With another regular season in the books, it’s time to see how my 15 Fearless Forecasts for 2018-19 (which you can see here) ended up faring. Last season nearly half my predictions were either correct or near misses; did I do even better for 2018-19? And what can we learn from the predictions I got right and those which were off the mark? Let’s see how I fared, plus how your votes correlated to the actual results, and discuss any lessons learned with the benefit of hindsight.
1) All three Vezina Trophy finalists will never have previously been a finalist
RESULT – MISS (two of the three finalists were previous nominees, though none more than twice)
LESSON LEARNED – Despite a changing of the fantasy guard, cream still rises to the crop
Although I was incorrect, my rationale in making this prediction (i.e., we’re in the midst of a changing of the guard, with older goalies being elbowed out of the Vezina picture by a new generation of tenders) was somewhat correct, since of the two who’d been finalists previously. Ben Bishop had just two earlier nominations, while only Andrei Vasilevskiy with one previous nomination, was a carryover from last season. Moreover, for the second year in a row two finalists are age 27 or younger, with that having not occurred in the previous three seasons. So clearly the “older” generation of netminders are no longer the fantasy stalwarts they used to be, which we need to remember for keepers and come draft day.
It’s also important to note that for me to have been correct a lot of still very good netminders would’ve needed to be out of the Vezina picture, including Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, and Tuukka Rask, to name just a few. Yes, when the dust settled only one of them was named a finalist; however, betting against a large field is usually not a good idea, as shown here.
2) Mathew Barzal will outpoint John Tavares
RESULT – MAJOR MISS (Tavares had 88 points, Barzal only had 62)
LESSONS LEARNED – Past ice time trends aren’t always followed; don’t give too much weight to non-predictive player comparables
I figured Barzal would be “the guy” and Tavares would be walking into a Leafs offense that would spread out ice time such that no one would be a top producer. What happened was Tavares played a minute more at even strength and 30 seconds more on the power play than any Leafs forward in 2017-18, while Barzal’s overall ice time held steady, with his percentage of time on ice for Islander power plays somehow dropping. As a result, Tavares was able to parlay his skills into higher scoring due to talent around him, whereas Barzal was honed in on by defenses and had trouble clicking with linemates.
I also fell into the trap of comparing Barzal to Evgeni Malkin, who posted 85+ points as an age 20+ rookie, then exploded the next season in part due to Sidney Crosby missing a chunk of time. I should’ve realized Barzal is no Malkin, and thus non-predictive comparisons between them were bound to fail.
Where does this leave Tavares and Barzal for next season? Tavares’s 5×5 team and individual shooting percentages were easily career highs and should come back to earth somewhat. But Tavares’ other metrics were right in his usual wheelhouse, so point-per-game production is still possible. As for Barzal, his IPP rose, proving he still has a nose for scoring; but he was let down by his linemates, which led to his 5×5 shooting percentage dropping from 9.5 to 7.9. With no wingers seemingly coming to Barzal’s rescue next season, another campaign with an output in the 60s could be in the cards.
3) Ilya Kovalchuk will score 35+ goals, but under 55 points
RESULT = MAJOR MISS (Kovalchuk didn’t even manage 35 POINTS, let alone 35 goals)
LESSONS LEARNED = Big money can’t buy you playing time if you’re a trainwreck
There’s not much to say here. Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL was an unmitigated disaster, as he looked slow and old, and nothing like his former sniper self. Should this make us inherently skeptical of any player returning to the NHL after a few years off and at an older age? Not necessarily, as look no further than what Jaromir Jagr did upon coming back several years ago. So how can we tell if a returning player will pull a Jagr, or a Kovalchuk? Persona and motivation for returning are meaningful, as is the type of player one is (or was), with Jagr’s playmaking and finesse style being still viable in his late 30s and even his early 40s, whereas Kovalchuk’s sniper style was a casualty of his advanced age.
4) No more than five goalies will get 5+ shutouts
RESULT = MISS (nine netminders had 5+ shutouts, although only five had six or more)
LESSONS LEARNED = Goalie talent and hot runs will lead to shutouts even in an era of increased scoring
I almost tagged this a near miss, but in the end nine is nearly double five. Even still, the fact that only five tenders had six or more shutouts does show the effect of improved offenses and fewer “doormat” NHL teams, and perhaps that of the somewhat condensed schedule to accommodate each team’s bye week, plus teams being more conservative than ever in terms of regulating goalie starts. The other thing to note is there are always cases where shutouts tend to happen in chunks when a goalie is seeing the puck like a beach ball. Look no further than Ben Bishop and Darcy Kuemper this season. And with that being a constant, it’s not too difficult for 5+ goalies to end the season with at least five clean sheets.
