The Wire Troll: Open Net in Tampa Bay
Jonas Johnasson will begin the season as the starting goalie in Tampa Bay. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)
Welcome back to another season of Fantasy hockey. The 2023-24 NHL regular season doesn’t begin for another week and a half, so consider this an early jump on your waiver wire hunting. As always, we only recommend players that are available in 50 per cent or more of both ESPN and CBS leagues, so that often involves some deep digging.
This week, former NHL defenseman Steve Staios jumped ship from the Oilers to take the PHO position in Ottawa; Connor Bedard wasted no time showing what he can do, logging two helpers in his preseason debut with Chicago; and the Lightning have lost five-time All-Star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for a couple of months (see the Fantasy opportunity this presents below).
And now, let’s get to this week’s…
Fantasy Hockey Waiver Wire Picks
Jonas Johansson, G, Tampa Bay Lightning (ESPN: 3.3 per cent; CBS: 8 per cent): Originally a third round pick by Buffalo way back in 2014, Johansson has bounced around a bit in his four-year career, never seeing more than 15 games of action, but that will likely change with news that Vasilevskiy (back surgery) is out until late-November. Last season, Johansson looked quite good (2.10 GAA) for Colorado, but it was a tiny sample size (three games, just two starts). (See video below for an example of his work.) Still, his AHL numbers (.920 save percentage over 26 games) were promising. If you’re seeking a relative unknown goalie as a sleeper pick with some upside potential, consider big-bodied (6’4″, 206) Johansson. He could pay dividends over the first few weeks of the campaign, and certainly looked ready for the part on Friday, putting up a 42-save shutout.
Conor Sheary, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (ESPN: 0.6 per cent; CBS: 9 per cent): A year and a half ago — when he was still in Washington — we recommended Sheary, and it turned out to be a great pick as he really improved his scoring pace in the second half. Unfortunately, he took a step back last season (just 15 goals) despite playing every game for the first time in his career. However, we think Sheary is a nice bounce back candidate in Tampa Bay given that he’s playing with strong linemates (Brandon Hagel and Anthony Cirelli) and is already showing some chemistry (one goal and one assist in his preseason debut, and then another helper on Friday). Sheary could also be leaned on more in the wake of Logan Brown‘s injury, plus it’s possible he simply had some bad puck luck last season given that he recorded 65 high danger chances for at 5v5, scoring just 11 times, while the season before he turned 46 HDCF into 14 goals. If Sheary stays healthy, we think he’ll return to the 20-goal mark for the first time since 2016-17.
Eric Comrie, G, Buffalo Sabres (ESPN: 0.2 per cent; CBS: 11 per cent): Comrie has reportedly looked better than he did in training camp last season, so is considered to have the inside track on the Sabres’ backup goalie job. This may not sound like a Fantasy-friendly situation, but given that Buffalo’s projected starter Devon Levi is far from a proven commodity, you can see how this may play out very favourably for Comrie. Even though he managed another shutout, last season was a shit show for Comrie, but in 2021-22 he performed very well as the Jets’ backup, so we know he’s capable. And really, if you remove one very forgettable game on March 9 (10 goals allowed vs. Dallas), last season’s numbers look substantially better. No, they’re still not good (3.31 GAA, .893 save percentage), but are at least less awful.
- Pittsburgh winger Drew O’Connor sure made a statement with a pair of goals on Thursday. He’s slowly seen more action each season, but has a great chance to become a full-timer now, and ideally help solve a long-time Penguin problem: consistent production from the third line. Keep a close eye on O’Connor this preseason.
- In an effort to maintain some consistency on its top line, Minnesota has inked right winger Mats Zuccarello to a two-year extension. Having turned 36 at the start of the month, he’s no spring chicken, and we started to see a decline in his production last season after a career year in 2021-22, and it’s fair to wonder if his workload will decrease this season. The extension keeps Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprisov together on the Wild until 2026 at which point the former will likely be ready for a rocking chair.
- Back to Steel City, who else is fascinated to see what Erik Karlsson can do with the Penguins this season? After finishing tied for third in the NHL with 76 assists last season, he’s going to be hard pressed to duplicate that production — especially as long as Kris Letang is healthy. Apparently, the pair will both be part of PP1, ideally helping improve what was a meh unit last season.
RotoRob Tune of the Day
American pop vocal group The Arbors, fittingly out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, formed in 1964. In 1969, they recorded a groovy cover of The Box Tops‘ classic “The Letter,” which showed up on the 1970 compilation album Somethin’ Else Again.