Matt Duchene and Kevin Hayes can certainly relate: playing well in a contract year can set you up for life. Most importantly, a smart and successful draft can give fantasy owners a front-row seat to all the production.
As preparations for another fantasy hockey season get underway, the contract year phenomenon is definitely a variable to keep close tabs on. Most often, it’s related to when a player produces at a higher-than-average level in the season leading up to their free agency.
Regardless of their contract statues, established talent like Taylor Hall, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby are unlikely to fall very far. To make up for it, you can find some great value in later rounds.
Here’s a list of five contract-year players to target:
MIKAEL GRANLUND, NASHVILLE PREDATORS
SN Rank: 66
Position eligibility: C/LW/RW
A full training camp following a trade deadline move from Minnesota to Nashville should get the 27-year-old Granlund back on track. Additionally, the prospects of playing with off-season acquisition Matt Duchene is excellent news for fantasy owners as well.
Considering his track record and pending free agency, 25/45/70 should be within reach. He’s often been overlooked in fantasy circles – not this time around.
Also, Nashville’s power play can’t be as putrid as it was last year, right?
MIKE HOFFMAN, FLORIDA PANTHERS
SN Rank: 72
Position eligibility: LW/RW
If there’s one thing that the NHL’s free-agent market has shown in recent memory, goal scorers get paid – just ask Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner!
In his first season with the Panthers, the 29-year-old Hoffman scored 36 times with relative ease. In my mind, he’s all but a lock for 40-plus this season and a brand-new lucrative contract to boot. Hoffman might be in the best position to make it rain financially next summer.
A healthy Vincent Trocheck only adds more incentive to own the Hoffman file this season. You won’t regret it.
ALEX GALCHENYUK, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
SN Rank: 102
Position eligibility: C/LW
Simply put, it’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Galchenyuk.
Now with his third NHL franchise, the 25-year-old will have every opportunity to hit the jackpot in Pittsburgh. The much-maligned forward is expected to enter training camp skating on Evgeni Malkin’s left wing. That’s a garden seat if I’ve ever seen one and should lead to rather productive numbers for the former third-overall pick by Montreal in 2012.
A 30/30 type year is a fair expectation for Galchenyuk.
NICO HISCHIER, NEW JERSEY DEVILS
SN Rank: 116
Position eligibility: C
Lost in the shuffle of New Jersey’s epic off-season is the fact it looks like their 2017 first-overall pick will enter the season without a new contract. Essentially, he’s ready to bet on himself and why wouldn’t he?
With Taylor Hall back to full health, look for the Hall/Hischier duo to stay intact on the No. 1 line. Contract wise, both players can help each other out in a big way by having massive seasons.
Hischier may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of this year’s fantasy draft. I think he’ll crack 60 points for the first time in his career.
COREY CRAWFORD, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
SN Rank: 120
Position eligibility: G
After the initial shock of seeing Chicago land Robin Lehner, the move makes sense upon further review. Given his recent injury history, there’s substantial risk in jumping up to attain Crawford in your drafts. My guess is that the ‘Hawks will go with a timeshare – after all, that mentality seems to be a prevailing theme league wide.
I still love the pedigree, work ethic and abilities that Crawford possesses. In my books, he’s worth the risk. The Blackhawks should be much better defensively, too.