The Winnipeg Jets have some young restricted free agents left to sign on the blue line, namely Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, but they locked up their young goaltender for six more years at $37-million total. That means Connor Hellebuyck should be in Winnipeg through his age-30 season.
It’s really hard to peg goaltenders. Hellebuyck had a good showing in limited action in his rookie season, had a poor sophomore season, and was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in his third year. That’s basically the gamut of goaltenders: from having such a tenuous hold on the starting gig that the team signs a very expensive backup that eventually costs them Joel Armia to all-world goalie in the span of a year.
And that’s the risk here. If Hellebuyck can come close to repeating 2017-18 with any consistency over the next five or six years, the contract is a steal. If he reverts back to 2016-17 for the next five or six years, this contract is a boat anchor. There was an article in The Athletic from Leah Hextall early in the season that talked about Hellebuyck’s adjustments. Whatever he did seemed to work. Does it keep working? Let’s hope so.
Assuming both Morrissey and Trouba sign long-term deals, as does Patrik Laine sometime this season or next summer, they will have the three just mentioned, Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers signed through 2023-2024. Hellebuyck and Scheifele are the oldest of the bunch, going into their age-25 seasons in 2018-19. This is a very good young core committed to the team for a long time. There’s always uncertainty with goaltenders but the future (and present) is bright for this franchise.
Detroit signed Anthony Mantha to a bridge deal a couple days ago. Here’s the thing about that: even after they LTIR Johan Franzen, they’ll have about $6.7-million in cap space left to sign Dylan Larkin, who is due a new contract. And it’ll be a lengthy and expensive one. Probably not more than $6.7-million – Matt Cane’s projections have it at around $6.3-million – but it doesn’t matter. Even if he comes in at $6.3-million, there wouldn’t have been enough money left over to sign Mantha to the long-term deal he should get. Instead of a bridge deal of two years at $3.3-million, he probably should have had a five- or six-year deal at $4.5-million. They couldn’t sign that deal without trading someone because of how bad their cap has been managed. Instead of signing a 24-year old for five or six years, they’ll be signing a 26-year old for five or six years. And if he can manage a couple of 25-goal seasons in the meantime, his price will be going up.
And that’s how signing Thomas Vanek for one year at $3-million can cost you millions of dollars down the road.
One bad habit I have when discussing a player is just reviewing their total TOI. Just spitting out that some forward had 18 minutes per game or some defenceman’s 5v5 TOI was 16 minutes doesn’t really tell the whole story. Game states provide different stat rates. Fantasy owners look to the power play for point production while we look to the penalty kill for high rates of blocked shots. Amalgamating all these game states is good for things like seeing who the coach trusts when, and how high the staff sees a certain player in the pecking order, but it doesn’t give an accurate representation of how a player was really used, and what we can expect from them.
It’s worth the time to go over when and how often players were used. It can give us a look into the future about the usage of some of these skaters and where some value opportunities lie.
Let’s start with forward PP usage. We are using even strength (5v5, 4v4, 3v3), power play, and penalty kill. We are using a baseline of forwards with at least 500 minutes at even strength. Data from Natural Stat Trick.
Any guesses as to which forward had the highest rate of power-play minutes expressed as a percentage of total ice time? It wasn’t Alex Ovechkin, though he was a close second. It also wasn’t any of the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia forwards. Nor either of the duo of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
In fact, of the 368 forwards with 500-plus even-strength minutes, Martin Frk had the highest rate of PP minutes expressed as a percentage of total minutes at 20.98 percent. Ovechkin was just behind at 20.89 percent. Three other players – Hornqvist, Kessel, Okposo – were over 20 percent.
Frk was sparsely used. It’s definitely a situation where the low total TOI tells a story; he played under 11 minutes a game. It’s clear they wanted to limit his defensive responsibilities and give him opportunities to score.
