21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles

by Mario Prata on May 12, 2019

Every Sunday, we'll share 21 Fantasy Rambles – formerly 20 Fantasy Thoughts – from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's ‘Daily Ramblings’.

Writers: Michael Clifford, Ian Gooding, Cam Robinson, and Dobber

 

1. When Columbus was eliminated from the 2019 playoffs, the first thing that popped into my mind, from a fantasy perspective, is this offseason will probably see Columbus treated as the Islanders were a year ago when they lost John Tavares. There is, and already has been, a lot of chatter about how the team will probably lose the likes of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky, and how that will affect the team.

To be sure, losing players of that calibre will hurt the entire roster. I am not disputing that. That is not what we should be focusing on, however. What we should be focusing on is what is left and the value they can bring.

A lot of people wrote off the Islanders before the 2018-19 season; I know I did. But writing them off for the season is not the same as writing off individual performances for fantasy purposes. I thought both Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle were greatly undervalued heading into the year and while Eberle didn’t pull through for fantasy owners, Lee certainly did. Ditto for Ryan Pulock.

It’s dangerous to write off an entire team because of free agent losses. For our collective sake, let’s hope the fantasy community at large did not learn their lesson last year because this could present a great buying opportunity for Columbus next year. (may9)

 

2. About Zach Werenski: There has been a lot of chatter around Seth Jones (and rightfully so; he’s really good!) but Werenski has been superlative through his first three seasons: he’s one of 14 defensemen to manage at least 30 goals and 90 assists through his age 19-21 seasons.

Of those 14 defensemen, 11 are retired, and 8 of those 11 are Hall of Famers. The three that are still active, including Werenski, are Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson.

There are questions about Werenski’s defensive ability and those question are valid. Let’s remember that he’s just 21 years old (22 in July) and his offensive prowess far outweighs any defensive issues. Werenski is already a great puck-mover and probably won’t really hit his stride for another year or two. The only thing keeping him from a 50-point season is high usage on a decent power play. (may9)

 

3. With every passing game, Timo Meier is making you notice more and more that he has the kind of talent that you can’t ignore. He had his 30-goal, 60+ point breakout season during the regular season. That success has continued during the playoffs with Meier now up to 13 points (5g-8a) in 15 games. Like Logan Couture, Meier scored two goals and added an assist in the Game 1 win against St. Louis. Meier often uses his lethal shot to score but he also has great moves. (may12)

 

4. With the Predators being one of those teams that exited the playoffs earlier than expected, the P.K. Subban trade rumors have had time to grow. There are a few reasons that the Preds may want to part with him. For starters, there’s a team-high $9 million cap hit, which is on the books for four more seasons. There’s Subban’s lifestyle as a celebrity, which doesn’t seem to rub everyone in team-first hockey the right way. And of course, there was a down season cut short by injuries.

Subban’s 0.49 PTS/GP (31 points in 63 games) was his lowest points-per-game average since 2011-12. Injuries obviously played a role, yet Subban fell far short of meeting expectations as a top-50 pick in many leagues. Because of the decline, there’s a buy-low opportunity for teams in both the real world and the fantasy realm. Subban fell dramatically from a 60-point pace in 2017-18 to a 40-point pace this past season.

This offseason is shaping up to be one with significant activity, both with free agent signings and with trades. So it’s way too early to carve anything in stone. There’s no way I’m ranking him among the top tier of blueliners. This is very preliminary, but I’ll say within the top 20 is fine. Top 10 is reaching, though. (may11)

 

5. In case you missed it, the Dobber Hockey Experts Panel made its Conference Finals picks. Yes, these were posted before Game 1 of the Boston/Carolina series. No cheating.

I realize that the Bruins’ power-play (2 for 5) was a significant factor in their Game 1 win. However, it did seem that they received the more favorable officiating (more on that topic in a bit). I picked the Bruins to win this series and obviously I’ll stick with that pick here.

