All posts by Sean O'Leary

5 players who are major fantasy gambles

Fantasy leagues are won and lost at the draft, and while you never truly know what you're going to get from any player, some selections are riskier than others.

Injury history, shooting percentage, and changes of scenery are all contributors to what makes certain picks bigger gambles than others. Below are five candidates for the 2018-19 season that will require careful consideration when you're on the clock.

Carey Price, G, Canadiens

The case against: Price is coming off a rotten 2017-18 season which was derailed by injuries and inconsistent play. His .900 save percentage was easily the lowest mark of his career, and at 30-years-old, there's no guarantee he returns to his old form. Plus, with Shea Weber out and a lack of offensive firepower up front, it's hard to imagine the Canadiens' skaters helping out their netminder.

The case for: He's still Carey Price. Last year went just about as bad as it could have. He's only one season removed from a Vezina caliber year where he posted a .923 save percentage and 37 wins. Price is one of the most dominant goalies of his generation, and even if his teammates don't perform, there's a chance he does well individually. Plus, if he plummets down the draft order, he could serve as an elite backup with other names flying off the board in the earlier rounds.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Kings

The case against: The Los Angeles Kings and fantasy owners alike will be eager to see how long it takes Kovalchuk to re-adjust to the NHL game after five seasons in Russia, and the 35-year-old will face pressure to perform in both instances. While he was brought in to help the Kings' attack, questions surrounding his usage and chemistry with new teammates will need to be answered before Kovalchuk can be considered a worthwhile early-round pick.

The case for: Kovalchuk is one of this generation's most prolific producers, registering 816 points in as many games before returning home to the KHL, where his numbers were even gaudier. If he stays healthy and finds his way onto Anze Kopitar's flank, there's a good chance he takes the NHL by storm again.

William Karlsson, C, Golden Knights

The case against: Whoever scooped Karlsson off the waiver wire early last season hit the jackpot, as his 43 goals stunned the hockey world. However, a 23.4 shooting percentage is a major red flag for impending regression.

The case for: Karlsson's motivation to perform is right in front of him, as the Golden Knights opted for a one-year contract rather than a long-term commitment. If he wants to prove he's a big-time producer worth building around, now's the time.

Anders Lee, LW, Islanders

The case against: Lee no longer has the opportunity to play alongside John Tavares, which significantly hurts his value. Even after pouring in 74 goals over the past two seasons, Lee's fantasy outlook is largely in limbo without the former captain in the picture.

The case for: Lee's role in the Islanders' top six isn't going to change with Tavares in Toronto, and there's a strong possibility Calder Trophy winner Mat Barzal slots in on the top line. The 21-year-old has the talent to create space and ample opportunities for Lee to bury a good chunk of goals.

Sean Couturier, C, Flyers

The case against: Was it a flash in the pan, or did Couturier suddenly develop into an offensive force in his seventh season in the NHL? Despite his incredible 2017-18 campaign, Couturier's larger career resume as a 30-40 point player makes his status at the top of draft boards a risky consideration.

The case for: Part of Couturier's emergence as an offensive threat last season (31G, 45A) was due to his pairing with Claude Giroux, who also set career-highs across the board on the Flyers' top line. Philadelphia keeping the duo together would certainly help Couturier's value as fantasy owners debate whether to roll the dice on last season's breakout star.

(Photos Courtesy: Getty Images)

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Coyotes sign Christian Dvorak to 6-year extension worth reported $26.7M

The Arizona Coyotes have signed forward Christian Dvorak to a six-year contract extension set to kick in for the 2019-20 season, the team announced Thursday.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed by the team, but Craig Morgan of AZ Sports reports the pact is worth $4.45 million annually, citing a source.

"Christian is a highly skilled, reliable, two-way center who continues to improve each season," general manager John Chayka said. "He will be a key player for us in the future and we are thrilled to have him for the next seven seasons."

The 22-year-old suited up in 78 games for the Coyotes last season, recording 15 goals and 22 assists. Dvorak was drafted 58th overall by the club in 2014, and has one more season on his entry-level contract.

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Devils owner: Extension for Hall the highest priority for summer 2019

New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris isn't taking the future of his franchise player for granted.

Reigning MVP Taylor Hall has two years left on his contract, meaning he's eligible to sign an extension at any point starting next July 1. Harris is putting long-term security for the 26-year-old at the top of his to-do list.

"High. The highest," Harris said when asked where Hall's next deal ranks on his priorities, according to Chris Ryan of NJ.com. "He's committed, he's authentic, he is an amazing player obviously. He's a guy you build around. Whether it's him, Nico (Hischier), Will (Butcher). Taylor is definitely going to be front and center, so it will definitely be a high priority. I hope I'm working with Taylor for a long time."

