It's been an active offseason already in the NHL, and most of the big moves have surely been made ahead of the 2014-15 season. Three teams have signed new starting goaltenders, while at least four others will have a new starter by attrition. Plenty of defensemen found new homes, including some serious offensive catalysts that are major players in fantasy leagues. But at the end of the day, the forwards have been stealing the show in movements since the Stanley Cup was awarded.
Some high-flying elite wingers have found a new home, but perhaps the biggest news is the movement of four top centers from last season, only two of whom were free agents. Championships both in the NHL and in fantasy leagues are built around No. 1 centers, and to have four players with No. 1 center talent on the move signals major changes in value, which not only impacts the players themselves, but also has a snowball effect up and down the rosters of both teams involved in the move.
On the Move: Forwards
The first group of forwards to look at are the aforementioned top centers on the move. Not all of them were No. 1 centers this past season, and not all of them will be No. 1 centers this season, but they are definitely scoring line stars that will produce goals with talented wingers. Fantasy owners will be calling each players name before drafts get anywhere close to the prospecting rounds.
Paul Stastny, F, St. Louis Blues: As a new center for the powerful Blues offense, Stastny is arguably in a better situation than he was with the Colorado Avalanche. Stastny was one of four high-caliber pivots for the Avs, but an argument can be made for him as the No. 1 center for the Blues (depending on how David Backes is used). Moving Backes back to the wing will be an option in the mix for the Blues, which would definitely make Stastny the top option down the middle. But even if Backes stays at center to anchor the top line with Alexander Steen, Stastny still has a mix of talented players to potentially pair with, including T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Stastny has 80-point upside in the right situation, but will come with a slight discount because he hasn't been in that neighborhood for five years. He's a smart, low-risk investment after the top stars are gone.
Ryan Kesler, F, Anaheim Ducks: A change of scenery for one of the game's best two-way centers can only help Kesler get the groove back that helped propel him to two consecutive 70-point seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11. The situation will be eerily similar to the one Kesler has dealt with in Vancouver, with two elite stars in front of him that form a pairing. Just as Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin kept Kesler off the top line for the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will relegate him to the second line for the Ducks. But that isn't a tremendous concern, as Kesler thrived with a second-line crew and first-unit power-play time for the Canucks. He will get that same opportunity in Anaheim. Kesler will remain a steady 25-goal producer, and his assists should help get him back up over the 70-point threshold.
Jason Spezza, F, Dallas Stars: Spezza moves from being a clear No. 1 center to being a clear No. 2 center for the first time in a long time. The trade to the Stars will be a big change for the career Ottawa Senators pivot, but the bigger adjustment will be Spezza playing second fiddle on the depth chart. He was saying all the right things at his introductory news conference -- "just a piece of the puzzle" -- but that doesn't mean everything will flow when the lines finally start rolling. If Tyler Seguin ends up hoarding Jamie Benn and an improving Valeri Nichushkin, that leaves Spezza with Ales Hemsky and probably Erik Cole. That's not a bad second line by any means, and Spezza is still close to his prime, but he would still be a No. 2 at the end of the day. Fantasy owners will want to bet on the low end of Spezza's career numbers, somewhere in the range of 20 goals and 70 points.
Brad Richards, F, Chicago Blackhawks: A No. 1 center coming into his career with the New York Rangers, Richards is not a No. 1 center as he left them. After being bought out by the Rangers, Richards is on a one-year deal to anchor the Hawks' second line. That means playing with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad every shift, which is the good news. The bad news is that having talented linemates wasn't the problem for Richards with the Rangers, either. From Marian Gaborik to Rick Nash, Richards didn't really connect with his wingers for the Blueshirts. It will be a huge risk betting on Richards to have chemistry with Kane, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities. The other aspect working against Richards will be that he is likely out of the mix for first power-play unit duty. That said, Kane is a star linemate, and could help Richards get back to the 50-assist threshold that he has marked four previous times in his career.
The next batch of forwards on the move are the elite or near-elite goal-scoring wingers. There are five wingers with a real shot to score more than 30 goals in a new jersey next season. Four of them have an honest shot at 40 goals depending on how the line combinations and chemistry work out in their new surroundings.
