The fantasy hockey world imitates the real one if you're enough of a diehard.
The best GMs in NHL history have often been known for moving on to their next mission moments after a season ends. See Lamoriello, Lou. And the same mentality makes for a great fantasy GM. Maybe you won your league this year. Maybe you came close. Maybe you floundered. Regardless, a good way to succeed is to cram for next season early. There's a lot of relevant information to find with the Stanley Cup playoffs and World Championship still happening and the draft a month away. May as well absorb what you can before the hockey world takes its August siesta after the free-agent boom.
So let's tackle some reader questions about keeper leagues, which force some difficult roster decisions at this time of year. If I don't answer you below, I'll try to hit you on Twitter instead.
Matt Murray's future in two words: blindingly bright. And I'm not merely reacting to his virtuoso playoff performance. I've had a bet posted in my cubicle for more than a year, claiming Murray will someday win 30 games in an NHL season. He's Pittsburgh's No. 1 prospect in THN Future Watch 2016. As for his games played next year, I believe the Pens realize they have a very good problem right now and that GM Jim Rutherford will rectify it this off-season. Murray has proven himself NHL-ready as a starter, and Marc-Andre Fleury has plenty of good years left, so I smell a trade for the older, more expensive player: Fleury. I wouldn't be surprised to see him waive his no-movement clause and wind up a Dallas Star or Calgary Flame this summer. It would be a disappointment if the Pens entered 2016-17 with both goalies on the roster still. I'll say 55 games for Murray as Pittsburgh's starter.
Definitely wouldn't call Stone a superstar yet. But he's plenty good, having posted seasons of 64 and 61 points. He required major hot streaks after the all-star break both years to reach those totals, however. He has an outstanding 64 points in 63 games post-break over the past two seasons. He won't flirt with superstar status unless he puts together a season of wire-to-wire excellence. There's no way I keep Stone over Giroux. Consider that, in a "down" year, Giroux still topped Stone by six points. I'd strongly consider Stone over Thornton, not in a redraft league, but in a keeper league, as Jumbo Joe's age will eventually take its toll and start dragging down his numbers. Stone, on the other hand, is 24 and could still ascend to the 70-point stratosphere.
Ah, the doozie question of the day. Glad you went for it, Ian. I hate to give a cop-out answer, but: trading Crosby depends largely on the return. Fantasy hockey has a tiny group of contributors at the very top, the guys who produce like superstars of another era and sail above the point-per-game mark, and they're worth their weight in gold. Crosby still belongs in that tier. He's thus not someone you rush to trade – unless to return is astronomical. You don't want to trade the dollar for three quarters, but if someone is willing to overpay with two top-25 players – off the top of my head, I'll say Evgeny Kuznetsov and Johnny Gaudreau – it may be worth dealing Sid the Kid.
This is an agonizing call, so much that I considered dropping the question altogether because I was afraid to answer it. But I'll try. To me, the safe pick is Klingberg. He's opened his NHL career with seasons of 40 and 58 points, showing clear ascension. He's part of the league's highest-scoring offense in Dallas, and that core group could still get better, which is terrifying. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are early in their primes. Gostisbehere and the Flyers' offense are far less predictable in 2016-17. That said, gambles are fun in fantasy, and I'm a gamblin' man. Klingberg is the safe pick – but that doesn't mean it's my pick. I'd go Gostisbehere. He was truly special as a rookie. He had the best points-per-game by a Calder-eligible blueliner in 23 years. The Flyers will run their offense through him much of the time, like the Ottawa Senators do with Erik Karlsson. 'Ghost Bear' has a higher ceiling than Klingberg's, and it's not like the floor is horrible. A sophomore slump for Gostisbehere would still likely mean 40 points. I'd go with the sexy choice here.
Tarasenko might still top out at 90 points in a peak year. He has the goal-scoring talent to snipe 50 in the right situation. The question is when and if he'll find himself in that situation under coach Ken Hitchcock. Tarasenko was fourth in goals and 10th in points this season but finished 50th in average time on ice. Tarasenko has a better chance at 90 points with a coach who trusts him a bit more. The head coaching job likely remains Hitch's next year now that he's taken St. Louis to the conference final and perhaps beyond, so the odds of a 90-point season aren't on Tarasenko's side. That said, it's still a fair ceiling. He's good enough to do it.
Auston Matthews will be far closer to Crosby than Alexandre Daigle, though the better analog to me will be John Tavares. Daigle jumped right from the QMJHL to the NHL under the weight of massive expectations in 1993-94. Matthews, on the other hand, has a year of pro hockey in Switzerland under his belt, playing against grown men, most of whom are in their late 20s and early 30s. He also has the endorsement of an experienced, Stanley Cup-winning coach in Marc Crawford, who shepherded him with the Zurich Lions. We can't guarantee Matthews succeeds, of course, but the stats, the scouting reports, the experience, the eye test – you name it and it points toward a boom, not a bust.
Great question. I'll define players worth keeping into next season as guys I expect to be impact NHLers right away. It's the big three: Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. I'm highest on Matthews in the long term but expect Laine to be the best fantasy player next season. He'll likely record the most goals, shots and hits of the trio, and he also stands to land in the better fantasy situation as a rookie. The Winnipeg Jets are a bit closer to contention than the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will take Matthews, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will take Puljujarvi. Plenty of other projected 2016 first-rounders should have stellar NHL careers, from Matthew Tkachuk to Mikhail Sergachev, but that doesn't mean we'll see them all in fantasy lineups by next season. Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Ivan Provorov in 2015 are examples of highly regarded prospects who went early in the first round and still got sent back to junior for more development the ensuing season.
Kuznetsov. There's a temptation for a MacKinnon bias, as he's a former first-overall pick, and the Canadian tends to get more respect than the Russian. But, man, Kuznetsov bested MacKinnon's career high in points by 14 in 2015-16, and Kuznetsov has one fewer full year of NHL service. Not to disrespect Nate Dogg – I still believe he'll be a star – but it's time to respect Kuznetsov. He's a star right now, worthy of a top-20 pick in redraft pools.
Yes, unless you're stacked in goal already and don't need the help. Otherwise, that's a strong return for Malkin. I spoke in an earlier question about Crosby being in a rare tier of better-than-a-point-per-game guys. Malkin belongs there talent-wise, but check out his missed games over his past four years: 17, 22, 13, 25. Yuck. We can pretty much set our watches to Geno sitting out double-digit games every season. Domi and Gostisbehere are just getting started as NHLers and showed plenty of fantasy value as rookies, while Luongo remains a serviceable netminder. Pull the trigger, though I'd consider asking for a different piece than Luongo if you're already strong in net.
I lean toward Parise. He's the oldest player of that quartet, turning 32 before next season starts. He's missed an average of 12 games over his past three campaigns. Admittedly, I'm curious as to what Parise can do with high-octane Bruce Boudreau coaching the Wild, but Parise's health worries me. A herniated disc in his back ended his season. He avoided surgery, but that type of injury raises red flags in fantasy. It's not a freak play like Logan Couture's fractured fibula. Back problems, specifically herniations, correlate stronger with older athletes.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin