As keeper league hockey pools increase in number each year, fantasy junkies become more active in the off-season as they prepare their team for the coming year. Rebuild? Retool? Tweak? Whatever your intentions, it helps to get all the information you can about your players.
Throughout the off-season, FPL will look at a pair of teams each week and give you the fantasy lowdown. Bucking the trend of past years, we will review alphabetically – in reverse. Just to be different.
(Originally posted by The Hockey News, ESPN.com and MSN.ca)
Gone – Brett McLean, Patrice Brisebois, Ken Klee.
Arriving – Jaroslav Hlinka, Scott Hannan, Ryan Smyth.
Looking to Add - The team is all set for training camp. Goaltender certainty would be nice, but Avs fans are used to the Peter Budaj/Jose Theodore situation by now.
Ready for full-time - Hlinka, an offensive star in the Czech League last season, will slide onto the third line nicely. He will also keep Marek Svatos honest in that if the youngster slips again this year, Hlinka will take his spot on the second line (as well as his power play time). T.J. Hensick is also ready for the big time, but the roster is looking pretty full up front and he may be better spent with a year in the American League. The diminutive pivot dominated the college ranks for the past four seasons.
Fantasy Outlook - The Avs will have a competitive team this season, much like they did in the second half of their last campaign. The team has a nice blend of youth and experience. The goaltending is still unproven, although Budaj is showing signs of good things to come. The defense is a little questionable – especially for the power play. Keep in mind that Jordan Leopold has had a lot of injury problems over the last year or two, while John-Michael Liles spent last season in and out of the doghouse. There are a few prospects in the system that have some decent offensive upside, but nothing like Hensick.
Fantasy Grade: B- (last year was C+)
Gone – Radim Vrbata, Denis Arkhipov, Jeff Hamilton, Nikita Alexeev, Tony Salmelainen, Adrian Aucoin, Peter Bondra, Michal Handzus, Michal Holmqvist and Martin St-Pierre.
Arriving – Sergei Samsonov, Robert Lang, Yanic Perreault, Andrei Zyuzin.
Looking to Add - The Blackhawks still need more experience on the blueline, but all in all this team is much improved over last season.
Ready for full-time - Chicago is already rolling out the red carpet towards center ice where Jonathan Toews is expected to step onto the first line. The two-way forward has high-end offensive skills and will contend for the Calder Trophy. His spot on the roster is assured. Speedy winger (and No.1 overall pick in 2007) Patrick Kane is not a lock to make this team in the fall, but he’s pretty darn close. The Hawks envision Kane and Toews being linemates for years to come, but for this first season the former may be brought along slowly on the second or third line. Right winger Jack Skille may also be ready to crack the roster, but with Chicago’s (newfound) depth he may have to apprentice another year in the AHL. Incidentally, in his AHL debut last season after his college season ended, Skille tallied four goals and eight points in nine contests – impressive.
Fantasy Outlook - For the first time in many years, I can finally recommend Chicago players as a ‘buy’ if you are rebuilding your fantasy squad. This team is on the right track. They may not get into the playoffs this season, but they are close and it won’t be long until they’re in. Their farm system is chock-full of potential stars, too.
Fantasy Grade: B (last year was D-)
Gone – Anson Carter, Josef Vasicek, Andrew Hutchinson, David Tanabe.
Arriving – Matt Cullen and Jeff Hamilton.
Looking to Add - For the second straight September, the ‘Canes are keeping theirs eyes open for a power-play quarterback. Frantisek Kaberle reportedly injured his knee while playing in the Czech Republic this past weekend and underwent surgery. This will be his second consecutive missed training camp. He is expected back in mid-October. With Hutchinson traded away, Anton Babchuk off to Russia, David Tanabe a free agent and Brett Hedican having big question marks with his hip, the Canes have gone from too many to too few.
Ready for full-time - Unless a prospect comes from out of nowhere, none of them are ready to make the jump this fall.
Fantasy Outlook - A decent NHL lineup from a fantasy standpoint (and in reality), the Canes are one of the weakest teams in terms of their pipeline. Experts are mixed on Carolina. Some feel they will win the division, others feel they will repeat what they did last year. They have two elite offensive lines and a decent third line, but no offense from the defense. For every ‘plus’ there seems to be a ‘minus.’ This outlook is nowhere near as rosy as it was last summer coming off a Cup win.
Fantasy Grade: C (last year was A)