Allen to Edmonton and Buffalo: Grow up
I have been trying to make sense of what transpired over the past week among Edmonton, Michael Nylander, Washington, Buffalo and Thomas Vanek. The best I can come up with is the theory that all their souls were possessed by school-yard children. Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe's incessant whining about how Nylander went with the Capitals after committing to Edmonton is surpassed only by Buffalo GM Darcy Regier's moaning about how Edmonton wasn't playing fair by going after Vanek. "It's not fair!" "He's ours!" "Give me back my ball!" I guess the funniest part of all was Lowe quoting Nylander as saying his wife reacted to the news about Edmonton as if she had been told they were moving to Siberia. I guess it's time for Nylander to shelve that dream of moving back to Sweden when he is done playing.
As far as how this whole thing affects fantasy hockey, let's just say I wish Nylander's wife had been more willing to give Canada a go. With Nylander going to Washington, the Nicklas Backstrom situation becomes seriously confusing. Backstrom was supposed to show up and take a spot centering Alexander Ovechkin, much to the joy of fantasy owners everywhere, but Nylander has thrown a wrench into that machinery. Come draft day, we are going to have to make a decision whether Backstrom has what it takes to break into the NHL. As a 19-year-old playing in the Swedish Elite League, Backstrom led his team in points by 11 over his closest teammate. A really nice indicator as to the kind of player he'll be is his tally of 28 assists versus 12 goals. Can we say setup man? I was excited about Backstrom as a confident, solid draft pick as a No. 2 center with upside, until this Nylander signing. Now the Capitals have the luxury of bringing Backstrom over and putting him in the AHL for a year of North American seasoning while saving a year on his entry-level contract. That seems like the path a money-"conscious" team such as Washington usually takes. Boy, are the Caps' new jerseys cool, though, eh?
Nylander becomes a little less intriguing from a fantasy perspective than he was last season. Although Ovechkin might be as good as Jaromir Jagr one day, at this point, he's a step down for Nylander as linemates go, and that's the best-case scenario. The chance remains that Nylander will be relegated to second-line duties with Alex Semin because Backstrom does make an immediate impact in Washington.
As far as Edmonton is concerned, Lowe had better get his butt in gear and find some veteran presence to help shape these young minds. "Geoff Sanderson does not a veteran leader make." I believe that's a loose translation of an ancient Chinese proverb, and it holds true here. There is a lot of raw, young talent on the Oilers, with the key word being "raw." These kids need some veteran guidance such as Nylander could have provided. That's why I think Vanek wasn't a good fit anyway. I'm holding my praise for players such as Robbie Schremp, Robert Nilsson and Marc-Antoine Pouliot until Edmonton finds some leadership.
Todd Bertuzzi, RW, ANA -- Three words automatically come to mind with Bertuzzi: risky, risky and risky. He is going to go relatively early in drafts, but consider that he has not produced anything since 2004, so you likely don't want any part of him. There is likely a wing spot open among the top six in Anaheim, with Teemu Selanne leaning toward retirement, but health, age and history take precedence here. I am only going to change my outlook here if Bertuzzi is flying -- and I mean absolutely flying -- in training camp and preseason games.
Robert Lang, C, CHI -- After more than two seasons buried in the Red Wings' depth chart, Lang returns to the role of a top-line center. He will be playing on one of Chicago's talented top two lines and has the opportunity to flash the skills that have seen him top 30 goals or 75 assists in seasons past. He has been a solid low-level No. 2 center for a few years, but now has the upside to be a great No. 2 fantasy centerman.
Ladislav Nagy, LW, Michal Handzus, C, and Kyle Calder, LW, LA --With these signings, the Kings basically gave themselves the second scoring line they never had last season. By no means will Handzus and Nagy tear up the league, but they will offer an offensive threat besides Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammalleri and Anze Kopitar. Both Handzus and Nagy have the "fragile tag" attached to them coming into this season, and both deserve it. They have upside, but draft Handzus as no more than a No. 3 center and Nagy as no more than a No. 2 left wing. Calder, on the other hand, might not fit in as even a top-six forward for L.A. and should be a deep-bench player at best. The addition of Handzus also means keeper leaguers waiting for Patrick O'Sullivan might be in for a disappointment this year. It's going to be a closely watched fight between the two for second-line center duties.
Tom Preissing and Brad Stuart, D, LA --You can make a case for the Kings having the best and deepest defensive core in the NHL, but what's good for L.A. isn't necessarily good for your fantasy squad. These two offensively gifted players join Rob Blake, Lubomir Visnovsky, Jaroslav Modry and rookie Jack Johnson. The Kings power play is going to be beastly, but there are a few too many cooks in the kitchen here. Preissing isn't going to approach last year's fantasy value with so many bodies jockeying for power-play time. Modry has lost all his sleeper value. Stuart won't get the time he needs to do any damage on the power play. Johnson will have a difficult task earning ice time with so many veteran players available, but being able to learn from this crew certainly bodes well for his long-term value.
Roman Hamrlik, D, MON -- Can he sustain his plus-22 that gave him so much fantasy value in Calgary? I doubt it, but Hamrlik finds a way to be effective on the ice and can be a difference-maker for his goaltender (ahem cough Carey Price cough). Andrei Markov remains No. 1 on the power play, but Hamrlik will be feeding him a lot of passes on the point. Hamrlik is a low-level No. 3 defenseman for fantasy purposes.
Dainius Zubrus, C, NJ -- I have dropped my long-standing grudge against Jamie Langenbrunner as a fantasy asset and I don't mind Travis Zajac, but Zubrus had issues staying fantasy-relevant as the linemate of Ovechkin. That speaks volumes about what he should do as a second-line center saddled with the aforementioned Devils in New Jersey. Deep leagues take notice; shallow leagues look elsewhere.
Mike Comrie, C, Bill Guerin, RW, and Ruslan Fedotenko, LW, NYI -- There are a lot of skates to fill on Long Island, and somebody has to score for this team, right? That makes all three names quite interesting. Guerin showed he still has some gas left in the tank before his trade to San Jose, where he played a reserve role. His penalty minutes also make him a high-reward fantasy addition as he should play a top-line role for the Isles. Comrie might be limited to the second line and second power-play unit, as he and Mike Sillinger are pretty much the same player. Unless Comrie can find some unexpected chemistry with someone on the team, he probably can be an afterthought in most formats. Fedotenko offers the Islanders what they lost when they cut ties with Alexei Yashin: a skilled forward who is more or less bored on the ice. He is also a long shot to have value here. The Isles really messed things up again heading into this season.
Sean Hill, D, MIN -- As much as Hill will be passed over in pretty much every fantasy draft this year, I am taking him with my last pick in leagues that allow a deep bench. The Wild's team philosophy fuels a great plus/minus for strong defenders, and Hill is exactly that. He was top-10 in hits and blocked shots last season with New York. Missing 19 games at the start of the season because of a drug-related suspension -- the performance-enhancing kind -- only means he is going to come even cheaper. He'll rack up penalty minutes and might even chip in more offensively with there being no other real options on the point for the Wild power play.
Scott Clemmensen, G, TOR -- See ya later, Andrew Raycroft, and don't let the door hit you on the way out. Seriously, though, Raycroft still might end up as a starter somewhere else, so he might not be a lost cause for keeper or dynasty leaguers who have him cheap. Otherwise, feel free to look elsewhere for your goaltending needs -- just like the Maple Leafs have.
Sean Allen is a fantasy hockey and baseball analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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