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In stark and welcome contrast to an outlandishly blah summer of 2010, the NHL regular season is about to launch following several months of much movin' and shakin'. If this 2011 offseason hasn't been the busiest ever in terms of player movement, it certainly has felt that way. Here's a baker's dozen sampler platter of some of the more noteworthy league transactions involving forwards and defensemen, and the accompanying fantasy ramifications.
|Brad Richards is already taking the New York lifestyle. Can he boost the Rangers' offense?|
Winners of the offseason "Brad Richards" sweepstakes, the New York Rangers find themselves in position of putting together one of the NHL's most formidable top scoring lines. If Marian Gaborik can stay healthy, Richards could rack up a staggering total of goals and assists. In fact, if all goes well, we wouldn't be the least bit surprised if both Gaborik and Richards flirt with the 100-point plateau. Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko are the top two candidates to join Richards and Gaborik on the No. 1 line, while Wojtek Wolski has an outside shot at the gig. Considering the Rangers may want to keep Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan together on the second line, Fedotenko has to be the early favorite, particularly when considering his history with Richards in Tampa Bay. All in all, the Rangers can experiment with several combinations and we'll get a much greater sense once training camp is well underway.
This one may take the cake as the most bizarre offseason transaction in recent history. After three years in the KHL and weeks of early summer speculation, Jaromir Jagr decided to give himself one last opportunity to win a Stanley Cup by signing on with the Pitts--, uh, Philadelphia Flyers. We're still trying to get our heads around how that all worked out. Regardless, many of those familiar with Jagr's recent performance for Avangard Omsk believe he still has enough in the tank to make a reasonable impact (60-70 points?) on this side of the pond. What's more, the signing opens the door -- slightly -- for Michael Nylander's NHL comeback. Jagr and Nylander enjoyed excellent chemistry as linemates back in the day with the Rangers and Washington Capitals, and the soon-to-be 39-year-old centerman has been given the chance to recapture that magic as a training camp invitee. Otherwise, the Flyers have enough young talent with the likes of Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk to serve nicely as Jagr's linemates.
An additional warning: Just in case Nylander manages to win a job centering one of the Flyers top two scoring lines with Jagr, Giroux would most likely be moved to the wing. Which could bump new acquisition Jakub Voracek to the third line.
A fresh and lively start awaits ex-Flyers Mike Richards and Simon Gagne (via the Tampa Lightning) with the Los Angeles Kings. Along with potential linemate Justin Williams, Richards and Gagne could put up similar numbers, collectively, to the projected No. 1 trio of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner. Altogether, the Kings' top-six could score bucket loads of goals this season, which bodes very well for fantasy owners all around. Only Jarret Stoll -- poised to center the third line as the odd man out -- should see a depreciation in production from 2010-11. (As an aside, Stoll could care less about the "demotion." The veteran center is apparently pleased as punch in regards to the decision his Kings made to add Richards and Gagne.)
|The Blue Jackets have a couple more relevant fantasy players this season by adding Jeff Carter (7) and James Wisniewski (21).|
Rick Nash must one of the happiest pro athletes in North America. After years of essentially going without, the star winger of the Columbus Blue Jackets finally has a top-notch centerman to play with in former Flyer Jeff Carter. The pair, along with winger R.J. Umberger, will make one mighty dangerous trio. Throw in Big Apple export Vaclav Prospal and newly-acquired offensive-defenseman James Wisniewski from the Montreal Canadiens, and the Blue Jackets power play has never looked so lethal. Nash, Carter and Wisniewski could all enjoy career seasons if everyone gels.
Remember when Phil Kessel and center Marc Savard combined for 148 regular-season points with the Boston Bruins in 2008-09? They made it look so natural and easy, even though Kessel played only 70 games. Well, we could get another taste of that flavor of production in 2011-12, but on this occasion with Kessel skating alongside new Toronto Maple Leafs centerman Tim Connolly. The former Buffalo Sabre is set to start over with Kessel and winger Joffrey Lupul on the Leafs' top line. All three could payout some fairly substantial fantasy dividends.
There's no guarantee Andrew Brunette will play on the Chicago Blackhawks top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but it's a heavy possibility. And, if not, the 35-year-old would then likely skate with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the second line. Either way, Brunette is going exceed his 46-point output with the Minnesota Wild in 2010-11. Like, really easily.
Don't knock yourself too hard if you don't readily recognize the Florida Panthers as they launch the 2011-12 season. Outside of Stephen Weiss and David Booth, the rest of the collective of top-six forwards should be made up of new acquisitions. How exactly Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky all shuffle out will largely depend on who fits best with whom in camp. Of the new guys, we like Fleischmann the most, in terms of fantasy upside. Once again healthy, the former member of the Colorado Avalanche could enjoy a 70-point campaign.
