Fantasy Mailbag: Volume Shooters, Wheeler’s Struggles & Rebuilding on the Fly

Rick Roos



It’s that time of the month again – to open the virtual mailbag and answer your all-important fantasy hockey questions while at the same time dispensing advice that’s useful to all. Want your question answered here? Check out the end of the column, where I explain the ways to get it to me. The earlier you send a question the more likely it is to be included, and the deeper dive I can provide with my answer. Time to put on my thinking cap and get to the Q&A!


Question #1 (from Max)

I’m in an 11 team, non-cap keeper league (14 keepers; rosters are 4C, 4LW, 4RW, 5D, 2G, 5 skater reserves, 1 goalie reserve, and 2IR; categories are 1 point for a goal or an assist, 2 points for a goalie win). I knew I wasn’t in a position to take home the championship in the immediate future, so I started to clean house, with the hope of being to be a contender in 2-3 years. Here is my current team:

Centers: Logan Brown, Max Domi (C/LW) Christian Dvorak, Cody Glass (C/RW), Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jordan Kyrou (C/RW), Dylan Larkin, Sam Steel; Wings: Joel Armia (RW), Pavel Buchnevich (RW), Jake DeBrusk (LW/RW), Ryan Dzingel (LW/RW), Oskar Lindblom (LW), Victor Olofsson (LW/RW), Vladimir Namestnikov (LW/RW), Brady Tkachuk (LW), Eeli Tolvanen (RW); Defensemen: Dennis Cholowski, Dante Fabbro, Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy, Colton Parayko, Erik Brannstrom, Bowen Byram; Goalies:

Darcy Kuemper, Carter Hart, Thatcher Demko

Have I already gone too young? Should I still be selling; and if so, which players?


Answer: It would’ve been helpful to get a sense of what your team was like before you started to sell, just so I can gauge where you were and how you’ve done thus far. As far as whether you’ve gone too young, I think if the goal is to contend in 2-3 years then yes, you probably overshot a bit. After all, the majority of your team has little to no actual NHL experience and many aren’t even 21 years old. That’s not to say some won’t be doing very well in 2-3 years – heck, chances are a handful will be playing great. But for the most part, you’ll have guys whose career trajectory will be uncertain by 2021-22 or 2022-23, which is not what you want if your goal is to win in an 11 team league with 275 players owned.


In a keeper like yours, my goal in rebuilding would be to get players who fall into three groups of ages, with some being very young (i.e., age 18 to 21), others who are a bit older (i.e., 22-24), and still others in the 24-27+ range. And for each of the age brackets, as they get older you ideally want them to be lower risk as a whole. In your case, not only is the team skewed a bit too much toward very young players, but those who are a bit older aren’t – for the most part – “can’t miss” guys.


Given all this, what should you do? Pick young, at least somewhat established NHLers with high upside to build around, like Dvorak, Larkin, Domi, Glass, Tkachuk, Buchnevich, Fox, McAvoy, Hart and Demko. Anyone the same age or older, look to sell when the chance presents itself to get a player aged 21-27ish in return to round out – with some younger players – your 14 keepers. To do so, you might need to also include a younger player as a carrot for the other team, since as the saying goes you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Guys to trade this year include Namestnikov, Debrusk, Olofsson, Dzingel, Parayko, and Lindblom, plus others who are not very young and probably won’t become major stars. Once they do something, sell! If you need to take on players in return who are older than 27, that can be an option since rebuilding doesn’t mean you can’t have a few players in their late 20s or even their early thirties. In fact, older players are attractive too, sometimes even more so due to their fantasy GMs being overly concerned about them hitting/passing their peak.


Since this does not look like a team that will likely win in 2-3 years though, another option would be to stay younger and aim to contend in 3-5 years. If that becomes your goal instead, you still want to sell the six guys I mentioned; but try to avoid throwing in younger players as sweeteners and take on fewer older players. Then be patient and buy and sell strategically. Whatever you decide, good luck!


Question #2 (from Dave)

Owen Tippett seems to be doing well in the AHL, piling up goals and SOG. Do you see Florida calling him up this year, and, if so, giving him a shot in the top six? Or will he need a departure next year (Mike Hoffman?) to get on a line where he can offensively thrive? 


