UFHL Season Preview & Power Rankings: Parity Prevalent as Puck Drops on Third Campaign
The Ultimate Fantasy Hockey League will embark on its third season tonight — and first full 82-game schedule — with parity appearing better than ever among the 32 franchises vying for the Founders’ Trophy in the regular season and the Klein Cup in the playoffs. Mirroring the NHL from start to finish, the UFHL promises to deliver another competitive and exciting campaign as the Ice Vikings try to top the regular season standings again and Red Army attempts to defend their playoff crown. Both will have their work cut out for them in repeating, having fallen back to the pack on paper while several rivals made significant improvements in the offseason to take a run at those titles.
Predicting a champion is a real challenge — as evidenced by the preseason Power Rankings, along with the Fantrax projections — and this season preview will paint the picture of a pretty level playing field from top to bottom. There is hardly even a favourite from the outset, which means injuries and in-season asset management will be the deciding factors. But this preview will be fun to reflect on — looking back at the lineups, rankings and projections in hindsight — when all is said and done. For now, we’re simply setting the stage for the season to commence and may the best franchise prevail in the end!
Season Opening Lineups Here are the season-opening lineups for the 32 franchises, listed in alphabetical order to avoid any bias and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions prior to revealing the aforementioned rankings and projections. It should be noted that these lineups only feature 20 players from the franchises’ 23-man active rosters — not to mention their 27-man protected lists — with injured players also omitted for the most part. And some franchises have NHL-ready prospects on their protected list or superior depth at specific positions, preventing all their talent from being displayed here.
Preseason Power Rankings These preseason Power Rankings were produced thanks to seven submissions, slotting the franchises from 1-32 to form consolidated results. There was plenty of variance among the seven lists but the law of averages provided balance and perspective. We’ll also provide a little analysis to fill in the blanks when recapping the rankings.
1) Titans HIGHEST: 1 LOWEST: 4 OVERALL: 1, 2, 3 (x4), 4 ANALYSIS: Consistently ranked in the top five — but only ranked first by one of seven entries — the Titans are certainly constructed to contend with star power at every position, led by David Pastrnak, Cale Makar and Andrei Vasilevskiy. With no weaknesses, it’s no wonder the Titans were near the top for every entrant. 2) Yetis HIGHEST: 1 LOWEST: 16 OVERALL: 1 (x5), 5, 16 ANALYSIS: Ranked first by five of seven entries, the Yetis can be considered the team to beat despite settling for second overall here due to that shocking 16th ranking. They boast the league’s top player in Connor McDavid and the deepest defence corps, with goaltending being the only potential question mark. But the Yetis should be able to outscore the opposition to finish a lot closer to first than 16th. 3) Grizzlies HIGHEST: 6 LOWEST: 7 OVERALL: 6 (x5), 7 (x2) ANALYSIS: The Grizzlies weren’t ranked in the top five by any of the seven entries but still managed a third-place showing when the lists were averaged out. Led by Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and a handful of Oilers, the Grizzlies are backstopped by Connor Hellebuyck and will get another boost when Alex Tuch returns for the second half — thus looking like a top-10 lock. 4) Ice Vikings HIGHEST: 2 LOWEST: 10 OVERALL: 2, 4, 5, 8 (x2), 9, 10 ANALYSIS: The uncertainty surrounding Brady Tkachuk and Evander Kane, combined with a depleted defence from last season, has the Ice Vikings trending down to some degree. Yet they were still ranked in the top five by three of the seven entrants and in the top 10 by everyone, so the Ice Vikings aren’t expected to plummet by any means. 