Ramblings: Playoff Production, Vigneault’s Potential Impact, Potential Breakouts (May 19)

by Rick Roos on May 18, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Playoff Production, Vigneault’s Potential Impact, Potential Breakouts (May 19)


Greetings Dobberites, it’s me Rick Roos pinch hitting for the vacationing Ian Gooding. I tried to think back to when I last did a Ramblings, but it’s been so long I couldn’t remember! Maybe three years? Even longer? Anyways, time to shake off the rust to dive in and do my best to make up for lost time!

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Our first order of business is the NHL playoffs, which have now dwindled to three teams remaining. I was set to cover what would’ve been Game 5 of the B’s versus Hurricanes series that was scheduled for Saturday night, except the Bruins went ahead and decisively swept the Canes, earning Boston a path to the Cup finals and up to a week plus of R&R. Personally I think long breaks during playoff season can actually work to the disadvantage of a red hot team like the B’s, whose momentum could die off as they bide their time awaiting the winner of the St. Louis vs. San Jose series, which is now knotted at two.

As for the now eliminated Canes, I’m pleased to say that in the Experts Panels here on the site I had them correctly winning both their first and second round matchups, and then losing to the Bs. What made me think they had what it took to even get this far? My reasoning was they were young enough to really want it but not so young as to be a shrinking violet once things got tough. Plus they had a hot goalie going into the playoffs and were banded together due to the “bunch of jerks” rallying cry.

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I think the big post-playoffs question when it comes to Carolina is whether Jaccob Slavin – he of 11 points in 15 playoff games – has “arrived” as a fantasy -d-man, morphing from an okay producer whose tough minutes and zone starts prevented him from producing well in the past. My view is come the regular season, he goes ahead and slides back into his traditional shutdown role since he’s just too valuable in that capacity. Sure, maybe he creeps closer to 35 points; however, don’t let what you saw convince you he could tally more than that. It was a case of a player being deployed differently when everything is on the line versus on a day-to-day basis during the regular season.

A good comparison would be San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who seems like he could produce better than he does (like his 12 points in 24 playoff games in 2015-16, for example) but instead continues to take on a more defensive-oriented regular season role because that’s what benefits his team and he’s an unselfish player. Yet another reminder that having talent to produce doesn’t necessarily equate to getting the opportunity (or, if given the opportunity, prioritizing) to score in droves.

In fact, I think the Carolina blueline could be one where no one reaches 45 points next season even if the Canes continue to see an uptick in their team output. The reality is coach Brind’Amour perplexingly believes in Justin Faulk as his PP guy despite Faulk’s failure to produce, leaving the likes of Slavin and Dougie Hamilton with deployment that’s not conductive to high scoring. So when it comes to Carolina skaters and fantasy, I’d stay away from defensemen.

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As for the Sharks vs. Blues Series. I predicted it would go to seven games and it looks like that’s where things could be heading. Or maybe not if Erik Karlsson reaggravated his groin injury, as some suspect due to him playing one shift in the second half of the third period of Friday’s game. Karlsson has been a key contributor with 16 points in 18 playoff games, so if he’s out (or even just slowed) that would be a big blow to San Jose’s chances of even getting to game seven, let alone winning the series.

Sticking with San Jose, here’s a public service announcement – d­­on’t be fooled by Gustav Nyquist’s decent 11 points in 18 games. After all, he has 19 shots in the playoffs. Yes, you read that correctly, only 19 shots in 18 total games!! I covered Nyquist in a Goldipucks columns in March, where I unearthed some interesting tidbits like (1) Nyquist’s IPP having gone down for four straight seasons then suddenly this season spiking back to levels not seen since 2013-14, and (2) Nyquist’s point total increasing despite his offensive zone starting percentage dropping for the fifth straight campaign. There’s even more, so I encourage you to (re)read the column, on the basis of which I’m declaring Nyquist the most “can miss” UFA in recent memory. Put it this way – whatever team ends up signing Nyquist might be lucky if they get Loui Eriksson numbers from him.

