By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Here's a look around the NHL at the latest trends after another week of hockey. Some food for thought, some leftover stats, and, of course, some fantasy advice. Let's dig in.
All fancy stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
NHL Trade Deadline Approaching
No matter how hard we try, future projections are always based on the past, and there's no crystal ball. We can have a reasonable expectation of what happens next, but there's just no way of knowing for sure. This week will mark exactly two months into the NHL season and five weeks — 37 days, actually — until the trade deadline, and trade talk is heating up.
Five weeks may seem like a long time, but if a mandatory two-week quarantine is factored in, teams may have to trade for a player two weeks before the deadline just to ensure the newly acquired player doesn't miss any games after the deadline. That's important for teams who are expected to make a playoff push, and also important because Pierre-Luc Dubois' injury was a cautionary tale of what could happen to a player who is suddenly forced to stop all activities and then thrown back into the fire of a high-intensity game situation.
A few teams are still trying to figure out if they're contenders or pretenders, and this week might be the one that decides it. To compare how teams have fared at the start of the season and their current situation, the season so far has been split into two rough halves, from Jan. 13 to Feb. 13 and then from Feb. 14 to March 6, though keep in mind that due to the schedule there are teams that will have played nearly half their games (Canucks) or just a third (Stars).
Most Improved Teams
By points percentage, the three most improved teams are the Senators, Kings, and Rangers. For the Sens — who went from 3-12-1 to 5-5-0 — and the Rangers, a better offense was the remedy. Drake Batherson (55 percent rostered) and Tim Stutzle (28 percent) have formed a great partnership, combining for seven goals this season, six of which have come since Feb. 14. They're still getting crushed possession-wise, but it bodes well that Batherson and Stutzle have been very efficient in capitalizing on the few chances that they have generated (and being in the North helps). They may be inconsistent, but once Tim and Drake find their Batman at center, they'll be the most exciting trio since the Pizza Line.
Alexis Lafreniere scored just one goal in his first 15 games but has since scored three in his last six games. His shooting percentage is now at 14.3 percent, which is more typical of a good shooter, though he hasn't really done a lot of shooting this season with just 28 shots. Still, it's a small sigh of relief amidst big expectations for a first overall pick. Lafreniere (35 percent) is unlikely to put up big numbers until his shooting volume goes up; in the meantime, it might be better to check up on Kaapo Kakko (9 percent), who is still suffering from a low shooting percentage (7.1 S%) and, statistically speaking, should be due for a breakout like the one Lafreniere just experienced, but with slightly higher shot volume. The Kings and Sens are the only two teams that have improved their GF/GP by more than one goal.
The Kings had the opposite problem. They had no problems scoring goals right off the bat, which was pretty surprising, but their big improvement has come in net, with both Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen stealing games. I don't mean to minimize what Norris contender Drew Doughty has done, but Quick went from .867 to .931 Sv% and Petersen has been a rock all season. Since Feb. 15 they've backstopped the Kings to the best 5v5 Sv% at .946, according to Natural Stat Trick. It's wide open in the West and the Kings have a chance to win every night … which means both Quick and Petersen should be rostered even though they aren't in nearly two-thirds of Yahoo leagues.
Other teams trending up: Islanders, Blackhawks, Penguins.
The Biggest Pretender
In a comparison between the two halves, no team looked worse than the Stars. They went 5-3-4 in their first 12 games thanks to an absurd 33.3 PP% that pushed their GF/GP to 3.33, but since Feb. 14 have gone 2-5-0, averaging just 1.86 GF/GP with a 8.7 PP%. They've been good defensively and in net, but they haven't provided enough goal support, and until Saturday's 5-0 win had scored three goals in a game just once in their previous six.
The return of Alexander Radulov and Miro Heiskanen snapping his goal drought might help, but the road is very tough; three weeks ago, I noted the difficulty of the Stars' remaining schedule, and though realistically the Stars still have a chance to make the playoffs, they're a longshot to win. The chances of the Stars improving significantly seem pretty slim, and perhaps it's high time we conclude Jamie Benn's reputation (72 percent rostered) precedes the player and could be shopped as trade bait.
Other teams trending down: Sabres, Devils, Blue Jackets, Avalanche.
As the old adage goes: "Show me a good goalie and I'll show you a good coach." The Flames and Habs had the fourth- and fifth-biggest increases in GA/GP since Feb. 14 after ranking 10th and seventh in lowest GA/GP before that, respectively, forcing them to make changes behind the bench.
A healthy Jacob Markstrom will lower the Flames' GA/GP, but the biggest change will come from new coach Darryl Sutter, who is known to love boring, grinding, low-event hockey games. I'm not sure if he has the roster to play the style he likes, and he's had most of his success with veteran teams. But based on Sutter's reputation and his preference for a heavier and physical style, perhaps Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett (1 percent rostered) and Brett Ritchie (0 percent) will see much more usage, and you hope Sutter pushes the right buttons to get more production from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Dillon Dube (2 percent) and Andrew Mangiapane (11 percent) will be interesting to watch as the young top-six forwards who could have more to give. One thing to note about Sutter — whether consciously or not, his teams have generally been very good when it comes to possession analytics, and the Flames are 11th in 5v5 CF%.
For the Habs, goaltending will once again be their crux despite being a very good team at even strength. Just when it looked like Jake Allen was really going to take over while Carey Price worked out the kinks with new goalie coach Sean Burke, Price is seemingly right back in the driver's seat again. Price has now won consecutive games with two goals allowed, and if both he and Jake Allen play well, the Habs don't have a glaring weakness. He'll get the majority of starts if he stays there, but don't rule out a continuing rotation because it doesn't look like coach Dominique Ducharme is interested in having one dedicated workhorse.
Other teams with improved goaltending: Canucks (Thatcher Demko), Penguins (Tristan Jarry).
Other teams with faltering goaltending: Ducks, Devils, Bruins.