Free Agency: Risers and Fallers

Free Agency: Risers and Fallers
The Free Agent Frenzy during a pandemic wasn’t as frantic as previous years, but there has still been plenty of roster movement. Some of the more prominent players will be highlighted here to see how their fantasy outlook changes, or doesn’t, on their new teams.

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Risers:

Taylor Hall – Arizona -> Buffalo

Hall surprised just about everybody when he signed with Buffalo on a one-year deal worth $8 million. He was expected to bet on himself with a short-term contract, but joining the Sabres was a bit of a changeup. Still, he gains plenty of fantasy value with the opportunity to play alongside star center Jack Eichel. Hall produced 16 goals and 52 points in 65 matches with New Jersey and Arizona last year. Playing with Eichel, who amassed 36 goals and 78 points over 68 matches last campaign, has the potential to put Hall back on 70-80 point pace in 2020-21. He could also help ignite what has been a fairly ineffective power play.

Alex Pietrangelo – St. Louis -> Vegas

Pietrangelo inked the most lucrative contract in free agency when he signed a seven-year deal worth $61.6 million with Vegas. He scored a career-high 16 goals and was on track to set a new personal best in points prior to the pause, and eventual shutdown, of the 2019-20 season. Pietrangelo compiled 52 points in 70 games during his final campaign with St. Louis. He could surpass the 60-point plateau for the first time while playing with an excellent cast of forwards on the Golden Knights. Pietrangelo will be granted plenty of exposure to Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault in all situations for Vegas this coming campaign.

Tyson Barrie – Toronto -> Edmonton

Barrie agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.75 million to get a chance to bounce back as a member of the Oilers. He wasn’t satisfied with his play in Toronto, even though he still posted a somewhat respectable 39 points across 70 contests. Of course, Barrie flirted with the 60-point plateau in his final two seasons with Colorado prior to the trade that sent him to the Maple Leafs, so it was a big step backwards for him from an offensive point of view. Feeding the puck to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on an Edmonton power play that ranked first in the league should do wonders for Barrie. He registered 30 points on the man advantage in 2017-18 with the Avalanche and had 25 points the year after. He should be able to rebound nicely with Edmonton and gains some extra value if Oscar Klefbom’s shoulder injury gives him additional responsibilities.

Robin Lehner – Vegas -> Vegas

Lehner’s five-year contract with Vegas was first reported during the Western Conference Final and the Golden Knights made the deal official earlier this month. He didn’t make it to free agency, but he deserves to be included on this list nonetheless because his fantasy stock has been on the rise since he was moved to Vegas from Chicago. Lehner was excellent during the postseason and took over the number one job from Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is expected to be back with the team next year despite trade rumors and possible murmurs of a contract buyout, but Lehner remains a top-five option in the crease for fantasy GMs on a superb Vegas team as the team’s projected top puckstopper.

Cam Talbot – Calgary -> Minnesota

Talbot agreed to a three-year, $11 million deal with Minnesota for a chance to be a number one netminder again after he was relegated to the backup role for most of the 2019-20 campaign. He became the goalie of choice for Calgary during the postseason and he performed remarkably well. He finds himself in an even better situation with the Wild. Minnesota is a very goaltender-friendly team and Talbot should see plenty of action with Alex Stalock as his likeliest source of competition. The Wild permitted the fewest high-danger scoring chances against (351) as well as the fewest scoring chances against (1221) at 5-on-5 last year. That kind of shot suppression is a dream come true for a goaltender and it could make a viable depth option between the pipes for fantasy GMs.

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Craig Smith – Nashville -> Boston

Boston hasn’t had a successful off-season, but the addition of Smith brings a potential fit for the team’s much-maligned second line. He joined the Bruins on a three-year deal that carries an average annual value of $3.1 million. Smith has five 20-plus goal seasons under his belt and could find himself on Boston’s second line alongside David Krejci next campaign. He had 18 goals and 31 points in 69 matches with Nashville last year. Smith has hit the 50-point mark twice before and if can get close to that type of production again then Boston will benefit from some strong secondary scoring.

