Commentary

Fantasy Hockey: Faces in new places

Updated: September 15, 2009, 10:06 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Koivu is in California? Bertuzzi is a Red Wing (again)?

And, not that it's relevant here, but little Patty Kane did what to a cab driver?

It happens every summer: Upon waking from the habitual post-playoff hockey hibernation, you realize that several key players have discarded their familiar jerseys for clubs elsewhere. Or have had unexpected surgery. Or have misbehaved to the point of involving legal authorities (what was Kane thinking?). It's always a bit jarring. Fortunately, we're available to help corral you back into the loop. Here's a rundown of some player shake-ups in the NHL you might have missed while breezily snoozing in the hammock:

Lightning add spark

Alex Tanguay
Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesAlex Tanguay scored 41 points in 50 games in his only season in Montreal.
Despite some nasty issues between Oren Koules and then co-owner Len Barrie (that honeymoon didn't last long), the Tampa Bay Lightning are in much better shape this season, on-ice, than they were last. The drafting of rookie Victor Hedman aside, Alex Tanguay was signed as a free agent in the latter part of August, and Mattias Ohlund was snagged earlier to fill a top spot on defense. The beauty of the Tanguay pickup is he decided to join Tampa at least partially based on the potential of playing alongside fellow Quebec natives Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. In fact, the winger had personal conversations with both of them before choosing to become a member of the Lightning -- an excellent sign. If there's any decent chemistry between these three, this unit could become one of the best offensive lines in the NHL. That would bolster not only Tanguay's value but St. Louis' and Lecavalier's as well.

As a defensively talented blueliner, Ohlund doesn't carry much value himself but, instead, does a great deal of good for those around him. Specifically, the guy behind him. As Tampa Bay's starter -- should those concussion issues be truly in the past -- Mike Smith is in better shape, fantasywise, with the ex-Canuck manning the back end.

Bertuzzi rejoins Wings

Todd Bertuzzi must have fancied something about the brief taste he had of playing in Detroit back in 2007 (24 games, including the playoffs) because he's back for seconds. That, or there wasn't much interest elsewhere. Regardless, at a cost of only $1.5 million, the big man could be a bargain for the Red Wings and fantasy owners alike. General manager Ken Holland implies that Bertuzzi is in better physical shape now than he was in his first appearance with the team, and the 34-year-old seconds that sentiment; he insists he's healthy and hasn't felt this good in years. Holland also hints that, with the departure of Jiri Hudler, Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson, Bertuzzi will be expected to fill a spot on any of the top three scoring lines and produce with regularity. It's clearly up to him to make his bed however he likes. The scene is set perfectly for a real comeback by the Sudbury, Ontario, native, and he'll reach the 60-point mark, or higher, if he works hard and remains disciplined.

Detroit also picked up Jason Williams, who played with the team on two earlier occasions in his career. Although he lacks size and toughness, and has had health concerns in the past, Williams put up good numbers in the latter half of last season with Columbus (29 points in 39 games). As a member of the Wings, he's worth serious consideration as a sleeper pick in the later rounds of your draft.

Hossa rolls the dice once more … then has shoulder surgery

Marian Hossa is hoping the third time truly is a charm. After losing the Stanley Cup finals series, as a Penguin, to Detroit two years ago, Hossa jumped the Pens' ship, only to fall, as a Red Wing, to Pittsburgh this past season. Now that's a real kick in the pants; if he weren't a multimillionaire, you might actually feel sorry for the guy. So now Hossa is gambling that the Chicago Blackhawks will be ongoing legitimate Cup contenders in the foreseeable future and signed a monster contract (12 years) with that organization. As a healthy top-notch forward, there's little question Hossa would flirt with 80 points a season, as he has done often in past years. But he had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder in July and won't return to the ice until late November, at the earliest. Also, the NHL is peeved at Chicago for possibly violating the collective bargaining agreement in signing the 30-year-old because he might retire before his contract ends. It's just too messy; let Hossa be someone else's fantasy headache this season.

Koivu goes West

Saku Koivu
Mike Stobe/NHLI/Getty ImagesSaku Koivu could thrive in Anaheim teaming up with Teemu Selanne.
As difficult as it is to picture Saku Koivu and his fair Finnish complexion broiling in the hot California sun, that's precisely where he's ended up. After 13 years with the Montreal Canadiens, most of them as captain, Koivu left the hockey pressure cooker that is Montreal for the more laid-back environs of Anaheim. Truth be told, and generally speaking, Ducks fans aren't nearly as rabid as the supporters of "Les Habitants," and where Koivu is concerned, that's a good thing. Now the veteran can finally relax and produce without the media microscope watching his every move or misstep. Plus, he's pegged to skate alongside fellow Finn Teemu Selanne. Under these plum circumstances, Koivu is capable of quietly racking up a lot of points (60-plus), especially given that opposing defenses will be more intent on shutting down Anaheim's top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.

The 34-year-old vet isn't the only key new face in Anaheim. In a trade that sent Chris Pronger to Philadelphia, the procurement of ex-Flyer Joffrey Lupul also carries solid fantasy potential; he's projected to accompany Selanne and Koivu on the second scoring line. Turning 26 years old at the end of September, and solidly in his prime, Lupul is in excellent position to become more consistent and finally break through the 60-point plateau.

