Ramblings: What I would like to see in 2020-21

Michael Clifford


We're all greedy fantasy owners. We all want the players on our fantasy rosters to be the ones that get increased ice time, increased power-play exposure, overtime opportunities, and so on. And when they don't, we often try to justify to ourselves why it might happen in the future.

I'm a fan of the Star Wars franchise and that even extends to 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'. While others' enjoyment of the movie may vary, I enjoyed it a lot. Regardless, there's an online movement to get a second 'Solo' movie in the works, and that got me thinking: what are things I've wanted to see in the NHL that haven't happened, or things I want to see again?

Sometimes, wishes do come true. Things I had wanted to see for years finally came to fruition in 2019-20, like Dougie Hamilton being PP1 before his injury, Tyler Toffoli finally getting prime minutes with a top centre again (with PPTOI as well), and Kevin Fiala receiving the ice time he deserves, as he averaged over 18 minutes a game in his final 15 games before play was suspended. These are all things I've clamoured for in these Ramblings in the past, and they happened.

In that sense, what else would I like to see happen with certain players and situations across the league if we get a normal 2020-21 regular season? Well, let's look at that. Stats from Natural Stat Trick or Frozen Tools.


Jakob Chychrun takes over the Arizona power play

Evaluating power-play prowess isn't really an easy thing to do. Like most events in hockey, the desired end result (a goal for your team) involves most, if not all, players on the ice to some degree, and how much a good power play can be attributed to one player isn't always clear.

That's why having the attitude that Chychrun should run the top PP unit over Oliver Ekman-Larsson isn't necessarily one borne from stats. Because there are some stats that say Chychrun should run it – the team scores more with him on the ice without OEL than the other way around – but there are others that say OEL should run it – the team generates more shots with him on the ice with Chychrun than the other way around. On top of that, we're dealing with small samples, as Chychrun has just 191 minutes on the PP over the last three years without OEL, which works out to be about two-thirds of a season's worth of PPTOI. Not a lot.

The other issue is that there are some other metrics that show that OEL to be the superior puck-mover at even strength. I'm not directly assuming he's the better play-maker, but it certainly is a data point in OEL's favour.

At the end of the day, it boils down to selfishness. I think Chychrun is a very good, young defenceman who's had to overcome numerous severe injuries early in his career and still done very well. He's a big part of the future on the blue line, so I'd like to see him get acclimated to playing with their future stars on the PP. That I have him on a dynasty roster, I assure you, is coincidental.


More minutes for Roope Hintz

We need to know when to take our losses. Before a season, I have projections for every player in the league, and rankings for at least the top-300. Projecting and ranking that many players will lead to a lot of wildly incorrect calls.

One of those wildly incorrect calls on my part was Roope Hintz. I was fairly certain he'd have minimal impact in 2019-20, and was unsure about his long-term future in the league. Well, I'm taking the 'L' here. Hintz had a wonderful year with 19 goals and 33 points in 60 games while playing fewer than 15 minutes a night. My issue now is one of ice time.

As the season wore on, Hintz's 5-on-5 ice time actually went down, particularly after Rick Bowness took over; he skated just 11:14 a night (10th among Dallas forwards) from December 1st onward, compared to 12:25 per game through the end of November, fifth among their forwards. That's not going to cut it.

Per Evolving Hockey, Hintz was Dallas's most valuable forward by WAR per 60 minutes at even strength. Now, that's a mixture of offensive/defensive ability, penalty differentials, and other measures. As far as fantasy hockey goes, he was fine, but not great. In a full 82-game season, he may have reached 25 goals and 100 hits, which is fine depth in fantasy, but not a big season by any means.

I have a plea for whomever is behind the Stars bench next year: more ice time for Hintz please.


Frank Vatrano in the top-6

Vatrano has been a favourite of mine for years, going back to his AHL days in Boston. I always look for guys who shoot, and Vatrano shoots a lot: over his five-year career, among 317 forwards with at least 2500 minutes in that span, he's 13th in shots per 60 minutes, between Cam Atkinson and Timo Meier. That's spectacular shot generation, and that's why he has the same goal scoring rate as Aleksander Barkov, Artemi Panarin, and Mark Stone. That's pretty good!

Both Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are pending UFAs. They're going to get raises, but the good news for Florida is there is a lot of cap space should they choose to use it (even if the cap stays flat, or decreases a little, they'll have ~$20M in space). In other words, we could easily see the Panthers run it back next year with, more or less, the same roster.

After Dadonov, Hoffman, and Jonathan Huberdeau, there's one spot left in the top-6. Vatrano has gotten some time there in the past, but there are guys like Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly who've taken those minutes in the past, and Mark Pysyk actually got some time up there this year. The team doesn't see Vatrano as a lock top-6 guy yet, it seems.

I hope he gets it. This is a guy who's bounced around, not just between franchises but between roles. He's good and he deserves some run to prove it. Let him have a top-6 role, Florida.


A roster spot for Eeli Tolvanen

I'm not going to get too in depth here because I think we all know the issue with Nashville: scoring. Which is weird, because we see names like Forsberg, Arvidsson, Duchene, and Johansen (each guy has at least two 30-goal seasons, save for Johansen who has one), and yet defenceman Roman Josi led the team in scoring by an unfathomable 17 points. I have to imagine it's something with the system and not the roster because there's way too much talent for this to be their reality. I still think Tolvanen is an impact player in the future for the Predators, and it's obvious something needs to change with that team. This would be the first such change, and a minimal one. Let's see what the kid can do.


Leave Detroit's top line together, Blashill

I'm dubious as to Jeff Blashill's effectiveness as an NHL coach, but that's a tirade better saved for another time. For now, just one plea: leave Bertuzzi-Larkin-Mantha together.

For the 2019-20 season, that trio skated together for 314 minutes at 5-on-5. Their expected goal share of 56 percent was higher than the Hyman-Matthews-Marner line from Toronto and the Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich line from the Rangers. That was done, mind you, while skating for one of the worst teams of the 20th century. That line was amazing when everyone was healthy.

Detroit's rebuild continues. They have Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, and Joe Veleno already in the system or on the team. What I think they should do is keep that strong top line together to soak all the tough minutes and let the kids find their legs together with softer deployment. Is this optimal for the team? I don't know. Is it optimal for my fantasy rosters? Absolutely.

The top line is all in their early-to-mid 20s, so they could be together for a while. I don't envision them as the next Perfection Line, but if they keep putting up results like they have, why break up a good thing that allows your younger players to find their way in sheltered roles?


What would you like to see in 2020-21? Be as selfish as possible.


Also wanted to mention a very good article from our own Jokke Nevalainen over at Dobber Prospects, covering draft probabilities and why finding skill is so hard. As we're talking about re-drafts all over the place, this gives us insight as to why it's so hard.


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