Answer: First things first, Florida is a team that’s laser-focused on winning a Stanley Cup this season or next, what with eight players on the books for $4.75M+ through 2021-22. Moreover, there are arguably eight “top six” quality forwards who are on Florida’s roster right now (the existing top six of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman, and Brett Connolly, plus Frank Vatrano and Denis Malgin). So if you’re holding your breath for Tippett to make an impact this season, on paper it seems unlikely.


That been said, Hoffman is set to be a UFA this summer, as is Dadonov. I can see the team making a play to re-sign one, but likely not both. So there could be one or more openings in the top six for 2020-21. The question is, would Tippett be in line to grab the spot? I’m not so sure, as Henrik Borgstrom has been biding his time for longer than Tippett and already has nearly a full season of NHL games under his belt. There’s also, as noted, Malgin and Vatrano. Lots of names, not enough top six spots to go around. Then again, someone like Connolly could be moved to the third line, where he did well in Washington.


Also, Florida likely sees Tippett as a player who’s ill-suited for a bottom-six role and thus might balk at bringing him up only to toil with less skilled linemates for 10-12 minutes per night. If you’re hoping to see Tippett as an NHL regular this season, I’d say one of three things would have to occur: (1) a long term injury to at least one current top-six player plus a willingness to move Connolly to the third line, (2) the team doing so poorly as to convince them to sell off Hoffman and/or Dadonov now, or (3) the team goes all-in on a quest for a Cup and trades Tippett to get more veteran help, in which case Tippett would likely be inserted right away into his new team’s line-up. 


So if you own Tippett, stay patient. Or if you have a team that’s vying for your league championship, you can leverage his solid AHL play to trade him for help in your quest to win. Just don’t count on him being an NHL regular this season, and perhaps not even 2020-21.


Question #3 (from Harry)

I’m thinking about making a deal in my cap league (points only for skaters, 2 points for goalie wins and 1 for a shutout). I have two options.

1)  I’d receive Darcy Kuemper, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Tomas Hertl and trade away Phillip Grubauer, Johnny Gaudreau, and James Neal.

2) I’d receive Roman Josi and either Dougie Hamilton or Quinn Hughes and would trade away Brent Burns and Kevin Shattenkirk.

What’s your take on these moves – which do you prefer, or should I stand pat? For the first deal, has Kuemper done enough to become the true #1 in Arizona?


Answer: One thing that wasn’t specified is if this is for a keeper league; if so, I think the second deal is a slam dunk, although the other GM might no longer be willing to proceed. I’d also likely pull the trigger in a one-year league, as despite Burns having a 70 point floor and Shatty having a major resurgence (for a team on which, let’s not forget, Ryan McDonagh, tallied 46 points last season), Josi might be right there with Burns, and Hamilton and Hughes look amazing.


Focusing on the first deal, Gaudreau, as of when I wrote my recent Forum Buzz column, and despite his slowish start to 2019-20, was within the top ten in points in all the NHL dating back to 2017-18. Still, Huberdeau just recently had posted 101 points in his last 82 games between this season and last. As for Neal vs. Hertl, not only is there no premium for goals, but Hertl is a bona fide point per gamer, while Neal, even if his resurgence isn’t a mirage, likely has a 60 point ceiling. Accordingly, Grubauer would have to be worth considerably more than Kuemper for this deal to be worth making; so I can see why you asked about Kuemper in particular.


Here’s what we know – the Coyotes saw enough in Kuemper to extend him at a price higher than what they’re paying Antti Raanta, and for an additional season. With two netminders set to make $4M+ next season, there’s a chance one will be dealt. If not, the Arizona goaltending situation likely would play out as it has with the Islanders, namely two skilled netminders sharing the crease in a 1A/1B situation. The difference with the Coyotes is Raanta has had trouble staying healthy, which in turn bolsters Kuemper’s value but also might make it tougher for the team to trade Raanta. 


As for Grubauer, the upstart Avs thought enough of him to let Semyon Varlamov walk and sign barely tested back-up in Pavel Francouz. Even still, Grubauer, despite great stats as a back-up with the Caps and during his first season with the Avs, has never been a true #1. Early results are promising, and he’s likely not going to be put into a 1A/1B situation. Still, if Kuemper plays well he might end up forcing Raanta out of town or, even if it ends up a goalie share situation, he’d still likely accumulate, let’s say, five to ten fewer wins and perhaps a comparable number of shutouts as compared to Grubauer. Thus, I don’t see Grubauer as being better enough on paper than Kuemper as to overcome the wide gap that exists between Hertl and Neal, especially if this is a keeper league.


