ESPN is bringing you quick-hitting team previews ahead of the 2016-17 fantasy season, with a spin through each division. We’ll look at what’s new, upward and downward trending players, and the goaltending situation for all 30 teams.
The goaltender index is a rating from one to 10, with one being your workhorse starters that face no threat whatsoever to their expected workload of 60-plus games, and 10 being a situation that is already a full-blown timeshare between two goalies.
What’s new: The Hawks have — once again — had a few from their forward ranks leave, and helped a few others find new homes as they work to stay under the salary cap. Andrew Ladd, Teuvo Teravainen, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann are all gone from the roster that made last season’s playoffs. That opens up plenty of opportunity up front for newcomers to find a role. Among them, Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, Vincent Hinostroza and Mark McNeill are fighting for the key role of wingman to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
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On defense, prodigal son Brian Campbell returns, and will surely pair back up with Nicklas Hjalmarsson. The pair didn’t have any fantasy value when last together in 2010-11. Now, as it was then, they are both clear second fiddles to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, so don’t expect anything to have changed now that Campbell is five years older and on the wrong side of 35.
Trending up: Nick Schmaltz, C: Of the rookies jockeying for position, Schmaltz has the most positive reviews out of the Blackhawks training camp. He’s coming off an NCAA championship season and has first-round draft pedigree. A bit more of a playmaker than a finisher, he could fit in well on the second line, but only if Hossa manages to have a big bounce-back season.
Trending down: Brent Seabrook, D: On the surface, fantasy owners might be drawn to Seabrook, who finished as the best fantasy defenseman for the Blackhawks last season. But it’s very notable that he is not the top dog when Duncan Keith is still around. Of Seabrook’s totals last season of 14 goals and 35 assists, a very large chunk of them came during a 10-game injury and five-game suspension faced by Keith. In those 15 games, Seabrook had four goals and 14 assists. If you look at just his pace when Keith was present, he played an 82-game pace of just 38 points. That is not elite, No. 1 fantasy defenseman status. Unless something happens to Keith this season, Seabrook is still a No. 3 fantasy defenseman.
Goaltender index: 2. There are zero concerns with Corey Crawford, but we downgrade this from a “1” because Scott Darling has had some moments of brilliance in relief (more in 2014-15 than last season). It keeps him top of mind more than other afterthought backup goalies, and gives the Hawks the confidence needed to keep Crawford below the 60-game threshold. But the fact remains that Crawford was top 10 in wins and save percentage last season, and top 20 in goals-against average, so he is a clear cut No. 1 fantasy goaltender.
What’s new: After the abrupt resignation of coach Patrick Roy, the Avalanche decided to go with a battle-tested, up-and-coming bench boss in Jared Bednar. Winning already at the ECHL and AHL levels on his way up the ladder, Bednar has been talking about nothing but “speed” and “systems” since taking over the Avs. That’s huge for fantasy owners, who have been forced to watch as Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon — two players bursting with speed — under-performed in recent campaigns. There should be a lot of optimism about the team from an offensive perspective, just don’t reach on any of the players in your draft, as a coaching change doesn’t always mean wholesale fortune changes for players.
There were minimal personnel changes on the ice for the Avs. The big three forwards — Gabriel Landeskog, Duchene and MacKinnon — are all due for a rebound season, while supporting cast members such as Mikko Rantanen and Mikhail Grigorenko have breakout potential. Tyson Barrie is the only defender name you need to know for fantasy, and he’s sometimes overlooked for his contributions.
Trending up: Nathan MacKinnon, C: There is enough talent in this tank that it’s going to take at least one — perhaps two — more years of mid-range fantasy production before we write him off. MacKinnon has all the puzzle pieces that scream 30 goals and 70 points, but his past two seasons have been below his 24-goal, 63-point rookie campaign. A new coach with a focus on exploiting the Avalanche’s speed up and down the roster should bode well for MacKinnon, and is a chance for him to hit the reset button after a couple of disappointing seasons.
