The offseason fantasy hockey outlooks for the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets…
This week features the outlook for two teams who saw their fortunes tumble this year after making the playoffs last year. While the Jets can partially blame their place in a very strong division for the Flames it was more of a coming back down to earth than anything else. One of these two teams looks primed for a rebound next season.
The Flames truly showed the danger of making giant leaps forward based on percentages instead of actual improved play. The Flames went from making the playoffs last year to third last in the division, however it would be easy to argue that their actual play was better than it was when they made the playoffs. For the second straight season the Flames took shots at a higher rate than they did the previous years. They almost reached 29 shots per 60 minutes and averaged more shots than they gave up for the first time in three years. They have managed to basically keep their shots against steady at 28 and change per 60 minutes for the last three years. From the changes in their expected goals scored and allowed it is evident that the Flames were a bit better offensively and despite not allowing more shots notably worse defensively. The massive drop in the standings much more a result of the Flames inability to achieve the shooting and save percentages they had the previous year. It was highly unlikely that the Flames were going to be able to repeat the 10.52% shooting percentage they had last year thus while they took more shots this year they actually scored fewer goals. The team save percentage should have been easier to repeat, but both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller fell apart and the Flames ended up with a sub-90 save percentage and allowing more than three goals per 60 minutes this season. The way the Flames are trending they should see improvement next year just by getting league average goaltending, which would have kept them around an even goal differential this year, or sitting just outside of the playoffs.
With Ramo and Hiller both having struggled this year, and mid-year Niklas Backstrom acquisition not faring much better in a limited run, the Flames are almost guaranteed to have a new starting goalie this year unless they decide to turn the reins over to Joni Ortio. Regardless of who takes over the reins it is unlikely they will be bad as the revolving door of goalies was in the Flames net this season. The Flames were the eleventh best overall shot suppression but had 21st overall expected goals against per 60 minutes. That means that while they did a good job of not allowing a lot of shots they allowed a higher proportion of higher danger shots than other good shot suppression teams. Unless that improves it will be hard for whomever takes over the Flames net to post outstanding numbers and as such this will not be a position of fantasy strength barring the addition of a strong defense-first coach.
The strongest part of the Flames lineup is its defense corps even after the trading of Kris Russell at the deadline. They will still return Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Wideman as their top four. The Flames had three defensemen with more than 40 points and Wideman at 19 points in 51 games scored at just over a 30 point pace. Giordano and Hamilton are the two that are most likely to continue to score at above a 40-point pace assuming the new coach continues to use them on the top power play unit. Should Hamilton maintain his hold on the top unit with Giordano, Brodie is an especially good candidate to see a drop in production next year. Brodie had 26 assists at even strength last year with more than half of them being secondary assists. His high percentage of secondary assists contributed greatly to Brodie having getting an assist on a very high percentage of the goals scored with him on the ice. He was amongst the top five defensemen in the league in even strength assist percentage, a stat no defenseman has appeared in the top 10 twice in any of the last three years. Add to that the fact that he had the lowest shot rate amongst Flames defenseman and the result is a defenseman who is highly reliant on assist for his production looking at a highly likely dip in assists. The Flames have three options, (Jakub Nakladal, Deryk Engelland and Jyrki Jokipakka) in their bottom pairing who are all good depth options for periphery points but at the moment the bottom pairing looks set for a platoon situation.
Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are by far the best fantasy options on the Flames. While much has been made of Monahan’s struggles away from Gaudreau that relationship goes both ways. Finding the Flames that gets the majority of the minutes on the wing on the top line will gain immediate fantasy relevance. The Flames have very few quality options on the right side, with the only returning one being Michael Frolik. While he is the best returning option he also forms the core of a very effective line with Mikael Backlund that actually drives possession and is as close to an effective checking line, posing as the second line, as the Flames currently possess. The most intriguing option on the right side is the incoming Daniel Pribyl. He is coming off a season in the Czech league where he averaged a point per game, which is by far his best season to date. This rate of production shows that Pribyl has the ability to be competitive if given the chance in the NHL, and this looks to be as good a situation as he could have asked for.