Long story short, I’d pull the trigger on the first deal in a keeper and probably a one-year league too. Same for the second deal, although it’s a bit closer in a one-year setting.


Question #4 (from Adam)

I’m in a 12 team H2H limited keeper league (keep 15 of 25) that counts, as skater categories, G, A, +/-, PIM, PPPts, SOG, HIT, BLK. I’m currently in second place but the competition is tough, so I need to stay competitive; however, I’m also in a position where I have too many good defensemen, at least some of which I won’t keep. Of the following d-men, who do you think I should try to trade so I can get value but where doing so won’t come back to haunt me – Cale Makar, Jacob Trouba, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jake Muzzin, Aaron Ekblad, Mikael Sergachev, Jakob Chychrun and Adam Boqvist?


Answer: To get value, you either have to give up value or provide an enticement that convinces someone to give up a player of value to you. What could that enticement be? Filling a void at that position or trading a player who’s likely to get better in the coming years. Trading Makar is out of the question because he’s already great and likely will be the cornerstone of the defensemen you keep. Guys like OEL and Muzzin will be tough to trade because they’re not so young as to be enticing to other teams and might not be kept even in a league that deep. That leaves Trouba, Sergachev, Ekblad, Chychrun, and Boqvist. The latter two likely would only be enticing to a team that’s in a rebuild, although in a 12 team league there might be one or two squads that fit the bill. The issue is the other teams vying for a championship will be approaching those cellar dwellers with similar deals, and I’m not sure Boqvist or Chychrun are “sexy” enough prospects to turn heads.


Trouba, Sergachev and Ekblad I see as your best options for trading. Ekblad is putting up career-best numbers, so he might entice another team to take him from you, although perhaps you keep him if you believe he’s rounding into form as a true #1. Trouba has started slowly and looks to be taking on a more defensive role in view of the young Ranger blueline; but you can tout him to other teams by pointing to how he had a huge second half last season and maybe – just maybe – you can find a taker for him who’ll give you something good in return. Sergachev is playing decent hockey and is still just 21, plus he has “name-value” as a highly touted player on a very potent team. I think he might not reach great heights with Victor Hedman on board and if they keep Kevin Shattenkirk, who, as noted above, has looked very good for them. Look into trading one or more of these three, and perhaps you can also find a way to toss in one of OEL or Muzzin to offload even more of d-men you’re unlikely to retain.


Question #5 (from Bryan)

With Blake Wheelers sudden and drastic drop in production from previous seasons, at least thus far, is he droppable or will he return to form?


Answer: First off, it would take two things for Wheeler to be droppable – (1) a very shallow league that (2) does not distinguish between forward positions. Otherwise, I think you have to hold onto Wheeler and trust that he’ll turn things around. But should we expect him to right his ship? Let’s look and see what the numbers, metrics and comparables tell us.


His SOG rate is slightly lower than usual, but not markedly so. He’s also getting similar TOI both overall and with the man advantage. Looking at advanced metrics, one number stands out glaringly, and that’s his IPP, which refers to the percentage of time he factors into the scoring on a goal scored while he’s on the ice. After being 71.8% or higher in five of the past six seasons, and 74.0% and 78.4% in the last two, it’s at 56%. Right there, that’s cost him at least a handful of points in the normal course. And IPP isn’t something that plummets overnight; as such, his production rate will – yes, I said will – rebound to at least a 75-80+ point scoring pace between now and the end of the season.


As for player comparables, by tallying back-to-back 91 point seasons Wheeler became one of just nine forwards since 1990-91 to post 91+ points at least twice despite being age 30+. What happened to the other eight? None failed to post at least 80 points in at least one more season, and all but one did so at least two more times, with more than half doing so at least four times. So although history does not guarantee future results, this plus IPP data is reassuring in terms of Wheeler being unlikely to continue his early-season slump.


