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Fantasy Hockey: Sleepers, bargains for 2018-19

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There can be some crossover between a sleeper and a “bounce-back player”, so in some ways, consider this a supplement to Joey Alfieri’s recent fantasy post for PHT.

Either way, identifying bargains is often how you distinguish yourself from other comparably shrewd drafters. During one mock draft last season with Rotoworld writers who hauntingly wiser than I am, I somehow ended up drafting Nathan MacKinnon in the 12th round.

(If only such treasured moments happened with “real” fantasy teams, right?)

Anyway, before we get started, note that some “sleepers” are drowsier than others. In certain cases, you might want to draft someone just a little earlier than they usual go. In others, you’d be the only one who would drafted a true diamond in the rough. Considering the variety of stat categories and the swath of leagues (some shallow, some with a ton of teams or picks), this is meant as a generalized list of potential bargains.

Note: This post skews a bit toward how players are ranked/drafted in Yahoo leagues, although ESPN listings are also considered.

Players I’m especially excited about.

It’s easy to look at The Nuge’s production (tying a career-high with 24 goals, 48 points overall) and think “same old, same old.” As a former first overall pick, he’ll carry a stigma of “meh” for many.

Of course, RNH managed his 48 points despite being limited to 62 games, and he really took off once he was lined up with Connor McDavid. McDavid is the type of dynamic player who could push Nugent-Hopkins to incredible highs, to the point that he might be worth a mild reach (he’s ranked 135 in ESPN; while his ADP [average draft position] is 145 in Yahoo).

Sometimes it’s a fool’s errand to chase line combinations in Yahoo, so as a rule of thumb, make sure that the sleepers in mind can still fend for themselves outside of the cocoon of a great linemate. Nugent-Hopkins’ results are more likely to make you yawn if he loses McDavid privileges, but it won’t be “tear up your draft-day spreadsheets” bad.

We might as well stay on the subject of already-good players who could jump a considerable level if they can maintain robust linemate opportunities.

James Neal’s shown what he can do with great linemates before, scoring 88 goals in just 179 games in three seasons alongside Evgeni Malkin, with his production undercut quite a bit by a combination of injury issues and the stat-killing 2012-13 lockout.

It’s tantalizing to picture what the volatile winger might accomplish if he lands a semi-permanent spot with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Micheal Ferland scored 20 goals and 41 points riding their coattails last season, so big dreams aren’t too outrageous if you replace “Typo” with Neal.

Even if he slips down the lineup, Neal Just. Scores. Goals. He generated 25 with Vegas last season despite being limited to 71 games played. Granted, injuries are just about as frequent a consideration with Neal as goals are, so pencil in at least some mild frustration.

[More Fantasy: Pick up the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

  • J. T. Miller, C/RW

Transport yourself back to, say, the midpoint of the 2017-18 season, and recall how many people wished they had Vladislav Namestnikov on their teams. Through the first 38 games of the season, the then-Lightning forward generated 15 goals and 33 points, tying him with the likes of William Karlsson and Aleksander Barkov (while edging Patrik Laine‘s 32 points) at that moment in the campaign.

Namestnikov isn’t chopped liver, but you can chalk up much of that production to something obvious: he was riding shotgun with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

It’s not too shocking, then, that J.T. Miller flourished once he popped into that spot following the Ryan McDonagh trade. In 19 games with the Lightning, Miller generated 10 goals and 18 points.

Miller is a decent-enough scorer on his own (22 goals and 56 points in 2016-17 with the Rangers), and there’s the possibility that he’d land with Brayden Point if he can’t stick on that super line. Still, it’s your duty to make sure that Miller at least doesn’t go undrafted.

If this post went up last week, Theo might not have been on this list for a simple reason: his contract situation was unsettled.

A week later, he isn’t on just on Vegas’ roster; he’s close to a lifer considering, with a seven-year deal. The Golden Knights have little reason to resist throwing Theodore out there in high-profile situations, meaning that the talented defenseman should receive ample power play reps, and should be the go-to guy. That’s especially true since Nate Schmidt is suspended for a quarter of the season.

If you can grab Theodore as your fourth or even third defenseman, you’re likely to be on a gravy train with biscuit wheels. Wait, is that even an efficient way to travel? Maybe we should table this “biscuit wheels” business …

[Again, you should read about rebounds.]

