After a bit longer than usual break due to the holidays and all the great top ten for the decade columns, it’s time again for another edition of Forum Buzz. This is a column where I peruse the DobberHockey Forums and weigh in on active, heavily debated, or otherwise relevant threads from the past month, reminding everyone how great of a resource the Forums are. Pretty much anything might be covered, other than trades and signings, which usually will get their own separate write-ups on the main site and are also covered in the next day’s Ramblings, or questions specific to salary cap issues, which is the domain of Alex MacLean’s weekly Capped column.

As a reminder, you can access the actual forum thread on which the question is based by clicking on the “Topic” for each question.

Topic #1Has William Nylander become a better own in a points-only league than Alex DeBrincat?

If this was a year ago, this question likely wouldn’t have been posed, as Nylander was struggling to get reacclimated after an extended holdout while DeBrincat was in the midst of a certified breakout. But as things stand now, the question is definitely relevant.

First and foremost, although Nylander has played longer, he’s only a year older than DeBrincat. Neither, however, has hit his 400 game “breakout threshold,” so it’s reasonable to expect both could improve in the coming years.

One key with Nylander is his enhanced production in the post-Babcock era. What’s interesting, though, is Nylander’s overall deployment hasn’t actually improved under Keefe. In fact, Nylander played 18:00+ in just under 50% (i.e., 11 of 23) of the games that Babcock coached this season before being dismissed, but in a slightly lower percentage (11 of 26) since Keefe took the helm on November 20. Digging deeper, however, there’s been a definite uptick in Nylander’s PP deployment under Keefe. Babcock was notorious for not leaning on a PP1 unit heavily, as shown by Nylander taking the ice for more than two-thirds of the team’s PP minutes in six of those 23 contests. But under Keefe it’s been 18 of 26 games and it has paid dividends, with Nylander tallying nine of his 12 PPPts on the season since Keefe took over.

For DeBrincat, his SOG rate is slightly higher this season than last, but his personal shooting percentage isn’t even half of what it was in 2018-19. And lest we think his personal shooting percentage was too high last season, it was barely above his rookie rate. So, we can view this season as the aberration, and, in turn, as likely having cost DeBrincat 10+ goals. Combine that with DeBrincat’s slight – but probably unsustainable – drop in IPP, and suddenly he should be above Nylander’s 2019-20 scoring level.

There’s also what DeBrincat did last season, and the company in which that puts him. Since 2000-01 a mere 12 players had a season, by age 21, in which they posted 75+ points with 220+ SOG, as DeBrincat did in 2018-19. Of them, seven are now age 25 or older, with five of the seven having gone on to tally 91+ points at least twice in a season, and with one of the others having four subsequent point per game seasons and the last having hit the 70-point mark four more times. Although past events don’t dictate future results, these are very encouraging comparables.

Moreover, DeBrincat did that for a 2018-19 Blackhawks team which averaged 3.23 goals per game (versus exactly 3 so far this season), while Nylander’s emergence this season is coming for a squad that’s scoring 3.57 goals per contest. If (when?) Chicago reignites as a team, a rising tide should lift DeBrincat’s boat even more, whereas it’s difficult to envision Toronto scoring any more than they are now.

In sum, for a points-only league I’m taking DeBrincat, because it strongly appears he’s unsustainably underachieving and his sophomore season put him in very elite company. Nylander is poised to be solid as well; but for all he’s done under Keefe, his overall ice time isn’t increasing as yet and thus he might ultimately max out at the 75-80-point mark, whereas DeBrincat could have 90+ point potential in him.

Topic #2In a keep five league which starts 2C, 2LW, 2RW and 4D, has 12 teams, and counts the six following skater categories G, A, +/-, SOG, Hits, Blocks, who among Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, Roman Josi, Cale Makar, and Morgan Rielly wouldn’t make the cut as a keeper?

