Rick Roos is back with his annual Fearless Forecasts – 10 bold predictions for you to seriously ponder (or maybe snicker at)…
Last year saw me resurrect a former DobberHockey staple by making ten Fearless Forecasts for the 2015-16 campaign; and I’m back to put on my prognosticator’s cap for 2016-17!
But before I get into the actual forecasts, let me reinforce a few important things. First, inasmuch as these are fearless forecasts, they’re meant to be truly bold yet also at least remotely plausible. Also, in making this list I’ll share some information and thoughts that will hopefully be relevant to all poolies; so even if you’re not big into predictions, this nevertheless should be worth a read. And lastly, these forecasts assume that the skaters involved will each play 75+ games and none of the netminders will suffer a major injury. With all that out of the way, here we go!
1) There will be at least eight “35/35” players this season
In the last five full seasons, there have been only four (2014-15 and 2015-16) or five (2013-14, 2011-12, 2010-11) instances of players who had both 35 goals and 35 assists in the same season. But I think 2016-17 offers a “perfect storm” or sorts in that there are still enough proven veterans who have the talent and the opportunity to hit both marks, plus younger players ready to take things to the next level. Who am I predicting will hit both marks? I think it will be eight (or maybe more!) from this list: Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Johnny Gaudreau, Aleksander Barkov, Sean Monahan, Mark Scheifele, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Alex Galchenyuk, Joe Pavelski, and Nikita Kucherov.
At least one of these two has finished in the top ten in defensemen points each of the last four seasons, and within the top six in each of the past three; so this would represent a stark change from the norm. But they were so intertwined in Nashville (skating together for 89% of their 5×5 shifts in 2015-16, 92% in 2014-15) that they might be lost enough without each other for their totals to drop outside of the top ten. Beyond that, Weber will be playing under the microscope in Montreal while Josi will be contending with the continued emergence of Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, not to mention some guy named P.K. Subban. Note that I still think both of them will finish in the 45-48 point range; but it’s taken an average of above 50 points to land in the top ten in d-man scoring over the past three seasons.
3) Five Lightning forwards (plus Victor Hedman) will score 60+ points
The last time any NHL team had as many as six players each score 60+ points in the same season was the 2006-07 Sabres; and we have to go back to the 2000-01 Rangers for the last time a combination of five forwards and one defenseman did so. And of course 2000-01 marked an era of much higher scoring, as evidenced by two of New York’s 60+ point scorers being Jan Hlavac and Radek Dvorak!
One key is Tampa Bay has a talented yet balanced top six, as other than Steven Stamkos no forward averaged above 18:12 per game last season yet nine (including Stamkos) averaged 2:00+on the PP. Of course a downside to this well-spread ice time is it might be difficult for any one player to truly shine. Case in point – within the last four seasons the only instance of a team with five forwards all scoring 60+ points was the 2013-14 Avalanche, and none of those five scored more than 70 points that season.
As for how Hedman can go from 47 points in 2015-16 to 60+, three words – team shooting percentage. His 2015-16 5×5 and 5×4 rates (8.28%, 8.39%) were career lows, with his 5×5 rate having been 11.36%+ in two of the last three seasons, and his 5×4 having never previously been below 11.24%.
4) No Flyer forward will score 60+ points
At the other end of the spectrum from Tampa Bay, lies Philadelphia. Yes, I’m predicting a team which includes Claude Giroux (he of the most points in the entire NHL since 2010-11, and 73 or more points in four of the last five seasons), Jakub Voracek (81 points in 2014-15 and a 62 point scoring pace last season in what most considered an unsustainably down year), Wayne Simmonds (60 points in two of the past three seasons), Brayden Schenn (59 points in 80 games last season, but ending with 39 in his last 40 contests), and even Sean Couturier(39 points in only 63 games, with 31 coming in his last 39 contests) will feature zero 60 point scorers in 2016-17.
