Well, well, well ... I can't say I saw that one coming. Of all the teams in the NHL, and of all the times to make the move. The Los Angeles Kings, who received surprisingly quality performances from goaltender Peter Budaj all season, and had just got a healthy Jonathan Quick back between the pipes for the first time since the season opener, turned around and traded Budaj for Tampa Bay Lightning starter Ben Bishop (among a few draft picks and prospect Erik Cernak heading to Tampa Bay).
Insurance is one thing, but this is a whole different situation. Bishop is one of maybe five NHL goaltenders who can make a case for being as good as Quick. For the past three seasons combined, Quick has a goals-against average of 2.22, good for fourth among all starters with more than 100 games played. Bishop is sixth with a 2.26 GAA. As for the other two fantasy categories, Bishop edges Quick with a .919 save percentage to a .918, and Bishop has the advantage in wins, by a margin of 91 to 77. The case could be made that Bishop is the better starter here. But no one is going to be making that case, because you don't have to pick one -- they can just share.
Quick is the incumbent and at the very least will be getting half the starts. Bishop, if this isn't some quirky trade and then re-trade scheme, will also get about half the starts for the Kings. As far as strategies to win Stanley Cups go, this is applaudable; after all, if one gets hurt or struggles, you have another option who is just as good. As for us fantasy owners, especially those faithful Quick owners who have suffered since the puck dropped on the season, this is devastating. If Bishop really is sticking around, all that waiting and hoping for Quick to return and carry you to fantasy glory is now a plan with half the ammunition.
And it's not like this does any wonders for Bishop's fantasy value. At least with the Lightning, he was guaranteed a lion's share of the starts. Now he'll get 50 percent or slightly less -- albeit for a team more conducive for good goaltending stats. Still, it's hard for any goaltender in a timeshare, even a quality timeshare, to carry the load for a fantasy team.
With only 21 games left, it could mean as few as 10 starts for whichever goaltender you own. That's going to make it hard to compete with your fantasy rival that has Devan Dubnyk, who is likely to start another 20 games. It means you may have to take further action for your goaltending.
That said, we would advise waiting until after the deadline on Wednesday afternoon before doing anything too drastic. More unexpected fruit could be shaken loose from the fantasy tree by the approaching deadline.
Meanwhile, Martin Hanzal being dealt to the Minnesota Wild was a similar example of the rich getting richer. In speculating where the big centerman might land ahead of the trade deadline, everyone was looking at which teams lacked for centers. Instead, the Wild, who have a combined 34 goals and 91 points from Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal this season, stole Hanzal away from the rest of the teams vying for his rental services from the Arizona Coyotes.
The last place we expected to see Hanzal was in a situation where he very well could end up playing as a bottom-six forward. But here we are. We have to think the Mikael Granlund, Koivu, Jason Zucker line is safe as a unit, while Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle have an established chemistry. That leaves Hanzal to start out by replacing Erik Haula on a line with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.
This could be a huge boon for Hanzal, as Pominville has been on a wacky tear since Jan. 19. In fact, since that date, no NHL player other than Jonathan Toews has more points than Pominville's 20. Parise could use a swift kick into gear and perhaps a strong presence from Hanzal is just what he needs. The best part of the situation for all players involved is that Hanzal adds one more quality forward into the mix for coach Bruce Boudreau. There are relatively few combinations where these players will lose out on fantasy value. Hanzal's presence basically solidifies the value of all Wild forwards for the stretch run. It's hard to cool off when there is so much talent around. It's not out of the realm of possibilities that the Wild finish with eight 20-goal scorers.
The final recent trade of some fantasy relevance, though not nearly as impactful as the first two, was Patrick Eaves heading to the Anaheim Ducks. On Saturday, he played the first two periods with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, and then played the woeful third period with Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Ritchie. While it wasn't woeful for Eaves' line -- as they were only on for the empty netter -- it was a pretty rough collapse for the Ducks overall, surrendering four goals to the Kings. We could foresee this horse trading continuing for another game or two before the Ducks decide whether they like Eaves with Getzlaf or Perry. Or we could see the Ducks put Getzlaf and Perry back together again. Either way, Eaves is only a fringe top-six winger with the Ducks, and won't be getting nearly as valuable usage as he was with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on the Dallas Stars. His fantasy value plummets with this move.
Now for a quick look at the power vacuums left behind in each deal.
