When it comes to the value swings in fantasy during the NHL’s trade deadline, the players changing teams aren’t the only ones that can become fantasy relevant with the announcement of a deal.
Most trades consummated at the deadline will involve a player moving from a seller in return for picks/prospects from a buyer. We spend a lot of time assessing the value change in those players that are now playing for a contender, but it’s always worth a look at the power vacuum that is left behind on the seller.
Who is left behind to fill key roles by the players traded away? There is always more ice time freed up by such a trade, but sometimes the vacuum can include key roles on scoring lines and power plays.
We can see early evidence of this already with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens in the weeks since the teams got an early start on the deadline by shipping out Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan, respectively.
For the Flames, the departure of their anchor, No. 1 center has left an opportunity for Nazem Kadri to step up his game as the new top pivot. In the nine games since the trade, Kadri has been a new player. He was barely fantasy relevant before the all-star break, earning 1.76 fantasy points per game (FPPG) across 49 contests. Since Lindholm’s been gone, Kadri has five goals and seven assists for 2.66 FPPG.
With the Habs, the power vacuum hasn’t brought results for Alex Newhook yet, but it has brought a wealth of opportunity that he could still capitalize on. His FPPG remains below the startable threshold — before and after Monahan’s departure. However, look at his ice time: Earlier in the season, before he missed December and January with injury, Newhook was playing 16:34 per game with 2:23 in power-play time. In the eight games since the Monahan deal, Newhook is up to 18:12 in ice time with 4:48 on the advantage.
So let’s have a look at who might gain fantasy benefit from the vacuums left behind by some of the more popular trade candidates. The potential players on offer have been lifted from ESPN’s NHL reporting during the past week.
Oliver Kylington, D, Calgary Flames: It’s no secret that the Flames hold the keys to the whole deadline, even after shipping out Lindholm they still have arguably the three best assets available. Two of those assets are defenders that spend a combined 43 minutes on the ice each game. If Noah Hanifin or Chris Tanev — or even both — get dealt away by the Flames, there will be a lot more ice time available on this blue line. It just so happens the Flames have a promising defender back after almost two years away in Kylington.
The Swedish defender broke out in 2021-22 with nine goals and 31 points despite muted minutes. He’s been eased back into NHL life with even fewer minutes, but would have the ramp in front of him to eat much of the ice time formerly occupied by Hanifin or Tanev. We won’t get an everyday fantasy starter out of him, as MacKenzie Weegar and Rasmus Andersson still suck up a lot of air at the top of the Flames defensive depth chart, but Kylington may get into the mix as a spot starter if his minutes approach 20 per game.
Dustin Wolf, G, Calgary Flames: If the Flames go all-in on a roster refresh and deal away goaltender Jacob Markstrom, it’s because they have Dustin Wolf waiting to take up the crown in net. His NHL returns in spot starts have been, well, less than stellar. That is a massive understatement for coughing up six goals to the San Jose Sharks in his last outing on Feb. 15. But Wolf has shown the chops to be a future No. 1 by being among the best AHL goaltenders for three consecutive seasons.
The future is fine in his hands, but the question for fantasy managers is whether or not he can settle into the role this season in the event of a Markstrom trade? That will remain an unknown. Some goaltenders can struggle if all the variables aren’t just right. Maybe Wolf needs to know he’s the team’s No. 1 for his game to shine. Or maybe he needs an offseason of preparation knowing he’s going to be an NHL starter. Then there is the matter of how solid this defense is if the Flames chose the nuclear option and trade away Hanifin, Tanev and Markstrom.
Keeper and dynasty fantasy leagues have likely had Wolf on the radar since the end of last season, so he’s probably already spoken for. Re-draft leagues will have to weigh the cost-benefit of adding him to your bench in the event of a Markstrom deal to see if he’s ready for the job.
Rickard Rakell, W, Pittsburgh Penguins: We are seeing the increased capacity for Rakell’s fantasy value with Jake Guentzel out of the lineup right now. With the pending free-agent winger sidelined by injury, Rakell is back on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby. The peaks among Rakell’s valleys of production this season have come when he gets time with Crosby.
In the case that Guentzel has played his last game as a Penguin, Rakell gets to not only stay on the top line with Crosby and Bryan Rust, but also gets his power-play role essentially cemented.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, Nashville Predators: While it’s being reported that the Preds would part with Juuse Saros, it does feel like a stretch for a team very much in the playoff hunt. That said, taking the long view, Askarov is one of the top goalie prospects in the game.
He’s dominating the crease in the AHL again this season, with a 21-7-1 record, 2.11 goals-against average and five shutouts for the Milwaukee Admirals. His 1.25 games of NHL showing this season have gone swimmingly, too. The next step is to hand him the keys and see what happens. If Saros gets dealt, Askarov has a real chance to be a top-tier fantasy goaltender down the stretch. At the end of the day, the Preds are still jostling for playoff position and could still do so with a change in the crease.
Leo Carlsson, C, Anaheim Ducks: If the Ducks deal away veterans, like Adam Henrique and Frank Vatrano, or even other young forwards, like Trevor Zegras, it really starts to open the best ice time to their developing core. Rookie Carlsson is getting some key ice time some games, but not in others. If there is an exodus among the scoring lines, Carlsson almost surely gets locked into the top power-play unit as opposed to getting only occasional looks.
Mathieu Joseph, W, Ottawa Senators: Jumping from the bottom six to the top six around mid-January (when the depth chart was bolstered by Shane Pinto’s return), Joseph has been flirting with — but not quite achieving — startable fantasy value at 1.62 FPPG. He’s ramped up even more in February, with 1.83 FPPG on a line with Tim Stutzle and Claude Giroux. If the Sens deal away Vladimir Tarasenko, it probably doesn’t change Joseph’s deployment much. However, it does give the Sens fewer tinkering options, which can be counted as a little more job security for Joseph as a top-six winger.