A piece of vital missing information is whether any of Stamkos, Tavares, and Seguin would also qualify as a wing. If each one is only a center, that’s already more than you can start in a given week, unless you have daily transactions and assuming there aren’t maximums for games played. Placing that aside, this is a league where 60 players are kept, so for certain if one of these players isn’t among the 60 best in the NHL he probably can be tossed back. But probably these are all top 60 guys; and although that’s a great luxury to have, it also eliminates what could’ve been an easy (or at least easier) decision.

Regarding the d-men, Josi has turned into one of the elite rearguards this season so he’s a must keep. Rielly missed practices early in the season, so he might’ve been playing hurt even before he fractured his foot. Still, since Mike Babcock was relieved of his duties, Rielly’s production had waned and Tyson Barrie had become the team’s major source of blueline offense. But Barrie, as an impending UFA, is all but assured to be elsewhere next season, which is the time frame you’re concerned with. And last season we saw what a healthy Rielly can do as “the guy” on the Leafs’ blueline. As for Makar, he’s looking like the next great offensive d-man, so keeping him gives you production now plus well into the future.

In terms of the three forwards, what I like is each one has a good balance of goals and assists, plus fires plenty of pucks on net. Seguin is the youngest; however, he plays for least potent team and does not have the prior scoring track record of Tavares or Stamkos. But for what it’s worth, Seguin provides the most hits, although not too many, except as compared to Tavares, who’s very weak in that category as well as blocks.

Most of the replies in the forum said to cut Rielly loose, and that was even before he got hurt. Truth be told I can see where they’re coming from in that his shooting percentage for 2018-19 was nearly double his rate prior to last season, meaning he likely lucked into 5-10 more points than he “deserved” to score. Yet his luck metrics were actually quite reasonable, such that a downside for him next season probably is 60-65 points, which is still pretty terrific.

What I’d do is, once Rielly is back in the lineup package him and Tavares to try and leverage their skill and high profile as Toronto players to get a very elite winger. Yes, wing is a less deep position compared to center, but not versus defense. Plus, given your surplus of centers and defensemen keeper options, another team probably has too many wingers to want to keep, making you and that team well-suited to be trading partners. Knock on that GM’s door to see if a deal can be done. Of course, if anyone in your league is a big fan of Dallas (or just Seguin) or Tampa (or just Stamkos), you might swap them in for Tavares in order to leverage that GM’s fandom to help you get a better deal. Failing that, just offer the six players to everyone in the league and see if someone bites.

Topic #3Which of these goalies has the most to offer in the short term, and which – if different – should be best for the long haul: Mackenzie Blackwood, Elvis Merzlikins, Tristan Jarry, Pavel Francouz?

Short term it’s hard to go against Merzlikins, who’s looked superhuman and has done enough to install him as at least the 1A even once Joonas Korpisalo returns. Jarry is playing well too, but I think the Pens will try to do what they can to get Murray back into form before playoff time. Blackwood is the true #1 when healthy, but on a bad team, so I’m not sure I’d go with him. Francouz is a pure back-up.

Long term this question might be as much about contract status as talent. Each of the four is a free agent this summer, with Blackwood, Merzlikins, and Jarry all RFAs but Francouz a UFA. On top of that, the other netminders in Pittsburgh (Matt Murray) and Columbus (Joonas Korpisalo) are RFAs as well, whereas in New Jersey the current back-up (Louis Domingue) is a UFA and Cory Schneider is signed through 2021-22. Lastly, there’s the Colorado situation, where Phillip Grubauer is inked for one more season and then becomes a UFA himself.

