Even the most diehard fantasy experts sometimes have a hard time explaining why certain players perform either well above or below their expectations. And sometimes, just a change of scenery can get a player going.
Usually that change of scenery is a different team. For Minnesota Wild left winger Erik Haula, a different head coach was a big enough change to make a huge difference.
After losing eight in a row and 13 of 14, the Wild fired coach Mike Yeo, who had led Minnesota to the second round of the playoffs two seasons in a row. Yeo is a good coach and will definitely get another opportunity at some point, but it is hard to argue with the results under new interim coach John Torchetti.
Since Torchetti has taken over, Minnesota is 4-0-0 and routed archival Chicago, 6-1, at TCF Bank Stadium in the outdoor hockey game on Sunday. Center Zach Parise credited the team’s turnaround to Torchetti’s energy, positivity and fiery attitude.
The new coaching has done wonders to Haula’s fantasy value.
Prior to the coaching change, the third-line center had five goals and 13 points in 49 games. And that includes a two-point effort Haula had in an overtime loss against the Dallas Stars on Feb. 9. He averaged under a shot on net per game through the first four-plus months of the season.
Since Torchetti took over, though, Haula has two goals and seven points. He has multiple points in two of the last four games, and three of the last seven going back to Feb. 9. The 24-year-old only had one multi-point game before Feb. 9.
Under the new coaching system, Haula is averaging about twice as many shots on goal per game (1.75) than he did under Yeo.
It is obviously a very small sample size. Ultimately, fantasy owners will probably want to see if Haula can maintain this pace for another week or so. But it is probably no coincidence that his improvement comes at nearly the same time the Wild made a coaching change.
Plus, Haula’s scoring and shot totals aren’t the only statistics that have improved lately.Torchetti has been much more willing to roll with all four lines in the last four games. As a result, Haula is averaging 14:22 minutes of ice time per game since Feb. 15, which is over three minutes more than what he averaged under Yeo.
But not only is Torchetti giving Haula more playing time, the 24-year-old has been on the ice for more offensive zone starts. For the season, Haula has a offensive vs. defensive zone start ratio of negative-19.1 percent, however, in two of the last four games, he had more offensive zone starts than he did defensive.
Although more offensive zone time obviously increases the likelihood that Haula will score, it helps his fantasy value in other areas too. Because NHL rules force the defensive player to put his stick down on the ice before the faceoff first, it is much easier to win offensive zone faceoffs.
The 2015-16 season has already been a career-best for Haula in terms of faceoffs, winning 54.0 percent of them. With more offensive zone starts in the last four games, he has been even better. Under Torchetti, the 24-year-old has won 66.7 percent of his faceoffs.
Among the Wild skaters with at least 100 faceoff opportunities, Haula has the second-best faceoff win percentage. Torchetti should continue to use that invaluable skill in both zones.
And because of the great faceoff numbers, it should be no surprise that Haula’s possession numbers are better recently. In five of the last seven games, he has a Corsi For percentage of at least 50 percent. That’s quite an improvement for a player who has never posted a Corsi For percentage above 48.5 percent for an entire season.
Now, let’s not make any mistakes here. Haula isn’t likely to put any contending fantasy team over the top. There is no way he maintains his 33.3 shooting percentage he has over the last seven games.
But for owners in deep leagues that have a roster spot available, Haula is worth a look, especially if faceoffs is a category.