The Flames lack of depth on the right side is a problem as is the fact that their second line of Backlund, Frolik and Sam Bennett is better suited as a checking line. The problem is that Bennett has yet to prove that he is able to carry his own line as his production this year was very sporadic. It would be tough for Bennett to carve out his own line as the Flames have very few other effective offensive forwards with the possible exception of Joe Colborne. Whereas the Flames lack top six scoring options there is no lack of peripheral category contributors. Micheal Ferland, Lance Bouma and Brandon Bollig all racked up more than 100 hits with Ferland hitting 200. Bouma and Bollig each missed more than 30 games meaning that the Flames could have had three bottom six players with close to 200 hits. Bollig is especially effective as he also racked more than 100 penalty minutes.
The Jets underachieved this year but won the draft lottery by getting second pick. While the Jets could have used Auston Matthews, as every team could have, they make a great fit for Teemu Laine. This is especially true with Mark Schiefele’s late season emergence and the shipping out of Andrew Ladd at the trade deadline. Before getting in to the fantasy prospects of the individual it would be prudent to look at the how the Jets are trending. The Jets have been a very stable team over the last three years. With their shots for and shots allowed both hovering around 29 shots per 60 minutes. The Jets need to carry the play more as they have little in the way of consistent quality goaltending upon which they are able to rely. In fact the only of the last three in which they got anything close to league average goaltending they also made the playoffs. Not surprisingly it is also the only season in which they averaged more shots per game than their opponents despite averaging more than 50% of the shots per game.
The Jets will have to put up Ondrej Pavelec’s leaky ways for one more year, unless they buy out his contract, before they can turn the reins over to Connor Hellebuyck. Pavelec has had a save percentage under 91% in four of the last five years. In fact it is a bit of a mystery how he got this long-term contract as he has only had two years that were at or above league average goaltending. As long as he is the starting goalie for the Jets there is not much fantasy value here as the Jets do a decent job of shot suppression so he does not even get a high volume save bonus. Michael Hutchinson has been a mixed bag in his two years with one at the league average and one below it. He makes a decent gamble as a backup as he has played 30 games in each of the last two years. If he plays at a league average level he has the potential to win up to 20 games as a backup goalie and possibly more as he has threatened to steal the starting job previously.
The Jets are very deep on defense with a number of players who seem like they should have a lot of fantasy relevance but that is not really the case. Dustin Byfuglien has been a multi-category stud for years now and until he shows otherwise will continue to the primary focus on the power play as well as in offensive situations for the Jets, which is especially the case given the new contract he signed last year. Toby Enstrom used to be relevant but is not given the opportunity offensively or on the power play having been generally effective in an offensive role over his career. Enstrom’s power play minutes have been transferred by and large to Tyler Myers in the current iteration of this team. Myers needs to be able generate 15 points on the power play but has not been able to do that since his rookie and sophomore years. The player with the most untapped potential on the Jets defense is Jacob Trouba because he rarely gets first unit power play minutes and gets largely shackled to Mark Stuart at even strength. Having Mark Stuart as his partner at even strength is like making Trouba play in cement boots as the Jets score significantly less when Stuart is on the ice than off. That is partially because when Mark Stuart is on the ice almost every Jet is on for more shots against and less shots for. In Trouba’s case when he is on the ice without Stuart he is on the ice for 9.5 more shots per 60 minutes. Given that usage it will be tough for Trouba to reach the potential that he has shown.
It will be interesting to see how the Jets distribute the ice time between Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little next season. Historically, Little has been used in top line minutes both at even strength and on the power play. This has limited Scheifele’s production in the past but down the stretch he showed that he has the ability to thrive in a more central role. Part of that success was due to a shooting percentage over 20%. The role opportunity played cannot be diminished as Scheifele not only got more ice time but the opportunity to play with Blake Wheeler. Who gets to play with Wheeler may not matter as much this season if the Jets are able to draft Laine. The potential addition could enable the Jets to better balance their lines both at even strength and on the power play. Little, Scheifele, Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault, Drew Stafford and Nikolaj Ehlers are the returning members of the top six. Perreault and Stafford are the most likely candidates to get bumped to a bottom six role. Perreault has been a fixture on the top unit of the Jets power play, which may end up being a saving grace to his fantasy value.
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