Steve Laidlaw checking in here for a pinch-hit appearance for Cam Robinson. I am happy to see the site is still running smoothly, though I am not surprised. It’s in great hands! For those of you unaware, I put the “ambling” in Ramblings so strap yourself in for a long one today.
Normally, I’d do a piece on the top regression candidates for each season in the Dobber Guide, but having stepped away I didn’t do that piece, so here are some of my top candidates.
Aleksander Barkov – Last Season: 96 Points – My Projection: 83 Points
Jonathan Huberdeau – Last Season: 92 Points – My Projection: 81 Points
Mike Hoffman – Last Season: 70 Points – My Projection: 64 Points
I’ve lumped the Panthers group together on my list as there are a few reasons I have them for near team-wide regression.
The Panthers got perfect health from their top five scorers and number one power-play unit last season. Barkov, Huberdeau, Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov and Keith Yandle played in all 82 games. That’s nothing new for Yandle, but it was a first for Barkov, Hoffman and Dadonov. If any of these guys lose time, they’ll all suffer, particularly if it’s Barkov who misses time.
Barkov’s season average for games played is only 69. Back-to-back healthy seasons may demonstrate that he has put the injury woes behind him, but I am not ready to consider him a lock for immaculate health. I have all but Yandle projected to play under 80 games. Anticipate some injuries and a loss of points purely from reducing the number of games played.
2. Reduced Minutes
Barkov finished fourth in ice time among forwards skating over 22 minutes per game for the second straight season. A superstar two-way force like Barkov is a guy you want to be giving those kinds of minutes to, but with the improved depth, they could reduce his burden.
Vincent Trocheck missed 27 games with a broken ankle and wasn’t the same upon his return, which opened up space for Hoffman and Dadonov to lock down top PP usage. His return will muddy the waters.
Off-season signings of Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari, as well as growth from sophomore Henrik Borgstrom, could entice the coaching staff to spread the minutes around more evenly than their previously top-heavy roster allowed. I don’t want to overstate this part of it though. Even with these additions, the Panthers are top-heavy.
New head coach Joel Quenneville just doesn’t have a track record of riding stars to the degree that Barkov has been used the past couple of seasons. Quenneville would give Toews and Kane 20 minutes a night, but they were never challenging for tops in the league in forward skating. It took until Quenneville was fired last season for Toews and Kane to see that kind of usage.
3. Improved Defensive Conscience
Quenneville doesn’t have quite the same track record of stifling offense as Barry Trotz, but we just what kind impact a veteran coach can have on a team when Trotz brought accountability to the New York Islanders last season. The Islanders went from worst to first in goals against, but also lost a ton of offense in the process. After finishing with the fourth most goals allowed in 2018-19, the Panthers could use a similar turnaround. Even just by not playing from behind so often, the Panthers will probably reduce their offensive thrust.
4. Can Their Power Play Keep It Up?
Of the five most efficient power plays since the ’05 lockout three occurred last season. The Panthers’ power play was one of those clicking on 26.8% tied for the second-best efficiency with the 2013 Capitals. This is vaunted territory.
It is no secret that power plays are growing more efficient and that this is a big reason for the league-wide spike in scoring these past few seasons. Still, what the Panthers accomplished probably isn’t replicable, especially with a new coaching staff in tow.
The Blackhawks’ power play was frequently underwhelming during Quenneville’s tenure despite boasting some of the league’s most explosive talent. The Blackhawks’ PP languishing at 14.0% was a significant reason for Quenneville’s firing early last season. After his departure, the Blackhawks clicked at 21.8%, a top-10 rate.
Whether or not a head coach has a huge impact on team power-play efficiency is up for debate, but the Panthers turned over nearly the entire coaching staff, including an exodus of Paul McFarland who ran the power play last season. It leaves doubt about their ability to replicate last season’s historic results. At the very least, it is hard to see them improving in this regard.
With Huberdeau, Barkov and Hoffman each accruing over 30 power-play points last season, they are in a position to lose points from this specific portion of the game.
Leon Draisaitl – Last Season: 105 Points – My Projection: 92 Points
I still have Draisaitl as a top-10 scorer. What I don’t have is Draisaitl shooting over 20% on over 200 SOG again. What we saw from Draisaitl in 2018-19 was an incredible convergence of efficiency and volume that will almost certainly go down as his career-best with 50 goals. Appreciating that Draisaitl has always been an efficient scorer (he’s a career 16.0% shooter), players simply do not score on 20% of their shots for a full season all that often, especially not on this kind of shot volume. If he regresses to his career shooting percentage but sustains the shot volume, he’ll lose over 10 goals. The math ain’t that hard, but it sure is damning.