Jarome Iginla, F, Colorado Avalanche: It's far from 100 percent clear how the Avs will deploy their bevy of skilled skaters up front. With a dynamic mix of youth and experience, the Avs have a lot of options. Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon contrast quite nicely with Iginla, Daniel Briere and Alex Tanguay. And don't forget Ryan O'Reilly is also in the mix. Iginla has shown signs of slowing down, but they've been minimal. He still went 30-30 (goals and assists) with the Boston Bruins this past season and had 19 playoff points in 27 playoff games with the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins during the past two postseasons. Given the right kind of line combination, Iggy could be sparked to better production again. He's 37 years old, but he still has wheels and a wicked shot. Plus, Iginla has established chemistry with Tanguay. Look for a rejuvenation from Iginla for this coming season and drafting him for 35 goals and 35 assists would be a reasonable -- albeit optimistic -- outlook.
Thomas Vanek, F, Minnesota Wild: After playing for three different NHL teams last season, Vanek is settled in on being a winger for the Wild for the next three. Although he is a natural left winger, Vanek will likely switch sides for the chance to line up with Zach Parise on the Wild's top line. That combination might not be set in stone, as the team has other talented pieces, but it would be the best for Vanek's overall value. The bottom line is that the Wild have a very talented top six, and Vanek will definitely be a big part of it. Thirty goals is an easy basement expectation to set for Vanek in this situation, and his 40-goal upside should become obvious very quickly if there is chemistry. Vanek gets streaky when things are going right, and a strong preseason would be indicative of a big season ahead.
James Neal, F, Nashville Predators: He's still really talented and has a knack for scoring goals, but there is no question that Neal's situation got worse this offseason. From playing with the best second-line center in the NHL (Evgeni Malkin) to playing on a team whose top center might be a third-line center on most teams, and will miss four months with an Achilles injury (Mike Fisher). Neal will be hard-pressed to repeat the gaudy statistics he produced for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That said, a 30-goal talent is a 30-goal talent, and Neal will find a way to score goals. Whether scoring 30 is an easy task or a difficult one likely depends on how the supporting cast steps up this season.
Patric Hornqvist, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: Will he play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on the wing? Does it matter? Hornqvist is a winger that scored 30 goals with minimal supporting talent, and is going to a team with the best one-two punch down the middle in the NHL. There is no doubt that Hornqvist is in for a career year, it's just a matter of how much chemistry he has with either Crosby or Malkin. With a healthy Pascal Dupuis back, Crosby's wing slots are likely spoken for by Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. But Malkin is an awfully good consolation prize, and the Russian pivot will be looking for a new wingman to put in rebounds with Neal headed to the Predators in the trade that netted Hornqvist.
Radim Vrbata, F, Vancouver Canucks: With Alex Burrows lacking the mojo alongside the Sedin twins for a few seasons now, Vrbata offers a chance for fresh blood to invigorate the Swedish twins. Daniel and Henrik need a reboot after trending down for a couple seasons, and a dynamic, underrated scoring winger like Vrbata could be just what the doctor ordered. The Sedins will be looking for a consistent presence that can finish plays around the net, and Vrbata is looking for talented linemates to boost him back toward his career-high level of 35 goals. This could be a match made in Canucks heaven. Fantasy owners will be asked to gamble, though, as the consolation prize for missing the Sedin line (skating with Nick Bonino) is not very promising for Vrbata's overall scoring outlook.
We have to take a pretty big overall step down to the next tier of forwards in new places, though some might argue the inclusion of players in each grouping. Should Scott Hartnell and Matt Moulson have been included in the above tier? Should Hornqvist and Vrbata been put in the next group? It's very debatable, but given the situations into which Vrbata and Hornqvist are headed, they are the fantasy players on the rise. Hartnell and Moulson have a lower basement.
Scott Hartnell, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: While we just argued against Hartnell's inclusion in the above tier of fantasy forwards, it by no means he is in a bad position for fantasy owners. Hartnell can score modest points and put up big penalty minutes. He will play for a team that should have a solid plus/minus, and he is likely on the team's first power-play unit. Hartnell should be a perfectly valuable fantasy asset. What owners need to do is forget about his epic 2011-12 season and focus on his other campaigns, especially given the fact that the Blue Jackets don't have a player on the same level as Hartnell's Philadelphia Flyers' linemate Claude Giroux (yet). In other words, Hartnell needs to be approached with tempered expectations for the coming season. His numbers will help fantasy owners across the board, but they won't be the amazing numbers we've seen in the past.
