Welcome back to Forum Buzz, where I peruse the DobberHockey Forums and weigh in on very 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 #1 – What does the rest of 2019-20 (and the next few seasons) have in store for Filip Hronek and Tony DeAngelo?

Looking first at Hronek, after posting 23 points in 41 first-half games, he slowed in the third quarter. But his SOG rate has held steady, and his PP Time per game and overall TOI both climbed, to roughly 3:00 on the PP and, before leaving Sunday's game early, to above 25:00 overall. Detroit clearly is looking to mold Hronek into a #1, all situations defenseman, as he takes the ice more than half the time both on the PP and the PK. Also, before Sunday his per game ice time average was not only within the top 20 for all NHL defensemen but among those who average more time than him none are younger.

Sounds wonderful, right? On the one hand, ice time is indeed great for fantasy purposes, as among those ahead of him in per game average are points machines like Roman Josi, Kris Letang, John Carlson, and Alex Pietrangelo. But ahead of him, there are also the likes of Drew Doughty, Ivan Provorov and Mark Giordano, who aren't scoring in droves. What it boils down to is playing lots of minutes is indeed great if either the player is super talented or his team is high scoring. Hronek might turn out to be a very skilled rearguard; but as pointed out by Dobber in a recent Ramblings, Detroit as a team looks to be trying to mold itself into a defense-first squad and still struggles to score in general, which could put, at most, a point per every other game ceiling on Hronek's production for the rest of 2019-20, assuming he's not out for a while. For the next couple of seasons, I'd bank on Hronek to score 40-45 points per campaign, with the exact total depending on his growth as a player and how much Detroit focuses on defense. Look no further than Ryan Pulock, on the defensively-focused Isles, for a likely comparison.

Turning to DeAngelo, no one will mistake him for Hronek in terms of the style he plays or the way he's deployed by his team. In DeAngelo's case, he barely plays 19 minutes a game; however, he starts 55.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone (versus Hronek at 40.7%), which is quite high for a d-man. Speaking of high numbers, his IPP is a staggering 58.9%, which, although not sustainable, shows that DeAngelo is a points magnet. There's also the fact the Rangers have another young, offensively talented d-man in Adam Fox. And although DeAngelo is a former first-round pick, I'd argue Fox would be the one whom New York probably sees as its offensive rearguard of the future.

DeAngelo's too high IPP should result in him seeing slightly lower scoring totals to finish 2019-20. In terms of what to expect in future seasons, we'll learn a lot once he signs his RFA deal. My guess is New York will want to keep DeAngelo around for a couple of seasons while Fox grows into the role of chief rearguard point-getter; so as a result, DeAngelo should still have a good chance at hitting 50+ points in the next season or two, after which Fox will push DeAngelo down the depth chart or, or more likely, DeAngelo ends up elsewhere, in which case he could get 60+ points, becoming a slightly lower scoring but likewise one-dimensional Torey Krug or Tyson Barrie type.

Topic #2 – In a 12 team, H2H keep 25 league (skater categories: Points, +/-, PIM) could the following team still benefit from more rebuilding or is it ready to contend?

C: Anthony Cirelli, Jared McCann, Brayden Point, Tyler Seguin, Cody Glass
LW: Kevin Fiala, Conor Garland, J.T. Miller, Jeff Skinner
RW: Joel Farabee, Martin Necas, Sam Reinhart, Robert Thomas
D: Rasmus Dahlin, Adam Fox, Ryan Graves, Erik Karlsson (to be traded), Rasmus Sandin, Jaccob Slavin
G: Elvis Merzlikins, Ilya Samsonov, Antti Raanta
BENCH: Morgan Frost, Jordan Kyrou, Troy Terry, Jusso Valimaki
Minors: Jason Robertson, Evan Bouchard, Ty Smith

I think this team is on the cusp of contending but needs help in net and at RW. Knowing what the deal for EK is would be helpful since perhaps that will address these weak spots. As for which players to maybe trade, Raanta and Seguin come to mind, except for the fact that both are having down years, so the return they'd fetch wouldn't justify parting with them. Instead, I think it'd be worthwhile to see how they do next season, as well as how this team does as a whole, and then reassess.

One guy the team probably should at least dangle out there is Cirelli. Yes, he seemed to be producing well no matter who he plays with and is only 22 years old; however, I don't think he has the chops to be a big-time scorer. Or to put it another way, how much did/do poolies who own Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat regret not selling high on them when they had eye-opening seasons ala Cirelli in 2019-20? What I'm getting at is Tampa has so much depth that it will take a lot for a player like Cirelli to truly become a big-time scorer. As such, he's someone I'd look to deal.

As crazy as it sounds, as part of a Cirelli deal or in a separate deal the team might want to consider trading some youth, as it's pretty well-stocked for the future. Yes, it is risky to give up on a young player in a league where 300 players are kept each season; however, you have to give to get, and I believe even after the EK deal the team will need another prime time player, which should be obtainable via trading a top young prospect on his own or perhaps coupled with Cirelli.

In sum, I think this team could be well-equipped to contend in 2021-22 if it makes the right deals now, as well as during next season (e.g., Seguin and/or Raanta) and if its young players round into form as would be expected.

 

Topic #3 – In a 16 team, keep 10 weekly H2H league with an 81.5M Salary Cap, and the following categories – Skaters: G (Forwards – 6pts, Defensemen – 8), A (Forwards – 5pts, Defensemen – 6), +/- (1pt), GWG (2pts), ShootoutG (1pt), ShootoutGWG (1pt); Goalies: W (12pts), GA (-1pt), SA (0.25pt), SHO (8pts), who are the ten keepers on this squad (2020-21 salaries – if known – are shown):
C (start 3): Claude Giroux 8,275M, Christian Dvorak 4,45M, Elias Lindholm 4,85M
LW (start 3): Brad Marchand 6,125M, Conor Garland 0,775M, Kevin Fiala 3M
RW (start 3): Timo Meier 6M, Cam Atkinson 5,875M, Phil Kessel 8M
D (start 4): Erik Gustafsson TBD, Roman Josi 9,059M, Darnell Nurse 5,6M, Rasmus Sandin 0,894M
G (start 1):Ben Bishop 4,916M
Bench: Kevin. Labanc TBD, Josh Bailey 5M, Ilya Samsonov 0,925M, Igor Shesterkin 0,925M, Brandon Montour TBD
IR: William Karlsson 5,9M, Barrett Hayton 0,894M

Focusing first on the categories, goals are worth slightly more than assists, but then there's also the added points for GWGs and goals scored in the shootout, and for +/-. So when you drill down, snipers are good to have – good enough that a guy like Evgeni Dadonov, is worth nearly as much as Teuvo Teravainen, who has 14 more points than Dadonov but 12 fewer goals.

In cases like this, I like to start by choosing one player at each position to keep, and one to not keep, then go from there. The first pass keeps at each position, to me, are Lindholm (rock-solid value), Marchand (a huge bargain), Meier (subpar 2019-20 but his high volume shooting should lead to him rebounding and scoring lots of all-important goals), Josi (yes his salary skyrockets next season but we're seeing he's now a truly elite d-man worth keeping even at that price), and Bishop (someday he'll start to slow, but at this price and given how he's still playing he's a definite keep), and the first pass cuts are Dvorak (not cheap enough to wait on), Kessel (looking old and overpaid in the desert), and Nurse (his new contract is too much for him to be kept, especially since Oscar Klefbom looks to be the true top dog in Edmonton now). Notice I didn't list a LW – more on that below. As for a goalie drop, that's where it gets tricky it's very tempting to keep both Samsonov and Shesterkin. Yes, that would allow the team to only keep seven skaters; but I think the team should carry these two youngsters plus Bishop until Bishop either slows or one of the two makes him truly expendable.

So now that's seven keepers already, assuming all three goalies are kept. Garland is a great bargain, so I believe he makes the cut, as does Fiala who's quickly morphing into a top tier talent. If Gustafsson's salary isn't too high I think he's a keeper too, as he's starting to show signs of life and should revert to – or close to – his rookie numbers. But if his deal is too high there's Sandin, who could be the Jake Gardiner to Toronto's Morgan Rielly. That makes ten keepers. Other options include Labanc, who gambled on himself and it didn't go well, but whose ice time and SOG volumes are both up for the third quarter and his subpar play should keep his cap hit reasonable. There's also Giroux, as perhaps he has yet another rebound left in him, and Bailey, who's unspectacular but solid and not overpaid.

Topic #4 – In a 12 team, keep 10 H2H league with the following categories (G, A, PPP, SOG, Hits, W, GAA, SV%, SO) should a team with the following roster consider starting at least a soft rebuild? If so, what are the best players to look to trade?C: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Claude Giroux, Vincent Trocheck, Kevin Hayes
LW: Alex Ovechkin, Nicolaj Ehlers, Mike Hoffman, Filip Zadina, Jared McCann
RW: Kevin Labanc, Nikita Gusev, Andreas Athanasiou
D: Kris Letang, Torey Krug, Filip Hronek, Darnell Nurse, Rasmus Sandin
G: Martin Jones, Petr Mrazek, Aaron Dell, Tristan Jarry

Much like the team two threads above, the weaknesses here lie in net and at RW. Also, a lot of the top-end talent is on the wrong side of 30, making them vulnerable to a drop off in production at any time. Moreover, the "sweet spot" players on the roster are too valuable for the here and now and the future to trade in order to solve these problems without at the same time creating voids in the roster. So long story short, I think this is indeed a team which would benefit by embarking on a rebuild.

The question is how deep should the rebuild be? In other words, can the team be rebuilt in time to allow for guys like Ovi, Crosby and Letang to still be productive; or should it be blown up, with the goal of winning further down the line?
As a first step, let's decide which players would rank within the top 120 overall, as those would be ones you'd either keep or trade-in a 12 team, keep 10 league. For sure Crosby, Kuznetsov, Giroux, Trocheck, Ovi, Letang, and Krug. I'd also argue that Ehlers, Hoffman, and Hronek, although perhaps not top 120 material, are likely good enough to be able to trade or, if needed, to retain.

The ideal player to trade would be Giroux; however, his down year will make it difficult to get full value. Even still, it can't hurt to dangle him. Notwithstanding what I said about him in my Goldipucks column last week, Letang could be someone you consider dealing. But he's also a tough guy to move since his injuries have burned so many people.
Given these issues, someone I'd look to move is Kuznetsov, as after Backstrom re-signed I think Kuz will have a tough time fulfilling his true potential, yet for many he's still someone they think could explode. You could also trade Krug, as it's difficult to envision him getting much better than he is. Plus, if he ends up not re-upping with Boston, his value could drop considerably.

Between those four players, this team should be able to cobble together at least two deals either to get young players with more years of upside, or multiple retainable players.

Topic #5 – Does Jakub Vrana's breakout season put him in the same class as Patrik Laine?

In the forum thread, it was a clean sweep among those saying they prefer Laine, and I can understand why. After all, Laine had 134 points (80 goals) as a teen. In the history of the NHL, only four others had at least 125 points and at least 75 goals as teenagers, with two being Dale Hawerchuk and Sidney Crosby, who of course went on to great things. But the other two – who, like Laine, were wingers – were Brian Bellows and Jimmy Carson, who both didn't live up to early hype. And with Laine having a down year in 2018-19 and playing better, but not superb, in 2019-20, could he be at risk of having been a flame that burned bright early but then much lighter as time passed?

If we look instead at the 110 goals Laine scored in his first three seasons, since 1990-91 only seven other players scored at least that many in their first three campaigns and are now at least 25 years old, with the seven being Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Teemu Selanne, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, and Paul Kariya. In other words, seven of the best of the best. So perhaps these comparables should carry more weight given they're based on three seasons worth of totals for Laine, versus just two?

Looking at Laine's 2019-20, he's flipped the script, going from someone who'd scored 22 more goals than assists over his career to tallying more assists. Why? In part it's a lower than normal shooting percentage; however, it's also likely a function of playing for the first time with two talented players (i.e., Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele), who both are goal scorers in their own right. Could being on this line be holding Laine back? Perhaps; but it also could be making him into a more complete player, which is important since most of those seven superstars 110+ goal-scoring superstars didn't even up being perpetual "Cy Young" type producers – that is, superstars score goals but also dish out assists. This season might be one where Laine transitions into being a major producer in both areas.

In terms of Vrana, he's on pace to score over 30 goals despite not playing even 15:00 per game. And going back to 1990-91, only three players met both criteria, with only one (Sergei Berezin) doing so while he was younger than 30, and even in his case, he was 27 at the time. So Vrana, at age 23, is essentially in uncharted territory. One key with Vrana is each quarter of 2019-20 his ice time – both at even strength and on the PP – have risen and so too has his scoring rate. For sure signs point to Vrana being able to take on even more minutes and, one would think, produce even more points.

What this boils down to is whether Laine's pedigree trumps Vrana's potential. Both play for up-tempo offensively potent teams and are top six fixtures. Vrana now also has staked out an all-important place on Washington's PP1, which was the last hurdle for him to climb. If I was forced to pick one of the two I'd still go with Laine due to his comparables and his "name value," yet I wonder if by this time next year I'd say the same thing.

Topic #6 – How do you tell when a player is droppable, especially a young player without a track record, like, for example, Dominik Kubalik?

In my mind, the three key factors are the type of league, number of free agent pick-ups, and number of skaters owned among all teams. Note that I said skaters, as one should almost always be very hesitant to drop a 1A or perhaps even 1B goalie unless only about 25 are owned leaguewide.

