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.

 

  • krisco

    I’m not getting on the Saros train, You know how many goalies below 6′ are in the NHL? 2, Halak and Saros. Goalies are bigger these days for a reason. Sure maybe he bucks the trend, but with a big enough sample size his numbers will very likely come WAY down.

    • Dobber

      Dell and Bernier at 6′, a couple more at 6-1. But yeah I see your point

  • anonymouse

    I was one of those who made the mistake of drafting Spezza. I thought that he’d either play with Seguin/Benn or with Radulov – I didn’t anticipate Hitchcock loading up on one line, given they don’t have any forward depth as you said. Spezza finished last year with 23 points in 26 games and still produced at a 60 point/82 game pace over the course of the year.

    Lessons have been learned. I managed to trade him relatively early on but needless to say I should’ve taken MacKinnon or Evander Kane who were drafted with 4 picks after Spezza.

  • Striker

    I’m not a Hitchcock fan but I would have to get behind a long line of players in my distaste for him.

    “you can’t question Hitch’s decision to healthy scratch Spezza the day before.”

    Why can’t I question him? I’d like to know why Spezza sits 8th in TOI/GP behind players like Shore who has less points & the worst +/- on the team at -16 or Hanzal who has the 2nd worst at -12 with virtually no points. Hanzal’s signing was a waste of money & pushed Spezza to the wing most nights. What a waste of money signing Hanzal, he’s blocked Faksa & see’s PP time over him but worse he’s taking icetime that if Spezza were receiving he could actually produce with. For what it’s worth, Spezza is even in +/- & is tied for 2nd in GWG’s in Dal.

    =/- is a seriously flawed stat but it serves a purpose when looking at players contributions to the win loss column with in a team. Hanzal has been on the ice for 19 goals against at ES or when on the PP, Spezza Zero, how about Shore? 29, why haven’t these players been benched?

    • Striker

      Sorry I didn’t reflect that +/- equation very well. It factors in their points scored, removes PPP’s & then factors in +/-.

    • Nathan Siery

      Don’t you think Spezza’s +/- would look a lot more like theirs if he was playing their minutes? Spezza doesn’t look to have much in the tank just from the admittedly small sample size of 5 or 6 dallas games I’ve watched this year and clearly Hitch feels he needs to be sheltered- plus who is there talented on that team for him to play minutes with? Outside of the big 3 Forwards in Dallas- Seguin, Benn, Radulov, that teams forward core is hot garbage. Playing Spezza more isn’t gonna make much of a difference. This team will make the playoffs but they are a one line team and will be out pretty quickly. Giving Spezza 5 more minutes a night isn’t gonna change that.

      • Striker

        This was meant to pump Spezza up specifically & the discrepancy in minutes isn’t that significant. I would never draft Spezza in any of my pools for any reason in any format.

        Shore is playing 1:31 & Hanzal 1:02 more TOI/GP. By EV TOI/GP where +/- is more reflected & the only other way it comes into play is if you get scored on shorthanded Shore drops to 1:11 more TOI/GP but Hanzal drops below Spezza by 0:17 so no I don’t.

        When the season started Hitchcock persisted in deploying Shore for well over 25 games on the #1 PP unit & it struggled, he finally gave up trying numerous options before finally relenting & returning Spezza to that unit.

      • Nathan Siery

        Oh definitely, I agree this was just a pump-up move and it worked, but I mean- I think it’s really only a card you can play with veterans who need a real wake-up- does scratching Shore a game get the same result? I’m doubtful. And I’m in full agreement he should have been on PP1 all year long- they’re already top heavy, so put your 5 best players on the ice on your PP and play it 2/3rd of the power play.

        But ok, you’re saying shore and hanzal play a combined 2:30 minutes per game above Spezza, if you want to reverse that discrepancy, I really do think you’d see a similar effect on Spezza’s +/- playing the 2-4 minutes extra a game instead of Hanzal or Shore and that’s not so much a criticism of him, but a realization of how bad that team is after the top 3 forwards. I just mean- yeah ok, play Spezza 17-18 minutes a night, but unless its with seguin or benn its gonna be similar results to what Shore and Hanzal have gotten (even though Spezza is the better player) because there’s no wing depth on this team at all.

      • Striker

        Hitchcock will do what he always does, come up short. In his 1 Cup win Hull was standing in the crease something that didn’t win you a Stanley Cup but sent you to the penalty box. 1 of the most embarrassing moments for me in the NHL. There are many. Don’t get me wrong I love the NHL game & am a hockey freak just not a Hitchcock 1. Hitchcock like Vigneault drives me insane. Both have solid NHL resumes but also coached solid teams, yes they deserve recognition if for nothing else for the fact the NHL likes to regurgitate coaches & they have coached a ton of NHL games.

        Spezza would be my #2 C, Janmark his LW, Shore or Ritchie his RW as they have nothing else as Nill spent that money on Hanzal. I hated that signing. Faksa should be playing as the #3.

        I had Dallas just missing the playoffs before the season started primarily due to Hitchcock’s hiring but also a sub par D & a lack of scoring depth. I could easily be wrong & only had them missing by 2 pts.

    • Ian Gooding

      Those all seem like valid reasons to bump up Spezza’s icetime, which may also help his production. But Hitch’s decision to scratch Spezza had its intended results. As a motivational technique, it seemed to work. Spezza wasn’t scoring, but he came back and scored two goals. Numbers don’t explain everything.

      • Striker

        They never do just another point of reference but they do weigh heavily in the odds of probability but both were scored on the PP & his 3:04 matched everyone else currently on the #1 unit, Benn, Seguin, Radulov & Klingberg. This deployment is pretty new & I joke that I could score more points than Shore did when deployed in this roll over 60% of the season to date.

        If Spezza were seeing this quality of icetime all year he would be 1 of the leading scorers in Dallas. Nor is Det exactly a power house & their penalty killing is bottom 3rd. Add in their injuries to Helm 1 of their best & most high;y deployed penalty killers, Abdelkader & those #’s do tell a pretty simple story.

        His currently playing C on the 4th line with Elie & Ritchie as linemates? Good luck accomplishing anything with that deployment.

        I make a fortune betting hockey, extrapolating stats, making my own assumptions heavily factoring in scheduling issues. Especially this season as I have never seen a schedule like it. The inconsistencies are astounding. How can we be 1/2 way thru the season & have teams with a 6 game discrepancy just days ago?

        How can NYR have played 27 home games & only 18 away games? Winnipeg 20 home, 26 away. Col 24 home, 19 away. Like printing money betting the balance out points when those games, hard travel & back to back games come to bear. 80% of my wagers are based on stats the other 20% on my ability to extrapolate such. Like taking candy from a baby. Ha-ha!