Teams are listed according to where I predict them to finish in the division:
The Boston Bruins remain a true powerhouse team. All the pieces are set, with Marc Savard as the centerpiece of the offense. David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Patrice Bergeron (oft-injured) and Michael Ryder are all excellent options at the forward position because they feed off each other. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman create one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, with Chara being a top 3 defenseman in the league. Tim Thomas takes his rightful place in goal, however he’ll be pushed by highly touted Tuukaa Rask - who many scouts feel is ready for NHL play.
With a new look, the Montreal Canadiens have acquired quite the fantasy performers. Newcomers Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are reunited and should produce like their old days in New Jersey, while Mike Cammalleri comes in as the big sniper. He needs to prove though he can play without Jarome Iginla. Andrei Markov remains the Habs MVP; a solid top d-man for your team. Jaroslav Spacek comes in as the new power play specialist, and should benefit playing alongside Markov. The real question is in goal. Carey Price looks to rebound from a dismal 2nd half last year, especially with capable backup Jaroslav Halak waiting in the wings. Other sleepers include 2nd liners Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and Max Pacioretty who all have offensive upside if they can produce consistently.
The Ottawa Senators may have rid themselves of Dany Heatley, but Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson remain elite players. Forwards Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo will look to fill the void left by Heatley, and together should make up for the lost offense. Alex Kovalev at age 36 is still a magician with the puck, however consistency and hard work remain questions with him. Nevertheless he’s still an attractive option at right wing. Goaltender Pascale Leclaire is a nice sleeper who looks to rebound this year, and will be given every opportunity for the Sens. Unfortunately he’s not playing behind a stellar defense.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are much improved on paper, however not so great on the fantasy front. Phil Kessel is the only exception, but he’s out until November recovering from surgery. He can score, but will miss playing with Marc Savard. Jason Blake offers some scoring punch, as does Alexei Ponikarovsky and Mikhail Grabovski. Tomas Kaberle enters the season as a real sleeper, due to the fact he’s coming an injury-plagued season filled with trade rumours. In goal, Vesa Toskala is the starter for now, but could eventually succumb to Swedish import Jonas Gustavsson who’s as good as advertised.
When you think of the Buffalo Sabres, you think about goaltender Ryan Miller. He’s the Sabres franchise, and an elite goalie given the fact that he performs in front of an average team at best. The fantasy studs are center Derek Roy and winger Tomas Vanek, complimented by the oft-injured Tim Connolly, Jason Pominville, and Drew Stafford. All these players are solid, especially Vanek who netted 40 goals last year. Unfortunately, that’s all to get excited for in Buffalo.
The Washington Capitals are loaded. Alex Ovechkin, his center Nicklas Backstrom who’s emerging as a superstar, his wing partner Alexander Semin – another budding superstar, and Mike Green who scored 30 goals as a defenseman! All 4 of these players will be gone by round 3 (Backstrom being the last one taken). Goaltender Semyon Varlamov has claimed the starting job after a stellar postseason run, but don’t be surprised to see the Caps give Jose Theodore another shot due to his fat contract. Regardless, Varlamov is destined to the winner of that battle.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are probably the most improved team this year. Much of the focus is still on veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis, but they’ll be insulated by the likes of Ryan Malone, Alex Tanguay, and former 1st overall pick Steven Stamkos who’s ready to break out. The backend is ready to be relevant again with free agent acquisition Mattias Ohlund, who’ll be counted on to mentor 1st round pick Victor Hedman – the most NHL ready defenseman out of this year’s Entry Draft. Goalie Mike Smith is another solid sleeper pick who’d make a great no.2 goalie for your squad, as he’s figured to put up good stats for this improved Lightning team.
The Carolina Hurricanes always seem to find themselves among the leaderboard in terms of fantasy production. That’s primarily due to all-star Eric Staal, and goaltender Cam Ward. Both are top players, especially Staal who I believe is a top 10 center. The rest of lineup is loaded with star power that will score some goals, most notably Ray Whitney, Tuomo Ruutu, and Erik Cole. The wildcard in this offense is winger Sergei Samsonov; who seems to produce when playing with the team’s best players. On defense, Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo are decent options as 3rd and 4th defenseman for your squad. They should be solid contributors on the power play.
