Tuesday’s firing of Randy Carlyle sent a shakeup through the hockey mecca of Toronto and had the media abuzz. Let’s have a look at what this development might mean for the fantasy values of some of the more prominent members of the Maple Leafs.
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Since the team hasn’t yet played a game in the post-Carlyle era, the best advice I can give is to watch Wednesday’s contest against the Capitals closely to extract any evidence of philosophical differences between the interim staff and their former boss. That said, if you’re looking to get ahead of the crowd and make a move today, I would target the young defensemen, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. I don’t think we’ll see a major uptick in ice time for either of them, as both were given fairly regular minutes under Carlyle, but it has long been speculated that both saw their productivity stifled by their former coach. It’s reasonable to think a change in leadership could benefit their free-wheeling styles and allow them to develop more offensively. It’s also plausible to expect the new staff to view Dion Phaneuf as less of an offensive weapon than his former coach did, meaning we could see a drop in power play minutes for Double Dion - minutes that could be gobbled up by the aforementioned duo of youngsters.
Up front, it’s hard to envision any significant role changes since the players on this roster all possess well-defined positions on the pecking order, but I continue to hold out hope that Nazem Kadri will be given the benefit of playing alongside a real sniper like Phil Kessel for a reasonable length of time. I think Kadri has been held back by his linemates to some extent and has yet produce to his capabilities.
Now let’s take a spin around the rest of the league…
If you read Ryan Dadoun’s In The Crease this week, you saw a portion of a roundtable discussion in which I pegged David Perron as the player most likely to take a leap forward in the season’s second half and I continue to be amazed that he’s owned in just 65 percent of leagues. This is a player who has scored at a reasonably high rate at every stop in his NHL career (when healthy) and has now been handed the golden ticket, lining up alongside Sidney Crosby on Pittsburgh’s top line. We saw what a move like this did for a pretty good scorer in Patric Hornqvist earlier this season so why aren’t people falling over themselves to grab Perron? If he remains in the lineup I think he can easily score 35 points between now and the end of the regular season.
One of the players mentioned by a colleague of mine in that same discussion was Jonathan Drouin, who entered this season with sky-high expectations, but has failed to live up to them so far. I’m willing to cut the kid a little slack and I’m far from concerned about his long-term viability, but he’s not someone I’m targeting this season. He has recently been paired with Steve Stamkos by Lightning coach Jon Cooper, which would be more encouraging to me if the Tampa Bay second line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov hadn’t been absolutely killing it lately and proving the team is more than just Stamkos and his Merry Men. The emergence of this second unit is a wonderful development for the Lightning as whole, but is actually bad news for Drouin in that he won’t be assigned the loads of premium ice time playing with Stamkos used to afford his linemates.
If I were holding Max Domi in a keeper league, I would be pretty happy right now after his showing the World Junior Championships, but let’s not pretend that a strong tournament always leads to NHL stardom. Put another way, a number of great NHLers first found success by dominating this event – Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares – but who can forget the performances turned in by Milan Kraft and Pavel Brendl in 2000 and 2001, respectively? The Team Canada roster that won gold in 1995 included future NHL stars Jason Allison and Bryan McCabe, but its leading scorer was…Marty Murray. This is not meant as a slight on Domi since he appears to have a bright future ahead of him, but I would use his newfound fame as an ice-breaker in discussions to trade his rights in keeper formats as his value may never be higher.
This week marks the unofficial halfway point of the NHL season, so I’d like to use this space to provide my favorite players to target over the year’s final 40 games.
Bargain Bin Finds
As always, this space is reserved to highlight players owned in fewer than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Sam Gagner (9 percent) – I owned Gagner in my home league this season and expected a nice bounce-back campaign, but I cut bait on him at precisely the wrong time. Over his last 10 outings, the former Oilers’ first rounder has scored four goals and racked up six assists playing on a newly-formed line with Martin Hanzal. His season-long stats aren’t all that impressive, but they’re being tarnished by his poor start.
Mike Hoffman (9 percent) – Considering his pedigree (5th round pick) and his relatively modest scoring numbers in the minor leagues, it’s understandable that the fantasy community is reluctant to trust Hoffman to keep this up, but you can’t argue with the numbers so far. His 13 goals lead the Senators right now, as does his plus-18 rating. I won’t pretend that he’ll keep up the latter of those stats, but there’s no reason to think his offense will fall off a cliff anytime soon.
Tyler Ennis (15 percent) – His ownership rate seems to drop each time the Sabres go on a losing streak and his plus/minus takes a hit, but I’ve said before that owning him requires some grit. If plus/minus is of great importance to you, look elsewhere, but otherwise you’ll reap the benefits of a few nice offensive performances if you remain patient with him.