Hossa, Gomez and more switch places
When you look at NHL news the week following July 1, you can't help but wonder if you accidentally stumbled into your fantasy league transaction wire instead. Big names, big contracts, big trades and big changes occur whenever the free-agent floodgates are opened in the NHL, and we have seen some major changes so far.
The headline: Makeover in Montreal
The news: The Canadiens have already brought in the pieces to form a brand new No. 1 line, and more moves could be on the way. The trade for Scott Gomez and free-agent signings of Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta certainly highlight the new faces.
The fantasy impact: The best news for fantasy owners here is that potential 80-point man Gomez is out of New York, where he never managed to settle in with the Rangers. Even more promising is the addition of Gionta, who was Gomez's linemate when each of them had their career season in 2005-06. If they can recoup even a bit of the chemistry they had in New Jersey, the Habs' power play is already shaping up. Add in power-play specialist Cammalleri and they really do have a good thing going. Treat Gomez as a potential No. 1 center in Montreal, but toward the lower end of the tier. Gionta has to be approached as a 55-point/20-goal winger, but realize there is significant sleeper value if you can take him near the beginning of that large group. Cammalleri is not going to be better than a point per game in Montreal as he was last year with Jarome Iginla, but 30 goals and 60 points is a reasonable basement. Given the fact many of those goals will come on the power play, Cammalleri has to be considered among the second tier of wingers.
The headline: Kovalev to haunt Habs in Ottawa
The news: After being the leader in Montreal for the past couple of years, Alexei Kovalev heads slightly east to his new home in Ottawa on a two-year deal; where he gets to play Montreal six times a season.
The fantasy impact: Using a softer term for Kovalev, he's a "mercurial" superstar no doubt, but his impact in Ottawa depends on something other than just how motivated he will be. If Dany Heatley is moved, as expected, Kovalev is going to replace him on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza and may flirt with 80 points again. But should Heatley remain a Senator, it's too soon to tell exactly how the lines would shake out. For now, approach Kovalev as if he is a 65-point winger, but should the pieces fall into place over the rest of the summer, he may be upgraded as fantasy drafts approach. Should Heatley remain, we may also have to look at an upgrade to Mike Fisher, Nick Foligno or whoever else gets to make up the top six in Ottawa.
The headline: Hossa signs with Hawks
The news: After seeking (and not finding) a Stanley Cup with a discounted contract in Detroit, Marian Hossa inks a 12-year contract that means Chicago is likely his final hockey destination.
The fantasy impact: There is no doubt that Hossa is a point-per-game player and a terrific fantasy asset, but there is some question as to whether he can be close to a 100-point player and an exceptional fantasy asset. He was a bit hampered by Detroit's strong focus on defensive hockey last season, and the reins should be loosened somewhat as a Blackhawk, but with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews remaining focal points on offense it's still difficult to envision Hossa in his Thrashers prime. I'm going conservative on Hossa for the second consecutive year, and don't expect much more than 75-80 points on the Hawks, but that basement expectation still makes him a No. 1 right winger.
The headline: Gaborik to play on Broadway
The news: After another season lost to injury, Marian Gaborik is finally packing his bags and leaving Minnesota. He signed a five-year deal with the Rangers to be their offensive catalyst.
The fantasy impact: As always with Gaborik, he will no doubt score at a pace better than a point per game, but just how many games he plays is in question. A much publicized switch in offseason training helped him have his career-best season with 83 points in 77 games in 2007-08, but more problems with his groin and hip last year have to make us question whether he really did turn a corner on his health. Gabby is one of the boom or bust picks of the draft that becomes tantalizing after the clear-cut superstars are off the board. It's up to you whether you want to shoulder that risk, but personally, I'm staying away.
The headline: Havlat heads to Wild
The news: Minnesota quickly replaced Marian Gaborik with a similarly skilled and similarly troubled sniper in Martin Havlat. Although Havlat is coming off the first completely healthy season of his career with Chicago, the Wild will likely be holding their breath with him over the next six years as they did with Gaborik over the past eight.
The fantasy impact: As was long expected, Havlat's first full campaign resulted in him scoring nearly a point per game (77 points in 81 games), but he is still the same player who averaged 36 games a season over the previous three seasons. Still, a lot of his past troubles have been shoulder related, and he has had that surgically repaired. It does make him a bit more vulnerable to being injured in the same way, but he'll be perfectly healthy otherwise. Also working in Havlat's favor is the fact he immediately becomes to top offensive star in Minnesota, something he was not in Chicago. If you are willing to let bygones be bygones with Havlat's injury woes, selecting him as a 75-point winger could net you much more in return. If you won't join me on the Havlat train, simply approach him in the same fashion you would Gaborik; as a high-risk, high-return investment.