Get used to it, but the only relevant player the Atlanta Thrashers have is sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. He does it all; on the ice putting up the stats and off the ice putting the Thrashers on the map. He’ll get some help from Bryan Little if he can duplicate last year’s success. Rick Peverly has some upside after a surprising short stint last year with the club, and “big” free agent acquisition Nik Antropov will be counted on to chip in as well. The defense is in good hands with offensive-minder players such as Pavel Kubina, Ron Hainsey, and Tobias Enstrom – but these are marginal starters at best. If youngster Evander Kane makes the club, and young blueliner Zach Bogosian gets extended minutes, they can possibly make some noise. In goal, Kari Lehtonen is the incumbent starter but gets injured too often. Stay away.
Is hockey supposed to be played in South Florida? The Florida Panthers have one of the thinnest NHL rosters in terms of fantasy talent, and owners will be hard-pressed to draft Panthers for their lineups. Aside from power forward winger David Booth, the remaining players don’t have much upside. Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss are considered Florida’s top dogs, but are underachievers. Bryan McCabe has some value on the point, but should only be considered for power play purposes. Keith Ballard is a solid depth defenseman at best. The goaltending situation could get headed, with Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen battling it out for the job. Take a flyer on the winner and make him your no.2 at best (I think they’ll split time though).
Don’t mess with these bullies, because the Philadelphia Flyers are ready to roll. Centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are the offensive leaders. They do it all. Surrounding them is an abundance of talent, including the likes of the ever-tough Scott Hartnell, sniper Simon Gagne, and the emerging Claude Giroux who’s been hyped the last few years and is primed to get a real opportunity with big minutes this season. The defense remains one of the best with newly acquired Chris Pronger as the anchor, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn. Pronger clearly stands out from that bunch. And finally, Ray Emery is back in America from a brief stint playing in the Russian league. He’ll have a chip on his shoulder, and should be very good considering the success he had during his days in Ottawa.
The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins are defined by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. No analysis is needed here. As for the secondary talent, the Pens don’t miss a beat. Jordan Staal continues to emerge as a player and is a nice sleeper to acquire in the later rounds of your draft. Chris Kunitz is the benefactor from playing alongside Sid the Kid. The reliable vets Bill Guerin on the wing, and Sergei Gonchar on the blueline are still excellent options. Kris Letang is also continuing to emerge as an offensive defenseman, and is a nice sleeper. Marc-Andre Fleury is goal is a sure thing. The champs haven’t skipped a beat.
The New Jersey Devils will always be fantasy players because of one man: goaltender Martin Brodeur. Arguably, Brodeur is considered the greatest goaltender of all time. Regardless his age, he’s still top 5 hands down. Zach Parise is garnering some well-deserved attention as a bonafied superstar in the NHL. He should continue to improve on his breakout season from a year ago. Travis Zajac is another good center you can target late in your draft because of the abundance of good centers within the league. The only thing holding back Patrick Elias’ value is his recent injury (he’ll miss 3-6 weeks). Jamie Langenbrunner is yet another forward who contributes offensively for the Devils. He’s underrated and plays a sound game.
The New York Rangers are all over the board this fantasy season. In goal they’re set with Henrik Lundqvist, however question marks linger throughout their roster. All the attention will be on winger Marian Gaborik. If healthy he’s a top tier talent, however he never puts together a full-healthy season, and is a risky pick. Players worth a look include center Chris Drury, agitator Sean Avery, and young forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Christopher Higgins. They all have decent upside, but are not no.1 options you want on your team. One player who has the opportunity to develop into his own is defenseman Marc Staal. He’s a nice sleeper pick.
Slowly but surely, the New York Islanders are on their way. They may not win a lot of games, but they’ll definitely showcase new franchise center John Tavares. He’s everything as advertised, just be patient with your expectations as he’ll undoubtedly go through some rookie pains. Mark Streit was the surprising Islander last year who performed unbelievable on such a lousy team. He’s the powerplay quarterback and an excellent option on D. Youngsters Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey are worth a look, while goalie Rick DiPietro (when healthy), Dwayne Roloson, and Martin Biron will share time.