Cage Match Tournament: Exceeding Expectations

Rick Roos


Brayden Point. Kim Klement / USA Today Sports Images

Brayden Point. Kim Klement / USA Today Sports Images


When December rolls around it’s time for gifts galore, including from DobberHockey in the form of the popular winter Cage Match Tournaments! This year I’m sticking again with the “new normal” concept to use your votes to identify players whose current scoring pace – for better or worse – is most likely to represent their new normal, namely what they’ll produce not just for the rest of this season but at least the next few seasons to come. This week and next are for players currently exceeding expectations (this week for those under age 25, next week for those 25+). For week three, it’s time for the lumps of coal in fantasy stockings –players falling below expectations.


Players not included among voting choices, and why

Like last year I’ve limited the choices to skaters only, despite a lot of netminders arguably deserving of inclusion this season due to over or underachieving based on expectations. Still, this column only covers skaters, so I stuck with my bread and butter. I’ll try and rope in goalies at some point down the road, perhaps when I resume doing monthly Goldipucks entries in the coming months or in some sort of future tournament.

And just like last year, the players included as voting choices all had at least 50+ games worth of NHL experience prior to this season, so that means no Elias Pettersson or Brady Tkachuk. And for those exceeding expectations (i.e., this week and next), none can have previously tasted significant success. What that signifies, in terms of specifics, is I only included forwards who had never previously posted 75+ points or scored at a 75 point pace in a prior season (i.e., no Mikko Rantanen or Jack Eichel) and defensemen who’ve yet to tally 50+ points or previously score at a 50+ point pace in a season (i.e., no John Carlson or Morgan Rielly). But the “new normal” for all forwards this week and next is 60+ points and for all d-men, it’s 45+ points, so as to ensure the polls have the most relevance to the most leagues.


How to base your vote(s)

For each player, there will two numbers listed: his previous career best 82 game scoring rate and his “new normal” rate on which you should base your vote. In some cases the player’s current scoring rate might be a bit below his listed “new normal” rate or instead a bit above it, but the “new normal” rate should be the basis for deciding your vote, whereby if you think a player will score at or above (for this week and next) or at or below (for week three) that “new normal” total/rate this season and in at least the next few seasons, then he should get your vote. For this week and next, if instead you think either he won’t at least achieve his “new normal” rate for 2018-19, or will achieve it this year but not again going forward, then don’t vote for him, while for week three if you think he’ll return to more of his old, higher scoring ways and this season is a mere blip in the radar, then he should not get your vote.

Of course, some of these players might change teams or lines during this season or in future seasons, so you should feel free to take those and other factors (age, contract status, Ice Time, depth charts on their teams, etc.) into account in deciding your votes. If you want to vote based solely on your own hunches that’s fine too; however, keep in mind that fellow voters/readers will look to the poll results for fantasy guidance, so best to be objective. And don’t decide your vote based whether these players are helping or hurting your fantasy team. Consider the totality of their present – and likely future – circumstances in order to hone in on the best choice(s).


How Voting Will Work

The voting polls will allow for multiple selections, so for this week and next vote for any and all players you think will retain their designated “new normal” scoring pace for 2018-19 and beyond. There’s also a “none of the above” choice if you think none of the listed players will achieve/surpass his “new normal.” I’ll put a direct link to each week’s poll at the end of each column. But without further ado, here are the 19 choices (in alphabetical order) for the week one tournament – players under age 25 for whom you’re deciding if they’ve entered a “new normal” territory in terms of their present and future scoring.


Sebastian Aho (Previous career high scoring rate = 68 points; New Normal = 80+ points)

After his scoring went from 49 points in 82 games to 65 in 79 contests, then he starred on the bright stage of the IIHF World Championships with 18 points in just 8 games, expectations were sky high for Aho entering 2018-19. And although an 80 point season still seems within reach, keep in mind he tallied only ten points in his next 16 games after at least one point in 12 straight games to start the season. It could be Aho has the talent to produce gaudy numbers but the team around him is not good enough for him to achieve point per game output, at least not yet.


Thomas Chabot (Previous career high scoring rate = 32 points; New Normal = 60+ points)

Sure – Chabot was highly touted, and most saw him as the heir apparent to Erik Karlsson once he was traded to San Jose, but Chabot has been a huge force for a team many thought would be a doormat. Some might wonder why I set his new normal so low given his better than a point per game scoring thus far? Two reasons – he’s bound to hit some sort of a wall, plus his non-primary assists rate is very high, meaning he’s all but assured to lose points just in the normal course. When casting your vote, keep in mind you’re doing so based on his output for this season (when he’s all but assured to get 60+ due to banked points) but also seasons to come, when good luck might not smile so brightly upon him.


