Commentary

Fantasy Hockey: 12 NHL jobs up for grabs

Updated: September 11, 2008, 2:49 PM ET
By Jim Wilkie | Special to ESPN.com

NHL training camps are about a month away, so it's time to look at some of the intriguing battles that will be going on. With an eye on the impact these have on fantasy hockey, here are the top 12 jobs up for grabs heading into the 2008-09 season:

[+] EnlargeOlaf Kolzig
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesOllie will try to be the goalie for Tampa Bay.
1. Lightning goalie: It's a near certainty Tampa Bay will be better than last season's league-worst 31 wins and 71 points, which tied Los Angeles for last overall. It's less certain who will be the Lightning's No. 1 goalie.

Olaf Kolzig, 38, didn't bolt from his only previous team, the Capitals, to sit on the bench. But he'll have to do better than last season's 25-21-6 record, 2.91 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.

Mike Smith, 26, became the starter when he came over from the Stars as part of the Brad Richards deal before last season's trade deadline. After coming to the Lightning, he went 3-10-0 with a 2.79 GAA and .893 save percentage for a team that had little to play for, and he was 15-19-0 with a 2.59 GAA and .901 save percentage overall.

Karri Ramo, 22, was the goalie of the future for the Lightning's previous regime and was reluctantly thrust into 22 games (7-11-3, 3.03 GAA, .899 save percentage). Ramo should be back in the minors to hone his game unless Kolzig or Smith is injured.

If a clear-cut No. 1 emerges out of this group, he should get a decent amount of victories, but the goals against and save percentage are likely to suffer on a defensively weak club that figures to have an up-tempo offensive style this season under new coach Barry Melrose.

2. Calgary's top-line left winger to play with Daymond Langkow and Jarome Iginla.

Kristian Huselius took his 25 goals and 66 points to Columbus via free agency, opening up this spot. Iginla has endorsed free-agent pickup Todd Bertuzzi as a potential linemate, and the Ducks reject will get a fair shot to earn the job. Bertuzzi has performed well for Flames coach Mike Keenan, who coached him in Vancouver. But that was back in 1997-98, and since then, Bertuzzi has racked up a lot of mileage on his 33-year-old body, not to mention amassing a lot of well-documented baggage.

Newly acquired Michael Cammalleri, 26, is a more reliable option, and the former 80-point man should be rejuvenated after escaping the Kings. He's a better and more reliable fantasy option than Bertuzzi no matter where he settles on the Calgary depth chart.

3. Detroit defensemen: Eight players with NHL experience are competing for six spots. Of course, superstar Nicklas Lidstrom and veteran Brian Rafalski are entrenched in the first pairing.

Niklas Kronwall, 27, began to realize his potential last season and led all Red Wings in the playoffs with 15 assists. Now if he can just stay healthy after missing 17 games last season and 15 the one before that.

Brad Stuart, 28, was a great addition at the deadline, and his plus-15 and a decent seven points in 21 playoff games show he benefited by having a supporting part instead of trying to do it all as a top-two blueliner in his previous stops.

That leaves Chris Chelios, 46; Brett Lebda, 26; Andreas Lilja, 33; and prospect Jonathan Ericsson, 24, to battle for the final two spots. Despite the decreased ice time, one of these four might have some fantasy value if an injury pushes him up into the top four. But these guys won't provide much more than bench depth.

[+] EnlargeMiroslav Satan
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesSatan will try to benefit from being with Sid the Kid.
4. Sidney Crosby's wingers: Gone are his pal Colby Armstrong, traded late last season; hometown boy Ryan Malone, traded before he was lost to free agency; and gifted Marian Hossa, who signed with Detroit, so one of the best jobs in hockey appears wide open.

Miroslav Satan, 33, and Ruslan Fedotenko, 29, were signed after Hossa snubbed the Penguins' offer, but their best days appear to be behind them. Satan's numbers have slipped for two consecutive seasons since he scored 66 points for the Islanders in 2005-06 (59 and 41 points). Fedotenko hasn't been any better, with 32- and 33-point campaigns after a career-high 41 in '05-06.

Pascal Dupuis, 29, fit in nicely on the left side at times after coming over from the Thrashers as part of the Hossa trade, significantly raising his fantasy value.

Pittsburgh-born Bill Thomas, 25, has an outside shot to get some time with Sid the Kid because nobody has a lock on these spots.

5. Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell's sidekick: More precisely, who gets to play alongside the Blackhawks' $57 million man on the power play.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had 32 points apiece last season, but Seabrook produced more power-play points (12 to Keith's six). Combine that with the fact Seabrook shoots right, and he seems like a natural fit to complement left-shooting Campbell.

Right-shooting James Wisniewski, 24, was nearly as productive (26 points in 14 fewer games) as Keith and Seabrook and will be another option.

