Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Wheeler’s Potential Decline, Guentzel’s Future, Roslovic, Barzal, & Kopitar

by Rick Roos on May 29, 2019
  • Roos Lets Loose
  • Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Wheeler’s Potential Decline, Guentzel’s Future, Roslovic, Barzal, & Kopitar

 

With the mailbag starting to overflow, that can only mean one thing – it’s time to answer your fantasy hockey questions! As always, the goals in doing so are for me to give thorough answers to the questions while at the same time making sure to address them in a way which also provides fantasy advice and food for thought to other readers, even if they don’t own the particular player(s) that are the subject of the questions. Let’s dive in!

 

Question #1 (from Barry)

My league (10 teams, 33 man rosters, G, A, SOG, HIT, BLK, STP as offensive categories) allows players with up to 60 regular season games to be on a “minors roster” (where their stats don’t count) before having to be promoted to be on the “real” roster for the season after they surpass 60 games. I’ve got two “minors roster” prospects that have to graduate to the “real roster” or be dropped, namely Jack Roslovic and Rasmus Andersson. Can I expect either to make a meaningful enough impact in 2019-20 for me to keep them on the “real roster?”

 

For your reference – and for those looking to submit future mailbag questions – It would’ve been helpful to know, for comparison what players already on your “real roster” would be your bottom two keeps, plus how many forwards and defensemen you both start and roster. To address this, I’ll go ahead and assume each of the 10 teams has 25 forwards and 8 defensemen on its “real” roster, in which case Roslovic would have to do better than what the 250th best forward would produce, and Andersson the 80th defenseman. And last season it just so happens the 250th best forward and 80th best rearguard produced about 25 points; so we’ll use that as a primary measuring stick here.

Regarding Roslovic, although he had only 24 points in 2018-29, seven came on the PP, which was more notable than it sounds since he received only 37 seconds of man-advantage time per game. As a result, he had one PPPt per 8.9 minutes of PP time, which, among those with 5+ PPPts, was third best in the NHL behind only Nikita Kucherov and David Pastrnak! What’s more, Winnipeg clearly is no longer okay with using Bryan Little as its second line center, as for each of the past two seasons they went out and picked up a rental at the trade deadline (Paul Stastny in 2017-18; Kevin Hayes in 2018-19). And with the team needing to sign Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba and a back-up goalie, but with under $10M coming off the books, chances are if they want to find a full season upgrade from Little they’d have to look within the organization, in which case Roslovic seems the obvious choice.

As for Andersson, although his final numbers were only 19 points in 79 games, we need to focus on his second half, as 15 of those 19 points came in his final 39 games, accompanied by a jump from virtually no man-advantage time in the first half to more than a minute per game in the second. His hits and blocks, although far from the stuff of multi-cat monsters, still were not terrible at just under two combined per game. What’s also interesting is although Andersson shared the ice with Mark Giordano for only about a sixth of Andersson’s total ice time, ten of Andersson’s 19 points came with Giordano also on the ice. Plus, Andersson’s ice time alongside Giordano increased as the season wore on, as in the first and third quarter Giordano was Andersson’s third most common partner, whereas in the fourth he was his second most frequent pairing-mate. And it made a difference, as not only did Andersson have seven points in those 20 fourth quarter games, but his SOG rate hit two per game, after barely being above one per contest over the first three-quarters of the season, while Giordano’s play also was stronger when skating with Andersson versus without.

Given their situations and using my assumptions about your league, I think both are worthy of a “real roster” keeper spot. The rewards could be significant if they both improve; and even if both don’t break out, they’ll each at worst give you 25-30 points, which, in your league, is probably as good as whomever you’re considering as the last forward and defenseman keepers from your “real” roster.

 

Question #2 (from Jason)

I have two questions – hopefully, that’s okay. Where do you project Mathew Barzal for next year, and when does Blake Wheeler's production fall off?

 

No problem asking about two players Jason. Let’s start with Barzal, then tackle Wheeler.

On the surface, Barzal looks to have underperformed in 2018-19; however, digging deeper we can see he produced better than expected given his circumstances. For one, he improved his SOG total from 179 to 189 and his IPP (percentage of points he received on goals scored while he was on the ice) from an already strong 72.6% to an elite 82.7%, all while keeping the same overall ice time and despite seeing his PP time slip by 14 seconds per game.

