One fun thing about looking back on the past season is to see if there are any overall patterns that emerge from season to season that could be a tell of what to expect for next year.
Sadly, the answer to that is a big fat no. It seems as if the top stories change each year. One year, youth is king, goaltending is awesome, no coaches are fired and there is no major player movement, and the next year, the greybeards exert dominance, scoring is at the highest level in a decade, a third of the league changes coaches and a bunch of elite players switch teams.
It makes it tough for prognosticators, but that’s where all the fun lies.
Here are the top 10 fantasy-related stories of 2018-19.
10. Coaching firings
In 2017-18, not a single coach was fired during the NHL season. Last offseason, six teams replaced their head coach. During this campaign, seven teams fired their coach. That’s 13 teams that replaced their bench boss within a 12-month period. Oftentimes, a coaching change can have a huge impact on their squads, but aside from some improvements with improving goals against, there were no major changes. Philadelphia saw their goals allowed decrease by half a goal a game after their Dec. 17 coaching change, but was that because of a new coach or a better goaltender in Carter Hart? St. Louis saw their goals against dip by 0.62 goals per game after replacing Mike Yeo with Craig Berube on Nov. 18, but again, how much of that is because of Jordan Binnington instead of Jake Allen? Speaking of Binnington…
9. Jordan Binnington saves the Blues and your fantasy squad
Just how great was Binnington this season? He brought St. Louis from the bottom of the west to a playoff spot and probably did the same for many fantasy general managers. He is the only rookie goalie in NHL history with at least 24 wins, a minimum .927 SV % and a maximum of 1.89 GAA. In fact, according to Hockey Reference, only seven other goalies have met those numbers, the last being Miikka Kiprusoff in 2003-04 (the rest are Marty Turco, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Bernie Parent, Tony Esposito and Jacques Plante twice).
8. Not a great rookie crop
Fantasy general managers love their rookies and the hype surrounding the freshmen, but this year’s class was mostly underwhelming. There were a few exceptions: The aforementioned Binnington, Elias Pettersson and Rasmus Dahlin. However, most rookies didn’t justify a spot in your fantasy lineup. In 2017-18, there were seven rookies who reached 50 points (led by Mathew Barzal’s 85 points in 82 games), and 13 players hit 40. This year, Pettersson was the only rookie above 45 points, and only 12 rookies managed to reach 27 points. All in all, a disappointing year for rookies.
7. Greybeards on defense
There’s a lot of talk about how the NHL is a young man’s game, but someone forgot to tell the defensemen. This season, the average age of the top five defensemen in points was 31 years old, led by Brent Burns at 33 years old, Mark Giordano at 35 and Keith Yandle at 32. In total, 30 blueliners scored at least 40 points, and 20 of those players were at least 27 years old. Only four of them were 23 years or younger. Compare that to forwards, where 10 of the top 30 points producers were 23 or younger. Maybe an interesting draft idea for next year will be to go with youth at forward but age on defense and see how it works out.
6. Sergei Bobrovsky’s consistency
The Jackets’ top goalie (for the next seven weeks, anyway) has been a model of consistency in fantasy hockey, although he doesn’t always get the respect he deserves. However, he’s the only netminder to finish in the top five in basic Yahoo leagues (wins, GAA and saves) in each of the past three years. In 2016-17, he was the top goalie, in 2017-18 he was fourth and this year he was third. While other top names move in and out of the top five (Braden Holtby and Pekka Rinne, for example, have only been in top five once in three years), Bob has proven you can count on him year in and year out.
While goal scoring is up (13 players scored at least 40 goals this year, the most since 1995-96), none of them could catch Ovi. His accomplishments are nothing short of amazing, and that he continues to lead the league in goals every year seems almost unbelievable. With 51 goals this year, he’s now scored 50 goals in eight seasons. By comparison, the rest of the active NHL players have eight 50-goal seasons combined. Ovi has now won six of the last seven Rocket Richard trophies and eight overall.
4. Best and worst of the power play
The Lightning put up an all-time power play while the Preds had one of the worst all-time. Let’s start with the Lightning. Their 28.2 power-play percentage is the 10th highest of the last 50 years, and the best since Calgary in 1987-88. Nikita Kucherov had 48 power-play points, while Steven Stamkos had 40 and Brayden Point had 35. On the other side, Nashville scored on only 12.9 per cent of their power plays, which was one of the worst power-plays of the past 50 years. Ryan Johansen led the way with 16 power-play points (although he didn’t have a single man-advantage goal). The Preds as a team had 97 power-play points. The top three in Tampa had 123 points.
3. Big names on the move
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a season with as many big-name moves as the past 12 months. In that time, Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner, Ryan O’Reilly, Dougie Hamilton, Elias Lindholm, Max Domi, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jake Muzzin and Dylan Strome were all traded. John Tavares also made big news last summer for signing with Stanley Cup contender (snicker) Toronto. With only a couple of exceptions, all those players put up career or near-career high numbers with their new squads.
2. Nikita Kucherov’s wild season
Here’s a great debate question for next season. If you have the first overall pick in a points-only, one-year draft, who do you select first overall: Kucherov or Connor McDavid? It’s not as automatic as one may have thought a year or two ago. Kucherov is only 25 years old, so it is debatable in keeper leagues as well. This year, Kucherov just put up 128 points, the most since Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux in 1995-96, and with a potent top-six in Tampa, could contend for the league leader in points for a few years.
1. Scoring is up
This was an easy one, and touched upon in much of the list above. The NHL saw scoring rates that we didn’t expect unless there was a massive increase in power-play opportunities. This year saw six players hit the 100-point mark (the most since 2006-07) and 28 players reach 80 points. One of the biggest reasons for such a high-scoring year, in my mind, is the fact there weren’t many injuries to the top guys. Outside of Erik Karlsson and Taylor Hall, no elite point-producer missed 15-plus games.
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