One of the biggest things that motivate all people is money. NHL players are no different, and throughout the years a trend that has continued is that players on contract years tend to have resurgent seasons.
These players are those who are on the last year of their current contracts with no extension signed with their current teams. They’re set to become free agents, restricted or unrestricted, and are ones you should keep an eye out for when you’re drafting your fantasy hockey team.
Here are the top 10 players on contract years you should invest in this season.
1. Johnny Gaudreau – LW – Calgary Flames
The first player on our list is Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau. After a 99 point season in 2018–19 that saw the Flames finish first in the Western Conference, Gaudreau has had a much tougher couple of seasons. Under Geoff Ward, Gaudreau really struggled and seemed to lose the dynamite chemistry he had with Sean Monahan.
A few factors make Gaudreau an easy bounce back candidate this season, and a player in store for a big year. Firstly, Gaudreau played extremely well down the stretch once Darryl Sutter took over as head coach of the Flames. It didn’t seem like Gaudreau would fit into a Sutter system but he did it incredibly well. As well, it was recently reported that Monahan suffered a hip injury in the sixth game of last season which hampered his ability to play down the middle. Now that he’s healthy and reunited with Gaudreau, the pair is looking to return to form. Both Gaudreau and Monahan could finish with 70+ points this season.
A lot of fans must be thinking along these same lines though, as Gaudreau’s ADP is 52.3. You might have to reach for him, but if not just make sure you don’t let him fall too far.
2. Matthew Tkachuk – LW – Calgary Flames
Another Flames winger on this list in Matthew Tkachuk. He’s another player coming off a down year, but someone who is in store for a huge season. Tkachuk lives in the fabric of the game. He thrives in the play after whistles and loves to get the crowd going. Having fans back in the stadiums this season will be huge for Tkachuk and he’ll put on a show almost every night.
Tkachuk is someone the Flames view as the heartbeat and potential future captain of the team. If that’s going to come to fruition, Tkachuk needs to perform in this contract year and earn a high value extension in Calgary. He’s currently lining up with Elias Lindholm and Blake Coleman and is back on his natural left wing.
Tkachuk’s ADP is very high at 37.4, but with his category coverage he will be absolutely worth it.
3. Filip Forsberg – LW – Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg might be the best example of a player with elite skill that just doesn’t get translated to the score sheet as often as it should. This season will be different. In a contract year, and on a Predators team that has lost several key members this offseason, Forsberg will be a very motivated player.
After Viktor Arvidsson was traded to the Los Angeles Kings ahead of the expansion draft, Forsberg took to Instagram to say this:
Suffice to say he’s not happy with the direction of the team and he’ll want to have as many options as possible hen the season ends. He’s going to go off, and you should invest in Forsberg this year. His ADP is around what you’d expect at 123.7, so maybe consider taking him a round early.
4. Aleksander Barkov – C – Florida Panthers
This is probably a no-brainer, but in a contract year, Aleksander Barkov is going to be one of the most valuable players in fantasy, period. The Florida Panthers have come a long way and are easily one of the best teams in the NHL this season. A lot of predictions have the Panthers as a top-five team overall, and they’ll be led again by Barkov.
He may not be playing with Jonathan Huberdeau this season again, but his linemates will greatly improve now that he has Sam Reinhart on his wing. The Panthers are going to be an incredible team this year and Barkov will pay dividends with his 5v5, power play, and penalty killing time. He could finish with 100+ points and solid category coverage. He’s a first-round pick this year, and his current ADP of 24.9 is just too low. Reach for Barkov, you won’t be disappointed.
5. Tomas Hertl – C/RW – San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are not a team you’ll want to invest in this season. With the horrible cap management that has limited their ability to do anything with their aging assets, to the Evander Kane situation, to adding Adin Hill as the starting goaltender and that being an actual upgrade, the Sharks are a mess.
However, that doesn’t mean they won’t have some fantasy goldmines, and the first one is Tomas Hertl. He’s a very underrated player already, but in a contract year he, like Forsberg, will want to put his best foot forward to ensure he has the most options available to him once the season ends.
Hertl is a lock for the top power play and will probably play on the top line all year long. He’s a great player and will do well in a weak Pacific division. He can probably be had late as his ADP is 132.9.
