Forum Buzz: Stone vs Fiala, Guentzel vs Point, Ullmark, & Backstrom

Rick Roos


Welcome back to Forum Buzz, where I peruse the DobberHockey Forums and weigh in on active, heavily debated, or otherwise relevant recent threads, reminding folks just how great a resource the Forums are. Nearly anything might be covered here, other than trades and signings, which usually get their own separate write-ups on the main site and are also normally covered in the next day’s Ramblings, or questions that are specific to salary cap issues, which is the domain of Alex MacLean’s weekly Capped column.

As a reminder, to access the actual forum thread on which the question click on the “Topic” for each question.


Topic #1In a ten-team league (one point for a goal or assist, two points for a goalie win, -1 point for a goalie loss, and two extra points for a goalie shutout), a team has a 25-man roster during the season but has to make five offseason cuts to get to 20 before the draft. Which five should be cut from this list of 25, given that skater positions don't matter:


Skaters – Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jack Eichel, Logan Couture, Blake Wheeler, Anders Lee, Nikita Gusev, Robert Thomas, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brent Burns, Robbi Fabbri Mats Zuccarello, Jaden Schwartz, Kyle Palmieri, Kyle Connor, Martin Necas, Keith Yandle, Brayden Point, Travis Konecny, Tyler Bertuzzi, Nick Schmaltz, Jakub Vrana
Goalies – Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky


Fabbri is an injury away from perhaps ending his career. Plus, while he fared okay on Detroit, he's not viewed as a key piece to their puzzle. Sure, he'll likely get top six deployment; but I'm not even sure he receives PP1 time, which would be a huge drawback. As for Necas, odds it's a matter of when not if he breaks out. But like Fabbri, I don't see him making PP1 in 2020-21, and he could even be a third liner more so than a top-six guy. If there's a concern about missing a potential spike in production this upcoming season, he can always be redrafted.

I probably let Schmaltz go too. He's had chunks of nice success in each of the past two seasons (17 points in his last 20 games in 2018-19, 35 in his first 44 this season) but he's yet to be able to either stay healthy or, if healthy, to string together a full season of top production. He's not too far past his breakout threshold of 200 NHL games, so improvement, especially when it comes to consistency, is realistic. But he's still a question mark, plus is on Arizona, a team that reportedly is about to embark upon a hard rebuild, meaning a tough slog even for their top players.

Palmieri is likely not a keep either in this format. Although he just completed his fifth season in a row with a 54-57 point full season scoring pace, he's now 29, and his shooting percentage in 2019-20 was a good bit higher than career norm. He also had just nine multipoint games in 62 contests in 2019-20, meaning he's lost some of his explosiveness. Basically, he has a ceiling; and sometime soon, maybe even this season, he's going to start declining, as perhaps foretold by his SOG rate dropping a lot as compared to his prior two campaigns.

The last one is a toughie. I think Zuccarello is better than what we saw in 2019-20, which I feel was a struggle for him at least in part due to adjusting to a new team. But Minnesota is not a great place even if he gets acclimated, as although he's high priced he didn't manage 16 minutes of TOI per game and probably won't see much more in 2020-21. At 33, he's likely not going to produce a 60 point season again, so he's indeed the fifth drop.


Topic #2 – In a ten-team league with 25 man rosters starting 3C, 3LW, 3RW, 4D, 2G per night and with categories of G (4), A (2.5), SOG (0.2), HIT (0.2), BLKS (0.2), PPP, GWG, PIMS (0.2), +/- (+/-0.5); W (3), S/O (5), each save (0.2), each GA (-1) and Brad Marchand, Brayden Point, Jack Eichel, and Dougie Hamilton already being kept, who would make more sense as a final keeper: Kevin Fiala or Mark Stone?


As was noted in the Forum thread, neither Fiala nor Stone screams "top 50 guy," which is how many players – skater and goalies – are being kept in this league. And trading one or both is not realistic, as if they're not good enough for one team to keep, they're probably not going to entice another team to take them in trade to retain.

So if indeed it boils down to which of the two to keep, it's a question of proven consistency (i.e., Stone) versus the potential for higher upside (i.e., Fiala). Although Vegas showed signs during the playoffs of putting its stars out there for more time, particularly on the PP, that was in a do or die situation. When it comes time for the 2020-21 season, I'm guessing they revert back to what got them into the playoffs, which is no forwards receiving 20 minutes per game and PP1 and PP2 forwards seeing about the same percentage of man-advantage time. As such, and given Stone's age (28) and track record, I feel like he is what he is, and that's a 75-80 point player who chips in with pretty decent multi-cat contributions for a scorer.

As for Fiala, he's not exactly in a great ice time situation given the team he's on, as Minnesota was one of just two teams (Montreal being the others) where, for the second straight season, no forward averaged either 19:00 per game or 3:00 on the PP. That having been said, Fiala was able to do what he did while averaging 15:24 per night, although that factors in a lot of his early-season low ice times, and by the end of 2020-21 he was seeing upwards of 17:00 per game. And his production despite this ice time resulted in him ranking 22nd in points per 60 minutes of ice time, ahead of the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Sebastian Aho, Auston Matthews and…..Stone. Also, Minnesota figures to receive a big boost from the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, with whom Fiala figures to play. As for multi-cat, Fiala isn't bad, but not as strong as Stone.

With this being one keeper of just five, and keepers forming only 20% of a team's roster, I feel that it makes sense to go with a risk/reward pick, and that's Fiala. Plus, whereas Stone is very unlikely to do much better or worse than he has the past two seasons, Fiala could really explode and it would be a shame not to be the beneficiary of that in 2020-21, and beyond.


Topic #3 In a keeper counting G, A, PPPts, GWG, +/-, SOG, BLK, HIT, PIM, FOW, how would the following three players be ranked: Nicklas Backstrom, Logan Couture, William Karlsson?


Not knowing how many other teams there are, the other players on this person's roster, nor how many starts at each position, is a lot of missing information. Thus, I'll need to answer this in a vacuum-based solely on the league's categories and the players themselves.

Given what Washington committed to Backstrom, plus Evgeni Kuznetsov not playing so great as to force the team to play Kuz more, Backstrom remains the de facto top-line center at even strength and on the PP. Yes, he's only eligible at center and isn't a stat stuffer, except in FOW and PPPts, but he's above either of these other two in this league as his downside is 70-75 points, which is likely north of the upside of Couture or Karlsson.

I'd put Couture second. Yes, the future might not look bright for the Sharks; however, they will have to lean heavily on the talent they have, and that means Couture. Let's also not forget that he managed to score at a 62 point pace without a single PPG and only nine PPPts. Yes, he's now 31 and his SOG rate dropped by a concerning amount in 2019-20; but even still, if he could score at a 62 point pace last season, under those circumstances, 65+ should be doable for 2020-21.

Lastly, there's Karlsson, where more and more it is looking like 2017-18 was a once in a career season not just for him but also for his frequent linemate Jonathan Marchessault, whom I covered not too long ago in a Goldipucks column. Now that Karlsson's shooting percentage has come back to earth and other teams key in on him, he's a 55-60 point player like Marchessault. And even that total might be due to drop, what with Karlsson being more of a PP2 fixture by the end of 2019-20. 


Topic #4In a 14 team cap league (G, A, PPP, PIM, HIT, BLK, FW, and SOG), where positions matter and 200-225 players are owned, who has more value, Jake Guentzel or Brayden Point?


There is reason to be very optimistic about both, with Point exploding during the playoffs and Guentzel showing signs of being the best winger the Pens have had during the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin era. Yet there are caveats as well, in that Point did what he did without Steven Stamkos in the line-up and, with respect to Guentzel, Crosby and Malkin (not to mention Kris Letang) getting up there in years.

Since this is a cap league, that bears mentioning. Guentzel is inked at $6M through 2023-24, whereas Point makes $6.75M per season and will need a new deal after 2021-22. So all things being otherwise equal, the advantage would go to Guentzel.

Starting with Point, he's likely only eligible as a center and doesn't have a ton of FOW. He also does not contribute a lot in other categories. Basically, he brings scoring to the table. The question is if what he did in the playoffs will be enough to convince the team to hand him the reins as top-line center and linemate of Nikita Kucherov, as during the season that role was occupied mainly by Steven Stamkos. And although it's true that Stamkos, Kucherov and Point were a trio during the 2018-19 season, with all three putting up great numbers, that season saw the Bolts bounced in the first round of the playoffs, whereas this season they won the Cup.

What we know is Tampa has cap issues and there have been whispers about Stamkos possibly being moved, especially now that he won his Cup and after what they saw from Point. My take is even if Stamkos isn't moved, Point is the future top-line center of this team, and, after his playoff starring role, the present as well. I'd bank on him getting the #1 center gig for 2020-21, whether that means the team moves Stamkos, puts him on the second line or plays the three together again. As such, Point getting 100+ points in 2020-21 is realistic.

Before getting hurt, and stretching back to 2018-19, Guentzel had 107 points in his last 103 games, with more than half those points being goals. But that might not even show the full extent of what he was doing, as when he got hurt he was riding a streak of 29 points in 20 games, with 12 of those points being goals. Project that to 82 games and you get a 49 goal, 119 point full season scoring pace. Beyond that, he's a winger, which is a less deep position than center, and he also chips in with a hit per game and over three SOG per contest.

