It's the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points. This year I'm doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Next up, the New Jersey Devils and the Nashville Predators.
New Jersey Devils
Pending UFAs – Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, Mike Sislo, Mark Fayne, Martin Brodeur, Cam Janssen
Pending RFAs - Keith Kinkaid, Mattias Tedenby, Alex Urbom (signed to play in KHL), Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefson
Looking to add –Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique are a better fit as 2a and 2b centermen. Neither one is suitable for the first line. The Devils are fairly tight against the cap (per CapGeek they have approximately $14 million in cap space for next season and eight regulars to sign). Buying out Anton Volchenkov would help, but it won't be enough to go after the likes of a Paul Stastny. Perhaps they can get in on the Jason Spezza or Joe Thornton talks, but they would need to move salary to do it.
To score goals this year, the Devils will be relying on another ageless season by Jaromir Jagr, healthy seasons from Patrik Elias and Ryane Clowe, as well as resurgence from Damien Brunner and Michael Ryder. Yeah well, good luck with that. There are only seven 20-goal scorers available on the free agent market: Jarome Iginla, Thomas Vanek, Mike Cammalleri, Stastny, Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen and Radim Vrbata. But as noted above, cap issues would prevent New Jersey from making a strong play on any of them. There are lesser names who are "capable" of 25 goals, such as a Milan Michalek - but would that solve New Jersey's problem or just stick a finger in the hole in the dam?
Ready for full time:With Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas both having graduated last season, it would make things difficult for fellow blueliner Damon Severson to do it this year. He'll probably play the season in the American League.
Youngsters who were up and down last year, as well as injured at times - center Jacob Josefson and defenseman Adam Larsson. Well, Josefson wasn't "up and down" so much as "sitting in the press box." But he's 23 now and a first round draft pick (20th overall in 2009), meaning the Devils have invested a lot in him. He's played 118 career games, it's high time coach Peter DeBoer either plays him or the team trades him. Either way, if he can stay healthy he will see much better numbers in 2014-15.
As for Larsson, he is in the midst of contract negotiations. I'm sure the topic of "why am I in the press box so often?" has come up. He'll be 22 in November and because he's a fourth overall draft pick (2011), DeBoer is probably feeling some pressure to play him in every game. He's another one who is looking at a numbers boost.
The team is desperate enough for offense to turn to any prospect winger even remotely close, but Reid Boucher could use a full AHL season yet. Boucher looked good at times when he was called up last year, but tended to fade for stretches.
Stefan Matteau is 20 years old now and last season he showed at the AHL level that he plays with a lot of heart. He had four game-winners for Albany and tallied three goals and four points in five games for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. He could make the New Jersey roster, but his fantasy impact would be limited to fringe PIM guy as a rookie.
The Devils won't be signing Martin Brodeur and if they don't bring in an experienced backup, Keith Kinkaid will be their man. He's a solid, underrated goaltender, but behind Cory Schneider he will be lucky to see even 15 games.
Fantasy Outlook: I'm not saying the Devils won't win a lot of hockey games. They could. In a Peter DeBoer system with Cory Schneider as the hands-down No. 1 guy, you never know - defense could get them into the playoffs. But that's small consolation to the fantasy owner. This team will be lucky to have a 60-point player in the season ahead. It's a lot to ask from 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who is also battling a constant groin injury, or from a 38-year-old Patrik Elias, who has produced at a pace of around 62 points in four of his past five years, but missed 17 games in 2013-14. Fantasy owners are avoiding the players on this team (not named Schneider) like the plague. And the prospects pipeline provides little fantasy appeal. Fantasy Grade: D (last year was D…and so was the year before)
Pending UFAs - Patrick Eaves
Pending RFAs - Nick Spaling, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Taylor Beck
Looking to add – A new coach and a new coaching system will probably lead to some change in the makeup of this team. The roster is filled, with every spot pretty much spoken for. But the Preds need a stud forward to lead that first line and I can see them making a play for one of the handful of top centermen around the league who are rumored to be on the trading block.
Ready for full time - Nashville has no shortage of prospects who are "close." But with such a full roster, they'll definitely have to earn it. Up front, Miikka Salomaki, Calle Järnkrok, Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, Filip Forsberg and Taylor Beck are in the hunt, with Forsberg and Järnkrok classified as "locks" (which is why the roster is pretty much spoken for). Other than Forsberg and Järnkrok, the rest of them will be looking at cups of coffee throughout 2014-15 and not much more.
Forsberg has the talent to take a run at the Calder Trophy in the year ahead and depending on linemates and ice time he could certainly top 50 points. Järnkrok is more of a two-way guy, although he impressed offensively during his 12 games with Nashville (nine points). He'll probably not get too far above the 40-point threshold in the coming campaign.
Fantasy Outlook –With Peter Laviolette at the helm, the offense should improve from the added points Craig Smith and Patric Hörnqvist will get. Fantasy owners are starting to open their minds to the possibility of maybe coveting a Nashville forward or two. On defense, there is a ton of fantasy appeal with plenty of offensive potential. Fantasy Grade: C (last year was D+)
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.