Ryan O'ReillyC

One of my minor quibbles with ROR, at least from a fantasy standpoint, was that he was sometimes a little trigger-shy. Heading into last season, he was under 200 shots on goal for three straight years. O’Reilly turned that around – maybe out of frustration? – by firing 230 SOG during his final season with the Sabres.

That peripheral stat might be dialed down in St. Louis, but if so, it would likely be for a good reason: O’Reilly would instead be passing to ultra-talented linemates in Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.

If the Blues load up in that regard, that O’Reilly could be a bodacious bargain.

Other recommendations

I’m a bit more excited about the players listed above (at least relative to where they tend to be drafted, although Neal and Nuge are kind of all over the map), but these are worthy mentions.

  • Antti Raanta – Strong season as a No. 1 muted by early injury woes.
  • Jaden Schwartz – Actually, maybe you’d be better off getting him instead of Ryan O’Reilly? You could do worse than to draft one after the other goes, really.
  • Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, Mark Stone – Hey, someone has to score for the Senators.
  • Eric Staal – Somewhat quietly scored 42 goals and 76 points for the Wild last season, and has contract year motivation. He’s getting a little up there in age, though, as he’ll turn 34 on Oct. 29.
  • Ryan Pulock – Hey, someone has to score for the Islanders, and it can’t always be Mathew Barzal.
  • Nick Bjugstad – Looked awesome when he landed with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Not quite as exciting as Miller/RNH because he’s more dependent.
  • Daniel Sprong – Probably safer to “watchlist” rather than draft him, at least in relatively shallow, standard leagues. Then again, might be worth just pulling the trigger, considering that he seems likely to win The Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.
  • Bo HorvatSomeone needs to score for the Canucks, and usually it’s going to be Brock Boeser, and the guys who are along with him. Horvat’s the best of those guys.
  • Paul Stastny – Could be awfully interesting in deeper leagues if he’s conjoined with Max Pacioretty, who may be in store for a monster season considering Vegas’ attacking ways.
  • Jonathan Drouin – Fantasy hockey is as much about fun as it is to pointing to your brain. You can get one of the most prominent scorers on a team, who also happens to be a ton of fun to watch, at least if you’re not a Canadiens fan hoping he can heal all wounds.
  • Carter Hutton – Your mileage will vary depending upon how much of a jump you expect from the Sabres, and how much of a threat you believe Linus Ullmark would be. To me, he’s a Dollar Store version of Raanta’s appeal as a respectable second or even third fantasy goalie. (Note: Dollar Store versions of things can be perfectly fine. Don’t growl at me, Giant Tiger/other beast-themed dollar stores.)
  • Petr Mrazek/Scott Darling – Honestly, I’m a little frightened by Carolina goalies, because duh. Still, they’re worth listing, especially if you’re expecting big things.
  • Tomas Hertl – Look, I’m only human, so I can’t ignore the lure of a forward who currently draws the rare LW/C/RW designation.

[More Fantasy: Rotoworld’s DFS Toolkit]

Any other sleepers come to mind? Go ahead and share some favorites in the comments.

Heck, feel free to gloat about previous sleeper successes, too. Why, I’ll never forget about grabbing 2005-06 Eric Staal in the final r— OK, I’ll cut it out.

MORE:
Bounce back candidates
Goalies and other risky picks

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.

2017-18

44-32-6, 94 points. (5th in the Central Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

IN:

Ryan O'Reilly
Tyler Bozak
David Perron
Chad Johnson
Patrick Maroon

OUT:

Vladimir Sobotka
Patrik Berglund
Tage Thompson
Carter Hutton
Scottie Upshall

RE-SIGNED:

Nikita Soshnikov
Robby Fabbri
Joel Edmundson

The St. Louis Blues got off to a strong start in 2017-18. Early on, it looked like they were going to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. The Blues won 10 of their first 13 games (10-2-1) thanks to impressive performances from players like Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Taranseko, Alex Pietrangelo and company.

Everything appeared to be great. But near the end of the calendar year, the season started going off the rails. St. Louis wound up losing seven of nine games between Dec. 12 and 29. Things didn’t seem to get much better in the new year. The magic that had been surrounding the Blues early on in the season appeared to be gone.

[Under Pressure: Allen | Breakthrough: Dunn | 3 Questions]

Losing one player to injury shouldn’t be the reason for a season to go off track but looking back, it definitely appears as though losing Jaden Schwartz to an ankle injury did just that. When Schwartz went down on Dec. 9, he had racked up an impressive 35 points in 30 games. After that, they clearly weren’t the same team anymore.