Matt Moulson, F, Buffalo Sabres: Moulson is perfectly capable of being productive on a team's top line and he'll have that same opportunity as he returns to the Sabres, one of three teams for whom he played last season. The Sabres have talented players to line up with Moulson, including Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson, both of whom Moulson shared plenty of ice time with this past season. However, it should be noted that once taken away from John Tavares' side, Moulson's points per game dropped from the 0.85 region to the 0.65 region. That's what should be expected going forward.
Sam Gagner, F, Arizona Coyotes: Flipped from the Edmonton Oilers to the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Coyotes in a single day, Gagner lands in a new location to try and relaunch what has been an uneven start to his career. Still only 24 years old and with seven NHL seasons under his belt, we aren't sure that Gagner's 18-goal, 29-assist 2011-12 season is his ceiling. He has been overshadowed since his early days in Edmonton by a parade of talented young stars, and this change of scenery could unlock more upside. But that might also be asking a lot. His seven NHL seasons have all fallen in a range of 37 to 49 points, which isn't exactly fantasy-friendly or inspiring of future growth. The one hint of optimism comes from the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, where Gagner scored 38 points in 48 games. That pace translates to a 65-point season, which would be very fantasy-friendly. Gagner will be worth a gamble this season.
Ales Hemsky, F, Dallas Stars: After escaping the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline, Hemsky scored 17 points in 20 games for the Senators on a line with Spezza. That's good. Also good? Spezza was traded to the Stars, and will be the team's second line center, where Hemsky is most likely to line up after signing with Dallas in free agency. The chemistry was clearly there at the end of 2013-14, and now Spezza and Hemsky will get a chance to rekindle the magic in Texas. Given Hemsky's overall talent and relative youth (he's still only 30), he's definitely worth the low investment value he will command in your fantasy draft.
The next few movements to highlight involve a pair of players both heading into similar fates on the same team.
Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, F, New York Islanders: The dual signing of the former Toronto Maple Leafs' second-line pair will give the Islanders an immediate boost to their depth. But the team is counting on the two players to recapture some of the magic that's largely been missing the past three seasons. On the positive side, Grabovski and Kulemin have established chemistry, and the Isles have many high-end options to complete a second-line trio. On the downside, both players -- Kulemin especially -- are a fantasy death trap when they aren't producing. Kulemin had just 20 points in 70 games this past season, while Grabovski had just 16 in 48 games in 2013.
P.A. Parenteau and Jiri Sekac, F, Montreal Canadiens: There will be plenty of shuffling in the Habs' depth chart this season, and both Parenteau and Sekac have an opportunity to grab a piece of the scoring pie. Parenteau comes into town with a big paycheck and a disappointing 2013-14 season on his tail. After cashing in on being Tavares' wingman with a big contract with the Avalanche, Parenteau looked like he was ready to earn the money thanks to a huge 2013 season. But when the Avs had more talent show up in 2013-14, Parenteau was largely absent from the score sheet. He'll be looking to prove the doubters wrong. Sekac had a tough road to the NHL, but we don't know how his KHL breakout is going to translate. He scored 28 points in 47 games in the KHL as a 21-year-old last season. Other than Max Pacioretty being the top-line winger, all bets are off for the Canadiens' line combinations, and both players could be fantasy-relevant.
Teddy Purcell and Benoit Pouliot, F, Edmonton Oilers: The fact that Purcell, 28, and Pouliot, 27, can be considered veterans on this Oilers team is admittedly a bit concerning. But, at the end of the day, the potential of this forward group remains limited only by the sky. If someone can pull the appropriate style of play to showcase the talents of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, it's going to be a fun ride. The fact that Purcell and Pouliot have a shot to share the ice with the young, potential-filled talent means that they could be in for some accelerated scoring if everything breaks right. But based on what we've seen over the past few seasons, the chances are that it won't break right, and the Oilers will continue to be a work in progress. Don't take a chance on Purcell and Pouliot early in drafts, but they don't make bad filler at the end of a fantasy selection.
Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat, F, New Jersey Devils: If the Devils were looking to increase their injured reserve time for next season, these are two wily signings. If anyone is hurt more often than Cammalleri, it's Havlat. But signing two chronically injured, yet immensely talented, players doubles the chances that the Devils will get one that stays healthy and productive. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, we don't know which -- if either -- of the veterans will be able to piece together any semblance of a healthy campaign. Certainly, Cammalleri has the better recent history and put up a solid 26 goals (albeit in 63 games) last season. Both will come with big question marks and big upside, but Cammalleri is the better bet.
