A very cool development in the fantasy hockey world.
The National Fantasy Hockey Championship, or NFHC, launched on Wednesday. It comes as a sister site for the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), National Fantasy Basketball Championship (NFBBC), and the National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC).
In a nutshell, they’re high-stakes fantasy leagues. I’ve taken part in a couple NFBC leagues on the cheaper end that were $150 USD to buy in. The higher buy-in levels are five figures. Whether that’s the level the NFHC gets to or not, we’ll see. I doubt it will just because of the size of fantasy hockey relative to other fantasy sports, but this is exciting nonetheless.
The Vancouver Canucks continue their offseason of acquisitions by adding Micheal Ferland to their roster. The terms disclosed in that tweet are four years with an average annual value of $3.5M.
You can read Cam’s take on the signing here.
Aside from whatever adjective people want to use to describe his intangibles, it’s important to know that Ferland is a passenger, not a driver. There are things he does well, particularly once the puck is in the offensive zone, but he’s not a guy to start a play, he’s not a guy to lead the transition, and he’s not a guy who can play lock-down defence.
And that’s fine! Not every good player in the NHL is a play-driver. Until recent seasons, Wayne Simmonds, for example, had been a very good NHLer without being that guy. But it also means Ferland absolutely needs to play in the top-6, preferably with Elias Pettersson, to have much fantasy value. There just isn’t enough talent in the bottom-6 to support a productive fantasy season.
Where I’m most interested is the power play. There is good evidence to show us that Ferland is a solid power play contributor (from Hockey Viz):
All this doesn’t mention that Vancouver still has to sign Brock Boeser. There is going to be a contract-shedding trade or two in the coming months.
Not overly fantasy relevant, but Matt Cullen announced his retirement on Wednesday.
Over his career which spanned more than 20 years, Cullen played over 1500 regular season games, just inside the top-20 for most games played all time. He amassed 266 goals and 465 assists over those 1516 games, but his role was never really as a producer. He long made himself a career as a reliable two-way centre who, later in his career, was a mentor to younger players in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Nashville.
Congratulations to Cullen on an excellent career and the best to him and his family in the future.
The Kings signed winger Alex Iafallo to a two-year deal with an AAV just north of $2.4M. Despite ample time beside Anze Kopitar, the 25-year old has just 24 goals in 157 career games. They need him to be better if they want to get back in the playoff picture.
At the risk of promoting a hockey podcast that isn’t my own or Keeping Karlsson (though you should listen to both), there was a very good listen from Dimitri Filipovic (formerly of Sportsnet, now at Yahoo! and ESPN) recently. He had Andrew Thomas on as a guest. If that name isn’t familiar, Thomas was a co-founder, along with Alexandra Mandrycky, of the stats site War On Ice, a successor of Extra Skater and precursor to sites like Natural Stat Trick and Corsica. Both Thomas and Mandrycky were hired to run the analytics department for the Minnesota Wild, and were let go a few months ago. Mandrycky has since moved on to the new Seattle franchise.
Anyway, Thomas is one of the smartest people in hockey and it was just a very interesting listen from start to finish for those who are analytically-inclined. For those who aren’t, or are looking to get more involved, this is still a good listen on everything from the incoming player tracking, to quality of competition, finding small edges, and more.
Late Tuesday night (or early Wednesday morning, depending on your location), we got word that Danton Heinen had been extended by Boston for two years with that contract carrying an average annual value of $2.8M.
This leaves the Bruins with about $8.2M in cap space with both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo left to sign.
Let’s take a bit of a deeper look at Heinen.
The 24-year old winger just finishes his second full season with the Bruins and has amassed 81 points 162 games for his career. His 2018-19 season was a bit of a down year compared to his rookie season, however.
When comparing his two full seasons, Heinen’s second year saw a decline in goals, assists, shots, power play points, goals/60 minutes at five-on-five, assists/60 minutes, individual expected goals/60 minutes, and so on and so on. Some of the declines weren’t significant – like his individual shot attempt rate – while others were, like his secondary assist rate falling by nearly two-thirds.