Question #6 (from Greg)

As I send you this question, we’re at the quarter mark of the season and Erik Karlsson, Rasmus Dahlin, Seth Jones, Thomas Chabot, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Jacob Trouba, Shayne Gostisbehere, Erik Gustafsson, Shea Theodore, and Ryan McDonagh all have one measly goal. In a similar vein, Taylor Hall, Jamie Benn, Ryan Johansen, Nico Hischier, Nino Niederreiter, Corey Perry, and Derek Stepan each have only two tallies. Do you see any of these defensemen hitting ten goals? And which forwards can still reach 20?


Answer: Let’s tackle the defensemen first. Getting to ten goals despite having only one after 20 games is well within reach if a rearguard (1) is getting favorable deployment, including on the PP, (2) firing SOG at a high enough rate, and (3) has a track record of past success. If we look at the 219 instances of a d-man who had 10+ goals in a season, virtually all had at least 1.5 SOG per game, and less than 10% had fewer than 1.75 SOG per game. So shooting the puck matters, which should not come as a surprise. Who can we likely rule out on that basis? McDonagh, who’s barely averaging one SOG per game and whose points have taken a big hit due to the arrival of Kevin Shattenkirk. There’s also the fact that he hit the 10+ mark just once in his career, so odds were already against him doing so again. Lindell also isn’t much above the one SOG per game mark, down sharply from last season when he totalled 11 goals and had a high – for a defenseman – 8.3% personal shooting percentage.


Trouba only hit the ten-goal mark as a rookie; and with the emergence of Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox, as well as the youth on the Ranger blueline, he’s taking on a defensive role, which will not be conducive to him getting 10+. Amazingly, Karlsson’s SOG rate, which could nearly always be counted on to be 3+ per game, is below the 1.75 rate. What’s more – he didn’t score goals at a rate of ten per 82 games in either of the past two seasons. With his deployment no better than those years and him perhaps no longer being truly elite, I’d say he’s not a great bet for 10+ either, although with Karlsson you really can never say never. Ghost’s situation is like Karlsson’s except he has less of a track record plus he plays for a coach who’s never had a rearguard best the 50 point mark….literally never! There’s also the presence of Ivan Provorov, whom Vigneault has given PP1 deployment at times this season. I think Ghost’s issues will eventually start to resolve, as I noted in my last mailbag; but him reaching ten goals this season might be unlikely given all the factors involved and his slow start.


I think the rest are more likely than not to hit the ten-goal mark. Yes, that means I believe Gustafsson will do so despite his SOG rate cratering and him looking like a shell of what we saw last season. Still though, the key with him, and unlike with Karlsson and Ghost, is there’s no one else who’s poised to step into his shoes. As such, Gustafsson likely will get enough chances to right his ship such that I’d give him a decent chance of snapping out of his funk, in which case the goals will come. The rest (Jones, Theodore, Dahlin and Chabot) all have favorable enough deployment and SOG rates, plus unsustainably low enough personal shooting percentage rates, as to make it more likely than not they still tally 10+ goals on the season. After all, in order to do so one need only average 2.5 goals a quarter; so with them each sitting at only one after the first quarter, it means they need only average three (instead of 2.5) in each subsequent quarter to still hit the ten mark, which is a very small step up and very doable given their situations.


Turning to the forwards, to get 20+ goals one needs only tally five per quarter; so those who sit at two just need one extra goal in each of the next three quarters to reach the mark. Still, that means roughly a goal per every four games, provided they all play every game. Who do I think will or won’t reach 20 despite their early deficit? Let’s look here at history again. Since 2010-11, there have been 843 instances of a forward posting 20+ goals, with just under 10% doing so despite averaging fewer than two SOG per game but a decent number who didn’t average 2.5 SOG per game. If we look at the SOG rates of the seven you named, only Hall is exceeding the 2.5 per game mark, and some are either far below the two per game mark (Perry) or below enough (Johansen, Niederreiter) as to likely disqualify them from being capable of 20+ goals even with much of the season left to play. Simply put, these guys don’t shoot enough, so it’s unlikely that we see them hit the threshold even if they get favorable deployment.


Hischier and Stepan are right at two SOG per game, but Stepan has only had 20+ twice in his career so he’s a longshot. As for Hischier, he’s averaged roughly 20 goals per 82 games during his NHL tenure; however, his ice times – both overall and on the PP – are down enough that he’s likely to fall short this season. Benn has only once not potted 20+ and is still averaging 2.5 SOG per game; but as I noted in the last Forum Buzz column, the Benn of today is a net-negative when it comes to generating offense and doesn’t find a way to factor into the scoring on the few goals which are scored while he’s on the ice. I’d put him at 50/50 for hitting 20 this season, only because he’ll keep getting favorable deployment.


