In this week's Eastern Edge, we take a look at a few players in the Eastern Conference who have had incredibly disappointing seasons – Jeff Skinner, Sergei Bobrovsky and P.K. Subban. As always, shoot me a message on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza if there's ever a topic you want me to cover in one of these articles.
Jeff Skinner put up 40 goals last year. In the table below, you'll see that Skinner found himself among elite company as one of 13 players who managed to score 40 or more last year.
With just 11 goals through 46 games this season, Skinner no longer finds himself in the conversation when we discuss the league's top goal scorers. Now there seem to be two schools of thought when looking at Skinner from a fantasy hockey perspective. One side believes that his struggles are related to the eight year, $72-million-dollar contract he signed with the Sabres during the summer of 2019. They think he's either cracking under the pressure of a big contract or no longer motivated to perform now that he's made his money. Then there's another group that believes Skinner's reduced output is a product of the unfavourable deployment he's seeing under head coach Ralph Krueger – I happen to be part of that group. As you can see from the quarterly breakdown of his production this year, Skinner's role is reducing as the season progresses.
You have to remember that Skinner has been scoring goals throughout his career. He tallied 37 goals during the 2016-2017 campaign, 33 in 2013-2014 and 31 in 2010-2011 (his rookie season). He's not a one-hit wonder and I truly believe he has the talent to bounce back from his current struggles. It's worth mentioning that Skinner played most of his minutes with Jack Eichel last year, but the two have been separated for the majority of this season. I really don't understand the logic there. I mean, it makes sense that you'd want to spread out the team's scoring so you can still win games when your top line is getting shut down. However, separating Skinner from Eichel obviously hasn't resulted in two scoring lines, so why not reunite them and create one line that's really hard to contain – like Edmonton with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. If Buffalo is going to have any success, they need production from Skinner, so why not boost his confidence by letting him play with Eichel and put up some points?
Here's one final note on Skinner with regard to his power-play production. He has just three points with the man advantage through 46 games, after putting up 16 in 82 contests last year. At first, this reduced output was partially explained by the emergence of Victor Olofsson, who seems to have taken over Skinner's role as the team's trigger man on the PP. However, Olofsson has been out of the lineup during the last month and Skinner hasn't been given much of a power-play role during Olofsson's absence – so I'd attribute his recent struggles to a lack of deployment.
Bobrovsky was drafted with the 22nd overall pick in the average Yahoo fantasy hockey league. He was selected ahead of a number of elite forwards, including Aleksander Barkov, Jack Eichel, Evgeni Malkin and Sebastian Aho. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop were the only goalies consistently selected ahead of him. Considering Bob's high draft position, it's safe to say that expectations were high for him this season. To say he's fallen short of those expectations would be an understatement as Bobrovsky has a .898 save percentage and 3.27 GAA through 43 games. His underwhelming stats are a product of his own struggles, as well as the team's defensive shortcomings. Bobrovsky left behind a strong defensive system in Columbus for a Panthers team that prioritizes offense. Let's try to use advanced stats to better describe the difference in mindset between the Blue Jackets and Panthers. Expected goals against (xGA) is a stat that represents how many goals a team is expected to allow, based on the quality of shots they are giving up. It considers that a shot from the slot is more likely to go in than a shot from the point. So a team with a high xGA, is giving up more quality chances than a team with a lower xGA. This season, the Panthers sit 23rd in the league with an xGA of 2.95. In stark contrast, the Blue Jackets have a league-leading xGA of 2.38 (via Evolving Hockey). This isn't a recent trend either, as the Blue Jackets have had a lower xGA than the Panthers over the past couple of years. It's important to mention that while Floria has a high xGA, Bobrovsky has allowed even more goals than you'd expect based on the quality of shots he's facing – indicating that he's also been underperforming. At this point, I'm sure most Bobrovsky owners are fed up with his lackluster performance. If you can acquire Bobrovsky in your fantasy league for below market value, I'd definitely recommend it. If we break down his career performance by month (see table below), you'll see that he has historically been great during March, when most of us have our fantasy hockey playoffs. (Via Hockey Reference).
Hey friends, this is a safe space, right? I have a deep secret to share and I need you to promise that you won't judge me for it. Going into this season, I thought P.K. Subban would be a top fantasy hockey defenseman. Heck, I thought the Devils were going to be a playoff team with a healthy Hall, rejuvenated Schneider and P.K. on the PP. Okay, the laughter was unnecessary – I'm a fool, I know. But it made so much sense! Subban was leaving behind a star-studded blueline in Nashville and could finally be 'the guy' again in New Jersey, like he was in Montreal. Subban's most productive years came as a Hab, when he was seeing 70 to 80 percent of the team's total power-play time, consistently putting up over 20 points with the man advantage during his last four seasons with the Canadiens. Subban has just 12 points through 53 games with the Devils this season. He's seen just 41.5-percent of the team's total time with the man advantage and has just two power-play points. Sami Vatanen has been deployed as New Jersey's top PP defenseman, but he hasn't exactly run away with the role as he's failed to register a single power-play point in his last ten games. A lot of people are writing off Subban as a player who's past his prime after being slowed down by a number of injuries throughout his career. Maybe I'm foolishly optimistic, but I still think he'll bounce back with 40 to 50 points next year.