As for the Blues, it’s been sad to see Robbi Fabbri a healthy scratch. Injuries might have taken their toll to an extent he’s just not the same player even at the young age of 23. It will be interesting to see if St. Louis simply lets the former first rounder walk this summer rather than offering him an RFA deal. If he lands on the right team (and, of course, somehow manages to dodge the now all too familiar injury bug) then maybe – just maybe – he could find a way to salvage his career.

Nice to see Colton Parayko hitting the scoresheet a lot in these playoffs, particularly since for a while it looked like if Alex Pietrangelo was hot Parayko couldn’t be. But perhaps this is a sign the two can both succeed at the same time? If somehow Parayko is able to secure more PP Time, he could be in line for a fifth-year breakout.

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As for the IIHF World Championships, I must confess I haven’t watched any of the games. Regardless of if you choose to view the games or – like me – you don’t, there’s still the question as to whether you should pay careful attention to the results in order to forecast what might be in store for 2019-20, or, instead, not give player performances much weight.

On the one hand my inclination is to not put a lot of stock in what happens, especially since pretty much no is one skating with the same players they’ll share the ice with once the regular season rolls around. Yet it’s difficult to argue with the tournament’s recent ability to predict at least some skater breakouts, since as we saw in 2017 Nathan MacKinnon posted 15 points in ten games then made a major splash in 2017-18. And sure enough in 2018-19 Sebastian Aho posted 18 points in eight games then proceeded to see his scoring jump in 2018-19.

So does this mean William Nylander, who’s currently tearing things up in Slovakia, is a shoe in for a huge 2019-20? Maybe…….…..or maybe not. It turns out not every strong World Championships performance translates to major success in the NHL the following season – look no further than Nylander and Vadim Shipachyov in 2017 (Nylander’s output held steady at 61 points, while Shipachyov was gone from the NHL after playing all of three games with Vegas) and Rickard Rakell in 2018 (going from 69 points in 77 games to 43 in 69 contests).

As for goalies, I think World Championships stats are nearly useless. This is because many top goalies are still in the playoff mix or otherwise opt not to play in order to get extra offseason rest, setting the stage for an array of netminders consisting mostly back-ups and some who might not ever set foot in the NHL. So it’s kind of a double whammy of goalie stats not meaning much to being with, plus not many fantasy-relevant netminders even playing.

My advice is to use the list of scoring and goaltending leaders as a back of the mind data points. Think of this how you would NHL preseason or even all-star game scoring — it has some minor relevance, but it usually won’t correlate to what will happen in regular season NHL games. What does matter, however, is injuries. First it was John Tavares and now Brandon Montour (sprained MCL). All you can do is cross your fingers none of your key fantasy players sustains an injury that’ll linger into 2019-20.

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The Alain Vigneault hiring in Philly, in my opinion, will likely lead to a negative effect on nearly all the team’s skaters.

Here’s what we know – Vigneault coached the Canucks for six seasons and the Rangers for five. In those 11 campaigns, the highest point total for any d-man was 50. Pretty scary if you’re a Shayne Gostisbehere or Ivan Provorov owner. Yes, one can argue those teams didn’t have as talented rearguards as Philly does; however, that’s a lot of data spanning a lot of years and players, so it likely does not bode well for Flyer defensemen in terms of their offensive output under a Vigneault regime.

But there’s more – many Flyer forwards rely significantly on PP scoring to pad their points totals. Look no further than Jakub Voracek, who’s only twice scored over 66 points as a Flyer but in both cases had 81+. What those 81+ point seasons had in common was 33+ PPPts, versus no more than 23 in any other Flyer season. The problem is, when Vigneault coached the Rangers they were never in the league top ten in PP conversion percentage. Vigneault also doesn’t like to lean on his stars, as not once in his five seasons in New York did any forward average 19:00 per game; and other than Brad Richards back in 2013-14, none saw 3:00+ of PP time per game. So if you’re a Voracek owner, the ingredients don’t seem to be there for another 81+ point season. And the ripple effects likely will be felt on Claude Giroux too, since he’s used to playing over 20 minutes a night, with 3:30+ of that on the PP.

Suffice it to say, it’s buyer beware when it comes to Flyer skaters for 2019-20 in one year leagues. And keep these factors in mind when making your retention decisions involving Philly skaters as well.

