Ramblings: Zibanejad Offer Second Half Upside (Jan 12)

by steve laidlaw on January 11, 2018


Kyle Okposo is heading into Buffalo’s bye week on a hot streak having scored five points in two games. It’s no secret as to why this was the case. Okposo was bumped up to play with Jack Eichel the past two games. Eichel is the only one producing much of anything these days, including Evander Kane who has cooled off in 2018 with two points in six games.

Zach Bogosian has been ruled out for 4-6 weeks, which led to Brendan Guhle getting a two-game cameo with the Sabres. He’ll be headed back to Rochester with Buffalo on their bye week, but we could see him back up next Thursday when they return.

Guhle has some strong scoring numbers at the AHL level and is considered a solid prospect. I’m not sure there’s room for him to be fantasy relevant this season however. They are struggling to produce even one fantasy relevant defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen, let alone finding room for two. Read more about Guhle here.


Alexander Wennberg skated 18:12 in his return to the lineup. He didn’t see any power play time, but that’s because the Blue Jackets’ top unit clicked on their lone attempt. I presume he’d have been on the second unit had there been a chance for it. Wennberg centered Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner, which isn’t all that appealing a situation. We’re drifting into write-off territory for Wennberg.


Victor Hedman had to leave last night's game after his knee buckled:


No word on the severity yet, but it is believed to be bad. Stay tuned. Mikhail Sergachev stands to jump onto the Lightning top PP unit if Hedman misses time. Anton Stralman would then jump onto the second PP unit. However, it is possible that the Lightning could instead look for an option via trade. This would also affect Tampa Bay's goaltending negatively.



Micheal Ferland is back on a hot streak having put up four straight games with a goal and assist. Amazingly, all of those performances came without any power-play scoring. This is all 5-on-5 work, where Ferland fits in seamlessly alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. They are on like Donkey Kong.

Dougie Hamilton is starting to stumble into more offense having scored in three straight games. It’s kind of crazy how he does it, but Hamilton always seems to pick up steam as the season wears on. He scores at a 40-point pace or better in December-March while scoring at a mere 30-point pace in the season’s first two months. Look for more ahead from Hamilton, especially if the Flames add the kind of depth scoring that would boost their second PP unit.


Look at the mitts on Jordan Staal:



One thing that this bye week situation did was embolden fantasy players to take bigger risks on players they were willing to drop. The player I targeted as a serious victim of this was Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad wasn’t just dumped because of the schedule, but also because he has been unproductive since returning from injury with just two points in nine games. That said, Zibanejad was dynamite before his concussion and should be strong in the second half.

Part of the story with Zibanejad isn’t just that he has struggled since returning, but also that the Rangers have inexplicably lost faith in Pavel Buchnevich, pushing the productive youngster down the lineup and at times even scratching him. Zibanejad has been so much more productive with Buchnevich on his wing, producing a positive shot-rate advantage and a neutral goal differential versus a slightly negative shot-rate with hugely negative goal differential without.

It is somewhat damning of Zibanejad as a #1 centerman that he isn’t driving results regardless of wingers, but it is more damning of the coaching staff that they can’t keep together the tandem that gets the most out of their top centerman. Burying Buchnevich is inexplicable. If he can win his way back up with Zibanejad, these two will make magic once again. I’m betting on Zibanejad and have scooped him up where available. Last I checked he’s still available in 52% of Yahoo leagues.

You could make a similar bet on Buchnevich who is available in 24% of leagues, but his situation is more precarious. Zibanejad at least offers a reasonable floor since he is locked in as the Rangers top centerman. If Buchnevich is going to keep getting scratched or spending nights on the fourth line he likely won’t achieve the shot volume you’d need to get anything out of that roster slot. Buchnevich could likely be more of a standalone option if his minutes reflected his status as the Rangers’ most dangerous offensive weapon. They don’t so you are subject to the coach’s whims.


Some juicy stuff in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts:

10. Don’t have any problem with Dustin Byfuglien telling Winnipeg reporters, “I think I should be out there. I would rather play big minutes than sit there” 24 hours after the Jets beat Buffalo last Friday. For one thing, all great players should want to play. For another, he didn’t do it after the win, but waited until the next day. (I still have my 1979 copy of Sittler at Centre, where he rips players who complain after a victory.)

But this is a story to watch. Byfuglien played 17:53 that night and 18:48 Sunday against San Jose. His 2017–18 average is 23:23. In those games, Tyler Myers went 23:43 and 20:32, Jacob Trouba 21:18 and 22:01. Until the Jets know Trouba’s future, I can’t see them moving Byfuglien, but this road has a lot of potential paths.

Overall, Byfuglien has lost over four full minutes of action off his 27:27 per game average from last season. However, a bulk of those minutes have come from the penalty kill. Last season, the Jets were the third most penalized team in the NHL. Byfuglien was a primary penalty killer, even as a player commonly taking penalties. This season he is barely in the PK rotation, which, generally speaking, should be a positive for his offensive results.