The key is Giroux, since he’s the focal point of the Flyer offense. After all, when he had 93 points in 2010-11, the Flyers tallied 260 goals; yet last season Giroux had 67 points, and the Flyers managed only 211 goals. Also, although he’s indeed the leader in scoring among all NHLers over the last five seasons, much of that was backloaded production. Plus, here’s an interesting food for thought comparison:
Interesting, that is, until you see what Staal did in his next two seasons:
Does this necessarily “prove” anything about where Giroux’s production might be headed? Of course not. But, Giroux didn’t miss many games in his prime, just like Staal, who perhaps paid the price in his late 20s and thereafter. Might Giroux be suffering a similar fate, as opposed to a temporary scoring lull? Beyond that, Philly coach Dave Hakstol is never going to be accused of running a juggernaut offensive scheme, which can only make scoring more difficult for the Flyers’ top six.
5) No goalie who appears in 50+ games will have a GAA under 2.20
Since 1993-94, there’s been just one season (2009-10) in which no goalie appeared in 50+ games while sporting a sub 2.20 GAA, with there being two or more in every other season except 2013-14. So why do I think it won’t happen this year? For one, most of the top goalies (i.e., ones capable of posting a GAA under 2.20) were at the World Cup; and although that shouldn’t negatively affect them too much it could mean a few more bad starts in the beginning of the season – just enough to push their yearlong GAA above a 2.20. Plus, as I noted above I think we’re in a “sweet spot” type of season where there are enough elite older scorers who can still produce, plus more players than usual poised to take the next step. What does this mean in your leagues? It’s another argument for perhaps waiting to draft the “best of the best” goalies until a bit later than usual.
Let me say right off the bat that Drew Doughty is a superb NHL defensemen whom any team would rightfully give nearly anything to have on its blueline. But notice what word didn’t appear in that sentence – fantasy. That’s because Doughty’s fantasy prowess isn’t nearly on a par with his real life value. Case in point is Doughty’s points per game rate rank among defensemen who’ve played 250+ games since 2010-11. You’re probably figuring it’s top five, or at worst top ten? Nope, not even top 15! It’s 16th, behind the likes of Dennis Wideman, James Wisniewski, Alex Pietrangelo, and Mark Streit.
Also, Doughty tallied five more points in 2015-16 than 2014-15 despite firing 10% fewer SOG and a drop in PP time from 3:26 per game to 3:03. How? Try unsustainable luck, as Doughty not only boasted a 7.1% personal shooting % (his highest since 2010-11), but also received a point on a jaw dropping 88.5% of goals scored while he was on the ice at 5×4. Had he only matched his 53.6% rate from 2014-15, he’d have tallied nine fewer PPPts.
Meanwhile, Muzzin hit the 40 point mark for the second year in a row despite a 6.14% team shooting percentage at 5×5 (marking a four year low for him and ranking 114th among 124 defensemen who played 1000+ minutes a 5×5 last season). Moreover, he accumulated 203 SOG and 64 PIM in 2015-16. Why should those somewhat peripheral stats matter with respect to his scoring? It turns out that from 2010-11 to 2014-15, there were 28 instances of defensemen with 180+ SOG and 50+ PIM in the same season, with only one being from a player (Jason Garrison in 2013-14) who met both criteria despite not having posted 50+ points in a season through the 2015-16 campaign.
With Doughty set to come back down to earth once his unsustainable luck vanishes, and Muzzin in his prime at age 27 and with some useful past player comparables on his side, it’s quite possible Muzzin indeed ends 2016-17 with 20% more points than Doughty.
Two of the major netminder stories to emerge from 2015-16 were the rise of Petr Mrazek, who started 39 games from December through February and won 27 games overall, and the fall of Jonathan Bernier, who found himself briefly in the AHL after his high profile struggles. With all this still fresh in the minds of poolies, it’s not surprising that, on average, Mrazek is being selected 80 picks earlier than Bernier in Yahoo fantasy drafts.
But if we dig a bit deeper, we see that perhaps things are poised to work out better for Bernier and worse for Mrazek than it might appear. For one, Mrazek had a dismal end to the 2015-16 regular season, with a GAA of 3.72 and a SV% of .884 in ten appearances during March. On the other hand, Bernier had eight appearances in March, with a 1.92 GAA and .938 SV% …..for the lowly Leafs.