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Sticking with the Flyers, what might the future hold for Carter Hart? Going back to 2000-01 only two other goalies started 30+ games in an NHL season by age 20, with one (Carey Price) turning into a superstar and the other (Steve Mason) seeing his career go downhill after his rookie splash. Can we point to factors by which to gauge whether Hart is more likely to follow a path ala Price or Mason, or perhaps fall somewhere in between?

Hart failed to have even 50% quality starts (i.e., starts with a SV% greater than the league average or, in games where one faces fewer than 20 shots, with a SV% of at least .885%), whereas both Mason and Price bested the 50% mark as rookies. In fact, Hart’s 46.7% quality start percentage ranked him 35th out of 44 goalies who started 30+ games in 2018-19. Hart also fared almost as poorly when it came to even strength SV%, as he finished 28th out of the same 44 (as rookies, Price finished 8th out of 40 goalies with 30+ starts and Mason 15th out of 37). Moreover, there’s a stat called GSAA, for “goals saved above average,” which represents the goals a netminder prevented given his SV% and shots faced versus the league average SV% on the same number of shots. Hart’s for 2018-19 was 6.97, or barely half Price’s 13.46 and well below Mason’s 11.72, although that 6.97 number did rank Hart better among 2018-19 netminders who started 30+ games (15th out of the 44).

Yes, some of the blame for Hart’s numbers could be tied to the Flyers team that was in front on him, as it had only 82 points compared to 92 for Mason’s Blue Jackets and 104 for Price’s Habs. Yet one could reasonably argue that if Hart had fared better, so too would have his team. I think the key with Hart is to temper the outlook for 2019-20 and beyond, as there’s just as much chance – if not more –he falls short of lofty expectations as fulfills them.

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If you read my column from earlier this month where I covered results and lessons learned from my 15 Fearless Forecasts, you saw that four young forwards who’d previously never scored even 55 points rose to 74+ in 2018-19, namely Elias Lindholm (78 points – previous career best was 45 points), Matthew Tkachuk (77 points – previous career best was 49 points), Alex Debrincat (76 points – previous career best was 52 points), and Tomas Hertl (74 points – previous career best was 46 points). This is something new in the NHL, as prior to Mikko Rantanen doing the same thing in 2017-18, no forward had made such a leap since Taylor Hall in 2013-14, and he’d already posted 50 points in 45 games in 2012-13.

The big question is whether this is the new normal. If it is, that would reward something I usually don’t advocate in fantasy, namely reaching for players in draft or trade, as doing so is risky since quite often you end up with less value than had you simply opted instead for the best player available.

So how then do you decide if it’s ever smart to reach for someone in draft or via trade who you think might be the next young forward to likewise see a huge jump in production? I think the three necessary ingredients are guaranteed PP1 time, a locked in spot in the top six, and trends in the right direction. With these things in mind, who do I see as candidates to make the under 55 points to 74+ points leap for 2019-20? Here are four possibilities:

Jake Debrusk – Yes, he only had 42 regular season points, so this would be a huge jump; however, 26 of those points came in his last 35 games. Moreover, he became a fixture on Boston’s PP1, which is very potent. And look no further than Debrusk’s playoffs, where although he only has seven points in 17 games, his SOG rate has ballooned to just under three per game, which bodes well for next season.

Nico Hischier – I figured he’d have this breakout in 2018-19; but between his own injuries and that of Taylor Hall, the Devils offense didn’t fire on all cylinders. Still, Hischier saw healthy gains in his PP and overall TOI, which should carry into 2019-20 when he’ll once again have Taylor Hall alongside him.

Jonathan Drouin – Another former top three pick like Hischier, Drouin would’ve cleared the 55 point threshold were it not for a fourth quarter swoon. What I liked most about Drouin’s 2018-19 campaign was he posted 53 points despite only 16 PPPts. This after 48 of his previous 99 points came via the man advantage. His PP scoring should rebound, and Montreal looks to be finding its offensive footing, with Drouin likely a primary beneficiary.

Anthony Mantha – Yes, he only posted 48 points last season; but that was in 67 games, with 33 of those points coming in his final 38 contests while averaging a half a shot per game more in the second half than the first. Moreover, there’s still room to see his overall and PP times increase further and for him to improve upon his 5×5 team shooting percentage of 6.9% from last season. He’s also been lighting it up at the IIHF World Championships (yes, I know I said not to put too much stock into what happens there, but I did say it could be factored into gauging a player’s breakout potential), plus next season happens to be his magical fourth year, which is never a bad coincidence.

