It's a strange time in October with players changing addresses when they should already be settled in with their new teams and starting a new season. Instead, we're in the midst of free agency and trade season, and a few interesting trades have provided significant hints in what each team has planned for the upcoming season, whenever that may begin. From stylistic changes to cap-clearing moves intended to aid even bigger decisions to come, here's a breakdown of the major swaps so far.
(All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.)
The Raw Numbers: Murray played just 38 games in 2019-20, the fewest appearances since his rookie season. He had career worsts in both GAA (2.87) and save percentage (.899), and ceded the starting job to Tristan Jarry (2.43 GAA, .921 save percentage) until the playoffs,where Murray was (somewhat controversially) named the starter only to be replaced by Jarry again. According to Natural Stat Trick, among goalies with at least 2,000 minutes played, Murray's -11.57 goals saved above average was the fourth-lowest even though the Penguins ranked 11th in the league in fewest goals allowed, and his average goal distance of 24.11 ft. was third-furthest among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played at even strength.
The Impact: Murray and Jarry both played in front of the same defense that featured two of the league's worst defensemen in Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz (and also Erik Gudbranson, who is Murray's teammate again in Ottawa), but the team played a little looser with Murray in net, allowing an average shot distance of 35.44 ft. vs. Jarry's 38.02 ft. Murray, at 6-foot-4, was getting beat a lot from distance and lacked the battle and composure he's showed previously. As the undisputed starter in Pittsburgh, Jarry enters the conversation as a potential top-15 fantasy goalie.
For starters, the Senators were about as bad as expected last season, ranking 26th in shot-attempt percentage and 31st in shot-attempts against, and so far, have only one legit top-four defenseman signed in Thomas Chabot. Their forwards will be talented but young and inexperienced, and combined with Murray's mercurial play, there's going to be a wide range of results. There will be games where the Sens' rebuild looks like it took 10 steps forward and there will be games that produce nothing but Melnyk memes. Murray (and his new $25-million extension) is the unquestioned starter, so he'll recoup some fantasy value in volume, but Anders Nilsson is capable of sneaking in short stretches of quality performances. Murray will likely be borderline top 30, depending on whether you think he's very good but struggling or simply overrated.
The Trade: Wild trade G Devan Dubnyk (50% salary retained) and 2022 seventh-round pick to Sharks for 2022 fifth-round pick
The Raw Numbers: Dubnyk's 3.35 GAA and .890 save percentage last year were easily the worst numbers he posted in six seasons with Minnesota. Entering the 2019-20 campaign, Dubnyk ranked 13th in even-strength goals saved above average (18.75) over the previous three seasons, ahead of Carey Price (11.17) and Connor Hellebuyck (13.28), but finished 2019-20 with the seventh-worst goals saved above average (-12.43) among goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes at even strength despite facing the third-furthest average shot distance of 38.65 ft. His season was also cut short by injuries, and it was the first time he finished with a losing record with Minnesota.
The Impact: The Wild couldn't ship Dubnyk out fast enough, retaining half his salary and coughing up a draft pick, and they will likely go with a 1A-1B timeshare with newly signed Cam Talbot getting the edge in starts over Alex Stalock, whose play is sometimes good but also very erratic. The Wild defense is very good, but the Wild are undergoing major changes which dampens Talbot and Stalock's fantasy values.
Dubnyk will also operate in a timeshare in San Jose with Martin Jones, and the Sharks are betting on one of them returning to form. Dubnyk has a stronger case with a better track record and playing on a team with a stronger penalty kill will help. The Wild PK was atrocious, finishing 25th in PK% even though they didn't take a lot of penalties and ranked 10th in net penalties at plus-15. Among 55 goalies with at least 100 minutes played on the penalty kill, Dubnyk's -1.17 goals saved above average/60 ranked 45th. The Sharks, meanwhile, had the league's best PK, and even managed to make Jones look good, who finished third with a 2.66 goals saved above average/60 on the PK. The Sharks are still very talented, so expect Dubnyk and Jones to improve their numbers, if only slightly, making them worthwhile late-round grabs for fantasy managers looking to lock down a tandem on a team that could finish over .500.
The Trade: Golden Knights trade D Nate Schmidt to Canucks for 2022 third-round pick
The Raw Numbers: Facing a cap crunch with the signing of Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas cleared space by shipping Schmidt to a divisional foe. Schmidt has scored at least 30 points in each of his past three seasons despite missing 39 games during that span. Up until this past season, he had been Vegas' minutes leader on defense and he has never finished below 50 Corsi For % at 5-on-5 in any season.
The Impact: Schmidt's fantasy value gets a major boost if he ends up playing with Quinn Hughes. A lefty comfortable playing on the right side, he'll likely slot into Chris Tanev's old spot with Alex Edler and Tyler Myers forming a heavy shutdown pair. Almost every Canuck's possession number is better when they share the ice with Hughes, and if Hughes and Schmidt can click, they could be a very, very strong pairing. However, don't expect Schmidt's power-play points to increase significantly; the Canucks' four-forward units usually are quarterbacked by Hughes and Edler, so Schmidt's improved offense will likely come at even strength, and that's only if he gets to jump up like he did in Vegas rather than covering for Hughes' rushes.
