Sometimes the best move for a player in free agency is to stay put.
That’s exactly what Ivan Barbashev did and if you were banking on him for next season, you should be very pleased. Barbashev recorded 16 points in 23 games for the Vegas Golden Knights after being traded last year and followed that up with 18 more points in 22 playoff games. The rugged forward has always been valuable in fantasy for his hit production, but he seems to have unlocked a new level of offence in Vegas.
Barbashev had one decent offensive season with the St. Louis Blues, though he was often shuffled up and down the lineup. He’s found a home with Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault now and there’s no guarantee he would’ve ended up playing with two players as strong offensively had he chose a different destination in free agency. Players like Barbashev are a perfect fit for a middle-six or even third-line role, so it’s possible he would’ve dropped down the depth chart with a new team, with his offence plummeting as well.
Everyone in fantasy is always looking for the next player with that perfect blend of scoring and hits. While Barbashev might not be Brady Tkachuk, he’s at least proven in the right situation he’s capable of being a dual threat.
Here are more fantasy thoughts as we close out the season:
1. If you were hoping Pyotr Kochetkov would be a major factor next season, the Carolina Hurricanes left you scratching your head. The Canes brought back both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, leaving more questions than clarity in the Carolina crease for 2023-24. Kochetkov is signed for the most term of the three and he’s making more money than Raanta, so it would be curious if he isn’t with the team full time next season. Plus, the Canes don’t have an AHL affiliate at the moment, making it confusing as to where exactly Kochetkov would play if they plan to go with Andersen and Raanta.
With Carolina being the most goalie-friendly team in the league, there’s a good chance with injuries that all three will have value next season and you could make an argument that all are draftable, but it’s really difficult to navigate right now.
2. I thought it was a good bet by the Florida Panthers to take a shot on Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a cheap deal. Ekman-Larsson hasn’t been very fantasy relevant in recent years, but he’s entering a unique situation with the Panthers. Aaron Ekblad is going to miss the first chunk of the season as he recovers from injuries and it’s unlikely Brandon Montour will be ready for opening night as well, meaning Ekman-Larsson might have some short-term value. He could even get power play time for the first month or so.
3. The New York Islanders were in a giving mood Saturday, handing out a crazy amount of term to a number of players. That included Semyon Varlamov, 35, getting four more years. Varlamov’s numbers have been solid in Long Island, though his playing time is dwindling. He’s played in just 54 games over the past two seasons. Ilya Sorokin has emerged as one of the best goalies in the league and taken over the net, so Varlamov should really be looked at only for spot starts from a fantasy perspective.
4. There was a mass exodus from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, which included Michael Bunting. The new Cane scored 23 goals in each of the past two seasons, playing quite a bit with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. While Carolina is a great team, it doesn’t have the high-end talent Toronto does to prop a player like Bunting up in fantasy. Buyer beware.
5. Ryan O’Reilly was on the move as well, landing with the Nashville Predators. O’Reilly’s offence has slowed in recent years and the Preds aren’t exactly the best team for him to try to rejuvenate things. They had some young players emerge late last season, but it’s hard to foresee a situation where his value will be higher in Nashville, as opposed to if he stayed in Toronto and possibly secured time on the first power-play unit. Unless you’re in a very deep league that counts faceoff wins, I’d be hesitant to draft O’Reilly.
6. Toronto did end up bringing in some key pieces on Day 2 of free agency, including Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi. Bertuzzi finds himself replacing Bunting, and as a former 30-goal scorer, he should be able to get back to that number and even beyond if he plays with Matthews and Marner, and can stay healthy. Almost anyone who plays with those two is a must-roster and we even saw Calle Jarnkrok take advantage of playing time up there to help propel him to a 20-goal season. Bertuzzi has more offensive upside than Jarnkrok and he is probably the most talented player Matthews and Marner have played with since Zach Hyman left.
Of course, Bertuzzi isn’t a lock to play on that top line, but you have to figure he at least starts there. He’s probably worth holding onto this summer as a keeper if you can make it work with your roster.
Domi has less value than Bertuzzi, but still could be worth rostering, depending on how he’s deployed. He could really end up anywhere in the middle six, but the Leafs still have enough talent to potentially help Domi get to 20-25 goals and 55-60 points.
7. The Leafs also added John Klingberg, who was once a strong offensive talent on the blue line and will be looking for a bounce-back season. Klingberg would only become an interesting option if he can overtake Morgan Rielly as the quarterback on Toronto’s potent power play.
