A ton of deals on Tuesday and it is time to analyze the fantasy impact of some of the player movement, starting with the biggest changes (not necessarily for the better, either).
(This article was originally submitted to, and published by, The Hockey News, ESPN.com and MSN.ca on February 28.
The Ryan Smyth deal may have been the single biggest deal of the day, but no team addressed their weakness as much as the Pens did on Tuesday. This young team was winning hockey games and scoring goals, but all the experts had their doubts as to whether Pittsburgh could do it in the playoffs. They needed more veteran leadership, a stay-at-home defenseman and a bruiser to sit at the end of the bench and look mean, occasionally stepping onto the ice to defend Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Veteran leadership? It would be tough to top Gary Roberts. An enforcer? Not many tougher than Georges Laraque. Stay-at-home rearguard? How about Joel Kwiatkowski? OK, two out of three ain’t bad. This team can now cause some serious damage in the playoffs and those keeper leagues that have a playoff element suddenly value their Penguins a whole lot more. With the extra space that will be created for Crosby and Malkin, expect their production to increase down the stretch by a good 10 per cent.
Big fantasy changes here. With Ryan Smyth gone to the Island, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky are without their linemate. This will lead to Hemsky moving back to Petr Sykora’s line, which will kick the latter player back into gear. If this happens, Horcoff will fall back to his early-season doldrums. Furthermore, prospect Robert Nilsson was not going to get an NHL shot as long as Ted Nolan was the coach that he had to impress. The trade to Edmonton gives the former first-round pick a second chance. Expect him to join the big club sooner rather than later and he should wind up on a decent line to start. He could wind up being a 45-point third line player, or he could reach his potential as an 80-point player. It is really up to him.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks picked up a player last summer that they hoped would provide grit and scoring as a winger on Joe Thornton’s line. Mark Bell did not pan out, but an experienced veteran like Bill Guerin will. I expect him to get a shot on Thornton’s line either with Ryane Clowe on the left side, or they will put one of Guerin or Jonathon Cheechoo over on the left side. My money is on Ryane Clowe being taken off the big line, which will hurt his production. Bell, meanwhile, has been toiling on the third line, but that line has just improved dramatically due to the domino effect.
Detroit Red Wings
There are two scenarios here. The first scenario having no fantasy impact, as Todd Bertuzzi either does not return to full health, or he does not return to full health for very long. Let’s assume the second scenario –Bertuzzi will return to action in a week or two and play every game going forward. He will either play on a juggernaut of a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, or he will line up on the second line with Robert Lang and Kyle Calder. Regardless, you will see Daniel Cleary’s production slip, as well as perhaps Tomas Holmstrom. Cleary is out for a few weeks with a sprained knee, but when he returns he will find himself stuck on the third line.
New York Rangers
Paul Mara has had this opportunity before. The problem was, he was a teenager in Tampa on a weak team. In no place since, not Phoenix and not Boston, has Mara had the undisputed title of power-play quarterback. Karel Rachunek certainly won’t take the title from him. This is a big opportunity for Mara and he is definitely a “buy” in the fantasy world. Mara could potentially be a 55-point rearguard on this team.
The Sabres have lost a lot of forwards to injury and they paid a big price to address that need on Tuesday in order to land Dainius Zubrus. One of the more common e-mails I have been receiving come from poolies asking if Zubrus’ value just went up. To me, the answer is obvious. No way. I don’t care who he lines up with or how talented a team Buffalo is, the bottom line is Zubrus had it made in the shade on Alexander Ovechkin’s line and there is nobody in Buffalo that can offer him the same quality as a linemate. Not only will his production drop, but when these injured players start filing back into the lineup, Zubrus could very well be a healthy scratch in the playoffs. A bold statement, but who else would the team scratch? Tim Connolly? Ales Kotalik?
The change in backup goaltenders from Martin Biron to Ty Conklin is a downgrade, but obviously will only have an impact if starter Ryan Miller is hurt.
New York Islanders
They added Ryan Smyth, which may be enough to get this team into the playoffs. Smyth’s production will not increase, as he was having a productive year to begin with. From a fantasy perspective, this deal has far less significance on the Long Island side than it does in the real world.
These players have been underachieving but have a chance of turning things around on their new team: Nikita Alexeev (now with Chicago), Brad Boyes (now with St. Louis), Oleg Saprykin (now with Ottawa) all get fresh starts. Goaltender Nolan Schaefer should get a chance to become Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup in Pittsburgh next season.