NHL experts buy/sell Artemi Panarin as a Hart finalist, Alex Ovechkin winning the shots title, more

ByNHL Insiders ESPN logo
Friday, January 17, 2020

As has seemingly become tradition during the 2019-20 NHL season, another coach was fired this week, as the Vegas Golden Knights let Gerard Gallant go, and the New Jersey Devils upped the ante by firing their GM, Ray Shero.

But the show must go on for those left standing, and that brings on another round of hot topics for our panel of experts to buy or sell. This week, we're pondering the following (click on each take to jump ahead):

Note: Stats listed are prior to the games of Jan. 16.

1. Artemi Panarin will be a Hart Trophy finalist.

Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Sell, but not a hard sell. I'm a "gotta be in it to win it" Hart Trophy guy, but I feel like Connor McDavid has started to convince some voters that playoff qualification (aka season of actual value) isn't a mandatory qualifier for MVP consideration. As of Thursday, the Rangers were on pace for 87 points. That's not getting them through in the East. But if they get close, and Panarin finishes with 30-plus points more than the next scorer on the team, it wouldn't shock me to see him take a spot in the top three. The same reasoning applies to Jack Eichel.

Dimitri Filipovic, hockey analytics writer:Sell. But not because of anything he's done wrong himself, because he's been nothing short of spectacular in his first season in New York. He's fourth in overall scoring, first in 5-on-5 production by a significant margin, and is currently in the midst of an obscene stretch during which he has 13 goals and 20 assists in just 17 games. Unfortunately, he also plays on a team that likely won't sniff the playoffs, and considering how much emphasis voters tend to place on team success when it comes to this award, it's hard to see him breaking into the tier of players that check both boxes (like McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak, for example).

Victoria Matiash, fantasy hockey analyst:Sell. Not unless McDavid, MacKinnon or Pastrnak sustains a serious injury in the near future. Then there's Leon Draisaitl and Brad Marchand -- the latter of whom is ready to rev back up -- to consider. Tough company to beat out, never mind the Rangers' position in the standings.

Tim Kavanagh, NHL editor: Sell. Despite his wild scoring pace -- seriously, can a player who is the sport's biggest free-agent prize in the summer go on to "break out" the following season? -- I subscribe to the "gotta be in it to win it" prerequisite as it pertains to the Hart. The Rangers aren't quite getting in the tourney this season.

Vince Masi, ESPN Stats & Information: Buy. Panarin is on pace for 122 points. Historically speaking, each of the last seven players who scored at least 120 points have finished in the top three in Hart Trophy voting that year, with four winning it. The last to finish outside the top three was Joe Sakic in 1995-96.

2. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov will both finish outside the top 10 in goals.

Wyshynski: Sell. I think Kucherov is starting to warm up to usual Kucherov levels: four goals in his past six games, points in seven of his past nine games. Challenging for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the goal-scoring champ is out of the question, but getting back to his traditional goals-per-game rates for the rest of the season could land him at 36-38 goals, and just eke out a top-10 finish.

Filipovic:Buy. Both are certainly capable of ripping off a stretch where they score every single night, but taking the field seems like a safer bet here given that they're each six goals out of the top 10 with nearly 20 other players between them and that threshold. After how last season unfolded the Lightning also clearly have their sights set on the bigger picture, and it's fair to wonder what their workload is even going to look like between now and the postseason.

Matiash:Buy. Twenty gifted goal scorers lie between both Lightning forwards and Patrick Kane and Kyle Connor, who are tied for the ninth spot. That's quite a gaggle to hurdle at this point. And I agree with Dimitri -- the Lightning have the depth to get it done through collected sweat. They don't need a Herculean scoring effort from any one individual player.

Kavanagh: Sell. Kane and Connor are currently tied for ninth, with 24 goals, and Connor is one goal ahead in pace. Stamkos and Kucherov (with 18 goals apiece) merely need to return to paces from previous campaigns to get back on track.

Masi: Buy. Their expected goal rates just show that they've been underperforming. According to Money Puck, Kucherov is 82nd in expected goals in all situations this season, and Stamkos is 50th. While their shooting percentages are down compared to their career rates and are both prone to get hot, it feels like too much of a logjam for them to jump up that high.

3. More than five NHL-roster goalies will be dealt between now and the trade deadline.

Wyshynski: Sell. There's a reason you don't see a lot of goalies on the move at the trade deadline: If teams are sellers, it may come as a shock to you that it's because their goaltending is terrible. As for the big-name pending free agents, the Capitals aren't trading Braden Holtby during a Stanley Cup run, Corey Crawford has trade protection and everyone else in a playoff seed or race.