5) Gators HIGHEST: 3 LOWEST: 10 OVERALL: 3 (x2), 4, 8, 10 (x3) ANALYSIS: The Gators were another consensus top-10 franchise — led by Nathan MacKinnon, with lots of firepower up front — but the entrants were torn over their upside, with two rankings of third and three rankings of 10th at the extremes. Three rankings in the top five landed the Gators at fifth overall. 6) Royals HIGHEST: 2 LOWEST: 15 OVERALL: 2 (x2), 4, 5, 12, 13, 15 ANALYSIS: The Royals were ranked in the top five by four entrants and ranked outside the top 10 by the other three. Perhaps due to a polarizing roster that features Alex Ovechkin and Matthew Tkachuk with a relatively unproven goaltending tandem, but the Royals upgraded their offence in the offseason and are poised for another top-10 finish. 7) West Coast Express HIGHEST: 2 LOWEST: 21 OVERALL: 2 (x2), 5, 8, 9, 17, 21 ANALYSIS: West Coast Express received three top-five rankings, offset by two outside the top 15. A lot would have to go wrong for this train to derail all the way down to 21st but a lot would have to go right to wind up in second as well. Maybe it’s the Brad Marchand haters, but West Coast Express has an enviable defence with Nils Lundkvist also waiting in the wings and their offence is no slouch either. The goaltending is solid too, so what’s not to like — besides Marchand? 8) Stingrays HIGHEST: 5 LOWEST: 21 OVERALL: 5, 6 (x2), 7, 9, 11, 21 ANALYSIS: Again, there was a 21st ranking as a stinging outlier, but the Stingrays were pegged for the top 10 by five of the seven entrants. The Stingrays exceeded some expectations last season and could do so again on the strength of a balanced and bruising lineup. They are a sexier bunch this time around with the likes of Mitch Marner and Adam Fox ensuring an overall rank in the top 10. 9) Rock Republic HIGHEST: 2 LOWEST: 24 OVERALL: 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 20, 24 ANALYSIS: Arguably the deepest franchise with Spencer Knight as their third-string goaltender and promising rookies Shane Pinto and Dawson Mercer stuck on the protected list to start, along with sophomore Alexander Romanov, Rock Republic will have some difficult decisions in terms of deployment as this season plays out. But they have the assets to be buyers and solidify a top-10 spot. 10) Red Army HIGHEST: 4 LOWEST: 19 OVERALL: 4 (x2), 8, 10, 12, 14, 19 ANALYSIS: Naturally, Red Army was ranked 19th at least once — a running joke now in the UFHL, stemming from a stunning 19th in last year’s preseason rankings that served as motivation for former owner Luc Grenier — but this is a new era for Red Army with a new owner and new GM. Granted some of the bigger names are gone but Red Army still has a bright future and that future could be now if Jack Hughes explodes, Alexis Lafreniere excels as a sophomore, and Trevor Zegras contends for the Calder. Lucas Raymond could ascend to the active roster sooner than later and Red Army’s young defence should take another step towards stardom too. Four of the seven entrants still envision a top-10 franchise. 11) Generals HIGHEST: 7 LOWEST: 15 OVERALL: 7 (x2), 11, 12 (x2), 13, 15 ANALYSIS: The Generals are healthy heading into this season after missing top forwards Tyler Seguin and Nico Hischier for much of last season. They will also be hoping for a bounce-back from Patrik Laine and anticipating forward progress from their young players, including Jake Bean as a breakout candidate on the blue line. He’ll be joined by Owen Power and Brandt Clarke in the coming years and Mason McTavish might even make an impact this season, as the Generals reap the rewards of three top-10 picks in 2021. 