By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
What fun is fantasy hockey if you don't take a stab at that deep sleeper? Leagues are often won thanks to under-the-radar guys on draft day that explode unexpectedly. Let’s be bold in 2019-20.
Here are some bold predictions for the upcoming season!
No player wins 1000 faceoffs
A subtle change to the rule this season: Teams on the power play get to decide where the puck is dropped in the offensive zone. This will mean fewer weak-side faceoffs but will also present the opportunity to play multiple centers on both the power play and penalty-killing units. It'll affect teams differently based on personnel, but the idea is to always be on your strong side. For the Leafs, that may mean Zach Hyman, a lefty, will take fewer faceoffs and Mitch Marner, a righty, will take more draws on the penalty kill.
For the Flyers, that may mean a more even split between righty Claude Giroux and lefty Sean Couturier on the power play, especially since Couturier was more effective last season (72.5 vs. 64.1 percent). For the Canucks, lefties J.T. Miller (stronger on forehand) and Bo Horvat (stronger on backhand) — who was last year's faceoff champion with 2,018 taken — have already discussed sharing duties.
Someone scores 60 goals
In the cap era since the 2005-06 season, only two players have scored at least 60 goals: Alex Ovechkin in 2008 and Steven Stamkos in 2012. Ovechkin became the first player in 12 years since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in the same season, and we're now approaching eight years without a 60-goal scorer. The average goals scored per game last season was the highest since 2005-06 thanks to record-breaking efficiencies on the power play, and the game is getting faster and more skilled every year. Ovechkin's still the best bet, but he won the Rocket Richard trophy last season with 51 goals — and a nine-goal jump seems unlikely. Stamkos also has a chance, and it wouldn't be surprising if Auston Matthews and David Pastrnak were in the mix, as well.
A minus-50 rating becomes reality
Plus-minus is divisive in the fantasy community. Some think it's a terrible indicator of individual performance and a deeply flawed statistic, but the sadist in me thinks you should be punished for picking a player on a bad team. With an uptick in scoring, we've also seen players “devour the dashes” like a pre-game meal. Last year, Rasmus Ristolainen (minus-41) ran away with the green jacket, and Nick Leddy (minus-42) was the winner the season before that. If scoring continues to increase, it‘s reasonable to expect that a minus-50 rating will come to fruition before long, and my best guess would be someone on the Senators — like Nikita Zaitsev or Ron Hainsey (sorry). Capitals defenseman Bill Mikkelson still holds the record for the worst single-season rating with the minus-82 mark he posted in 59 games in 1974-75.
No goalie starts more than 60 games
Only eight goalies started 60 games last year, which was the lowest number in five seasons. Coaches are already talking about backups playing 30 games, and everyone saw how fresh Tuukka Rask looked during the Bruins' playoff run after Jaroslav Halak made 37 starts last season. Certain teams with dicey backups — the Wild, Sharks, Knights, Capitals, and Panthers among them — will still have to lean on their starters, but they'll need to be careful as they prepare for a postseason run. Of the 14 seasons in the cap era, the winner of the Vezina trophy has started fewer than 60 games just five times, including the two most recent years: Andrei Vasilevskiy (2019), Pekka Rinne (2018), Tuukka Rask (2014) and Tim Thomas (2009, 2011). Quality over quantity has become paramount in the NHL.
Sergei Bobrovsky puts up 40 W’s
Okay, so this kind of contradicts what I wrote earlier, but 40 wins in 59 games don't sound so unreasonable, do they? Rinne won 42 in 59 in 2018 en route to the Vezina, so I guess what I'm saying is that Bob will take the trophy again in his new digs. The Panthers offense is good enough to bail out the occasional bad outing by Bobrovsky and a shaky defense.
It's more likely that Bobrovsky will start and win more games than anyone else primarily because the Panthers' backup is 22-year-old prospect Samuel Montembeault, but they need to justify his $70 million price tag, too. The Panthers are poised to make a big leap in the standings into playoff territory in 2019-20.
Neither Connor McDavid nor Nikita Kucherov wins the scoring title
Not the boldest prediction, but nearly every single projection I've seen has one of these guys at the top with Nathan MacKinnon a distant third. Am I crazy to think that MacKinnon isn't that far behind? He's in a great situation in Colorado, McDavid's stuck on a mediocre team and won't be playing with Leon Draisaitl all the time, and perhaps the Lightning will learn to pace themselves after a horrific 2018-19 playoff showing. There's plenty of others in the mix, too, including Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin, but my dark-horse picks would be Aleksander Barkov and Tyler Seguin.
Victor Mete scores a goal (and Niklas Hjalmarsson does, too)
Through 120 games, Mete has yet to score a goal, which is the fourth-longest drought among players who have never scored in the NHL. He's tied with current Ducks coach Dallas Eakins, two behind Tampa Bay's Matt Smaby and 35 behind Carolina’s Steve Halko. Mete's way more talented than any of those guys, and it just HAS to happen soon. The same goes for Hjalmarsson, who was the only player to play all 82 games without scoring a goal last season. Offense isn't his calling card, but the 32 year old is in danger of entering complete fantasy-irrelevance territory.