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Fantasy hockey impact from 2021 NHL free agency

Now that the dust has settled on a frenzied stretch of free-agent signings and steady flurry of offseason trades, let’s take a preliminary view of some new faces in new places through the fantasy-focussed lens. With the goalie carousel operating full-tilt in overdrive this week, that’s a good place to start.

For a more comprehensive tour of free-agent signings and other transactions, check out ESPN’s full coverage here. And stay tuned for more in-depth fantasy content in the coming weeks.


Goalies

Philipp Grubauer, G, Seattle Kraken: Move over Chris Driedger, the Kraken have settled on another No. 1 netminder altogether. After backstopping the Avalanche to the second most wins in 2020-21 and putting himself into the Vezina conversation, Grubauer chose to abandon a legit Stanley Cup contender for Seattle’s brand new franchise. And while there’s appeal in taking on the challenge of building from the ground up, his fantasy stock is going to tumble. After winning 77% of the games he started for Colorado in 2020-21, Grubauer isn’t inching anywhere near that number in his new digs. While the club is built defensively robust – they’ll be tough to score against – there isn’t enough prowess in terms of putting the puck in the net. Some suggest the Kraken are a playoff bubble team as currently assembled. I’m not convinced. And that bumps Grubauer well out of the fantasy top-15 bubble. He’ll play plenty but the victories won’t come often enough.

Frederik Andersen, G, Carolina Hurricanes: He’s healthy and out from under the blinding spotlight in Toronto. For those reasons alone, Andersen is again worth serious fantasy consideration as a No. 1 netminder. This is a good Hurricanes team with one of the better defensive corps in the league (they’ll miss Dougie Hamilton’s puck-moving skills but will benefit from the additions of Ethan Bear and Ian Cole). Slated to play a lot more than backup Antti Raanta (also new), Andersen is going to stop a bunch of pucks and win a bunch games. This past season was anomalously injury-riddled and weird. Disregard it.

Petr Mrazek, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: The former Carolina/Detroit netminder inherits Andersen’s former role in working in tandem with Jack Campbell in Toronto. It takes a special person to withstand the ridiculous pressure of serving as a Maple Leaf. (I live here. It’s dumb. Trust me.) I’m not sure if Mrazek is that person or not. Campbell seems to manage well enough. So, between the two I have more faith in the guy who stood on his head wearing the Blue and White, and endured the media attention, just months ago. Until one of them runs with the gig, which isn’t out of the question. I’m altogether looking elsewhere on fantasy draft day though, at least until later rounds.

Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Detroit Red Wings: This is a tough one. Small sample size, sure, but Nedeljkovic still presents as a gifted and skilled NHL goaltender capable of shouldering a heavy workload. No 20-plus gamer bettered his league-leading 1.90 GAA and .932 SV% for Carolina in 2020-21. But the rebuilding Red Wings remain a ways from winning more games than they lose. Thomas Greiss ain’t no slouch either and he only won eight of 34 appearances this past season. Anyone starting in Detroit’s crease should be avoided in fantasy leagues where victories carry significant weight. For now.

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Chicago Blackhawks: If he doesn’t retire, the reigning Vezina winner will serve as the everyday starting netminder for an improved (now including Seth Jones etc.) Chicago club. But after getting the rude and unexpected boot from Vegas, the 36-year-old could very well decide to hang up the pads. Fellow Blackhawks goalie Kevin Lankinen is probably more interested in how this plays out than anyone else. Stay tuned.

Elsewhere: Darcy Kuemper is the new starting goalie for the Colorado Avalanche, which is great for invested dynasty managers. The former Coyote is a bona fide top-tier fantasy netminder. … Carter Hutton takes over the gig in Arizona which sports significantly less fantasy promise. … At present, freshly-signed Linus Ullmark is the starting netminder for the Boston Bruins, with Jeremy Swayman pegged as backup. At least until Tuukka Rask returns halfway through the season for one last kick at the Stanley Cup can. No guarantee this is how it plays out but the possibility tarnishes Ullmark’s fantasy value to a degree. … Jaroslav Halak is completely capable of stealing starts from Thatcher Demko in Vancouver if the latter struggles at all. Halak was terrific his two previous seasons in Boston before taking a small step back earlier this year. He’s also proven himself with four other NHL teams dating back to 2006. … James Reimer is earning another go in San Jose after sparkling in only eight games back in 2016. Talk about your fantasy wildcards. We’ll finally find out if Martin Jones was truly bad or more a victim of the collective out front of the crease. … Speaking of which, Jones is positioned to serve as backup to starter Carter Hart – who’s due to rebound robustly in 2021-22. … David Rittich is inked to back up Juuse Saros in Nashville, which could matter if Saros stumbles.

