Preseason Notebook: Line shifting shakes up fantasy values
Fantasy rankings are getting shaken up a bit as NHL training camps open and we figure out who's playing whom on particular lines. I'm going to take a look at some notable trades and moves over the past month, but also have an eye to linemates in training camps. Let's take a quick spin.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The big question on everyone's mind is which wingers will benefit from the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin 1-2 punch down the middle in Pittsburgh. While we know of one (Petr Sykora), there are four wing spots up for grabs with one of them likely to be on the finishing end of many of Crosby's 70-plus assists. A resurgent Miroslav Satan is certainly a likely suspect, and Ruslan Fedotenko has flashed 30-goal potential in the past. Bill Thomas is touted as a sleeper after never finding a home in Phoenix. But there is a new name on some minds: a converted Jordan Staal, who has more skill and potential than most other options. It's simply a matter of Michel Therrien believing that Staal would better serve him scoring goals with Crosby than shutting down opposing skaters on a strong checking line. The potential for the switch could still be there even after the season starts if the other options all turn out to be duds, so stashing Staal on your bench late in drafts is certainly advisable at this point.
Ottawa Senators: The news in Ottawa is new coach Craig Hartsburg's realization that the Senators might be better off splitting up Daniel Alfredsson from Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. In the past, I've argued for the three to remain together to benefit fantasy owners, but I can't argue that this year's Senators need depth instead of just one good line. It really does make the most sense for them to be separated. Where does that leave us for fantasy? I think my dire concern so far this preseason over the Senators' possible dip in plus/minus is lessened somewhat. By dividing up the offense, the goals against should also be divided. I would no longer peg Heatley or Spezza to slip into the minus range, but I also don't expect them to get over a plus-10. Remember not to put too much stock into plus/minus, though, as it's a volatile stat. The Big Split will also leave us with three more players to watch in Ottawa. Jesse Winchester is the most important one to pay attention to, as the rookie will get first crack at wing with Heatley and Spezza. Obviously, try not to get too excited about him as you likely recall the Brandon Bochenski debacle from a few seasons back. Put Winchester down as a deep-league shot in the dark. Chris Kelly and Nick Foligno are the likely candidates to skate with Alfie, but I wouldn't draft either of them in a shallower league. The other news in Ottawa, of course, is Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard arriving in exchange for Andrej Meszaros. Neither Kuba nor Picard is an established top option on the power play or as a puck-mover. That tells me that Brian Lee is going have some high expectations from the coaching staff. With the Sens not bringing in an established offensive defenseman, that pretty much leaves Lee as the only option. I'll peg him as a huge sleeper this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The trade of Bryan McCabe means Tomas Kaberle is the No. 1 defenseman for the Leafs and an unquestioned No. 2 defenseman in fantasy. Mike Van Ryn will have to compete for a spot and won't factor into many fantasy leagues. On offense, the Leafs are leaning towards giving newcomer Mikhail Grabovski a shot at earning the center role on the No. 1 line. Yuck. Grabovski is an above-average player at best and shouldn't last long with Toronto's top unit. Not that being flanked by Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky is that impressive anyway. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that Alex Steen and Jason Blake are better options in fantasy based on where they can be had in drafts.
Atlanta Thrashers: Zach Bogosian looks like he'll have a spot on the Thrashers defense. For fantasy purposes, look at him as a deep flyer should he make the team. On this Thrashers team, Bogosian would likely pot 40 points as their power-play quarterback, but I'd expect most of the numbers to come later in the season as he gets some experience. To that end, he can be ignored in most drafts.
Carolina Hurricanes: With news that Justin Williams will miss most of the season with a torn Achilles, Sergei Samsonov looks like the biggest beneficiary. Samsonov had a great finish with the Canes last season, while Williams' injury clears a spot on the top line next to Eric Staal and Ray Whitney. Of course, it also creates a new opening in the top six for Carolina, and my bet is that Patrick Eaves gets the first chance. Scott Walker is another option, but he has performed better with the Hurricanes as a third-liner.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Andrej Meszaros' arrival means that Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, Paul Ranger and even Andrew Hutchinson will have some competition to be the defenseman on the point on the potent Lightning power play. I still give an edge to Carle, but Meszaros is also an option. Meszaros' fantasy value, however, plummets with the move from Ottawa since he was the Senators' top power-play option. The move also means Wishart and Hutchinson go from being deep sleepers to almost completely uninteresting.
Chicago Blackhawks: The hole left behind by Robert Lang should easily be plugged from within by former London Knight David Bolland. Bolland played second fiddle on the Knights to Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Robbie Schremp, but exploded in his final season in the OHL for 130 points. He is definitely a deep option as he'll play with quality wingers including Martin Havlat, Andrew Ladd, Jack Skille or maybe Akim Aliu.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have openly stated that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will be separated to begin the year. This answers several burning questions surrounding the defending champs. It means Marian Hossa is a surefire top-12 forward. It means Zetterberg is being overvalued in the second round of 10-team league drafts. It means Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen are the likely wingers for Zetterberg, while Valtteri Filppula will have to settle for being a No. 3 center. Finally, it means we'll have to wait to see who loses most on the power play. Detroit's depth on defense is quickly becoming a thing of mockery. With no fewer than eight NHL-caliber defenseman signed, it means some potential plus/minus contributors to your fantasy squads will be left in the lurch. Jonathan Ericsson is no longer a decent sleeper, and Chris Chelios might be worth the attention in deeper leagues. It also means a cascade of injuries on the back end won't mean much to Detroit's goaltender (notice how I am still too stubborn to write Chris Osgood?).
Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic is returning, which should help the team. The Avs were looking a bit shallow at center heading into the season with just Paul Stastny as a legitimate threat and sophomore T.J. Hensick expected to be a solid No. 2. Sakic's return takes some of the pressure off Hensick (which could delay his fantasy relevance), but Stastny will still be leaned on to center the top line. That likely leaves a unit of Stastny, Milan Hejduk and possibly Wojtek Wolski. Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos would make up the second unit. In this scenario, it's likely that all six will find themselves relevant in ESPN standard leagues. The only wild card here would be Darcy Tucker. He could do a pretty good impression of Ryan Smyth in front of the opponents' net during power plays and might work his way onto the second power-play unit at the expense of one of the top-six forwards. If that plays out, Tucker might be an asset for his power-play goals, as he has been in recent years.
Minnesota Wild: Could the Wild end up trading their best player in franchise history? The way Marian Gaborik's contract negotiations are playing out in the public eye, it certainly seems like a possibility. Picturing the Wild this season without Gaborik and with unknown replacement parts certainly could spawn nightmares for any owners of Andrew Brunette, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and especially Mikko Koivu.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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