The offseason fantasy hockey outlooks for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks…
This week features two teams who look to be in a position where each will have to moderately remake themselves for cap reasons. While the Blackhawks are the only one of the teams who look to be in a cap crunch next season. The Ducks on the other hand are facing a reported self-imposed cap crunch in no small part due to a couple bad contracts and the plethora of restricted free agents up for new contracts this summer. Chicago has shown the ability to restructure on the fly and will have to do so to a much smaller degree again this season and now Anaheim will have to show that they can do the same.
The Blackhawks have close to 68 million already committed to nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies for next season. They desperately need to rid themselves of Bryan Bickell’s contract but there is no reason to think that they will magically be able to do so now after not being able to do so for the past season. It is difficult to see how they will manage to address the holes on defense even if the cap does go up by three million. This means that it is unlikely that they are able to bring back Andrew Shaw especially as he will likely be looking for a bump up from his two million dollar salary of last season. All the changes the Blackhawks made last year meant that they succeeded in the regular season in a different fashion than they had previously.
In years past Chicago was a beast at even strength driving play and burying the opposition in shots. In the 2014/15 season their defense faltered as they allowed shots at a much higher rate than they had in past years as their defense was thinned out as a result of cap hutting measures. The past two years they have allowed 30 shots per 60 minutes at even strength. For the past two years they have needed Corey Crawford to perform at an elite level whereas in past years they could afford for him to be closer to league average. When the offense at even strength was buzzing along at even strength generating shots at a rate of more than 33 shots per 60 minutes they were better equipped to succeed despite the elevated shots against rate. Last season that changed as they went from taking 55% of the shots at even strength in 2013/14 to 52% in 2014/15 to 50% last year. At even strength they now generate shots at the same rate as which they allow them. Their dominant power play allowed them to remain a top team in the league last year but this is a slippery slope on which they currently stand.
Whereas in past years the Blackhawks had two lines producing at a similar rate this past season the bulk of the scoring was done by the Patrick Kane line. Kane had an outstanding year with 106 points, but owes a lot of his success to the power play where he had a career high 37 points. The arrival of Artemi Panarin seems to have been the spark that Kane needed to kick his production up a level. For only the third time in his career Kane broke 2.5 points per 60 minutes at even strength and hit a career high 7.55 points per 60 minutes on the power play. Between the insanely high production rate on the power play and being involved in more than 85% of the goals scored when he is on the ice Kane should falter bit next year but not enough to warrant any serious concerns. He and Panarin had some serious chemistry together but there should be no doubt that Kane is the driving force behind the line. A concern for Panarin is that half of his assists were of the secondary nature, an inherently volatile statistic. Either way Panarin and Kane should be quite the force again next season and will drag Artem Anisimov along with them.
Where the Kane line took Jonathan Toews and his line had a dismal year. Between Brandon Saad leaving, and Marian Hossa proving that he is human, the Toews line was a disaster. Toews’ own numbers did not change all that much as he was involved in the same percentage of the offense at even strength and his shot rate even improved. The biggest individual difference for Toews is the reduction in power play time he saw as well as the general reduction in his involvement in the goals scored while he was on the power play. The latter should change but with Kane and Panarin driving the high-octane portion of the Chicago offense the reduction in power play time looks to be more permanent. The most important factor in a potential Toews rebound is a return to form by Marian Hossa but that may not be coming. Hossa saw his shooting percentage dip for the fourth consecutive year. It is difficult to see it see his shooting percentage staying under seven percent but a full rebound seems unlikely.
There are two other fantasy relevant options amongst the Blackhawks forwards are Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw. Both were at their most productive when playing on the Toews line but only Teravainen is likely to return to the Blackhawks for another year. Should Teravainen get a regular role on a better line he could see a significant bump in his production. When with Toews he is on the ice for one and a half times as many goals as when he skates on a lower line. Given that he is generally involved in 60% of goals scored when he is on the ice that is another half goal per 60 minutes played or enough to get him to over 50 point on the season. Shaw is in a similar boat to Teravainen but the Hawks will be hard-pressed to bring him back given their cap situation.
Chicago’s defense has been decimated by their cap cutting measures over the last three years. Two years ago they lost Nick Leddy and last year they lost Johnny Oduya and have not been able to sufficiently replace them. It has shown more and more in the number of shots they allow as well as in the playoffs over the last two years. As it is there are only two fantasy options on the backend in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith is a steady and reliable 40+ point fantasy option who occasionally has a big year. Seabrook is a much more volatile option whose big seasons are reliant on big secondary assist numbers or unusual power play success. This past season his success was power play driven as the Hawks went to two defensemen on their top power play unit, if that continues Seabrook could remain better fantasy option. If they revert to their old four forward unit Seabrook goes back to being a 30-point defenseman.