Over in the West, I picked San Jose, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if St. Louis pulls this out. I think the Sharks played a little better against Colorado than they did against Vegas, but there were still moments that I thought the Avalanche could win the series. (may11)

 

6. Adds Ian Gooding: Those who don’t think the Sharks can go all the way are often citing Martin Jones as a reason. His playoff numbers (2.74 GAA, .909 SV%) have been a bit better than his regular-season numbers (2.94 GAA, .896 SV%). I’m not buying that the Sharks can’t win with him, because he has been to the Final before. If goalies like Cam Ward and Antti Niemi can backstop teams to a Stanley Cup, then why can’t Jones? The expectation for that to happen, though, would be that the Sharks’ big guns would have to continue to come up big. (may11)

 

7. Says Mike Clifford: It’ll be fascinating to see where Jones’ ADP lands next year.

Let’s go back in time a bit to, say, about four weeks ago. Remember that there was a legitimate discussion as to whether Aaron Dell should take over for Jones as the latter was shelled early in the Vegas series. In the team’s Games 2, 3, and 4 losses, he allowed 11 goals on 54 shots.

Beyond that, there’s a mountain of evidence that Jones just isn’t very good; since arriving in San Jose four years ago, he has the second-worst Goals-Saved-Above-Average in the league (minimum of 5000 minutes played at 5v5). But that’s a cumulative stat, so more minutes means more of an opportunity for a lower number. When adjusting as a rate state (per 30 minutes), Jones is 42nd out of 45 goalies, being tied with Keith Kinkaid, and trailing Antti Niemi, Cam Ward, and Scott Darling. Not great company.

To me, Jones has been a bad goalie hidden by a great team. This is an aging core and they could be without a couple significant pieces next year. Will he be drafted as a top-12 goalie? Top-15? Top-20? It’s going to be fascinating to see where the market falls. (may10)

 

8. As it stands, Tyson Barrie has one year left on his deal. Next year will be his age-28 season, putting him in his age-29 season for the first year of his next deal. He’s going to get a lot of money considering his production; when we look at some big-money signings recently for guys around his age, it’s somewhere in the $6-$8M range per season.

I like Barrie a lot and would want him on my team but he is a one-dimensional defenceman. That dimension is very, very good but he’s just not great defensively. Should the Avs give six years and $6.5M per season to a soon-to-be 29-year old defenceman who isn’t good defensively?

Sakic’s decision on what to do with Barrie will have a significant impact on the outlook of both Cale Makar and Samuel Girard. If Barrie is back in an Avs uniform next season, it’s hard to see huge upside with the young blueliners. Barrie has 55 points on the power play over the last two years and did so while averaging 73 games a year. With the team being top-heavy scoring-wise, Barrie running the top PP unit would make Girard and Makar both reliant on even-strength scoring for production. However, in 2018-19, only 21 defensemen managed 30 points at even strength.

I won’t know for sure until I run my projections this summer once we have an idea of what rosters will look like, but if Barrie is in the Colorado lineup in October, it’s hard to see either Makar or Girard exceeding 40 points. Just think of the dynamic between John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen from this year.

 

9. There’s certainly an argument for using Makar on the top PP unit even with Barrie around but I don’t see a coach making that move given Barrie’s exceptional PP production history.

By the way, this is a good problem for Colorado to have. There aren’t many teams currently enduring a ‘Do We Use Our Perennially Great Veteran Offensive Defenceman On The Power Play, Or One Of The Two Emerging Blue Line Stars’ dilemma. But it does create a murky situation for fantasy owners.

I’m very, very bullish on the futures of both Makar and Girard, the former looking like he’s got a Norris nomination or two in his future with the latter looking like he’ll be the next Ryan Ellis. I just don’t know if we can expect it to happen right away. Fantasy hockey isn’t all about talent (though it is a lot about talent). Players need opportunity, and as long as Barrie is around, I’m not sure the opportunity for high-end production will be there for Makar/Girard. (may10)

 

10. There was definite bad news for the Leafs as defenseman Travis Dermott will undergo shoulder surgery today and is expected to be out a minimum of six months. That would take him out of game action for at least the first month of the 2019-20 regular season, potentially longer.

The cap crunch Toronto is facing means that it’s pretty close to certain Jake Gardiner has played his last game with the Leafs. If Dermott is out for a quarter of the season, it’s going to be Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and a cast of min-priced vets or prospects.

Will they address the blue line further, maybe trading someone like Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen for some cheap help? Or, will they just rely on a couple Marlies to step up? It’ll be interesting to see what GM Kyle Dubas ends up doing. (may10)

 

11. By the end of December, fantasy owners were asking the question as to whether to drop Dougie Hamilton, an idea that seemed far-fetched during drafts given his status as a multicategory wonder. After 38 games, Hamilton had a meager 10 points, including just three on the power play from mainly spending time on the second unit.

After January 1, however, Hamilton rebounded to post 29 points in 44 games, including 15 goals. That goal total led all NHL blueliners after the new year. The downside for multicategory leagues was still the power-play points. Only four of those 29 points came on the man advantage, and he was still on the second unit behind Justin Faulk. During the playoffs, Hamilton has scored a respectable seven points (3g-4a) in 12 games.

There always seems to be the potential for more with Hamilton, given his relatively low ice time and high shot total (200-plus shots for three consecutive seasons). Of the nine defensemen who took at least 200 shots last season, Hamilton was the only one to average fewer than 20 minutes per game. He also had the highest hits total of that same group, which is another reason that he’s so desirable in multicategory leagues.

If only Hamilton could find a way for that ice time, particularly the power-play time, to increase. As it stands, though, he’s in the discussion to be a top-20 defenseman in multicategory leagues. (may12)

 

12. I don’t really know what to make of the Ken Holland hiring in Edmonton. On the one hand, Detroit was the standard bearer for success for years. On the other, that dominance was largely a product of finding Hall of Famers late in drafts because thorough European scouting was an inefficiency to be exploited 20-30 years ago.

More recently, there is a litany of horrific contracts that have greatly hindered Detroit’s flexibility and ability to contend for years.

This is going to be a great test of Holland’s ability as a GM. He has the best player in the world and there are some good young defencemen on the way, but this team has tens of millions in terrible contracts for years to come. He has to clear some (or all) of it while not mortgaging the future but also turning the team around quickly enough that there isn’t a mutiny in two years. He’s walking a tightrope with no net. Good luck. (may9)

Ian Gooding’s take on the Ken Holland hiring can be found here.

 

13. It appears Antti Niemi’s NHL playing days are over. Not his hockey career, as he goes to the top Finnish men’s league to play for Jokerit, but the end of his time in North America.

He had a pretty bad year in 18-19 with an .887 save percentage in 17 games. It’s easy to forget that he has had some good years, though. He won a Stanley Cup in 2010, finished top-10 in Vezina voting twice (and top-3 once), all the while managing to carve himself a nice NHL career. He’s not one of the best over the last decade but he was just fine for a good chunk of it. Good luck to him on the next phase of his life. (may9)

 

14. It appears that the Stars have finally found their second-line center. Just 22, Roope Hintz began the 2018-19 season in the American League – his second campaign in North America. After 21 games and 22 points, he was up with the big club for good.

During his 58 regular season contests with the Stars, the 6-3 pivot scored nine goals on 99 shots while seeing 1:46 of power play time per contest. However, that PPTOI doubled from about a minute to over two minutes in the final quarter.

His production was muted but he was also deployed in a myriad of ways. Sure, his most common regular season linemates were Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov, but that only accounted for 22 percent of his even-strength shifts. The other 78 percent were a mishmash of Brett Ritchies, Blake Comeaus, and Devin Shores.

The post-season has been different. Hintz has been effectively locked into that second line centre gig and has had a rotation of Radulov, Jamie Benn, Mats Zuccarello, or Jason Dickinson. He’s also found himself on the top power-play unit – and that’s the type of juice you want to see. The results have been pleasant.

Five goals, eight points and 25 shots on goal in 12 playoff contests. He witnessed his average time on ice jump to 15:28 heading into game 7 against the Blues. He also wins more faceoffs than he loses, while adding over a hit and block per contest. Another reason to like Hintz is where and how he converts his chances. The power forward boasts great speed and is not afraid to battle in the dangerous scoring areas, while making a home in the net front/bumper spot zone on the man-advantage.

Heading into his age-23 season, the breakout may not occur right away in 2019-20, but the writing is on the wall. The Stars have long been searching for a competent center to allow the team to split up the loaded top line in an effort to spread their offence around. That will leave Hintz with some talented wingers to play with. (may8)

 

15. The Flames have signed 23-year-old defenseman Alexander Yelesin, who played for Lokomotiv of the KHL last season. With 10 points (4g-6a) in 55 games in the KHL last season, he doesn’t seem like the kind of defenseman that will make a huge fantasy impact, although he is a physical defenseman who could provide even more depth for a blueline that’s already in good shape. (may11)

 

16. Entering 2018-19, Elias Lindholm was a guy with four full NHL seasons under his belt that had never managed to exceed 17 goals or 45 points — suddenly, he broke out for 27 goals and 78 points. That’s worth some inspection.

Obviously, playing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau was a big help. Out of his 1102 minutes at five-on-five, Lindholm skated with those two for 823 of them. In those 823 minutes, the team scored 3.8 goals per 60 minutes. For reference, as a team, the Tampa Bay Lightning scored 3.1 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five. I don’t think it’s any shock that Gaudreau/Monahan combined for a lot of goals, it’s just a matter of whether they can repeat it.

One thing many people will look to as a reason for Lindholm’s increased production is increased ice time. And it’s true, as Lindholm played over 20 minutes per game this season, over two minutes more per game than in 2017-18. A lot of those minutes came on the power play, as Lindholm’s five-on-five rate only increased by about 30 seconds per game.

We can break down Lindholm’s increased production in three ways:

– Jump in personal shooting percentage at five-on-five from a three-year average of 6.1 percent to 12 percent.

– Increased PP usage on a productive PP unit, pushing him to 26 PPPs from just nine the prior season.

– Secondary assist rate nearly doubling, adding seven assists at five-on-five.    

Add the 31 points resulting from those three areas to his 44 points in 2017-18 and you have nearly his entire production jump.

Here’s the thing: I don’t really expect Lindholm’s production to crater in 2019-20. Flames’ coach Bill Peters clearly trusts him with heavy minutes and with this level of production, he won’t move to the third line. I do think there are enough indicators of regression, however, that perhaps expecting another production jump may be a bridge too far. I won’t know until I run my projections (that won’t be until July), but my guess is I’ll have him closer to 70 points than improving on 78 points. We’ll have to see where his ADP falls. (may7)

 

17. Every year, there are a few players upon whom I change my mind greatly for one reason or another. Years ago, it was Johnny Gaudreau. More recently, guys like Kyle Connor and Josh Anderson fit this bill. One player who really grew on me over the course of the 2018-19 season is Tyler Bertuzzi.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking Bertuzzi would not be a great fantasy asset. He didn’t do much production-wise in junior until his D+2 year, didn’t have a great pedigree and had just 55 NHL games by the age of 23. Now, he didn’t have a superlative season, but he was serviceable as depth, valuable in cap leagues and 12 points in 15 March games brought a lot to head-to-head playoffs.

The big warning flag is his five-on-five shooting percentage, which was 13.5 percent. The next warning flag is that he finished sixth among all forwards in secondary assists per 60 minutes. Even just an average secondary assist rate knocks seven/eight points off his total and all of a sudden, a 47-point breakout season becomes a normal 40-or-less point season from a guy who was never thought of as a top offensive prospect.

They key here for Bertuzzi is his role. There is a new general manager in town, and there are good young players coming, but it’ll be at least another year before Detroit can really turn this thing around, I think. That leaves the Red Wings effectively being a one-line team, and if Bertuzzi isn’t on Dylan Larkin’s line, there could be a big decline coming.

On the flipside, if he spends 75 percent of next season alongside Larkin, including the power play, any regression in secondary assists could be made up through more ice time and PP production alone. That’s the double-edged sword here: if he maintains roughly the same TOI but isn’t with Larkin, we could see his production decline, but if he gets more TOI and spends it often with Larkin, we could see improvement production-wise despite that secondary assist regression. To me, Bertuzzi feels like the kind of player who can earn coach Jeff Blashill’s trust, but there is a very wide range of outcomes here for 2019-20. (may7)

 

18. Philadelphia hired Alain Vigneault to be their coach a little while ago and continued to add to their coaching staff. Monday, it was announced that both Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien would be joining the staff. Therrien was last in the NHL as the head coach for the Habs in the 2016-17 season, while Yeo was fired this season by the Blues.

I’m not overly optimistic on this ensemble but I’ve been surprised by coaches before. Let’s see where this goes. It does, however, look more like the Justice League than the Avengers. (Topical!) (may7)

 

19. The Blue Jackets have a couple of very talented prospect goaltenders in their system, and there was much ado about their signing of Elvis Merzlikins (for good reason). And now, just last weekend, they signed Daniil Tarasov.

While Tarasov is only 20 years old, he is 6-5 and is considered to have a higher ceiling than Merzlikins. Tarasov will play in the AHL next season and how well he adapts to the North American game will determine the speed in which he graduates to the Jackets. I like the timing here. With Merzlikins I think the timing is off. He’s ready now, but because he is unproven I just can’t see the Blue Jackets turning to him full time.

Which means they turn to free agency (Robin Lehner?). Which means they sign a goalie for at least three years, maybe more. Which means Merzlikins’ window closes by the time that tenure ends. But with Tarasov, the window just starts to open then – thus my belief that the timing works out well for him. (may6)

 

20. By this point, we all know the book on Barry Trotz. He’ll take a team that on paper you’d think is ranked in one range (let’s say, for this year’s Islanders and many of his Nashville teams – 15th to 20th) and coaches them to better results (let’s say 10th to 15th, and stealing a playoff round). He does this with a sound team-based system that is defensively responsible.

This generally drags the point totals down among the forwards as the offense gets spread out, and it makes the goaltenders almost Vezina-worthy. You saw this over the years going back to Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, Pekka Rinne, Braden Holtby and now Robin Lehner (and even Thomas Greiss, for that matter).

Nothing we saw in the playoffs changed this perception. In fact, it lifted Lehner’s stock even higher, if anything. I’m not so certain if Lehner signs with a different team under a different coach, he does quite so well. That’s not to say he won’t be great – he has his act together now and seems to be in the zone. He is a very talented netminder and until this season had not ever tapped into that potential. And on a different team he would get more starts, so shedding that shared net situation would more than make up for any value lost at not winning the William Jennings Trophy again. So, while he won’t put up the .930 SV% under a different coach, I think overall his fantasy value will improve. (may6)

 

21. As for the coming summer, the Islanders have key unrestricted free agents: Lehner, Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, Valtteri Filppula, Tom Kuhnhackl and Luca Sbisa. They will have something in the neighborhood of $35 million in cap space to replace these players and can certainly afford to re-sign Lehner. This team will have a completely different look next year. And to think they have $5.5 million locked in to pay Andrew Ladd for each of the next four seasons, ouch… (may6)

 

Have a good week, folks!!