are players you acquire to spruce up your team at the deadline. One or two to provide depth, but six, yikes.
New York Islanders: Cory Conacher won the game of who will start on a line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The question now is how long will it last? Nick Leddy, who was acquired from the Blackhawks over the weekend is now a must add as he will anchor the power play, this is true even when Lubomir Visnovsky returns.
New York Rangers: I’m not so worried about Rich Nash or Martin St. Louis, they will produce, but what I am worried about is who will play center. Derek Stepan is already out until at least November with a broken leg, and that leave the team a little thin up the middle with only Derrick Brassard as a true threat. There is even some talk about moving St. Louis to center to at least start the season. This is not what you want if you’re a St. Louis owner.
Philadelphia Flyers: Fantasy Hockey owners received good news when it was announced that Wayne Simmonds would be healthy enough to start the season for Philly, but he has been placed on the third line. Hopefully, this is a temporary placement, as they just want to work out the rust and get him into game shape before placing him back on the top line.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Fantasy owners can relax; Evgeni Malkin will play in the opener Thursday, but will play right wing and not his customary center position. Once again, this is done to take things easy on him while he works his way into game shape after missing all of training camp. Malkin should still end up on the first power play unit.
Washington Capitals: Outside of Alexander Ovechkin, who is going to score this season? There is no one on the second line who is really a threat to light the lamp on any kind of consistent basis. They were hoping Evgeny Kuznetsov could answer some of those problems, but they have moved him to the fourth line right now. Fantasy Hockey owners may want to bench this sleeper for the time being.
As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions you like, @georgekurtz.