Ramblings: Season-Ending Q+A (Mar 30)

by steve laidlaw on March 29, 2018

 

Today’s ramblings will be a blowout Q+A. Enjoy!

 

 

I have mild concerns about all the point totals we have seen this season. The early crackdown on obstruction led to penalties getting called at a rate we hadn’t seen in years, and the subsequent bump in power plays shot goal scoring up about an extra goal per game. That lasted for about a month and then things got back to normal.

That October bump is a big reason why of the 39 individual seasons in which a player scored 30+ PPP in a season over the past five years 13 of them (a third) are from this year, and that number is likely to climb with a little over a week remaining and several players knocking on the door.

Power plays are getting more efficient across the board as more teams buy into the four-forward look, but there has been a significant give-back in goal scoring since October. With teams better adapted to how the game is getting called, plus the natural progression away from referees making those calls, I doubt that we see scoring the level we saw it in the first month of the season.

For Barzal, who has 24 PPP, any slippage could see him fall below the point-per-game mark. However, Barzal scored only one of his 24 PPP in October. His season didn’t take off in full until November, when the Islanders finally sorted out which line Jordan Eberle should play on, and also that Barzal should indeed become a primary part of their top power play unit.

Barzal is also a super-duper star, capable of carrying his own line, and potentially his own team. No doubt life would become more difficult losing John Tavares as he’d get more attention from the oppositions best players as well as more focus from coaching staffs trying to shut him down. However, a guy who skates like Barzal is always going to be able to put the opposition into crisis.

My main concern would be if the Islanders make a coaching change and get away from the wide-open play they have had all season. A coach not so content to trade chances could stifle Barzal by really having him focus on becoming a more complete two-way player. I suspect that plan would be accelerated if Tavares leaves.

There are also reasons to be suspect of assist-heavy players. Barzal’s performance is all too similar to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s breakout 2015-16 season. Kuznetsov’s subsequent decline in 2016-17 was a shock to many as it was assumed Kuznetsov had asserted himself as a star. As this season will prove, Kuznetsov is indeed a star. His point-per-game play was not a one-off, however he needs players around him to finish. What happened to Kuznetsov doesn’t guarantee that Barzal will decline next season, but it is an outcome we must consider.

The safe play is to peg Barzal for just under a point-per-game season as a hedge against the “sophomore slump” and that’s with or without Tavares. I suspect that if Tavares leaves there may be an overcorrection against Barzal underrating what he is capable of on his own.

 

 

As I outlined earlier this month, it is staggeringly difficult for defensemen to jump from the draft right into the NHL. Even if Dahlin can break the mould and be a 50-point defenseman out of the gate that still isn’t necessarily worth a top-50 pick in one-year leagues. I’d aim for Dahlin at the very end of drafts if drafting him at all. Perhaps outside the top 200. How about undrafted?

Dahlin can simultaneously be the best defenseman prospect to come along in years, a genuine franchise altering defenseman, and still not have fantasy relevance in his first few years.

 

 

There’s a fun rollercoaster that seems to happen with the goaltending position, and even in trying to get out in front of it, I’ve still fallen victim to it. This past year, my top tier was:

Carey Price

Cam Talbot

Matt Murray

Frederik Andersen

I was pretty well set that if I was going to have a top tier goalie it was going to be Andersen as he was the only real value proposition available from that tier. In most drafts, you could have gotten Andersen in the sixth or seventh round with a pick somewhere around 70th overall. That would have been one of the better bargains, and if you followed my draft list you surely bagged him.

I didn’t have Holtby in that top tier, despite being the best goalie in fantasy hockey over the previous few seasons. I succeeded in getting out in front of that regression. The rest of my top tier? Not so much.

After a strong season, I suspect Andersen will be overvalued next season, while guys like Holtby, and Talbot will be undervalued. I don’t think Price or Murray will take much of a hit given the high profile of their respective teams.

