Here are the final five teams of my eighth annual summer fantasy evaluation. Ratings of these teams reflect my comfort level/excitement of building a fantasy squad around them – how much harder should I work on acquiring a player in Washington as opposed to a player in Florida?
Tampa Bay Lightning
Gone - Paul Szczechura, Vladimir Mihalik, Matt Smaby, Mike Lundin, Cedrick Desjardins, Randy Jones, Simon Gagne, Mike Smith, Sean Bergenheim, Marc Pouliot, Mathieu Roy
Incoming -Ryan Shannon, Tom Pyatt, Matt Gilroy, Mathieu Garon, Michel Ouellet, Bruno Gervais
Ready for full time – I have Brett Connolly penciled in to make this squad, but the pencil is very light and easily erased. The 19-year-old right winger could probably use another year to fill out, but the problem is that year would be spent in the Western League, which at this point in his development offers little in the way of competition. At the very least, look for a nine-game NHL trial.
Although Carter Ashton was close to making the squad two years ago, it is pretty clear he still needs more time. With GM Steve Yzerman apt to follow the Detroit School of Prospect Patience, the wait on Ashton will be another year or two.
A dark horse to keep an eye on is Vladislav Namestnikov. His uncle is Yzerman’s former teammate Slava Kozlov and thus far has impressed. But again, floating the theory that ‘Stevie Y’ will encourage a lot of patience for his prospects, Namestnikov will have to wait.
Fantasy Outlook – With the emergence of Teddy Purcell, the Lightning have a high-scoring top six (I don’t have to mention their superstars, do I?). And I really like Ryan Shannon producing 35-plus points from the third line, too. The pipeline really improved with fantasy-worthy prospects thanks to this past draft (Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov) and there are several solid goaltenders in the system, too. All that is missing is an established, top-flight power play quarterback. No, Marc-Andre Bergeron is not the answer, although Victor Hedman will be in two years. Fantasy Grade: B (last year was C+)
Toronto Maple Leafs
Gone – Fredrik Sjostrom, Christian Hanson, Brett Lebda, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tim Brent
Incoming – Philippe Dupuis, Cody Franson, Matt Lombardi, Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Mark Owuya
Ready for full time – I don't have a lot of faith in goaltender Jonas Gustavsson - even as a backup for James Reimer (and despite the lip service from Leafs brass in an effort to keep the pressure off, Reimer is the starter). Quite frankly, I think Ben Scrivens will steal Gustavsson’s job. And I wouldn't discount Jussi Rynnas or Owuya either.
Nazem Kadri needs another half-season in the American League and so does Joe Colborne. If developed properly - and so far, so good there - those two should be first-line players in three years. They are must-owns in keeper formats, but undraftable in one-year formats.
Both Matt Frattin and Luca Caputi will get long looks in training camp. It wouldn’t shock me if one of the two made the jump (or Kadri, for that matter), but neither are fantasy-worthy to start the campaign. Frattin looks to have second-line upside, whereas Caputi seems destined for the third line. If Kadri does make the team, he would pick up enough points to make a late-round pick worthwhile.
Defenseman Jesse Blacker is probably ready to make the jump, but why would they do that? The Leafs are flush with defensemen and are in no hurry to rush their prized rearguard of the future. And one last dark horse to keep an eye on is Tyler Brenner. The undrafted college star made a big splash in eight American League games (six points, plus-4) and he boasts the size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and the maturity (23 years old) to make the jump. The right winger will need some injury help to crack the top six, though.
Fantasy Outlook – I’ll say this about the Leafs: I thought they had possibly the worst farm system in the league two years ago and now they are middle-of-the-pack or even slightly higher. They have the makings of a 65-point scoring line (each of Joffrey Lupul, Tim Connolly and Phil Kessel) and a 60-point scoring line (Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur), as well as scoring depth via Matt Lombardi and possibly Tyler Bozak and Kadri. On defense, adding Liles sure helps and Franson will surprise. Goaltending is deep, but unproven. Fantasy Grade: C (last year was C-)
Gone – Sergei Shirokov, Jeff Tambellini, Alexandre Bolduc, Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass, Christian Ehrhoff
Incoming – Byron Bitz, Mike Duco, Andrew Ebbett, Marco Sturm, Mark Mancari, Alexander Sulzer, Owen Nolan (camp invite)
Ready for full time – Cody Hodgson should make the jump, especially given the injuries to Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson, all of whom are expected to miss training camp and beyond. Because of Hodgson’s injury history (mainly his back), I wouldn’t draft him in a one-year format.
Goaltender Eddie Lack is NHL-ready and the main reason you hear Cory Schneider in so many trade rumors. Once Schneider is dealt, Lack will be the backup.
Fantasy Outlook – This is a well-run team with a superstar top line, a star second line and decent scoring on the third line. The loss of Ehrhoff will hurt the scoring from the back end, but there is still depth there. Can’t complain about the goaltending here, either. From a keeper standpoint, the only ownable prospects in the system are Hodgson, Lack, Jordan Schroeder and Kevin Connauton, which is pretty light. Fantasy Grade: A- (last year was A)
Gone – Scott Hannan, Tyler Sloan, Eric Fehr, Jason Arnott, Andrew Gordon, Matt Bradley, Marco Sturm, Boyd Gordon, Semyon Varlamov
Incoming – Christian Hanson, Tomas Vokoun, Ryan Potulny, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Mattias Sjogren
Ready for full time – Sjogren is best suited for a fourth-line role, which means Mathieu Perreault will not make this team. Despite being NHL ready, Perreault is best suited as a 35-point, third-line (energy line) player in the year ahead and then a second-line scorer two or three years down the line. For now, Perreault is on a two-way contract, which could be the kiss of death. But one thing about Perreault is he always seems to overcome the odds.
Goaltender Braden Holtby was ready to step in as the backup and I had him penciled in to even steal the starting position - that’s how good he is. But then along came Vokoun and his crazy-low contract, rendering Holtby undraftable in one-year leagues.
Fantasy Outlook – When you compare the “Gone” with the “Incoming” above, how can you not like what this team has done? The roster is solid from top to bottom and includes several superstars. There are some potential stars on the way, too. The only problem with this team is the defensive direction it took last season. Fantasy Grade: A (last year was A+)
Gone – Eric Boulton, Anthony Stewart, Radek Dvorak, Freddy Meyer, Rob Schremp
Incoming – Kenndal McArdle, Eric Fehr, Randy Jones, Tanner Glass, Derek Meech
Ready for full time – Patrice Cormier will make the team and, if he can stay healthy, is a dark horse for 30 points and 120-plus PIM. To do that, he needs to crack the third line, which is something he was unable to do last season.
Carl Klingberg is a big energy winger who should make this team as well, although he boasts little upside.
Defenseman Paul Postma is close, though it would require an injury along the blueline to happen. He is an offensive rearguard and the Jets already have three of those.
Fantasy Outlook – I’m not a fan of this roster. I don’t like their goaltending in terms of reliable health. I think Bryan Little, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler will take a big step forward and I love the mobility on the blueline (not that a 286-pound Dustin Byfuglien is “mobile” - I am referring to the puck and not the skating). I also love the management team and I think it will build this franchise properly and the fans in Winnipeg will be patient. But in fantasy hockey, best not touch this roster with a 10-foot pole. Fantasy Grade: D- (last year was C)
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Get the edge in your league - check out the latest scoop every Tuesday and Saturday. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.
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