Thanks to a number of high profile arbitration hearings, this off-season has been a particularly complicated time. In this article, we’ll break down some of the moves and examine their fantasy implications. Let’s begin by reviewing recent arbitration decisions and determining what they mean for fantasy owners.
Blake Wheeler, BOS: After an award of a $2.2 million, one-year contract to Wheeler, the Bruins, as expected, signed him to that term. But what does it all mean? Wheeler is coming off a down year. He disappointed virtually all owners by posting only 38 points in a full 82 games last season. The problem for the talented, young winger is that Boston has a log-jam of talent up-front. The good news is that they’ll almost certainly be shedding the salary of two of Michael Ryder, Marco Sturm and Marc Savard. Thanks to the long-term signing of Tim Thomas, the Bruins have a big salary cap problem they soon must solve. Wheeler has the tools to post 50+ points this season, but the determining factor will be icetime. If Sturm, Savard and Ryder are gone, Wheeler will have plenty of chances to score goals. However, if the log-jam of forwards continues, then Wheeler might be left out in the cold.
Jannik Hansen, VAN: The Canucks recently accepted an $825,000 arbitration award and signed Hansen to a one-year deal. Despite having little value in year-long leagues, Hansen is an intriguing keeper-league option. He’s shown flashes of superb speed and great hands but hasn’t been consistent. Despite being 5 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter, Hansen is basically in the same boat as Blake Wheeler. He had a nice rookie campaign, with 21 points in 55 games, only to disappoint in his sophomore season (15 points in 47 games). Whether or not Hansen gets enough icetime will be the determining factor in the short-term. He should be treated as a nice, cheap option in deep dynasty or keeper leagues and ignored otherwise.
Antti Niemi, CHI: To the surprise of almost everyone, the Blackhawks walked away from the $2.75 million arbitration award to Antti Niemi. While Chicago probably would’ve liked to keep Niemi, their salary cap situation simply made it too difficult. More than a half-dozen teams are rumored to be interested in the services of Niemi, and it’s extremely likely he will soon be signed. However, the greatest factor in his fantasy value is likely not where he signs, but in what type of a defensive system. Despite posting a 2.25 GAA and.910 SV% during the regular season, his numbers faded a bit in the playoffs. Though he was in net for the Cup-winning Hawks, he wasn’t the main reason they won. He’s a big goalie who takes up space effectively but still has problems with rebound control and endurance over the course of a whole season. If he’s signed by a team that allows a lot of shots and expects him to play 65 games, he’s going to have some problems. On the other hand, if he ends up with a team that plays some variation of the trap or keeps shots to the outside, he might be a solid #1 fantasy netminder in the upcoming season.
In this off-season, there have been more than just arbitration awards. There’ve been several big name signings and some interesting trades as well.
Marty Turco, CHI: Despite posting okay numbers in Dallas last season, it’s long been known that Turco’s best days are behind him. Even still, he has fantasy value as the starter in Chicago. While the Hawks have gotten rid of many top notch players because of cap troubles, they’ve managed to keep the core of their defense, including Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and company. The Blackhawks may bury Cristobal Huet in the majors and use Corey Crawford as their second goalie. Crawford could start 25 to 35 games if he is called up, and he could even end up being the #1 goalie in Chicago sooner than you think. Turco should be a reasonable option for the upcoming season, but has very little value in long-term leagues.
Todd White, NYR: Despite not being a household name, White has been a serviceable fantasy player for several years. His poor production last season (7g, 19a) should be taken with a grain of salt, as he was injured much of the time and on a rather poor team. The season prior, he posted a career high 73 points centering Ilya Kovalchuk. Recently acquired by the Rangers in a trade with Atlanta, White might end up on the Rangers’ second line or even serve as the defensive conscience of the first line. Keep an eye on White because he could end up being a nice waiver-wire acquisition early on in the fantasy season.
Simon Gagne, TB: Just weeks ago, the Bolts acquired Gagne from the Flyers for Matt Walker and a 2011 draft pick. While Gagne was injured much of last season, he had a huge impact in the postseason and that should carry over to this season. Gagne will be playing on one of the most talented offensive teams in the league. With Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone composing the core of the team’s offensive firepower, Gagne will have plenty of talent on whichever line he ends up on. The only concern for potential owners of Gagne is the injury bug. Simon played only 25 games in 2007-08 and only 40 last season. A good plan is to look for Gagne in the later rounds of your draft or potentially even as a free agent. Picking him inside the first 8 or 9 rounds is simply too risky.
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