5) The NHL’s highest scoring forward teammates will be two of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron
RESULT = MISS (Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were tops, followed by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl)
LESSON LEARNED = Talent, age, and easier minutes leads to the most elite scoring
The chemistry between the Boston trio was on full display, yet it wasn’t the best in the NHL. Once again there was time missed (this time by Bergeron), but even if we project their stats to 82 games, they still finish third behind the other two duos. Why? Age probably is a factor, plus the reality that Bergeron and Marchand play tougher minutes – including shorthanded – than either other duos. It’s also easier for a duo to be top scorers when the duo consists of one of easily the two best players in the league, who also make players around them better. So yes – this prediction didn’t end up coming true; but if we remove Kucherov and McDavid from the equation, these three were the best of the rest.
6) Zach Parise will score 70+ points
RESULT = NEAR MISS (Parise had 61 points in 74 games, for a 67-point full season scoring pace)
LESSON LEARNED = Talent will find a way to come to the surface if health cooperates, and ending a season on a positive note will often carry into the next campaign
Even though Parise’s Band-Aid Boy status prevented him from playing enough games to make a real run at 70 points, he still well exceeded the point predictions from all pundits, who had him finishing at not higher than a 40-50 point full season pace. So how did I see his resurgence coming? It had a lot to do with Parise’s final quarter of 2017-18, when not only was he fully healthy for the first time in ages, but also looked like he was brimming with the same talent he had as a youngster. The takeaway is when preparing your draft lists for 2019-20, don’t just look at season-long totals of older (or really any) players – focus on how they were doing as the season was closing and where they figure to be on the depth chart for the next season. In doing so, you might just find a forgotten gem like Parise.
7) At least ten teams will score 10+ Shorthanded Goals
RESULT = NEAR MISS (eight teams had 10+, and two teams had nine)
LESSONS LEARNED = Teams are indeed more inclined to put talented players out there on the PK
I’m still proud of this prediction since over the previous five seasons the numbers of teams scoring 10+ SHGs had been, in reverse chronological order, 5, 5, 6, 2, and 5; so a jump to 8 is significant. I also think my reasoning was accurate here, especially that teams are becoming more inclined to put out their best players on the PK. Look no further than the list of 2018-19 SHG leaders, which includes Mark Giordano, Patrice Bergeron, Sebastian Aho, Cam Atkinson, Brad Marchand, and Leon Draisaitl. So if you’re in a league which counts SHG or SHP as a category, don’t just assume – as was the case in the past – that a scorer won’t see duty on the PK.
8) J.T. Miller will outpoint Steven Stamkos
RESULT = MAJOR MISS (Stamkos’ 98 points was more than double Miller’s 47)
LESSON LEARNED = Deep teams care about winning first and foremost; players looking for new deals can rise above their true talent level
It sure seems like a lot longer than spring 2018 that Miller was as hot as they came on the heels of being dealt to Tampa at the deadline. With Miller re-signing with the Lightning in the offseason, and for pretty big bucks, plus Stamkos having seen his output lag after a hot start to 2017-18, I thought the ingredients were there for Miller to essentially step in for Stamkos and, in doing so, outpoint him for 2018-19. Oh what a difference a year makes though, as Miller languished in the bottom six for most of the season, with only PP1 time there to save him from a complete trainwreck of a campaign. Meanwhile Stamkos looked reborn on his way to posting a career best of 98 points.
The key here was Tampa Bay having enough depth of players to not need to rely on Miller once he played poorly to start 2018-19. Unlike in some markets where salary dictates playing time, Miller’s multimillion-dollar contract didn’t force the Lightning to play him on the top line over Point, who made a fraction of Miller’s salary.
The lesson is to not write off players – like Stamkos – who’ve shown themselves to be stars in the past, particularly when their lower than usual outputs in recent seasons might have been influenced by injuries which are now behind them (see also above re: Zach Parise). If you’re looking to draft players on teams which are offensive powerhouses on paper, don’t automatically assume that a player who’s paid a lot will be given a long leash. Those teams have plenty of other options for coveted top six time, and won’t necessarily let a player who isn’t cutting it stay on a line just because he’s paid a lot.
9) Philipp Grubauer will finish within the top four in SV% among 40+ game NHL netminders
RESULT = MISS (Grubauer played only 37 games and finished 12th in SV%, although he did have a .952 SV% over 13 games in the last quarter of the season)
LESSON LEARNED = Changing conferences can be a big deal for a goalie
In the end, Grubauer’s overall season was disappointing; but much of that likely was due to getting his feet wet in a new conference. Once he got into a groove he was among the best netminders in the league in the fourth quarter, and he likely did enough for Colorado to allow Semyon Varlamov to walk as a UFA this summer.
Although this was a miss, I was onto something. Plus, if you took my advice and stuck with Grubauer through his struggles, you not only ended up being rewarded during fantasy playoff time but also might just have yourself a keeper who’s poised to be among the best netminders for 2019-20.
