The proverbial ‘fresh start’ is one of the standard clichés in the sporting world, but it can be a means to an end for an athlete. Playing for a new coach, in a different system and in a distant city can not only be invigorating, but it can also signify increased opportunities for success.
Here are, in no particular order, 10 players of interest who found a new team for which to play during the off-season. In fantasy terms, has their projected value gone up, down or stayed about the same?
1. Mikhail Grabovski, Washington Capitals (2012-13: 9-7-16 in 48 GP)
After putting up 58 and 51-point seasons, the German-born centre struggled to find his game with the Toronto Maple Leafs last year and finished the lockout-shortened campaign with what was a projected 27-point effort over a full 82 game season. The Leafs bought Grabovski out of the final four seasons of his five-year, $27.5 million contract to alleviate themselves of the $5.5 million cap hit.
Any player that was bought out would be extremely hungry and motivated to prove his former team wrong, but the jilted pivot took it several steps further by unleashing a passionate and now infamous rant toward Randy Carlyle, who Grabvoski felt buried him in the lineup in a position where he couldn’t thrive.
Now armed with a one-year, $3 million contract to be the second line centre for the Washington Capitals as Mike Ribeiro’s replacement, Grabovski should easily blow past last year’s totals. He’ll see more than enough quality power play time and as much as Nicklas Backstrom is and should be Alex Ovechkin’s centre most of the time, the nature of hockey dictates Grabovski and Ovechkin will still see enough time together to make a positive impact on the middle man’s statistical bottom line.
Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer are the expected wingers for Grabovski.
2. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, New York Islanders (2012-13: 8-12-20 in 43 GP)
Prior to the lockout-shortened campaign, the diminutive forward had an unfortunate injury run and simply was not able to play many games for three straight seasons. Last year though, he skated in 43 of 48 contests and remember he did have a three-year stretch early in his career where he only missed three total games.
Bouchard can be a versatile offensive cog for any team and the Islanders have been eyeing him as Brad Boyes’ replacement alongside one of the stronger duos in the NHL: Matt Moulson and John Tavares. PMB didn’t even hit a projected 40-point pace last season, but there’s every reason to expect an increase this time around with a more prominent role on his new team. Boyes, for what it’s worth, went from a miserable time in Buffalo to a projected 60-point pace with the Islanders in that role last season. Before Boyes, it was P.A. Parenteau who not only excelled on the top line, but also became the catalyst for success on the second line when the offence needed to be spread out. Parenteau then parlayed those numbers into a free agency payday with the Colorado Avalanche.
3. Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs (2012-13: 9-3-1, 1.88 GAA, .922 SV%)
Bernier had seen that the writing had been on the wall for awhile, with Jonathan Quick having staked an iron-clad claim to the number one goaltending role in Los Angeles. Quick’s 10-year, $58 million contract put the exclamation point on that fact.
Bernier wanted a chance to win a starting job and he’ll have every opportunity in Canada under the intense media spotlight glare that comes along with playing for the Leafs. Standing between him and his objective though, will be one James Reimer.
From a fantasy perspective, the co-existence of these two competent guys on the same team drags down their collective draft positions. Considering that Toronto is trending in the right direction as a team though, that will work to your advantage to potentially grab both netminders in the middle rounds. As long as you can change your roster on a daily basis, you’ll know ahead of game time which man will lead his team onto the ice on any given night and either one should fare well in general. In the end, the distribution of starts is likely to be close enough to even that you’re going to want both guys on your roster to get all of Toronto’s games.
Bernier may not match last year's GAA, but he'll clearly ramp up the start total and should be quite competitive in the SV% department. Plus, the guy has a pretty wicked right hander. Just ask Ryan Miller.
4. Devin Setoguchi, Winnipeg Jets (2012-13: 13-14-27 in 48 GP)
So is the eighth overall pick from 2005 the dynamic winger who scored 31 times and had 65 points in his sophomore campaign, or is he the mercurial player who has more or less hovered in the area of 35-45 points over his past four seasons?
The Winnipeg Jets were willing to wager a 2014 second round pick, $3 million of cap space and a likely second line right wing spot to find out the answer to that question. With Setoguchi entering the final season of his contract and with his first taste at unrestricted free agency within his grasp, the motivation couldn’t be much higher to return to his frequently-shooting ways and bring about sustainable secondary offence for a team that could desperately use it. Playing opposite Evander Kane, with either Mark Scheifele or Olli Jokinen between them, will only increase Setoguchi’s chances for 2013-14 success.
5. Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators (2012-13: 11-19-30 in 46 GP)
There are two particularly important notes as it relates to the pride of Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s trade from Southern California to hockey-mad Ottawa.
The first is fairly obvious. Ryan will begin the season skating with captain Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. This is not an upgrade over Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, to be sure, but the point is that Ryan is highly likely to rarely or never stray outside the top six in Ottawa – let alone leave the first line itself. With the Ducks, Ryan was used all over the place. First line. Second line. Third line. Wing. Centre. It was fairly ridiculous at various points of his career. No, with the Sens, Ryan is a go-to guy. Period. He'll love his time in Ottawa for many reasons, but that'll be one of the more prominent ones.
