Ramblings: Forwards With Few Blocked Shots – Gusev, Backlund, Domi (May 17)
If you're an Athletic subscriber, you may want to check out Scott Burnside's article on the NHL's potential return to play format. The league is discussing whether 24 teams or 20 teams should be included, although the chances of a few extra playoff teams being added appears likely should the season resume.
Just so that teams aren't playing elimination games right off the hop, a round-robin format of five games per team has been suggested. This round-robin would determine playoff seeding, with the top teams in each round-robin group receiving byes and the remaining teams playing best-of-three playoff series.
For fantasy owners hoping for the regular season to continue, I don't think this looks promising. For starters, not all of the NHL's 31 teams are involved, which would eliminate a varying number of players from different rosters. In addition, previously scheduled games would not go ahead, which could create chaos for head-to-head matchups that have been on hold for two months. For example, which games do you include in which week's matchup? Do you scrap paused head-to-head matchups entirely?
Whether fantasy owners are even given the opportunity to continue their seasons might be ultimately be up to the fantasy game providers to decide. I don't imagine many fantasy leaguers might be up for such a drastic change, particularly when it comes to deciding the winner of an entire season.
As for the format itself, I do like the idea as a fan, assuming it can be delivered safely. The Detroits of the world don't need to suit up for meaningless games, while teams that were at least still in the hunt are allowed to have some sort of closure to the season. Given the current state of the world, having something that is totally fair to everyone is impossible. As for the Stanley Cup winner having an "asterisk", well, the winning team would accomplish the feat of winning it under the far-from-ideal conditions of a pandemic.
Last week I discussed blocked shot leaders among forwards. Today I'll examine the opposite, which is forwards who hardly block any shots. Below are the lowest blocked shots per 60 numbers among forwards (minimum 40 games). You're probably not drafting these forwards for their blocked shot totals anyway.
Now that Gusev has played a season in North America, we have an idea of what his game is all about. It doesn't involve much physical play, as both his blocked shots total and hits total (12) were the lowest among any Devils player that played at least 20 games. In other words, if he's not scoring, he's not going to provide much else to your fantasy team.
Fortunately for Gusev, the scoring did start to pick up after a slow start. Over the first quarter Gusev scored just seven points (although with five goals) in 16 games while picking up just 12 minutes in icetime. After that he scored 37 points (8g-29a) in 50 games while averaging just over 15 minutes per game. Assuming that the first quarter was his adjustment time needed for the NHL game, Gusev can score at about a 0.74 point-per-game pace, which works out to around a 60-point pace. There's some solid sleeper potential here.
By the way, Gusev was the Devils' highest point producer after John Hynes was let go, scoring 32 points (8g-24a) in his last 43 games. Gusev was used only as a right wing after Alain Nasreddine took over as head coach, starting off on a line with Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac. After Coleman was traded, Gusev was used with Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha. Although fantasy owners would probably prefer that Gusev be used on the wing of either Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, it appears that Gusev is capable of scoring from anywhere in the lineup.
Backlund's 11 blocked shots represented his lowest single-season total since the 2009-10 season, when he played just 23 games. However, he has been more consistent in the hits category, ranging between 40-70 hits over the past seven seasons. That won't win you your hits category, but at least it's more than someone like Gusev will provide.
Backlund had been on fire right before the shutdown, scoring 22 points over his last 16 games. Only Mika Zibanejad, Nikita Kucherov, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a higher point-per-game pace over a longer stretch at the pause. He had rebounded mightily after an ice-cold start that saw him record just four points over his first 17 games. These polar opposite stretches happened in spite of having the exact same linemates in Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane. Tkachuk was largely unaffected by Backlund's lack of production, but Mangiapane followed a similar trend (4 points in first 14 games, 13 points in last 12 games).
Backlund couldn't really make it click when used as a winger on a top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. But when moved back to the center position between Tkachuk and Mangiapane, his production skyrocketed. Sometimes what you'd think is the best line for a player doesn't turn out that way.
Once the hot and cold streaks even out, Backlund has established himself to be a 45-50-point player. I thought his OZ% would have turned out to be less than 50 percent, yet it has been around 53% for the past two years. As a two-way option for the Flames, Backlund will probably provide a decent floor but a ceiling that is not much higher.
Don't be fooled by the last name – Domi might not be as much of a banger as you would think. Not only were his 13 blocked shots a career low, but his penalty minutes dipped from 80 in 2018-19 to just 35 in 2019-20. Looking up Domi's fight total on Frozen Tools, Domi was in just one fight in 2019-20 and two in 2018-19. His hits total isn't overly high either, with a career high of 53 set last season.
It seems as though Domi is focused more on scoring, and even that took a dive in 2019-20. A career high 13.8 SH% helped him to 28 goals, which seemed like an outlier for a player who had never scored 20 goals. This season, he fell to 17 goals and just 44 points in 71 games. That's a point-per-game pace that was similar to his first two seasons in Arizona, which is disappointing considering that fantasy owners would have expected more.
There is a positive sign for a turnaround, at least in overall points. A total of 20 of Domi's 27 assists were primary assists, which led the Canadiens in that category. If his primary assist total remains consistent, then getting in on more secondary assists will spark a potential rebound.
A jump to another 70+ point season like 2018-19 might be difficult, however. Domi has only recorded 11 power-play points in each of his last two seasons. Montreal's power play ranked in the bottom third of the league. Depending on what might happen in the offseason, there might not be a major improvement overall.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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