The shopping spree for goalies and defensemen was fast and furious as soon as the free-agent stores were open for business.
The NHL knows that during the playoffs when games get tighter that great goaltending and staunch defense wins Stanley Cups, not flashy forwards.
So which free agent defensemen and goaltenders who signed with new clubs will see their fantasy hockey values improve in 2011-12? And which players should have stayed with their old teams? Here is a look.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers
Bryzgalov has been one of the most valuable netminders the past four years, including finishing third in victories and sixth in save percentage last season, and that was when he was the backbone of a team that needed him to stand on his goalie mask every game to win.
Now that he will be the goalie of one of the NHL’s perennial Stanley Cup contenders, his fantasy value might rise higher than Kim Kardashian’s rotund rump.
Philadelphia sorely needed a dependable goalie in the wake of using inconsistent, injury-prone puckstoppers like Brian Boucher, Ray Emery and Michael Leighton the past two seasons.
Bryzgalov always suits up (60-plus games four years in a row) and rarely allows soft goals thanks to his steady style. His career 2.53 GAA and .916 SP bare this out.
With Chris Pronger standing in front of him 30 minutes per game, and with one of the most balanced and quickest forward groups in the league scoring him goals, Bryzgalov should enter the season as a top-five or at worst top-seven fantasy goalie.
Let’s just hope he does not overdose on cheese steaks or become as brittle as Pascal Leclaire.
Prediction: 40 wins, 2.42 GAA, .918 SP.
Tomas Kaberle, Carolina Hurricanes
Kaberle’s stock dropped faster than News Corp’s after dreadful regular-season and playoff performances where the Boston Bruins won many of their games in spite of him.
But power-play playmakers can always find millions somewhere, and that is what Kaberle did when he signed with Carolina.
Kaberle is a pass-first offensive defenseman who ignores open shots in favor of setting up teammates.
While his selflessness and accuracy makes him one of the best assist machines on defense, he has only netted 15 goals over the past three seasons, so he is not exactly Al Iafrate. And Kaberle’s plus-minus is around even and his penalty minutes are low like Nicklas Lidstrom’s, so assists and points are his only two strong fantasy categories.
That trend should not differ with the Hurricanes.
Prediction: Six goals and 37 assists for 43 points.
Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres
I like Ehrhoff as a No. 2 or No. 3 defenseman, but $40 million over 10 years? Has Glen Sather secretly become Buffalo’s general manager?
Ehrhoff is coming off back-to-back 14-goal campaigns and scored a career-high 50 points last season, but you have to wonder how much of his numbers were buoyed in Vancouver by the outstanding defensive corps around him and those lovable Sedin twins. Buffalo does not have the same firepower, and now all eyes will be on Ehrhoff like never before.
Prediction: 11 goals and 30 assists for 41 points.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche
Giguere must now be content to be a backup, and he did not rock the boat much in that role the past two seasons, posting below-average goals-against-average and save percentage numbers.
He will be the veteran understudy to newly acquired Semyon Varlamov, so he should play in 25-30 games, but there are no signs that Giguere will suddenly reclaim his All-Star form.
Prediction: 2.71 GAA, .904 SP.
Brian Boucher, Carolina Hurricanes
Boucher was bounced out of Philadelphia after the Flyers realized they needed one No. 1 goalie and not three No. 2 goalies.
He may not strap his pads on much in Carolina considering stalwart starter Cam Ward has played in 60 or more games in four of the past five seasons, but Boucher will put on a show when he does.
Some nights he can be the mirror image of Dominik Hasek, and some nights he looks like Attila Ambrus. This is why Boucher is better off as a backup.
Prediction: 2.54 GAA, .907 SP.
Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
Elliott had chances to prove he was a starting goaltender with both Ottawa and Colorado and the reviews were as mixed as they were for Transformers 3.
His 3.83 GAA in a dozen games with the Avalanche at the tail end of last season pretty much locked him into being a backup wherever he ended up, which was St. Louis.
Now Elliott can sharpen Roman Turek’s skates in his spare time, and he should have plenty of it since he will only appear in 15 to 20 contests.
Prediction: 2.60 GAA, .905 SP.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes
Smith has a pretty big crease to fill in Phoenix since he is helping to replace Bryzgalov. He had middling results with Tampa Bay during his part-time stint there, and he will be battling fellow mediocre goalies Jason LaBarbera and Curtis McElhinney for playing time in the desert.
Look for Smith to play in 30-45 games and get super support from superb defenseman Keith Yandle.
Prediction: 2.60 GAA, .910 SP.
Peter Budaj, Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price cemented his spot in Montreal last season, so Budaj is nothing more than a reserve. Unless Price has another legendary meltdown and is booed off the ice, Budaj will appear in just 20 games and put up the below-average stats he usually does.
His career 2.83 GAA and .901 SP do not lead to much confidence from the fantasy community.
Prediction: 2.72 GAA, .906 SP.
Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars
Souray used to have a 100-mph slap shot and be one of the highest-scoring defensemen to own in fantasy hockey. But his brittle body has been ravaged by injuries over the years, and contract problems kept him out of the NHL entirely last season, so who knows how much steam he has lost off his slapper.
He could be the perfect late-round sleeper in fantasy drafts, but everything has to break right for him.
Prediction: 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points.
Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals
It sounds like Vokoun believed he was going to get a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract from some team in the offseason, but he quickly learned that was not going to be the case, so he signed with the team that gave him the best chance at a Stanley Cup.
Michal Neuwirth looks like the real deal and should be the starter for 50 games, yet Vokoun proved he is far from washed up considering he posted a .922 save percentage last season.
Prediction: 17 wins, 2.49 GAA, .913 SP.
James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets
It is a good thing the Blue Jackets acquired Jeff Carter and Wisniewski to keep the city’s sports fans’ minds off of the Ohio State football debacle.
Wisniewski was in the midst of an unremarkable career when he busted out with a career-high 51 points last season, and he did it dividing his time between the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens, not exactly two of the higher-scoring teams in the Eastern Conference.
You have to be leery that Wisniewski was a one-year wonder and could fall back into the 35-point range, and the pressure of a big contract might weigh him down as well.
His career goal, penalty minute and plus-minus numbers are nothing to whistle “Rollin’ in the Deep” about. But he will be given so much ice time and so many power-play opportunities that it is difficult to believe he will not crack the 40-point barrier.
Prediction: Nine goals and 34 assists for 43 points.
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