Dustin Byfuglien looks like he is heading to mutual contract termination with the Jets, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli. If that’s the route this goes, then the Jets would free up cap space this year and next, and Byfuglien would be free to re-sign wherever he wants.

I’ll leave the speculating as to what’s going on in the background to others. This is for the fantasy impact of the decision.

First, it means Neal Pionk’s role is almost assured for the balance of the season. Were Byfuglien to return in March, that could have thrown Pionk’s status into the air. With Byfuglien gone, barring the PP completely tanking, Pionk’s role on the team should stay pretty consistent.

Secondly, there’s a chance an elite fantasy defenceman gets his pick of where to play this year. Keep in mind, we still don’t know when (or even if) Byfuglien is returning. He could be back in a month, or sit out the rest of the year, or just retire. I think it’s worth speculating on the waiver wire, but not at the expense of a useful player. This is more for roto leaguers needing a home run or a first-place team employing a pre-emptive pickup, not a seventh-place team in a race to make H2H playoffs.

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Kieffer Bellows was recalled by the Islanders. I get that a lot of people may be excited that a first-round pick is finally getting to the NHL, but he has 43 points in 118 AHL games and is going to a team that is offence-adverse. I would really, really hesitate to add him in anything shallower than 15-teamers.

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Nico Hischier was not at Devils practice on Monday and Jack Hughes was in his spot on the top line. Whether Hischier plays Tuesday night is TBD.

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Aleksander Barkov was out of the lineup for Florida on Monday night but it’s not expected to be an extended absence. They do have a game Tuesday night in Columbus so he might miss that one as well.  

Frederik Andersen left Toronto’s game on Monday after taking a couple bumps in the first period and did not return. They’re calling it an upper-body injury for now, and Keefe said after the game that concussion protocol tests were fine, whatever that's worth. 

Four third-period goals from the Panthers lifted them from a 3-1 deficit to a 5-3 win over Toronto. The kicker? Mark Pysyk had a hat trick. Not a typo: the guy with 17 career goals in 398 games – a pace that works out to roughly three goals a season – scored three goals last night against Toronto. Granted, only one was with Andersen in net, but it’s still a hat trick.

With Barkov out, Vincent Trocheck moved to the top line while Noel Acciari centred the second line with Brett Connolly and Jayce Hawryluk.

Auston Matthews scored in the loss, giving him 37 goals on the year, or tying last season’s output in 15 fewer games.

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After going five straight games without a power-play tally, Joe Pavelski scored two PP goals less than 20 seconds apart in the first period of Dallas’s game Monday night in New York against the Rangers. The Ranger scored three PP goals of their own, but Dallas made headway at even strength and took a 5-3 win.

One of the even-strength goals for Dallas came off the stick of Stephen Johns, his first goal in nearly two years (February 16, 2018 vs. STL). He also assisted on Corey Perry’s third-period goal, giving Johns his first multi-point game of his career. It’s been a long road back for the big blue liner, but it looks as though he’s really back. What a wonderful story. (He’s still not playing a lot of minutes, so beware of grabbing him off the wire for now.)

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Brian Elliott managed a yawner of a shutout, stopping 16 shots from Detroit in a 3-0 Philly win. Red Wings forwards managed 11 total shots, and Darren Helm had six of them. This team is giving off serious 2016-17 Avalanche vibes.  

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Over the weekend, Robert Thomas finally made a move back to the top-6 in St. Louis. It’s easy to forget that he actually spent some time there post-Tarasenko injury, but he has been spending most of his time of late on the third line with names like Bozak, Steen, and McEachern. Saturday night in Winnipeg, though, he started on a line with Bozak again, but Jaden Schwartz was on the other wing. Late in the game, Bozak was bumped for Brayden Schenn. It was also the third game in a row that Thomas managed at least 16 minutes of ice time. It certainly seems as if he’s taking on a new role, so it’s probably worth digging into how good he actually is.

Before doing that, however, I am reiterating that this has already happened for Thomas. Back in mid-November, he was on a line with Schwartz and Schenn for a handful of games, and he was playing around 17 minutes a night in those games. In other words, the ice time and deployment that Thomas is currently enjoying was something already given to him earlier in the year, and then lost as he was pushed back down the lineup. Just keep that in mind before running to the waiver wire to drop a proven commodity.

Thomas had a solid rookie season last year, posting 33 points in 70 games, and was obviously instrumental in the Cup run (remember whose fancy hands led to Patrick Maroon’s series-winning overtime goal in the second round). He’ll undoubtedly be improving on last year’s total, with 30 points in just 48 games so far. Peripherals are a significant concern here, as even since the start January he has just 16 shots in 12 games, playing 15:23 a night. He doesn’t hit, he doesn’t block shots, he doesn’t rack PIMs, and if he’s playing with Brayden Schenn, he’ll probably stop taking faceoffs. This isn’t a situation where a player getting 2-3 extra minutes a night will be a significant bump for peripherals; it doesn’t really matter if he has 17 hits this year instead of 13.