Looking under the hood, there were some things amiss. The sample itself is too small to rely on, but there are indications that things like zone entries with possession and shot assists (passes leading to shots) all declined for Heinen in 2018-19 compared to his rookie year (from CJ Turtoro’s viz):
Again, not a sample where we can confidently say this was the issue all year, but it helps point us in the right direction.
Part of it his probably his usage. In his rookie season, Heinen had a total of about 942 minutes at five-on-five. Of those 942 minutes, he skated with Patrice Bergeron for 138:40 and David Krejci for 134:28. That’s about 273 minutes, or roughly 28.9 percent of his minutes at five-on-five. In 2018-19, he skated about 949 minutes at five-on-five, with roughly 233 on Krejci’s wing and 215 on Bergeron’s. Those 448 minutes represent about 47 percent of his five-on-five. The reason this matters is because guys like Bergeron, Krejci, Pastrnak, and Marchand are all guys who love to carry the puck and retain possession. Skating more often with those guys means fewer opportunities for Heinen to do the possession work himself than if he were skating with David Backes or Noel Acciari.
That Heinen spent so much more time in the top-6 and still couldn’t come close to his production from the year before is a bit concerning. With that said, it doesn’t seem to be much more than an on-ice shooting percentage problem (the rate at which the team scores with him on the ice); it fell from 8.4 percent in 2017-18 to 7.6 percent in 2018-19. That might not seem like a lot but relatively speaking it’s about a 10 percent drop. Not surprisingly, in conjunction with a small drop in on-ice shot rate, Boston scored about 13 percent fewer goals with Heinen on the ice in 2018-19 compared to the year before.
Two factors that played directly into the decline in production: a loss of about 40 seconds per game in PPTOI and a drop in secondary assists. The drop in PPTOI led to five fewer PP points while the drop in secondary assists led to seven fewer 5v5 points. Had Heinen managed to not lose those 12 points, he would have amassed nearly the same number of points (46) as his rookie season (47).
The signing of Brett Ritchie brings more competition for the top-6 as does the late-season addition of Charlie Coyle. Coyle won’t factor in too much if they leave him at centre but Ritchie very well could. He’s a shooter who has shown a scoring touch in the past, something that second line desperately needs. I envision Heinen pairing with Coyle on the third line to add some scoring punch and if that’s his role, along with the lost power play time, it’s hard to see him having significant fantasy relevance in 2019-20.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Jokiharju-Nylander swap. You can read my take on the trade itself here.
I suppose the reason it’s hard to swallow is that Jokiharju and Nylander aren’t in the same position as players. Not in terms of offence/defence, but because Jokiharju played a half-season in the NHL at age 19 and showed well, while Nylander has basically spent three years in the AHL and showed nothing. These types of trades are typically including guys who’ve outlasted their welcome, or are former high picks struggling with their team. The Galchenyuk/Domi trade comes to mind, or the Kassian/Hodgson trade from several years ago. In this case, we have a 19-year old defenceman (now 20 years old) who, as mentioned, did well in his rookie season:
And in the other corner, we have a 21-year old winger who, in three years, has done nothing to prove he belongs in the NHL.
There have been arguments that the Blackhawks have a bunch of good young blue liners coming, and they do have a few guys who look to be the future. Here’s the thing: none of them have proven anything. Maybe guys like Boqvist and Beaudin pan out. Maybe they have other guys who prove they belong. Or maybe only a couple of them. Or maybe only one. The whole thing with prospects is that we don’t know with terrible certainty how the vast majority of them will fare in the NHL. That’s why it’s good to stockpile talent, to act as a safety net by way of volume.
Maybe Nylander finally clicks. Maybe Jokiharju falls off the map. Maybe other things happen that we can’t predict.
A lesson for fantasy poolies out there: if you stick with it long enough, maybe you'll find someone who still believes in a player’s potential despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.