12) Blades of Steel HIGHEST: 5 LOWEST: 16 OVERALL: 5, 9, 11, 12, 13 (x2), 16 ANALYSIS: Blades of Steel were dealt a couple blows in the preseason — losing forwards Jakub Vrana and Ilya Mikheyev to long-term injuries — but fortunately they are built forward-heavy and still boast one of the best top-sixes in the league. The offence won’t be a concern led by Auston Matthews and Mathew Barzal, but that defence leaves a lot to be desired and the goaltending is also questionable with Ilya Samsonov yet to emerge as a true No. 1 netminder. Losing Darcy Kuemper in the expansion draft hurt — especially after he landed in Colorado shortly thereafter — but fully healthy, the Blades of Steel are still a force to be reckoned with. 13) Godfathers HIGHEST: 9 LOWEST: 18 OVERALL: 9, 10, 11 (x2), 14, 16, 18 ANALYSIS: Another much improved franchise now knocking on the door of the top 10, the Godfathers moved on from Carey Price in favour of the younger Carter Hart between the pipes and bolstered their roster at every position throughout the offseason. That defence is looking very promising and there is lots to like about the forward group too. If Hart can regain his form, the Godfathers will make some noise this season. 14) Outlaws HIGHEST: 7 LOWEST: 24 OVERALL: 7 (x2), 13, 15, 16, 19, 24 ANALYSIS: The Outlaws were a top-10 franchise last season and return much the same roster despite a sentiment that they are destined to be a faller. That speaks more to other franchises gaining ground and potentially overtaking the Outlaws, but they won’t go down without a fight and should be in the playoff hunt again with Artemi Panarin as the face of their franchise. 15) Bentley Jacks HIGHEST: 9 LOWEST: 23 OVERALL: 9, 11, 14, 15, 16, 18, 23 ANALYSIS: The Bentley Jacks pulled several rabbits out of their hat during the expansion draft to emerge as playoff contenders for their inaugural season. Rasmus Dahlin and Sam Reinhart fell into their lap and they paid a steep price to build around Patrick Kane and Charlie McAvoy, but the Bentley Jacks were determined to compete from Day 1 and they are in a position to do just that. Pegged for the middle of the pack, the Bentley Jacks are looking a lot better than the Seattle Kraken on paper, but we’ll see how they fare on the virtual ice. 16) Brutes HIGHEST: 8 LOWEST: 25 OVERALL: 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 24, 25 ANALYSIS: The Brutes will be without Shea Weber and David Krejci this season but shouldn’t be without Sidney Crosby for long. Crosby will have to carry the load as arguably the most valuable franchise player in the UFHL, entering another Olympic year that could be his last. Frankly, the Brutes aren’t as deep as they were a year ago — at forward or on defence — and Philipp Grubauer will have a hard time replicating his heroics after moving from Colorado to expansion Seattle. Four of the seven entrants still ranked the Brutes in the top 15 but they would have to be buyers to finish much higher. 17) Battlehawks HIGHEST: 13 LOWEST: 21 OVERALL: 13 (x2), 19 (x2), 20, 21 (x2) ANALYSIS: The Battlehawks have a handful of studs and enough depth to compete for a playoff spot again. They needs those studs to stay healthy and perform to the best of their ability. Ideally, the Battlehawks will also see their youth movement come to fruition this season, with Moritz Seider, Alexander Holtz and Lukas Reichel representing their future. If that future can contribute in the present, the Battlehawks will surely be in the mix. 18) Kamikaze HIGHEST: 11 LOWEST: 28 OVERALL: 11, 14, 18 (x2), 20 (x2), 28 ANALYSIS: Kamikaze will be another franchise ushering in young talent while trying to compete in the present. Whether it’s Hendrix Lapierre and Connor McMichael in Washington, Matt Boldy when he’s healthy in Minnesota, or maybe Jack Quinn in Buffalo at some point, along with Victor Soderstrom in Arizona, Kamikaze has the pieces to the puzzle and it is only a matter of time until they come together. Patience will be key but Kamikaze is also banking on a bounce back from the veteran trio of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson to thrust this franchise into playoff contention. 