NHL.com goes Behind the Numbers to identify five players from each conference who could bounce back this season. Advanced stats are used to determine which players are most likely to return to form. This week, a look at the Eastern Conference.
Max Domi, F, Columbus Blue Jackets
Domi scored 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 71 games for the Montreal Canadiens last season after scoring an NHL career-high 72 (28 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games in 2018-19. Domi scored 11 power-play points in each of the past two seasons but saw a drop-off in even-strength scoring, from 61 points in 2018-19 to 33 last season. What caused the dip? It can be partially explained by Domi’s 5-on-5 shooting percentage going from 14.5 percent in 2018-19 to 9.1 percent last season. Also, the Canadiens had a 10.6 percent shooting percentage at 5-on-5 with Domi on the ice in 2018-19 compared to 9.1 percent last season. At 5-on-5, Domi had a higher shot attempts differential (SAT) last season (plus-77) than in 2018-19 (plus-51), showing he was still a driving force at even strength. With strong possession metrics and an increased shooting percentage, Domi can be more productive in his first season with the Blue Jackets.
Taylor Hall, F, Buffalo Sabres
The left wing scored 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 65 games last season with the Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, his lowest points-per-game average (0.80) since 2016-17 (0.74). The drop in scoring could be explained by his 6.9 percent shooting percentage, which was tied for 18th lowest in the League with Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, Blake Lizotte of the Los Angeles Kings and Dominik Simon of the Pittsburgh Penguins among forwards to play at least 60 games. Hall’s NHL career-average shooting percentage (10.4 percent) signals that he is likely to bounce back in his first season with the Sabres. So does the fact that last season he played mostly with center Christian Dvorak, who scored 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists) in 70 games with the Coyotes; Hall should see an uptick in production on a line with center Jack Eichel, a true No.1 center who scored 78 points (36 goals, 42 assists) in 68 games. Eichel drove possession with a plus-35 SAT last season and averaged 1.98 points per 60 minutes, a higher average than that of any center Hall has played with regularly in his 10 NHL seasons.
Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Rielly scored 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 47 games last season after scoring an NHL career-high 72 (20 goals, 52 assists) in 2018-19. He dealt with a foot injury last season that caused him to miss 12 games, but his points-per-game average (0.57) was lower than in 2018-19 (0.87) and in 2017-18 (0.68). One cause for Rielly’s decline in production was sharing the workload with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who scored 39 points (five goals, 34 assists) in 70 games last season after being traded to Toronto from the Colorado Avalanche, including 12 on the power play (one goal, 11 assists). Rielly scored seven points (all assists) on the power play last season after scoring 21 (three goals, 18 assists) in 2018-19, a drop likely caused by splitting time with Barrie on the top unit. With Barrie signing with the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent, Rielly will have back his regular spot on the top power-play unit. Another factor for Rielly was his shooting percentage falling from 8.97 percent in 2018-19 to 2.4 percent last season. Rielly should see an uptick in production if his shooting percentage reverts closer to his NHL career average (4.9 percent), and he could benefit at even strength from the signing of left-shot defenseman TJ Brodie, who is expected to join Rielly on the top pair. Brodie’s plus-97 SAT was second among Calgary Flames defensemen last season behind Mark Giordano‘s plus-116. Rielly and Brodie could be among the conference’s most dominant pairs at driving possession, helping Rielly to rebound.
Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators
Chabot scored 39 points (six goals, 33 assists) in 71 games last season after scoring 55 (14 goals, 41 assists) in 70 games in 2018-19. His shooting percentage fell from 7.6 percent in 2018-19 to 3.2 percent in 2019-20, which contributed to him scoring eight fewer goals last season despite playing one more game. Chabot scored 12 even-strength goals in 2018-19, tying Barrie for sixth in the NHL at the position, but was tied with nine players for 33rd last season with six. The lower goal totals can be explained by his 5-on-5 shooting percentage dropping from 7.3 percent to 4.2 percent last season, well below his NHL career average of 6.9 percent. Chabot made a huge improvement in SAT last season, finishing at plus-30 after being minus-111 in 2018-19, and his ability to drive possession at 5-on-5 was impressive considering Ottawa ranked 26th in the NHL in SAT (minus-233). Positive possession metrics and an increased shooting percentage could lead to a better season for Chabot, especially if he also benefits from the signing of forward Evgenii Dadonov, who has scored 202 points (91 goals, 111 assists) in 280 NHL games.
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida Panthers
Bobrovsky was 23-19-6 with a 3.23 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 50 games last season after going 37-24-1 with a 2.58 GAA and .913 save percentage in 62 games in 2018-19 with the Blue Jackets. He had a .903 even-strength save percentage last season, down from .915 in 2018-19. He also had a drop-off when facing the opposing team’s power play, with an .872 save percentage compared to .890 in 2018-19. The Panthers were tied with the Devils for fifth in goals-against last season (224) and were 16th in SAT at minus-29. The Panthers bolstered their defenseman group this offseason by signing Radko Gudas and acquiring Markus Nutivaara in a trade from Columbus. Gudas had a plus-46 SAT and 75 blocked shots with the Washington Capitals last season. Nutivaara had a minus-9 SAT, ranking third behind Zach Werenski (plus-15) and Seth Jones (plus-4) among Blue Jackets defensemen to play 35 games. Nutivaara’s minus-9 was commendable considering Columbus ranked 20th with a minus-109 SAT. Gudas, who was second among Capitals defensemen in shorthanded time on ice last season (172:16) to Jonas Siegenthaler (203:46), should help the Panthers penalty kill, which ranked 20th (78.5 percent). With an improved penalty kill and stronger defense for Florida, Bobrovsky should have a better save percentage.