There are many other new faces in new places worthy of a mention or consideration for your fantasy planning.
Daniel Briere, F, Colorado Avalanche: More talent around him and a coach willing to consider him for a scoring line could go a long way to rebooting Briere's career after difficult recent stints with the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers. The right line combination could easily make Briere a relevant commodity again, even at the age of 37.
Olli Jokinen, F, Nashville Predators: With Mike Fisher out for up to six months, Jokinen will begin the season as the Predators top center. He has had some poor fantasy seasons since leaving the Florida Panthers, but has still shown flashes of the player that was a perennial top fantasy pick on a poor team.
Brian Gionta, F, Buffalo Sabres: The assists won't be there in any situation, but Gionta can still snipe when called upon. If he is asked to skate with Moulson or Ennis on the top line and power play, things could break right for another run at 30 goals. But another sub-20-goal season is the more likely outcome.
R.J. Umberger, F, Philadelphia Flyers: Umberger regressed when other players developed past him on the Blue Jackets this past season, but that may not be the case with the Flyers. If Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier don't take anticipated steps forward this season, Umberger may be a top-line player by default for the Flyers.
Steve Downie, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: Plenty of turnover for the Penguins leaves opportunity on the wings of two of the top centers in the NHL. If Downie lands with Crosby or Malkin, he has a proven ability to be a fantasy darling with superstars at his side.
Jussi Jokinen, F, Florida Panthers: The Panthers' top-six talent is a year older and a year wiser. The team is on the rise and has a new coach at the helm. If things turn around this season, Jokinen will benefit as an experienced top-six winger.
Mason Raymond, F, Calgary Flames: A youth movement for the Flames doesn't leave a lot of experienced players who are also highly skilled in the top six. Raymond has speed and scoring experience that could land him a role surrounded by young studs.
David Legwand, F, Ottawa Senators: Replacing Spezza on the depth chart doesn't necessarily mean Legwand is the Sens' No. 2 center by default. But he will certainly vie for the role against younger and very inexperienced competition.
Nick Bonino, F, Vancouver Canucks: Bonino has a top-six role for the taking on the Canucks, but he may not have the best linemates to roll with. That said, a power-play role with the Sedin twins could parlay into some big fantasy numbers for this developing pivot.
Alex Chiasson, F, Ottawa Senators: A 35-point rookie season is a solid showing for this young winger. Now in a new home, Chiasson could be leaned on for a much bigger role in the offense.
Petri Kontiola, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are pretty weak down the middle, and Kontiola showed an ability to be a real playmaker in the KHL. Given his strengths are the team's weakness, he will be worth monitoring as the season approaches.
Jori Lehtera, F, St. Louis Blues: Depending on how the Blues use David Backes (wing or center), Lehtera could be called upon to be the No. 2 center for one of the league's deepest offensive powerhouses. His KHL numbers show some serious setup-man upside in the NHL (32 assists in 48 games as a 26-year-old).
Mike Fisher, F, Nashville Predators: Just make note to lower Fisher way down your draft board with the Achilles tendon injury that will sideline him between four and six months. His absence not only hurts his overall fantasy prospects, but it's not like he is locked in as a top-line center upon his return.
On the Move: Defensemen
The defensemen who have been moving have had far from the same level of impact as the forwards. That said, there are a few gems worth looking at for fantasy purposes.
Christian Ehrhoff, D, Pittsburgh Penguins: A slick defender with solid offensive skills both on and off the power play joining one of the biggest regular season powerhouse offenses in the NHL? Sign fantasy owners up! Ehrhoff is in solid position as the No. 2 offensive defenseman behind Kris Letang for this group, and will have plenty of opportunity to pile up points in his new surroundings. Ehrhoff's career-best numbers from the 2010-11 season (50 points) are probably at risk with him in a Penguins jersey.
Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, D, Washington Capitals: Niskanen blew past his career-high numbers last season with 46 points, and parlayed the strong showing into a lucrative deal with the Capitals. He joins fellow former Penguin Brooks Orpik, who cashed in thanks to his defensive prowess. The blue liners will work for defensive strategist coach Barry Trotz in a new era of play for the Capitals. Both players will have tremendous impact on the team's ability to implement that defensive awareness, as they both have plenty of ability in their own end of the ice. Add to that Niskanen's offensive upside and these signings have a serious impact for the Capitals. Fantasy owners will want to take a chance on Niskanen as a new piece of the Capitals' power play, but Orpik's impact will be felt more in the improved plus/minus and winning percentage of his teammates; don't plan on his having a major impact on the other categories.