Alexander Wennberg – Columbus -> Florida

Wennberg signed a one-year contract with Florida after he was bought out of the final three seasons of a six-year, $29.4 million contract with Columbus. He produced 13 goals and 59 points in 80 games back in 2016-17, but his production has fallen off a cliff for the past two campaigns. Wennberg notched five goals and 22 points over 57 outings last year. He could be the second- or third-line center for Florida in 2020-21. If he ends up on the second line then there is plenty of upside for a bounce-back performance. Wennberg will be highly motivated and could get a chance to dish the puck to some talented prospects if Owen Tippett or Grigori Denisenko make the jump to the NHL next season.

Erik Gustafsson – Calgary -> Philadelphia

Philadelphia was in the market for help on the blueline following Matt Niskanen’s surprising retirement. Gustafsson took a big step backwards in 2019-20 with 29 points in 66 contests as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames after he exploded for 17 goals and 60 points over 79 matches the previous season. The Flyers ranked 14th in the league in power-play efficiency last year and Gustafsson could provide the top combination with a much-needed boost. If he doesn’t play on the first unit then he will likely quarterback the second group. Gustafsson has the ability to rebound and he could end up as the Flyers’ top-producing defender in 2020-21.

Status quo:

Torey Krug – Boston -> St. Louis

Krug signed a seven-year contract with the Blues for $45.5 million on the first day of free agency. St. Louis realized fairly early that Pietrangelo wouldn’t be coming back and moved to sign the next best free-agent blueliner. Krug can make up for the offense from the back end that the Blues lost following the departure of their former captain. Krug was one point away from his fourth straight 50-point performance in 2019-20. He collected nine goals and 40 assists over 61 matches last season. Krug, who will quarterback the top power-play unit of the Blues, has supplied at least 24 power-play points in each of the past four seasons. He shouldn’t miss a beat despite losing exposure to Boston’s top line, as St. Louis (24.3%) wasn’t far behind the Bruins (25.2%) in power-play percentage last year.

Jacob Markstrom – Vancouver -> Calgary

Markstrom agreed to a six-year deal with Calgary with an average annual value of $6 million following the strongest season of his career. He finished fourth in voting for the Vezina Trophy after he went 23-16-4 last campaign with two shutouts, a 2.75 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 43 games played. The Flames landed a great upgrade between the pipes and Markstrom should benefit from a team that is stronger defensively. Still, the Canucks and Flames had nearly identical record last year so this could be viewed as a lateral move. Markstrom and his fantasy GMs will be much happier that he is in Calgary, though, as he will be the undisputed number one netminder and he will more than likely start the majority of the games.

Tyler Toffoli – Vancouver -> Montreal

Toffoli joined the Canadiens on a four-year contract worth $17 million following a successful stint with Vancouver. He accounted for six goals and four assists in 10 regular-season games with the Canucks after he was acquired from Los Angeles. Toffoli also added four points, including two goals, in seven postseason outings. He was underperforming offensively during his final seasons with the Kings despite being a strong play-driver and shot generator. Montreal’s newfound depth at right wing following the acquisition of Josh Anderson could result in Toffoli playing on the left side. If that’s the case then he will be in a good spot alongside Nick Suzuki and Anderson on the second line. Toffoli could also stay at right wing with Jonathan Drouin the top-six forward group instead of Anderson. There’s plenty of upside on either combination, but it’s still a downgrade after playing with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller during his time with Vancouver. That’s why his overall fantasy value doesn’t change much, but he was a consideration for the “fallers” category.

Evgenii Dadonov – Florida -> Ottawa

Dadonov inked a three-year deal with the Senators that carries an average annual value of $5 million. This is another signing that came as a bit of a surprise, but it’s a good one for the Senators because it adds a proven scorer to the team’s top line. Dadonov netted 28 goals in 2017-18 and 208-19 after returning from the KHL and he lit the lamp 25 times over 69 matches last year. Much like Toffoli, he is getting weaker potential linemates, while moving from the likes of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau to Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris/Colin White, but there is enough upside there that his fantasy value won’t change that much. Dadonov should be given every opportunity to succeed in 2020-21 as a key part of the Senators’ offense.

