Austin Wallace checks in with a comprehensive update on his fantasy hockey offseason
I am two years into a full-on rebuild in a complicated fantasy hockey league, but the end is within sight. Two years ago, I took over a struggling franchise, which you can read about here, and tore it down. I have built from the ground up, after having inherited a team without goalies in a league where goalies are at a premium. I am now ready to make the final transition and set my sights on a championship.
To some, this final transition to contention is the most difficult thing to do in fantasy hockey. Often, if not always, it involves trading the young players you worked hard to gain and develop for older players, even when you know that the player you traded will be the better of the two within two or three years.
All poolies have a certain style of constructing and managing a roster, and many have a certain bias towards one strategy or one class of player over another. You can find droves of managers that are willing to go for the win each and every year, and who will trade a long term asset for that “final piece”. Less common is the other end of the spectrum: those managers who will continue rebuilding eternally, and who think that because they have a talented young roster they are guaranteed league championships year after year. What is rare though, is a manager that can seamlessly switch between the two mindsets; someone who will sit on a Detroit prospect for what feels like forever, then trade him just as he is establishing himself in the NHL for a multi-category aging veteran. This is what I am struggling with right now.
I have invested a lot of time and effort into acquiring the right young players for a successful rebuild in my league. These are players that I can keep in the farm, but will be valuable producers by the time they play 92 games in the league (our limit before they have to be brought up). They can be the superstar prospects (Yakupov and Huberdeau), those raised by Detroit or the Detroit model (Tatar, Smith and Nyquist), or players otherwise ready to make an immediate impact. The best example on my farm, and maybe in recent history, is Washington prospect Evgeni Kuznetsov.
I acquired him for far below market value, knowing that he would not arrive to the NHL for a while... But once he does, he will quickly become a highly producing top six forward on a good team while still on his ELC. That type of immediate impact and production is invaluable in all salary cap leagues, especially during a rebuild.
While I have certainly made strides, my team still has glaring holes and imbalances, just like most other teams at this point in a rebuild. To really put my team in a position to contend, it is necessary for me to swing my internal balance closer to a “win now” mode. Does this mean that I will trade a bunch of top prospects for an aging, overpaid goaltender? No. Will I trade an elite prospect for an impact player? Yes.
Before I begin to analyze my team and the direction I intend to pursue, take a glance at my team, pictured below:
A more in depth look at my team (you will have to zoom in): http://goo.gl/vxxV0
The league spreadsheet: http://goo.gl/XIb94
The rulebook: http://goo.gl/OZ3Ss
Note: After writing this, I went back to the first article, and I put the incorrect pdf link to my team. Oops! Here is the team I inherited two years ago: http://goo.gl/uh0sH
Since the first part of this series, one of the most interesting events in my league has come and gone. RFA Bidding. During this week-long process, every player on a varsity roster with a contract ending in RFA status this year is put into a three round (from most to least valuable) silent auction. Bids are similarly to the NHL, a team bids with a “signing bonus” and the original team can either match or release. If matched, the team pays the signing bonus in the first year (or spreads it out over two-three years) and keeps the player until the end of their next contract. If released, the bidding team has the same signing bonus and also pays compensation (in cap space or picks) to the original team based on the size of the signing bonus.vAs this is a rare mechanism for a league to have, I will skip any more in depth analysis and simply list the end results.
Price: $2.501 million added to the first year of his contract. 4th overall re-entry pick, the 18th overall re-entry pick and $1 million in cap was paid to the original owner.
I have significant holes on defense, and acquiring young, top, defensemen ususally costs more than what I paid. For a bit of reference, the 3rd-5th picks in the last two drafts have netted Stewart-Selanne-O’Brien in 2012 and Markov-Marc Staal-Roloson in 2011. Some useful players but no deal-breakers. His contract was uncertain at the time, which is probably the only reason I was able to acquire him. With him, I was able to fill a long term need and will have him for six years, five of which will be below market value for a defenseman of his caliber.
Also bid on:
Braden Holtby in the top tier. Roman Josi, Jonathan Bernier and Travis Hamonic in tier two. Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Henrique in tier three.