Kyle Connor (Previous career high scoring rate = 61 points; New Normal = 75+ points)

Despite only having 20 prior career games under his belt, last season Connor landed one of the best gigs in the NHL, playing alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler both at even strength and on the PP. This season the line didn’t click as well, and Connor is seeing more time on the second line at even strength, leading many poolies to fear his days of solid production would end. Yet lo and behold despite what was seemingly a demotion he’s found chemistry with Bryan Little and Patrik Laine, leading many to believe he’s a star in his own right, not just a coattail rider.


Max Domi (Previous career high scoring rate = 52 points; New Normal = 80+ points)

As was the case with Ottawa, not much was expected from the Montreal offence, including Domi, who’d gone from top prospect to someone who’d barely bested the 50 point mark in any of his first three NHL seasons. Fast forward to now, and Domi is showing why he was a former 12th overall pick, staying at or above the point per game mark for virtually all of 2018-19 to date. Was a change of scenery indeed all he needed, or are we dealing with someone having an extended honeymoon phase with his new team? That’s your call to make with your votes.


Jonathan Drouin (Previous career high scoring rate = 59 points; New Normal = 75+ points)

First, it was his checkered tenure with Tampa Bay, which included him not reporting to the AHL but then mending fences and posting 53 points in 2016-17. Still, it wasn’t surprising for Drouin to find himself on a new team for 2017-18; but on Montreal, his minutes went up yet his scoring rate dropped. That was last season though, and for 2018-19 he’s seemingly starting to show signs of the promise he held when drafted third overall, with both scoring and SOG rates that are way up from his part norms.


Pierre-Luc Dubois (Previous career high scoring rate = 48 points; New Normal = 70+ points)

This is a case where a career-high is deceiving, as once Dubois was put on a line with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson last season he thrived, to the tune of 17 points in his last 17 games. The big question, as was the case in my Cage Match featuring Cam Atkinson last week, is what happens to Dubois once what most feel is the inevitable happens, namely Panarin leaves town. Sure – Dubois was a former third overall pick, so he could succeed in his own right. Yet does he have what it takes to keep up this pace minus Panarin? Tough to say; but perhaps there’s enough doubt as to not earn him your votes here.


Bo Horvat (Previous career high scoring rate = 52 points; New Normal = 70+ points)

Overshadowed by the splash being made by Elias Pettersson, Horvat is on pace to see his scoring rate increase for the fourth straight season. That goes a long way toward showing this indeed is his new normal, or perhaps him still just scratching the surface. Yet the concern is once the Canucks improve as a team he could catch a case of “Toews-itis,” where a talented player’s production drops because he’s tasked with too many duties and responsibilities. For now, though, it looks like Horvat might be able to be a solid real-world player yet still produce at or above his current rate for this season and beyond. Let’s see what your votes have to say.


Dylan Larkin (Previous career high scoring rate = 63 points; New Normal = 75+ points)

After rebounding last season from a dreadful sophomore campaign, Larkin was thrust into a starring role with Detroit upon the retirement of Zetterberg. And how has Larkin responded? By taking his game up another notch, and being on pace to produce even better despite a supporting cast that offers little in the way of others as skilled as him. Still – perhaps Larkin is the kind of player talented enough to make magic happen on his own, in which case he should have no trouble maintaining at least his current level of scoring for the remainder of this season and beyond.


Elias Lindholm (Previous career high scoring rate = 51 points; New Normal = 80+ points)

It used to be that Lindholm would start slow and then finish strong enough to give poolies hope that his breakthrough was set to occur the following season. Yet year after year it never happened. Apparently, all he needed was talent around him, as he was dropped onto the first line upon his arrival in Calgary and, despite the looming presence of veteran James Neal, has not only held a firm grip on that spot but thrived, including multi-point production in his last five games. Still only 23 years old, what we’re seeing from Lindholm now might just be him scratching his true surface.


Mitch Marner (Previous career high scoring rate = 69 points; New Normal = 95+ points)

After barely upping his rookie scoring rate last season and playing under what was a conservative Mike Babcock system, not many poolies were predicting a scoring binge from Marner. Not that he lacked the talent – it’s just the thinking was the opportunity to excel wouldn’t be there, with low ice times and no stacked PP. Fast forward to now and Babcock has changed his approach, allowing players like Marner to thrive. With all the firepower the team has, it’s difficult to picture Marner slowing down this season or in the future, even with William Nylander now back in the fold.


Timo Meier (Previous career high scoring rate = 36 points; New Normal = 75+ points)

After Meier potted 21 goals while firing a robust 210 SOG in his first full season, pundits and poolies alike seemed convinced he was primed to better those totals. Then Evander Kane surprised many by not testing the UFA market and deciding to stay with San Jose, which, on paper, would seem to have represented a major roadblock to Meier’s continued development. Yet here we are over two months into the season and Meier is the one putting up gaudy numbers, not Kane. And at more than three SOG per game and one goal per two contests, Meier looks every bit like a sniper who’s officially arrived as an NHL star.