Let’s also not forget Bernier will be a UFA after this season, creating huge motivation to succeed. Also, although he’s projected as a back-up, it’s behind John Gibson, who’s never entered a season as a #1 goalie nor played over 40 games in a campaign. What’s more – Bernier is away from the spotlight in Toronto and back in California, where he had his best success for the Kings. Meanwhile, still lurking in Detroit is Jimmy Howard, and his $5.29M cap hit and no trade clause. Plus, Detroit has its 25 year playoff streak on the line and seemingly one of its least impressive teams in recent memory, which might cause the team to be a bit quicker to push aside a struggling Mrazek than they normally would be.
Yes, Ehlers had ten fewer points in 72 games than McDavid had in just 45 contests, and 18 fewer than Eichel; but as 2015-16 wound down, Ehlers quietly hit his stride (24 points in his final 30 games; eight of his 11 PPPts in his final 35 games; all but one of his 14 games with 19:00+ of Ice Time in his final 20 contests; 2+ SOG in nine of his final 12 games). Of course there’s plenty of positive momentum for McDavid and Eichel entering 2016-17 as well; but Ehlers might have what it takes to make even bigger strides than either of them, and maybe – just maybe – outpoint one or somehow both in the process.
9) Tyson Barrie will finish within the top four in NHL defensemen scoring
Much has been made about the departure of Patrick Roy meaning a boom in production for the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene; but I think the biggest beneficiary just might be Barrie. After all, Barrie managed to finish with 49 points last season despite the Avs only tallying the 20th most goals, meaning that only one blueliner (Oliver Ekman-Larsson) finished higher in defenseman scoring despite playing for a less offensively potent team. Also, although if there’s a rising tide that positively affects the Colorado offense it should lift all boats, Barrie’s might rise the most in that he’s the only defenseman on the team who’s ever scored 40+ points.
Barrie should also benefit from the scales of bad luck tilting away from him. Case in point – Barrie’s 5×5 IPP and Team Shooting % in 2015-16 (36.8% and 8.68% respectively) were well lower than his outputs in these areas during two prior seasons, yet he still managed 49 points.
10) Andrei Vasilevskiy……will win the Conn Smythe…..while playing for St. Louis….against Tampa Bay!
Just like last year, I’ll end the list with a doozy. Let me see if I can adequately cover all the moving parts of this prediction……
First off, the Jake Allen as a full-fledged starter experiment ends up not going so well, with him struggling out of the gate (let’s not forget – after January 1st when Allen did play he generally wasn’t very good, allowing four or more goals in a game in five starts, compared to one goal or fewer in just three starts and sporting a GAA of 3.20 in January, 3.01 in February, and 2.86 in March). And then, shock of shocks, Allen gets injured yet again.
Meanwhile, about 1000 miles Southeast, both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy are playing superb in net for the Lightning. But the ever shrewd Steve Yzerman, borrowing a page from the Kings (who kept Jonathan Quick instead of Jonathan Bernier or Martin Jones), Canucks (who dealt Cory Schneider rather than Robero Luongo), or Rangers (who kept Henrik Lundqvist instead of Cam Talbot) decides to make Vasilevskiy – not Bishop – available rather than risk losing him for nothing as part of the expansion draft. The Blues bite, and, as fate would have it, the Stanley Cup finals ends up being St. Louis vs. Tampa, where Vasilevskiy stonewalls the Lightning in five games.
What’s the fantasy impact of all this? Most notably Bishop ends up being re-signed in Tampa, keeping his enormous value in the process. Meanwhile, St. Louis will parlay Vasilevskiy's success into trading him for huge value and avoiding losing him (or Allen) in the expansion draft. This will also make Vasilevskiy a sell high possibility in fantasy (ala Matt Murray this summer) and Allen a buy low going into 2017-18.
There you have it; now let’s hear your feedback! You can use the comments below, and there’s a thread in the DobberHockey Forums to discuss your thoughts on these fearless forecasts, to vote on which one you think is most likely to actually come true, and to even go ahead and share some fearless forecasts of your own!
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