Shane Wright [1296x729]
Shane Wright [1296x729] (Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Hall of Famer Bill Walton 71 dies of cancer

It's all over. For the following dozen teams, there's no playoff light at the end of the 2023-24 tunnel. So, before we forget everything that went down in 2023-24 - six months between now and next fall is a while - here are a few fantasy-relevant takeaways from each team that is, for absolute certain, not playing past mid-April.

Anaheim Stars: No question, Frank Vatrano is enjoying the most successful season of his NHL career and it isn't close. After piling up a previous-best points total of 41 (just last year), the 30-year-old is knocking it out of his own personal park in nearing 60 by campaign's end, including 33 goals and counting. A career spanning eight seasons, including tours through Boston, Florida, and New York, before landing in Anaheim. The point? This haul might be difficult to replicate, and not only because of its outlying nature. Two separate dry stretches through December and March raise concerns. When everyone's healthy - a challenge for Anaheim this year - Vatrano doesn't seem to be a consistent top choice for the No. 1 line. Then there is the reality that this output is so unprecedented. Fantasy managers who expect replication from Vatrano next season, particularly production-wise, could find themselves disappointed.

Arizona Coyotes: Amongst a gaggle of talented young skaters in Arizona (for now), Dylan Guenther deserves fantasy notice heading into what should amount to his first full year in the NHL. After spending the first half of 2023-24 in the minors, the ninth-overall draft selection (2021) has since demonstrated he truly belongs up in the big leagues. The 19 points accumulated through 20 games since March 1 suggest a relationship with rookie Logan Cooley and Lawson Crouse could be in the offing straight out of the gates next fall. Which would prove very valuable to invested fantasy managers.

Buffalo Sabres: It's been an erratic campaign for last year's fantasy superstar in Buffalo. After an inconsistent start, Tage Thompson was forced to sit out nearly three weeks - stretching from the end of November into early December - with a damaged hand. Some, like Sabres columnist Mike Harrington, surmise the effects of that injury may have lingered well beyond his comeback. Which goes a long way to explain why it took Thompson until the first week of March to truly regain productive form. Fortunately, a hearty total of 11 goals and 10 assists on 54 shots in the 16 games leading up to this final regular-season weekend offers promise of a return to exceptional form next campaign. So, don't be turned off by his current mediocre season-long totals when assessing the top-line center next fall. He once again looks like the 94-point (47 goals/47 assists) skater of only a year ago. Or close to it.

Calgary Flames: After two full seasons with the Flames, we can probably conclude - and apologies for understating matters - that Jonathan Huberdeau peaked as a fantasy, and all-around, performer in his final year in Florida. A second year of pacing out 50-55 points - after knocking out 30 goals and 85 assists in 2021-22 - suggests this is Huberdeau's new normal. Along with a spot on Calgary's third line, especially when GM Craig Conroy inevitably brings in another piece or two in the offseason. Forwards Nazem Kadri - a solid fantasy force since Christmas - former Canuck Andrei Kuzmenko, Yegor Sharangovich, Blake Coleman and some of the new kids offer far more promise than the Panthers' export.

Chicago Blackhawks: While there isn't a ton to love about the Blackhawks' roster when viewed through the fantasy lens - Connor Bedard and defender Seth Jones serving as two consistent exceptions - one emerging player up front merits attention. Skating on Bedard's line, Philipp Kurashev is more than holding his own in this season's latter days, piling up 20 points in 18 games leading into the final week. Holding down that same role for a full season could see the 24-year-old well eclipse the 70-point mark in 2024-25. Kurashev is one of my current favorite sleepers heading into next fall, and not only because "hockey people" really like him.

Columbus Blue Jackets: It would have been interesting to see what Adam Fantilli might have accomplished through a full first NHL campaign. Alas, the rookie's inaugural run was cut short when he suffered a lacerated calf in late January. Now, despite shutting the door on a late-season return for Columbus, the 19-year-old is reportedly (according to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic) considering suiting up for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championships in May. A move that could prove advantageous to Fantilli's further development and in shaking off a bit of rust. A fixture in Columbus's top-six moving forward, the third-overall draft selection proved he could keep stride in the NHL after his bombastic year at Michigan, posting 13 points in December alone. Come next fantasy draft day, he should only be left unaccounted for in the deepest of conventional leagues.

Minnesota Wild: Barring any shattering offseason organizational moves, Brock Faber is not only the current, but future, top defenseman for the Wild. Skating on the top pair and anchoring the No. 1 power play, the rookie is already averaging more than 25 minutes/game. His haul of 43 (and counting) points puts him in Calder contention. Minnesota fans and fantasy managers alike should be excited to see what the 21-year-old does for an encore. Still lacking name recognition amongst a wide swath of managers, Faber might be there for the drafting later than deserved.

Montreal Canadiens: Sophomore Juraj Slafkovsky is proving himself to be a legitimate top-line winger for the Canadiens alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield. Flirting with a point/game pace since mid-January, and gaining steam month by month, the 20-year-old nonetheless remains under-rostered across the ESPN Fantasy spectrum. If once again secure in that prime role, full-time, heading into 2024-25 - and there's little reason to suggest that won't be the case - he should again function as a valuable performer worth drafting in the mid-rounds of most conventional leagues. The upside with this young player is significant.

New Jersey Devils: This bulletin should prove as no surprise to anyone, but the Devils are endeavoring to improve their goaltending this offseason. A glaring weakness during what should have been a much more successful run in 2023-24, there's likely to be a new name on the roster operating as the club's No. 1 with, ideally, Jake Allen serving as backup. If we're talking a more prominent candidate here - à la Jacob Markstrom or such - they could unfold into a fairly useful fantasy performer game in and out. Keep in mind, Dougie Hamilton should be good to go by season's start, while GM Tom Fitzgerald is also likely to bolster his blue line otherwise. Rookie defenders Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec will each benefit from having a turn in the NHL under their socks. A full campaign with both Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier in better health certainly wouldn't hurt either. Portends for brighter days ahead, especially for whoever ends up playing goal more often than not.

Ottawa Senators: Goalie Joonas Korpisalo isn't the savior in net the Senators may have optimistically envisioned after signing him to a five-year deal worth $20-million last summer. According to Evolving Hockey, Korpisalo's -17.56 Goals Saved Above Average ranks third-worst in the league, while fellow Ottawa netminder Anton Forberg sits only two spots behind in the negative muck with a -14.87 GSAA. Until this team - because Korpisalo and Forsberg and Mads Sogaard and whoever else doesn't unilaterally shoulder the blame here - improves defensively as a whole, there's no place for any Ottawa netminder on your competitive fantasy hockey team.

Seattle Kraken: Not to get prematurely excited after only a handful of games, but Shane Wright looks mighty comfortable on that No. 1 scoring line in Seattle. It appears a full season playing with grownups in the AHL has done the fourth-overall draft selection (2022) good. Now while it's too early to foretell whether Wright lands on that same top unit with Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle next season, the 20-year-old's four goals in five call-up games make a strong case for consideration. Any fantasy manager with an eye for gems in the rough should monitor where Wright - again, not 21 until next January - fits in out of camp.

San Jose Sharks: Divert your eyes from that spectacularly bad plus/minus rating - a common trait amongst most other San Jose skaters - and know that William Eklund is going to be an eventual star. One of my favorite draft selections from 2021 (seventh overall), he sits in prime position to build on this year's impressive output, enjoyed with and without injured/Vegas-bound linemate Tomas Hertl. The 21-year-old needs to shoot on net more often, more consistently, and he will. Likely as soon as next year. The former Swedish pro has 65-point potential once fully acclimatized to NHL competition. Maybe more, once GM Mike Grier builds a more competitive squad around the young forward. A must-roster already in dynasty/deep-keeper play, Eklund should also be considered in the latter rounds of next year's redraft selection party.