Hall is slated to make $6 million for the next two seasons - the ninth-highest cap hit in the league for a left winger. He's on track for a considerable raise after recording 39 goals and 54 assists in 79 games this past season. His performance helped carry the Devils to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

New Jersey currently has just five players signed beyond 2020, and without taking on any big contracts this offseason, the Devils are set to have plenty of cap space to pay Hall - who would become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 if an extension isn't agreed upon.

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Ducks ink Gibson to 8-year extension worth reported $51.2 million

The Anaheim Ducks signed goaltender John Gibson to an eight-year contract extension through the 2026-27 season, the team announced Saturday.

While the terms weren't officially disclosed by the club, Eric Stephens of The Athletic reports the deal carries a $6.4 million average annual value, resulting in the fifth-highest cap hit of all netminders in the NHL once the extension kicks in for the 2019-20 season.

Gibson has one season left on his current deal, which pays him $2.3 million.

The 25-year-old was drafted 39th overall by the Ducks in 2011, and has become one of the best starters in the league. Gibson dealt with some injuries last season, but still managed to put together a rock-solid campaign, winning 31 games to go with a .926 save percentage and four shutouts in 60 starts.

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Long term or bust: Projecting William Nylander’s next contract

It's been over a month since John Tavares inked a seven-year deal with the Maple Leafs, and his arrival to Toronto has caused some to measure the on-ice implications - the Leafs are now one of the deepest teams in the league - with the club's unsettling salary cap situation and how it will approach spending going forward.

General manager Kyle Dubas has over $13 million in cap space to operate with, not including the inevitable stashing of Nathan Horton's contract on LTIR. The front office will now have to carefully calculate its next moves, starting with an extension for forward William Nylander - the lone member on the Leafs' ledger without a deal for next season.

Nylander is the first of Toronto's group of young stars to have his entry-level deal expire, so his next pact takes precedence over the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who are also eligible to sign an extension at any point.

Many have speculated as to whether the Leafs can retain all three, and it's been Nylander's name which has thus far been tossed around as potential trade bait. But Dubas remains certain Toronto can and will keep the entire band together, while Nylander recently said he's seeking a long-term deal.

Such a long-term extension would best suit both parties involved. Bridge deals are decreasing across today's NHL, and for a player of Nylander's caliber, the safer bet for Toronto would be offering term and money now rather than facing the same problem in the near future with the possibility of him being worth even more.

Let's dive into what Nylander's contract could look like.

His role

Nylander is undoubtedly a game-breaking talent. He's an effortless skater, protects and passes the puck incredibly well, and completes his arsenal with an absolute cannon of a shot. The rub, particularly in the eyes of head coach Mike Babcock, is his commitment to a full effort on both sides of the puck, and that has led to him being bumped down the lineup.

Primarily, however, he's Matthews' running mate on the Leafs' top line, and is an integral factor in No. 34's success. Last season, Nylander and Matthews played over 700 minutes together at five-on-five, controlling 50.8 percent of the shots and over 54 percent of scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. Without Nylander, Matthews wasn't quite as dominant, amassing a 47.12 Corsi For percentage and 51.64 Scoring Chances For percentage, albeit it in a much smaller sample of 210 minutes.

The two are also electric together on the power play, though it remains to be seen what kind of combinations Babcock will put together with the addition of Tavares and losses of James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak. Tavares' arrival also stops Nylander from moving to center, which he was forced to do as an injury replacement in the past, and keeps him on the right side.

His production

In 185 career regular-season games, Nylander's notched 135 points, good for a 0.73 point-per-game clip. However, if you eliminate the 22-game stint in which he began his tenure with the Maple Leafs to close out the 2015-16 campaign, his average goes up to 0.75, which paints a clearer picture of the company he keeps as a player.

Below is a list of every player in the salary cap era to maintain at least a 0.75 point-per-game average in their second and third seasons, aged 19-to-21 with at least 100 games played.

(Screenshot courtesy: Hockey Reference)

Over the last two seasons, Nylander is tied for 12th among all right wingers in even-strength points (84), tied for seventh in even-strength assists (56), and 12th in total points (122), despite ranking 34th in average ice time at his position (16:21).

Recent Comparables

When it comes to asking price, Nylander's agent and Dubas have a decent list of comparable players. Here are five players to recently ink extensions at the conclusion of their ELC's, and their numbers when they signed.

Player Age P/GP Contract
J. Gaudreau 23 0.89 6 x $6.75M
F. Forsberg 21 0.73 6 x $6M
L. Draisaitl 21 0.72 8 x $8.5M
D. Pastrnak 21 0.72 6 x $6.66M
N. Ehlers 22 0.66 7 x $6M

Draisaitl came out the richest, though his cost was inflated by a playoff performance that included 16 points in 13 games, and his ability to serve behind Connor McDavid as the future No. 2 center for the Oilers. The others are examples of teams shelling out money sooner rather than later and subsequently benefiting from banking on their players' upside. If Gaudreau, Forsberg, Pastrnak, or Ehlers had signed a bridge contract, would any of them get the same sort of team-friendly deal a year or two from now when it would be up for renewal? Highly unlikely.

