Commentary

Brad Richards among impact signings

Updated: July 13, 2011, 7:00 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

The opening of free agency saw a continued trend this offseason of a high number of players changing addresses. It's safe to say that the top six for a majority of NHL teams will have a bit of a different look next season. For some (the Florida Panthers) it's a drastic change, while for others it was a matter of removing or adding just a couple of parts.

Concentrating this week on only players that have changed jerseys, I can see four distinct categories: The players that will have a huge fantasy impact on their new team, the players that will have a fantasy impact on their new team, the players that might have a fantasy impact on their new team and the players that will have no fantasy impact on their new team. Since we care little about players that have no fantasy impact, we won't be discussing them. I've broken the rest of the field into the three aforementioned categories for a bit of a closer look.

Big Impacts

Top 100 Forwards

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues in 2011-12. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Previous ranking -- from after the draft -- is indicated in parentheses.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
2. Daniel Sedin, Van (6)
3. Alex Ovechkin, Was (1)
4. Steven Stamkos, TB (4)
5. Henrik Sedin, Van (5)
6. Corey Perry, Ana (27)
7. Anze Kopitar, LA (24)
8. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (11)
9. Jonathan Toews, Chi (23)
10. Brad Richards, NYR (22)
11. Zach Parise, NJ (9)
12. Martin St. Louis, TB (30)
13. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (10)
14. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (12)
15. Bobby Ryan, Ana (31)
16. Mike Richards, LA (20)
17. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (17)
18. Ryan Kesler, Van (34)
19. Jeff Carter, Cls (14)
20. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (3)
21. David Backes, StL (83)
22. Eric Staal, Car (13)
23. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (29)
24. Dany Heatley, Min (7)
25. Alexander Semin, Was (8)
26. Rick Nash, Cls (15)
27. Patrick Marleau, SJ (21)
28. Claude Giroux, Phi (78)
29. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (25)
30. Johan Franzen, Det (26)
31. Danny Briere, Phi (55)
32. Nathan Horton, Bos (28)
33. Milan Lucic, Bos (56)
34. Joe Thornton, SJ (19)
35. Patrick Kane, Chi (16)
36. Mikko Koivu, Min (46)
37. Logan Couture, SJ (NR)
38. Andy McDonald, StL (NR)
39. Marian Hossa, Chi (35)
40. David Krejci, Bos (70)
41. Jaromir Jagr, Phi (NR)
42. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (36)
43. Chris Stewart, StL (37)
44. Patrick Sharp, Chi (49)
45. Phil Kessel, Tor (40)
46. John Tavares, NYI (38)
47. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (61)
48. Thomas Vanek, Buf (65)
49. Derek Roy, Buf (66)
50. Devin Setoguchi, Min (93)
51. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (NR)
52. Marian Gaborik, NYR (18)
53. Jeff Skinner, Car (NR)
54. Alex Burrows, Van (45)
55. Scott Hartnell, Phi (57)
56. Martin Havlat, SJ (NR)
57. Matt Duchene, Col (59)
58. Dustin Penner, LA (53)
59. James Neal, Pit (NR)
60. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (NR)
61. Jason Spezza, Ott (50)
62. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (42)
63. Paul Stastny, Col (33)
64. Michael Grabner, NYI (NR)
65. Shane Doan, Pho (84)
66. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (47)
67. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (NR)
68. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (NR)
69. Dustin Brown, LA (NR)
70. Travis Zajac, NJ (41)
71. Drew Stafford, Buf (NR)
72. Ryane Clowe, SJ (NR)
73. Teddy Purcell, TB (NR)
74. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (80)
75. Brad Boyes, Buf (NR)
76. Jordan Eberle, Edm (63)
77. Patrik Elias, NJ (44)
78. R.J. Umberger, Cls (NR)
79. Loui Eriksson, Dal (52)
80. Joe Pavelski, SJ (NR)
81. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (58)
82. Taylor Hall, Edm (90)
83. Tim Connolly, Tor (51)
84. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (NR)
85. Stephen Weiss, Fla (68)
86. Teemu Selanne, FA (NR)
87. Simon Gagne, LA (89)
88. Ales Hemsky, Edm (54)
89. Brenden Morrow, Dal (74)
90. T.J. Oshie, StL (99)
91. Ville Leino, FA (NR)
92. Shawn Horcoff, Edm (NR)
93. Steve Downie, TB (94)
94. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (NR)
95. Chris Kunitz, Pit (96)
96. Brian Gionta, Mon (85)
97. Antoine Vermette, Cls (NR)
98. Jamie Benn, Dal (NR)
99. Patrik Berglund, StL (NR)
100. Ray Whitney, Pho (NR)

Brad Richards, New York Rangers: Richards is the elite playmaking center that the Rangers lacked for the past few seasons. Marian Gaborik is the easy target for a boost in production. Having someone who can pass the puck to increase the quantity and quality of Gaborik's shots on goal should help bring Gabby back to the elite production we got from him in 2009-10. The 42 goals and 44 assists that Gaborik had that season should be closer to what we get from a healthy Gaborik alongside Richards. If this move hurts anyone, it will be either Mats Zuccarello or Wojtek Wolski, two younger players still looking for a permanent top-six role. At least one doesn't fit on the Rangers scoring lines due to overcrowding.

Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild: So, I already discussed Devin Setoguchi's move to the Wild as being a positive thing. Now the team has the pieces with Heatley to build two-thirds of the Sharks top line that dominated the 2008-09 season. That isn't in the too distant past and Mikko Koivu can do a pretty good impression of Joe Thornton on the ice. Expect Heatley to have that bounce-back season and reach the 40-goal plateau -- or get close to it. Even if that line is not imitated by new coach Mike Yeo, the Wild have enough existing talent and new talent on the way up to bring Heatley back to form.

Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers: I was sure Jagr would sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the choice to go to their cross-state rival is hardly a downgrade. The Flyers, even without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, have a high-quality top six. Whether Jagr slots in with two of Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, or none of them, he makes the second line better with his presence or by pushing other talent there. This is good news for the players battling for those other top six roles, including James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and even Brayden Schenn. Two of those players will have very good seasons. My money is on Simmonds and Voracek at this point, because I feel their physical play is an asset the Flyers like to have up front. Schenn may be started slowly and I'm becoming worried about van Riemsdyk's long-term projections since he has had several opportunities to break through already.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres surely didn't sign Leino to play on the second line, and it would be surprising if he didn't get first crack at the wing alongside Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. Although Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford have performed well in that role in the past, their inconsistencies have been noticeable. Leino is a good fit as an all-around offensive performer to go with Roy's playmaking and Vanek's scoring. It's hard to ignore Stafford's goal-scoring and hat-trick prowess from last season, so he is still ranked ahead of Leino at this point. But if my prediction proves correct, you will see those rankings reverse quickly during training camp.

Tim Connolly, Toronto Maple Leafs: The key with Connolly, as always, is his health. But if healthy this season, Connolly is just a small step below the elite playmaking centermen in the league and will offer Phil Kessel the quality of set-ups that he hasn't had since becoming a Maple Leaf. Kessel worked well with the physical qualities of Joffrey Lupul last season, and adding Connolly to the mix completes this line on paper. Besides upping the value of Kessel and Lupul, Connolly's arrival likely cements the drop in value for last season's surprising trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur. They will still be a formidable second unit, but don't expect them to pace the offense from a fantasy perspective again.

An Impact

Simon Gagne, Los Angeles Kings: I'm still undecided on exactly how the lines will shake out for the new-look Kings, but there is one certainty: If Gagne's neck is feeling OK, he will have a chance to shine again. He is a top-six member of the club along with Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner and Justin Williams. The nice part is that no matter what combinations you come up with, both lines look very good offensively. If you think you can trust Gagne's health, we could be looking at a surprise return to 35-plus goals.

Steve Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins: Like Connolly and Gagne, Sullivan is a gifted offensive talent whose body has been failing him. While he hasn't been the point-per-game producer he was in the past with the Nashville Predators these past couple seasons, his supporting cast hasn't been quite as good as it will be with the Penguins. Health issues aside, Sullivan surpasses all other wingers on the club in terms of talent. That could very well mean a prime gig beside Sidney Crosby or, what is commonly known as the best consolation prize in the NHL, a role on the second line with Evgeni Malkin. While I won't be ranking him in the top 100 anytime soon, Sullivan has a chance to show his quality this season and could surprise with a big year.

Tomas Fleischmann, Florida Panthers: I could list a half-dozen candidates from the Panthers as sleepers for fantasy hockey this coming season, but none of the new names are quite so impressive as Fleischmann. In his first opportunity to show what he can do as a top-six forward, he was a point-per-game player for the Colorado Avalanche before suffering a pulmonary embolism that ended his season. He is said to be ready for this coming season and will step into a wide-open race for the Panthers depth chart. Fleischmann could very easily be the top forward for the club, taking that title from Stephen Weiss.

Eric Fehr, Winnipeg Jets: Similar to the Fleischmann storyline, Fehr is a strong talent that has been buried on the Washington Capitals' depth chart. Consistently a top performer in the area of points per minute, his ice time was low enough to prevent him from being a true fantasy contender. As a member of the Jets, he becomes a candidate for the team's top line. This will be his first chance to show what he can really do. Fehr should be a very good fit with fellow WHL alum Andrew Ladd, as both possess a physically gifted offensive game.

Andrew Brunette, Chicago Blackhawks: It would be easy to write off Brunette for the coming fantasy season, but because of the situation for the Blackhawks, that could be folly. Brunette is a serious contender for a top-six role, with his only real competition coming from Michael Frolik. While last season was pretty disappointing for anyone who usually relied on Brunette as a depth forward in fantasy, playing with the likes of Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane should help him return to the 25-goal, 65-point neighborhood.

Maybe an Impact

Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, St. Louis Blues: Why am I listing two veterans as possibly having a fantasy impact when it could be argued that the Blues have seven players ahead of both of them on the depth chart? Because if there is one criticism of the Blues' top lines these past couple seasons, it would be inexperience when faced with slumps and adversity. What do Arnott and Langenbrunner bring to the table? Experience and perseverance. These two wily vets could very well squeeze themselves into the top six, despite the fact they don't belong there on paper. What if Arnott clicks with David Perron and T.J. Oshie? What if Langenbrunner shows chemistry with Andy McDonald and David Backes? It could happen and it could make one or both of them very fantasy-relevant.

Marco Sturm, Vancouver Canucks: Although he is not the only candidate to be a top-six usurper on the Canucks depth chart, Sturm has a decent chance all the same. Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen and Mikael Samuelsson are the likely names to be considered for the second-line wings beside Ryan Kesler, but both Sturm and Christopher Higgins will offer challenges in training camp. The key for Sturm would be to offer the consistency in his game that Raymond and Samuelsson have lacked as the heir apparents. By no means expect him to win the role, but don't forget his name completely on draft day (as you'll be tempted to).

Michael Ryder, Dallas Stars: Always a threat to put up goals when given ice time and quality linemates, Ryder has the chance to win both those factors as a member of the new-look Stars. Without Brad Richards as an anchor, the top six and the top line are both an open application process this fall. Ryder would strike up some chemistry with any one of a few key members of the Stars to force his presence on the top line or power play. Let's be clear: He needs to win a key role to have any value, but that opportunity is there to line up with Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro or Jamie Benn.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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