Ramblings: Direction of the Devils, Athanasiou’s struggles, Dumba’s struggles, Roy, Pacioretty, Stephenson and more (Dec 16)

***

Back from vacation, where I spent a week in Mexico for my sister’s wedding. I even got to meet a DobberHockey reader, so shoutout to Angelo! It was my first time out of the country, and first time on a plane, since my stem cell transplant. Happy to report that I was healthy and strong throughout. All good in the hood!

*

First, some take-backsies. And kind of a backhanded self-compliment. Just a day after I predicted that John Hynes would be fired, he was actually fired (I got the news in Mexico, so I was able to pretend to be a genius in front of Angelo). But while that part actually came true, the scoring goals and winning games part hasn’t. A 1-4-1 record so far, which is probably why Taylor Hall is on the trading block. Firing Coach Hynes was a last gasp effort to pull a St. Louis Blues and turn things around. Had they won the ensuing four games I think Hall would not be on the block. To be fair though, the Blues started their turnaround nearly two months after their firing.

In the six games since the firing, Hall has four points in four games and two healthy scratches (I think he gets traded today, so that means I’m doing the trade breakdown – watch for it!). Palmieri has four points in six games and nobody else has more than three. Of greatest concern is PK Subban going pointless in six games and not seeing a big adjustment in PP time. Nikita Gusev’s ice time has declined bit by bit (12 minutes last game when they didn’t have Hall?), Will Butcher is pointless in six, and Jack Hughes has just an assist in five games and suffered a hand injury that cost him a game. Nine times out of 10 (it seems), you see a team get hot in the short term after a firing, but this is clearly the exception. And that’s a concern.

I had this team rated a strong buy, for most of the key players. But Hall getting traded, in conjunction with the poor response to the coaching change, and this obviously needs to be dialed back to a ‘hold’. Nobody is going to give you squat for your Devils, and if you don’t have any it’s best not to pursue them. I think eventually a new coach gets the offense going, but the offense is much more limited without Hall. After Hall, Palmieri leads the way and he’s on pace for just 51 points. In fact, just three players not named Hall are on pace for more than 38 points right now (Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman). Those are 90s-era expansion team stats, and even without Hall they will do better.

Hughes is seeing ‘kid gloves’ treatment now. Sub-14 minutes in each of his last two games. And with the hand injury obviously a factor, he’s been taking minimal faceoffs lately as well. What happens with Hughes and the Devils in the foreseeable future is not very promising. I know you were hoping to read differently, but I can’t put enough makeup on this pig to make it pretty. Best we can hope for is for some of these guys to snap out of it by the All-Star break.

*

Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to pigs or to the porcine-rights movement. All porcine are pretty in their own way, and I did not mean to pig-shame.

*

I’m starting to slowly climb on board the Matt Roy train. The 24-year-old rookie defenseman for the Kings now has five points in his last five games and his ice time has been hovering around 20 minutes per contest over the last 10. Before that, his ice time was closer to 15 minutes per game. He’s still not getting the PP time, but since being paired with Ben Hutton things have really started to roll for him. Hutton has become a bit of a defensive revelation this season, and it’s allowed Roy to get freed up. He’s starting to look to me like a Brady Skjei in terms of fantasy potential, with some promising years in one role, some weaker years in a different role, and some untapped upside as well. You can actually see their numbers against each other via this link.

Detroit’s Filip Hronek also has five points in his last five games, with his assist Sunday. And the other Filip on the team, Filip Zadina, has seven points in his last seven games. I had thought the Wings were rushing him, but he’s settling in just fine albeit in a power-play-heavy role. Four of Zadina’s seven points have come on the power play and I’m thinking he should be moved to the top unit.

The league’s worst plus/minus guy went into Sunday’s game at minus-33. Andreas Athanasiou proceeded to tack on another minus-2 to his total. Don’t have a calculator? He’s at minus-35 now. I don’t know about you, but I’m dying to see a minus-100 player.

So yes, that means I’ll be tracking AA on this every week right here.

Plus/minus may not mean anything, but from a fantasy standpoint it should. Teams and coaches still see this stuff. And if a plus/minus continues to be horrible he could Martin Frk his way right out of the league. It doesn’t matter if it’s a team stat when things are this bad – if a coach sees the opposition constantly scoring when you’re on the ice, you’re not going to play as much. That’s the long and the short of it. From a fancy stats point of you he hasn’t been that great either, though not as horrible as the plus/minus. He faces tougher competition – he’s not sheltered – and from a relative possession standpoint he’s not the ‘worst’ forward on the team (Adam Erne, Brendan Perlini, Taro Hirose and Luke Glendening are the ones who are worse). I went to to type up an email to the AA owner in my league the other day to make yet another offer to acquire him…but then I saw that minus-33 and discarded the email. Too risky. Athanasiou’s contract is up after this year and if he goes into the summer after a 40-point season with a minus-50, will he even be qualified? For his career he is minus-60 in 278 games, for an average of minus-18 per 82-game season.