Brayden Point – Last Season: 92 Points – My Projection: 82 Points
This was not contract related, nor was it injury-related as I fully expected to see Point back by the start of the season. While he did sign a three-year extension on Monday, it also came with news that he would miss the start of the season following off-season hip surgery.
My reason for Point declining is that I simply do not see him repeating last season’s 21.5% shooting percentage but adding in an injury virtually cements this position. That projection should slide even lower with more games missed and the time needed to get back up to game speed.
Phil Kessel – Last Season: 82 Points – My Projection: 65 Points
Well no shit. Kessel moves from the superstar-laden Penguins, whose leading scorer had 100 points, to the superstar-desperate Coyotes, whose leading scorer had 47 points. It’s not difficult to resolve this one. Kessel should feature prominently in the Penguins’ offense but concerns about surrounding talent and age-related decline are real. Kessel’s shot rate reached its lowest point in over a decade, and he’ll soon be turning 32. What if it keeps falling? Not even the presence of known Kessel-whisperer Rick Tocchet can sway me from these grave concerns.
Max Domi – Last Season: 72 Points – My Projection: 61 Points
Maybe Domi just needed to get out of the literal and figurative desert that is Arizona, but I am still skeptical after he posted a career-high 13.8% shooting percentage on a career-high 203 SOG. Even if he can sustain that shot volume, regressing Domi’s shooting percentage to his career rate (10.4%) cuts out roughly seven goals. Domi also saw career highs in on-ice shooting percentage and individual points percentage, which could also regress and cut his point total.
There is a pretty obvious path for Domi to retain or improve upon his point total, which would come from increased use and efficacy on the power play, however, it remains to be seen if Domi is much of a weapon in this phase. The Canadiens may have better options, particularly if sophomore Jesperi Kotkaniemi takes a step forward.
Morgan Rielly – Last Season: 72 Points – My Projection: 50 Points
A couple of things on Rielly: he shot an absurd (for a defenseman) 9.0% on the highest shot volume of his career. He had basically the Draisaitl season of defensemen. Knock his shooting percentage down to his career average and he loses eight or nine goals. Not only that but what if Rielly loses his gig on the top power-play unit?
Rielly is the Leafs’ best defenseman by far but Tyson Barrie is comparable in terms of pure offense. They could save Rielly’s legs taking him off the top unit and lose nothing, while also maximizing the thing that Barrie is best at. I don’t know if that logic will prevail, but I’m betting Barrie at least steals some of Rielly’s power-play minutes, resulting in an even steeper drop than mere shooting percentage regression would suggest.
David Krejci – Last Season: 73 Points – My Projection: 57 Points
Krejci was a top bounce-back candidate at this time last season, but now the pendulum has swung the other way. Krejci has never been the paragon of health. Now 33, coming off an 81-game season plus an extended playoff run, he’s a strong candidate to miss games.
Krejci also isn’t a top power-play guy for the Bruins. He fills in when there are injuries but he’s not a regular part of their top five. No matter how talented the player, it’s just tough to score 70+ points without top unit deployment.
Thomas Chabot – Last Season: 55 Points – My Projection: 46 Points
There’s no denying Chabot’s talent but defensemen rarely transcend their surroundings. They are so assist-heavy that playing on a low-scoring team can significantly depress their scoring totals. Chabot went bananas for a crap team that through caution to the wind, piling up empty stats en route to a last-place finish. After the Sens shed talent at the trade deadline, Chabot managed just eight points in 16 games. Now we are in for a full season of talentless, listless Senators hockey. Chabot should continue to show flashes but doesn’t have the help needed to reach last season’s highs.
Enough with the negatives, how about some bounce-backs and breakouts?
Andrei Svechnikov – Last Season: 37 Points – My Projection: 59 Points
I also had Svechnikov threatening to score 60 last season so his rookie year was quite disappointing to me. I’m doubling down with another aggressive forecast. Svechnikov is clearly talented grading out as a top rookie in Shots/60 with only Conor Garland producing more than Svechnikov’s 9.25. For context, that shot rate is in the ballpark with known volume shooters such as Patrick Kane, David Pastrnak and Max Pacioretty. The next step for Svechnikov is to continue producing at that rate while skating more minutes. I am optimistic, considering Svechnikov didn’t turn 19 until the end of March. Svechnikov also needs to continue converting those shots at a reasonable rate, but he had no issues with that as a top scorer in junior.