For dynasty leagues, you're going to want to be more hesitant to drop a skater because in all likelihood you could lose him forever. The exception would be for dynasty leagues where fewer than 200 skaters are owned, in which case there will likely be better options than some of your worst performers. And in case it goes without saying, older players should be given less leeway than younger ones.

In keepers where the total number of skaters kept is less than half of the roster size, you should feel safe to drop most any skater who looks to be underperforming. After all, you'll only keep a fraction of your skaters anyway, so chances are this player wouldn't have made that cut. The only exception would be if you get limited pick-ups, in which case you have to weigh the pros and cons carefully.

In one year leagues, it depends entirely on how many pick-ups you get. If there are unlimited pick-ups, dropping players should be the rule, not the exception, to take advantage of match-ups, off nights and the like. When you get into limited moves territory, it will depend on what's available on the waiver wire plus how many moves you've used. Early on you might want to cut bait more willingly, as most of the best free-agent pick-ups get snagged within the first month or two of the season. But don't exhaust all your moves too early, or you'll miss out on guys who round into form later in the season or who see an increase in value due to trade deadline activity.

As for Kubalik, I covered him in my last mailbag, where I noted that sustained success among age 24+ rookies is very rare. But if he manages to score 30+ goals or continues to have a low rate of secondary assists (versus goals and primary assists) then things might look brighter for him. That being said, he has cooled off, so use the guidelines above to decide if he's worth dropping for another skater, preferably one who has either more games in hand than other free agents who are out there or a more favorable schedule, as we're at the point in the season where those factors matter and they'll only become more important as each week passes.

Regarding young players in general, in one-year leagues, you want to give them a short leash, whereas in dynasties you probably want to keep them for at least several seasons before deciding they're not going to pan out. In limited keepers, it all depends on who you have as your keepers. In the case of Kubalik, even if he limps to the finish line in terms of production, he performed well for long enough and is on a high profile team, that he'll likely be drafted above where he probably deserves if he's not kept. So if you think he's the real deal, you probably want to keep him or else be prepared to overpay to get him back next season. But don't let emotion or fear cause you to make a keep that, objectively, is not the right one. If you have ten keeper spots and Kubalik isn't better than ten others on your team when factoring in all data and metrics, let him go and don't look back.

Topic #7 – A Joonas Korpisalo owner has been approached by the Elvis Merzlikins owner about acquiring Kopisalo. Does it make sense to trade Korpisalo? If so, is Jonathan Marchessault or a second-round pick in the upcoming prospects draft a fair return in trade? The league particulars are: Goals (3.5), Assists (3.5), +/- (1/-1),PIM (.5),PPP (2), Blocks (.5),GWG (3),Hits (.25), Wins (3), Saves (.15), SHO (6); Roster size is 20 with 3C, 3LW, 3RW, 4D, 1UTIL, and 2G starting.

I'm guessing a number of Korpisalo owners are in a similar situation, and it is a predicament. Yes, Elvis has played lights out until the past week or so; but is he Jordan Binnington…….or Andrew Hammond? Unless Elvis can completely push Korpisalo out of the picture over the rest of 2019-20, the fact remains both of them will be RFAs this summer. And while Merzlikins might sign for more money, it likely won't be enough to 100% lock down the starting job, as he's not yet proven enough, plus Korpisalo not only has a longer NHL tenure but also had been playing great (giving up more than two goals in just one of his last eight stats) before getting hurt.

In this case, the Korpisalo owner has Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck, but the league is a full dynasty, so it's not a case where Korpisalo wouldn't be kept. As such, if this GM deals him now, he likely loses him for good.

From where I sit, with Vas and Hellebuyck as anchors, and Ilya Sorokin as a prospect, this GM should trade Korpisalo. Yes, Merzlikins could implode and Columbus has fashioned itself into what appears to be a very goalie-friendly place to play; however, before getting hurt Korpisalo's overall stats weren't amazing other than his hot run before his injury.
There's also the reality of this GM having been approached by the Merzlikins owner, rather than the other way around. That's significant since it shows the Merzlikins owner is eager to get Korpisalo, as does the offer of Marchessault or the 2nd rounder. Had it been the Korpisalo GM who initiated the trade talks, chances are the return he or she could get wouldn't be as good.

While one never wants to overplay one's hand, I think the thing to do is ask for both Marchessault and the pick and see if that can happen. If not, then I might take the pick as Marchessault's 2017-18 output is looking more and more aberrational by the day. Plus, his great SOG totals are wasted given this league's categories. Or the GM could try to see about getting a different player in return. But long story short, I think the scales tilt toward making the deal due to the team's depth in net and Korpisalo having what looks to be a difficult road back to becoming a starter or even 1A in Columbus.

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Questions needed for Mailbag column
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