Fantasy Hockey 2018-19: Free agency recap from John Tavares to Michael Grabner
Free agency feels like a long time ago as we move closer to the opening of training camps, so Jason Chen reviews all the major movers and shakers.
Maple Leafs win free agency by signing John Tavares
The Kyle Dubas regime is off to a fantastic start after he landed one of the biggest free agents in league history, signing John Tavares to a monstrous seven-year, $77 million deal. Coming off his second 80-point season in four years, Tavares -- who has scored 30 percent of his career goals with the man advantage -- will join a power play that already has Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and ranked second in the league last season. If Matthews and Tavares score 40-plus goals apiece as some pundits predict, they'll be the first teammates to do so since Evgeni Malkin and James Neal with Pittsburgh in 2012-13.
Sharks stay sharp, re-sign Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton
Sharks GM Doug Wilson lost out on the Tavares sweepstakes but didn't waste any time moving onto Plan B. Couture is now signed through 2026-27 with an $8 million cap hit, Hertl's inked through 2022 and Thornton continues his tradition of signing one-year deals — this time for $5 million. In a weak Pacific Division, the Sharks should finish second at worst, backed by a trio of elite performers with Couture entering his age-30 season, Joe Pavelski at 34 and Brent Burns being 33. Naturally, their pricey contracts will yield less value as their skills decline, but with Evander Kane, 26, and Tomas Hertl, 24, they should be able to extend that window for a few more seasons. Team Teal has been consistent, if not predictable, but look for the Sharks to win at least 40 games again and score between 220-250 goals.
Blues acquire Ryan O'Reilly via trade and sign Tyler Bozak, David Perron, Chad Johnson
Brayden Schenn may have bristled when the already top-six-thin Blues traded veteran center Paul Stastny to the Jets, but they will now enter next season with one of the deepest group of centers in the league. O'Reilly has never scored more than 30 goals in a season, though he could do it now without the burden of having to carry a losing team. While 32-year-old Bozak is no more than a third-line center at this stage of his career, he's a pretty good one and his contract may end up being a steal. O'Reilly is the stronger overall player, so he should edge Bozak in scoring, yet it will largely depend on which wingers they play with among young studs Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and hopefully a healthy Robby Fabbri.
With Bozak and O'Reilly in tow, there's no way Schenn averages close to 20 minutes a game as he did last year. Even though he'll likely see fewer shifts on the defensive side of the puck, it will be tough for Schenn to duplicate his 70-point season. He's the No. 1 scoring center in St. Louis but may be shorthanded to start the year with Vladimir Tarasenko returning from shoulder surgery.
Perron returns for his third stint with the Blues after a career-best 66 points with Vegas, but he received only a modest raise, perhaps a testament to how unconvincing his "breakout" was. His versatility allows him to move up and down the lineup, yet the 30-year-old has scored just 20 goals three times in his career, making him a middle-six, 50-point winger. Meanwhile, Johnson will push Jake Allen to improve as the Blues are committed to the latter as a No.1 netminder.
Ilya Kovalchuk returns as a King
Winning the Stanley Cup is the final obstacle that stands in the way of Kovalchuk gaining membership to the Triple Gold Club. He chose an interesting team to help him pursue that goal, but there are two obvious benefits -- he is getting paid a lot of money ($18.75 million total) and is a lock to at least start on the top line alongside reigning Selke Trophy winner Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who's back to being a 20-goal scorer.
An all-world talent projected for roughly 30 goals, Kovalchuk will truly be the best sniper Kopitar has ever played with, and since the Kings don't play that fast anyway, this seems like a pretty good mutual fit. Kovalchuk picks up where he left off as a point-per-game player (816 points in 816 career NHL games), but at age 35, there's bound to be some sort of decline. Still, while the Russian arrives at a huge cost, he represents a significant upgrade over Marian Gaborik and Mike Cammalleri. The potential loser here is Tyler Toffoli, who has scored 30 goals just once in his five-year career and may see his role reduced even further after watching his average ice time dip for the third straight season.
City of Brotherly Love embraces James van Riemsdyk again
Van Riemsdyk will slot in nicely on either Jakub Voracek or Wayne Simmonds' opposite wing, and at age 29, he still figures to be a very good player for the next few years; there's even hope for multiple 30-goal seasons. The Flyers deploy top-level playmakers and JVR is an excellent finisher, so if paired with Simmonds, they'll be punishing in the offensive zone and scoring a lot of goals around the net. While JVR has never recorded more than 62 points in a season, he's coming off a career-high 36 goals and is in position to either match or exceed those totals this campaign. He averaged less than 15 minutes per game under Mike Babcock — his lowest output in six seasons as a Leaf — but will almost assuredly see a bigger role in his reunion tour with the Flyers.
Paul Stastny does about-face and signs with Knights
The Jets cleared cap room anticipating Stastny's return, but he opted to sign with the Golden Knights a few short months after the newly minted club eliminated Winnipeg from the 2018 postseason. If William Karlsson's breakout season proves to be a mirage, Stastny is a good insurance policy and will at least take some pressure off Karlsson, who looked completely spent by the end of the playoff run. Stastny is a solid two-way player, but he never scored more than 50 points in a season for the Blues, and only managed 28 points in 36 games with the Jets as the result of playing with elite scoring wingers. He won't get that luxury in Vegas, so expect him to be a capable No. 2 center and nothing more.