10) James van Riemsdyk will score more goals than Patrik Laine
RESULT = HIT, with an asterisk (JVR had 27 goals and Laine had 30; but JVR’s 27 came in 66 games, for a goals per game average of 0.41, which was higher than Laine’s 0.36 per game)
LESSON LEARNED = Some players have shown themselves to be snipers no matter what situation they’re placed in, while others – particularly youngsters – might need more to align for them to succeed
I picked up on the fact that JVR had one of the best goals-per-60-minute rates not just last season but over his entire career, and realized that as a big UFA signing he’d get increased minutes (which he did, in the form of nearly 2:00 more per game), and which in turn would translate to increased goals. Although an early injury hurt his output, he was up to a 40-goal pace by the second half, helping lift his season-long total to 27 tallies in just 66 games.
Why did I think – correctly as it turned out – that Laine might take a step backward this season? One key was his 17 goals in his final 23 games last season occurred after the Jets snagged Paul Stastny at the 2017-18 trade deadline. And with Stastny gone, that meant Laine would presumably be back to being centered by Bryan Little, which is not a recipe for success even for someone of the caliber of Laine.
For the record, I think Laine will use this failure of a season to motivate in a big way for 2019-20. He’s likely to bounce back, especially given very encouraging past player comparables that I highlighted in one of my Forum Buzz columns and the news that he was apparently playing a chunk of the season with a bad back. If you can buy low on Laine, it’s worth exploring.
11) Philadelphia will finish within the top three in team goals scored
RESULT = MAJOR MISS (they finished 18th, which wasn’t even in the top half of the league)
LESSONS LEARNED = Hot stretches for teams aren’t always predictive of future success
My reasoning in making this prediction was the 61 goals that Philly scored in their last 19 games last season. I figured that would carry through into 2018-19, especially with the addition of JVR. There was also the fact that they played in the Eastern Conference, which was home to six of the eight worst teams in GAA from 2017-18. What better recipe for 2018-19 goals galore could there have been?
What failed me is I didn’t realize teams can get better, as many in the East did. Even more importantly, I overlooked that Philly was doing all it could at the end of 2017-18 to make the playoffs and gave up nearly as many goals as they scored. When it came time for 2018-19 to begin, that desperation was no longer present, and the team took its foot off the gas pedal, resulting in lower scoring. It also didn’t help that its core was aging and its blueline offense dried up.
12) At least two non-rookies who’ve never scored 55 points in a season will score 80+ in 2018-19
RESULT = NEAR MISS (Elias Lindholm had 78 points, Matthew Tkachuk had 77, Alex DeBrincat had 76 and Tomas Hertl had 74)
LESSONS LEARNED = While the “magical fourth year” still is a thing, more and more young players are making their mark even earlier, especially when given the opportunity to do so
Yes, I realize the three players that I specifically identified when making this prediction (Sam Reinhart, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Nico Hischier) weren’t the ones to challenge the 80-point mark. But I still seized upon a trend of players breaking out more “from out of nowhere.” As was noted in the original column, 2017-18 had marked the first time since back in 2013-14 that any player posted 80+ points without having posted 55+ in a prior season, and in that case it was Taylor Hall who’d already posted 50 in 45 games in 2012-13.
So how did I see this coming? Scoring being up was a factor; however, we can see from the players who nearly hit the mark that it has to do with opportunity and the team around them. In the case of the Calgary forwards and Hertl, not only were they able to stick in top six and PP1 roles, but it was on teams that were scoring machines, putting them in the right place at the right time. With DeBrincat, his talent was needed on a Chicago team that was retooling and had space for youngsters to take on prominent roles, which DeBrincat certainly did.
The big question is whether this is something we should count on happening now on a regular basis, and I can’t see why not. Sure – not every year will have four players make such huge leaps; however, there being at least a couple per season is realistic. To help try and spot them, look for opportunity plus teams where there is enough of a rising tide (i.e., high scoring) to lift all boats or which are retooling enough to really need to rely heavily on the contributions of youngsters.
13) At least 13 defensemen will score 15+ goals
RESULT = MISS (only seven reached the 15-goal mark, but 12 had 14+ and three more had a goals-per- game average that would’ve resulted in 15+ had they played in enough games)
LESSONS LEARNED = Betting on thresholds to be reached is unwise because injuries happen
If there are key takeaways from the results of these 15 forecasts, it’s (1) opportunity matters as much if not more so than talent, (2) relying on non-predictive data rarely leads to correct predictions, and (3) it’s best not to predict that a scoring threshold will be reached, because injuries can and will occur. Some of the earlier forecasts underscored the importance of the first and/or the second takeaways – this one (as well as the Parise forecast) reinforces the third. Tallying 15 goals for a defenseman is something difficult enough to do in general, such that even missing a handful of games could mean the difference between reaching the threshold or just missing out. That’s what we saw here, as a few d-men fell just short and others had a 15 goal full season pace but just didn’t play in enough games to get there.