The headline: Khabibulin to Oilers, Roloson to Isles
The fantasy impact: The biggest news here is what's left over in the negative space. Cristobal Huet has no one to contend with for the No. 1 job on a Stanley Cup contender. The Hawks certainly anticipated him as the No. 1 when they signed him last season, but Khabibulin was too good for Huet to ever emerge as the starter. Now the team is all Huet's, and he has a heck of a lot to prove. His spectacular finish with Washington after the 2007-08 trade deadline is now on the back pages of fantasy owners' memory banks, so he may come with quite a discount this season but with upside to spare. He has the talent to excel in this role, but a large part of being a goaltender is the mental grind of a whole season in net. We don't know if Huet can handle that yet, so consider him a sleeper after some of the sure-thing goaltenders are scooped up. Roloson can likely be considered an afterthought in shallow fantasy leagues, as DiPietro will start when healthy, but he may not be a bad end-of-the-draft choice in deeper leagues as we know DiPietro has a bit of a recent history with injuries. Khabibulin will immediately become a full-time starter, though, and likely see upward of 55 or 60 games in the Oilers' net. The 'Bulin Wall posted stellar numbers in the face of trade rumors and doubt in Chicago last season (2.33 goals-against average, 25 wins in 42 games), but these Oilers are not the Blackhawks. An increase of 20 games played for Khabibulin in Edmonton might only bring an increase of five wins from his numbers last season. He needs the right team in front of him to be a fantasy star, and this Oilers' team still looks a little green to be the crutch he needs. Approach the 'Bulin Wall with caution.
The headline: Smyth is a King
The news: The Avalanche continue their rebuilding by shipping Ryan Smyth to the Kings for some offensive-minded defensemen. Smyth joins a Kings roster that could be on the verge of some good things.
The fantasy impact: Smyth's value comes down to whether he can outduel Alexander Frolov for the right to line up with Anze Kopitar, or whether he plays a secondary scoring role with former teammate Jarret Stoll. You can lock Smyth in for 50 points, but whether he has the ability to approach 70 depends on his role with the club. I'm leaning more toward the secondary scoring role for him, and am considering him just another face in the crowd of 50-point wingers.
The headline: Bouwmeester joins Phaneuf in Calgary
The news: The Flames capitalized on their last-second rights acquisition with Jay Bouwmeester and locked him up for five years. I know it seems like he's been around forever, but Bouwmeey may be just hitting his stride and now he gets to team up on the blue line with the most complementary player in the league for his skill set. Dion Phaneuf and Bouwmeester may just be a match made in hockey heaven.
The fantasy impact: Forget the 45 or so points Bouwmeester consistently managed as a Panther and immediately chalk him up for 60 on this Flames team. A power play that will consist of Calgary stalwarts Jarome Iginla and Phaneuf, in addition to Bouwmeester's longtime cohort in Florida, Olli Jokinen, almost has me salivating at his fantasy potential. Power play aside, Bouwmeester may even team up with Phaneuf as the two are the yin and yang of defense on paper; a smooth-skating, efficient puck handler and a staunch defender with a propensity for manifesting himself as a transport truck. This looks like the perfect place for Bouwmeester to set up shop for fantasy owners.
The headline: Antropov to Atlanta
The news: After a brief stint as a Ranger, Nik Antropov signs on to become the Thrashers' No. 1 center.
The fantasy impact: At times, Antropov has looked like a legitimate No. 1 center in the NHL and at other times he has looked like a checking line winger. The Thrashers are taking a bit of a risk with him as their likely centerman for Ilya Kovalchuk. Although Antropov thrived for some seasons with Mats Sundin on his line, Sundin is a different beast than the shoot-first, ask-questions-later Kovalchuk. There is absolutely no surety that Antropov gets first-line duties with Atlanta, though, so tread carefully until we know he is going to get minutes. Rich Peverley, Todd White, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Bryan Little all deserve some respect for their strong numbers last season.
The headline: Knuble new wingman in Washington
The news: Running a little low on salary cap space, the Flyers were unable to secure Mike Knuble for another season and he decided to jump to Washington.
The fantasy impact: Knuble has very quietly been a fantasy asset thanks to his moves around the net. He has six straight 20-goal seasons and four straight with double-digit power-play goals. In Washington he is assured a top-six role with either Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin on the opposite wing and could very well find himself on the team's first power-play unit. Give Knuble 30 goals this season with half of them on the power play and draft him with the knowledge that you will get at least those numbers from a relatively cheap asset.
The headline: Anderson gets opportunity in Colorado
The news: In what may seem like a minor move, the Avalanche shored up their goaltending by signing Craig Anderson to a two-year contract.
The fantasy impact: This "minor" move may have huge implications in fantasy hockey. Anderson finished third among all goaltenders last season with a .924 save percentage and was 15-7-5 on a Panthers team that missed the playoffs. Anderson will get his first chance to be a real No. 1 starter for Colorado, and though the team may be rebuilding, its defense is becoming a strong point. The Avalanche can certainly, at least, be compared to the Florida Panthers of last year in that department. Again, we know Anderson has the skill part of the equation, but whether or not he can handle the rigors of being an everyday starter is yet to be seen. I think he could excel in the role and will be gambling on him in most fantasy drafts. For the two months (November and December) when Anderson basically had the job last season, he managed a 2.15 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage and three shutouts in 16 games (13 starts).
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year award winner. You can e-mail him here.
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