It’s obvious how the Red Wings value defence: gritty, grinding types. It’s why Darren Helm had a higher 5v5 TOI/game than Andreas Athanasiou, why Justin Abdelkader’s was higher than Frans Nielsen, and why Luke Glendening’s was higher than Frk’s. There’s a clear hierarchy where guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Dylan Larkin are used a lot, but once you get past their top-4 skill players, it’s grinders over who they perceive as players with defensive deficiencies, even if those grinders aren’t great defensively themselves.
The question is whether Frk has progressed enough in the eyes of his coaches to be used more at even strength. Having such a high percentage of power-play minutes is a good sign, but if the only reason that percentage is so high is because he plays eight minutes a game at five-on-five, he doesn’t have much value in the majority of fantasy leagues. With his kind of usage, even third-line minutes could bring him fantasy relevance. I’m not sure he’ll consistently get that chance, though.
Here are the top-20 forwards by percentage of TOI spent on the power play:
Most of those names make sense and are some of the bigger names in fantasy hockey. One name that stuck out to me was Alex Kerfoot.
Kerfoot had a good year last year with 43 points while playing under 13:30 total per game. He had almost no PK minutes so almost all that time came at even strength or on the power play. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he shot over 23 percent and 17 of his 43 points came on the power play.
Colorado mixed and matched the fourth forward on the top PP unit with the Big Three, as guys like Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, and Sven Andrighetto were all used with some frequency. The question is: if either Jost takes his next step in development or Andrighetto stays healthy all year, does Kerfoot see the top PP unit much again?
Getting back to that shooting percentage, Kerfoot was 260th out of 264 forwards (minimum 800 minutes at five-on-five) in shot rate. That is atricously bad. Like, David Desharnais bad. Quite literally, without a bump in minutes, or a big jump in shot rate, cracking 10 goals next year could prove a challenge. Some of his possession exit/entry and shot assists metrics show a good playmaker, but even with a 30 percent increase in five-on-five/PP minutes, his upside is Alex Wennberg. Good for real hockey, not great for fantasy hockey.
As far as defencemen go for PP TOI percentage, there isn’t much in the way of surprises. The top of the list sees names like Torey Krug, Will Butcher, Tyson Barrie, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Kevin Shattenkirk. The only name in the top-20 that sticks out is Brad Hunt but his role on the team is inconsistent and at best he’s a fantasy streamer if he’s in the lineup.
One thing I did want to look at for d-men is production ice time, or basically time spent at either even strength or on the power play. A lot of the names are familiar players; guys who get those big PP minutes like Butcher, Shattenkirk, and Gostisbehere. There are also a lot of young d-men whose coaches don’t have them penalty killing yet like Samuel Girard, Mikhail Sergachev, Vince Dunn, Christian Djoos, Thomas Chabot, and Victor Mete. Here are the top-20 defencemen in percentage of time spent either at even strength or on the power play, and one name at the bottom of the list is of interest:
Jakob Chychrun is a blue liner I’ve been following since before he was drafted. I’ve never been a prospects guy, but when I see someone who was highly touted have their draft stock fall, which invariably leads to them being drafted much lower than where they were even six months earlier, I take notice. The Coyotes obviously thought the same, as they traded up (and acquired Pavel Datsyuk’s contract from Detroit) to get him when he fell.
Injuries have limited his action but Chychrun has shown a lot of promise early in his career. Those who read my Ramblings know how much I like to use the visualizations from CJ Turtoro (which can be found here) that look at things like zone entries, zone exits, and shot rates. With defencemen, there’s the added bonus of blue line defending. Here’s how he matches up against a fellow teenage defenceman poolies (present company included) are very excited about:
If Chychrun was healthy playing for a Cup contender, what would the narrative be?
Like Sergachev, Chychrun has an all-world Swedish defenceman ahead of him on the depth chart and will for a long time. He also has good supporting pieces that will push him for minutes. He still played over 20 minutes a game in 2017-18 and that should be his baseline for 2018-19. We’ll see how his off-season recovery goes but he’s looking like he’ll be ready for training camp. Keep him in mind as a bench defenceman or waiver option early in the year.