Fantasy Hockey Week 6 Notes

·6-min read
Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel (9)
The Jack Eichel dilemma. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

By Jason Chen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Here's a look around the NHL at the latest fantasy trends after another week. Some food for thought, some leftover stats, and, of course, some fantasy advice. Let's dig in.

All fancy stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Predator or Prey

Let's just start with some simple Predators math. Even with Saturday's convincing win against the Blue Jackets, the Preds enter Sunday with a .412 points percentage, seventh in the Central with the fourth-place Stars at .583 with five games in hand. The Preds are nearly a third through their season, but Smashville has been such a lame party they're already presumed to be sellers. To have a chance at catching the Stars, who are projected to finish with 67 points according to The Athletic, the Preds will have to earn 53 points in their next 39 games โ€” essentially a top-10 points percentage pace โ€” and they have to play the Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers a combined 17 times.

Those who have already soured on Ryan Johansen (15 percent rostered), Matt Duchene (38 percent), and Viktor Arvidsson (48 percent) have been well ahead of the fantasy landscape. Duchene, Arvidsson, and Mikael Granlund (8 percent) finished with no points Saturday against Columbus despite the win, but there's definitely some untapped value.

It's interesting to note Johansen, Granlund, Duchene, and Arvidsson have good possession numbers, but they're having a horrible time finishing their chances and constantly get burned by bad defense and goaltending. One of the Preds' problems is they don't generate a lot of shots from the high-danger areas, ranking 20th in the league with 9.3 chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, and rely far too much on their defensemen to generate shots from distance, as per HockeyViz (2019-20 on the left and 2020-21 on the right in the chart below):

Nashville Predators 5v5 Offence comparison (Photo by HockeyViz)
Nashville Predators 5v5 Offence comparison (Photo by HockeyViz)

If the Preds can get closer to the net (all four goals on Saturday were scored close or in the slot) or score more goals in traffic โ€” they have only two tipped or deflected goals this season after scoring 41 last season โ€” maybe they can end their scoring woes. It just seems a bit early to give up, and in either case (the Preds improving and staying in the playoff hunt or giving up and trading players) it's starting to feel like a trade-for (without offering much) opportunity for the Preds, including Pekka Rinne (.925 ES Sv%), who is re-emerging as the No. 1 goalie at 38 years old.

Double-Edged Sabres

The Sabres breathed a huge sigh of relief with a win Saturday, buying some more time before having to make the hard decision: Whether to trade Jack Eichel. Since their inception, the Sabres have had some rotten luck, and every big move they've made in the Eichel era โ€” trading Ryan O'Reilly, re-signing Jeff Skinner, signing Taylor Hall โ€” has backfired. Patience is running out, and unless the Sabres start winning consistently, there's no real good answer on how to handle Eichel's future.

Fantasy-wise, would trading Eichel be a bad thing? It's true that Eichel's $10-million cap hit limits the number of teams that can fit him on their roster, and the ones with plenty of cap space to spare tend to be weaker teams who don't have any quality players to spend it on. The Sabres can trade Eichel without restrictions until his no-movement clause kicks in for the 2022-23 season, at which point Eichel may reject a trade if he feels the other side is giving up too much for him โ€” which was reportedly Dominik Hasek's condition when the Sabres traded him to Detroit, and we all know what happened after that.

For now, the Sabres have more leverage with time working on their side. It would be wrong for both the Sabres and fantasy managers to suddenly give up on an elite 24-year-old center.

Eichel and Hall may have combined for just three goals, but there's some evidence that both players could really turn their seasons around soon. First, their shooting percentages are 4.4 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively, which are well below their career averages and also well below the league average. They're far too talented for that number to be persistently low, and even during Hall's worst seasons, his shooting percentage was always within 7-9 percent.

Second, Eichel ranks 40th while Hall ranks 25th in 5v5 CF/60, and also ninth and seventh in CF%, respectively. The sample for this season is small, but it is encouraging. There is truth to coach Ralph Krueger's assessment that the team is just lacking some confidence; its 5v5 PDO โ€” essentially, a measure of puck combining shooting percentage and save percentage โ€” ranks 30th at 0.969.

Buffalo Sabres analysis. (Photo by Natural Stat Trick)
Buffalo Sabres analysis. (Photo by Natural Stat Trick)

They are very good play drivers individually and elite when paired together, and when neither is on the ice, the Sabres are absolutely woeful. Krueger has not played them together in the last few games, but analytically speaking, Eichel and Hall (61.32 CF%) is a much superior pairing to Eric Staal and Hall (52.31 5v5 CF%). The play for Eichel and Hall (and most other Sabres not named Skinner) in fantasy is to keep holding them. If the Sabres trade them, hopefully, their change of scenery will give them a boost, and if not, being patient might pay off anyway for the Sabres and fantasy managers.

Captain Nico's Crew

Nico Hischier (30 percent rostered) returned to the ice Saturday, making his season debut with the Devils, but with a new "C" stitched on his sweater. He's now the youngest active captain in the league, and the Swiss two-way center spent most of his time with Jesper Bratt while Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha took turns on the other wing. Hischier's line was more effective with Zacha, generating a team-high 83.3 CF%, though the sample is tiny.

Still, if Hischier gets going, that could open more room for Jack Hughes (62 percent), who was in the midst of a breakout season before their long pause. Kyle Palmieri (47 percent) also just snapped his drought with two goals against Boston, and he should be scoring at a higher rate as he catches up to his usual 25-goal pace and career 12.7 S%. Devils forwards are good trade-for candidates, especially since it looks like they might be a decent, if not interesting, team this season with Mackenzie Blackwood in net. They're currently fifth in points percentage in the East Division with an even goal differential.

Here are some other lines putting up interesting possession numbers, especially the Wild's new line with Kevin Fiala (only 54 percent rostered, too low) opposite Jordan Greenway (15 percent) with Joel Eriksson Ek (33 percent), which also helped provide a goal to boost the league's 29th-ranked power play:

Line comparisons. (Photo by Natural Stat Trick)
Line comparisons. (Photo by Natural Stat Trick)