The Raw Numbers: Since the 2013-14 season, Saad has failed to score 20 goals just twice, and in those two seasons finished with 18 and 19 goals. Entering what will be his seventh pro season, Zadorov has scored 75 points in 356 games and ranked seventh in hits (175) among defensemen last season (min. 25 GP).
The Impact: The Avs totally win this deal even if they got nothing in return for Zadorov, a hard-hitting defenseman who has never been particularly good at doing anything else. He routinely makes bad decisions and ranked fifth in TOI/GP (17:46) among Avs defensemen (min. 25 GP) last year. However, he does address a need for a righty on Chicago's defense, though his impact will probably be negligible.
Saad should be a big piece for the Avs, who needed a little more depth in their top six. He's a reliable, consistent player who provides 200 shots and 20 goals like clockwork, and even if he doesn't get the plum assignment next to Nathan MacKinnon, playing on the second line with Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky should also be a big boon. The Avs will be a top-10 offense again, and Saad will be a good value pick in the middle rounds.
The Trade: Wild trade F Ryan Donato to Sharks for 2021 third-round pick
The Raw Numbers: This will be Donato's third team in three seasons. Through 130 NHL games, Donato has scored 29 goals and 57 points and traditionally has been a strong puck possession player.
The Impact: Donato, a former second-round pick, getting traded for Charlie Coyle and now a third-round pick shows he's managed to retain top-six value despite little progress in his development. He's got skill, but he's also not suited for a bottom-six role, and the Wild don't see him as a center and have too many wingers. With the Sharks, Donato's path to a top-six role is much clearer, and San Jose's top-two centers, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, are both significant upgrades over Victor Rask and Mikko Koivu, the two centers Donato played with the most in Minnesota. With consistent top-six minutes and power-play time, a 20-20 season from Donato should be attainable, but those players are a dime a dozen these days so at best Donato's a late-round flyer.
The Raw Numbers: On a team starved for scoring, Kunin finished fourth in goals with 15 and set career highs across the board in his second full season in the NHL, but he finished last on the team with a 45.35 Corsi For % (min. 100 TOI), continuing a trend from the previous season when he ranked 17th out of 19 forwards (47.82 Corsi For %). Bonino is coming off a fourth straight season with double-digit goals and the fourth time in six seasons he's scored at least 30 points. He won 52.6% of his faceoffs and ranked 34th in the league in faceoffs taken, 75 percent of which were in the defensive zone.
The Impact: The Wild were clearly thin at center despite Bill Guerin's insistence that Marcus Johansson, Victor Rask and Nick Bjugstad could fill those roles. I expect the center position to be very fluid all season due to their lack of depth, but Bonino slots easily into Koivu's role as the team's top defensive center. That may push Bonino into the top 25 in faceoffs taken, giving him some fantasy value in leagues that count faceoff wins.
The more befuddling part is Kunin, who is either a legit top-six goal scorer or a middle-six tweener who got lucky shooting the puck. His puck possession stats aren't very good, but the jump from 6 shooting percentage to 11 shooting percentage is significant, and he's known for his ability to score goals. He'll get his chance to play on the power play in Nashville, though he's the third-best winger at best behind Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and maybe Calle Jarnkrok, and he'll also need centers Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene to have better seasons. This is more of a stylistic change for Nashville, who already have a cheaper and younger clone of Bonino in Colton Sissons, and in raw goal production might lose the trade because Bonino has outscored Kunin over the past two seasons. Until Kunin climbs up the depth chart, his fantasy value remains largely unchanged.
The Raw Numbers: Domi went from 72 points and poised for super stardom to 44 points and a fourth-line role in one season, and Anderson went from 27 goals in 82 games to 1 goal in 26 games in a season cut short by shoulder surgery, but the biggest drop in 2020 still belongs to Vin Diesel's single.
The Impact: In the 2018-19 season, only four forwards managed to score at least 20 goals and record at least 200 hits: Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Blake Coleman and Anderson. When healthy, Anderson is the rare power forward (so rare Marc Bergevin signed him for seven years with an NTC right away) who can hit and score goals, which addresses two of Montreal's biggest needs. The Canadiens had awful shooting luck last season, but their offense is still going to depend largely on Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi being consistent top-six centers.
Domi has the right mix of snarl and talent to fit in with the Jackets' aggressive style and their need for more offense. The Jackets think they can play Domi at center (ie. dual-position eligibility), which would allow him to flourish as the primary playmaker, but he's not particularly disciplined and that may drive John Tortorella nuts (ie. benchings). Domi is going to be better after a rock-bottom season and his ceiling as a 60-point player puts him back in the mid-round conversation. Anderson has great value in roto leagues as the rare 20 goal, 200 hits power forward but Domi has the edge if your scoring system emphasizes points.
The Raw Numbers: Stastny was going to cost Vegas $6.5 million in cap space, and that money is better spent elsewhere instead of on a second-line center who scored only 38 points in 71 games during last regular season and nine points in 18 games in the playoffs.
The Impact: Between this and drafting slick playmaker Cole Perfetti, the Jets probably bought a little more time with Patrik Laine, who had success playing with Stastny. A happy Laine and an elite goal scorer for Stastny means both players' fantasy values have gone up; after acquiring Stastny the first time in 2018, he assisted on six of Laine's last 12 goals of the season, and in the playoffs combined for 27 points. Laine remains a top-10 goal scorer and Stastny moves back into the mid to late-round slots at a very deep position.