8. Those who like to wait until late in drafts or even search waivers for bargain goalies might want to look Cam Talbot’s way. The Los Angeles Kings are a strong team that Talbot will really benefit from and we saw the success that Pheonix Copley and Joonas Korpisalo enjoyed there last season. Talbot would have to beat out only Copley and David Rittich for playing time, but he’s 36 and struggled to stay healthy in 2022-23. It’s tough for goalies Talbot’s age to play a ton of games. If he comes cheap in your league, though, Talbot might be a risk worth taking.
9. Korpisalo and Talbot have essentially switched spots and Korpisalo’s value next season really hinges on how big of a jump the Ottawa Senators can make. We saw how the improvement of the New Jersey Devils this past season really made Vitek Vanecek an important fantasy netminder. Could the Sens do the same for Korpisalo?
10. It wasn’t the most newsworthy signing, but Connor Clifton joining the Buffalo Sabres caught my eye. Clifton is solid for hits and blocks, and I could really see his blocked-shot numbers shoot up with Buffalo. The Sabres gave up the seventh-most shots in the league last season, meaning Clifton is going to get more opportunities to pad those stats. If you’re looking to add a block specialist, finding one on a team that gives up a lot of shots is key.
11. If you were eyeing Alex Killorn for next season, you probably weren’t too excited to see him go from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Anaheim Ducks. Killorn has averaged 26 goals and 62 points over the past two seasons, but I think it’s reasonable to anticipate his numbers won’t drop off too much. If Killorn can secure a spot with Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras and get more power-play time, he’ll still be a decent bet in deep leagues.
12. Max Pacioretty could be a very interesting gamble. He inked a deal with the Washington Capitals as he works his way back from a second Achilles tear and likely won’t be ready to start the season. Pacioretty will be a draft-and-stash candidate, though, as there isn’t a long list of players who can score at the rate he can.
13. I’m very intrigued by Blake Wheeler’s new situation. The New York Rangers are thin at right wing, so it’s likely he plays with either Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad. Even in a down year in 2022-23, Wheeler was still a 55-point player, which makes me think it wouldn’t be crazy for him to get 60-65 in the Rangers’ top six. That’s good value in points leagues for a player you might be able to draft outside the top 150.
14. The Pittsburgh Penguins invested a lot in goalie Tristan Jarry with a big contract extension, though I’m not sure you should do the same in fantasy. Jarry really struggled in the second half of last season, as injuries and inconsistent play rendered him almost totally unreliable. Perhaps he’ll be a decent buy-low option a bit later in drafts this fall, but I would let someone else take the risk in earlier rounds.
15. The Detroit Red Wings spent a bunch of money in free agency, including a pretty rich multi-year deal for J.T. Compher. I’m not sure Compher will be able to duplicate a strong 2022-23 season in Detroit, though, as he recorded 29 of his 52 points playing with Mikko Rantanen after a bunch of injuries pushed him up the Colorado Avalanche lineup. Compher won’t be playing with anyone close to Rantanen’s talent level in Detroit and is probably destined for more of a defensive role.
16. If you’re looking for a darkhorse player to take very late in your drafts or to scoop up on waivers early in the season, Jonathan Drouin might be that guy. Expectations are certainly very low for him at this point, but there are opportunities available in the Avalanche top six. Should Drouin secure a left-wing role next to Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, good production should inevitably follow.
17. I’d take a wait-and-see approach with Matt Duchene. The Dallas Stars get most of their scoring from their top line and I’m not even sure it’s a guarantee he’ll play in the top six. I don’t think Duchene will provide much offence if he’s stuck on the third line in Dallas. The 32-year-old is only two years removed from an 86-point season, but that came when he and a bunch of other Predators had very inflated shooting percentages. I’d bet Duchene is closer to a 50-55-point player going forward.
18. It’s just as important to pay attention to the moves teams don’t make in free agency. The Edmonton Oilers essentially remained status quo on defence, meaning Evan Bouchard should hold onto the top power-play spot next season. Bouchard was a revelation down the stretch for the Oilers, scoring 36 points in his final 32 games when you include the playoffs. Edmonton’s power play clicked at a historic rate last year and there’s no reason to believe it will slow down, so Bouchard should be a very high pick in drafts.
19. The Oilers brought in Connor Brown, who played in only four games last season due to injury and is now two years removed from an impressive 21-goal season. He has history with Connor McDavid from their junior days, so if the pair are reunited on a line, it will give Brown a huge advantage to become an impact fantasy option again. Even if Brown does come with some risk, it’s hard to pass up anyone playing with McDavid.
20. Perhaps the biggest name remaining who hasn’t signed yet is Vladimir Tarasenko and rumblings are he could be heading to either Ottawa or Carolina. He would give the Canes some much-needed scoring, but I think the better landing spot for him would be the Sens. He’ll be the perfect replacement for Alex DeBrincat when Ottawa eventually trades him and while I think Carolina is the better team overall, the Sens have a more potent top six.