Frozen Tools Forensics: Cold Starts From Forwards

by Grant Campbell on November 29, 2019


As we looked at hot starts last week, I figured it was only fair to look at the opposite end of the spectrum and highlight some of the coldest starts to this season to date, for forwards only. I’ve isolated some of the coldest players based on what was expected of them coming into 2019-2020. If you own any of these players in your fantasy pools, I’m guessing that you’re a little worried. The Pace tool I used is available in the Frozen Tools Report Generator.

Alex Debrincat had 41 goals last season, and much was expected of him in 2019-2020. After 24 games, he has five goals and 14 assists and is on pace for 17 goals and 48 assists, which is not bad at all, but is a step back from last season. The good news is that he is only shooting 7.5 percent compared to his career average of around 16 or 17, and he is on pace for 228 shots which is more than the 220 he took last year. His even-strength production is 0.58 pts/game compared to 0.63 pts/game in 2018-2019. Chicago’s power play should improve from 13.7 percent (27th in the NHL) so Debrincat could see a bump in his power-play numbers going forward. He will be hard pressed to reach 41 goals again, but he is a streaky scorer and should get to 30.

Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan are all causing some concern amongst fantasy owners. All three of these players are way too talented to collectively be underachieving as much as they have been. They all seemed to be on the cusp of becoming consistent 90-100-point players, but this season has planted a seed of doubt that maybe last year was the pinnacle of their production. Tkachuk has the best output of the three and is on pace for 32 goals and 35 assists, which might be a result of his shots and shooting percentage being pretty much the same as in prior years. His only noticeable drop-off has been on the power play where he only has one goal this season after previous seasons of 10 and 11 power play goals. Gaudreau and Monahan should both come around to a point per game as their PDO improves (both around 95) and their 5-on-5 shooting percentage of around six percent gets back to normal (about 10). They have all had such a poor start that it will be a huge challenge for any of them to reach 75-80 points this year.

Claude Giroux is playing close to three minutes per game less than he did last year. He is on pace for a 59-point season after campaigns of 101 and 85 points. The TOI he has lost is mostly at even strength and that is where his production is struggling; he has 0.4 pts/GP compared to 0.76 and 0.79 in each of the prior years. He has been playing with a lot of different players on his line, but his most common linemates have been Jakub Voracek (on pace for 52 points) and James Van Riemsdyk (on pace for 33 points). This just might be one of those seasons in the ebb and flow of a career where Giroux has to work hard to get to 65-70 points.

John Tavares was injured for over two weeks and missed seven games at the end of October. In addition, the injury to Mitch Marner has unquestionably had an adverse effect on Tavares since he’s been back, but there are some other factors contributing to his slow start. His 5-on-5 shooting percentage is only at 5.49 and Tavares has never been below 7.63 in his career. His PDO is at 95.0 after a season at 103.6 last year. Tavares should improve with or without Marner in the lineup, but one worry is the amount of shots Tavares is generating has nosedived to 2.37 per game from above 3.4 per game over the prior five seasons. He will be hard pressed to reach 40 goals and 75 points.

Blake Wheeler is on pace (at 52 points) for his lowest output since 2010-2011 when he was with Boston/Atlanta and this is a testament to how good he has been for a number of years. There is always cause for concern with big-bodied 33-year-old players slowing down very quickly in the NHL. I’m not sure Wheeler is at that point yet, but there are some warning signs. His IPP has dipped to 59.3 from consistently being well over 70 for the past seven years. This means that more often, the team is scoring while he is on the ice without him getting on the scoresheet. His assists per game has plummeted to 0.4 from an average of 0.85 over the prior two years. The good news is he has five assists over his last five games as of this writing. I don’t think he can rebound to 80 points, though.

Clayton Keller was supposed to get back to his point totals from his rookie season of around 65-70 points when Arizona traded for Phil Kessel. Instead, both players are on pace for 12-goal and 44-47-point seasons. Their center has been Derek Stepan for most of the season, so with the recent change to Nick Schmaltz there is hope that their PDO of around 94-95 and low 5-on-5 shooting percentage (around five) will improve. The problem with Schmaltz is that he is not an effective center in the sense that he’s not great at faceoffs, resulting in them losing the draw more often than not (the line has 68 percent OZ starts), and if they lose the draw they are back on defense. Faceoffs are an issue for Arizona as they are 26th in the league at 48.3 percent FOW. Both Kessel and Keller will be looking to crack 50 points but I’m not sure how either will get to 60 unless something really clicks.

Jamie Benn is on pace for 41 points and is trending in the wrong direction. I had written one of my first articles on Benn last February, expressing some concern then, and I asked if his decrease in production last year was just a one-off or a sign that he was slowing down. This season might be providing the answer. His IPP is continuing to fall (52.0) and his 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 8.65 is consistent with prior years, so I’m not sure there are any indicators to suggest that he can become even a 60-point player again.

Jonathan Toews’ pace of 41 points after 24 games is not so much an aberration as was the 81 points he put up last year. Prior to 2018-2019, he averaged 56 points over the previous three years. He has new linemates this year, with Brandon Saad and Alex Nylander being his most common ones, so I’m sure there are some learning curves there. Chicago’s power play is 27th in the NHL with a 13.7 percent rate, so Toews should improve upon his one power-play point to date and get up into double digits as he has in prior years. I’m fairly certain he will end up over 50 points, as he is one of the most consistent NHL players there is, but 55-60 might be the ceiling for this year.

Joe Pavelski is in his 14th NHL season and is on pace (38 points) for his lowest point total in his career. In his first season in Dallas, after spending his whole career in San Jose, some of his decline can be attributed to the change of scenery. The other factor might just be age as he is 35 this season. His shot totals are a little lower than in prior seasons, at 1.96 per game as opposed to his three-year average of 2.52 per game. A lower than average 5-on-5 shooting percentage and an overall lower shooting percentage is not a recipe to score more than 30 goals. Pavelski will need to catch fire just to reach 25 goals and 50 points.

Anders Lee signed a new seven-year contract in the summer for an AAV of $7 million. He had averaged 34 goals over the three years prior to re-signing with the Islanders as their captain. This year he is on pace for 18 goals and 18 assists and there are some concerns. His overall shooting percentage is a little low at 9.4 compared to his three-year average of 15.7 but his 5-on-5 shooting percentage is pretty much on pace with what it usually is. His power-play production has ceased to be and he has recently been taken off the first unit. He has been held pointless in his past eight games up to November 27 and is goalless in 11 games. It was always going to be questionable for him to get much more than 50 points, but now he will be challenged to exceed 20 goals and 40 points.

Next week we will focus on defencemen who are off to cold starts and look at a few of the more disappointing players.

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