The offseason fantasy hockey outlooks for the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche…
This week features a lesson in the impact of coaching. The Coyotes and the Avalanche have coaches at opposite ends of the spectrum. For the Coyotes Tippett has historically wrung every last drop out of his teams and last year was no different as the Coyotes were in the hunt for much of the season despite lacking talent at almost every position. Conversely outside of a PDO all-star first season Patrick Roy manages to get the bare minimum out of a team with a lot of talent. The Avalanche feature crazy usage, and line choices, such as Cody McLeod being the first choice off the bench as an extra attacker for much of the season. Whereas Tippett adds value, despite his defensive system, Roy sucks it away.
The Coyotes are going to be one of the more interesting teams this offseason as they only have a little over 34 million committed to 13 players, meaning there is the potential for a lot of change to be made to a pretty bad team. The Coyotes scored on just over nine percent of their shots last season, a three-point increase over the previous year, which from the outside made it look like their offense got significantly better. Their offense actually stagnated as for the third straight year they took fewer shoots per game even as their expected goals remained the same. This suggests better shots but fewer shots overall, which would to some degree explain a higher shooting percentage, either way it should settle somewhere closer to the nine percent of last season rather than the six percent of the 2014/15 season. On defense the Coyotes remain porous both in terms of the defense corps but also in net. This is a case of a team that allows a lot of shots, more than 30 per 60 minutes, while getting a very low save percentage, generally just over 90%. There are not yet enough pieces on this team to expect significant improvement but this should be an interesting team.
In net the Coyotes are a bit of a mess but the picture is becoming a little bit clearer as they no longer have one of the worst goalies in the league in Anders Lindback coming back. It will be tough for the Coyotes to make significant improvements as long as they are stuck under Mike Smith’s deadweight contract for three more years. He has not had a save percentage above league average in any of the last four years. Over the last seven years Smith has only managed o make quality starts in more than 50% of his starts. It was just after one of those seasons, Smith’s best year of his career, that he signed his current contract. There is not much hope for a turn around at this point of his career and as such Smith does not carry much value. Louis Domingue on the other hand brings with him some intrigue. His save percentage last year was no better than Smith’s but he managed quality starts in 55.6% of his starts which is nearly the level one would expect of a quality NHL starter. The higher percent of quality starts suggests that Domingue brings more exaggerated highs and lows than Smith which for fantasy means a little more value for those can better predict when the highs and lows will occur.
Last season marked a big shift for Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL). He played amongst the power play minutes in the league and saw his penalty killing minutes greatly reduced. There has been doubt expressed in this column in the past of his ability to break 50 points but the change in usage allowed him to finally do just that. He managed 50 points despite his even strength involvement in the offense slipping under 40%. This should balance his high on-ice shooting percentage and assuming his usage stays the same, 50 points is definite possibility once again. There are two more interesting options on the Coyotes defense. The first is Mike Stone who received more top unit power play minutes after Mikkel Boedker was traded. he saw twice as much power play time this year as he did last year and not surprisingly a career year followed. A dearth of quality offensive options both up front and on the back end is a major opportunity for Stone and a full year first unit power play time could see him emerge as a 40 point defenseman along with his nearly two hits and blocks per game. Connor Murphy showed that he belonged in the NHL last year emerging as OEL’s most common defense partner at even strength. Murphy finished the year with nearly 20 points while adding similar block and hit numbers to those that Stone posted. He averaged more than 20 minutes per game last year with only a minute coming on the power play. Barring a significant free agent addition on the blueline there should not be much else of note.
The notable veterans on this team are Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal. Each comes with their own drawback to ownership. Doan is a free agent but will be brought back if he wants to play again. There are some red flags with Doan including his career high shooting percentage and his third line usage. Given his even strength usage it is no surprise that he was very reliant on the power play for much his production, he had his second high career total for power play goals. While he will still get a lot of power play time do not expect a repeat of his 28 goal season. Martin Hanzal is the most interesting option of the three as he does everything for the Coyotes, and would be a great second line option on any good team if he could ever stay healthy. Even if a couple of the Coyotes high-end prospects get a shot this season Hanzal will remain a staple in the top six and on the power play whenever he is healthy. The same cannot be said for Vermette as despite getting top six usage for the most of the season he failed to produce even 40 points.
The young up and comers on this team are Max Domi and Anthony Duclair with a lot of maybes, such Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome, following not to far behind. Domi is the best own amongst Coyotes forwards as his 50 points last year look to be fairly honest. There is also a lot of room for improvement as he took under two shots per game and played just over 16 minutes per game. Something to keep an eye on with Domi is that he received some pretty offensive zone starts and that could change as more young talent is brought in and Domi is looked upon to be more of a two way force. The 70 penalty minutes are a nice bonus as Domi showed a willingness to drop the gloves as he looks to have his father’s hard head. Whereas Domi looks like a sure thing, Duclair is more of a question mark. Duclair has an extremely high shooting percentage of 19%, and on-ice shooting percentage over 10, to thank for his 44 points. A lot of the Coyotes’ youth will get looks in camp this year as they have a lot of room on the roster, one player to keep an eye on is Christian Fischer. Fischer is big body who lit up the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires. Outside of Shane Doan the Coyotes do not have much in the way of power forwards so Fischer could be a welcome addition. The Coyotes offer a few multi-category options like Tobias Rieder and Brad Richardson. Keep an eye on Jordan Martinook as he has the speed to be an impact player in a depth role although fantasy relevance may be a couple years away.