That just leaves Hall. One need only take a look at his SOG rate (comfortably over three per game) and his personal shooting percentage (below 3% in the first quarter), and also confirm that his overall and PP TOI rates are unchanged from past productive seasons, to see he’s been snakebit. Lock him in for 20+.


To sum up, I think nearly half of the defensemen have a good shot to still reach 10+ goals. For forwards, only Hall seems like a lock, with Benn a maybe and Hischier having an outside chance.


Question #7 (from Alex)

I’m in a points only keeper league. I am contending this year but also looking ahead. Should I consider trading away Brent Burns for a younger defenseman that could give me similar production (Quinn Hughes, Seth Jones, Cale Makar, or someone else of that caliber)? If you think trading him would be a good idea, who might you target?


Answer: I can see why there’s a temptation to trade Burns. This is his age 34 season, and you figure in the not too distant future he’ll likely see his scoring drop. But is that really a valid concern? Burns already has had three 70+ point seasons at age 30+. Only four other defensemen in history have done that – Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Nicklas Lidstrom and Ray Bourque. But how did those four do from age 35 onward?


Coffey topped out at 40 points, Murphy had two more 52 point seasons, and Bourque had four more seasons in the 50s, with 57 being his best output. Lidstrom was the best of the bunch, managing a 70 point season at age 37 to go along with a 59 point output and two 62 point campaigns. So although as we know past history does not dictate future results, for players who – on paper – compare to Burns, we see that age 35 seemingly marked a turning point at which their scoring started to drop, in some cases quite considerably.


There’s also the reality that Hughes and Makar are going to be among the most coveted d-men in any keeper league. What’s more, even if their owners don’t know the data on past comparables for Burns, they’re going to be skeptical Burns can continue producing at this kind of pace – skeptical enough that they won’t part with blue-chippers like Makar and Hughes for Burns straight up. As for Jones, I think in a points league that would be selling Burns short.


Looking at Yahoo leagues, the guys for whom Burns has been recently traded either alone or as part of packages include some very good forwards (Claude Giroux, Leon Draisaitl, John Tavares and Mark Scheifele), but no elite defensemen other than Keith Yandle, who’s no spring chicken. Granted, these are one-year leagues; but it shows that Burns is most useful as a trade asset to teams looking for a forward in return. Trading him one for one to get a young, productive defenseman might be difficult.


My advice to you is to let all teams in your league know Burns is available, but only for younger defensemen; then you see what you get offered. Perhaps someone approaches you with a defenseman whom you think will help your team now plus longer-term than Burns. If not, you can try to put together a bigger trade, where Burns and another player from your team (perhaps a younger, very promising forward) can be moved with Burns to get that younger d-man plus an older forward.


If you can’t get a deal done, hold Burns and hope he defies father time more so than past defensemen who were big scorers in their early 30s. Also, you could try to wait and trade him during the offseason, since holding onto him for all of 2019-20 not only will help you try to win this season but also because quite often teams are more willing to make deals when there’s no actual hockey being played and they can look at full-season stats.




For those reading this now, it’s never too early to start providing me with mailbag questions, which you can do in one of two ways: (1) by emailing them to [email protected] with the words “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line, or (2) by sending them to me via a private message on the DobberHockey Forums, where my username is “rizzeedizzee”. Or if you prefer to wait, the time to get me question is right after each Poll, since the mailbag runs the following week.

When sending me your questions, remember to provide as much detail about your league/situation as possible, since as you saw above in a couple of the questions there were some omitted details which made it difficult for me to give a truly proper answer. Examples of the types of things I need to know include what type of league you’re in (i.e., limited keeper, dynasty, or one-year; roto vs H2H), does the salary cap matter, how many players are rostered (and of those, how many start at each position), what categories are scored and how are they weighted, plus other details if necessary (such as free agents available if you’re thinking of dropping a player or rosters of both teams if you’re thinking of making a trade). The key is to tell me enough for me to give you a truly proper answer, and for readers of this column to benefit from the answer/advice I provide. When in doubt, err on the side of inclusion. See you next week for Goldipucks and the Three Skaters!



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