Jarry has played well enough, and Murray subpar enough, that Jarry could be positioned for at worst a 1A/1B role next season, with a chance to steal the starting gig depending on how the two fare over the rest of the season and playoffs. Francouz is quite a story, landing in the NHL at the ripe age of 29 and playing superb, albeit in a backup role. It would be unlikely for a team to hand him its net at his age and with what should be fewer than 40 NHL games under his belt; but stranger things have happened. Merzlikins is getting a chance to strut his stuff during the duration of Korpisalo’s injury, and thus far has looked superb, perhaps superb enough to elbow Korpisalo out of the starting gig at least for the rest of this season and maybe even beyond. As for Blackwood, I covered him pretty extensively in last week’s Mailbag, where I noted that it’s his net to lose, and if he signs for north of $3M this offseason, chances are his role will be secure, as despite the Devils having a lot of money coming off the books, paying Blackwood, Schneider and a big time UFA seems unlikely.

Short term probably Blackwood is the safe pick, followed by Jarry, with both having decent upside long term as well. Merzlikins could be the best of the bunch short and long term, although he also might just implode once teams start to see him a second time. In other words, is he Jordan Binnington, or Andrew Hammond? He’s the clear risk/reward pick. As for Fancouz, given his age, chances are he’s likely not going to be more than a back-up, whether for Colorado again or another team where he signs as a UFA.

Topic #4Is it “sell high” time on Jonathan Huberdeau, or is he a hold?

Although this question is more suited for my Goldipucks column, it was a hot topic on the forums so I may as well tackle it here. One key with Huberdeau is despite being in his eighth season he’s still only 26 years old, so it’s possible we’ve yet to see his best, as he hasn’t quite reached what is generally considered peak age for forwards.

For starters, the fact that he’s on pace to increase his scoring from last season lends a lot of added credibility to him being a legit fantasy stud. After all, players have had a single superb season only to then see their totals fall back to earth (hi Eric Staal!). But two straight seasons of elite production changes the default from the player’s success being an aberration to deciding how great he can be.

So is Huberdeau the 90-95 point player he was last season, or the one who’s on pace for 110+ points for 2019-20? On the surface, Huberdeau’s ice time numbers are no better than last season’s, while his SOG rate is down half a shot per game. On the plus side, fewer shots has translated to a higher personal shooting percentage, which, therefore, might be sustainable and help offset the points that otherwise would be lost due to fewer shots being taken.

One big change is Huberdeau’s offensive zone starting percentage, which, after being 46% over each of the past two seasons, is 59.6% for 2019-20 thus far. Surely that is helping to pad his numbers; but the question is – will it will continue? What we do know is Florida installed a new coach in Joel Quennville for this season, so I’m of the mindset that Huberdeau is more likely than not to continue to receive this high of an OZ% going forward, which, in turn, bodes well for his scoring rate staying high.

There’s also the fact that Huberdeau’s IPP is slightly lower than it was last season. He’s playing with just as talented players as he did in 2018-19, so he could be looking at gains if (when?) his IPP rises back to previous levels. On the other hand, his team shooting percentage is 12.5% after not even being 9% in either of the previous two seasons. That number cannot stay so high, and when it drops it will take a toll on his production.

Lastly, there’s goals and primary assists versus secondary assists. Huberdeau’s secondary assists rate for this season is 22.2%, which is second lowest among all NHLers who have 35+ assists. So that is yet another factor legitimizing his scoring level and perhaps leaving room for potential improvement.

Looking at all the data, the elephant in the room is Huberdeau’s high team shooting percentage, which is bound to drop. But he still has room to shoot the puck more, to see his IPP rise, and to luck into more secondary assists, which, individually and collectively, would likely serve to offset much (if not all) of the lost scoring that would occur once his team shooting percentage drops. Couple this with the new coach deploying Huberdeau much more favorably, and I’d say there is legitimacy to his scoring rate having jumped from last season to this one. Can he continue to contribute at a 110+ point pace? Most likely no; however, 100+ is well within reason, making him a hold, not a sell high, from where I sit.

Topic #5Can Samuel Girard build off his strong second quarter, or will Cale Makar limit his ceiling?

This is yet another Goldipucks-like question; so inasmuch as I already tackled one, I might as well handle another (spoiler alert – I even do a third in the next topic).