For a few underlying stats, let’s look at Thomas last year. Here is how he compared to a guy whose profile I think is comparable, at least for now, by things like shot assists (passes leading to shots), zone entries, and zone exits (from CJ Turtoro’s viz):

 

 

Obviously, Thomas’s 2018-19 doesn’t quite measure up to Nick Schmaltz’s, but we wouldn’t expect a rookie to measure up to him anyway. The fact that he’s in the 70th percentile of so many key puck-moving metrics as a rookie, though, is a very good sign.

The data in that viz comes from Corey Sznajder (Patreon here), and he’s the person largely responsible for league-wide tracking stats like this. He literally tracks every game, so it’s very time intensive. As such, the data for 2019-20 isn’t quite there yet; many players in the sample are somewhere around 100-200 minutes for this season. In that sense, we don’t have a complete picture this year, but we have to work with what we have.

In the available data set, Thomas currently sits at 12.9 zone entries with control per 60 minutes. Here are the forwards in the sample with at least 100 minutes played, and fit somewhere between 12.2 – 13.0 entries with control per 60 minutes:

 

 

I won’t keep adding visuals and charts, but if we add zone exits and entry numbers with possession (including those with passes), in this small sample, the total number is higher than that from guys like Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Phil Kessel, and Nicklas Backstrom. Now, those guys have some elite skills like shooting and skating, and I’m not sure Thomas has those attributes yet. That his playmaking abilities hold up well so far this year after a strong showing last year, though, is a very good sign.

Projecting Thomas over the next three, four, or five years is a bit tough. He certainly has the playmaking abilities and the hands to be a great distributor, but is that all he ends up being? What I mean is, does he end up as Nick Schmaltz – someone who can put up 40 assists but may not threaten 20 goals – or does he end up as Brayden Point, and prove capable of 30-goal, point-per-game seasons? To end up the latter, we need a big shot volume uptick, and he hasn’t shown that ability to any significant degree yet. It’s worth remembering, however, that Thomas doesn’t even have 120 regular season games to his name. He hasn’t rounded into the player he will be just yet.

There’s a lot to be excited about here for Blues fans but my concern for fantasy hockey owners is they become enamoured with the skills (which are very real) while ignoring the peripheral pitfalls, which are also very real. Just something fantasy owners need to be aware of should they be looking to acquire him in dynasty leagues.

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Continuing with the data from Sznajder, here are the top-20 players when adding zone entries and zone exits per 60 together (with possession) so far this year (minimum 100 minutes played):

 

 

Most of those names make sense. We see Kane, and Point, and McDavid, and Pettersson, and Draisaitl, and Kucherov and on and on it goes. We do have a few surprising names there, however. Let’s look into those.

 

Nikolaj Ehlers

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to Ehlers’ career. His micro-stats have been elite basically since he stepped into the league. He’s on pace for his third 60-point season in four years (he was hurt last year) and has done so playing 16-17 minutes a night with little power-play exposure.

What gives me hope here is Jakub Vrana eventually being moved to the top PP unit in Washington. If that can happen, surely Ehlers can supplant someone on the top PP unit in Winnipeg, right? Right?! (He won’t.)

 

Troy Terry

It’s pretty crazy to think of a guy with 10 points in 37 games having a good season, but Terry is doing a good job of setting his teammates up for success. The problem is that he’s only playing 14 minutes a night and he’s playing less at 5-on-5 than Sam Steel and Max Jones. Speaking of those two, aside from Ryan Getzlaf, Terry’s two most-common forward line mates are Steel and Jones. When Terry is on the ice with Steel, the team is shooting 4.4 percent, and when he’s on the ice with Jones, the team is shooting 6.3 percent. In fact, league-wide among 323 forwards with at least 400 minutes at 5-on-5, Terry is in the bottom-20 in on-ice shooting percentage. While that is certainly low, Anaheim’s inability to finish pervades the entire lineup and that’s suppressing Terry’s production as much as his ice time is.

Then we get to the chicken-egg argument: leaving bad luck aside for a minute, is Terry’s ability to create overstated and that’s why on-ice shooting percentages are suppressed, or is Anaheim so bad at scoring that Terry’s apparently real playmaking abilities are being wasted? We don’t have nearly enough of a sample to say definitively either way, but the fact that Anaheim may not have a player reach 25 goals this year should speak volumes.

Like Thomas, there are a lot of peripheral concerns here but the playmaking abilities – long lauded as Terry’s strength – appear to be real (he showed well in a very small sample last year as well).

 

Frank Vatrano

Just don’t forget who told you to draft him before the season started.

In all seriousness, with contract uncertainty for both Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, there could be a bigger role in store for Vatrano next year. Just something to keep in mind for September’s drafts, or those looking to buy relatively cheap in dynasty leagues.