With my bids, I tried to go for attainable defensemen and goaltenders, unfortunately either others outbid me or the bids were matched. Both Bernier and Holtby received bids much higher than mine (which were matched before Bernier got traded). Josi and Hamonic, when added to Voynov, would have turned my defense core into a strength rather than a weakness in under a week. Josi has an amazing opportunity long term on a top pairing with Weber while Hamonic will provide value in hits and shots until his offense catches up on an up-and-coming Islanders team. Clutterbuck again adds hits, a category where I was last in the league. Henrique is at a bit of an odd buy low position as he quietly produced while his opportunities are only going to get better and better in New Jersey.
I was fortunate to not be on the receiving end of any outrageous bids and was able to keep all my players!
Bid: 1.5 million
Offered compensation: 26th overall re-entry pick (Jonathan Ericsson picked 26th in 2011, Scott Clemmensen picked 25th in 2012 [26th pick unused in 2012])
The bid on Bobrovsky was relatively paltry, and I matched it immediately. Bobrovsky is an elite, or at least very good, goalie in this league. Now, if we could only be sure that he will be a goalie in this league next year!
Bid: $2.5 million
Offered compensation: $4 million in 2013
This was easily the toughest decision of this year’s RFA period.
Hodgson really didn’t drive the play at all last year and I think he is a great sell high candidate going forward. Last year, he played about two thirds of his time with Thomas Vanek, one third without. He scored 18 of his 22 points with Vanek, 4 without. I don’t always use advanced stats but it is pretty clear Hodgson isn’t a first line center without Vanek.
Four million is a pretty good compensation but 2.5 million is a manageable amount to pay for that level of center. On the other hand, I do have a wealth of center eligible players in Stepan, Huberdeau, Gagne, Brassard, Kane (at least this past season on Yahoo), and Kreider. Hodgson does produce points and shots, but he isn’t exactly a multi-cat stud.
This choice was really between thinking Hodgson will grow into his role, producing at an even higher rate and dominating on the powerplay, or he/Vanek will end up being replaced on the first line and Hodgson “regressing”. In the end, I decided the compensation wasn’t enough, and I believe I can trade Hodgson or another center for a higher value later this summer or into the season. So I matched the bid. This could end up being a mistake later down the line if players like Bobrovsky and Gagne get larger than expected contracts.
Bid: $1 million
Offered compensation: 28th overall re-entry pick
After I finished writing this, Kindl was signed to a four year deal at $2.4 million a year which is a bit higher than projected but nothing major. As an owner in this format, I love the term as well.
Among Detroit faithful, Kindl is considered their second best offensive defensemen right now (behind Kronwall) and many believe that he will be giving the role of top PPQB to let Kronwall focus on his other duties. In addition to his great spot in Detroit, the 28th overall pick has very little value. The 28-30th picks of the re-entry draft turned up Jaromir Jagr, Karl Alzner and Kris Russell in 2012 and James Wisniewski, Drew Stafford and Jordan Leopold in 2012. Jagr was the only “hit” and none of them are currently owned, either due to a short contract or a lack of production.
Now that RFA bidding is done, the season is officially over and I can begin to take a long look at where I am going with my team and how I am going to get there.
I will close out this segment with the beginning of that process, evaluating my team. I will try to explain what I think their trajectory looks like and why they, or similar players, can propel a team through a rebuild.
I have a quality forward core led by Kane just winning the Conn Smythe, Nash now under a new, offensive-enabling (at least for his top line) coach, and Voracek on a ridiculously good contract. I was able to build around Kane and Nash and in all but the most extreme circumstances, the team you begin your rebuild with will have one or two really good players to build around. I am sure you can remember, even recently, Voracek being lamented for his untapped potential and how his development seemed to have stalled. I didn't have access to any extra information, but I saw a big winger with all the pieces, and no reason not to dominate in a few years. If you can look around the league and find a player that should eventually be great, acquire him and wait a couple of years. You will be rewarded more often than not.
Especially if Richards is cut loose, I am confident that at least one of Brassard and Stepan will be given the "Sedin-treatment" by Vigneault and the points can't help but follow.
There are rumours that Gagne could be dealt, but if he stays in Edmonton I like his spot. Being an offensive second line center on a team with that much talent is a recipe for success. Here is to hoping that the reports of him declining a 4.5 million dollar a year deal are overblown!
Like Gagne, Yakupov should be a big part of Edmonton’s offense going forward. The first overall pick showed why he has garnered so much hype, and should be able to establish himself as a constant threat in the NHL over the next year or two.