Trending down: Jarome Iginla, RW: With more than half his goals and 40 percent of his points coming on the power play, a new coach looking for “speed” isn’t necessarily a good thing for a 39-year-old Iginla. He was barely roster-worthy last season, and another step down would take Iginla out of the mix for all but the deepest of leagues. An improving Grigorenko or impact from Rantanen would further push Iginla away from playing time with the catalysts on offense.
Goaltender index: 3. Semyon Varlamov is perfectly safe as the starter; it’s more of a question of whether the ratios will stabilize. After posting 41 wins with great supporting numbers in 2013-14, Varlamov’s fantasy stats — wins, goals-against average and save percentage — have all become increasingly worse for the past two seasons. Things were bad enough last season that he was a detriment to any fantasy owner that stuck with him. Can Bednar and the Avs turn the ship around? With the talent on this team, yes. But it takes time for ships to turn, so make Varly a stash in your draft, and you’ll be much happier with his as a third goalie.
What’s new: Losing Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell and Jason Demers, while only gaining Dan Hamhuis, on a team that finished with the 23rd-worst save percentage in the NHL is not great news for the blue line. But preventing goals isn’t what won the Stars 50 games last season.
It was all about scoring them.
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are among the best linemates for fantasy hockey in the NHL, with both arguable as first-round picks in your draft. Add Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp as a veteran backup duo and you have a dangerous top six no matter how you fill out the other two spots. Jiri Hudler was brought in to compete for one of those spots, while Radek Faksa, Patrick Eaves, Ales Hemsky and Brett Ritchie will compete to fill out the depth chart.
Trending up: Jiri Hudler, W: As mentioned, there are two spots in the Stars’ top six up for grabs, and Hudler, given his track record, has an inside track on one of them. Playing with Spezza and Sharp in the preseason, Hudler would make a fine linemate for the duo during the season and could rebound closer — but not all the way — to his 2014-15 numbers. He’ll also surely win a role on the power play in some capacity, given his skills around the net.
Trending down: John Klingberg, D: It’s certainly encouraging that he found his footing again toward the end of the season, but Klingberg’s splits can’t be ignored when evaluating his worthiness as a potential top-10 fantasy defenseman. If you take just December, January, March and April, Klingberg scored 15 points in 38 games. If you take October, November and February, Klingberg scored 39 points in 38 games. We think he is a top-10 fantasy asset, but any hopes of the ridiculous point-per-game production from select months last season should be set aside. If anything, Klingberg should be a more consistent 50-point defenseman this season. That’s valuable, but don’t expect anything crazy.
Goaltender index: 10. This is a straight-up timeshare, and the team is happy to tell you about it. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen will split this right down the middle. Furthermore, Niemi had the better ratios last season at a 2.67 goals-against average and .905 save percentage — neither of which helps any fantasy hockey team. To review: We have two goalies who will split time and produce ratios that hurt your squad. Look elsewhere for your fantasy goaltending this season.
There is one exception to that advice, however. If you’re in a daily lineup league, and monitor goaltender probables throughout the season, and you have a bookend in a snake draft — we could see you finding value in this tandem as your combination No. 2 goalie. But you have to take them both with consecutive picks (preferably after the 17th round) and your No. 1 goalie has to have sparkling ratios, and you won’t be able to set-and-forget your team at any point.
What’s new: Arguably the best regular season coach in the NHL, Bruce Boudreau was hired with little hesitation by the Wild when he became available after the season. Known for his injection of strong offense, the fantasy implications could be sweeping for a few members of the Wild.
At the very least, the team’s middling power play should push up toward the top of the rankings, giving a boost to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in the process. We highlight those two, because there will be some flux with the rest of the lineup because of the addition of Eric Staal. Is he the Wild’s top center? Does he play on the wing? Is he lower down the depth chart following the worst season of his career since his rookie showing?
