Early UFA Preview

Kevin Brown
Michael Finewax gives you a player per team that could be worth taking in the second half in The Week Ahead

A few weeks ago, in advance of the NHL trade deadline, I wrote about the potential impact a change of scenery might have on the fantasy value of a number of prominent NHL players.  In this piece, I have taken the same approach to a number of the league’s top pending unrestricted free agents. You may initially think the impact for players who get to choose their own destination, as these individuals will do, would be more positive than for those who are traded, but I would argue the Martin St. Louis-to-New York saga is evidence that players are not always the best judge of what’s best for them.

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Thomas Vanek

Vanek’s time in Montreal has been productive, adding a goal-scoring element the team has been lacking outside of sniper Max Pacioretty. Because of how well he fits on their roster it’s very likely GM Marc Bergevin will try to retain the Austrian forward this summer, but by all accounts he plans on testing the free agent waters, perhaps with the intent of joining the Minnesota Wild. There’s no word on whether the feeling is mutual, but even if the Wild don’t offer Vanek a contract, there’s virtually no chance he’ll join a team where his role is not a prominent one. I expect that Vanek will enter next season with a good chance to post one of his best NHL campaigns.

Paul Stastny

The US Olympian was nearly an afterthought at the start of the season when the long shadows cast by younger teammates Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon pushed him out of the spotlight, but the 28-year-old has experienced a very productive campaign in his walk year. After he managed just 24 points in 40 games in 2012-13, he has racked up 54 points in 63 contests this year. With the supply of talented centers on the NHL market always seemingly outweighed by the demand for them, Stastny figures to cash in this July while the Avalanche move forward with their aforementioned crop of youngsters. My sense is that Stastny will ultimately sign with a team that permits him to get a significant amount of premium ice time and therefore remain a productive fantasy asset, though a repeat of this year is probably his ceiling.

Radim Vrbata

Forever underrated and consistently underappreciated by the fantasy community, Vrbata has been a perfect fit for Phoenix as he has scored at about a 30-goal pace over the past three campaigns. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, the Czech forward will (deservedly) be seeking a raise when he becomes a free agent this summer and it’s hard to imagine the cash-strapped Coyotes will have the means to keep him in the desert any longer. When I think of the potential landings sports for Vrbata, I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where he would be given the type of offensive responsibility he has been handed in his current role so he’s probably not a player I’ll be targeting in drafts next fall.

Jussi Jokinen

Jokinen is another player whose current situation seems to be a better fit from a fantasy perspective than any of his potential new destinations.  The Finnish vet was acquired by the Penguins at last year’s trade deadline to serve primarily as scoring depth, but he impressed Dan Bylsma enough to earn and keep a spot alongside Evgeni Malkin, which he has parlayed into a productive 52-point (and counting) season. At his age, Jokinen probably will not receive any significant long-term offers, but will be faced with the decision of choosing between the highest bidder and the best fit while his fantasy fortunes hang in the balance.

Ales Hemsky

Hemsky’s move to Ottawa has gone swimmingly, and I think it has everything to do with the fact he has been given an opportunity to play on the team’s top line again, an option that was not afforded to him by coach Dallas Eakins in Edmonton. Whether he and the Senators work out a long-term agreement after the season or not, I’m firmly in the camp of people who believe Hemsky must be a primary offensive option to be successful, so his ultimate landing spot will play a huge role in what we can project for him in 2014-15.

Matt Moulson

It seems strange to write this, but I have the utmost confidence that no matter where Moulson ends up, his fantasy value will remain intact. Unlike most of the players I have discussed in this piece, the goal-scoring forward is not reliant on a significant amount of ice time in order to maintain his level of production. So much of what he does occurs with the man advantage and I think the consensus scouting report on Moulson around the NHL is that he is a supreme power-play contributor so he’ll be on the top unit for whichever team gets him to sign on the dotted line this summer.

Michael Cammalleri

Brian Burke has reportedly made clear that he would like to re-sign the sniper to a long-term contract, but the fact he was not successful in doing so makes me believe Cammalleri will be wearing another jersey at the start of next season. From a fantasy standpoint I think this is good news.  Sure, the “big fish in a small pond” effect is part of the reason he has been productive this year and there’s no guarantee he’ll be deployed in the same fashion on a team with more options, but I believe he’ll ultimately find a home with a club where he’ll enjoy a reasonably important role offensively.