The big difference from last season was this year he was a one-man island in a sea of less talented forwards. The Isles scored 16% fewer goals as a team as compared to 2017-18 (223 vs. 267), so right there it would be reasonable to presume Barzal’s production would’ve dipped by 16%, which, in turn, would’ve put him at 71 points. Then there was the team’s PP, which went from decent (58 PPGs) to dismal (31 PPGs). So in looking at Barzal’s PP scoring, he actually had points on a higher percentage of team PPGs this season (18/31, or 58%) versus last season (27/58, or 46%). And it just so happens that the team’s drop in PPGs from 58 to 31 (i.e., a drop of 46%) nearly mirrored Barzal’s drop in PP scoring of 50% as compared to 2017-18. So if we take Barzal’s expected 71 points and subtract nine more, that puts him at an expected production rate of 62 points, which is actually lower than the 65 he managed to score.

Given that Barzal performed better than he should’ve under the circumstances and as still just a second-year player facing tougher competition due to the exodus of John Tavares, I feel comfortable declaring him a special talent. The bad news is under a Barry Trotz system the Islanders look to be patterned after Nashville teams Trotz coached from 1999-2000 to 2013-14, and in all that time only once did a player score more than 76 points (Paul Kariya’s 85 in 2005-06), and in only three instances did any player score in the 70s. Couple that with Barzal not being surrounded by anything remotely resembling star wingers, and I’d say that despite his immense talent he’s poised for more seasons in the 60-70 point range in the near future.

As for Wheeler, his career has been a marvel, as he never hit 70 points until age 28, and now is coming off two straight seasons of 91 points at age 31 and 32. That kind of production is rare – so rare that he’s only the fifth player to post 90+ points in both his age 31 and 32 seasons. What happened to the other four thereafter? Each (i.e., Marcel Dionne, Mark Messier, Phil Esposito, and Jean Ratelle) posted 80+ points at least three more times before calling it a career, which bodes well for Wheeler.

But we know that past comparisons don’t automatically dictate future results, so we have to also look at Wheeler’s metrics. Wheeler is morphing into more of a playmaker, with fewer SOG and goals in each of the past two seasons, but also far more assists. His PP scoring is also way up, so much so that had it occurred just once I’d be suspect; but these things happening in two straight seasons goes a long way toward legitimizing the results.

Moreover, Wheeler’s IPPs over the past two seasons are in line with his average IPP over the previous four, and his 5×5 team shooting percentages are smack dab in the range he’s been for virtually his entire career. Yes, his offensive zone starting percentage has seen an uptick; however, like his PP scoring and his assists total, the fact that it’s been that way for two seasons rather than one makes it less likely it was an unsustainable fluke.

All things considered, and with the favorable past player comparables, I think Wheeler is a safe bet for 80+ points in each of his next few seasons. I’d also say he has a pretty decent shot crossing the 90 point threshold at least once more before he’s done with his career, particularly if – as is expected – the Jets remain an offensive juggernaut.

 

Question #3 (from Brad)

Do you think any of this past season’s “surprise” 40 goal scorers – Alex DeBrincat, Jake Guentzel, and Jeff Skinner – can repeat in 2019-20? For purposes of Skinner, please answer with the assumption that he stays in Buffalo.

 

Looking first at Guentzel, let’s keep in mind he had a mere six goals in his first 18 games, so he actually finished with 34 in his last 64 contests, for a 43 goal full season pace. Beyond that, he did so without being a mainstay on the Pens’ PP1, which is a situation that could only improve and, with that, help boost his goal scoring further. Moreover, Guentzel’s 17.6% personal shooting percentage was not an outlier, as it fell within the middle of his two previous seasons, as did his 5×5 team shooting percentage. He also managed to keep his IPP at 69.1% despite seeing so much time with Sidney Crosby, which goes to show how much chemistry the two have together and how Guentzel has finally become the top-flight winger that Crosby has sought for nearly all his career. I’d pencil in Guentzel for 45 goals next season, with a better chance of hitting 50 than falling below 40.

Moving onto Skinner, he managed to score fewer points with each passing quarter of the season, going from 21 in 20 games in Q1, to 20 in 22 games in Q2, to 14 in 19 games for Q3, to just eight in 21 games in Q4. Moreover, he potted a mere 12 goals in 40 second half games. So which is the real Skinner? I think he’s a sniper for sure, but one who lacks the consistency to rise to the next level, as his 63 points that he ended up with last season was tied for his previous career high set way back when he was a rookie and repeated in 2016-17 when Skinner potted 37 goals.