On the blue line, young Dmitry Kulikov is in position to improve as a fantasy asset from partnering with veteran addition Brian Campbell from the Chicago Blackhawks.
|Dany Heatley, now with the Wild, had just 64 points last season, his lowest full-season total.|
The San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild deserve kudos for brokering two of the flashier trades of the 2011 offseason. And the two deals could work out nicely for both organizations. Acquiring Dany Heatley -- who desperately needed a change of scenery -- from the Sharks, the Wild should provide top centerman Mikko Koivu with a fresh goal-scoring asset on the wing. Meanwhile, Devin Setoguchi has a genuine shot at joining the Wild's top line as well. If not, a role alongside Guillaume Latendresse and Matt Cullen may be in the cards for Setoguchi.
As for coach Todd McLennan's club, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau should see a boost in their respective totals over the 2010-11 season with the speedy Martin Havlat on board. While defenseman Brent Burns is set build on his most recent productive season by playing with top offensive blueliner Dan Boyle (and vice-verse). Seriously, this may work out as one of those deals where everyone wins, including fantasy owners.
There's no point in dusting on the sugar-coating: If Sheldon Souray doesn't make a positive impact with the Dallas Stars immediately, the 35-year-old blueliner won't be skating much longer in the NHL. Fortunately, Souray is well aware of the circumstances surrounding his situation, and the current one-year contract offered by Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Knocked for slowing down as a skater in the AHL last winter, Souray has been working out hard this offseason to get back into shape. Assuming he has, and that shot of his remains as lethal as ever, the former disgruntled Edmonton Oilers star could enjoy a lovely renaissance in Texas, which would benefit his fantasy owners greatly. Behind Alex Goligoski, Souray has the natural tools to be the most productive Stars blueliner with and without the man-advantage. He's a fantasy gamble that may pay out handsomely.
Defenseman Ian White is not of the same calibre as the recently retired Brian Rafalski, but the Detroit Red Wings are hoping the ex-San Jose Shark will be a reasonably adequate replacement. White is about to enjoy a glorious opportunity to contribute with the mighty Red Wings as Nicklas Lidstrom's even-strength partner and on the squad's second power-play unit. If he blows it, young prospect Brendan Smith could crack coach Mike Babcock's lineup.
The Kurtis Foster-Edmonton Oilers experiment can't exactly be considered a rousing success. Fortunately, for all involved, it's mercifully over. Now with the Anaheim Ducks, the blueliner is in position to write off the 2010-11 season as his own personal mulligan. As a power-play specialist by definition, Foster should get loads of ice time with the man-advantage when the top-pairing of Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler are taking a breather. Foster managed 42 points in 71 games -- mostly with the extra skater -- with the Tampa Bay Lightning two seasons ago. There's no justifiable reason the 29-year-old can't be that productive again.
|Can Christian Ehrhoff keep producing numbers in Buffalo without all the Canucks' playmakers around him?|
The recipient of a monster 10-year, $40-million deal with the Buffalo Sabres, Christian Ehrhoff better feel the pressure to perform as an elite offensive-defenseman. We're not worried. Projected to be Tyler Myers' partner with the man-advantage if the Sabres don't opt for the 4-1 formation, Ehrhoff will be expected to contribute in the scoring department. And the 29-year-old stands to increase his NHL-best total of 14 goals and 36 assists (including 28 power-play points).
Although swapped indirectly, the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins are looking to benefit from exchanging a couple of solid offensive-defensemen in Tomas Kaberle and Joe Corvo. The switch could work out well for both players. Often criticized for not living up to as advertised with the Boston Bruins (even though the squad won the whole shebang), Kaberle should once again flourish playing for former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice. And Corvo could experience an improvement in terms of overall goal differential (plus/minus) in addition to playing a major role with the Bruins' power play.
Bits and baubles: The Washington Capitals' addition of veteran Roman Hamrlik significantly diminishes Dennis Wideman's role as an offensive threat on the' blue line ... Although they don't carry much fantasy value, veterans Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott bring a steadying presence to the St. Louis Blues. Poised to skate on the third line, the experienced duo should help the Blues become a stronger team all around ... Young Ville Leino has an excellent shot at earning the Sabres' second line center job with his new squad ... Andrew Cogliano joins the Anaheim Ducks as the projected third-line center ... Carolina Hurricanes add power forward Anthony Stewart and winger Alexei Ponikarovsky as potential top-six forwards. ... Ex-Predator Cody Franson is expected to build on his rookie season numbers as a new member of the Toronto Maple Leafs' blue line ... Nikita Filatov is in position to play a top-six role with his new squad, the Ottawa Senators.
Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com.