Ramblings: Top Plus Minuses – Slavin, Nichushkin, Chara (June 1)
In case you missed it, be sure to check out the fantasy impact of the NHL's return to play plan. I'm not just promoting it because I wrote it, but also because we at Dobber Hockey would like you to look at it if you have to make a decision about your fantasy season.
If this feels like a strange situation, it's because it is. We have playoff matchups, and when we have playoff matchups, we have playoff predictions. The problem is that those predictions are hard to get into if the series won't start for about another two months. These series will be broken down inside out and upside down with so many "what if's."
Until then, the NHL has a ton of logistical hurdles to work through. Not the least of which are finding hub cities and transporting players in a way that is both timely and can satisfy family concerns, the latter of which I don't think will be ideal. Then there's the decision of whether to let players who signed after the pause play in the playoffs. There are many more issues, but those are a few off the top of my head.
Just another friendly reminder that that the Fantasy Prospects Report will be released June 12.
Here are the top 10 plus-minuses from the past season:
Not surprisingly, there are some star players included in this group. Artemi Panarin, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov all fall into that category. Dougie Hamilton was having a star-level season before he was lost for the regular season with a broken leg. At the time, Hamilton was fourth among scoring for defensemen, with the Hurricanes finally using him in a way that he could reach his full potential. Instead of the current stars, I'll focus on three players who aren't owned in as many fantasy leagues, starting with a player who was able to benefit from Hamilton's injury.
When Hamilton went on IR in mid-January, Slavin took over the Hurricanes' first-unit power play in his absence. As a result, his percentage of power-play time skyrocketed from 2.6% to 56.3%, which resulted in an immediate positive impact to his fantasy value.
Before Hamilton injury: 47 GP, 4 G, 18 A, 22 PTS, +26, 0 PPP, 22:36
After Hamilton injury: 21 GP, 2 G, 12 A, 14 PTS, +4, 3 PPP, 25:13
Since the power-play points appear to be fairly modest after he took over the first unit, don't expect Slavin to be back on the first-unit power play once Hamilton returns. Hamilton is expected to return once NHL play resumes, which will bump Slavin to the second unit or off the power play entirely. It's also worth mentioning that as the power-play points increased, the plus-minus decreased (although he still wasn't a minus player over that span).
Even though he had played just 68 games, Slavin had already hit a career high of 36 points, which would have put him on pace for his first 40-point season. Without the Hamilton injury, Slavin wouldn't have likely reached 40 points. With Hamilton returning when play resumes, Slavin is more likely a defenseman that you can rely on for 30-35 points, which was within his range for each of the previous three seasons. He will also provide solid plus-minus (as mentioned earlier), and plenty of blocked shots (he has led the Canes in that category for the past four seasons).
I can remember a Dallas Stars fan in one of my fantasy leagues who was relieved that the Canucks picked Bo Horvat with the ninth overall pick, just so his Stars could pick Nichushkin at tenth overall. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I'm not sure he would still prefer that pick today. Although Nichushkin hasn't lived up to his draft-day potential, he was still a hot waiver-wire add for a few weeks this season.
The plus-minus might be a surprise, but it is worth mentioning that Nichushkin was a plus-20 in his rookie season in Dallas. That season still stands as his career-best season with 34 points. After that, it was pretty much downhill, as Nichushkin missed most of the next season because of hip surgery. Then following a 29-point season, he left for the KHL for two seasons following a contract dispute with the Stars. Then upon returning to the Stars, Nichushkin was held without a goal in 57 games. Not exactly the career path of a rising star.
Needless to say, there probably wasn't a ton of fantasy interest once Nichushkin signed a one-year "prove it" contract with Colorado. It turned out to be a wise move, as Nichushkin was able to pick up some of the scoring slack when the likes of Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were injured for significant stretches. During the second and third quarter of the season, Nichushkin scored 24 of his points (including 12 goals) in 40 games. Part of that was on a replacement second line with Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky. In the other games, Nichushkin recorded just three points in 25 games.
When the season resumes, Nichushkin could find himself anywhere between the second and fourth lines, with the third line the most likely option. That will likely mean that what you have seen is what you will get from Nichushkin, who has re-established himself as someone who can use his 6-4 frame as a nice two-way forward.
The days of Chara as a 40+ point defenseman have long since passed now that he is 43 years of age. But is there still value in non-scoring categories? Chara continues to be a plus-minus wizard, posting non-negative plus-minus all the way back to the 2007-08 season, which was his second with the Bruins. Over each of the past three seasons, he has been higher than a plus-20 player, sharing that distinction with fellow long-time Bruin Patrice Bergeron.
Settled in as a defensive defenseman at this point in his career, Chara still contributes to the non-scoring categories. His 60 penalty minutes were second on the big bad Bruins, who were sixth among NHL teams. Chara doesn't deliver as many hits as he used to, but he still finished second on the team with 101 blocked shots. If you're looking for scoring, however, you won't find it anymore. The five-time Hardest Shot winner has seen his power-play time dissolve into nothing, while his stat line will stand at five goals and 14 points for each of the past two seasons.
Although Chara had only signed a one-year contract, I haven't heard any discussion about him retiring after the season. Maybe that's because the Bruins are focused on trying to capture the Stanley Cup after just missing out last season. Even if the 2019-20 season doesn't finish, I still think Chara will be back next season. His name value will get him drafted in a few leagues out there, but there's really not much left here fantasy-wise.
Finally, some important words from Minnesota native Blake Wheeler:
I needed to say something in my own words. pic.twitter.com/VpkidaMjbX— Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke) May 31, 2020
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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