19) Strong Island HIGHEST: 14 LOWEST: 31 OVERALL: 14, 15, 16 (x2), 17, 21, 31 ANALYSIS: Strong Island will be taken aback by that 31st ranking but five of the seven entrants foresee another mid-teens finish. That 20-man lineup is worthy of the top 15 but what you see there is what you get with Strong Island. They don’t have the depth on their protected list to overcome injuries or maximize their games played. They also lost Rasmus Dahlin and traded away Dougie Hamilton in the offseason, albeit acquiring their second line of forwards in return. If Strong Island stays healthy — that is of the utmost importance here — and their goaltenders get a fair workload with good results, this franchise could make the cut for the third year in a row. 20) Dynasty HIGHEST: 1 LOWEST: 26 OVERALL: 1, 19, 20, 23 (x2), 24, 26 ANALYSIS: This one needs a disclaimer — Dynasty did not rank themselves No. 1 — but someone evidently loves the overhaul this franchise has undergone since being purchased by former NHLer and Olympian Ryan Malone in July. It’s been a busy offseason, landing the likes of Steven Stamkos, Logan Couture and Max Pacioretty in loading up for a playoff push. But nobody saw that No. 1 coming — Dynasty was one of only three franchises to receive a first-place ranking, along with the Titans and Yetis (x5) — so as much as it’ll be a pleasant surprise, it’s best to temper those expectations while maintaining the playoff hopes. 21) Assassins HIGHEST: 9 LOWEST: 29 OVERALL: 9, 18 (x2), 20 (x2), 26, 29 ANALYSIS: The Assassins really resemble an NHL lineup — solid at every position, with no glaring holes but no exceptional talents — and their only going to get better with Grigori Denisenko and Seth Jarvis on the cusp of contributing. Their depth and balance is the biggest strength, but the Assassins have enough firepower to factor into the playoff race. Once those young guns start firing, the Assassins will become that much more lethal. 22) Monarchs HIGHEST: 15 LOWEST: 26 OVERALL: 15, 17 (x2), 21, 23, 26 (x2) ANALYSIS: The Monarchs have their franchise player back in the fold — Nikita Kucherov missed all of last season, returning to lead the playoffs in scoring as Red Army’s leased ringer — but traded away their other face of the franchise in one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, swapping Victor Hedman for Seth Jones and also receiving Ethan Bear as part of that package. Ben Bishop’s wonky knee still isn’t right and Yanni Gourde, now is Seattle, is sidelined to start the season but the Monarchs are in much better shape with Kucherov in the lineup. Can he carry this franchise back to the playoffs? That is a tall order but a few of the entrants had the Monarchs in the mid-teens, hovering on the playoff bubble. 23) Eliminators HIGHEST: 12 LOWEST: 29 OVERALL: 12, 14, 22, 25, 28 (x2), 29 ANALYSIS: The Eliminators are without Tuukka Rask — at least for the first half of the season — and their goaltending will suffer as a result, but their offence should hold its own and Alex Pietrangelo will be a pillar of strength on their blue line. If some of their youth can rise up — be it that second line of Dillon Dube, Dylan Strome and Cody Glass or potential call-ups Philip Tomasino and Yegor Chinakhov — that could elevate the Eliminators into the teens and perhaps into playoff contention. They do have talent on the way, with Wyatt Kalynuk and Kevin Bahl on the back end too, and Drew O’Connor coming off a strong preseason showing up front. So if not this season, possibly next for their first playoff berth in franchise history. 24) Snipers HIGHEST: 17 LOWEST: 26 OVERALL: 17, 19, 24, 25 (x3), 26 ANALYSIS: The Hockey Gods haven’t been kind to the Snipers, to say the least. The new owners were very proactive and ambitious in acquiring two new faces of the franchise back in May — Jack Eichel and Carey Price, both of whom are debuting on LTIR. Eric Staal and Patrick Marleau were acquired for their Legends League value but were assumed to have at least one season left in them. Sami Vatanen, only 30 now, headed back to Europe and the hits kept coming for the Snipers. Nicklas Backstrom is also sidelined to start the season, resulting in a rather bleak outlook on what had the potential to be a promising campaign. The future remains bright with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield already paired on the top line, while Cole Perfetti and Nick Robertson develop into fellow front-liners for the Snipers. The list goes on with Dylan Guenther and Rodion Amirov, Cam York and Simon Edvinsson, plus Aatu Raty and Topi Niemela, but the present obviously isn’t pretty. 