Schwartz was a key cog during their early run, but if a team can’t survive one injury then they probably weren’t that good to begin with.

As always, starting netminder Jake Allen went through his usual ups and downs. His numbers weren’t always terrific, but he still had a 17-6-2 record at one point. When the team started slumping, their starter wasn’t able to help get them out of a hole.

In late December, Allen had even lost his starting job to Carter Hutton for a while (Hutton started 10 of 14 games between Dec. 30-Feb. 2). But Allen and the Blues managed to put together a six-game winning streak in March, but it still wasn’t enough to secure a berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When the Blues decided to trade pending free agent Paul Stastny at the deadline, some players (i.e. Brayden Schenn) voiced their displeasure in the media. Sure, they were in the middle of a tight playoff race, but GM Doug Armstrong obviously didn’t believe that his team was good enough to do any damage even if they did sneak into the postseason. It might not have been a popular decision, but Armstrong was doing what was best for his group in the long run.

So after missing the playoffs, he decided it was time to make some significant changes to his roster. They added plenty of depth down the middle in the form of Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak and they also added wingers that can chip in offensively like David Perron and Patrick Maroon.

With the new additions and Schwartz and Robby Fabbri now healthy, the Blues appear to be a legitimate threat to make the postseason.

Prospect Pool:

Robert Thomas, 19, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Thomas has emerged as one of the best prospects in the game. The youngster had an outstanding OHL season with London and Hamilton, as he put up an impressive 24 goals and 75 points in just 49 games. He also performed very well for Team Canada at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship, where he accumulated six points in seven games. But Thomas isn’t only just an offensive force, he’s also capable of playing a 200-foot game. Even though he’s still a teenager, the 19-year-old has a legitimate shot of cracking the Blues roster this season.

“I’m excited about Robert. What I like, what coaches like, is he’s got a well-rounded game,” coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “Robert’s a guy who’s going to learn quickly. He’s a very coachable kid, he’s a smart player, plays well on both ends of the ice. Another right shot, but a guy that’s got a lot of elements, a lot of high hockey intelligence to his game that could really give him a chance to come in and make our team.”

• Jordan Kyrou, 20, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – 2016 second-round pick

Kyrou put together an incredible final season in junior in 2017-18. The 20-year-old had 39 goals and 109 points in just 56 games with Sarnia last season. That’s even more impressive when you consider that the second-leading scorer on his team finished the year with 73 points.

The young forward will now make the full-time leap to the professional ranks. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not he is capable of cracking the Blues’ opening-night roster or not. But with all the additions the team made during the off-season, they probably won’t be able to keep both Thomas and Kyrou, so that might be an interesting camp battle. Unfortunately for Kyrou, he can be sent to the AHL and can be recalled to the big club anytime they need him. If Thomas doesn’t stick, he has to go back to junior for the season.

• Klim Kostin, 19, C, San Antonio Rampage (AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder was the last pick of the first round in his draft year, but he’s shown that he should have gone much earlier than that. Kostin made the leap right to the North American professional ranks last season, as he spent the year in the AHL. He finished the year with a respectable six goals and 28 points in 67 games, which isn’t too shabby for a player who was 18 for most of the hockey year. Kostin will need more seasoning in the minors, but he’s shown that he has a bright future ahead of him.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blues’ attack suddenly looks deep with O’Reilly, Perron

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Even during their best moments in 2017-18, the St. Louis Blues were top-heavy.

For a while, it really seemed like the combo of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn might just be potent enough to propel St. Louis into a playoff spot. It ultimately didn’t work out, though.

If you want a snap shot of how much St. Louis depended upon a small handful of scorers, consider that a) Paul Stastny finished sixth on the team in points with 40 despite being traded and b) only six players (counting Stastny) ended up with 40+ points in 2017-18. Asking so much of a select group of standouts simply wasn’t sufficient for St. Louis.

The good news is that GM Doug Armstrong made bold moves to get the Blues back in the hunt.

Most clearly, Armstrong sold off a bucket of assets (whether you look at it as a great bounty or “quantity over quality”) to land a fantastic two-way center in Ryan O'Reilly. ROR’s 61 points would have ranked third on the Blues last season, and only Vladimir Tarasenko (331 points) generated more than O’Reilly’s 295 points since 2013-14. The addition only becomes more tantalizing once you realize that ROR’s value comes in more than his already-strong scoring.