If you have a chance to “reach” for these four, I think the reward potential is high enough to do so. Now I’m not saying to reach big time; but once players who figure to score in the 50s start being drafted, I’d swoop in and grab one or more of these four and hope my crystal ball was correct. Or if you’re able to trade for them and give up only 50-60 point forward value in return, I’d probably pull the trigger.

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One name you might’ve been surprised not to see among the players I’m predicting to jump from under 55 points to at least 74 is Washington’s Jakub Vrana. Here’s what we know – assuming the Caps aren’t in the market for a skilled winger (probably a safe assumption given their cap situation), that will leave one open spot in the team’s top six, with Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeni Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson likely having the other five spots nailed down. As of now, the contenders for that spot are Vrana plus Andre Burakovsky, both of whom are RFAs to be, and Brett Connolly, who’s set to become a UFA.

Chances are Connolly signs elsewhere, as with his size and impressive stats (no one scored more points than Connolly this past season without averaging 14:01+ per game; and the next highest point total for someone who averaged less than Connolly’s 13:20 per game was Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had 36 points as compared to Connolly’s 46) a team likely will entice Connolly with a deal (whether for more money, more years, or both) the Caps would be unwilling/unable to match. That leaves Vrana and Burakovsky, assuming the team re-signs both.

Burakovsky has seen his scoring rate drop for two consecutive seasons and it’s unclear whether the Caps still envision him as a top six option. This is especially the case after they saw Vrana rise to 47 points in 2018-19, and given that Vrana seemingly makes Kuznetsov (his most frequent centerman) a better player, since as we can see Kuznetsov had better High Danger Scoring Chances and High Danger Goals when skating with Vrana than without.

The question is whether Vrana will be able to keep ahold of that precious top six spot if he gets it. Let’s not forget that he followed up 17 points in 22 third quarter contests with only nine in 19 fourth quarter games despite lining up with Kuznetsov and Oshie most frequently.

My advice when it comes to Vrana is to tread lightly, as I think his output could be almost anywhere on the map. If I had to quantify my guess as to his 2019-20 production, my thinking is there’s a 15% chance he ends up with under 45 points, 25% with 45-50 points, 30% with 50-60 points, 20% with 60-70 points, and 10% with 70+ points.

One more note about the Caps – I’d say that Phoenix Copley is as good as gone as the team’s back-up netminder. Because Copley could not be counted upon ala Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby ended up playing five more games than 2017-18 but snagged two fewer wins. My guess is the team lets the dust settle on the tier 2/3 netminders from the rather large goalie UFA class, then signs one of the leftovers from Mike Smith, Cam Talbot, Brian Elliott, Keith Kinkaid, or Curtis McElhinney to a one or two year deal (sort of like what the Bruins did last summer with Jaroslav Halak) to bridge things until Ilya Samsonov is ready to assume the back-up role.

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At the risk of sounding like I’m tooting the site’s horn, literally every time I explore Frozen Tools I discover something else new and useful. Here’s an example – what was notable about Tyler Seguin, David Pastrnak, Sean Monahan and Mark Scheifele, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Timo Meier and Jakub Voracek last season? The first four were the only players to score 80+ points but have those points come in fewer than 50 games (80 points in 49 games for Seguin, 81 in 44 for Pastrnak, 82 in 49 for Monahan, and 82 in 47 for Scheifele) meaning each had 30+ games of zero points, whereas the other four were “steady eddies” as the only NHLers who had 65+ points but fewer than 20 games without scoring a point (70 points in 53 games for Hoffman, 70 in 51 for Dadonov, 66 in 48 for Meier, and 66 in 47 for Voracek).

What does this mean, fantasy-wise? In roto leagues it’s largely inconsequential because only cumulative stats matter. But in H2H leagues, data like this can be a big deal, as for nearly every week Scheifele, Pastrnak, Monahan or Seguin might win for you due to scoring in bunches, they might cost you one by hitting a cold spell. Meanwhile, you put Hoffman, Dadonov, Meier, and Voracek in your line-up and you can likely count on steady production week in week out. I encourage you to use the offseason to play around with Frozen Tools. For those interested, this information was found under the “Most Consistent” banner of the Report Generator.