Flames add scoring help with James Neal, Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik
Signing Neal and adding Elias Lindholm via trade gives the Flames a formidable top six with Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk as the wingers, and Ryan is coming off a 38-point season with Carolina to reunite with his old coach. Scoring was clearly an issue that needed to be addressed after the Flames finished 27th in goals scored last year. The big piece is Neal, who procured a five-year contract worth $28.75 million at age 30. Even though he's delivered more than 30 goals just twice in his career, that would be a reasonable benchmark if he gets to play with Gaudreau.
New bench boss Bill Peters will ultimately decide how he wants to utilize his players, though keep in mind his Hurricanes were routinely bad at scoring. Czarnik, 25, scored 69 points in 65 games with AHL Providence last season, but he'll likely be a bottom-six regular after commanding a two-year contract worth $1.25 million per season.
Canes splurge on Calvin de Haan, cut Cam Ward and gamble on Petr Mrazek
The Hurricanes finally said goodbye to Ward after 13 seasons. With his career winding down, he joins the Blackhawks on a one-year contract. Scott Darling was a mess last season, yet Carolina sifted through the bargain bin for an insurance policy and chose Mrazek, who lost his job with the Red Wings and was cast aside by the Flyers. It's anyone's guess who will emerge as Carolina's top netminer and it may not matter for a team expected to lose a lot of games. While the primary focus is on young forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho, the club must figure out what to do with blueliner Justin Faulk. With de Haan in the fold on a four-year contract and capable of chipping in 20-30 points, Faulk will likely cede his top-four spot with the majority of the power-play minutes going to another newcomer in Dougie Hamilton.
Tomas Plekanec signs with… who else?
Plekanec returns to the Habs on a one-year deal and remains the team's only natural center. Jonathan Drouin plays down the middle because he's better at creating offense from the neutral zone, but it remains to be seen whether he can be a true No. 1 center. Pleks will eat up the hard minutes though overworking the 35-year-old throughout a long and arduous season is a recipe for disaster. Plekanec has scored 28 and 26 points in each of his past two seasons, which is a good indication of where his production is trending.
Stars get insurance in Anton Khudobin, welcome back Valeri Nichushkin
Starting goalie Ben Bishop has been unreliable at times, but free-agent acquisition Khudobin is one the league's best backups, plus the Stars no longer have to deal with Kari Lehtonen, who had a slippery grip on the No. 1 role before Bishop arrived. Still, the defense remains vulnerable. The team's best blueliners are primarily known for their offensive acumen, and it'll be interesting to see how Dallas compensates for its own-zone deficiencies under first-time NHL coach Jim Montgomery. Nichushkin is back after two years in the KHL. He returns as a more experienced and polished player and won't have to shoulder as much of the burden with fellow countryman Alexander Radulov also in the fold. In two years with CSKA, Nichushkin scored 27 goals in 86 games, so amassing 20-30 goals for the Stars is a reasonable expectation.
Red Wings stay old with Jonathan Bernier, Thomas Vanek and Mike Green
Bernier backstopped the Avs to a playoff berth last season, so he may get an opportunity in Detroit to spell Jimmy Howard — who has dealt with knee trouble in recent years — a fair amount, but the two netminders share a .918 even-strength save percentage over the past three seasons and this could be a 1A-1B setup. Vanek returns to the Red Wings after a one-year hiatus, and he won't be dealt unless he waives his full no-trade clause, providing stability to a top-six core that includes budding stars Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou. Even at age 34, Vanek is an effective scorer and 20 goals shouldn't be out of reach. Green took a slight pay cut to stay in Motown; he's easily the best offensive defenseman donning the Winged Wheel having scored 69 points over the past two seasons, but he also has a combined minus-34 rating and at age 32 is becoming even more of a liability in his own end.
Sabres add potential starter in Carter Hutton, veterans Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka
It's Hutton's job to lose, but he impressed in 32 games with .931 save percentage for the Blues last year. A cheap find at three years, $2.75 million, he'll finally get an opportunity to be a starter, but also has Linus Ullmark, Jonas Johansson and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen pushing him. If Hutton pans out that's great, but if not, he's still a decent stopgap until the three young 'tenders are ready. The Sabres defense has improved with the addition of Matt Hunwick and top pick Rasmus Dahlin, but they lost top center Ryan O'Reilly in a division that features four of the league's top centers in Steven Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Even though Blues exports Berglund and Sobotka can limit some of the damage, neither is expected to play much of an offensive role.
Bruins load up on defense by adding John Moore
There's a logjam on the B's blue line with the addition of Moore, who procured a long, five-year deal with a manageable cap hit of $2.75 million. Moore is 6-foot-3 but surprisingly nimble, and he can handle both the power play and penalty kill. Perhaps more importantly, he'll take some pressure off impressive youngsters Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. Think of Moore as an insurance policy in the bottom four, but his addition could pave the way for Boston to move Torey Krug, which then affords more man-advantage time for McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. On a related note, are the B's preparing for the final season of 41-year-old captain Zdeno Chara? It sure looks that way.
