- The Wild West
- Written by Dallas Guzzwell
Some quick thoughts on free agent frenzy and the Western Conference
Thanks to the one-week window allowing teams to talk to players in late June, this year’s free agency frenzy lived up to the hype as 86 players were signed on July 1st and another 23 players were signed between July 2 and July 4. Teams spent over half a billion dollars locking up this year’s crop of unrestricted available talent. There were questionable deals, contracts we expected and the odd bargain. Basically all of the big names are already off the market, leaving us to analyze how this summer’s unrestricted crop will impact their new teams and of course our fantasy rosters. Here are 14 thoughts regarding the 14 teams in the Western Conference and their recent activity.
Everyone seems to think the Dallas Stars are the big winners in the Western Conference after trading for Jason Spezza and signing Ales Hemsky to a three year deal. They showed great chemistry in Ottawa and the team now has a solid second line to complement Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. There is no question with these signings that the Stars improved from a bubble playoff team to arguably a playoff lock. In saying that, let’s not forget the band-aid factor of Spezza and Hemsky who have missed 72 and 65 games respectively over the past four seasons.
Everyone raved about the Paul Stastny signing in St. Louis. The Blues are definitely a better team and will carry on as contenders in the West, but not sure this guarantees a bump in Stastny’s numbers next year. It’s not like Stastny will be playing with better line mates as a result of this change of scenery. Another 60 point season sounds about right.
Are we going to see Brad “The Bargain” Richards line up with Patrick Kane all year. With the Sharp-Toews-Hossa line established as a staple in Chicago, it appears that way. Expecting it to last may be ambitious, as Richards has found his way down the line up in New York over the past two seasons. We should expect an initial bump in Richards’ production at the start of the season and he will be part of Chicago’s power play set up all year regardless of his even strength success or struggles. If Richards and Kane click, Brandon Saad is likely the big winner joining them with Brian Bickell seeing some time on that line as well.
Did the Edmonton Oilers lock left winger Benoit Pouliot up at 4m/year to play him in the bottom six? With Taylor Hall and David Perron ahead of him on the depth chart it looks that way, but we should expect Pouliot and Nail Yakupov to share some time in the top six anytime a winger goes down. Pouliot had 36 points last season for a career high, and could flirt with 40-45 points if he finds some chemistry with Nail Yakupov on what could be a surprising third line if they line up with the right pivot (Arcobello?). Also Nikita Nikitin could be an outside shot for 30-35 points again if he sees some power play time. Nikitin had 32 points in 54 games during an impressive 2011-2012 in Columbus before establishing himself as a stay at home defender. The additions of Nikitin and Mark Fayne should allow Justin Schultz more offensive freedom this year. The Oilers improved but not enough to make the playoffs.
“Champions Pay the Price”. Well in the case of the champion Los Angeles Kings there is no need to spend. The Kings are deep and have few weaknesses, the status quo makes sense. Hence, they were very quiet during the frenzy, only signing depth forward Adam Cracknell.
Similar to the Dallas Stars, the Minnesota Wild have likely established themselves as a lock as a playoff team. Reuniting Thomas Vanek with Jason Pominville should result in a spike in points for both players, especially Pominville who surprisingly reached the 60 point plateau again last year. A five point bump for Pominville should be expected, especially with one of Mikko Koivu or Mikael Granlund centering the former Sabres. With a one-two punch on the left wing of Vanek and Zach Parise, opposing teams are going to be challenged this year in deciding who to match up against the Wild’s top two lines. We could see a real breakout year for Granlund.
With a solid bounce back season, Mason Raymond established himself as fantasy relevant again last year with 45 points in 82 games. Raymond should see even more responsibility in Calgary but with less talent to play with, another 45 point season seems about right for the Cochrane native. As for goalie Jonas Hiller, there is a bright side, and that is being a guaranteed starter for the next two seasons. Before discounting Hiller because he backstopping one of the worst teams in the league, remember that he has typically shined during international play on a Swiss team that is typically the underdog. If your league counts saves and save percentage, Hiller is a decent number two option.
The big story in San Jose is not what they are doing. Instead, it’s what they are not doing. Everyone has been expecting a shake up, but perhaps the Sharks are going to stay the course after all. Here is a shameless plug from my most recent Wild West article suggesting why they should ride out the Thornton/Marleau era. As for free agency, the Sharks did very little in terms of UFA pursuit, with their only moves adding some toughness with John Scott and a depth signing for their blue line in Taylor Fedun. Neither move is relevant from a fantasy perspective.
Nashville signed Olli Jokinen. Expect 45 points for the Finn, and we will send lots of prayers to Tennessee, as the Predators have no shot at making the playoffs. Is it possible for Shea Weber to win the Norris even though he finishes with a negative plus/minus every year?
Anaheim was a big yawn on Canada Day, but considering they were the best in the West during the regular season and already added Ryan Kesler via trade before the draft, this should be no surprise. If Kesler stays healthy, the Ducks are right there with the Kings in the playoffs. As for expectations, a 55 point season seems like a fair forecast for the former Canuck.
Every year we expect Jarome Iginla to slow down but he finds a way to get his points. The fit with David Krejci (a center with great vision that slows down the play) and left winger Milan Lucic who made room for Iginla, seemed like perfect fit. The “consolation prize” of playing with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon should result in the status quo for Iginla. Excluding the lockout shortened season, Iginla has registered over 60 points every year since 1998-1999. Another 60 point season should be expected.
Devan Dubnyk gets another shot in perhaps the perfect landing spot. Arizona signed the former Oiler/Predator/Canadien to a one year deal and Dubnyk is the perfect project for goalie coach Sean Burke. Dubnyk is not that far removed for the days where he posted a .920 save percentage on a horrendous Oilers team. Looking at Mike Smith’s starting statistics in Arizona we should expect Dubnyk to get into around 20 games this year. The fact that we’re focusing on a backup goalie tells us that Arizona was pretty quiet in the UFA game.
Vancouver could be a great landing spot for Ryan Miller as it offers an in between in terms of shots against per game. Miller faced a ton of rubber in Buffalo and was expected to be great every night. In St. Louis he actually had a great start winning seven of his first eight games, but the Blues style of play (and elite defensemen) meant Miller only facing 25-30 shots per game – and he didn’t adjust. In Vancouver Miller will be busier but not like he was in Buffalo. This could work out perfectly for Miller owners as Bieksa, Tanev, Hamhuis and Edler lead a solid blue line and Miller would likely face 30-40 shots per game...Sticking with the crease in Vancouver, wouldn’t a place like Colorado be a great fit for Jacob Markstrom. The confidence he would gain as a back up on a good team could help him live up to his potential as a great goalie. Regardless, Markstrom will be either traded or claimed off the waiver wire once he is sent down after training camp...And finally, will Radim Vrbata be a great fit on the Sedin line? If so we could see 65 points, if not we might see 50 points at most as there isn’t much secondary talent around Vancouver these days.
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