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Staying on the area of research for next season, in looking at stats for multi-cat performers, I found someone who put together a 2018-19 which I think hasn’t been highlighted enough. To underscore how remarkable his 2018-19 was, let’s do a side-by-side comparison between his stats and that of another player who has a higher fantasy profile, with these stats being per game averages:

Player 1 – 0.75 points, 2.14 SOG, 2.03 Hits, 1.12 PIM, 0.10 PPPts, 0.57 Blocks, 2.87 FOW

Player 2 – 0.65 points, 2.54 SOG, 2.01 Hits, 0.72 PIM, 0.15 PPPts, 0.62 Blocks, 0.34 FOW

Any guesses as to who these impressive stat-stuffing players are?

Player 2 is Chris Kreider, but player 1 is Andrew Shaw! Yes, after a career where, thus far, he had always been rock solid in Hits and PIM but never otherwise lived up to points expectations, the now 27 year old Shaw looks to have morphed into a pretty decent scorer to go along with his multi-cat prowess. What’s more – he actually had 38 points in his last 47 games, for an even higher scoring rate of 0.80 per game. All this despite averaging less than 16 minutes per game and barely two minutes of PP time per contest.

The big question is, can Shaw replicate this success in 2019-20? His IPP was 73.4 after never having been even 60% and his team shooting percentage at 5×5 was 11.51% after never previously being in double digits, so there is concern that he’ll come back to earth at least somewhat. But still – 47 games of stellar play was enough to likely ensure he still figures prominently in the Montreal offense – prominently enough to hit 50-55+ points if he manages to play in 80+ games (a big if for a player who’s missed 14+ games each of the past three seasons) while putting up his never wavering multi-cat stats. Make sure you keep Shaw’s name in mind come draft day.

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While we’re at it, let’s finish up these Ramblings with a couple more “Player 1 vs. Player 2” comparisons to further highlight how important it is to take note of skaters who might fly under the fantasy radar or be underappreciated as compared to more well-known players.

Here’s a side-by-side for two defensemen:

Player 1 – 75 games, 9 goals, 37 assists, 0.61 points per game, 10 PPPts, +1 rating

Player 2 – 56 games, 10 goals, 24 assists, 0.61 points per game, 17 PPPts, +3 rating

Would you believe player 1 is Seth Jones and player 2 is……………Alex Edler!? Yes indeed, Elder, at age 32, had a career best season in terms of production rate. What do I peg as his output for next season? I’m banking on him re-upping with Vancouver (he’s a UFA), producing solidly but not quite as well if – as expected – Quinn Hughes makes a big splash, especially on the PP. Still, don’t forget about Edler on draft day even in non-multi cat leagues, as his scoring was disguised due to missed games.

Here’s another, this time with two centers:

Player 1 – 80 games, 22 goals, 52 assists, 74 points, 25 PPPts, +2 rating

Player 2 – 81 games, 20 goals, 53 assists, 73 points, 16 PPPts, +7 rating

It turns out player 1 is the ever-steady Nicklas Backstrom, but player 2 is David Krejci, who managed to tie his career high in scoring despite mostly playing on a second PP unit and apart from Boston’s big forward guns of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. The reality is the system which Bruce Cassidy is running has helped pad the outputs of all Bruins skaters, not just the top line. And with big things – see above – expected from Jake Debrusk, who was Krejci’s most frequent wing last season, and Krejci’s style of play, like that of Backstrom, being amenable to still staying in top form into his 30s, another 70+ point campaign seems like it’s in the cards for 2019-20.

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That does it for me – I hope this was a fun and informative read. Perhaps the next time I pinch hit will be sooner than a few years, but rest assured you’re in capable hands with the team of regular ramblers here at DobberHockey.

Before you sign off for the day, don’t forget to visit the Shop, where you can buy the Prospects Report (out June 1!) plus all sorts of goodies to help you dominate your leagues. And be sure to read my Roos Lets Loose columns every Wednesday!