25) Mystics HIGHEST: 17 LOWEST: 27 OVERALL: 17, 19, 22, 23, 27 (x3) ANALYSIS: The Mystics are missing Evgeni Malkin, which could have changed their fortunes, but they are welcoming Victor Hedman and Linus Ullmark as well as Jonathan Drouin among their new faces. This franchise is trending younger and retooling for the future but could still wind up in the middle of the pack this season, especially if Malkin is rejuvenated upon his return. 26) Stallions HIGHEST: 18 LOWEST: 29 OVERALL: 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29 ANALYSIS: The Stallions traded away their franchise player, Matthew Tkachuk, in a blockbuster that brought back Quinton Byfield — only to have him suffer a fractured ankle in the preseason. That was a bad break, pun intended, but the Stallions overcame a similar Power Ranking last preseason to make the playoffs, so they will be out to prove these seven pundits wrong again. Without Byfield, the Stallions will get a look at Anton Lundell as a rookie and hopefully get a big sophomore season from Dylan Cozens while waiting for the arrival of Adam Beckman and Kirill Marchenko as well. Cracking the top 20 will be tougher this season but not impossible for the Stallions. 27) Warriors HIGHEST: 22 LOWEST: 30 OVERALL: 22 (x2), 23, 24, 26, 27, 30 ANALYSIS: The Warriors will be better this season, simply because they are healthier to start. Elias Pettersson is back — on a nice cap hit, no less — and so is Alex Radulov. They will bolster the offence but Devon Toews is missing on defence to start the season. Owen Tippett is a breakout candidate for the Warriors but they would need an uptick from just about everyone to challenge for a playoff spot. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Warriors stay the course with their veteran-laden lineup or look to get younger as this season progresses if they aren’t in that playoff race. 28) Blizzard HIGHEST: 14 LOWEST: 30 OVERALL: 14, 21, 27, 30 (x4) ANALYSIS: The Blizzard will be building around Kaapo Kakko and Travis Konecny as their go-to guys going forward, with Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter on the back nine en route to the Legends League. This franchise has more quantity than quality in their prospect pool — lacking those budding first-round picks beyond the aforementioned duo — so it may require a longer rebuild that is just beginning, though the Blizzard already traded away their first-rounder for 2022. Perhaps 2023 will be their year to make a splash at the draft — the Entry Auction — and really trend up from there. 29) Crypto Knights HIGHEST: 22 LOWEST: 30 OVERALL: 22 (x2), 27 (x2), 29, 30 (x2) ANALYSIS: The Crypto Knights are still surveying the field under new management but won’t like where they have landed in these Power Rankings. The fact Kevin Hayes is hurt may have bumped them down a few spots for some of the entrants. Or the fact they have been shopping Taylor Hall on the trade block. They acquired Hayes and Frederik Andersen, before his signing in Carolina this summer, but haven’t been able to make much headway thus far. That is due to a lack of inherited depth, both on the active roster and on the protected list. Chaz Lucius will spark their offence in the years to come but there isn’t a lot to look forward to in the immediate future. So do the Crypto Knights keep dangling a bigger name vet — like Hall — for a youth infusion or do they ride it out with a focus on drafting and developing in-house talent? Time will tell. 30) Tornadoes HIGHEST: 26 LOWEST: 31 OVERALL: 26, 28 (x2), 29 (x3), 31 ANALYSIS: The Tornadoes made strides this offseason and they are getting Jonathan Toews back, so they will be better and should be able to play their way out of the bottom two. It’s a long road up the standings — even to the middle of the pack in the midst of a full rebuild — but the Tornadoes are taking some positive steps. The goaltending tandem of Tristan Jarry and Jeremy Swayman should be a bright spot. So was Cole Sillinger sticking in the NHL, at least to start the season. Thanks to their affiliation with Fantalytica for prospect evaluation, the Tornadoes also acquired a few under-the-radar talents that have been blossoming with the likes of Riley Damiani, Graeme Clarke and Jonatan Berggren. Jake Sanderson and Justin Barron will bolster their blue line soon enough. But in the present, it’ll be up to Toews, Jamie Benn and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to lead the way, with hopes that Sam Steel, Barrett Hayton and Tyson Jost will follow in living up to their first-round draft pedigrees. 