Huberdeau just won the Calder, and while none of my rookies are guaranteed to improve in the short term, I am confident the second overall pick will be a fantasy star in relatively little time. Over the past number of years, forwards taken first or second overall have generally done very well in their second years and I have seen few warning signs of any sort from Jonathan.
Nyqvist and Tatar will hopefully take the next step and establish themselves as scorers at the NHL level, and should be immensely valuable on their dirt-cheap ELC. The bonus of the Detroit system, as I outlined earlier, is that by the time their prospects play in the NHL, they are ready to produce.
Coyle is a young player that should add some grit to my group while playing with some really good linemates in Minnesota. As a team with a need for hits, having someone like him on an ELC is a real bonus. He averaged over two hits a game these playoffs. Even with his contributions, I might need to channel my inner Toronto GM and Brian Burke my way to Truculence. I need to go Nonis a Bernier!
Two players I am not counting on for this year are Kreider and Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov could be all-world if he isn't already, and Kreider has already flashed his tantalizing potential. Unless something unexpected happens, I think both will be on the farm for the vast majority of the year.
An asset I happily scooped up from the free agent pool last year was Mats Zuccarello. I was able to get him just as the rumours of his return started to surface. His offensive talent could potentially thrive in a cushiony offensive role thanks to Vigneault. If things don’t look great from the outset, I can store him on my junior roster for the first quarter of the season or so. I'm not counting on production, but the ceiling is high.
If you have a deep enough farm, or can sacrifice a roster spot for a week during a rebuild, try to pick these guys up. As soon as you hear names like Soderberg or Zuccarello pop up and hear they have offensive talent, pick them up in favour of that guy who might make it as a third line center. At worst, you can drop him later but often you will uncover gems. Getting free talent like that is an incredible advantage in competitive leagues.
I actually think that enough of my young forwards could take steps forward this year for me to be close to the league lead in goals and assists. It seems natural, with them being forwards and all, that it should progress that way, but there are often a number of sideways and even backwards steps before you get there. I am also aware that it could go the entirely opposite way, and this year could become a trainwreck fairly easily with some regressions, trades, injuries and extravagant deals.
Karlsson might be the most valuable player on my roster, and with a full summer to rest up, I hope he can get back to his Norris winning ways. There isn't much I can tell you about this guy that you don't already know, but I will remind you that he was nowhere near this value even two years ago. The next Green, the next Karlsson is out there.
Ehrhoff is someone I was able to pick up last year with his ridiculous salary. Starting this year, we are switching to a cap-hit system and I can certainly stomach 4 million for a powerplay quarterback.
Voynov is expensive when you consider his bonus, but will be a cornerstone for my team in the years to come. He produced at a 40 point pace, and with Doughty being a star defender, Voynov should be able to avoid the defensification that often happens to young talented players.
While Jakub Kindl isn’t a flashy name (any more), he has quietly put up decent stats across the board. From shots to hits to powerplay time, I expect his production to increase as he grows in Detroit.
Brendan Smith is a flashy name right now, though a bit behind Kindl in the Detroit development curve. Smith seems to be prone to making rookie mistakes (a rookie making rookie mistakes?!), but has massive potential across most categories.
Alec Martinez is an interesting player that I was hoping could take the next step in time for my contention, but he seems destined to spend another year or two on the bottom pairing in LA.
Jamie McBain is another interesting defender. He has significant defensive holes and his underlying numbers were completely awful this year, especially when given tougher competition. That being said, he does have quite a bit of offensive talent and hopefully will be able to maintain a spot on the power play. I will likely keep him on the roster to begin the year, but both he and Martinez are candidates for replacement.
While I like many of my prospect defenseman, notably Beaulieu and Oulette along with Corrado and Sustr, I don’t see any of them making an impact this year.
My goaltending situation is not quite as bleak as when I began, but one could still call it atrocious without much in the way of argument for me.
On one hand, I have a goalie that will either be severely overpaid for one season as a starter, and two others that will be backups at best this year.
On the other hand, I have the reigning Vezina winner and two of the top five goaltending prospects in hockey.
Whichever way you look at it, I will certainly need at least one, if not two, stopgaps until Lack and Lehner establish themselvesas starters. I would expand more, but I am in discussions right now for one of those exact players!
Altogether, with the right moves, I should be able to give myself a shot at contention this year and winning for years to come.
Next time, I'll focus less on my team and more on specific players to target at different stages of a rebuild and how to take advantage of your situation and the unique opportunities that arise from a rebuild.