We think Staal still has plenty of juice left in his experienced 31-year-old legs, and should pair up with Parise to start things off. Both, under the tutelage of Boudreau, will almost certainly outperform what it costs to get them in drafts. The optimism don’t end there, as the Wild boast a deep mix of top-six worthy players that will slot in depending on Boudreau’s preferences. Keep a closer eye on the Wild than most other NHL teams through the preseason, as any one of Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula or even Tomas Fleischmann could be fantasy darlings — but not all of them.
Trending up: Charlie Coyle, C: Boudreau has put any speculation to Coyle’s position to rest, setting him up to play on the wing. Which, in turn, makes him likely to start the season on a top line with Staal and Parise. The combination would be three big bodies with plenty of offensive talent. Coyle scored 21 goals and 21 assists last season, but a move to the top line would push him to 30-30 range.
Trending down: Mikael Granlund, C: Even though Coyle’s no longer a center, that still leaves Koivu, Granlund and Haula in the mix for the second scoring line. Unfortunately for Granlund, Koivu is going to win that battle and play down the middle for the second line. Granlund does not have the profile of a winger, and may end up being relegated to the third line because of it.
Goaltender index: 1. Dubnyk has completely stabilized the Wild’s crease and, despite coming back down to Earth a little from his stellar 2014-15 campaign, still had a top-12 fantasy season between the pipes. Only injury could stop Dubnyk from being among the league leaders for games played among goaltenders this season, which should translate into solid fantasy numbers if Boudreau can get him more offensive support.
What’s new: Aside from trading in the old for the new when it comes to their No. 1 defenseman — admittedly, one of the biggest trades in recent memory — not much is new with the Predators this season. Depending on who you ask, that’s not such a bad thing. This is a team on the rise, with Filip Forsberg getting better with each passing season and Ryan Johansen ready to buckle down for his first full campaign as the team’s No. 1 center.
Adding P.K. Subban in exchange for Shea Weber adds an element of youthful enthusiasm and next-level puck skills, while giving up Weber’s edge for defensive responsibility and shot power. In other words, it’s a good deal for the Predators. Fantasy owners should bank on a career year from Subban in the Predators system.
Trending up: Ryan Johansen, C: A full offseason to prepare to be the Preds franchise center should help Johansen come in ready to come closer to his previous numbers again. For two seasons prior to last one, Johansen averaged 30 goals, 38 assists and 220 shots. A return to that threshold would push him into the top 25 fantasy players again. More time to develop a bond with the players around him, rather than be thrown in mid-season, should go a long way.
Trending down: Mike Fisher, C: We’ve listed Fisher here, but consider all of the old guard second-line players on notice for the coming season. That includes Mike Ribeiro, Craig Smith and playoff performer Colin Wilson. The Predators projected third line of Calle Jarnkrok, Kevin Fiala and Victor Arvidsson possesses a ton of skill and some — if not all — of them will push for a share of the ice time usually reserved for fantasy streamers like Fisher, Smith or Ribeiro.
Goaltender index: 1. There is no controversy in the Predators crease, but it’s not because Rinne has been holding down the fort. His save percentage has been pedestrian in three of the past four seasons, and the results have been less than worthy of a No. 1 fantasy goalie. On paper, however, the Predators are a team that can fuel elite goaltender statistics, and it will be a matter of Rinne buckling down and finding the form we know he has. As long as he’s taken later than some of the other elite goaltenders, he’s an acceptable choice as a No. 1 option. There really isn’t any reasonable choice behind him, so he’ll start close to 65 games either way.
What’s new: The losses of David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott will hurt, to be sure, but the Blues have the skills in the prospect pool to absorb the blow. Jake Allen is already well established as the goaltender of the future, while Robby Fabbri can join the top six to help fill the void.