Calgary wins coveted Bouwmeester sweepstakes

Many teams salivated over him, and the Calgary Flames got him. Jay Bouwmeester is a top-tier NHL defenseman, regardless where he plays, and now he'll be coupled with another one of the league's elite in Dion Phaneuf. It's a defensive pairing made in hockey heaven. These two are going to log tons of ice time and score loads of points at even strength and on the power play. Bouwmeester is a fantasy gem and likely won't last more than three rounds in any draft. On the flip side, don't concern yourself with any other blueliners in Calgary (Mark Giordano, for example) unless Phaneuf or his new partner gets hurt.

As for the void left behind in Florida, Bryan McCabe will be relied upon to fill Bouwmeester's skates, along with offensive contributions from Keith Ballard. If you can stomach a Panthers blueliner on your fantasy roster, the one you want would be McCabe or Ballard.

Rangers clean house (and refurnish)

It's a brand-new day in the Big Apple. Out go Scott Gomez, Paul Mara, Nik Antropov, Blair Betts, Colton Orr, Markus Naslund (retired) and others. In come Marian Gaborik, Christopher Higgins, Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik and Donald Brashear. Signed as a free agent, Gaborik is the most intriguing addition. If healthy -- a big if, considering last year's hip/groin woes -- the 27-year-old could explode offensively and contribute between 70 and 80 points. The New York Rangers are hoping as much, but as a fantasy asset, he's volatile because of health concerns. Higgins could surprise as a top-six winger. As a sleeper pick, he might surpass the 50-point mark. And in his new surroundings, Prospal is in good shape to regain his scoring touch from two seasons ago, when he notched 71 points with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. As for the members of the Rangers' welcome wagon, Chris Drury, above all others, is set to benefit from the new cast of characters. With Gaborik by his side, Drury will easily improve on last season's dreary 56-point output.

Montreal mimics Rangers' overhaul

Perhaps "mimic" isn't the right term, but the Canadiens worked somewhat in tandem with New York in rehauling their regular squad. At least, that's where Scott Gomez came from. The center likely will be accompanied by two other new faces on the Habs' top line in Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri. All three will lead the Canadiens in points, even if Cammalleri is moved to the second line. Outside of Andrei Kostitsyn, and perhaps Matt D'Agostini as a sleeper pick, no other Montreal player on offense should be given serious fantasy consideration. At least, not until the season is under way.

Heatley finds a happier home

What a difference a weekend in September makes. After asking (begging) for a trade earlier in the summer, Dany Heatley was finally dealt from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo. This trade does wonders for Heatley's fantasy value, since there's little question he'll skate on the Sharks' top line with elite playmaker Joe Thornton. As a marriage between a former 50-goal guy (twice over) and world-class set-up man, it's a match created in hockey heaven, and it's enough to make any fantasy player salivate. Feel free to draft Heatley in your first round, Thornton in the second, and as the duo's likely linemate, Patrick Marleau in the fifth.

Heading in the other direction, Michalek sees a pleasant bump in his fantasy worth. Should the chemistry not work out between Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and the freshly-acquired Alexei Kovalev (more on that below), Michalek may earn some time on the Senators' top line. However, we're more likely to see the ex-Shark skating with Mike Fisher on the team's second scoring line and power-play unit. As a worse-case scenario, it's still a long way from awful. After contributing only 57 points last year, Michalek is in a setting to net at least 65 with the Sens this year.

The biggest loser at the conclusion of this trade is young Nick Foligno. The poor lad had a shot at being a top-six forward with the Senators, but that's before fellow left winger Michalek arrived on the scene. Now he's no longer fantasy-relevant.

Kovalev travels two hours west (depending on the traffic)

Alexei Kovalev
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireAlexei Kovalev is yet another former Canadien expected to be a big factor elsewhere in '09-10.

Cast out of Montreal, the only thing that was ruining Alexei Kovalev's impending "coming out" party in Ottawa was the enduring presence of one inky-black sheep. Dany Heatley was still there. But no more (see above: Heatley/happy). Now Kovalev is free to skate on the Senators' top line with Spezza and Alfredsson and net a minimum of 85 points in the process. There are only two potential minor rainclouds in place to ruin this parade. The first is positional: Both Alfredsson and Kovalev are right wingers. Someone is going to have to switch, but that shouldn't be a big deal for either veteran. The second conceivable issue lies with Kovalev's attitude. Sometimes it really sucks. Although blessed with supreme talent, the former Canadien has the well-earned reputation of not always giving it his all. But that's not a real plausible problem this year either. With a new team, Kovalev will feel pressure to impress consistently. We're all keen to make a splash, and friends, when thrown into unfamiliar surroundings. Superstar hockey players aren't any different.

Ex-Leafs join Atlanta

Via a short session with the Rangers at last season's end, Nik Antropov now finds himself a Thrasher along with fellow ex-Leaf Pavel Kubina. Holding a projected spot on the second line with some opportunities on the power play, the big winger could rack up 60 points by season's end. Or he could get hurt -- here and there -- throughout the season. As any Toronto fan will relate, that happens all too often. Should you choose to gamble on Antropov, leave the move to a late round in the draft or risk being seriously heartbroken.