Unlike Guentzel, Skinner did overachieve in terms of his personal shooting percentage this past season, with his 14.9% last season being a career-high and besting his career average of 12.2% despite his average shot distance actually ticking slightly upward from his average over the previous three seasons. Skinner’s SOG rate also was down slightly from his last two seasons with Carolina, yet his ice time overall and on the PP were both well above what he’d received in recent seasons, which is a bit of a disconnect. Skinner’s IPP also was down quite a bit to below 60%; however, that was a function of him skating with more skilled players and his inability to score other than via goals. Moreover, his offensive zone starting percentage of 66%, which was the highest among these three players (both the others were below 60%) and also marked a career high for Skinner, so he can’t really count on that situation improving. For sure Buffalo would try to rely upon Skinner in much the same way they did last season, so I think 35-40 goals would be likely; however, more than 40 might be a stretch simply due to lack of consistency plus these various other factors.

As for DeBrincat, him scoring 41 goals by age 21 put him in an exclusive club, as the only other wingers to do so since 2005-06 were Alex Ovechkin and  Laine. Of course, Ovi went on to be a sniper year in and year out, whereas Laine followed-up his breakout season with a stinker in 2018-19. What does the future hold for DeBrincat? Unlike Laine, and like Ovechkin, DeBrincat will get the luxury of playing with the best other players Chicago has to offer on a nightly basis. Also, like Guentzel, DeBrincat had a shooting percentage that was in line with his prior season. And although DeBrincat’s SOG rate rose quite a bit from his freshman campaign to this past season, that was to be expected given his nearly three-minute jump in TOI, with one of those minutes coming with the man advantage. DeBrincat’s 5×5 shooting percentage and IPP also are much like Guentzel’s, suggesting Debrincat has a nose for scoring which will allow him to continue to produce well when lined up alongside the best Blackhawks. I think DeBrincat should coast to 40+ goals again in 2019-20, with 45 a possibility and 50 a realistic target if not for next season then at some point down the road.

 

Question #4 (from Kyle)

What are we to make of Anze Kopitar, and is Nick Schmaltz worthy of a keeper spot over Kopitar in any league format?

 

Kopitar, who turns 32 this summer, had 11 seasons by age 30 where he played 40+ games and averaged at least 0.8 points per game. Going back to 1980-81, only 13 now retired players can lay claim to also have done so by that age. What happened to them after age 32? It’s not too encouraging in terms of Kopitar. Five players failed to best even 61 points ever again; and although just as many went on to post at least three more seasons of 84+ points, each of those five had multiple 100+ point seasons before age 30, which is something Kopitar hasn’t even done once.

The other concern about Kopitar is him playing for LA, as after a 2017-18 season in which the team looked to have turned itself into an offensive force, they saw their goal total plummet in 2018-19. And if we had to bank on which season was the outlier, it’d probably be 2017-18, as nearly all the team’s top forwards are age 27+, meaning they’re likely to be exiting, rather than entering, their peak.

Let’s also not forget that even before turning 30 Kopitar had, in 2016-17, what is now his second worst season, meaning his two worst seasons came in his last three campaigns. Beyond that, thanks to his good health and high ice times (21:02 per game – fourth-highest average among forwards from 2006-07 to 2018-19), Kopitar has played over 21,000 regular season minutes over his career, with only two other forwards being above 20,000 during the same time period. And as if that wasn’t enough wear and tear, if we look at just playoffs, we can add another 1722 minutes in 79 career playoff games, with every other forward who played more than 1722 minutes during that same time frame having played in at least 88 games and all but one having suited up for 97+. This means, if anything, Kopitar is playing even older than his actual age due to all the minutes he’s eaten up during his career.

These things all having been said, I think Kopitar’s production most likely won’t fall off a cliff. Rather, he’ll probably be at or near 60 points for the next few seasons, with a better shot of landing above 65 than below 55. Which leaves us with the question of whether what Schmaltz offers is better than what you figure to get from Kopitar.