Forwards

Zach Hyman, F, Edmonton Oilers: The beloved ex-Leaf tallied 70 points in 94 games over the past two seasons, 36 of them goals, largely playing on Auston Matthews’ wing. Now Hyman is about to earn a shot at joining a line with Connor McDavid, hardly a demotion in the NHL’s grand scheme. If all goes well – and the Oilers are betting $38.5 million over the next seven years it – the heavy-playing, gritty forward should enjoy the best production numbers of his career. Especially if he gets a turn on the top powerplay unit in the league. Don’t rule it out. And if not, the perennially underrated fantasy asset will still steadily serve as a dependable scoring commodity in deeper leagues.

Jaden Schwartz, F, Seattle Kraken: Otherwise assembled as a tough-to-play against consortium lacking obvious productive flash, the Kraken now have someone to score! That’s important. Perpetually tucked on a Blues’ squad riddled in depth, Schwartz never achieved his full perceived potential of hitting the 30-goal or point/game mark (despite coming somewhat close). But many are convinced he has it in him and now gets to shine as the guy. The Kraken aren’t going to score a ton in their inaugural season, but on a top line and power play with Jordan Eberle and either Yanni Gourde or fellow signee Alex Wennberg – who could also use another fresh start – Schwartz will enjoy his healthy share. The 29-year-old presents as a possible mid-round steal in most fantasy drafts.

Sam Reinhart, F, Florida Panthers: I like this move a lot for the Panthers, Reinhart’s invested keeper-league managers, and the player himself. Traded from the Sabres to Florida, Reinhart could be on the cusp of a career year, whether he skates on a line with Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Huberdeau. Reinhart scored 25 goals and 15 assists with an uninspired Buffalo squad this past disastrous season. Imagine what he could do, in his prime at 25 years old, with a much-improved supporting cast. Thirty goals and 40 assists, easy.

Mike Hoffman, F, Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens have a new top-scoring winger in the former Senator/Panther (let’s forget for now about the recent turn in St. Louis where things didn’t jive as well) to fill in on their No. 1 line and power play. Ranking sixth in power-play production with 35 points only two years, Hoffman will make Montreal’s top unit – including Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and defenseman Jeff Petry – better all around. I’d like to see him line up with Jonathan Drouin at even-strength, but we’ll see how coach Dominique Ducharme shuffles bodies around in training camp. At his finest, Hoffman is a 70-point producer paying out extra fantasy dividends in leagues that reward production with the extra skater.

Cam Atkinson, F, Philadelphia Flyers: It will be interesting to see where the long-time Blue Jacket ultimately lands in the Flyers’ lineup, but within the top-six is nearly a given. And enjoying those quality minutes with a club more prone to scoring than the one he left in Columbus – 3.10 goals/game over the past two seasons versus 2.49 – along with a spot on the power play, Atkinson should again flirt with the 30-goal mark (the 41 scored in 2018-19 is too much for the asking). Having fallen off many a fantasy radar in the past two years, this guy should serve as a later-round steal amongst managers who aren’t paying close attention. Especially in leagues that reward goals at premium.

Conor Garland/Oliver Ekman-Larsson, F/D, Vancouver Canucks: Acquired via Arizona trade with Ekman-Larsson, Garland projects to slot in on either wing adjacent center Bo Horvat – or even top pivot Elias Pettersson if Brock Boeser or J.T. Miller fall hurt) – to launch his new pro chapter. On a productive incline since his NHL debut in 2018-19, the Massachusetts native averaged 0.8 points/game this past season, the highest rate of all Coyotes. Garland could mildly improve on that rate alongside such a consistent presence like Horvat, who will duly benefit from his new linemate’s company. Ekman-Larsson is slated for second-pair/secondary power-play duty behind Quinn Hughes and should be counted on for 35-40 points in a full 82-game campaign. Still fantasy-worthy in most leagues.