*

Eric Comrie got his second start of the season for Detroit and it was better…but still bad. He has a 0.864 SV% in three games with the Wings and while that looks bad, it’s not when compared to Detroit goalies overall. Jonathan Bernier has the ‘best’ SV% at 0.897. So Comrie giving up four goals on Sunday is just par for the course on this team. That being said, the 24-year-old has a bit of leash but it’s not endless. He needs to get a win at some point, to show that he belongs in the NHL. His career SV% in eight games is 0.862 with just one career Quality Start.

*

Kudos to Eric Staal for getting his 1000th career NHL point in 1208 career games. He’s 35 and likely going to reach 60 points this year, which is a small bounce-back from last season’s 53. I predict another 60 next year before he slips to 50 at the age of 37 and then things really drop off until he retires. Hall of Famer? I figure he ends his career at around 1150 points and 465 goals, one Gold Medal, one Stanley Cup and one Second All-Star Team.

I don’t think there’s any question about Patrick Kane making the Hall of Fame, and he’s having another ridiculous season. With the hatty on Sunday he has 31 points in his last 23 games.

Still only on pace for 31 points, Erik Gustafsson has assists in back-to-back games. He has eight points in his last 16 games with three of those on the power play. He’s still logging an obscene amount of PP time so Colliton is pushing hard to help him out of his funk. The big thing is his IPP, which sits at 32.4% right now after being 50.4% last year. His teammates on the ice are scoring without his help, whereas last year he was making it happen. This year he’s getting points by accident (60% secondary assists). As I’ve said before I’m considering this year his sophomore slump season. It’s just unfortunate that it’s happening in a UFA contract year.

After getting six points in four games, Kirby Dach has gone pointless in 13 and is minus-8 in that span.

Wild rookie Kaapo Kahkonen suffered his first NHL loss in the game, giving up four goals on 26 shots. After starting his career with three straight Quality Starts, he has now posted back-to-back Really Bad Starts.

Matt Dumba celebrated the anniversary of last year’s season-ending injury by still not scoring. It’s now been a month since his last goal. He was a minus-3 on Sunday as well. I usually grant players who return from big injuries like that about 20 games. After that, I generally see them get back to their old selves. But Dumba is at 34 games and counting. I am starting to think this season is a write-off and he needs a good, hard-working offseason to come back strong next year. The talent is there, the contract is there, and the Golden Boy status is there. So in keeper leagues (full dynasty, that is), I’m inquiring, acquiring, and stashing. But I hold very little hope for him even in the second half.

*

Whoa. With four points on Sunday, Max Pacioretty is up to 34 in 36 games. He was well into March last year before notching Point 34. Back in April I had floated the idea of a massive comeback season for Pacioretty to the tune of 80 points. Even I thought I was crazy (and I think some commenters did too). But his chemistry with Mark Stone in the playoffs had me wondering if this could be another Rantanen-MacKinnon line. Oddly enough, Pacioretty is the one pulling the weight so far though, as Stone sits four points behind him (two points on Sunday).

Who played with the two Vegas stars? If you guessed Chandler Stephenson, you’d be correct. Stephenson is on a three-game points streak now and is going to stay on that line for the foreseeable future. It allows Paul Stastny to move to the third line and give Vegas another element of attack as he pairs with Alex Tuch and the one-dimensional sniper Valentin Zykov.

*

With three points on Sunday, Blake Wheeler has 14 points in his last 10 games. He started the year with 12 in 23 and needless to say fantasy owners were concerned. The big difference? Ironically it was removing him from Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele. Well, I find it hard to believe that Scheifele is the reason, but rather Laine. Wheeler has to change his game a lot with Laine on the ice with him. Laine is a pure shooter. Passing is not his friend. Last year it was either Kyle Connor or Nik Ehlers in that spot and Wheeler flourished. Now Wheeler is flourishing again because, in my opinion, he no longer has Laine there. Now he’s playing with Ehlers and Jack Roslovic. Between that and the sluggish power play, Wheeler had a rough start but it’s all behind him now.

Neal Pionk has eight points in his last nine games. Take that Ranger-fan-Pionk-haters.

*

In the Fantasy Guide I had opined that Casey Mittelstadt needed to be in the minors for at least the first half of the season. I then came on here and ate some crow, admitted I was wrong after he started the year with seven points in 10 games. But 21 games later he’s only added two points and now the Sabres have, indeed, sent him to Rochester. I think he needs a good 20 games down there – at least until he starts posting strong numbers and regaining confidence.

*

Mathieu Perreault injury, Joel Farabee ejection:

*

See you next Monday