Party's over. With the signage from last weekend's All-Star festivities in Vegas barely shuttered away, two more NHL head coaches find themselves packing up their desks north of the border. Hours after the Montreal Canadiens showed Dominique Ducharme the door, Dave Tippett (along with associate coach Jim Playfair) was handed his walking papers by the Edmonton Oilers. Neither move serving as all that great a surprise, particularly after the latter's unanticipated 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Alberta. So let's start out west, with a view of what invested fantasy owners can expect (hope for?) from their performers under a revitalized regime in Oil Country.
Our first look at Friday's practice under new head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant Dave Manson suggests forward Jesse Puljujarvi is earning another shot alongside Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman. Why not? That top trio worked well together in the season's early goings. If you've held on to Puljujarvi this long, may as well maintain the course a while longer. Rostered in 44% of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, the 23-year-old could once again merit picking up if he can produce - and obviously stick - alongside the world's best center. It's also worth noting that Edmonton's No. 1 power play still includes new addition Evander Kane, who contributed an assist with the extra skater in Wednesday's defeat. As if you needed another reason to roster Kane, who has averaged 2.4 fantasy points/congests since joining the Oilers, and remains available in a third of ESPN.com leagues.
But it's between the pipes that the fallout from this particular coaching upheaval intrigues me most. The Woodcroft/Manson duo is anticipated to bolster the team's defensive corps considerably, to the clear advantage of whoever is playing in net. Right now, that's veteran Mike Smith, the projected starter versus the New York Islanders on Friday. Now, stauncher defenses aren't built in a day, but the fresh air wafting in from fresh figures behind the bench should also bring about an immediate boost. Perhaps enough to tide everyone over until real improvements are made. The more pressing questions, for fans and fantasy managers alike, concern how the organization addresses their netminding situation ahead of the trade deadline. This team still holds serious playoff aspirations. Do they bring in a new goaltending body or instead bolster the blue line with a top-four defender? If the latter, Smith - rostered in 61% of ESPN.com leagues - could serve as a solid fantasy force through the season's final stages. (Barring health issues, of course.) Stay tuned to how it rolls out, not only under the Oilers' new coaching staff, but GM Ken Holland.
Meanwhile, approximately 2,200 miles (3500 km) away, a former Stanley Cup champion is earning his crack at pumping the brakes on a Canadiens bus in perceived permanent skid. What Martin St. Louis lacks in time spent behind an NHL bench could be make up for with enthusiasm, confidence, smarts, and a fresh look at the game. Just because he's inexperienced doesn't mean he's unprepared. That new voice and increased passion will undoubtedly inspire more than a few Montreal skaters, many of whom have underperformed to date. Judging from Thursday's in-game chats on the bench, and reports of a rousing pre-game speech, the positive buy-in is already underway.
Top of the list of candidates projected to improve is forward Nick Suzuki. Reputed to boast a high hockey I.Q. (much like his new coach), the club's No. 1 center will benefit from a mentor who wants him to think the game more on the go, and let loose with intelligent risks. A cerebral player like St. Louis, Suzuki stands to glean a little extra from this change beyond the usual new coach "bump". Even during Thursday's 5-2 loss to Washington, literally hours after St. Louis took over, the club's only All Star looked more his 2020-21 self, skating 23-plus minutes, making smart passes, rifling six shots, throwing two hits, blocking a shot, and registering assist. His loyal fantasy managers - and there are still a good number of you - stand to profit handsomely from remaining loyal. Look for Suzuki to return to his 0.73 point/rate, plus pitch in otherwise, from now until season's end. There's a lot of fantasy hay to be made this month alone, as the Habs have eight games scheduled by Mar. 1. Most of them with non-playoff teams, including the Blue Jackets, Sabres (2), Islanders, Senators, and Jets.
Far more available across the ESPN.com fantasy spectrum is Suzuki's linemate, Tyler Toffoli. Even before St. Louis replaced Ducharme, the winger was on a post-injury upswing, with four goals and five assists on 29 shots in nine games. Since returning to competitive play, he's averaged 2.5 fantasy points/game in default leagues. Skating alongside Suzuki at even strength and with the man advantage, Toffoli is bound to prolong his enhanced run. And he's only rostered in 25.8% of ESPN.com leagues. Pick him up, if you need help up front. For personal record, I tried to add Toffoli in one of my more competitive leagues and found another manager had just beat me to it. Annoying.
In deeper leagues that reward power-play production at a premium, Cole Caufield (33.1%) merits increased consideration, and not only because the 21-year-old and coach are built from the same physical mold. His smile alone Thursday spoke to the rookie's improved lease on life in Montreal. A staple on the club's power play, a role further up the lineup could also be in order shortly. On the blue line, I want to see more from Jeff Petry under St. Louis' tutelage before clambering back onboard the defenseman's fantasy bandwagon. Whether he's destined to be traded or not. A role on the No. 1 power play would help in that regard. In net, Sam Montembeault needs to start winning games before earning any fantasy endorsement in this space (Cayden Primeau looks an absolute mess). Although Carey Price (38.4%) - who's skating but has yet to face shots in practice - could be worth a roll of the dice ahead of a potential return. Particularly if the team starts playing better. Nowhere to go but up, really.
Other fantasy-relevant notes:
The Boston Bruins floundered in their first game without both Brad Marchand (suspended) and Patrice Bergeron (suspected concussion), losing 6-0 to the Hurricanes. If invested in either Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman, consider Boston's match-ups individually in the coming days before including either goalie in your fantasy lineup. Saturday's contest in Ottawa? Sure. But maybe not next Tuesday versus the Rangers, or the following Saturday against the Avalanche. To overamplify the crystal clear, this Bruins squad isn't of the same calibre without it's two best players. Also, forward Erik Haula could serve as a solid streaming option as top-line center before Bergeron is fit to return.
With Jack Eichel loosely tapped to make his debut for the Vegas Golden Knights next Wednesday, there's chatter the club could shelve Mark Stone (back) on IR until the postseason. To create the necessary cap space for Eichel's inclusion, you see. Still only rumor, but Stone's fantasy managers in redraft leagues should start thinking about replacement options now. While the rest of us pay particularly close attention to who might slide in on that top new line with Eichel and Max Pacioretty. Top candidate: Evgenii Dadonov.
Sean Couturier is done for the season. The Philadelphia Flyers forward is shelved until next year after undergoing back surgery. Couturier should be outright released in all redraft leagues immediately. Whether he's worth holding onto in keeper competition depends on the number of IR spots available and your current competitive standing.