Corey Crawford should be considered an elite fantasy goalie. He has become a much more important factor in the Blackhawks’ success since their defense has gotten worse and their even strength offense faltered. Crawford is facing more shots but still putting up the big win numbers which makes him valuable in any fantasy format. Despite the more trying circumstances he is facing he has posted a save percentage over 92% in three of the last four years along with a quality start percentage over 60% in three of those years. Scott Darling is a capable back-up but no threat to steal the job so Crawford is a very safe bet.
Anaheim is a very tough team to gauge both based off last year as well as the firing of Bruce Boudreau and the expected changes this offseason. The Ducks had a very odd season as they could not buy a goal early on and reacted by becoming a heavy trap team. That change along with a couple of trades sparked a turn around for the Ducks that saw them finish atop the Pacific division. Despite the turn around that Boudreau was able engineer during the season he was fired after their first round loss to the Nashville Predators. During Boudreau’s reign the Ducks were very consistent offensively while having made improvements defensively in each of the last three years. With Boudreau leaving, and no coach named as his replacements, there is not really any reason to go into the Ducks’ underlying numbers in recent years.
Given their reported cap situation it has been widely speculated that Frederik Andersen will not return to the Ducks next year and instead the starting goalie job will be given to John Gibson. Gibson looks to have all the tools necessary to be a very good starting goalie next year. Last year he posted a .920 save percentage but his even strength numbers were on the weak side and his short handed save percentage on the very high side. The year before was the reverse with a strong even strength save percentage and an average short handed save percentage. The take away from this is that he should be at worst a league average goalie, but bet on him being better than that.
Anaheim’s defense could be said to be the strength of their team, anchored by Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. One of those three is heavily rumoured to be on the way out, with Vatanen at the center of many of those rumours. Any departure of one of Anaheim’s big three would open the door for Shea Theodore. In 16 games Theodore had an even strength points per 60 production that would have bettered that of Jake Muzzin and was in the nieghbourhood of Kris Letang and Roman Josi. It is not likely he reaches that level of production this year but he would be a great option to replace Vatanen as the offense-centric option on the backend. Which ever of Fowler or Vatanen remains on the team will immediately be the best fantasy option on the team, although of the two Vatanen gets by far the most sheltered minutes. Fowler or Vatanen should be a 40-point defenseman next season if they stay on this team but Theodore is the best value bet. Kevin Bieksa is the best pure multi-category option on this team but Josh Manson and Simon Despres have the potential to equal his peripheral numbers and more than match his point totals.
Only five of the Ducks’ top nine forwards from the end of last season are under contract for next season. Two of those five, Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano, are set for the third line. Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri are the most likely to be brought back as they are restricted free agents. Rakell showed the most last season and should have secured himself a spot in the top six for next season. He finished the season with the highest points per 60 minutes at even strength of any Duck forward. The question Rakell will be whether the new coach will continue to play him with Corey Perry, as well as whether he will receive any significant power play time. Should either of those happen a repeat of last year’s numbers can be expected.
The two most stable options on the Ducks are Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Even in a year in which the Ducks struggled mightily to score for half the season, and Getzlaf was particularly snake-bitten, Perry broke 60 points and Getzlaf broke 50. Other than Getzlaf’s shooting percentage their underlying numbers look very familiar from years past the difference is that each saw the number of goals they were on the ice for cut by one third. Barring a repeat of the Ducks’ massive shooting percentage swoon to start the season not enough changed for these two to remain 50 to 60 point forwards. In fact this may be as good a time as any to buy low on them.
Jakob SIlfverberg is a big question mark as he has remained a checking forward even as the opportunity to move up the lineup presented itself. Silfverberg has had success playing with Kesler so this is not a horrible development but he will never meet the expectations placed on him in such a role. Silfverberg will continue to be a 40-point scorer, 50 on shooting percentages boom years, if he fails to remove himself from such usage, The underlying numbers are there that suggest he could be so much more and a new coach could the opportunity he needs, one that does not yet know how effective he is in a shutdown role.
David Perron, Chris Stewart, Jamie McGinn and Pirri are top nine forwards on most teams, however on this team two of them struggled to even crack the lineup on many nights. Perron had the biggest impact but will also command the biggest price tag making him perhaps the least likely to return. Stewart and McGinn are both quasi power forwards who had limited success with the Ducks, however they will both likely come at half the price that Perron would. Pirri would be the cheapest option as a restricted free agent, and given the Ducks’ cap issues probably the most likely to return. Pirri has shown the ability to rack up goals in the past and one of the highest shot rates on the Ducks. This would make him a viable and cheap to play in the top six should Getzlaf and Perry remain separated.
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