What we saw from Schmaltz in Arizona – 14 points in 17 games – was very encouraging; however, 17 games is a very small sample size. Even still, there were positive signs when Schmaltz was with Chicago, most notably an IPP of 70%+ in each of his two campaigns; and in all my years of doing Cage Match, I found that young players who can surpass 70% IPP have a better chance of turning into truly special players as they age. Beyond that, his IPP shrank to 61% this season, which, although partially a function of playing with better linemates, still was low enough to leave room to bounce back, which in turn would mean more points. Moreover, Schmaltz's 5×5 team shooting percentage was just 6.91% this past season after two prior seasons of 8.44% and 8.79%, providing still further chance for scoring gains.

One thing you didn’t indicate is your league’s scoring categories, since the more categories you count the less valuable Schmaltz is, as he’s a category killer in Hits and Blocks, plus he lags far behind Kopitar in TOI and FOW and PIM. But if yours is a points only league or only counts minimal other categories, it might just be that Schmaltz is a keeper in your league over Kopitar.

 

Question #5 (from Michael)

Next season, I have a decision to make as to which young goalie to cut loose. Right now, I'm a bottom team in my league (goalie categories are 1.5 per win, 4 per shutout, and 1 per goal or assist that they get), so my focus is not near term. I've got Alexander Georgeiv (NYR), Thatcher Demko (Vancouver) and Igor Shestyorkin (NYR) on my main squad but have to either call up Ilya Samsonov (Washington) or lose him to the waiver wire. Which goalie, if you were me, would you drop?

 

Talk about an embarrassment of riches – you have four of the top 17 fantasy prospect goaltenders! It’s a shame you have to lose one of them since in an ideal world you’d be able to keep all four. I suppose a trade is out of the question, as you didn’t mention that as a possibility, so I’ll stick to which three to keep of the four.

All are roughly the same age and two (Georgeiv and Demko) have tasted NHL action, with another (Samsonov) logging time in the AHL last season and the last (Shestyorkin) already inked to an NHL deal. So this is not likely to be a situation where a player simply decides not to come to the NHL.

One key is the goalies in front of them. The Rangers pair have Henrik Lundqvist still in the mix; and he’s under contract for two more seasons, whereas Braden Holtby in Washington and Jacob Markstrom in Vancouver have only one year remaining on their deals. So presumably all four could be in the mix for an NHL starting job within two years. That could work out well for you if by then your team has started to turn a corner.

While Markstrom has morphed into a quality starter, Demko is clearly “the guy” for Vancouver, so he’s a must keep. I also think that Samsonov should make the cut, as although his first exposure to US hockey did not go as smoothly as might’ve been hoped, his KHL and International pedigree are top notch. That leaves the two Ranger netminders. I like dropping one of these two not only because probably just one will work out, but also because the Rangers might be a team on the decline who could be looking at a number of down years before they right their ship.

Georgiev was below average as a back-up this past season, and to me looks like he might not be cut from a starter’s cloth, whereas Shestyorkin is likely the heir apparent to be the starter in the Big Apple, as his KHL and international pedigree is arguably at least as (if not even more) impressive than Samsonov’s, and New York went ahead and inked him to a maximum entry-level deal despite Lundqvist and Georgiev both already being in the mix.

So although Georgiev is likely to give you the most NHL playing time for 2019-20, he’s the one I see as least likely to be a major fantasy factor in 3-5 years. As such, he’d be the one I’d cut based on your plan. Good luck.

 

*********

Thanks to those who sent in questions this. Although my next mailbag isn’t for another four weeks, it’s never too early to start sending me more questions. You can do so in one of two ways: (1) emailing them to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line, or (2) sending them to me via a private message on the DobberHockey Forums, where my username is “rizzeedizzee”.

When sending me your questions, remember to provide as much detail about your league/situation as possible, since as you saw above in a couple of the questions there were some omitted details which made it difficult for me to give a truly proper answer. Examples of the types of things I need to know include what type of league you’re in (i.e., limited keeper, dynasty, or one-year; roto vs H2H), does the salary cap matter, how many players are rostered (and of those, how many start at each position), what categories are scored and how are they weighted, plus other details if necessary (such as free agents available if you’re thinking of dropping a player or rosters of both teams if you’re thinking of making a trade). The key is to tell me enough for me to give you a truly proper answer, and for readers of this column to benefit from the answer/advice I provide. When in doubt, err on the side of inclusion. See you next week for the return of Goldipucks and the Three Skaters!