Forum Buzz: Early Season Pick-Up Guide, Owning Buff, Saros, Arvidsson, and Fowler
It’s time again for Forum Buzz, your monthly reminder of just how great the DobberHockey Forums are for fantasy questions and insight. In this column, I weigh in on some of the most active, heavily debated, or currently relevant Forum threads from the past month. Pretty much anything might be covered, other than trades and signings, which usually will get their separate write-ups on the main site and are also covered in the next day’s Ramblings, or questions relating to salary cap issues, which is the domain of Alex MacClean’s weekly Capped column.
No question Cam Fowler is a very good hockey player, as just 12 other defensemen have averaged more TOI per game than his 24:26 over the past three seasons. But unlike most of the 12, Fowler has been unable to emerge as a true PP QB. In fact, despite missing 38 games over the past two seasons Fowler received the 39th most PP Time among all d-men, yet his PPPt scoring ranked him just 60th overall.
Despite this, last season Anaheim traded away Brandon Montour, who arguably had the best chance of unseating Fowler as PP QB. The team has Josh Mahura in the wings; but when he played 17 games last season, he failed to average a minute of PP time per game, so clearly if the team sees Mahura in that role they envision the transition occurring down the line.
Also working in Fowler’s favor to keep the PP1 job is his salary, which, at $6.5M (on a contract that runs through 2025-26) ranks him in the top 20 among all NHL rearguards and is 25% more than the next highest-paid Duck defenseman, Hampus Lindholm. So far during this still young season, Fowler is still the top d-man PP dog in Anaheim, although his overall ice time is markedly down and Hampus Lindholm is averaging several more minutes of TOI and sits just below Fowler in PP Time. Yet Lindholm’s PP Time per game is virtually unchanged and Anaheim has drawn among the fewest PPs this season, so that’s likely why Lindholm’s PP TOI is closer to Fowler’s than usual. Long story short, barring the Ducks making a trade for a puck-moving rearguard (which could occur as Anaheim was a rumored landing spot for Justin Faulk before he ended up in St. Louis) it would appear that indeed Fowler will again be manning PP1 for the Ducks this season.
Arguably not since Cory Schneider was stuck behind Roberto Luongo or Tuukka Rask behind Tim Thomas has there been a back-up who’s received as much prolonged attention as Saros. But just as Luongo and Thomas held onto their creases despite the hype and play of their back-ups, Pekka Rinne has been able to remain the top option in Nashville notwithstanding Saros breathing down his neck.
Still, though, there are signs that a changing of the guard could be afoot. Saros’ starts have increased in each of his seasons, going from 19 to 23, to 27 last season. But at the same time, his numbers have taken a step back, with his GAA increasing each season and his SV%, which had been .923 and .925 in his first two campaigns, dropping to .915 in 2018-19. His GAA and SV% from last season ranked him 19th and 18th, respectively, among goalies who appeared in 20+ games during the 2018-19 campaign. So as hyped as he’s been, his play – as yet – has not forced the Preds to seriously consider having Saros unseat Rinne. And he’s certainly not started 2019-20 on a great note.
Looking at their contract situations, Saros is signed through 2020-21 at the bargain price of $1.5M per season, whereas Rinne is in the last year of a two year deal. So if Rinne implodes, the team is more likely to look to Saros than if Rinne had – say – another year or two on his contract.
But how well might we expect Rinne to perform? This will be Rinne’s age 37 season; and since 2010-11, there have been only 15 instances (by seven different netminders) of an age 37 or older goalie starting 30+ games in a season. Of those 15 instances, only eight started more than half his team’s games, although four had 54+ starts, or right at the 55 for Rinne in 2018-19. Looking more closely at those four; one (Dwayne Roloson in 2010-11) had 20 starts for the Islanders and 34 for Tampa Bay, so he’s not someone to whom we should be drawing an analogy. The other two instances were Martin Brodeur in 2010-11 and 2011-12 when his back-up was Johan Hedberg, who was in his late 30s at the time. The last instance was Tim Thomas in 2011-12 for Boston when Thomas had a 24-year-old Tuukka Rask as his back-up but also sported an impressive .920 SV% and 2.36 GAA, both of which are likely much better numbers than Rinne figures to post for the coming season. Long story short, Rinne’s situation is not very comparable to any of the age 37+ goalies who started 54+ games in a season since 2010-11.
My sense is Nashville will want Rinne to remain at least the 1A goalie this season, rather than ride Saros into the playoffs, where he’s appeared in seven contests but never had a single start. Then again, after seeing Jordan Binnington win a Stanley Cup and with Rinne being in the last season of his contract, plus coach Laviolette indicating he expects Saros to start more games, the team could be inclined to give Saros a chance to steal away the 1A job. Assuming Saros’s early struggles are a blip on the radar (as they were last October), I’d figure him for 30-35 starts, with a chance for 40+ if Rinne no longer seems up to guiding the team to success.