As for Kubina, he could be a nice surprise in his fresh surroundings. A power-play staple with a blistering shot, the 32-year-old is in line for a 40-point run.

Smyth heads for La-La Land

Now past his prime, and as a Los Angeles King, Ryan Smyth no longer will flirt with earning a point per game like he did three years ago. The team's top trio is made up of Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown. Therefore, Smyth will battle away on L.A.'s second scoring line, contributing here and there, amassing 55-60 points in the process. He's certainly worth fantasy consideration in later rounds, but wasting a pick on the 33-year-old even middraft would be bonkers.

Havlat goes Wild

With the Rangers acquiring Gaborik, the Minnesota Wild are left looking to Martin Havlat, along with Mikko Koivu, for offensive leadership. Sure, Havlat stayed healthy all of last season, and yes, he has bucketloads of talent and skill, but he's still the 10-year vet who has managed to play more than 73 games only once since 1999-2000. One healthy year won't cut it; he's fragile and therefore a big fantasy risk.

Summer goalie shuffle: 2009 edition

• After last year's unanticipated, yet agreeable, exhibition, Nikolai Khabibulin leaves the Windy City behind for a regular gig in Oil Town. The ex-Hawk won't post the same shockingly stellar numbers he did in his tandem role in Chicago, but he's the Edmonton Oilers' undisputed No.1 and should hold his own. Pick him early as a top fantasy netminder. Back in Chicago, Cristobal Huet will finally get his chance to prove himself as an every-day starter. Although some pundits believe youngster Corey Crawford will challenge for playing time, the No. 1 role remains Huet's to lose.

• Moving in the other direction, Dwayne Roloson departed the Oilers for a supporting role with the New York Islanders. Then the Isles signed Martin Biron, which -- according to general manager Garth Snow -- gives the team "three bona fide goaltenders." Whatever. Until Rick DiPietro stays able-bodied for longer than 10 minutes, he'll remain a nonissue. Roloson and Biron will share starts fairly equally until one performs significantly better than the other. It matters not; the Islanders, although improved, are still in the early stages of assembling a team for the future. You don't want a fantasy goalie from this squad, especially as neither will play full time.

• Hey! Ray Emery is back in North America! After spending a year in Russia, the ex-Senator returns to the NHL as the Philadelphia Flyers' undisputed starter. Expect a well-behaved and humbled Emery out of the gates, at least until the novelty of being back home wears off. Regardless, with Philadelphia's above-average corps of blueliners, all Emery has to do is not screw up too badly. He's a good goaltender and, in this position, an excellent fantasy acquisition. Backup Brian Boucher won't get many chances, so feel free to draft Emery early.

Pascal Leclaire is really excited to be in Ottawa, and the Senators are equally excited to have him. Watch the ex-Blue Jacket rebound off last season's disappointing and injury-riddled (bad ankle) season with Columbus and post numbers similar to his totals from the season before: 24-17, 9 shutouts, 2.25 GAA, .919 save percentage. Disregard all the Heatley nonsense, the Ottawa Senators will be in contention this season. And if Leclaire stays fit, backup Brian Elliott won't play much.

• In one of the most interesting offseason moves, the Colorado Avalanche quietly signed Craig Anderson. In 31 games with the Panthers last season, Anderson played exceptionally well, posting a very pretty save percentage of .924. He'll lose more than he'll win with the rebuilding Avalanche, but his other numbers will be sound. At 28 years old, Anderson is ready to prove he can be a legitimate No. 1. He'll do wonderfully as your fantasy No. 2.

• Signed as a free agent, Scott Clemmensen takes over Craig Anderson's spot with the Florida Panthers. As Anderson did, he'll share the workload with Tomas Vokoun. Yawn. In all but the deepest of leagues, both would do well as your No. 3 fantasy goalie, but that's about it.

Elsewhere around the league …

Without a great deal of fanfare, the Washington Capitals made a couple of key acquisitions, signing Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison. Knuble, in particular, is of great fantasy value, as a possible linemate to Alexander Ovechkin or, at worst, a second-line winger. He'll also be a staple on the Capitals' power play, as the large fella entrenched right in front of the opposing goal. He's a legitimate fourth- or fifth-round pick in any draft. Morrison, however is approaching the twilight of his career and shouldn't be bothered with in any but the deepest of fantasy leagues. … Mikael Samuelsson is now a Canuck. If he plays with the Sedin twins -- a reasonably likely scenario -- he'll earn upward of 55 points. If not, pencil him in for 40. Vancouver also picked up Christian Ehrhoff via trade from San Jose to help plug the hole left on defense by the departure of Mattias Ohlund. Ehrhoff has some offensive upside and netted 42 points last season; he will get opportunities with the man advantage and could near that level again. … In what seems like a perfect fit, Chris Pronger joined the perennially tough Flyers. Among a gaggle of youngsters on defense, Pronger will be expected to lead by example, in ice time and in scoring production.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.