As for your specific question, I think I’d have to take Sergei Bobrovsky off that list. Will he be my #1 next year? He’ll be close. I’ll have a tough time keeping him out of my top tier again. I am afraid of the goalie rollercoaster, but there is a good argument that Bobrovsky is the best goalie in hockey. Here’s the top five for save percentage over the past five seasons:

 

Sv%

Philipp Grubauer

0.923

John Gibson

0.923

Carey Price

0.923

Corey Crawford

0.922

Sergei Bobrovsky

0.922

 

Bobrovsky has consistently been excellent, and he provides the added bonus of annually cranking it up another notch in the month of March during the fantasy playoffs:

 

Wins

Losses

GAA

Sv%

Shutouts

October

27

26

2.71

0.911

3

November

40

28

2.3

0.923

5

December

33

16

2.43

0.922

2

January

29

23

2.61

0.916

1

February

16

29

2.78

0.905

0

March

49

29

2.1

0.932

9

April

21

13

2.39

0.922

4

 

He does this every damned year to the point that it’s scary. If you’ve been a Bobrovsky owner these past few years, you have made a killing, especially in H2H leagues.

 

 

Petr Mrazek hasn’t shown out the way we might have hoped since landing in Philadelphia:

 

Wins

Losses

GAA

Sv%

Shutouts

Detroit

8

10

2.89

0.91

3

Philadelphia

5

8

3.11

0.890

1

 

This has probably cost him any shot at a starting gig next season. You also have to think that the Flyers won’t be qualifying him at $4 million this summer so he’ll be a UFA looking for a backup gig. He could save this with a big playoff run, but that is looking exceedingly unlikely. If you’re offering Mrazek around in your league, he won’t be worth much.

How many times have we seen a goalie look lost before landing in the right situation with the right goalie coach, rediscover his confidence and prove himself to be a legitimate starter? Devan Dubnyk lost three seasons in his mid-20’s before rediscovering his game in Arizona. He did enough there to warrant a trade to Minnesota that saved the Wild’s season and Dubnyk’s career. Someone is going to give Mrazek a shot this summer whether it works out or not, there’s a chance he could become relevant again.

 

 

My money would be on Bill Peters as the only coach on a team without a GM. It doesn’t necessarily sound like the Hurricanes are going to be an organization where the GM gets to “pick his guy” as Tom Dundon seems to want to have more of a direct line to the coach where they’d act a bit more as separate entities, but whoever is making that call, whether the new GM or the owner, neither one hired Peters.

There’s also this nugget from Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts:

3. Carolina’s Bill Peters has one year remaining on his contract, but, according to several sources, he has an “out” after this season. He’s obviously not going to talk about it while the Hurricanes are still playing, but my understanding is he has approximately one week after their season ends to activate it. Peters has a $1.6-million salary for 2018-19.

 

 

Nathan MacKinnon has had the breakout season I was projecting Jack Eichel to have. Not that Eichel has been bad, and he certainly has the potential to match MacKinnon on most fronts, but you have to go with MacKinnon.

 

 

Some of this would depend on format, but for pure points the simplest method would be to go with Dobber’s list. That list still leans heavily towards value for this season. Looking at next year and after McDavid you’re going with:

Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brad Marchand, Erik Karlsson (assuming some distinction between forwards and defensemen), Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane in some order.

My list leaves out a lot of talent (some of which would rise in different formats) and doesn’t even include goaltending, which would necessitate including at least Andrei Vasilevskiy and John Gibson, and perhaps more depending on format.

 

 

Who I target, and who I rank after those two are two separate ideas because in drafts it’s all about value. This season, I targeted Alex Pietrangelo, John Carlson and Shayne Gostisbehere outside the top-50 players and in some cases, outside the top-100. All three produced 50+ points. You also could have made hay targeting Tyson Barrie and Keith Yandle as undervalued guys headed for bounce-back seasons.

Who to target that will give you value in later rounds allowing you to chase forwards early? Kevin Shattenkirk, Shea Weber, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Kris Letang, Duncan Keith, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sami Vatanen and maybe Zach Werenski. None of those guys would rank directly behind the top two defensemen but have a better shot at being undervalued as a result. We’ll have to see what trends emerge come draft season.