After Makar stormed out of the gates and Girard had a measly seven points in his first 20 games, poolies were concerned there was only room for one Colorado rearguard to succeed offensively. Fast forward to now, however, and Girard sits above a point per every other game thanks to great play in the second quarter and in Q3 thus far. The question though is whether he’s just on a hot streak or instead could be a 45-50+ point defensemen despite the long shadow cast by Cale Makar.

One key is Girard signed a sizeable offseason deal, and it certainly wasn’t on the basis of his shutdown skills. So, while Colorado might have pictured Makar developing more slowly and Girard being the top offensive dog for a few seasons, the reality is due to what he earns Girard is going to get solid minutes and the opportunity to contribute where he does best, namely on the score sheet.

That having been said, with Girard not on PP1, he’s relegated to playing apart from the best Colorado forwards; although with the team’s depth at the forward position, their second unit is close to being on a par with what the top units of some other teams bring to the table. And despite Makar’s PP success, Girard is still finding a way to take the ice for 46% of his team’s man advantage minutes and has ten PPPts to show for it, thus making it very likely he’ll continue to be put out there on the PP.

Girard is also benefitting from sheltered starts, with an offensive zone starting percentage of 56.5%, which is pretty high for a defenseman. But it pales in comparison to Makar, who’s at 65.5%. As Makar matures and, presumably, takes on even more of a role, Girard’s OZ% might stand to increase or at worst not drop.

Girard also is very adept at factoring into scoring, with an IPP of 48.1%. That’s likely a bit too high to be sustainable; especially with it never being over 37% in his prior seasons plus his rate of secondary assists versus goals and primary assists being 46.1%. Collectively this data suggests Girard has likely lucked into a good number of points this season, and, in turn, he might be overachieving at least somewhat.

So, the real Girard probably isn’t who we saw disappoint in Q1 or on fire in Q2/Q3, but rather something in the middle, namely a roughly point per every other game defenseman. He’ll have a tough time rising above that with the shadow being cast by Makar; however, he’ll also likely not fall below that rate due to still getting solid PP time, having a very good OZ%, and playing for an offensively potent team.

Topic #6Will we ever see another big season from Vincent Trocheck, or will the toll his injury took and him being relegated to second line duties limit his production going forward?

After a patented fourth year breakout that saw him post 75 points and, in doing so, become a multicat darling, Trocheck got hurt last season and didn’t even manage a point per every other game. So far for 2019-20 his scoring is better; but even with a recent stretch of 12 points in 12 games, he’s still at only a 55-point full season scoring pace. Hence the question – was he a one season wonder?

Before looking at his metrics, let’s dig into player comparables. In his breakout season, which occurred when Trocheck was 24, he had 31 goals (13 on the PP), 75 points, and fired 287 SOG. Looking at players who, since 2000-01, met all those criteria in a single season by age 24 and, like Trocheck, were centers according to hockey-reference.com, we come up with seven other players: Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, and Mike Cammallieri. But if we look only at those who did so first at age 24, we get only Carter and Cammallieri. Although the two had many productive years, only Cammallieri ever posted more than 66 points again in a full season, with both becoming Band-Aid Boys. So as far as comparables, not the best results.

What do Trocheck’s numbers tell us? For one, although he’s still shooting the puck a lot, he’s not come close to matching his 2017-18 SOG rate either last season or this season thus far. And in that fateful 2017-18 season he was a PP1 staple, whereas since then his PP minutes have been dropping, last season by a full minute and this season by another 36 seconds.

In terms of metrics, he managed those stats in 2017-18 despite a 41% OZ% and a 7.32 team shooting percentage. Those are more in keeping with 50, or maybe 60-point scoring. There’s also the fact his IPP was 73.6% that season, and since then – including this season – hasn’t been above 57%. Yes, in a prior season he did have a 74.6% IPP and it was 63%+ in his other campaigns; but he seems to have lost his nose for scoring even though he’s playing with no better linemates than he did in 2017-18.