Dan Boyle, D, New York Rangers: Even in what has to be considered a bad season for Boyle, he came pretty close to matching what was considered a terrific season for Rangers power-play quarterback Ryan McDonagh. Does that mean McDonagh drops down a peg with the 38-year-old Boyle moving to New York? Probably not, as the more likely scenario would involve the two players working together. McDonagh learns a few puck-moving tricks from the talented veteran, while Boyle's production is bolstered by a developing go-getter at his side; it's a nice picture to paint for fantasy owners. But it's notable that Boyle's stats have been dropping on a team that remained just as potent on offense. He'll be a risk, for sure.
Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman's improvements make him the incumbent No. 1 offensive defenseman for the Bolts, but there is little doubt that Garrison and his booming shot from the point are next on the list. However, there is a bit of a gap between the two, as even when Garrison was blasting 16 goals for the Panthers in 2011-12, he still topped out at 33 points. Matt Carle will still be in the mix too, but Stralman has underrated offensive potential. The key here will be watching which defenseman gets an assignment next to the burgeoning Hedman and on the second power-play unit.
Stephane Robidas, D, Toronto Maple Leafs: For Robidas to be fantasy-relevant, he needs to supplant other contenders as Dion Phaneuf's defense partner and see the Leafs improve significantly as a team. Let's just say he is likely out of fantasy planning for now.
Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros, D, Buffalo Sabres: Not for their own fantasy relevancy, but fantasy owners need to note the arrival of Gorges and Meszaros for the Sabres. Both are absolutely elite defensive defensemen and will vastly improve the goaltender's chances of not even having to worry about some shots.
On the Move: Goaltenders
Three free agent signings will give certain NHL teams a new starting goaltender for the 2014-15 campaign.
Ryan Miller, G, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks decided to invest in Miller as the team's new starting goaltender after some bungling of the crease situation -- to put it kindly -- during the past couple seasons. It's a fresh start for the team and a new start for Miller. Miller was otherworldly for a bad Sabres team this past season and solid, if unspectacular, after joining the Blues at the trade deadline. Miller is the type of goaltender who can solidly post a .920 save percentage and a sub-2.50 goals-against average for a winning team; both of those rates would have put him close to the top 10 at his position last season. The big question is whether the Canucks are going to be that winning team. The defense needs to rebound in a big way, and the offense needs to show it is deeper than it is on paper. Those are some pretty big hurdles and should keep Miller out of the top 10 fantasy goaltenders when drafts begin.
Jaroslav Halak, G, New York Islanders: Halak has, at times, posted elite NHL goaltending numbers, and has done so for some very good defensive Blues teams. What might be the most telling numbers of his career are the very solid stats he put up in 12 games at the end of this past season on a defensively poor Capitals team (including a 2.31 goals-against average and .930 save percentage). The Islanders are an up-and-coming group that will add some very important pieces to a great core this coming season. Halak has every bit of opportunity to become a valuable fantasy commodity in this new crease.
Jonas Hiller, G, Calgary Flames: The Flames will be a crapshoot for the coming campaign. The team is far too young on offense to list them among the contenders out West, despite the poise of what appears to be a solid group of defensemen. But the defensemen are only two of six players on the ice responsible for keeping the puck out of the net, and Hiller is surely going to be under plenty of pressure this season. It's a clear starting opportunity for Hiller to run with, but his recent save percentages (.911, .913 and .910 in the past three seasons) don't scream for success on a team where he will be consistently tested.
Devan Dubnyk, G, Arizona Coyotes: Mike Smith has declined since his stellar debut with the Coyotes in 2011-12, and Dubnyk has a strong base of skills in the crease. The Coyotes have a recent track record under goaltender coach Sean Burke of turning lumps of coal into goaltending gems (Ilya Bryzgalov, Smith) and Dubnyk could be the latest to benefit. It's only worth watching the situation at first, since Smith is the clear incumbent.
Evgeni Nabokov, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop showed some serious ability during his Vezina Trophy-nominated 2013-14 season, but he slipped down the stretch before getting injured. Nabokov is likely only in town to help save Bishop's overall stamina for a playoff run. But Nabokov would inherit a pretty nice crease to tend if something again befell Bishop.