On the surface, if one looks at Arvidsson’s 2016-17 and 2017-18 and sees the identical 61 points in nearly identical 78 and 80 games while firing virtually identical SOG totals (246 and 247) and tallying almost identical PPPts (nine and eight) in those seasons, it would be difficult to see how Arvy would rise into a higher scoring echelon. Yet if we focus on the second half of 2017-18, Arvidsson had 36 points in 37 games, which he followed up with 18 points in 19 games before getting hurt last season. And putting together 56 games of point per game production is no small feat. The problem is, after returning from injury he posted 30 points in 41 games, for a scoring rate right back at that of his prior two seasons.
So can Arvidsson rise to the 70 point level? Looking more closely at his end of 2017-18 and beginning of 2018-19, he had 29 goals on 176 SOG, for a personal shooting percentage of 16.4%, which was a good bit higher than his career rate. But even as his scoring rate declined in the second half of last season his shooting percentage remained above 16%, perhaps signalling a new normal, especially since his average shot distance last season was 29.4 feet, which is lower than that of his prior two seasons (30.6).
Another key factor is Arvidsson’s lack of PP production. It’s difficult to deny he’s not at his best when playing with the man advantage, what with having received the 100th most PP time among forwards over the past three seasons but having tallied the 167th most PPPts. And his PP IPP last season was 28.6%, meaning that he received a point on barely more than one out of every four PPGs scored while he was on the ice. And lest we think that was a one-time aberration, it was an even lower 27.6% for the 2017-18 campaign. But if we go back to 2016-17, it was 60%, so at least once he’s done okay on the PP.
The good news is even as his PP struggles have continued, his PP time has increased. It’s also doing fine so far for 2019-20, which isn’t surprising since although Matt Duchene was added this offseason, it’s unlikely he’d displace Arvidsson from PP1, not only because they play different positions but also since Duchene isn’t a PP marvel either. Even still, Arvy’s PP shortcomings put him in a club that includes Jeff Skinner and Evander Kane as players who, since 2000-01, have three seasons of five or fewer PPGs in the same campaign despite also averaging three or more SOG per game. Both are slightly older than Arvy, so looking to their recent results could portend what might happen with Arvidsson; and last season while neither one exploded on the PP, Skinner had his second-highest PPG total and Kane tied his career-high. That type of data suggests Arvy could still improve in this area.
One last key for Arvidsson is last season saw his OZ% increase to 65.7% from 55% in each of his previous two seasons, and it’s over 60% for 2019-20 thus far. While it would’ve been more reassuring to see his scoring rate grow even more given this change, who’s to say what Arvidsson would’ve done had his injury not occurred, and especially with his point per game scoring rate over the second half of 2017-18?
One last factor is Nashville’s track record for scorers. To tally 70 points in 82 games a player would have to score at 0.85 points per game rate. For Nashville, that’s happened only once since 2010-11, and that was Filip Forsberg, who did so in 67 games, meaning that no Preds forward has posted 70+ points since 2010-11. No one has even hit the 65 mark. We can’t let that rule out Avry being able to do so; however, it’s a lot of data riding against him.
Taking this all into consideration, 2019-20 is likely the season where we find out if Arvidsson has a 70+ point season in him since he’s cleared the 200 game breakout threshold mark and his ice time, PP time, and offensive zone starting percentage are all in his favor. Do I think he hits the mark? If I had to guess I’d say the odds are he likely falls just short, since although he did have that 56 games point per game stretch Nashville isn’t built for players to score in droves, with more of a balanced attack. Moreover, the team’s PP likely won’t be significantly improved with the addition of Matt Duchene. Pencil Arvidsson in for 65-70 points this season but with a better chance of landing above 70 than below 65.
With Winnipeg having lost two key d-men this offseason one would think they’d be eager for Buff to return to the fold, despite thus far being right near where they were in 2018-19 in GA per game. Yet people also point Scott Niedermayer in 2007-08 returning after sitting out nearly half the season. And Nieds and Buff have a lot in common, as both had already won at least one Stanley Cup and were the same age (34) when taking their break. But Buff also had missed 40 and 13 games in his two previous seasons, whereas Niedermayer had been healthy. There’s also the reality that Buff’s large frame makes it more difficult for him to get/stay in shape, so perhaps the longer he stays in limbo the less likely he is to make a return?
Given this, in fantasy who should keep Buff on their rosters? Those with a deep bench, or who are in non-cap leagues, or are allowed to stash him on their IR, as chances are they can still field a competitive defensive corps in the meantime and, just as importantly, a Buff return would be impactful enough to risk him not coming back at all. On the flip side, if your league has no bench or IR, he should already be gone from your line-up since you can ill-afford to carry his weight (pun intended) for however long it might take him to decide whether or not he will return this season.
But what of teams not on either end of the spectrum? I think that because he might not return at all, and might not be effective if he does, or could be vulnerable to injury without having gone through the norm of training camp, he’s a drop in most one-year leagues. After all, if he does come back you could still be in the running to grab him as a free agent if you want to do so.