6. Washington's No. 1 center: Who is best suited to get the puck to left winger Alexander Ovechkin? Nicklas Backstrom, 20, proved himself with a great rookie season (14 goals, 69 points), but Sergei Fedorov, 38, came in at the trade deadline and brings a strong two-way dimension that pushed Viktor Kozlov, 33, down the depth chart despite a 54-point season.

Brooks Laich, 25, emerged last season with 21 goals and 37 points and brings a little grit. Michael Nylander, 35, is an underrated setup guy who scored 37 points in 40 games, but he could also be on the move.

7. Rangers top line wingers: New York's lines were in constant change last season, mainly because nobody clicked consistently with captain Jaromir Jagr. With Jagr gone to Russia, it's a matter of who can fit in best with center Scott Gomez.

Nigel Dawes
Christopher Pasatieri/US PRESSWIRENigel Dawes will be a fantasy sleeper if the Rangers need him.
Newcomers Markus Naslund, 35, and Nikolai Zherdev, 23, will be somewhere on the top two lines, but both bring a measure of uncertainty. Naslund's offensive numbers have been declining since the lockout, although he was playing in a more defensive system the past two seasons in Vancouver.

Zherdev has a load of talent and showed signs of turning the corner last season, but questions remain about whether he is coachable.

Nigel Dawes, 23, could earn some time on the top line if the bigger names slip, and he figures to improve on the 14 goals and 29 points he scored in 61 games.

Petr Prucha, 25, also might be an option, and Lauri Korpikoski, 22, appears ready to make the jump to the NHL after scoring 23 goals and 50 points in the AHL last season.

8. Thrashers' No. 1 center: Ilya Kovalchuk is still looking for a playmaking center to help him become even better, and the choices don't look good. Atlanta's top-scoring centers last season were aging journeymen Todd White, 33, and Eric Perrin, 32, who are better suited as second- or third-line pivots.

So the Thrashers have to hope a youngster such as Bryan Little, 20; Erik Christensen, 24; or long shot Angelo Esposito, 19, can seize the job. Little wasn't ready last season, scoring six goals and 16 points in 48 games as a rookie. Christensen had 11 goals and 24 points in 59 games split between the Thrashers and Penguins.

9. Canadiens No. 2 center: The Habs will be thrilled if they can pencil Saku Koivu into this spot because it will mean they won the sweepstakes for free agent Mats Sundin.

But if Koivu remains the top-line center, Montreal will still be in decent shape. That will mean more minutes and pressure for Tomas Plekanec, 25, who scored 29 goals and 69 points last season.

The Habs had the best power play last season (24.2 percent), and Montreal should have two dangerous units again after Alex Tanguay was obtained from Calgary to boost an already-talented cast of wingers that includes Alexei Kovalev, 35; Andrei Kostitsyn, 23; Sergei Kostitsyn, 21; Guillaume Latendresse, 21; and Christopher Higgins.

10. Predators goalies: Dan Ellis took the No. 1 job from Chris Mason last season and is being counted on to run with it this season after Mason was traded to the Blues. Ellis, 28, was an impressive 23-10 with a 2.34 GAA and .924 save percentage. But he has played just 45 NHL games and hasn't carried the load of a starter for a full season yet.

The Predators have been grooming Pekka Rinne, 25, in the minors for a number of years, and he could end up as the No. 1 goalie if Ellis stumbles.

A young and up-and-coming defensive corps will help keep the puck out of the net, but Nashville's lack of scoring means wins won't be plentiful.

11. A winger for the Sedin twins: Every year, it's a guessing game as to who will be the triplet to play with left winger Daniel Sedin and center Henrik Sedin. And not since Anson Carter scored 33 goals in 2005-06 has anyone remained on their right side for a full season.

Newly acquired Steve Bernier, 23, appears to have that job at the moment, but if Sundin decides to take Vancouver's $20 million, two-year offer, he figures to join another newcomer, Pavol Demitra, on the top line. Either way, Bernier will be in a good spot to pick up points.

If Sundin arrives and creates a pleasant predicament for his Swedish compatriots, the revolving door will continue unless Taylor Pyatt, Mason Raymond or Jannik Hansen seizes the job. The twins still should get their 70 to 90 points apiece, but someone else needs to step up and chip in on their right wing.

12. Avalanche top line wingers: Assuming Joe Sakic doesn't retire, the biggest hole Colorado has to fill is the spot Andrew Brunette filled so well the past two seasons before returning to the Wild this offseason as a free agent.

A full season out of Ryan Smyth, 32, would help greatly, but the rugged winger managed only 55 games in his first season with Colorado. Wojtek Wolski, 22, will be counted on to improve on the 48 points he notched in 77 games last season.

The Avs also hope Marek Svatos, 26, will continue to increase his output after 26 goals and 37 points in 62 games. Darcy Tucker, 33, was brought in after the Maple Leafs bought out his contract, but there's some question whether he can still produce after years of punishment from playing a physical style.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and NHL Insider writer for ESPN.com.