The second tidbit is a slightly more nuanced detail, which has been largely missed in the Ryan coverage. MUCH more often than not (overwhelmingly), Ryan was used as a second unit power play option in Anaheim because the Ducks had the legendary Teemu Selanne as the third forward on that team, along with Getzlaf and Perry. If Ryan is not a first unit staple in Ottawa, there should be rioting (peacefully, of course) in the streets. First unit time vs. second unit time adds up over the course of a season and Ryan's bottom line should reflect that fact in April.
6. Ryane Clowe, New Jersey Devils (2012-13: 3-16-19 in 40 GP)
There may be no better example of media and fans alike losing their collective minds and having myopic memory loss of epic proportions than the harsh and unforgiving treatment this rugged winger received as last season’s struggles progressed. Yes, he had zero goals in his 28 starts with the San Jose Sharks before being traded to the New York Rangers. Big. Deal. Blip on the radar.
With the misplaced uproar over his five-year, $24.25 million contract with the Devils (carrying a $4.85 million cap hit, which, for an unrestricted free agent power forward is not outrageous), you’d have thought his prior four productive seasons had never existed. Or that he didn’t immediately produce 3-5-8 in 12 starts to finish out the regular season with the Rangers before getting hurt. Clowe will be a fixture in New Jersey’s top six, he’ll hover in the range of 45-60 points with helpful penalty minute and hit totals and he’ll see plenty of power play time.
The line assignments in Jersey aren't clear at the moment since both Clowe and Jaromir Jagr have missed some time recently.
7. Viktor Stalberg, Nashville Predators (2012-13: 9-13-23 in 47 GP)
Moving from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to the mid-level Predators with a four-year, $12 million contract might seem like a big step down for the 6-foot-3 Swede, but Nashville should be the land of opportunity for the 27-year-old winger. It’s not so much that we should expect a huge upswing in points for Stalberg, because that’s just not likely to happen in the Music City. He has basically been a 40-point player over each of the past two seasons and at most he might see a 10-point bump up from there on this defensively-conscious squad.
No, the biggest statistical jump in line for the slick-skating winger will be his time on ice. Rather than being mostly a depth player seeing 14 minutes a night, Stalberg should be able to earn close to 17 or 18 minutes per game under Barry Trotz in a top-six role. At worst, he’ll match his second unit power play time he saw in Chicago and more likely will earn fairly frequent first team play.
One potential trio early on could see fellow new addition Matt Cullen as the centre on Stalberg's line, with Colin Wilson on the other wing.
8. Stephen Weiss, Detroit Red Wings (2012-13: 1-3-4 in 17 GP)
Wrist surgery sidelined the veteran pivot for most of last season and he hadn’t played very well at all for the Florida Panthers prior to getting hurt either. He left for greener pastures during free agency, signing a five-year, $24.9 million contract to be the Red Wings' second line centre.
The fact that he produced a mere four points and only played in 17 games last year means he’ll be slotted extremely low in most fantasy services’ pre-set rankings, which sets him up to be one of the better deals of the season. When everyone is healthy, Weiss will likely see Johan Franzen to his left and fellow newcomer Daniel Alfredsson to his right. The rest will take care of itself. The move to Motown should breathe new life into Weiss’s career and Mike Babcock will make sure Weiss stays accountable for and consistent with his performance.
Side note: Daniel Alfredsson patrolling the point of the first power play unit should only enhance the value of Niklas Kronwall. Just sayin’.
9. Daniel Briere, Montreal Canadiens (2012-13: 6-10-16 in 34 GP)
The Philadelphia Flyers bought out the final two seasons of Briere’s eight-year, $52 million pact and shaved $6.5 million off their salary cap in the process. Now the Gatineau-born forward, who will turn 36 one week into the new season, will attempt to rebound from a miserable effort last year surrounded by a different supporting cast in Montreal.
While he may not be a first-rate offensive option for poolies, Briere blends a nice mix of standard league offensive categories with penalty minutes and can suitably round out any roster. His low point totals from last year will push him way down draft lists and you can use that fact to sneak a quality top-six forward into your mix at a low, low price.
The early line indication is Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais with Briere.
10. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils (2012-13: 17-9-4, 2.11 GAA, .927 SV%)
Yes, we waited and waded through several years of the Cory Schneider-Roberto Luongo situation in Vancouver – which both men handled with extreme class - to end up with the Cory Schneider-Martin Brodeur tandem in New Jersey. Which both men will undoubtedly handle with grace as well. The difference, clearly, is that the legendary Brodeur’s career is nearing an end. 2013-14 may or may not be the 41-year-old’s final season, but Schneider has been tapped by Lou Lamoriello as the heir to the NHL’s all-time wins and shutouts leader.
In the short term, as in the rest of this season, poolies will have to be content with the two men sharing starts and Schneider should come out at least slightly ahead in the split. Like Bernier and Reimer in Toronto, the presence of two quality options in New Jersey means the draft value of each of Schneider and Brodeur falls and that can end up spelling a great deal for you on a team that has been goalie-friendly for a long, long time.