Sean Monahan (Previous career high scoring rate = 71 points; New Normal = 90+ points)

Much like Lindholm, Monahan tended to save his best hockey for last, finishing strong but starting slowly enough as to not be able to clear the 58-63 point range for three straight seasons. For 2017-18 though, Monahan started superbly (58 points in 62 games) before an injury-shortened final quarter. Thus, his better than a point per game scoring might have already happened were it not for bad luck last season, making it all the more likely he can continue at his current pace for this season and beyond.


Josh Morrissey (Previous career high scoring rate = 27 points; New Normal = 45+ points)

Always a multi-cat stud, Morrissey chipped in with 26 points in 81 games last season. But on a team with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and even Tyler Myers, few expected Morrissey to improve his offensive output. Yet don’t look now, but he’s on pace for 45 points; and although some of that came while Big Buff was injured, Morrissey has shown enough to garner more minutes, including on the PP. That, plus playing for an offensively potent team might be more than enough for Morrissey to become a perennial 45+ point threat.


Brayden Point (Previous career high scoring rate = 66 points; New Normal = 90+ points)

Many poolies figured Point might have a difficult time surpassing his 66 point output from last season, what with the balanced ice time and breadth of talent in Tampa Bay. But Point has shown he’s a very special player and just perhaps the new second half of a one-two punch with Nikita Kucherov. Granted, Point’s team and individual shooting percentage both are too high to be sustainable; but his IPP and other metrics are reasonable enough to foresee him keeping up this blistering pace, especially on such an offensively potent squad.


Sam Reinhart (Previous career high scoring rate = 50 points; New Normal = 75+ points)

Last season Reinhart’s 50 points were so backloaded that he nearly had a point per game second half. So imagine the concern when yet again he emerged slowly this season. This time though he’s connecting the scoring dots a lot earlier, going from six points in his first 13 games to 19 in his next 17 after being reunited with Jack Eichel. With the addition of Jeff Skinner to complete that line, they might end up finishing the season as one of the NHL’s best trios, putting Reinhart on a path to stardom along the way.


Damon Severson (Previous career high scoring rate = 32 points; New Normal = 45+ points)

All the preseason fantasy focus on the New Jersey blueline was centred upon Will Butcher, who’d put up 44 points as a freshman in 2017-18, and Sami Vatanen, who earlier in his career had scored 75 points in 138 games for the Ducks and posted 23 points in his final 42 games last season. Yet once the spotlight no longer was shining on Severson, lo and behold he’s excelled and is taking the ice for more minutes than in any previous season. One concern is he’s still not on PP1; however, with neither Vatanen nor Butcher able to lock down that role Severson might get a chance to strut his stuff there, in which case he could really see his scoring explode.


Matthew Tkachuk (Previous career high scoring rate = 59 points; New Normal =80+ points)

Once the Flames brought in both Elias Lindholm and James Neal this offseason, not only did it seem like Tkachuk’s chances at top line deployment went from slim to none, but his plum gig on PP1 could be in jeopardy. Thus far Tkachuk has only solidified his PP1 role, hitting double digits in PPPts after only 26 games and providing strong secondary scoring. But with his SOG rate down from last season and stuck spending most of his even-strength shifts with Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund, one has to wonder if Tkachuk’s early season numbers are an unsustainable run of hot play, as opposed to something poolies can count on going forward.


Alex Tuch (Previous career high scoring rate = 39 points; New Normal = 70+ points)

The former first rounder – who came to Vegas as part of a deal for the Knights to agree to select Erik Haula in the expansion draft – didn’t exactly pay dividends upon his arrival, failing to tally a point per every over game last season. Yet in 2018-19 he’s found a home within the top six and has stayed at or just below the point per game mark for most of this season. With other teams honing in on the Vegas top line, Tuch should continue to get favorable deployment, making 70+ points within reach.


Tom Wilson (Previous career high scoring rate = 36 points; New Normal = 65+ points)

Yes, his on-ice antics make Brad Marchand seems like a Lady Byng finalist by comparison; but what we saw emerging in the 2017-18 playoffs, and what continued after he returned from his suspension and prior to his injury, has made it clear Wilson is also a very talented player who can mesh with some of the best in the game in order to fill the scoresheet. No one is pretending that his current scoring pace is sustainable; but based on his deployment and how he’s fared for – including the playoffs – nearly a half season’s worth of games, the reality seems to be that Wilson has become a player who’s as much of a threat to hit the scoresheet as he is taking a seat in the sin bin.


Link to Cast Your Vote(s)

To vote in the Tournament, click here. Remember – you can vote for as many (or a few) players as you want. While you’re voting, be sure to post a comment in the poll thread on which player(s) you voted for a why, since my hope is this Tournament will be as useful for fantasy purposes as it is enjoyable. See you next week for the second tournament!


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