Probably the route to go here would be to try and trade Point. His value might never be higher and he could fetch a huge return to fill a roster gap or to land a top draft pick. Yes, you might miss out on a perpetual 100+ point scorer; however, Guentzel's potential over the next at least a couple of seasons is huge and by trading Point now he'd command 100+ point value in trade. Plus, this way Point's likely big pay jump in two seasons won't be a factor.


Topic #5In a 16 team league with 9F, 4D, and 1G starting, 15 being kept, rosters of 23 after the draft, and with scoring of points only for skaters, two points for a win and four points for a shutout for goalies, a rebuilding team needs to drop two of the following four players: Jason Zucker, Drake Batherson, Christian Dvorak, and Pavel Buchnevich. Which two should be kept and which two dropped?


The big question, as was mentioned in the forum thread, is whether to retain Zucker with the intent of flipping him once the season starts and presuming he'll be able to do as well as he did after he came to the Pens, where he tallied 12 points in 15 games. My initial take is that's not the way to go. Yes, Patric Hornqvist is now gone from Pittsburgh; but he wasn't likely to be a roadblock to Zucker anyway. Plus, Kasperi Kapanen will now be in the mix and Jake Guentzel will be healthy again. It's unclear if Zucker will be even on PP1, which would really cut against his value. He's a question mark – not a big one, but a question mark nonetheless. That all having been said, keeping Zucker still would be prudent if the other three don't project to be right to retain on a rebuilding squad.

Although he's been inconsistent along the way, the fact remains that Buchnevich has upped his scoring pace each season. And although he's 25 years old, he is barely past his breakout threshold and had 21 points in his final 23 games for 2019-20. I think he's a definite keeper.

Dvorak is a year younger than Buchnevich but is stuck on the Coyotes, a team that has fared poorly and is seemingly about to embark upon a hard rebuild. And although that will ensure Dvorak has all the ice time he can handle, it might not be ideal for a player who does not appear to have "the guy" potential in him. In other words, Dvorak could have used a couple more seasons of apprenticeship skating with players like, as he did in 2019-20, Taylor Hall. Without that option, he will be thrown to the wolves so to speak. And although it's not unheard of for players like him to thrive in that situation, I'm not sure Dvorak is cut from that cloth based on what we've seen from him thus far.

Lastly, there's Batherson, who's a couple of years younger than Buchnevich or Dvorak but also has the least amount of NHL experience. He was not a top draft pick, yet hopes for him at this stage of his career are at least on a par with what they were for Buchnevich and Dvorak. His situation will be similar to that of Dvorak, in that he'll need to develop without the benefit of a winning environment nor any talented veterans to take him under their wing. Still though, whereas we've seen Dvorak play circa 250 games and do merely okay, Batherson is only now likely to see full-time NHL action.

I think besides Buchnevich the last keep is either Zucker or Batherson. And I'd be inclined to keep Batherson rather than risk losing a potentially special player. Yes, Zucker might be able to be flipped for a decent return; but he also could disappoint versus expectations, in which case he does little for a rebuilding squad.


Topic #6What does the future hold for Linus Ullmark?


Although Ullmark is 27 and has played in parts of five NHL seasons, he still does not have 100 career games under his belt. That having been said, his 61 combined games over the past two campaigns provide enough data to get an idea of his potential going forward.

Of those 61 games, Ullmark had 38 combined quality starts and a mere ten really bad starts. 

All that on a Buffalo team which is one of fewer than half the NHL's squads to have more shots against than for over those two combined seasons. In 2019-20, his quality start percentage was 55.9%, which was 13th best among all netminders who played 30+ games. And his mere two really bad starts led to him having the lowest percentage of really bad starts among any goalie who appeared in 30+ games.

But before we think Ullmark is improving in every facet, one issue is he gave up fewer than two goals in just four games this season, versus seven in only three extra appearances in 2018-19. Yet on the bright side, he had 14 games in 2018-19 where he surrendered 4+ goals, compared to only eight in 2019-10, with six of those eight games seeing him surrender just four goals, hence the lack of really bad starts. 

He also seems unable to get shutouts, averaging one per 23 starts over the past two seasons, for a rate lower than the vast majority of netminders. But that could be a function of the team for which he plays, as a very good goalie in John Gibson had a lower rate and supposed phenom in the making Carter Hart has a mere one shutout in his 70 career starts.

One key is despite being among the NHL's weaker squads, the Sabres had the second-lowest PIM of all teams during the past two seasons, a trend which I can't see changing much if at all. This helps in that Ullmark ranked only 37th in shorthanded SV% among all goalies who played 60+ combined games during the past two seasons. And when it comes to all-important even-strength save percentage, Ullmark was 22nd best among 60+ combined game goalies, ahead of the likes of Hart, Semyon Varlamov, Carey Price, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Oddly though, his 0.919 EV SV% is identical to his SV% when his team is on the PP, ranking him lower in that area. But that also happens to be when his team faces the far fewest shots, so if he is to have a glaring weakness, this isn't a bad one to have.

So where do I think this leads for Ullmark? The amount for which he signs as an RFA this offseason should say a lot. If he gets a multiyear deal for $4M+, then that means he's likely envisioned as the 1A or outright starter going into the season, with Carter Hutton perhaps being shipped to the minors for the last year of his deal. If instead Ullmark signs only a one or two year "prove yourself" deal, or is inked for less than $4M per season, then that is not the vote of confidence poolies would be looking for. But by the numbers, he seems like he should be up to the task of being a 1A or even an outright starter, so if the Sabres anoint him as such, he could be a good choice for a third goalie for most fantasy squads, with a chance to be a #2 guy by the end of the 2020-21 season and beyond if he and/or the Sabres improve.


Topic #7In a multi-cat, non-cap league, which makes more sense, (a) keeping Robin Lehner and John Gibson, with Cal Petersen in the minors, but having to drop one of Nazem Kadri, Ryan O'Reilly, Alex Tuch, or Drew Doughty, or (b) dropping Gibson and keeping all four skaters? 


Looking at the four skaters, in a multi-cat chances are Tuch is the one who'd be dropped. But as I noted in a recent Goldipucks column, there were signs in the second half of 2019-20 that Reilly Smith, who'll turn 30 this season and is signed only through 2021-22, is slowly but surely being pushed aside to make way for Tuch, for whom 2020-21 will be his magical fourth season and during which he will also hit his breakout threshold.

Still, although Tuch is likely on the radar of most poolies, he isn't going to be coveted, especially after a season where, at first glance, he lost 2:07 TOI per game and his scoring rate plummeted. To me, he's a redraft, as not only do I believe the Ducks will be improved, but Gibson has shown in the past that he has the talent to be a true, difference-making, number one netminder. Plus, even if the Ducks don't make major strides, there's the option to have Gibson go in and out of the line-up to capitalize on when Petersen has easy match-ups or when Gibson has tough ones. In other words, keeping Gibson is made easier by the safety blanket of Petersen. Let Tuch go, and redraft him if desired; but keep Gibson, as it would be too risky to lose him.


Topic #8In a 12 Team H2H league, starting 2C, 2RW, 2LW, 4D, 2G, 2UTIL and counting, for skaters, G, A, PPPts, SOG, +/-, PIM, and GWG, and, for goalies, W, GAA, SV%, and SO, which eight from this list of 11 impressive players should be kept: David Pastrnak, Miro Heiskanen, Jack Eichel, Victor Hedman, Mitch Marner, Aleksander Barkov, Mika Zibanejad, Rasmus Dahlin, Brayden Point, Igor Shesterkin, and Andrei Vasilevskiy?

This is indeed an impressive list, from which it will not be easy to pick three to jettison. If all teams are keeping eight and trading are allowed, then I think it should be possible to package one or more of these players since all would be well within the top 100 in terms of keepers in a league such as this. If not, then solace can be taken in most teams also having to lose top talent.

My first cut would be a pure center. Not only is it the deepest position in fantasy hockey, but there are four (Barkov, Eichel, Point, Zibanejad) to choose from versus a total of only two wingers (Pastrnak and Marner). My pick to not keep would be Barkov, as although his early career injury issues seem to be behind him that is at least a back of the mind concern with him more so than the others. Also, in his six non-rookie seasons, he's only had one point per game campaign. Yes, he scored at a 96 point pace that season; however, it came with a shooting percentage and PPPts unlikely to be achievable again, whereas it is easier to envision the other three having 90+ point downsides.

Although you start four D, I think a cut has to come from there too; and as great as he is, I'm losing Hedman. He's by far the most proven of the bunch, but he's turning 30 in December and has logged a lot of miles. Plus, Mikael Sergachev has shown skill with the man advantage, such that he may eat into Hedman's man-advantage minutes. Dahlin's teen years portend greatness and Heiskanen's playoff showed he's as elite as they come. So begrudgingly I cut Hedman.

The last cut probably has to be Shesterkin. Yes, the Rangers have cleared the way for him to be "the guy" in net and he's been dominant at every stage of his career; but who knows if he can stand up to the mental and physical rigors of a full NHL season, having never played even 40 games in a previous campaign at any level. The reality is however great he's projected to be, the bird in the hand of Vasilevskiy is better, and the rest of the skaters have shown enough to be more deserving of being kept over Shesterkin as well.




Questions for Mailbag column needed

The mailbag is emptier than usual, which means it's a great time to send me your fantasy hockey questions. So if you have question about your fantasy team or fantasy hockey in general, send it to me and I'll be able to answer here it in just a couple of weeks. To get questions to me, you can either private message “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums or, instead, send an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line.


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