31) Norse Stars HIGHEST: 28 LOWEST: 32 OVERALL: 28, 31 (x4), 32 (x2) ANALYSIS: The Norse Stars are in Year 2 of their rebuild, with Jason Robertson as the face of their franchise. Janne Kuokkanen is another building block, as is Jake Neighbours now that he is sticking in St. Louis to start the season. Braden Schneider had a strong preseason with the Rangers, Egor Sokolov could be scoring for the Senators soon enough, and Fabian Lysell is already lighting up the WHL. Jacob Perreault is trending to be another scoring forward for the Norse Stars, so there will be brighter days ahead, but they will be battling to stay out of the basement this season. 32) Duckman’s Domination HIGHEST: 25 LOWEST: 32 OVERALL: 25, 31, 32 (x5) ANALYSIS: Duckman’s and the Norse Stars were technically tied for last place in these Power Rankings but Duckman’s was ranked 32nd more often — five times to two for the Norse Stars. So the prognosticators are forecasting another cellar-dwelling campaign for Duckman’s despite acquiring a new top pairing on defence — with Dougie Hamilton and Colton Parayko. That top four, also featuring T.J. Brodie and Dante Fabbro, is above average but the goaltending is non-existent in the present and the forward group is very much a work in progress as well. William Eklund cracking San Jose’s roster was worth celebrating. Ty Dellandrea and Jan Jenik could be NHL regulars before season’s end. Philip Broberg is the top defence prospect for Duckman’s, with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen looking like their goaltender of the future. And Duckman’s is already eyeing up the 2022 draft class with two lottery picks and ties to Shane Wright through their affiliated scouting agency. That is the good news — that and the fact somebody other than Duckman’s ranked them 25th, presumably factoring in those future assets and missing the memo that these Power Rankings were only meant for the season upon us. Overall Power Rankings 1) Titans 2) Yetis 3) Grizzlies 4) Ice Vikings 5) Gators 6) Royals 7) West Coast Express 8) Stingrays 9) Rock Republic 10) Red Army 11) Generals 12) Blades of Steel 13) Godfathers 14) Outlaws 15) Bentley Jacks 16) Brutes 17) Battlehawks 18) Kamikaze 19) Strong Island 20) Dynasty 21) Assassins 22) Monarchs 23) Eliminators 24) Snipers 25) Mystics 26) Stallions 27) Warriors 28) Blizzard 29) Crypto Knights 30) Tornadoes 31) Norse Stars 32) Duckman’s Domination Divisional Power Rankings Gretzky Division 3) Grizzlies 10) Red Army 11) Generals 13) Godfathers 17) Battlehawks 22) Monarchs 26) Stallions 31) Norse Stars Lemieux Division 2) Yetis 4) Ice Vikings 8) Stingrays 12) Blades of Steel 23) Eliminators 27) Warriors 28) Blizzard 29) Crypto Knights Orr Division 1) Titans 9) Rock Republic 16) Brutes 18) Kamikaze 19) Strong Island 21) Assassins 24) Snipers 32) Duckman’s Domination Howe Division 5) Gators 6) Royals 7) West Coast Express 14) Outlaws 15) Bentley Jacks 20) Dynasty 25) Mystics 30) Tornadoes Power Rankings Playoff Picture Allan Conference L1) Yetis vs. WC2) Godfathers L2) Ice Vikings vs. L3) Stingrays G1) Grizzlies vs. WC1) Blades of Steel G2) Red Army vs. G3) Generals Legends Conference O1) Titans vs. WC2) Bentley Jacks O2) Rock Republic vs. O3) Brutes H1) Gators vs. WC1) Outlaws H2) Royals vs. H3) West Coast Express Fantrax Projections Last but not least, here is a look at the Fantrax projections based on full rosters as of October 7 — also displaying their overall rankings, division standings, and playoff picture. These projections do favour the deeper franchises by accounting for full rosters and assuming games played will be maximized over the course of the season.