Thoughts on the Wheeler contract, Barkov, Reinhart, plus more…
On Tuesday the Winnipeg Jets signed Blake Wheeler to a five-year contract extension with a cap hit of $8.25 million per season. The extension kicks in next season (2019-20) and represents a raise of $2.65 million from the $5.6 million per season that Wheeler currently earns. Considering Wheeler’s current level of production, cap leaguers are getting a sweet deal on his current contract but will need to prepare for a bump in pay starting next season.
Of course, this will be a much better contract in Year 1 than it will be in Year 5, when Wheeler will be 38. As is the case for a lot of established veterans, the contract serves as more of a reward for past production than an expectation for future production. Still, if you’re the Jets, you still have to give him his due as the team’s captain and leading scorer last season (91 points), as this team has a window to win the Stanley Cup over the next few seasons.
Not knowing that he would be signed to an extension shortly after, I posted some thoughts on Wheeler during the Sunday Ramblings. I was basically comparing him to David Pastrnak, who I believe is a better own in keeper leagues. One more point of comparison for the two right wingers: Pastrnak has five years left on his contract that pays $6.66 million.
The Jets have one more unfinished piece of business cap-wise: young blueliner Josh Morrissey remains an unsigned RFA. Morrissey is one of a handful of RFAs that have yet to be signed. That list includes William Nylander, Darnell Nurse, Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Miles Wood, and Sam Reinhart (more on him shortly).
Last season we finally witnessed what Aleksander Barkov is capable of when healthy for a full season. After a previous career high of 59 points in 66 games, Barkov was able to produce at a point-per-game pace (78 points) while missing just three games out of the 82-game schedule. He was also a Lady Byng finalist thanks to just 14 minutes in penalties.
Barkov was able to stay healthy, and he also started to accomplish more per game in a number of roto categories. After taking more than 150 shots just once over his first four seasons, Barkov fired a career-high 256 shots. This helped Barkov jump from 21 goals to 27 goals, one shy of his career high of 28 goals in 2015-16. There’s actually potential for even more goals here, as Barkov’s 10.5% accuracy is three points lower than his career high. So he could add another 6-7 goals to last season’s total if he takes the same number of shots and shoots at his career average.
Interestingly enough, Barkov’s jump in points was mainly due to an increase in assists from 31 to 51. This is a sign that Barkov clicked with Evgenii Dadonov, who hadn’t been there in previous seasons. So if you’re thinking Dadonov’s season was a fluke, he might not be coming off the top line soon. That is unless newly acquired Mike Hoffman bumps him off the first-unit power play.
Also helping matters for Barkov is that his icetime also jumped a full three minutes to 22 minutes per game. Only Anze Kopitar averaged more icetime than Barkov in 2017-18, and that was only by one second per game. The Panthers lean heavily on their top two centres, as both Barkov and Vincent Trocheck were two of the six forwards (all centers) who averaged at least 21 minutes of icetime.
Dobber likes the chances of Barkov as a potential sleeper for the Hart Trophy, given Barkov’s Bodog odds. If you apply that thinking to fantasy, there’s a very good chance that Barkov will exceed his Yahoo preseason ranking of 43.
You could call him second-half Sam. After a first half where he struggled mightily with 11 points in 38 games and was in danger of being listed as a bust Reinhart turned it up in the second half with 39 points in 44 games. The second-half surge was enough for Reinhart to continue his trend of slightly improving point totals over his first three seasons. It also resulted in Reinhart’s first 25-goal and 50-point season.
There’s a good chance that Reinhart will be back on a line with Jack Eichel, where it’s assumed he will hold a higher fantasy value. Yet in the one-month span that Eichel was injured, Reinhart still managed to scored seven goals and 12 points in 15 games. Is it possible that Reinhart is better without Eichel? Probably not, but it might be safe to assume that Reinhart is an effective player on his own.
I’m projecting that after the Sabres improved their forward depth this offseason, they will be a significantly better team than they have been these last few seasons. Maybe not to the point where they make the playoffs, but no longer at the very bottom of the standings. The Sabres finished dead last in the league with 2.41 goals per game in 2017-18, so expect that number to increase. Reinhart could very well be a part of that in his fourth NHL season.
As mentioned earlier, Reinhart is an RFA and as of this writing is still yet unsigned. So his contract situation is worth keeping an eye on as we head into training camp.
NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk has generated its own power rankings… for NHL people that need to be better. I thought this was a humorous take on the typical power rankings that we see at various websites.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) September 5, 2018
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the top 5 names listed here need to find a way to be better. But I don’t know how much better the names listed at 6 through 10 need to be, although I realize this isn’t a scientific list by any means.
For example, Kris Letang checked in at #6. Maybe that’s in reference to his defensive ability, and there’s that difference between real life and fantasy. Numbers-wise, Letang was about as good as you could have hoped for, as he managed to stay healthy for a full season (79 games) and posted 51 points (9g-42a). If you gambled on Letang by drafting him at an injury discount, that’s a pretty solid payoff. But you still have to be real with Letang and budget his production for around 70 games instead of a full 82.
Tuukka Rask at #10? I think a lot of fans of other teams would love to upgrade their goaltending with Rask. Boston fans better be careful not to run their goalie out of town. But the author (Adam Gretz) makes a point. Rask isn’t posting a 2.00-2.05 GAA or .920-.930 SV% anymore. Given his performance over the last two seasons, we should expect more of a 2.25-2.35 GAA with .915-.917 SV%. Those aren’t elite numbers (at least the save percentage certainly isn’t), but still very good. Rask’s true ability, though, is bolstered by a B’s D that allowed the second-fewest shots per game (29.3) in 2017-18.
One last thing: Don’t forget to pick up your Fantasy Guide, if you haven’t done so already!
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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