Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Who will replace Bergeron as Bruins’ top centre?

Looking back at one of the greatest two-way centres in NHL history, Patrice Bergeron gave his all every time he stepped onto the ice and it is no surprise he's built himself an indisputable Hall of Fame career.

It’s almost August and one of the premier free agents from this year’s class remains unsigned.

Vladimir Tarasenko is still on the market, and where he ultimately lands will no doubt have a large ripple effect in the fantasy hockey waters. There were rumblings he could end up with Ottawa or Carolina, but a change in representation may have caused Tarasenko to re-evaluate things. The Senators could certainly use him to replace the offence lost from dealing Alex DeBrincat and the Hurricanes’ one slight weakness seems to be a lack of scoring at times, which Tarasenko could help remedy.

My somewhat outside-the-box thought is that he could sign with Chicago Blackhawks and play with Connor Bedard on a one-year deal. Bedard could use some talent to help aid his transition to the NHL and Tarasenko could take advantage of Bedard to help him have a strong season so he can sign a long-term deal next summer, when the cap may rise. Chicago could then trade him at the deadline for assets and Tarasenko would end up on a contender anyway.

It could be a win-win for everyone. Even those rostering Tarasenko in fantasy.

Likely fairly valuable. Keep in mind, though, Pavel Zacha played mainly with David Pastrnak and David Krejci already last season and put up 57 points. To improve on that greatly, he’d probably have to play with Pastrnak and Brad Marchand most of the time this season. That’s certainly a possibility, but it’s hard to gauge exactly how the Boston Bruins will deploy their lines at this point. They could always split up Pastrnak and Marchand to give them more balance, meaning Zacha would only play with one of them.

Zacha should get increased time on the top power-play unit no matter what, however, so he’s still a valuable piece to add to your roster with a lot of upside.

We just talked about Zacha and he’s the leading candidate right now, but let’s not forget about the trade market either. The Bruins could look externally to fill Patrice Bergeron’s void, and players like Mark Scheifele or Elias Lindholm would fit nicely in that role. That’s easier said than done, though, as Boston’s cap situation won’t be easy to navigate in the trade market.

This is why it’s important to be flexible with your keeper decisions throughout the summer, as you may not have been thinking about keeping someone like Scheifele or Lindholm, but a move to the Bruins’ top line could make them much more appealing.

There are a couple of tandems that are obvious like Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, as well as Logan Thompson and Adin Hill that should be no-brainers. The trio for the Carolina Hurricanes is also a great option, but that one’s a bit more tricky to manage because one of them could fall out of favour at some point.

If you’re looking to grab a goalie a bit later in your drafts you could look at someone like Joseph Woll to pair with Ilya Samsonov or Akira Schmid to go along with Vitek Vanecek. Both of those goalies should get more of an opportunity this year and the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils could easily be top five teams in the standings. Rostering both goalies from either of those squads will likely mean a ton of wins and some strong overall numbers.

It’s hard to go wrong with anyone from that group. It may come down to your league categories and what stats are more heavily weighted. If it’s a league with an emphasis on shots then maybe Pastrnak is the best option, if penalty minutes are important then Matthew Tkachuk could be your best bet, or power play points might mean Nikita Kucherov is a good fit. I personally think Tkachuk is the best for overall category coverage, but base your decision on your league scoring settings.

This one is very close and I like both players but I’ll probably say Brandt Clarke. With Drew Doughty approaching his mid-thirties, I think the path for Clarke to receive more opportunity and quality power play time is a bit more wide open than David Jiricek’s. The Columbus Blue Jackets blue line is more crowded with offensive defensemen like Zach Werenski, Adam Boqvist, and Damon Severson, making it tougher for Jiricek to earn opportunities.

Plus, the Kings are already a very strong squad, whereas it still may take the Blue Jackets a few years before some of their young players start paying dividends. I don’t mind either option, but if I had to choose right now it would be Clarke.

I don’t really see any red flags that would indicate Jason Robertson’s production is going to take a major dip. The Dallas Stars have one of the best lines in hockey, as Roope Hintz is blossoming into a quality player in his own right, scoring 70-plus points in back-to-back seasons, and Joe Pavelski continues to be very consistent. Should Pavelski start regressing a bit that wouldn’t be good for Robertson, but there’s no reason to think that’s going to happen in a significant way for 2023-24.