In terms of keeper leagues, it’s trickier, since if he does come back he might resume his career much like Niedermayer did as if nothing happened. If you believe he won’t return at all, you should try trading him before you drop him, as someone might be more optimistic about him coming back. If you think he will come back this season and can afford to carry him, I’d say do so for another 2-4 weeks to see how well Winnipeg fares. If the team’s defense starts suffering, Buff might decide – or be persuaded – to return sooner rather than later. But if things are going okay for them without him, then you might cut the cord and move on, grabbing another d-man before all the good ones have been snatched up.
Then there are cap leagues. It might be possible that – as in the NHL – your league has given you cap relief while Buff is in limbo. If so, then the guidance above stays the same. But if you have to carry his cap hit then you probably have to release him since he makes too much to risk him not coming back, let alone coming back and playing up to his usual standards and justifying his significant cap hit, which is among the ten highest in all of the NHL for rearguards.
Who might be a good replacement if you do drop him? Certainly in points only leagues you won’t find anyone of his caliber. In multi-cats, however, some guys do well in Hits, Blocks and SOG like fellow Jets d-man Neil Pionk or Jaccob Slavin, who might be available in shallow leagues, and d-men like Nikita Zaitsev, Nick Holden and Brian Dumoulin in deeper leagues.
Rather than link to one of the countless threads asking whether certain players who are performing unexpectedly well are worth a pick-up, I decided to link to this one, which – full disclosure – I started. In it, I outline what I see as the key objective and subjective factors to assess in deciding whether a player who is doing surprisingly well is indeed worth grabbing from the waiver wire. I feel like those factors are worth repeating to a larger audience, so here they are.
First, the general factors:
1) Do you have limited pick-ups? If so, you have to be more careful about using them. But by the same token, most of the valuable pick-ups do happen early in the season. Still, if you have fewer than a handful to use all season you probably don't want to reflexively grab someone based on what occurred in one game or even two.
2) Will it cause you cap issues? This is, of course, a factor only in salary cap leagues. The good news is often these early pick-up players are young and don't make much. The issue, however, is if they fail and you need to drop them later and pick someone up, then maybe the players who are left will be more expensive. So consider not just the cap ramifications of this move, but what also could happen if you need to drop this player later.
3) How will this affect your waiver position? Some leagues have free agents claimed ala the waiver process in the NHL, where one team has first dibs, and then it goes from there. If you have an early wire position you mustn't squander that for someone who is at high risk of not panning out.
4) Can this player be sent down without clearing NHL waivers? If so, then he's a far riskier bet to grab than someone who has to clear waivers to be demoted.
5) Who will you have to drop? This is often overlooked but is incredibly important. Don't pick up a player unless you can see a path for him to succeed more than the guy you're dropping. Look at all the folks who dropped non-Larkin Detroit forwards early last season and lived to regret it when they caught fire in the second half. But perhaps you have roster flexibility, such as one poster in the thread who said they have a built-in streaming spot in their roster to pick up “flavor of the moment” type of players. If you have this luxury, by all means, try and leverage it. The concern, of course, is if one of these guys who you toss back into the pool turns out to be worth keeping for the long haul.
Okay, now that the general factors have been noted, let's look at specifics:
1) Is this player only doing well because he's taking the spot of someone injured? If so, then you have to assess whether he has a chance not only of maintaining favorable deployment once the injured player returns but of sticking with the club at all.
2) Is this player getting any PP Time? If so, that is a big positive, although by the same token if he's getting man-advantage time but not using it well that could hurt him. But PP time is precious and if this player is receiving it, he has a better chance of being worthy of a pick-up.
3) If he's a forward, can he play more than one position? Positional flexibility can be a blessing or a curse, since if someone is a pure wing then chances are less that he'd be able to be dropped down to center another line. That being said, a player with positional flexibility has an arguably better chance of sticking with the club overall.
4) What is the player’s NHL salary? Separate from the team’s cap issues is how much a potential pick-up individually earns in NHL salary, with a player to whom the team has committed big bucks likely being a safer pick-up than one who earns less, and with salaries of others who play the same position also, of course, being relevant.
6) How is he playing, beyond just the scoresheet? Poolies will reflexively look and see that a player had two points and automatically figure he's worthy of a pick-up. But you have to dig deeper to see what his ice times have been, how many SOG he’s had, what his offensive zone starting percentage has been, and what his line/defensive combinations were. Frozen Tools is your friend here.
7) If he's not a rookie, has he started fast in the past only to fade? Some players start hot and then fade. Check – again, using Frozen Tools – his past years to see if he has a track record of early-season success which doesn't last long.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all possible factors, but hopefully, it will help you in reaching decisions on whether to pick up guys early in the season. Good luck!
Questions needed for Mailbag column
Be sure to send me questions if you want them included in my monthly mailbag column. You can get them to me by private messaging “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums or by sending an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line.
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