Canucks sign entire checking line in Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller
The Canucks get failing grades for overindulgence. For a team that finished 28th in scoring, the Canucks added little top-six help and instead opted to bolster their bottom six, signing three forwards who combined for 24 goals last season. Beagle and Roussel both landed four-year deals and Schaller got two, and together they may end up blocking the path for youngsters Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce, Brendan Leipsic, Nikolay Goldobin, Adam Gaudette and Elias Pettersson to grow into their roles. Poor goaltending was a big culprit, too, and that wasn't addressed.
Penguins move Conor Sheary to Sabres to add Jack Johnson
Johnson reunites with GM Jim Rutherford, who drafted him as a Hurricane in 2005, although the blueliner was dealt without ever playing a game for the Raleigh-based club. In Pittsburgh, he's an upgrade over Matt Hunwick — who was also shipped to the Sabres — and similar to how the Penguins have handled Justin Schultz, the hope is that a new opportunity on a team with an established hierarchy and history of winning will help Johnson break some of his bad habits. He's a good athlete who can still log plenty of minutes at age 31, but Johnson makes poor decisions with the puck and often gets caught out of position. If the Penguins can correct these flaws, Johnson should be a quality addition to a solid core that just needs to play with an edge and toughen up a bit.
Oilers add scoring winger in Tobias Rieder
Milan Lucic clearly is not the answer on Connor McDavid's left wing, so with no other appetizing option, it seems like Rieder may land the coveted assignment. The German was a very good scorer in the OHL, but he averaged a mere 13 goals over the past four seasons, despite missing only 16 games over that span. This is a great opportunity for Rieder — who also projects to see time with fellow countryman Leon Draisaitl — but expectations should be tempered even though his shooting percentage has crept up in recent years. The Oilers inked him to a one-year deal, meaning they're not really sure if he's the solution to the club's general lack of scoring wingers.
Avalanche add top-six depth with Matt Calvert
The top line will stay intact but adding Calvert is an underrated move that could bring balance to the top six in Colorado. He's scored just 72 goals in 416 career games with injuries impeding his progress to this point, though the winger may get to work alongside Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Jost, two players the Avs believe are part of their future core and looking to build upon stellar rookie seasons. If Calvert can stay healthy, he has 20-goal upside on a team that emphasizes offense.
Islanders plug holes with Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula
Losing John Tavares is a franchise-altering circumstance, and with no other free agent offering anything remotely close to what Tavares provides, Isles GM Lou Lamoriello opted to plug holes with veterans Komarov and Filppula. Neither is expected to do much other than help insulate Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. Komarov is a serviceable forward but offers little else than strength and physicality, and it seems like ages since Filppula was considered one of the top two-way forwards in the league. The Islanders finished second to last in the Metropolitan Division, and given their current roster makeup, it's likely they'll end up there again this coming season.
Michael Grabner is now the fastest Coyote in the desert
Back-to-back 27-goal seasons and a set of wheels that makes him one of the fastest players in the league renders him an intriguing addition to a Coyotes squad that had yet another productive summer. Because Grabner has experience playing on both wings, it gives the team a lot of flexibility, and he may even find himself playing alongside Clayton Keller and/or Alex Galchenyuk. That should boost his offensive potential a little bit, as well as having Oliver Ekman-Larsson hit him with perfect stretch passes.
Riley Nash and Blue Jackets are good for each other
Nash is a dependable center who wins faceoffs, backchecks, forechecks and simply does what he's asked; a good fit for an industrious Columbus team run by John Tortorella. No one really thinks Nash can score 41 points again -- which he achieved in Boston thanks to a few games with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak while Patrice Bergeron was nursing an injury -- and the top two slots have already been filled by Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alex Wennberg.
Castoff Robin Lehner lands on Long Island
Lehner's stint with the Sabres actually started off pretty well despite how he sustained a few injuries, posting a .921 save percentage in 80 appearances. But disaster struck in his third season (.908, 3.01 GAA) and the Sabres decided against tendering him an expensive qualifying offer. With a shortage of jobs available, Lehner settled for a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Islanders. He will likely end up splitting duties with Thomas Greiss. At 26 years old, Lehner still has the potential to carve out a long NHL career, but it'll be an uphill climb to re-establish himself as a No. 1 goalie.
Panthers add third goalie in Michael Hutchinson
Panthers GM Dale Tallon made an interesting move adding a third goalie after Roberto Luongo and James Reimer ended up splitting duties last season. Hutchinson spent most of the 2017-18 season in the AHL, but the 28-year-old proved in past years with the Jets that he can carry a team for short stretches. With Luongo's age and injury history and Reimer's inconsistency, it's very possible Hutchinson makes an NHL appearance this season with an improved Panthers squad.
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Our advanced computer model simulated the entire 2018-19 NHL season 10,000 times
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