With Tyson Barrie and Nathan Mackinnon both due sizable raises the Avalanche are going to be in tough to make any major changes or upgrades to their roster. One way to do that would be to trade Tyson Barrie, as Elliotte Friedman reports is a real possibility, but past Avalanche trades lead one to question the value they would bring back. Recent front office decisions such as letting Paul Stastny walk to bring in Iginla and Soderberg as well as the recent Ryan O’Reilly trade have created a lot of doubt around the ability of this team to make major improvements. The Avalanche made the playoffs in 2013/14 with very similar shot number and possession numbers as they have had for the last two seasons but they have not been able to recreate their magical 10% shooting percentage from that season. The save percentage on the other hand has remained relatively stable but without the added goals 50 goals the Avalanche received that season thanks to their high shooting percentage they are not able to compete.
In goal is where the Avalanche are the most stable. Varlamov had an off year but even that just meant he was league average. He has been at least league average in five of the past six seasons, with three of those seasons bordering on him being elite. When Varlamov is on his game he gives the Avs a quality start in 60 to 70% of the games he starts. Roy placed a lot of the blame at his feet this season so he will be counted to rebound next year. If he does rebound, and past performance suggests he should definitely be better, the Avalanche as a team will have a lot more success. With having shown the willingness to bury Reto Berra’s contract in the minors Calvin Pickard looks to be the backup for next season. Pickard has shown well in limited action having turned in a quality start in 65% of his 26 career starts. This means that should Varlamov fail to turn it around Pickard looks to be a solid second option.
The defense for the Avalanche features two primary fantasy options in Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, as well as giant red flag Francois Beauchemin. Beauchemin has some weird outlier numbers, such as being involved in a career-high 40% of the goals scored while he was on the ice. An emerging minor trend for Beauchemin is every third year his assist percentage spikes from around the 15%l career range to 27%. Last year was one of those spikes, it was likely related to the fact that Beauchemin relies heavily on secondary assists for his production. Barrie remains the one to own on this team. There is reason to be excited too as his involvement in their even strength scoring fell to a career low 35% down from over 40% in each of the last two seasons. While he was relied upon more in the defensive zone his shot numbers when on the ice did not change, thus it seems more pertinent that his on-ice shooting percentage took a dip. Similarly his assist totals, primary and otherwise, were cut roughly in half. Erik Johnson is seeing more and more of his ice time shifted towards defense-centric usage as last year his penalty killing time spiked at three minutes per game. It will be very difficult for Johnson to even come close to 40 points until the Avalanche find a way to shift the defensive burden. Nick Holden, a multi-cat option, could help that but the best candidates to help the Avalanche defense, Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras, are more offensive minded and ether’s emergence could end up hurting Johnson more than helping him.
On forward is where a lot of the flash is for the Avalanche. The Avalanche found a productive duo in Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau. Neither will light the league on fire but as the major components of a third line with each capable of putting up 40 points that is a good base should Roy ever figure out his top two lines. Keep an eye on the Mikhail Grigorenko, an admitted column favorite, Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla line. It is not the best fantasy option for Duchene, as that is some combination of him and Mackinnon, but it was nearly a point per game combo for both him and Iginla. Meanwhile Grigorenko showed sparks of being at least relevant as he averaged half a point per game while they were together. In fact while Duchene got more points while with Mackinnon he was on the ice for nearly 3.5 goals per 60 minutes when skating with Grigorenko. Making Duchene very effective either way.
That leaves Nathan Mackinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Roy seems to have a weird fascination with using Landeskog on the third line with Comeau and Soderberg. Playing on the third line sucks a lot of the potential for Landeskog to be multi-cat stud as it limits his point ceiling while not gaining him little in hits, blocks and penalty minutes. Roy’s fondness for burying Landeskog on the third line meant there was an effective trio that did not see a lot of time together. The Avs scored almost 3.5 goals per 60 minute when Landeskog, Mackinnon and Alex Tanguay were put together as a line, however they saw less than 150 minutes together. All told the Avalanche do not to bring back Mikkel Boedker to have success next season. That money would be better spent on Barrie, Mackinnon and improving the defense as it is. While none of the Avs’ lines carries possession in part because the team’s defensive zone work is so bad but a few have managed to even out or even carry the balance of the goals when together. It is all fine and good to imagine wat could be with the Avs lines but until Roy realizes what he has it could mean a lot more of Andreas Martinsen, John Mitchell and Cody McLeod being cycled through top six minutes. Mitchell and McLeod make for decent options in multi-cat leagues have limited usefulness when it comes to driving offense. The potential is there for this Avalanche to have a solid offensive season but the variables working against that happening, Roy’s whims, are stacked too high against them.