Ramblings: Light Hitters – Gaudreau, Q. Hughes, W. Nylander, Kessel
The NHL could potentially lose a semi-trailer of cash from television and sponsorships by not finishing the season. It will already lose a lot of money by playing in empty arenas, should that plan go ahead. To stop the financial bleeding, it seems more and more like the NHL is going to try that plan, with multiple reports suggesting that players have been told to report to their respective cities sometime in May with designs on a three-week training camp in June to restart the season by July.
Gary Bettman would be walking a tightrope to ensure such a plan would go off without a hitch. As we know, some markets have been hit harder than others by COVID-19, while some markets have more stringent social distancing rules than others. Finding markets that will be fully on board with the plan is one thing. Finding enough equipment and the right personnel, which could potentially reduce much-needed aid for those suffering from COVID-19, will be another challenge. Yet all it will take is one player to test positive for COVID-19 for the entire deck of cards to fall. Think of the Rudy Gobert situation with the NBA, which to me set off not only the complete shutdown of professional sports, but also any public gatherings.
With so many millions of dollars on the line for Bettman, and with certain teams likely to be in a precarious financial situation with an unfinished season, why wouldn't he try to continue the season in some way, shape, or form? Just my two cents on the current situation.
In yesterday's Ramblings, I detailed the league's heaviest hitters and what they could do for your fantasy team. Today I'll flip it over to the opposite end and show you which players were the best at social distancing before it became a requirement in our everyday lives.
To determine which players had the lightest hit totals, I was able to take the Hits/60 stat directly from Frozen Tools.
Lowest hits per 60 played totals, 2019-20 season (minimum 40 games):
For the following players, we won't just focus on the low hit totals. We will also discuss what they bring to the table to make up for the low hit totals, as well as other bangers categories that you should be concerned about if you own these players.
One hit. That's it. That's all Johnny Hockey has been given credit for this season. You'd think maybe he was involved in some sort of collision against the heated provincial rival Oilers, but no. It was a November 16 game against Arizona. So that's 48 games and counting without a single hit.
Not surprisingly, Gaudreau is a Lady Byng Trophy winner, so we shouldn't expect him to add anything in the banger's categories like hits and penalty minutes. Where we really need to be concerned is with the scoring being down. The Flames as a team were down over half a goal per game on average from this season to last, which affected virtually all of their top scorers. Gaudreau's assist total was down, and his goal total has been virtually cut in half.
Just as his 14.7 percent shooting accuracy that led to 36 goals last season was somewhat lucky, his 8.6 percent shooting accuracy that led to just 18 goals this season was a bit unlucky. So maybe when forecasting Gaudreau for next season, we should expect something in between that. After posting a career-high 99 points last season, Gaudreau was on pace for just 68 this season. He is a better player than that, but something like 80 points would be a more realistic expectation going forward. Just be careful not to overvalue him if your league counts hits or penalty minutes.
It's difficult to find warts on a phenomenal talent like Hughes. Yet as much as we know Hughes isn't an old-school defenseman, we now have a stat to prove that. To give you an idea, the average number of hits by each defenseman who played at least 40 games was 77 (189 d-men total). As you can see by the above chart, Hughes took a grand total of seven hits all season.
If your league counts blocked shots as well as hits, beware of Hughes' actual value in this type of league. Hughes was seventh among Canucks' defensemen in blocked shots (46) and even finished behind forward Bo Horvat in that category. Similar-scoring defensemen Cale Makar, Tony DeAngelo, and Torey Krug don't have high blocked shot or hit totals, although all are higher in hits than Hughes. In fact, none of the top 10 scoring defensemen this season have registered 75 hits.
Offensively, the sky is the limit for Hughes, and his role as a so-called fourth forward will remain constant. It will be interesting to see who his regular defensive partner will be going forward. Chris Tanev will be a UFA this offseason, and the cap-strapped Canucks won't be able to sign all three of Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, and Tyler Toffoli. A potential Tanev departure could mean that Hughes is paired with Tyler Myers. Hughes has scored the same number of even-strength points with Tanev has he has with Myers (10), even though he's spent less than half the amount of time with Myers as he has with Tanev. So I don't think there's anything to panic about if the stay-at-home Tanev leaves.
Nylander should not be known as a heavy hitter by any means. He has had higher hit totals, as his nine hits represents career low in the four seasons that he has played at least 40 games. It shouldn't come as a surprise that his penalty minute totals are also very low, as are his blocked shots. Knock him down the rankings if you play in a bangers league.
After his contract holdout delayed his 2018-19 season start, Nylander could finally prepare for a full season as normal. This has boosted him to a 71-point pace over a full season, which would be a career high. Beware of the 15.7 SH% this season, which is in stark contrast to the 5.4 SH% from last season. There might be a bit of regression next season, but not to the point where it will reflect his 2018-19 numbers (just seven goals and 27 points in 54 games). If he can continue to play alongside John Tavares or Auston Matthews, he should be just fine.
We're going to save the best for last here, as Kessel is a Hall of Famer in this category. Kessel has not taken more than 12 hits in any of his last five seasons. In fact, his career high is 25 hits, which happened back when he played for the Leafs. This is a number that will likely never improve. The benefit to that is that his non-physical style means that he's only 121 games away from passing Doug Jarvis as the NHL's iron man. You can rely on Phil the Thrill to be in your fantasy lineup every game.
Fantasy owners were willing to ignore the low hit totals as long as Kessel was scoring. Unfortunately, he has hit a wall there too. You could see the lower offensive totals coming from a mile away after the trade to Arizona, but perhaps you didn't suspect they would be as dry as the desert that he relocated to. Kessel is on pace to finish with his first sub-20-goal season since his rookie season in 2007-08, including just one goal in his past nine games. He is also on pace to finish with the first sub-200-shot season of his career (lockout-shortened 2012-13 not included).
Throw in some meager peripherals such as a minus-21, 22 penalty minutes, and 20 blocked shots, and you have a player that can simply be avoided in many multicategory leagues. There are several advanced stats (9.2 SH%, 5.7 5-on-5 SH%, 1.9 PTS/60) that suggest a rebound is on the way. Maybe a slight rebound, but never to the 70+ points he recorded in each of his last three seasons in Pittsburgh. Arizona simply doesn't have the firepower nor plays a style that lends itself to Kessel's skill set.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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