Robertson should be a safe keeper option and will likely be ranked in the top 15 overall in most formats.

Great question and this is probably something quite a few people deal with. It’s easy to recruit someone you know to join a league for a year, but tougher to make them stick around if they don’t have much interest. I find sometimes you have to branch out and use social media to find people that are really into fantasy hockey. There is a big community of folks that love it and want to join multiple leagues. That can potentially open up your league to people all over the world and will likely find you someone committed enough to keep you from having to replace teams every offseason.

Blake Wheeler is someone who’s piqued my interest after signing with the New York Rangers. I think that’s a great landing spot for him and he’ll probably be off the radar in most drafts. The Rangers are pretty thin at right wing, so Wheeler will likely play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider or Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck. It’s not crazy to believe he could get around 65-plus points with that type of deployment. Wheeler should be a great buy-low candidate for points leagues.

I’m always very cautious about over-drafting players like Jamie Benn or Erik Karlsson, who had incredible out-of-the-blue offensive seasons in their thirties. I’m less confident in Benn having another strong season than I am with Karlsson, but I wouldn’t really reach for either player. Karlsson could still be very productive if he stays healthy and goes to a stronger team, though the odds of him hitting 100 points again seem slim. If someone in your league wants to draft him in the first couple of rounds, I’d say let them take the chance.

It depends on your definition of bounce back, but I think Jonathan Huberdeau could be worth taking a chance on. I can’t say I see him getting back to 115 points, but he’s probably going to be a great value option outside the top 100 or maybe even the top 150 in your drafts. Even if he goes from 55 points to 70 points under a new coach, that’s great value for someone you can snag that late.

This is a tough one. Ullmark will be splitting time fairly evenly with Swayman, so if volume is important, I’m not sure Ullmark will exceed 45-50 games. Stuart Skinner could start more than that if he continues to outplay Jack Campbell, but that isn’t a sure thing. Skinner didn’t look particularly sharp in the postseason, sporting an .883 save percentage and getting lifted at times for Campbell. It wouldn’t shock me if Campbell worked his way back into a more regular rotation next season.

I’d probably say Ullmark is the safer bet, even though I don’t anticipate his numbers will be as spectacular as they were last year with all the talent the Bruins have lost in the offseason. His sample size is much larger than Skinner’s and Ullmark’s numbers have always been well above average. Even if his play regresses somewhat, I still think you’d be happy with him as your No. 1 goalie. Skinner is more of a risk.

Which guy on a new team should see the biggest fantasy improvement? (from Threads)

This name is a bit off the board, but I really think Jonathan Drouin has a chance to make an impact for the Colorado Avalanche. If he plays with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, it’s going to be hard for Drouin to not be very productive in that scenario. Obviously, it’s a bit of a gamble as Drouin hasn’t played a full season in about four years, but he’ll be a low-risk, high-reward option that you can probably get very late in drafts or even off waivers early in the year.

I have Demko and Samsonov. Which one should I keep for my points league or should I try the zero goalie strategy and see who’s available late in the draft? (from Threads)

Unless your league has a very high number of keepers, I wouldn’t keep Samsonov or Thatcher Demko. I tend to value skaters more in drafts and try to find goalies late or on the waiver wire when someone inevitably emerges. Some of the goalies we mentioned earlier like Schmid, Woll and even Thompson will have good value late in drafts. Joel Hofer is another name to watch from the St. Louis Blues and Cam Talbot, who probably won’t be drafted very early, could also be valuable if he can stay healthy.

You could keep a very impactful skater instead that you would have a difficult time replacing later in your draft or off waivers. It’s much easier to adjust your goaltending as the season goes, as opposed to replacing a hole on forward or defence.

Evan Bouchard is interesting because he should be in for a huge season on that Edmonton Oilers power play and Moritz Seider is really beneficial for blocks and hits, but you’re already keeping two defensemen. I’d probably just go with Panarin, even if he is coming off a very quiet playoff. Panarin is basically a lock for 90 points if he stays healthy and if Wheeler lands on his line, I think that just increases his chances for offense.

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