I’d also note that Svechnikov’s most common linemates were Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook. Even with the Hurricanes adding more depth up front, Svechnikov is likely to see improved linemates who could help him rack up some assists as well.
Nazem Kadri – Last Season: 44 Points – My Projection: 53 Points
After back-to-back 32-goal seasons, Kadri slipped to half that through a combination of injuries and a depressed shooting percentage. I don’t have Kadri climbing back to 32 goals, but he should do better than 16 through nothing more than regression. There is room for Kadri to skate more minutes on a shallower Avalanche squad and he has the chance to join a dominant power-play unit in a role he filled effectively in Toronto.
Jason Zucker – Last Season: 42 Points – My Projection: 53 Points
Coming off career highs in goals (33) and points (63), Zucker fell right back into the ’40s despite skating a career-high 17:05 per game last season. That will happen when your shooting percentage falls below 10%. Expect Zucker to regress to his typical shooting percentage (12.1%), which should have him threatening for 30 goals once again. I also expect to see a highly motivated Zucker coming off a bad season in which he was nearly traded multiple times.
Rickard Rakell – Last Season: 43 Points – My Projection: 53 Points
Injuries and a shooting percentage drain conspired to kill Rakell’s season. He should shoot better than the 9.3% he shot last season, but I don’t quite have him threatening to return to the 30-goal plateau. My concern is that the 69 games he played are too close to his career average (72 games played per season since hitting it full time) for injuries to be an aberration. I also don’t know where he fits into a lineup boasting a ton of young players and a new coach who was with many of those youngsters in the AHL.
PK Subban – Last Season: 31 Points – My Projection: 47 Points
Remember when the Clippers traded for Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin exclaimed: “It’s gonna be Lob City”? I feel that way about adding a defenseman like Subban to a team with transition demons like Taylor Hall, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier – it’s gonna be Stretch City. I am a proud owner of a Devils Stanley Cup ticket at 80/1. Indeed, I think this team will be awesome. The only thing suppressing my forecast for Subban is injuries. I have him suiting up for only 67 games. He has finished in the 60’s for games played in three of the past four seasons. Age and wear may be dragging on him, but the talent is still there.
Clayton Keller – Last Season: 47 Points – My Projection: 64 Points
Once again, I am on the optimistic side with Keller. I am betting on talent here, but also that the arrival of Kessel and some healthier teammates can improve Keller’s outlook. If nothing else, Keller should at least improve upon last season’s miserly 7.0% shooting.
Quinn Hughes – Last Season: 3 Points – My Projection: 43 Points
This is a conservative projection considering Hughes could easily go for 50+ if everything clicks. We saw him put up three points in five games to close last season, flashing potential as a PP QB despite only being used on the second unit. I have Hughes edging out Alex Edler on the top unit this season, with nearly half of Hughes’ points coming via the power play. Even if Edler does carry the top job to open the season, injuries are always a factor for him.
Nikolaj Ehlers – Last Season: 37 Points – My Projection: 60 Points
It’s hard to get too carried away with Ehlers. Despite his talent, he’s a second PP unit guy, which limits his ceiling. Still, he managed back-to-back 60-point seasons with second unit usage before last season’s injury-riddled nightmare. A healthy Ehlers is pushing 60 again, though I do have some concerns about the Jets’ ability to push offensively if Dustin Byfuglien misses significant time or retires altogether. Their defense is thin. (Related: Don’t draft Connor Hellebuyck!)
Shayne Gostisbehere – Last Season: 37 Points – My Projection: 50 Points
It should be no surprise that Gostisbehere’s production went into the tank alongside a struggling Flyers power play. Gostisbehere has scored nearly half of his career points with the man-advantage. The Flyers should rebound in this phase. While he does have some in-house challengers, he remains the second-highest-paid blueliner in Philly. After surviving this summer’s trade rumours, his contract all but guarantees he’ll continue to get chances as the top unit guy. He may not hit the highs of a couple of seasons ago where he scored 65 points with 33 PPP, but he should find a happy medium.
Mathew Barzal – Last Season: 62 Points – My Projection: 70 Points
Barzal was one of last season’s top regression candidates, but he probably slid too far down the rungs. Even on a Barry Trotz team, a zone-entry cheat code like Barzal is going to generate offense. I don’t have much in the way of statistical analysis to back this one. I just think Barzal is a star talent who cannot be suppressed.
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Thanks to Dobber, Cam and all of you for having me back, this was a blast.
Steve Laidlaw is the former Managing Editor of DobberHockey. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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