T.J. Brodie – Calgary -> Toronto

Brodie inked a four-year contract with Toronto with an average annual value of $5 million. He is projected to be paired with Morgan Rielly after playing alongside Mark Giordano for the last two seasons as a member of the Flames. He topped 40 points in 2014-15 and 2015-16, while hovering above the 30-point mark for the next three years. Brodie slipped to 19 points over 64 contests last season. His production should improve in his first campaign with the Leafs, but his fantasy outlook hasn’t changed much.

Kevin Shattenkirk – Tampa Bay -> Anaheim

Shattenkirk signed with Anaheim on a three-year, $11.7 million contract after winning the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay last season. He provided eight goals and 34 points in 70 games after being bought out by the New York Rangers. Shattenkirk will probably post similar numbers with the Ducks as a top-four defender, while seeing time on the second power-play unit.

Braden Holtby – Washington -> Vancouver

Holtby ended up with Vancouver on a two-year, $8.6 million contract after the Capitals decided to go in a different direction. The Canucks were forced into a Plan B scenario when the team was unable to come to terms with Markstrom. Holtby posted career-worsts in save percentage (.897) and GAA (3.11) last season despite having a 25-14-6 record. His struggles don’t inspire much confidence going into 2020-21, especially when you consider his 2.96 GAA and .906 SV% over the last three campaigns. Still, he does have some under-the-radar appeal. Even if he bounces back, which shouldn’t be a difficult task, he finds himself in a similar situation with Vancouver that he faced during his final year with Washington. Thatcher Demko will be nipping at Holtby’s heels at the very least for playing time after Ilya Samsonov pushed Holtby for starts in 2019-20. Holtby and Demko could end up sharing the net, but this addition by the Canucks could end up helping Demko more from a fantasy perspective than Holtby.

Anton Khudobin – Dallas -> Dallas

Khudobin chose to stay with the Stars on a three-year contract worth $10 million. He will resume his responsibilities as backup and potential fill-in for Ben Bishop next season. If Bishop stays healthy then he should get the majority of the starts, but Khudobin is a great crease buddy on what has been a very strong goaltending duo for the Stars over the last two seasons. Khudobin won’t get the fantasy boost some poolies were hoping for had he joined another team following his strong performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he remains a solid depth option between the pipes.

Fallers:

Vladislav Namestnikov – Colorado -> Detroit

Namestnikov signed a two-year, $4 million contract with Detroit after playing for the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche last year. He appeared to be a good depth fit with the Avalanche, while posting four goals and two assists in nine outings, but he was essentially replaced by Brandon Saad, who was acquired by Colorado from Chicago. Namestnikov will look to add some offense to the second line of the Red Wings, but his fantasy value has taken a hit due to the move.

Corey Crawford – Chicago -> New Jersey

Crawford joined the Devils on a two-year deal that carries an average annual value of $3.9 million. He had a solid season with the Blackhawks in 2019-20, while going 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 40 games played. Crawford forms what could be an underrated goaltending tandem with Mackenzie Blackwood and it’s possible that he ends up starting more than the young netminder if he stays healthy. However, the possibility of a timeshare limits his value as does playing for another team that struggles defensively. New Jersey didn’t give up chances like the Blackhawks did, but their issues offensively are concerning as well.

Thomas Greiss – NY Islanders -> Detroit

Greiss inked a two-year contract with the Red Wings that has an average annual value of $3.6 million. He registered a 16-9-4 record last season with the Islanders to go with a 2.74 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 31 appearances. Greiss goes from a cushy goalie gig on the defensive-minded Islanders to a Detroit team that permitted the most goals against in the league last campaign. The Wings surrendered the most power-play goals against, the most shorthanded goals against and the most even-strength goals against in 2019-20. Greiss will become the number one netminder for Detroit after he eventually became Semyon Varlamov’s understudy following what started out as a goalie rotation. However, he will have his hands full trying to prevent the opposition from lighting the lamp behind him next season.

Best of the Rest:

The following players remain unsigned a week into free agency: Mike Hoffman, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Anthony Duclair, Derick Brassard, Dominik Kahun, Ilya Kovalchuk, Conor Sheary, Andreas Athanasiou, Sami Vatanen, Travis Hamonic, Zdeno Chara, Corey Perry, Joe Thornton, Alex Galchenyuk, Carl Soderberg, Andy Greene, Dominik Simon, Josh Leivo, Michael Grabner, Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider.

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