The Lightning crease should belong to Andrei Vasilevskiy going forward. That said, Budaj has already shown he shouldn't be counted out for value. The veteran won't find it as easy backstopping for the Bolts as it was for the possession-dominant Kings, but there are worse places to be. If Vasilevskiy continues to stumble, Budaj could factor in more than Vasilevskiy owners want him to. Especially if the Lightning continue to win games and stay in the playoff hunt. Ultimately, like the situation for the Kings, this could be a timeshare -- only with a lot less fantasy value attached to it.
For the Coyotes, Jordan Martinook moved up to play Hanzal's role between Max Domi and Radim Vrbata on Sunday, but there's no use buying into any combinations until the Coyotes are done dealing on Wednesday. More pieces could be on their way out the door. The thing to keep an eye on here will be if Christian Dvorak starts getting responsibility as the team's No. 1 center, and to see how he responds.
For the Stars, this opens up key power-play time for Jiri Hudler and Patrick Sharp. However, one or both could also be moved before Wednesday, so this is a wait-and-see situation as well. If the Stars do ship out more wingers before the deadline, some of that key power-play time could go to Antoine Roussel. With some minutes on the man advantage, he could continue to push his fantasy relevance beyond that of a penalty minutes collector.
Forwards rising and falling
Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks (up 11 spots to No. 80): This is some vintage Toews we are getting here lately. To be clear, he's scored like this before in his career, but he hasn't had a month this big since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. His career high for a month is 21 points, but he did that in 13 games back in 2010-11. This February, in only 10 games, Toews has managed a whopping 18 points -- meaning a slightly busier month could have meant a new personal best. This is not the style Toews has played the last few campaigns. For a frame of reference, he only had one month with double-digit points all of last season. The captain is dragging both Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz along for the ride. Panik has 11 points this month and Schmaltz has 10. In addition to elevating Toews' status for the remainder of the season, get Panik or Schmaltz into your lineup as need be.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, New Jersey Devils (up 12 spots to No. 115): Standing at just seven goals when calendar year 2017 started, Palmieri has turned things around thanks to a consistent approach in the lineup. Rolling regularly for some time now with Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac on the Devils' top line, Palmieri has 11 goals since the start of January -- plus seven assists -- in 24 games. There are not world-beating numbers, but it puts Palmieri firmly back on the shallow-league radar going forward.
Goaltenders rising and falling
Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa Senators (up 14 spots to No. 102): Still owned in only 65 percent of ESPN leagues, Anderson doesn't look one bit rusty back from a long, emotionally taxing layoff with his ill wife. Now five games in to his return, Anderson sports an expected 3-2 record, with an exceptional 2.01 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. With the goaltender market potentially further destabilizing at Wednesday's trade deadline, Anderson is a safe No. 2 goaltender with upside to get on your roster now.
Brian Elliott, G, Calgary Flames (up 34 spots to No. 154): Elliott is looking increasingly more comfortable in the crease, and the Flames are clearly not throwing the towel in, trading last week for Michael Stone to upgrade the defense. Though a 2.59 GAA in February isn't anything to write home about, Elliott's 5-1-1 record is a boon for his fantasy totals. If the trends continue, we could see Elliott finally settling down to tend some decent twine for the Flames before the season is through. As I said with Anderson, the Bishop trade throws some instability into the goaltender landscape by removing two expected No. 1 fantasy goaltenders from the mix, and it might not be the only move before Wednesday. Available, stable guys like Elliott aren't bad to add to your lineup now -- at least until we see what happens.
Another guy who could fill a power vacuum if one of the most talked-about players ends up being traded before Wednesday: Colton Parayko would become the top dog for the St. Louis Blues' power play if Kevin Shattenkirk leaves town.
The Washington Capitals moved Brett Connolly up to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on Saturday, as T.J. Oshie was out. The results weren't positive, as both Connolly and Ovechkin were held without a shot as the Nashville Predators beat up on the Caps. Still, it's a note that Connolly is raising his stature both for now and the future. He's still only 24.
A case of mumps sweeping through the Vancouver Canucks' locker room has little fantasy implications. It appears the Sedin twins avoided it, and they are the only two Canucks owned in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues. However, we would argue Henrik is only owned in that many out of nostalgia, as it's certainly not based on production this season.
Top 250 rankings
Here are the updated rest-of-season top-250 rankings of forwards, defensemen and goalies, including position ranks.
Note: Sean Allen's top 250 players are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies.