Cage Match: Max Domi vs. Tomas Hertl

by Rick Roos on November 14, 2018


Despite closing in on the quarter mark for the season, we’re still early enough for poolies to wonder whether players without a strong track record who are performing well are indeed for real or just having a prolonged hot stretch. Take this week’s combatants – Max Domi and Tomas Hertl. Both were formerly top prospects who are now belatedly fulfilling expectations, or at least so it seems thus far. Can we trust either or both to continue to play as well over the rest of this season, plus beyond; and which one is the better own? Cage Match is here to find out!

Career Path and Contract Status

Domi, 23, was drafted 12th overall in 2013 after an 87-point OHL campaign. Despite the struggles of the Coyotes and Domi getting better by the season in the OHL, he didn’t make his pro debut until 2015-16, but went directly to the NHL. There he impressed with 52 points, setting expectations for him to be a dominant force for a team desperately in need of scoring. Instead, Domi was only able to produce at a 53-point pace in an injury-affected 2016-17 campaign, then saw his output drop to 45 points last season. With Domi an RFA, he was flipped to Montreal in exchange for their own disappointing forward (Alex Galchenyuk). Thus far in Montreal Domi has thrived, tallying 21 points in his first 17 games and already equaling his goal total from all of last season.

Hertl, who turned 25 earlier this week, was drafted 17th overall in 2012; and after spending his age 18 season playing in the Czech elite league, he was in a Sharks uniform for 37 games of the 2013-14 campaign. Despite not even taking the ice for half the team’s games that season he opened their eyes (and those of poolies) with 25 points, including 15 goals, with five coming in one game. From there, however, it was disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, with Hertl only once in the next three seasons even reaching the point per every other game mark. But last season he started to show signs of life, with 13 points in his last 18 regular season games followed by nine points in ten playoff contests. And so far this season has been at or near the point-per-game mark.

Both players are on year one of contracts signed this offseason. Domi’s is a two-year bridge deal that will count $3.15M against the cap per campaign, while Hertl’s is a four-year deal coming in at $5.625M per campaign.

Ice Time (data in this and the other tables is current through November 12)

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2018-19

17:42 (M.D.) – 4th

18:25 (T.H.) – 4th

3:49 (M.D.) – 3rd

3:01 (T.H.) – 3rd

0:02 (M.D.) – 11th

1:50 (T.H.) – 1st

2017-18

16:42 (M.D.) – 3rd

18:06 (T.H.) – 5th

2:36 (M.D.) – 2nd (tied)

2:30 (T.H.) – 5th

0:03 (M.D.) – 13th

1:31 (T.H.) – 3rd

2016-17

16:59 (M.D.) – 3rd

17:13 (T.H.) – 4th

2:34 (M.D.) – 3rd

1:52 (T.H.) – 5th

0:07 (M.D.) – 12th

1:13 (T.H.) – 6th

2015-16

16:22 (M.D.) – 6th

15:58 (T.H.) – 6th

3:01 (M.D.) – 4th

1:37 (T.H.) – 6th

0:14 (M.D.) – 10th

0:02 (T.H.) – 15th


In what might be a first for this column (and I’ve penned more than 100 in total), Hertl has seen each of his ice times increase in the each of the last two seasons plus – despite leaving a game early due to injury – this season so far. The result is a more than 2:00 gain in total ice time from 2015-16 to this season, which, unfortunately, is nearly all in the form of added shorthanded time. Even still, Hertl has seen his power-play minutes come close to doubling since 2015-16, albeit at the expense of 5×5 time. But power-play time is fantasy gold, especially since Hertl is finally on PP1; so losing even-strength time in exchange for PP1 time is a great tradeoff. Even still, his power-play time for 2018-19 isn’t enough to justify morphing from a 40-50 point player, as he’s been – at best – to date, into nearly a point-per-game player this season; not unless he’s also seen other metrics (e.g., SOG, PPPts, OZ%, IPP) sustainably increase, so we’ll look into that below.

For Domi, ice times in Arizona were very similar, so that’s not where explanation lies for his decreased production last season. It’s also not due to his former team, since their totals for goals scored were fairly constant (208 in 2015-16, 191 in 2016-17, 206 in 2017-18). It might be that unsustainable bad luck reared its head last season, or perhaps Domi was mentally checked out. Either way, he’s definitely looked (re)invigorated for 2018-19 and has had larger season-to-season jumps in total and power-play times than Hertl. But I’m not seeing the kind of increases that would explain/justify Domi’s massive jump in production for 2018-19 thus far, especially since out of 44 instances of forwards scoring 80+ points since 2013-14 just one pure winger (Hertl plays center and wing) did so without averaging at least 18:36 per game in total ice time, which is nearly a minute more than Domi stands at currently.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2018-19

0.82 (M.D.)

0.26 (T.H.)

0.76 (M.D.)

0.46 (T.H.)

0.59 (M.D.)

0.53 (T.H.)

2.11 (M.D.)

2.53 (T.H.)

0.41 (M.D.)

0.13 (T.H.)

2017-18

0.89 (M.D.)

0.52 (T.H.)

0.59 (M.D.)

1.06 (T.H.)

0.34 (M.D.)

0.85 (T.H.)

1.82 (M.D.)

2.21 (T.H.)

0.11 (M.D.)

0.15 (T.H.)

2016-17

0.67 (M.D.)

0.28 (T.H.)

0.47 (M.D.)

1.55 (T.H.)

0.35 (M.D.)

0.74 (T.H.)

1.83 (M.D.)

2.04 (T.H.)

0.13 (M.D.)

0.04 (T.H.)

2015-16

0.88 (M.D.)

0.32 (T.H.)

0.42 (M.D.)

1.11 (T.H.)

0.31 (M.D.)

0.74 (T.H.)

1.92 (M.D.)

2.49 (T.H.)

0.21 (M.D.)

0.08 (T.H.)


The good news for each player is they’ve seen gains in one or both of SOG and PPPts, which would be expected for their scoring to have spiked. Domi’s PPPts are unsustainably high though, and Hertl’s most likely unsustainably low. In both cases that could be bad news, since once Domi’s power-play scoring comes back to earth so too could his production, whereas if Hertl isn’t able to produce with the man advantage he could lose his PP1 “spot” to one of the many capable San Jose forwards. But we could also look at each situation with a glass half full and say that Hertl being able to score as many points as he has thus far despite not producing on the PP shows he’s perhaps more “for real” than Domi, whom we could also prop up by saying that his power-play production so far will ensure he stays out there on the top unit for a while even if (when?) his power-play scoring slows.

Just as with total ice time though, Domi has a concerning issue in that his SOGs are low for a pure winger on pace for 80+ points, as he’d only manage 173 SOG if he plays all 82 games. And looking at those same 44 instances of forwards who posted 80+ points since 2013-14, just two wingers had less than 221 SOG. Hertl’s SOG rate isn’t exactly sky high; but he plays some center and thus in those situations can function as a set-up man, making it less crucial that his shots on goal be high in order for him to produce well.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2018-19

25.0% (M.D.)

13.2% (T.H.)

13.64% (M.D.)

9.26% (T.H.)

87.5% (M.D.)

71.4% (T.H.)

51.3% (M.D.)

48.1% (T.H.)

29.9 (M.D.)

24.4 (T.H.)

41% (M.D.)

30% (T.H.)

2017-18

6.0% (M.D.)

12.6% (T.H.)

9.28% (M.D.)

7.04% (T.H.)

57.0% (M.D.)

51.7% (T.H.)

55.0% (M.D.)

47.8% (T.H.)

34.0 (M.D.)

23.7 (T.H.)

38% (M.D.)

41% (T.H.)

2016-17

8.3% (M.D.)

10.0% (T.H.)

9.33% (M.D.)

6.25% (T.H.)

70.4% (M.D.)

68.8% (T.H.)

47.3% (M.D.)

54.9% (T.H.)

29.7 (M.D.)

30.5 (T.H.)

34% (M.D.)

41% (T.H.)

2015-16

11.5% (M.D.)

10.4% (T.H.)

9.43% (M.D.)

9.11% (T.H.)

63.4% (M.D.)

63.0% (T.H.)

56.6% (M.D.)

50.1% (T.H.)

28.1 (M.D.)

22.4 (T.H.)

29% (M.D.)

52% (T.H.)


Domi’s always sported a team shooting percentage above the 9.0% threshold associated with scorers. That’s impressive in and of itself, but even more so given the offensively-challenged Coyotes teams he played for in his first three seasons. It suggests Domi’s presence makes offense happen; the problem, up until this season at least, is Domi had only once been able to factor into two-thirds of points scored while on the ice. So he was able to help generate offense, yet not share in the actual scoring.

This season Domi’s team shooting percentage is way, way up and his IPP in uncharted territory. Neither is remotely sustainable. Yet even assuming they drop, he should stay above his previous career bests. What that suggests is perhaps Domi’s consistently high team shooting percentage reflected how strong of a player he was, while his IPP lagged because he had yet to morph into a true goal scorer? Or to put it another way, could a late rising IPP coupled with a consistently high team shooting percentage justify Domi’s newfound higher goal totals? The answer to both questions, unfortunately for poolies who own him, appears to be no, since Domi’s personal shooting percentage is far too high to be sustainable, and, as we saw above, he doesn’t shoot the puck enough to be a sniper. Thus, since much of Domi’s newfound scoring and IPP success has come from goal scoring, and that goal scoring is unlikely to be sustainable due to his personal shooting percentage, Domi’s point totals will inevitably nosedive.

Turning to Hertl, his team shooting percentage and IPP thus far would both mark non-rookie season career highs, although for what it’s worth he surpassed 9.0% for team shooting percentage in 2015-16 plus 2013-14 and his IPP for this season is barely above what it was two seasons ago and is less than 2013-14. He’s also sporting a barely higher than normal personal shooting percentage, and a somewhat low – for a point per game scorer – offensive zone starting percentage. In all, he’s likely scoring above a sustainable level; but I’d expect his numbers to drop far less than Domi’s over the course of the season.

Who Wins?

First and foremost, although a lot of the column was spent picking each player apart let me stress that both should easily coast to new career highs this season. And perhaps more importantly, both appear to have reached a new echelon in terms of their fantasy status going forward. That all having been said, Hertl is the winner here, for the simple reason that fewer holes can be poked in his numbers, suggesting, in turn, that his scoring is less unsustainable than Domi’s. If I had to put numbers to each player, I’d say Hertl looks to now be a 65 point downside player, with 70+ being within the realm of possibilities. For Domi, even though he’s on fire so far I’d still take those numbers and subtract about five points for each.

What should you do if you own either player? In one-year leagues Hertl is a hold, as is Domi, although if you can flip Domi for a proven 65-70 point player you should give that strong consideration since, as I noted, he’s less likely to stay above that range when all is said and done for 2018-19. In keepers I also see both likely as holds unless either one somehow manages to far outscore the ranges I noted above, in which case you’d have little choice but to explore selling high.