This all having been said, I still think this was a good example of using predictive data to have made a forecast. The reasons behind me banking on the increase to 15 (when there’d be an average of just 8 per season over the previous four seasons) were sound, namely lots of talented defensemen being at or near the peak ages for producing and more defenseman than ever firing more pucks on net. I’d look for similar results next season, with the final number being perhaps even closer to 15, and perhaps above it if star d-men can dodge the injury bug.
14) At least nine players will score 30+ goals without exceeding 200 SOG
RESULT -= NEAR MISS (eight had 30+ goals but under 200 SOG, with three more having 30+ and fewer than 210 SOG)
LESSONS LEARNED = Big goal totals and high shot totals no longer necessarily go hand in hand
Here too I used predictive data to seize upon a trend, as while 11 of the 18 forwards who registered 250+ SOG in the 2017-18 season had 31+ goals and none had fewer than 22, six of the 30+ goal scorers had fewer than 200 SOG. Perhaps more importantly, this occurred for the second straight season, up from four in each of the 2015-16 and 2014-15 seasons and zero in 2013-14. That was a predictive trend – one which almost led to this forecast coming true.
I think we’ve officially reached a point where this is no longer a trend but instead a norm, and one that poolies need to take notice of. To win in pools which weight both SOG and goals heavily, you might need to own a mix of high and low-volume SOG forwards. To make up the difference in SOG, you can focus on defensemen, due to, as noted in the previous prediction recap, a trend of rearguards shooting the puck more. It’s a reminder that in order to win in pools you cannot rely on just doing the same things year in and year out – you have to take notice of not just teams and players, but of how the style of play is evolving.
15) Jeff Petry will lead the Montreal Canadiens in scoring for 2018-19
RESULT = MAJOR MISS (Petry had a career-best 46 points for 2018-18; but that was good enough for only 7th in scoring on the resurgent Habs)
LESSONS LEARNED = This was a “huge reach” prediction, so I wasn’t expecting to get it correct. Even still, one shouldn’t rule out players coming together to gel, especially with added motivation to do so.
In my defense, and as noted above, every year I make my last forecast a real doozie. By that I mean usually it’s one where, even when making it, I figure has a 10% chance – at best – of coming true.
So what led me to this specific prediction? For one, Petry was going to be “the guy” on the blueline while Shea Weber was out injured, after Petry produced at a 56-point pace during the second half of 2017-18. And guess what – a 56-point total would’ve been good enough to lead the Habs in scoring last season, with the team not forecasted by many to do much better for 2018-19. Beyond that, I figured Jonathan Drouin had looked shaky at best in his first season as a Hab, Max Domi could fold under the Montreal pressure and scrutiny, Brendan Gallagher would score goals but not add many assists, and, lastly, that Tomas Tatar would underwhelm as he had in his time with Detroit and his brief tenure with Las Vegas. In actuality, the Habs’ offense gelled nicely and all four of these forwards easily posted career highs whereas Petry, although still setting a career high in points, failed to crack 50 due to slowing down substantially once Weber returned from injury earlier than most had predicted.
What is there to learn from this? First and foremost,t it takes a lot to go wrong, or a truly extraordinary d-man, for a rearguard to lead his team in scoring. Moreover, as hot as Petry was toward the end of the 2017-18 campaign, he’s never been a gifted offensive talent, so banking on him morphing into a major scorer at age 31 was, in hindsight, pretty farfetched. Still though, Petry did post 29 points in his first 42 games before Weber was fully back up to speed, so do remember to take flyers on players who’ll have an expanded role due to injury. At the same time betting that four forwards would all fail enough for a d-man to lead a team in scoring is – let’s face it – not something anyone should predict. Sure – if it happens then it happens, but predicting it is an entirely different story.
So there you have it – am I embarrassed at the results? Yes and no. Sure I’d have liked to get more of them correct or at least nearly correct like last year; however, I want to underscore these were fearless forecasts which are usually big reaches. Also, aside from the fun of making and then revisiting them are the fantasy insights embedded in each forecast and the ways to learn from my mistakes so to speak. Still though – I’ll be sure to work extra hard this summer to try and come up with a new batch which, while still fearless, has a few more hits once again.
Lastly, let’s look at how your votes fared? My one hit actually generated the least amount of votes, whereas the major misses finished fourth (Barzal and Tavares), fourteenth (Kovalchuk), tied for eighth (Miller outpointing Stamkos), third (Philly finishing in the top three in team goals), and tied for eighth yet again (Petry leading the Habs in scoring). So it wasn’t just me who had an off year. Here’s hoping for better success in our predictions in 2019-20!