This late-summer edition of the dynasty rankings is always a daunting task. On the cusp of a new NHL season, we add in a fresh year to the five-year averages that are used to generate these rankings. It’s not a simple endeavor. Already attempting to use age, contract and team context to prognosticate how every player’s skill and opportunity will translate to the fantasy game four years out … we add a fifth year.
This time, it’s the 2023-24 season. The Seattle Krakens (I’m still hoping they get this name right) will be as old as the Vegas Golden Knights are now. Alex Ovechkin will be as old as Ron Hainsey is now. And, to be sure, a score of players drafted just two months ago will strongly factor into your fantasy plans.
Don’t believe me? Five years ago, in the 2015 NHL draft, 18 players ranked in our top 250 for the coming fantasy season had their name called in Sunrise, Fla. – 16 of them in the first round. It’s tough to wrap your head around the idea that we are factoring in a 2023-24 season that is going to feature a host of fantasy-impact players whose names we are just learning (not to mention the players drafted in the 2020 to 2023 NHL drafts whom we might not even know about yet). While 2015 was an exceptionally good draft (Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, Zach Werenski, Mathew Barzal, Brock Boeser, Sebastian Aho, the list goes on … ), it’s not entirely unique in the number of impact players it produced. The 2014 NHL draft has 17 players in our top 250. The 2016 draft already has a dozen and another full season for more to emerge.
That means we can be almost certain that somewhere in the ballpark of 12 to 15 players from this past June’s draft will be significant factors in our fantasy plans five years from now. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are easy calls, but who will the other names be? Will Kirby Dach be the heir apparent to Jonathan Toews down the middle for the Blackhawks? Will Bowen Byram join Cale Makar on the blue line for the Avalanche to form a pair almost as imposing as Seth Jones and Werenski? Is Spencer Knight going to be ready to take over the crease for a 35-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky for the Panthers? Are Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev leading a resurgence to relevance for the Kings?
The actual answer to these questions is less important than the process of familiarizing yourself with these names. If you look back at the cost of acquisition for some of the players drafted in 2015 over the past couple seasons, there are several that could have been acquired for a song before they truly broke out into fantasy relevance. Mikko Rantanen, Timo Meier, Dylan Strome, Thomas Chabot, and Kyle Connor for example, are all difference-makers in fantasy leagues – and all of them experienced periods since they were drafted in which their stock was significantly down from where it is now.
While accurately predicting five years ago that Chabot would be a blossoming rock star in precisely 2018-19 would have been impressive, it’s also a bet you’re going to be wrong about more often than not. But knowing that Chabot is a blue chip, offensive prospect, then acquiring him when Erik Karlsson is moved to a new team … that’s a much-better fantasy play.
So you don’t need to try to guess when Moritz Seider or Antti Tuomisto are going to be on your fantasy radar. But you do need to file away the fact that the NHL team with the weakest blue line for offense just took high-end defense prospects with its first two picks in the draft. So, two years from now, when the Detroit Red Wings still don’t have their blue line sorted, but are going into the season looking sharp offensively, you’ll remember these guys could be factors.
It’s understandable, especially in keeper and dynasty formats, if you are beginning to sweat a little about your all-star restricted free-agent. I mean, this guy was a difference-maker for your fantasy team in 2018-19 as he set new career benchmarks. He is poised to continue his feature role for an improving offense – if only his contract issues were sorted out. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking, of course, about Mitch Marner. I mean, Rantanen. No, wait, it’s Matthew Tkachuk Or was it Boeser? Brayden Point Kyle Connor? The list of key fantasy players still without a contract is an impressive one. Joining this group is Patrik Laine, who despite a down year remains a future stud, as well as defensemen Werenski, Ivan Provorov and Charlie McAvoy There’s also some other potential fantasy pieces, including Travis Konecny, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kevin Fiala.
My default position is not to worry about this too much … yet. These restricted free-agent confrontations, on the whole, have tended to sort themselves out before it impacts the on-ice product in the regular season. Ryan Johansen and Johnny Gaudreau are somewhat recent examples of a star player coming to terms before it really started to impact the regular season. That said, we also have situations like Ryan O’Reilly back in 2012-13, Jacob Trouba three years ago and, most recently, William Nylander who all held out well into the season. The fact that Marner, who pundits point to as the keystone contract for this entire group, is negotiating with the same club that had to watch Nylander sit out the first two months last season has to give us collective reason to at least approach these players with some caution. Here’s hoping the Marner domino falls soon and allows us all to enter drafts knowing these players will be set to take the ice.
Am I going to drop Marner and Co. down any rankings I do between now and late-September? No. At least, not significantly.
Am I going to draft an alternate player that I project in the same tier who does have a contract, if given the option? Yes. No-brainer.
And am I going to plummet anyone down the rankings who hasn’t inked a deal by the time the puck drops on the regular season? Oh, you better believe that’s a plummeting.
Most fantasy leagues don’t usually have to worry about the real-life contracts being signed by our make-believe players, so this is frustrating this offseason and I will say this: If Marner gets the contract he is reportedly asking for and these other RFAs demand the same, it’s going to fundamentally break the NHL in the same way Eric Lindros’ contract broke the league before he even stepped onto the ice.
You will notice adding a fifth year to these dynasty rankings has a big impact on the rankings for veterans. As stated in the articles in the past, forwards tend to start fading fast in their early-to-mid 30s, defensemen a little later and goaltenders usually go off a cliff at 35. So any future years that get tacked into the formula hurt older players.
The Seattle expansion factor was interesting. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to account for an extra scoring line, extra power play and extra starting goaltender for the 2021-22 season and beyond, but it proved futile. Perhaps we can get a better handle on how that may shake out in another year or so.
These rankings are an evenly weighted average of the top 250 rankings for each of the next five NHL seasons. To score the rankings evenly if a player didn’t appear on the list, they received the same value in a season whether they were ranked No. 251 or No. 451. It’s not an ideal way to do it, but it works in theory. After all, if a player doesn’t have mathematical fantasy value in a given season, does it matter all that much if they had a little? I get that it does matter, especially during hot streaks, but we had to cut the rankings off somewhere. In the big picture, we are looking for the names that will be the big impact players in dynasty for the next five years, not trying to determine if Alexander Edler’s 2019-20 and 2020-21 season are worth a little more to you than Daniil Chayka’s contributions in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
Team context makes a difference in these rankings and is a big factor. For example, I think the Los Angeles Kings are in the pits this season, but that the prospect pool is strong enough (and 2020 draft could be impactful enough) to put the team back in contention in a couple years. That means Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty could be in for a resurgence in their numbers when they should be fading due to age. The same thing applies to Phil Kessel I think the Arizona Coyotes will be hitting their stride in time to give him some solid twilight seasons.
At the other end of the spectrum, as an example of negative team context, I don’t love the Boston Bruins lineup when Patrice Bergeron starts getting into his late 30s in a couple seasons. That has an impact on David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand as Bergeron is a near-generational talent as a two-way center. That’s not easily replaced.
For the most part, goaltenders workloads are taken into account. For example, in a season in which I have Ilya Samsonov ranked strongly (beginning in 2022-23), I will have Braden Holtby ranked lower. Or when Devan Dubnyk starts to age out of the rankings (next year, maybe?), Kaapo Kahkonen starts to creep in. There are some exceptions, however, because there is always goalie turnover. For example, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko are ranked – and Michael DiPietro just missed – despite the fact they are on the same team.