Filipovic:Sell. Mostly because of how many teams are already set with two viable options in net, and how few legitimately impactful goalies there are that are on expiring deals and playing for teams that aren't competing for a playoff spot. There are only three such goalies that really check both boxes -- Alexandar Georgiev (who is technically a restricted free agent, but has also been heavily rumored to be on the way out), Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. Considering that two of them are currently on the same team, it's unlikely that both get moved, even though the Blackhawks aren't going anywhere this season. Jimmy Howard and Craig Anderson would've been candidates, but both have been so dreadful that it's hard to see viewing them as a real upgrade at this point.

Matiash:Sell. The Rangers likely move Georgiev. Barring a charge up the Central -- not utterly out of the question -- one of Chicago's duo is probably dealt. Pending free agent Aaron Dell might fetch San Jose a decent return, if he continues to play well. Maybe throw one surprise transaction into the mix -- there's usually at least one -- but that still only adds up to four.

Kavanagh: Buy. As teams like the Bruins have shown, adopting a timeshare approach (the NHL's version of load management) can yield positive results vis-a-vis keeping the No. 1 fresh for the playoffs. As more teams adopt this strategy, they'll need to search outside the organization to bring on a capable understudy. There's just enough supply to meet this demand.

Masi: Sell. Capfriendly has 19 goalies who are pending unrestricted free agents with at least five games played this season. Of that group, nine rank 50th or worse in goals saved above average, per Natural Stat Trick. There are seven that rank 20th or better, but they are all playing for teams in playoff spots. The goalies who may be available like Holtby, Howard or Laurent Brossoit just aren't playing well right now.

4. Alex Ovechkin will have the most shots at season's end.

Wyshynski: Buy. I mean, he's only done it in 11 out of 14 NHL seasons and was leading the league in shots through 47 games, right? I've learned through the years to never bet against Ovechkin when it comes to goal scoring, and I consider his shot generation to be a part of that warning.

Filipovic: Sell. It's always scary to bet against Ovechkin in anything involving shooting and/or scoring, but Nathan MacKinnon already dethroned him in this category last season and he's on pace to do it again. It's going to be a two-horse race, but I'm giving MacKinnon the edge by the thinnest of margins just because of his current rampage. After finishing with a league-leading 365 shots in 2018-19, he's now on pace for a whopping 383, and there's really no visible ceiling.

Matiash:Buy. Ovechkin averaged more shots in the second half of 2018-19 -- 4.35 per game through the latter 40 -- than over his first 41 contests (4.00). Why should we expect any different this season? I say he edges MacKinnon by a hair.

Kavanagh: Sell. There's a new high-shot-volume sheriff in town, and his name is Nathan MacKinnon. "When I play my best, I do shoot a lot of pucks for whatever reason," he told Emily Kaplan in December. "I don't have the best shooting percentage out of everyone, but I do like to get a lot of pucks on net. I found when I do that, our whole line gets a lot of success." MacKinnon won last season's shots-on-goal title, and he'll be a repeat champ this season.

Masi: Buy,as there's nothing telling that he will slow down. According to Natural Stat Trick, Ovechkin is third this season in shots per 60 minutes and second to Max Pacioretty in individual shot attempts per 60 minutes at all strengths. At 5-on-5, Ovechkin is fourth in individual shot attempts per 60 minutes, all of which feel as though he'll be at the top at season's end.

5. Patrick Kane is still the most reliable shootout scorer in the NHL.

Wyshynski: Sell. Give me Tyler Seguin, who is four for his last seven attempts and 10-for-17 in the past four seasons. This is a man who once scored twice in a row in the shootout because his first attempt was ruined by a flying hot dog. Not even projectile meat can thwart him in the overtime gimmick.

Filipovic:Sell. It's T.J. Oshie, and it's not particularly close. He has converted a whopping 51.8% of his 85 career attempts, which is the best rate of any player with that kind of volume. Plus, he's got the legend of the 2014 Olympics on his résumé as well, when he scored four out of six times on Sergei Bobrovsky to carry the U.S. to victory over Russia.

Kavanagh: Sell. Though he's 0-for-2 in 2019-20, Artemi Panarin's career mark of 59.1% (13-for-22) is tops among active, qualified shooters. He just needs some more chances to pull himself back up to the league leaders.

Masi: Buy, this season at least. He's 4-for-6 this season and his career shootout percentage is 42%, which is above the league average of 32% since the league instituted it in 2005-06. Special shoutouts to Slava Kozlov (58%) and Erik Christensen (53%), the qualifying leaders in the shootout era.

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