And, hey, it sure sounds like he’s motivated. Maybe he’ll put up even bigger numbers with the Blues? The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reports that O’Reilly spoke of bringing a Stanley Cup to St. Louis during his presser today, and he didn’t apologize for his comments about the toll losing took on him in Buffalo.

“I stand by (those comments),” O’Reilly said. “I feel like I have a spark in me now. There’s something different. I don’t regret anything that’s happened.”

While O’Reilly is the biggest addition, David Perron should provide another boost to the Blues’ offense as he returns to St. Louis once again.

It’s tough to picture Perron generating another impressive run like he did with Vegas in 2017-18. Despite being limited to 70 games, Perron produced more assists (50) than he scored points (46) in 82 games with the Blues in 2016-17.

One would probably pencil a reasonably healthy Perron into more of a 45-50 point range in 2018-19. The good news is that the Blues are essentially paying for that, as his $4M cap his is quite modest.

And, hey, maybe a versatile Blues attack might help him get a little closer to last season’s career-high of 66 points than some might expect?

Tyler Bozak ranks as the other noteworthy addition, actually landing a bigger cap hit but less term (three years, $5M cap hit) than Perron. Opinions vary on the former Maple Leafs center, yet he generated 43 points last season and is only one year removed from scoring 55. Slotting Bozak in as a third-line center makes it all a much easier sell.

Delightfully for the Blues, there are a few other potential boosts.

  • Maybe they’ll enjoy some better injury luck?

It has to be frustrating for the Blues to see Jaden Schwartz stuck in a bit of a holding pattern thanks to poor breaks health-wise. This past season counted as such, as he was limited to 62 games played. If Schwartz can flirt with a full 82, more people will likely realize that he’s a very, very good player.

The dream scenario would be if Robby Fabbri enters 2018-19 healthy.

Fabbri’s 2017-18 campaign was derailed before it even started, as he needed surgery after re-injuring a knee that’s been giving him major issues. If the smaller player loses a step permanently, that would be a rough break for the Blues, and really a sad loss for fans, as a healthy Fabbri can be dazzling.

It’s dangerous to assume that he’ll be A-OK, yet if he’s at or near full-strength, the Blues would really be cooking. Despite receiving limited ice time so far during his career, Fabbri has generated about a point every other game (66 in 123) at the NHL level, including scoring 18 goals as a rookie in 2015-16.

  • Dust off your Matchbox 20 jokes?

The Blues could see the graduation of some prospects to boost their offense, as well, with Robert Thomas standing out.

NHL.com’s Lou Korac passed along a rather fascinating scenario where Thomas would center a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and … Ryan O’Reilly at left wing?

If Thomas could crack the lineup, people might need to really reach into Rob Thomas’ discography if they want to keep the jokes fresh.

***

For all we know, we could look back at the O’Reilly trade as a huge win for Buffalo, instead of the Blues/”everyone wins” consensus. There are plenty of other stumbling blocks that could surface, including worse injury luck.

Still, as it stands in early July, the Blues look a lot more potent than they did heading into 2017-18, and way stronger than they appeared even in late June.

It’s the kind of roster that might just make their opponents wake up at 3 a.m. feeling lonely.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues GM confirms Kovalchuk interest, makes Jagr comparison

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PHT’s Adam Gretz placed the St. Louis Blues fifth in his power rankings for potential Ilya Kovalchuk destinations earlier week, citing the team’s need for a boost on offense (while highlighting the tantalizing potential of Kovalchuk with Vladimir Tarasenko).

It sounds like Blues GM Doug Armstrong is throwing his team’s name in the hat, if nothing else. He confirmed the Blues’ interest in Kovalchuk, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Always looking to improve our team,” Armstrong said. “We’re like all teams. He’s 35 years old, there’s risk involved with players of that age. But he could be Jaromir Jagr. He could start slowing down at 41. Or he could come back and hit the wall. You never know.”

Armstrong also mentioned that, unlike teams such as the Sharks and Kings, the Blues didn’t arrange a face-to-face meeting with Kovalchuk. It’s unclear if that fact indicates a lower level of interest from St. Louis and/or Kovalchuk.

The age comments are more than just pointing out the obvious, by the way.