David Perron is also making his return to the Blues, which has the team alluding to a return to center for Patrik Berglund. These two had some chemistry from earlier in their career, playing on a line together with Andy McDonald back in the day.
Trending up: Robby Fabbri, C: Part of a scoring line for the Blues in the playoffs with Paul Stastny, Fabbri had 15 points in 20 games. It was a coming-out party for the rookie, following a fairly quiet regular season. There’s a role open for him to play with Stastny regularly on the second line now that Backes is gone. An increase in ice time from his 13 minutes last season will push up his counting stats to comfortable fantasy territory.
Trending down: David Perron, W: Falling backward into a dream role on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to end last season, Perron now returns to the Blues, who drafted him in 2007 and suffered through his injury-riddled early career. But Perron won’t be waltzing into a prime role with the Blues. The first line shouldn’t change once Jaden Schwartz is healthy, as he’ll join Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera again. Paul Stastny, Fabbri and Alexander Steen should fill out the top six. After a very strong fantasy finish to last season, Perron will need something to break right (or wrong, via an injury to someone else) for him to find value again this season.
Goaltender index: 2. Like John Gibson in Anaheim, we give Allen a slight downgrade because this is the first season he’ll be working the high wire without a net. But on the whole, there are very few concerns with how this new No. 1 workhorse will handle the team. Allen posted a sterling .920 save percentage and respectable 2.35 goals-against average, while increasing his workload from 37 to 47 games last season. A leap to 60 shouldn’t be a stretch, and the Blues are still poised to win plenty of games. We have him ranked as the last No. 1 fantasy goaltender in a 12-team league.
What’s new: The most dynamic young scorer since Alex Ovechkin added to the Jets’ lineup is what’s new! Patrik Laine brings an elite-level scoring touch to the Jets’ top six immediately. In fact, the team would be wise to start the season with new franchise center Mark Scheifele and Laine on a line together out of the gate. Laine is about the closest thing to a possible 30-goal rookie as you can get, and thanks to his prowess for shots on goal, he will have a huge impact on ESPN standard leagues. We’ve got him ranked 78th coming into the season, but honestly, that’s conservative.
One of the reasons we can be so confident with Laine’s performance is the depth of the Jets’ elite group of forwards. Blake Wheeler is as consistently great as they come, Scheifele took an enormous leap forward with 32 points in the final 25 games as the No. 1 center, and Bryan Little can slide back to the No. 2 center role he was made for. Nikolaj Ehlers and Marko Dano both have room for improvement, while Drew Stafford and Mathieu Perreault offer depth.
Dustin Byfuglien is the only lock for fantasy value from the blue line, as Jacob Trouba’s contract stalemate means he might be leaving town.
Trending up: Mark Scheifele, C: Despite an absolutely pedestrian first half of the season, Scheifele finished the campaign 50th on the ESPN player rater. After the All-Star break, only Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton had more points. It should be abundantly clear to the Jets that Scheifele’s time is now to take over the reins of the offense. He has as much chance of anyone you can get after the third round of your draft to finish in the top 10 fantasy players.
Trending down: Mathieu Perreault, C: Things are getting crowded in Winnipeg and the result will be Perreault being forced into a third-line role going forward. For the past couple seasons, he’s provided spurts of fantasy value and has been a modest contributor on the power play. With Laine in town, Ehlers continuing to develop and Dano with an outside shot at more time, Perreault won’t sniff many power-play opportunities going forward.
Goaltender index: 9. The Jets’ crease is a hot mess, with the team’s best goaltender possibly starting in the AHL because of an ill-conceived contact extension offered to Michael Hutchinson. Outside of an outstanding 2014-15, Ondrej Pavelec is a replacement-level netminder and Hutchinson struggled with opportunities handed to him last season. Connor Hellebuyck was miles ahead of both for ratios in his 26 games last season, and fantasy owners will have to bide their time until he takes over. Avoid Hutchinson and Pavelec at your draft, but stash Hellebuyck on your bench.