NHL coaching changes fantasy impact for 2020-21

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Washington Capitals hired Peter Laviolette on Sept. 15

Laviolette, who was fired by the Nashville Predators on Jan. 6, brings 18 years of NHL coaching experience to a veteran Capitals team. He previously coached the New York Islanders (2001-03), the Carolina Hurricanes (2003-09), the Philadelphia Flyers (2009-14) and the Predators (2014-20). Laviolette has compiled an NHL coaching record of 637-425-25-123 and won a Stanley Cup championship with the Hurricanes in 2006.

The move should have a positive impact on the Capitals’ fantasy stock after they finished 17th on the power play (19.4 percent) last season despite being second in goals per game (3.42) behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (3.47). The Capitals were first in the NHL with 59 points in 41 games through Jan. 1 but finished with 31 points in their final 28 games, tied with the Hurricanes for 20th in the League. Laviolette is tasked with rejuvenating the Capitals power play, which leads the NHL since 2009-10 converting 22.0 percent of opportunities over the span. This could mean giving wing Jakub Vrana, who had 25 goals (24 at even strength) in 69 games, a spot on the top unit with elite left wing Alex Ovechkin and valuable forwards Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov or T.J. Oshie. Vrana, ranked outside the top 100 overall, would improve to a top 75 forward with power-play exposure to the Capitals’ top fantasy forwards.

The coaching change should not impact No. 1 defenseman John Carlson‘s fantasy outlook, as he can be expected to finish with at least 60 points over an 82-game season if healthy. It likely will not have much of an impact on Backstrom, one of the most reliable forwards for assists each season, and Ovechkin, who finished tied with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins for the NHL lead in goals (48) last season. One skater to watch is Kuznetsov, who had 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists) in 63 games this season after producing at a point per game over his previous two seasons combined (155 points in 155 games). Laviolette could help Kuznetsov reach his full fantasy potential, which could be as high as a top 25 overall player, if he bounces back with consistent line placement with Ovechkin.

The biggest fantasy impact of the coaching change could be on goalie Ilya Samsonov, who is expected to be the Capitals’ No. 1 option after Braden Holtby signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 9. Samsonov was second among rookie goalies in wins (16) behind Mackenzie Blackwood (22) of the New Jersey Devils, and Samsonov’s .913 save percentage was third among rookie goalies to play at least 15 games behind Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Blackwood. Samsonov was unfit to play for the Capitals in the postseason but is expected to be ready to start the season. Backup Henrik Lundqvist, who signed a one-year contract with the Capitals on Oct. 9, is worth drafting as a handcuff to Samsonov or as a No. 3 or 4 bench goalie with bounce-back potential under Laviolette. The coach brings defensive security for either goalie after helping Nashville finish tied with the Los Angeles Kings for the fewest goals against (1,051) over his five full seasons (2014-19).

Fantasy-relevant players affected (in order of rank in standard leagues): Alex Ovechkin, LW (NHL.com rank: 7); John Carlson, D (19); Ilya Samsonov, G (58); Evgeny Kuznetsov, C (61); Nicklas Backstrom, C (62); Tom Wilson, RW (75); T.J. Oshie, RW (92); Jakub Vrana, LW (119); Henrik Lundqvist, G (177); Justin Schultz, D (218)

 

New Jersey Devils hired Lindy Ruff on July 9

Ruff, most recently an assistant coach of the New York Rangers, takes over the Devils, who had the sixth worst points percentage (.493) last season. Ruff is third among active coaches in wins (736) behind Joel Quenneville (925) and Barry Trotz (845) and fourth among active coaches in games coached (1,493). Ruff previously coached the Buffalo Sabres (1997-2013) and the Dallas Stars (2013-17) and has at least 40 wins in nine of his 19 NHL seasons.

The Devils had high expectations in fantasy last season after acquiring defenseman P.K. Subban and drafting forward Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft but underachieved in many areas. This coaching change should provide a spark to the Devils, who finished tied with the Ottawa Senators for 24th in goals per game (2.68) and 21st on the power play (18.0 percent). The hiring of an experienced NHL coach could jumpstart the Devils offense, which has plenty of fantasy talent with forwards Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Nico Hischier and Hughes. The Devils showed flashes of their potential from Jan. 1 to the end of the season, ranking seventh on the power play (23.7 percent) over the span, led by Gusev, who scored 10 of his 21 points over his final 30 games on the power play.

A key area of focus for Ruff could be helping Subban have a bounce-back season after having 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 68 games, the lowest total of any full season in his career. Subban struggled to maintain a consistent spot on the top power-play unit but could be given a new opportunity under coach Ruff, who oversaw the development of Rangers defensemen, including fantasy standout Tony DeAngelo, who broke out with 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games last season. It’s unlikely that Subban will finish near his NHL career-high in points (60 with Montreal Canadiens in 2014-15) this season under Ruff, but fantasy owners can expect some renewed upside for the veteran defenseman in late rounds of standard 12-team drafts or off the waiver wire.

The coaching change could also boost Hughes, who had an underwhelming rookie season with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) and was minus-26 in 61 games. It’s worth noting wing Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, also struggled to become fantasy relevant this season for the Rangers, suggesting he and Hughes may have needed more time to adjust to the NHL level. Hughes is still worth a late-round flier with the expectation that he will be a permanent top-six forward for the Devils and potentially secure a spot on the first power play.

A bright spot for Ruff and fantasy owners is Blackwood, who led all rookie goalies in wins last season. Blackwood has a chance to be the Devils’ true No. 1 option and could be among the more sneaky workhorse options in fantasy drafts. Blackwood’s three shutouts were second among rookies at the position behind Merzlikins, giving Blackwood additional fantasy intrigue. The addition of veteran goalie Corey Crawford, who signed with the Devils on Oct. 9, gives Blackwood security of having a reliable backup (.917 SV% with Chicago Blackhawks last season) but should not jeopardize his long-term No. 1 status. Although Ruff gives the Devils some bounce-back appeal for this season, fantasy owners should prioritize safer teams from the Metropolitan Division in drafts.

Fantasy-relevant players affected (in order of rank in standard leagues): Nikita Gusev, LW/RW (150); Kyle Palmieri, RW (170); Mackenzie Blackwood, G (201); Nico Hischier, C (202); Jack Hughes, C (213); Corey Crawford, G (230); P.K. Subban, D (N/R)  

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