Vegas Secondary Scorers, Goalie Starts, Stamkos the new Ovechkin?
There were some excellent points made in the comments in my last Ramblings about the Vegas Golden Knights. I mentioned that the Golden Knights had a more generous set of expansion rules than previous expansion teams, which I still believe they did. However, that does not take away from the work that George McPhee and his team did in assembling this team, nor the work that Gerard Gallant did in creating a system that every player seems to have bought into. Whether you want the Golden Knights to win or not, you have to admit that what they have accomplished is nothing short of amazing.
This only accounts for the defense, but it gives you an idea as to where these players were on their teams’ depth charts at this time last season:
Vegas D and average TOI, plus where each ranked in TOI on their team (at their position) last year:
Schmidt, 24:53 | WSH, 7th
Engelland, 22:36 | CGY, 6th
McNabb, 22:02 | LA, 7th
Theodore, 21:36 | Ana, 7th
Miller, 19:22 | Bos, 7th
Sbisa, 16:38 | Van, 6th
Merrill, 15:44 | NJ, 6th
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) May 21, 2018
The funny thing is that the area that I was most impressed by Washington in their series with Tampa was their defense. Yes, their defense. I’m using more eye test than analytics in my observation, but it was the Capitals’ defense’s ability to limit the number of difficult shots and rebounds for Braden Holtby. As well, the Caps’ D had the ability to play a physical brand of hockey that Tampa in the end did not have an answer to. As impressive as Nate Schmidt has been in these playoffs, the Capitals have to be loaded on defense if they have to let go of what is now a top-pairing defenseman in Schmidt. He’s had an amazing year, both regular season and playoffs.
Schmidt is one of three Vegas Golden Knights who were difference-makers on a keeper team of mine that managed to win its fourth championship in five years. Many Golden Knights were on nobody’s radar at the start of the season, yet turned major fantasy surprises. We know all about the top line of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, but what about some of the secondary scorers? This isn’t a full list, since you may have your own. But if you were successful in your fantasy league this season, how much of an impact did players from this surprising expansion team have?
Schmidt was probably a more valuable real-life defenseman than fantasy defenseman, but we shouldn’t overlook his fantasy numbers. After failing to crack the 20-point mark on a deep Capitals’ defense, Schmidt posted a solid 36 points (5g-31a) in 76 games. Schmidt actually checked off all the boxes in this league when I added him: decent offense, plus/minus (plus-19), and solid icetime (these are the only categories that are counted among players in this league). In spite of the lack of offense in Washington, Schmidt was a combined plus-34 over his two seasons there, giving him a plus-53 over his last three seasons.
The icetime numbers in the tweet above are actually playoff numbers, yet Schmidt led all Vegas skaters with just over 22 minutes per game in the regular season. The only blueliner who had more offense than Schmidt is Colin Miller, who scored 41 points. Schmidt still has Shea Theodore looking over his shoulder, as he appears primed to make a greater fantasy impact over a full season next season. So Schmidt’s offensive ceiling shouldn’t be considered that much higher than what he has already produced. Yet as far as gems that were unearthed from other teams, Schmidt’s name isn’t discussed enough.
For a team that was in first place in my division for almost all of the season (two-division format), I was very poor up the middle at midseason. Jeff Carter was injured. Matt Duchene was struggling to adjust to his new team. Nazem Kadri was ice cold for a month and a half. The young centers I had drafted as keepers (Nolan Patrick, Tyson Jost, Pavel Zacha, Max Domi) were not ready for every-week fantasy duty. So in stepped Haula, who was the best of a waiver group that included Joe Thornton, Henrik Sedin, Jason Spezza, and Jordan Staal. Out of that group, only Duchene finished with more points, and it wasn’t by much.
Haula was literally rescued from the Minnesota Wild, where he was doomed to be a middle-six forward who would max out at 40 points. Yet as the Golden Knights’ second-line center, Haula finished one goal shy of 30 points and 21 points over his career high at 55 points. A shooting percentage of 16.6%, which was several points over his career average, certainly helped matters. Yet this SH% wasn’t as drastically as different as Karlsson’s, so any drop in goals might not be significant. Linemates James Neal and David Perron are both UFAs, so Haula’s fantasy value may be tied into whether they remain in Vegas.
If you’ve watched Tuch in the playoffs, can you believe that he was the player that the Wild handed to Vegas so that the Golden Knights would not select Matthew Dumba. So if you’re the Wild and you could have a do-over, would you keep Dumba or the Haula/Tuch pair? If the Golden Knights are sending a thank-you card to the Florida Panthers for Marchessault, Smith, and Gerard Gallant, then they should also be sending one to the Wild as well.
Full disclosure: I did not keep Tuch for the entire season. When some injured players returned combined with an earlier trade I made for Gustav Nyqvist (who turned out to be slightly better than Tuch in this league format), I had to send Tuch back to the waiver wire. Although Tuch was mainly a third-line option during the season, he has recently been moved up to the second line with Haula and Neal. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity, turning into a true playoff sleeper with six goals and nine points in 15 games. Should the Golden Knights decide to move on from Neal and/or Perron, Tuch’s role stands to increase, assuming no other significant offseason adds. He appears to have a very bright future.
— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) May 25, 2018
Well, there could be some truth to that… but maybe not in the way that you’d think. You may have discovered that Ovechkin was unfairly criticized for his playoff performance if you were to look at his actual playoff stats, and I think Stamkos is too as far as this season goes. Although Stamkos was held without a point in his last three playoff games (two of which the entire Lightning offense shut down), he finished the playoffs with a very respectable 16 points in 17 games. Even though your best players have to be your best players in the most important games, I’m willing to give credit to Holtby and the Capitals’ defense on this one.
The career playoff performance, though, warrants mention.
Stamkos' career regular-season points per game: 1.01
Stamkos' career playoff points per game: 0.77
This season’s playoff points are more in line with his career regular-season points, so the truth is that his playoff performance this season actually improved from past seasons. From a real-life perspective, you can debate his playoff performance all you want. From a playoff pool perspective, though, the overriding factor will still be how far you think the Lightning will go in the playoffs. The way they’re built, I’d say they’ll have a few more chances at the Stanley Cup.
Thought number 27 from the latest 31 Thoughts might be of some interest to fantasy owners:
Having a stretch where the starting goalie is either replaced by the backup (Holtby) or injured (Fleury) may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for teams when it comes to playoff performance.
Friedman might have been cherry picking a bit on this season’s goalies. The other two conference final goalies (Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy) finished first and fourth, respectively, in minutes played. Conversely, their teams were considered the favorites in their series, so is it possible that their teams simply ran out of gas? I know this was discussed with the Jets.
Here’s the one I think that matters the most to fantasy owners: games played. Hellebuyck and Cam Talbot led the NHL with 67 games played this past season. There already is a trend of goalies playing fewer games. Since the season-long lockout (2004-05), there have been 34 instances of goalies playing at least 70 games. Only four of those instances have occurred during the last five seasons (since 2013-14). In other words, you’re not getting the same mileage out of your current fantasy goalies as you did with goalies like Martin Brodeur, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Roberto Luongo in his younger days.
It is possible, though, that teams decide to rest their starting goalies even further than they are now. In an effort to be ready for the playoffs (and their inevitable second-round matchup with Winnipeg), the Predators healthy scratched key players at various points. They also basically alternated starts between Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros over their last eight regular-season games. But as Friedman said, teams on the playoff bubble probably won’t be resting their starters down the stretch. But you might see it from teams that clinch playoff positions relatively early, as Nashville did this season.
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.