6. Kevin Fiala – RW – Minnesota Wild
Kevin Fiala had a rough 2021 season after a breakout year in 2019–20. Until Kirill Kaprizov entered the scene, Fiala was the most skilled and most fun player on the Wild, and he will be looking to get back to that level this year. Fiala is a very skilled player and with the possibility of playing on a line with Kaprizov, the sky is the limit.
With a turn in his luck, Fiala and Kaprizov could form one of the best lines in the West. Like Hertl, Fiala can probably be had later in the draft as his ADP is 143, but he could easily be a top 75 fantasy player at the end of the year.
7. Pierre-Luc Dubois – C – Winnipeg Jets
Things did not go well for Pierre-Luc Dubois last season. Something was going on behind the scenes in Columbus that ultimately led to his trade to Winnipeg, but it didn’t stop there. He had to quarantine when he crossed the border, he suffered his first pro injury, and Dubois never really got back up to speed in the shortened season.
Dubois is looking for a bounce back year and, if training camp lines are to be trusted, he’ll have Nikolaj Ehlers on his wing. By all accounts, the Jets are putting Dubois in a position to succeed. He’ll also be wearing number 80 this season to honour his late former teammate Matiss Kivlenieks, just another reason to bet on Dubois in 2020–21. His ADP is incredibly low at 169.3, and will be an absolute bargain for anyone who takes him around the 120 mark.
8. John Klingberg – D – Dallas Stars
The first defenseman on the list, John Klingberg, is one of those players that always seems to underperform based on where he’s drafted. After an incredible 67 point season in 2017–18 (one that led me to protect him in my keeper league), he hasn’t managed to pass the 45 point mark since (he’s not a keeper for me anymore).
What makes drafting Klingberg even tougher is the emergence of Miro Heiskanen as an elite young defender in the league, and one that will be given every opportunity to succeed. It’s cloudy because in any given year it’s difficult to predict who will be the higher producer, Klingberg or Heiskanen, and it seems like the two players are going in opposite directions.
Wrong! This is the year to reinvest in Klingberg. If he truly is on the outside looking in on Dallas’ defense corps, he is going to be an incredibly motivated player. If he’s not in Dallas’ plans going forward, he needs to have a statement year. He needs to show the NHL that he’s still a bonafide top pairing defender who can run a power play like the best of them. His ADP is 104.4 as he’s been the 22nd defender off the board on average. He’s worth picking around that range, maybe even a round early.
9. Dominik Kubalik – LW – Chicago Blackhawks
Dominik Kubalik is a severely underrated player. The hardest thing to do in the NHL is score goals, and Kubalik does it with ease. Over his two-year career thus far, Kubalik has paced for 31 goals per season on average. That’s not easy to do, and now with a Chicago team that has added some nice pieces in the offseason, there’s no reason not to expect Kubalik to hit that mark once again.
The biggest reason to invest in Kubalik is the Chicago power play. With Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Seth Jones on that top unit, they could easily have a top-10 power play in the NHL. With Kubalik as the triggerman, he could be in store for a huge fantasy year.
Chicago isn’t a great team like it once was, but they have some very fantasy relevant players, and Kubalik is one that can be had in late rounds. His ADP is 149.7 which makes him an easy target once you have the majority of your roster nailed down. Add him to your queue and strike when the time is right.
10. Kris Letang – D – Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh is expected to take a step back this year, especially because their top two centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, are both out to start the year. Malkin is in a contract year, and so is the Penguins’ number one defenseman, Kris Letang.
This team has done a lot of winning the past decade, but that doesn’t mean any of their core players will want to ride off into the sunset. These guys aren’t wired that way, and in contract years, look for both Letang and Malkin to have huge years.
Letang is a very appealing player because his perceived value around the league is dipping. He’s getting a bit older and has dealt with some truly scary injuries the past few seasons, but after a full summer to recover, Letang could be in for a resurgent season. His ADP is still a respectable 76.7, but he’s the 15th defender off the board on average.
Betting on others to bet on themselves
At the end of the day, every player in the league wants to do the best that they can. However, lining up players on contract years and drafting them ahead of where they typically go can pay dividends for fantasy managers.