We know that Florida has both Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov as UFAs this summer, so a spot on PP1 might open back up. The issue is will it be Trocheck who grabs it? Probably, but who really knows for sure. Without that, he’s a longshot going to get back to 70 points and may even struggle to reach 60.

So if we look at comparable players and factor in Trocheck’s numbers for both this season and last, it seems as though he’ll have an major uphill climb ever getting back to 75 points, and maybe even 70. That being said, as was noted in the Forum thread the injury he had does take time to fully heal and he has looked much better of late, plus there’s that potential spot on PP1 next season. And Florida is a deep enough team such that even if Trocheck is stuck as a second liner at even strength and on the PP, he still could easily climb back into the 60s.

In short, I agree with the conclusion reached by Michael Clifford a couple of weeks ago, in that Trocheck is – or at least was before his hot streak – approaching buy low territory, as his owners may have soured on him enough to allow you to get him for a bargain price and hope he gets that PP1 spot and rises back above 60 points. The exception, of course, is multicat leagues, where his across the board contributions are well known and prevented him from being a buy low even when he was struggling.

Topic #7In a 12 team league (goals and assists worth one point each and forward positions don’t matter) where nine players are kept (six must be forwards, two must be defensemen and one must be a goalie), which five forwards don’t make the cut among these 11 forwards: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Tyler Seguin, Andrei Svechnikov, Nicklas Backstrom, Jakub Voracek, Jake Guentzel, Timo Meier, and Jakub Vrana?

So in this league there are 72 forwards kept and for sure more than six of your forwards would be within the top 72, hence your dilemma. When faced with a keeper decision where all the players involved are forwards (or if all were defensemen or all were goalies), I like to start the narrowing down process with what I think are the two “worst” players and decide which one would be the better keep, eliminating the other one. Then do that again, and again, and again, etc., until voila you have your six keepers.

I see the bottom two as Meier and Voracek; and although Meier is young and up and coming, this is a points-only league so his multi cat prowess is not beneficial. Voracek looks like the kind of player who’ll be in the 60-70+ range for at least a few more seasons, giving him the edge.

How then, does Voracek stack up against Vrana? Vrana is showing he seems to have the tools to be a special player. The issue is he’s only had cameos on the Caps’ PP1, and by the time he makes it there it’s not clear how great everyone else will be. Still, he’s getting more ice time by the game and capitalizing on it. He gets the edge over Voracek, as the pendulum has swung enough to favor Vrana over him.

The next comparison is Vrana against teammate Backstrom. And although Backstrom is much older he’s also had a much steadier production rate, plus inked a $9.2M per year contract to stay in DC, ensuring he’ll continue to get top line deployment. Vrana’s upside isn’t quite enough to surpass Backstrom.

Next, I’d pit Backstrom against Guentzel. And although the steadiness of Backstrom is so valuable, it is clear from what we’ve seen in the last year that Guentzel has arrived as an elite winger; plus, where the concern was that he only clicked with Crosby, we saw he had chemistry with Malkin too. Add to that him now finally being a PP1 fixture, and I think he’s the choice.

That leaves seven players, and in this case, I think the last elimination boils down to one of Guentzel, Svechnikov, and Stone, so let’s tackle them together. I think the big jump Svechnikov has made this season, coupled with his almost limitless potential at just age 19, makes him a must keep. Stone is rock solid; however, he seems to have reached a ceiling of 75-85 points plus – and this most definitely hurts him for fantasy – he plays in Vegas, where, even from what we’ve seen so far under new coach Pete DeBoer, stars don’t get nearly as much ice time as they do on other teams, especially on the PP, giving Guentzel the edge over him.

So that leaves you with Crosby, Malkin, Eichel, Seguin, Svechnikov and Guentzel. Voila – the beauty of the process of elimination. I recommend doing keeper choices like this when it’s a decision between players at the same position, as it I think the end result is better than trying to pick the best right from the start.

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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.