Kovalchuk would count as a 35+ contract, and with his most recent ask being a manageable cap hit yet a deal that would ask for some term at three years, a team would need to be confident that signing him would be worth it in the future. Not just now.

Taking a look at the Blues’ Cap Friendly page, such a risk would be reasonable for St. Louis, yet they would need to mull over the ramifications.

Three especially noteworthy players currently have three years remaining on their contracts: Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, and Alexander Steen. It might surprise some to realize that Steen is already 34, but Schwartz and Allen are young enough that the Blues must acknowledge that raises could be coming.

(Personally, that seems most pressing for Schwartz, as Allen has his critics as an up-and-down No. 1 goalie.)

A couple other looming raises could make Kovalchuk’s hypothetical three-year deal a bigger burden, as such a deal would run concurrently with raises in 2020-21. Both Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million cap hit) and Brayden Schenn ($5.125M) stand to make a lot more money once their bargain deals expire after 2019-20.

Overall, the Blues are in a fantastic situation to make it all work.

They only have about $62M committed to 18 players heading into next season, and the only plus of Robby Fabbri‘s terrible injury luck for St. Louis is that the RFA is likely to sign a team-friendly contract. (Assuming that Fabbri gets a clean bill of health.)

The Blues stand as a dark horse candidate for John Tavares for the same sort of reasons that Kovalchuk would make sense. While last season’s failure to make the playoffs was a disappointment, they’ve generally been competitive. A big-time addition could really accelerate that improvement, and this team has money to burn (for now). St. Louis also boasts some prominent players in the thick of their primes.

And, sure, Tarasenko’s presence cannot hurt.

St. Louis isn’t exactly like the Ducks, a team that hasn’t drafted a Russian player since 2009. While Tarasenko is the most prominent countryman on the Blues roster, St. Louis also employs Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nikita Soshnikov. (Czech forward Vladimir Sobotka also isn’t far removed from a three-year sojourn in the KHL, for whatever that’s worth.)

Long story short, the Blues have plenty of reasons to legitimately pursue Kovalchuk, and there’s some reason to believe that St. Louis would be a good fit for him.

That said, they’ll need to get in line … and they may not be in the front of that queue when free agency begins in July.

MORE ON THE KOVALCHUK SWEEPSTAKES

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Tavares and beyond: five years of possible free agents

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While NHL fans get to brag about the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBA fans score a decided advantage when it comes to off-the-court/ice sizzle.

More often than not, hockey fans can only imagine seismic shifts like LeBron James’ latest “decision.”

(One bold exception is the profoundly dysfunctional Ottawa Senators, who provided us with hockey’s answer to the strange Bryan Colangelo burner account scandal by way of that drama between the significant others of Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman.)

So, like the Toronto Raptors watching Lebron mercilessly crush their playoff dreams, hockey fans grow accustomed to seeing fun spending sprees fizzle away. Could it happen again with John Tavares?

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Tavares and his representatives are “focused” on negotiating with the New York Islanders right now. Pierre LeBrun was also involved in that segment, and rained on our speculative parades even more:

Allow a simple response to the Tavares sweepstakes possibly ending before it truly begins: boo. Boo to that.

Now, sure, there’s the chance that business picks up in July. Maybe sooner. Still, reports like those above remain discouraging for those of us who want to grab the popcorn.

[Which teams would benefit the most from potential buyouts?]

It actually inspires a fun activity: let’s go over the next few years and ponder some of the big names who could auction off their services.

Naturally, because hockey, this list factors in the sad, cruel likelihood that the biggest names will bow out, so there are consolation prizes. Also, this list focuses mainly on would-be UFAs, as RFAs hold very little leverage (thanks, CBA).

This summer (2018)

Biggest fish who might not make it: Tavares

Would begging help?

/kneels

The fascinating Ilya Kovalchuk talk is a helpful reminder of how rare it is for an impact NHL player to explore free agency. At 27, Tavares figures to be exactly that. Despite all the turbulence surrounding the Islanders, Tavares generated 84 points in 82 games during 2017-18, the second-best output of his career.

He’s also put to rest any real worries about some of the freak injuries he suffered. Tavares played 82 games twice in the last four seasons, only missing nine games since 2014-15.

Tavares hitting the market wouldn’t just change the fate of a team. If he landed in the right direction, it could create a new contender. You simply don’t see a franchise center become available often; this would be as close as the NHL gets to a Lebron-type seismic shift.