Verdict

It's reasonable to assume Nylander can slot in comfortably among the list of comparable contracts. The trend here is six-to-eight years with the cap hit somewhere between $6 million and $8 million, which is more than manageable for Toronto.

If Nylander gets the max term, taking him all the way to 30 years old, the Leafs will have to pay more annually, which could eliminate the possibility of an eight-year deal. But a six- or seven-year contract in the range of $6.25 to $7 million seems suitable for all parties, and could provide incredible value if Nylander takes his game to the next level as Toronto itself looks to do the same.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(Salary cap info courtesy: Cap Friendly)

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Report: Golden Knights, Karlsson agree to 1-year deal worth $5.25M

The Vegas Golden Knights and leading scorer William Karlsson settled on a one-year, $5.25-million contract Saturday ahead of the 25-year-old's arbitration date, reports Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Both sides were $3 million apart in negotiations, as Karlsson was reportedly seeking a $6.5-million salary; the Western Conference champs countered with $3.5 million. Vegas is providing Karlsson a chance to prove he's worth a long-term commitment, as he'll be a restricted free agent once again following the 2018-19 season.

Karlsson was the engine of the Golden Knights' stunning debut season, and his personal success was as unexpected as Vegas'. After recording just 50 points in the first 183 games of his career, split between the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets, Karlsson took off in Sin City, notching 43 goals and 78 points with an astronomical 23.4 shooting percentage.

With Karlsson taken care of, the lone member of the Golden Knights without a contract for next season is defenseman Shea Theodore.

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Report: Panarin would seriously consider return to Blackhawks in free agency

Artemi Panarin doesn't appear to be opposed to the proposition of a Windy City reunion, as the superstar winger would seriously consider a return to the Chicago Blackhawks if he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, a source told The Athletic's Scott Powers.

Panarin told the Blue Jackets he's not ready to sign an extension in Columbus, and the club reportedly began to test the market for him in June. The 26-year-old sniper also said he won't negotiate once camp opens Sept. 13, so his future with the organization is largely up in the air at this point.

After going undrafted and spending seven years in the KHL, Panarin chose the Blackhawks as his first NHL club in 2015, finding immediate success on a line with Patrick Kane. He won the Calder Trophy on the strength of a 77-point rookie season, then followed up with 74 points in 2016-17 before Chicago sent him to Columbus in exchange for Brandon Saad.

While the Blackhawks got the cost certainty they were hoping for in acquiring Saad, the trade didn't pan out for them at all in Year One, as Saad recorded just 35 points in 82 games. Meanwhile, Panarin notched 82 points and carried the Blue Jackets to the postseason as the driving force of their attack.

Panarin has one more season remaining at $6 million before he hits the open market, where he's sure to have a litany of suitors.

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Report: Stars’ Smith gets $750K for 1 year in arbitration

Dallas Stars forward Gemel Smith has earned a one-year, $750,000-contract in arbitration, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

The Stars previously placed Smith on waivers in July, but he ended up clearing. Dallas now has no outstanding contracts to take care of and will have a projected $5.3 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

Smith, 24, appeared in 46 games for the Stars in 2017-18, recording six goals and five assists.

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Senators’ Ceci awarded 1-year, $4.3M deal in arbitration

Ottawa Senators blue-liner Cody Ceci has been awarded a one-year, $4.3-million deal in arbitration, the team announced Friday.

He'll once again be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, per CapFriendly.

Ceci's initial ask was $6 million, while the Senators countered with $3.35 million. Ottawa also locked down restricted free agent Mark Stone earlier Friday prior to his arbitration hearing with a one-year deal worth $7.35 million.

Ceci was drafted 15th overall by the Senators in 2012, and he recorded five goals and 14 assists in 82 games last season.

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Sens, Stone avoid arbitration with 1-year, $7.35M contract

The Ottawa Senators and winger Mark Stone have avoided arbitration, as the 26-year-old put pen to paper on a one-year, $7.35-million contract Friday, the team announced.

The agreement makes Stone an unrestricted free agent next summer, though he could sign an extension with the club after Jan. 1. If he opts for the open market, the Senators face the possibility of losing Stone along with fellow pending UFA's Matt Duchene and Erik Karlsson next offseason.

Stone's hearing was scheduled for Friday afternoon, but both sides struck a deal before a third-party determination. His case was one of the most prominent among the 44 players to file for arbitration, and it was reported his initial ask was for a record $9 million, while Ottawa countered with $5 million.

Injuries derailed Stone's impressive 2017-18 season, as he recorded a team-best 62 points in just 58 games. With his new contract, Stone carries the highest cap hit on the Senators' roster, and the sixth-highest number of all right wingers in the NHL.

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