Ramblings: Spezza Strikes Back, Sizzling Saros (Jan 17)

by Ian Gooding on January 17, 2018

Spezza Strikes Back, Sizzling Saros (Jan 17)

Usually Tuesdays are busier, but many teams on bye week resulted in only six games played. But there were still a few talking points from the day’s action.

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Coaches such as Ken Hitchcock last as long as they do because they know how to get the most out of their players. Their motivational techniques may not work on every player every time, but they know which buttons to press more often than not. So with Jason Spezza scoring two power-play goals on Tuesday, you can’t question Hitch’s decision to healthy scratch Spezza the day before.

Smart fantasy owners have stayed well away from Spezza this season. He’s currently owned in 37 percent of Yahoo leagues and 36 percent of CBS leagues, and that should be considered an inflated number based on his results. His ADP at Yahoo was 115, so somehow he’s still managed to hang around on a few teams. But imagine how wrong you were if you drafted Spezza ahead of Eric Staal, Tyler Toffoli, or even MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon. Yet that’s what happened in over half of drafts out there. 

Should we have seen this coming? Absolutely. Spezza dropped from 33 goals in 2015-16 to just 15 goals last season while taking 25 percent fewer shots. Yes, he played in seven fewer games in 2016-17, but that doesn’t make up for the difference in shots. An abnormally high 16 percent shooting percentage had much to do with his 2015-16 success, with last season’s shooting percentage much closer to his career average of 11 percent.

This season, the numbers have dipped even further. Spezza is averaging just 13:30 in icetime per game, which isn’t enough if you were drafted to be a top-6 forward. Prior to Tuesday he had also failed to score a goal in 14 consecutive games, which dates back over a month. The four shots he took on Tuesday was his highest total since November 28. So you won’t be surprised that his shot total per game is nearly one shot lower than it was two seasons ago.

The Stars’ lack of secondary scoring factors in as well. The only forwards worth owning from this team right now are Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, or Alexander Radulov, as there is a major dropoff in scoring after those three plus defenseman John Klingberg. Spezza has been averaging fewer minutes with Benn and Seguin because Radulov has taken most of those minutes as a better fit on that line. I’d like to say that the two-goal effort will be the beginning of something good for Spezza, but I don’t think it will be. A trade might help his value, but $7.5 million owed this season and next will prevent that from happening.

Funny thing: exactly one week ago we had this same discussion about Brent Seabrook. When Seabrook returned from his healthy scratch, he also scored a goal. He hasn’t recorded a point in the two games since. I know Steve Laidlaw likes to use the expression “dead cat bounce” to describe the short-term positive effect on a team after a coach’s firing. But maybe there’s a similar (albeit) shorter-term phenomenon affecting a player following a healthy scratch being used to serve as a wake-up call.

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If Juuse Saros was your streaming special for the day, congratulations. Saros stopped all 43 shots that the Vegas Golden Knights fired at him to earn a win and shutout. You might be wondering why a now-rested Pekka Rinne didn’t start the first game back after a bye week that actually lasted seven days. Here’s a good reason for you: Dating back to early November, Saros has a 1.53 GAA and .956 SV% in nine games.  

Saros is just 8 percent owned in Yahoo leagues. But as one of the league’s strongest backups with major upside, he needs to be owned in more leagues than that. Fantasy owners might be staying away because Saros had been demoted to the AHL for awhile while Pekka Rinne was starting for long stretches. However, recent trends show Saros starting about once every third game for the Preds, so you may be able to squeeze about one start per week out of him.

The Midseason Guide (pick one up if you haven’t already) projected a 75-25 workload split between Rinne and Saros for the rest of the season. I’d like to tweak that to 65-35 given the recent trend. But there is a point in that writeup that I’ll repeat without editing: If the Predators are able to lock down a playoff spot with some time to spare, then Saros could be looking at a 50-50 split in work at that point in order to keep Rinne rested for the playoffs.

(By the way, I can criticize that goalie projection all I want without reproach. The guy who originally forecasted it was me.)

Earlier in the day, Viktor Arvidsson was placed on IR with a lower-body injury. Ryan Johansen also left Tuesday’s game with a possible upper-body injury.

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Can we just throw away everything we know about shooting percentage regression when it comes to forecasting Michael Grabner’s goal production? On Tuesday, Grabner scored his 20th goal of the season in just 45 games, giving him back-to-back seasons of 20 goals. In a 2016-17 season that saw incredible peaks and valleys, Grabner scored 27 goals while shooting at a fairly high 16.7%. This season he’s shooting at nearly 20 percent (19.6%, to be exact). I’d tell you that I think his production will fall, yet I continue to be wrong on this one.

Obviously Grabner is someone that you’ll want to grab if you need help with goals (pun totally intended). After all, he’s tied for tenth in the league in that category. But he’s not providing that kind of production in other roto categories. For instance, he has just four assists, which isn’t that much of a fluke considering he had only 13 all last season. As well, the high shooting percentage means that the shot total isn’t as high as it is for other snipers. Grabner’s 102 shots on goal places him just outside of the league’s top 100 in that category.

In that same game for the Rangers, Rick Nash looked like the Nash of old (without the annual trip to the IR), scoring twice while taking seven shots on goal. Prior to Tuesday, you’d have to go all the way back to December 15 to find the last time Nash scored a goal. That’s 12 games. During that time Nash also went 10 games without even recording a point. In case you’re wondering, I’m about as bullish on Nash as I am on Spezza. Which in case you missed it, is not at all. Both were solid fantasy players at one time, though.

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Yes, that was Damon Severson who scored two goals in under two minutes. He also took five shots on goal and nearly led the Devils in icetime (21:07). I liked Severson early in his career, but he’s morphed into a group of Jersey defensemen that don’t stand out at all. He recorded an assist in his previous game, but prior to that Severson had gone 10 games without a point.

I’m as surprised as you are that Mathew Barzal did not record a point on Tuesday. Barzal had been en fuego in his previous three games with ten points (3g-7a).

The Islanders are the very definition of wide-open hockey. They are second in the NHL with 3.39 goals per game. Yet how could a team with that many goals be below the playoff bar? Simple. Their team goals-against average is a league-worst 3.63. In other words, they are not outscoring their goaltending problems.

Jaroslav Halak has allowed at least four goals in six of his last seven starts. Yet he has faced a minimum of 35 shots in each of his last 10 games, including 42 shots faced on Tuesday. You should only be starting him if you are chasing wins.

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Finally, this week’s 31 Thoughts. Friedman saves his best thought for last, which was related to the recent Kevin Stevens story on Sportsnet. If you haven’t watched it yet, the video is also in the link. It is a must-watch.  

For more fantasy hockey information, follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.