Which means he’ll probably kill all the drama with an extension soon. *Grumble*

Big name with a better chance to actually hit the market: John Carlson

Before more grumbling commences, there’s this:

There’s evidence that Carlson struggles at time in his own end, particularly stretching back to before this past season. After a dazzling 68 points and a Stanley Cup victory, someone’s paying up, and it should be fun to witness that situation develop. You just do not see defensemen of his ilk hit it big very often, either.

Now that you mention it, hopefully a risky Carlson deal doesn’t scare off teams from next year’s incredible crop.

Some other notables: Joe Thornton, James Neal, James van Riemsdyk, David Perron, and Paul Stastny.

[Six players who should stay put this summer, six who should move]

Next summer (2019)

Biggest possible names: Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty

For some, Karlsson is the top draw (myself included). Old-school types might claim that Karlsson “can’t play defense,” even after he managed to drag a mediocre Senators team to within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (yes, that was only a year ago). For those types – who also probably believe that Alex Ovechkin “just figured things out this year” – then Doughty is the jewel.

The truth is that both are really, really good.

They also both carry some mileage into their next deals after being remarkable bargains, as they’re both 28 and log big minutes. There’s a strong chance that Doughty might just re-sign with Los Angeles, possibly as soon as this summer, and the same could be true regarding Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes. (Preemptive boo.)

Now, Ryan Ellis and the Predators? That could be fascinating.

These guys won’t become UFAs … right?: Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Tyler Seguin.

Buckle up, Blue Jackets fans.

Other interesting possibilities

  • Marc-Andre Fleury: He could finish his career with Vegas, but this past season could really drive up his asking price, and his age (already 33) could scare the Golden Knights off.
  • Pekka Rinne: By this time, you’d think Juuse Saros would be ready to carry the torch in Nashville.
  • Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski: Two Sharks centers with intriguing futures. Pavelski, in particular, could age out (turns 34 on July 11).
  • Matt Duchene: With the mess Ottawa’s in, who knows? Duchene leaving would really make a bumpy trade look even worse. Yikes.
  • Blake Wheeler: Winnipeg’s going to need to pay Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck, and Kyle Connor. Could an under-the-radar star get squeezed out in the process?

Summer of 2020

Biggest fish to land: Avoiding a lockout or limiting the damage.

*sigh*

Interesting possibilities

  • Roman Josi: David Poile is responsible for some salary cap wizardry, yet at some point, the Predators are going to need to make some choices.
  • Nicklas Backstrom: Already at 30, and with Braden Holtby also slated for possible free agency during the summer of 2020 (let’s assume Holtby re-signs), it remains to be seen if Washington can/will retain the Swedish center. He deserves an upgrade from that $6.7 million cap hit, one way or another.
  • Corey Crawford: Currently at 33 and the Blackhawks remain in a perpetual cap crunch. Hmm.
  • Holtby: Just in case the Capitals try to save money in net.
  • Tyson Barrie and Torey Krug: Two explosive scoring defensemen who are a bit underrated. Krug, in particular, might be tough for the Bruins to retain. Justin Faulk deserves a mention, too, although his situation could be very different in mere weeks for all we know.
  • Alex Galchenyuk: Will his inevitable split from Montreal happen before free agency 2020?

Even more aimless speculation in later years …

Summer 2021

Aging stars: Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Dustin Byfuglien.

Intriguing prime-age names: Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Devan Dubnyk.

Summer 2022

Last chances at big deals? Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban, Claude Giroux, Kris Letang, Patrice Bergeron.

Intriguing prime-age names: Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones.

***

Interesting stuff, right?

Of course, many of those players are likely to sign extensions, in most cases with their current teams. The same could be said for players who get traded to new teams. Some of the older guys might just retire. Restricted free agents may also add some spice to summers.

There’s even a chance that a new CBA could open the door for more movement in the future.

Looking at the lists above, it’s easy to envision fun scenarios, even if recent hockey history suggests blander solutions. Then again, re-signing players like these could force other important players to get traded, so team-building nerds should have something to chew on even if free agency isn’t as fun in reality as it can be in our heads.

Cap Friendly was an excellent resource for this post. Their tools can help you go on your own dorky hockey adventures, possibly unearthing more interesting names. (You’d need to wait until the summer of 2023 to get excited about Nathan MacKinnon, though.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.