Elsewhere: Former Montreal center Phillip Danault drops off the fantasy landscape in leaving his top-line gig for a depth role in Los Angeles. He won’t score much playing behind Anze Kopitar, Quinton Byfield, Gabriel Vilardi, etc. Great signing for the Kings though. … Look for Evgenii Dadonov to fight for a top-six role in Vegas and look out if he succeeds. Dadonov potted 70 points in Florida not long ago in 2018-19. Nolan Patrick is also earning a fresh start with the Golden Knights. … On the subject of clean slates, Viktor Arvidsson gets one in Los Angeles and I’m curious to see where he slides into the lineup. Unlike Danault, he could skate in the top-six. After a series of successful campaigns in Nashville, his production dried right up these past two seasons. … Pavel Buchnevich should near the 65-point mark as a top-six forward in St. Louis. His 48 points in 54 games with the Rangers was no fluke. … Winger Jakub Voracek is back in Columbus which should result in a minor drop in personal production. … If the Bruins don’t re-sign David Krejci, newbie Nick Foligno could serve as their second-line center. … Brandon Saad could serve as a modest fantasy asset in a top-six role with the Blues, if that’s how it shakes out. However — running sizzling hot or icy cold — the perennially inconsistent winger has yet to crack the 60-point mark. Look elsewhere unless he unexpectedly steals a super-juicy role in camp.

Defenders

Dougie Hamilton, D, New Jersey Devils: Hamilton is going to shoot a ton and put up points wherever he plays – that’s not my biggest fantasy-related takeaway with this signing. That he’ll make a lousy New Jersey power play – including forwards Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes – better is what interests me most. Hamilton tied Vincent Trocheck and Sebastian Aho for most power-play points with 18 in 2020-21. The puck-moving D-man will also provide an all around scoring boost at even-strength. Dynasty managers invested in any Devils forwards should be happy with this signing.

Seth Jones, D, Chicago Blackhawks: One of the league’s best all-around blueliners most recently finished fourth in scoring on a Blue Jackets team that ranked 29th in the league overall. Now he gets to share the ice at even-strength and with the extra skater with the likes of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Look for Jones to finish as high as Top-10 in blue-line scoring this season while averaging more than 25 minutes/game. There aren’t too many defensemen I would select before the new member of the Blackhawks this fantasy campaign.

Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Arizona Coyotes: Needing a fresh start, Gostisbehere is turning the page after six full seasons in Philadelphia. In his prime at 28, the offensive-minded defenseman is tasked in Arizona with moving the puck and generating scoring from the back end. After a horrendous injury-riddled campaign in 2019-20, Gostisbehere looked more himself this pandemic-shortened season. The 65-point showing from three years ago isn’t to be seen again, but a wholly respectable 40-point campaign is well within reach. With a good number of points coming on the power play. Draft him accordingly.

Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ blue line has a bold new look, thanks to trades for Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, and the signing of Keith Yandle. Of the three newbies, the former long-time Predator appeals most, fantasy-wise, as projected top-pair partner to Ivan Provorov and participant on the power play. However, even though Provorov and Ellis present as solid A and B options should Philly continue to roll out the 4-1 assembly with the extra skater, Ristolainen can’t be ruled out for the gig either. The ex-Sabre was a solid 40-plus-point producer up until two seasons ago. Have a look at how it all unfolds in camp. Also, ensure that Ellis – who has been racked by a variety of injuries in recent years – is feeling healthy and fit.

Ryan Suter, D, Dallas Stars: While the veteran defenseman is bound to pot points as top-pair partner to Miro Heiskanen his productive ceiling is otherwise limited. Suter’s finer fantasy days are behind him as the Stars have Heiskanen and John Klingberg to run their power play. At this stage, the career 600-plus-point blueliner only merits rostering in deeper conventional fantasy leagues.

Elsewhere: Veteran Alex Edler could earn a sniff of power-play time in L.A. behind Drew Doughty, rendering the veteran slightly valuable in super-deep fantasy competition. … Fellow greybeard Alex Goligoski might be worth monitoring, depending on how he fits into Minnesota’s scheme. A top-four role alongside Jared Spurgeon and tours on a secondary power play could result in a fair number of points. But I’m not convinced the special teams’ role is in play with Spurgeon and Matt Dumba on scene.

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