Byfuglien has also lost over two minutes per game of even-strength play, but remains their time-on-ice leader in this phase. He is also their top minute-muncher for power play time. Less should mean more for Byfuglien as he could be less run down playing fewer minutes, but the results haven’t been there. Hell, they haven’t even kept Byfuglien from getting banged up as the defenseman has already missed a dozen games.

More concerning to me is how the Jets are playing more conservatively with their defensemen jumping into the rush less. It’s been great for Connor Hellebuyck, but has reflected in some low goal-scoring totals out of their defense corps. Mind you, they aren’t far off their pace from last when they got 35 goals out of their defensemen. Perhaps that’s due to a recent surge that saw Byfuglien score his first two goals of the season.

Maybe it’s just been some bad luck keeping Byfuglien’s scoring pace down. I do think there is something to be said for him feeding off of playing heavy minutes, but his most prolific season came in 2013-14 when his minutes average was the same as this season. He’s also 32, so we have some age-related decline baked into the mix.

I don’t have any reservations about Byfuglien as a fantasy option despite his struggles. I expect a bigger second half. His shooting percentage should continue to rise. He’ll still offer strong multi-category production, though perhaps not as prolific as his peak. For instance, 200 SOG is pretty much off the table. Also, he’s barely blocking more than one shot per game now that his PK usage has diminished.

7. I wonder if the Islanders take a look at Robin Lehner.

I have some concerns with Lehner, particularly his injury woes, but what he has done behind some horrifically bad Sabres teams is rather remarkable. Across his three seasons in Buffalo he has a .918 save percentage. Slightly above league average. That could play out quite well behind the Islanders’ porous defense. I mean, if the Islanders are committed to playing fire-wagon hockey, they may as well get a goalie who has had some success behind it.

I don’t think that the translation would be perfect. There is something to be said for shot goalies on bad teams posting reasonable save percentages simply because of the sheer volume of shots they face. But I do think there is a decent theory behind this. I also really would like to see Lehner playing for a competitive team. He has had some legendary blow-ups. I’d love to see that in a playoff hunt.

The Islanders clearly need to do something in goal if they are going to hang in the playoff race in the stacked Metro.

Another name being bandied about is Petr Mrazek. I am intrigued by that option, but his last two seasons have been so bad that they have undermined what was a very promising start to his career. I believe a fresh start could help, but he might need time in a new system with a new goalie coach before rediscovering his game. That’s not a mid-season project.

Mrazek is an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer, but I suspect that Detroit may simply renounce his rights, rather than make the sizable qualifying offer required to keep him. That puts him in the mix to be a surprisingly strong backup for someone next season.

I think if teams were opting for a Detroit goalie they’d prefer to get in on Jimmy Howard who has rebounded strongly, but the price would be high, and his salary may be untenable. Plus, the Red Wings place real value on having capable veterans on the roster, even as they are rebuilding.


If you want more goodies from Friedman, check out 31 Thoughts: The Podcast with he and Jeff Marek. There will no doubt be some overlap between the podcast and the column, but I think that this will be appointment listening for extra behind-the-scenes tidbits we don’t normally get.


Hockey Canada released their men’s 2018 Olympic hockey team roster. It’s pretty much a whose who of busted fantasy prospects plus Derek Roy! Remember how awesome Wojtek Wolski looked in his early years with Colorado, or how Stefan Elliott was supposed to be a better puck-moving prospect than Tyson Barrie? What a nostalgia trip. I am very excited to follow this team in the coming months.

I also suspect we will see a few players off these Olympic squads signed by NHL teams at some point in the next year. A tournament should never have this much of an impact on roster decisions, but for NHL GMs, this is likely the only chance they’re actually going to watch any of these guys who have been playing overseas. Of course, they have people on staff keeping tabs, but the GM always makes the final call on this stuff and if he sees something during the tournament, not to mention glowing reviews from pals in the old boys’ network running these Olympic squads. It’s gonna lead to a few contracts.

And if you don’t think GMs are that simple, consider the story about Marc Bergevin not getting flooded with inquiries about Max Pacioretty until AFTER rumours had been swirling that Bergevin was shopping him. Maybe this was all media spin, but GM behaviour very much leads me to believe that they flocked to the story like moths to a flame.

So don’t be shocked if some team decides that Roy might make a great fourth line center after watching him in PyeonChang. I’ve got no idea which of these players has outs in their contract. I doubt any will become full-on fantasy relevant. But I suspect some player is getting back to the NHL as a result of their Olympic participation. Apparently, that was a big factor in Brian Gionta’s decision to eschew starting in the NHL this season. He wanted a big Olympic performance to spur on some more favourable offers. I wish him well!


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