 

 

You’ll find Jake Guentzel on my list of rebound candidates for next season, however getting a 60-point season is probably the max he can offer with Patric Hornqvist due to return. Mid-50’s with strong peripherals is my projection at this stage, which may not be worth reaching for, especially if he has another huge playoff run.

 

 

If you’ve followed along all year, you know I am a big fan of the Wood Man. I expect even more from Pierre-Luc Dubois next season. It isn’t certain that Mittelstadt will even be in the NHL next season (though it does seem quite likely).

 

 

Dustin Byfuglien just turned 33 and saw himself getting phased out a bit this season from the astronomical loads he was asked to carry in previous seasons. He also went through a horrible shooting drought that he should bounce back from.

Figuring out where Byfuglien stands next season may have to wait until the offseason. The Jets have some big decisions with Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry and others hitting restricted free agency, most of whom with arbitration rights. They have roughly $25 million in cap space to play with, but that will go quick between those four guys, let alone the others and also filling in holes on roster with Paul Stastny and Tobias Enstrom hitting unrestricted free agency. They may also be forced to carry some bonus overages forward to their 2018-19 cap with guys like Patrik Laine, Nikolai Ehlers, and Kyle Connor producing well on their entry-level deals. No one feels sorry for the Jets, this is a good problem to have. How they negotiate this situation will decide how much they have to lean on Byfuglien who is unlikely to be heading anywhere.

The easiest solution would be to move Tyler Myers who is redundant as a big money right-side defenseman on a team with Byfuglien and Trouba. $5.5 million is a lot to pay for a third pairing guy, even one as talented and capable as Myers. His deal expires at the end of next season, so he’d mostly be a rental, but moving him to patch another hole (either a left-side defenseman or a middle-six centerman) could allow for internal growth with Tucker Poolman expected to be ready for regular duty and clear some cap space.

Moving on from Myers (who has eaten into a bit of Byfuglien’s power play time) would mean leaning on Byfuglien and Trouba more heavily. Perhaps leaning on the 33-year-old isn’t ideal as he ages, but they are paying him like he can carry a heavy load.

The difference between Byfuglien playing the 24:26 he has averaged this season and the 27:27 he averaged the year prior adds up though almost exclusively in peripheral categories, especially with SOG. With continued usage at this season’s rate, we’re talking 200 SOG, lowering his goal projection to the 8-13 -range and his standard 35-40 assists. Bump Byfuglien’s usage back up and his goal-scoring potential increases with his shot volume.

It’s worth noting that despite his shooting percentage going in the tank and a decline in usage, Byfuglien’s per-game scoring hasn’t deviated much from the average he has posted the past few seasons:

 

Points/Game

2014-2015

0.65

2015-2016

0.65

2016-2017

0.65

2017-2018

0.63

 

That’s likely because most of what Byfuglien has lost in ice time comes from the penalty kill, which aren’t important minutes for scoring. It doesn’t hurt his peripherals though. If you play in a league with blocked shots, the decrease in penalty kill time for Byfuglien has cost him roughly one blocked shot every seven games, which adds up to a dozen over a full season. His hits are down too. Byfuglien’s usage going into decline at a time when his skills might also be fading could have had a deleterious effect on his numbers, but it has also come with the Jets emerging as an elite team, which has helped blunt any aging effects we might otherwise have seen. It has likely been helpful that his PK usage is down.

Byfuglien remains an elite multi-category option and a locked-in top-20 point-scoring defenseman. He doesn’t quite have the same upside as once before. It seems unlikely that he’s ever going to go for 20+ goals and 60+ points (a level he never did hit but always felt like he might). Byfuglien’s floor remains high, which makes him a safe option.

 

 

Shameless plug for the DobberHockey Guide. Each summer I put together the top-20 regression candidates for the guide and I assume I will be reprising that piece this summer, so for this one, you’ll have to wait for August.

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Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.