Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final had a lot to live up to following the standard set by Game 1 and it came pretty close to doing so. These two teams are developing a genuine dislike and it’s starting to show.
To kick things off we had a James Neal goal nearing the middle of the first period and it was an absolute beauty:
— NHL (@NHL) May 31, 2018
The deft touch to get the puck back to the middle followed by the absolute snipe on Braden Holtby, just pure magic. With all the hubbub surrounding other Golden Knights forwards, it’s easy to forget Neal’s been one of the game’s premier snipers for a decade.
Lars Eller would tie things up later but the big news was injury to Evgeny Kuznetsov. He took a big hit in the neutral zone along the boards from Brayden McNabb – which probably should have been an elbowing call honestly – but seemed to injure his left wrist or shoulder in the process. Kuznetsov left the game and did not return. All the Caps would say is that it was an upper-body injury.
Holtby would shut the door the rest of the way and Washington would skate out of Vegas with a 3-2 win and an evened series. Just saying he shut the door doesn't really do it justice, though, as he faced 39 shots, and made this absolutely incredible save on Tuch with about two minutes left in the game:
Oh my god Braden Holtby pic.twitter.com/xCR65Itcf7
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 31, 2018
Lucky? Maybe a bit, but you have to put yourself in a position to be lucky, and that was incredible. Hats off, Mr. Holtby.
A story in theScore quotes Marc Bergevin, in an interview with Mike Zeisberger, as saying Montreal isn’t likely to deal the third overall pick. It never really made sense in the first place; the Habs need to start stocking the cupboards. This isn’t a team one impact player away from the Cup.
From a fantasy hockey perspective, though, it’s kind of disappointing, I think? For fantasy hockey owners in redraft leagues, we don’t care if the team is going to be good in three years. We need the team to be good now. Fantasy owners need legitimate centres to feed guys like Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, and Brendan Gallaghe. It’s in the best interest of the team and its fans for the long-term to hold that pick, but the selfish fantasy owner in me wanted to see them trade it in some sort of package for a top-end centre.
Ah well. Maybe they’ll still sign John Tavares.
(editor’s note: they will not sign John Tavares)
A week ago there was a Ramblings posted for new baseline targets in fantasy hockey. They’re based on the increase in scoring across the NHL which are (partly) are a product of the rise in shot rates. The targets for an average forward in a 12-team league with 13 forwards rostered should be 25 goals, 35 assists, and 201 shots on goal. For defencemen, we are looking for 9 goals, 31 assists, and 173 shots on goal. As one can imagine, not every fantasy-relevant player hits each of those targets – Hockey Reference had just 24 forwards and 15 defencemen reach those marks – but it does help set a guideline of what we need from players in order to stay in the hunt for a fantasy title.
It’s worth going over some players who failed to reach each of those different marks, are good bets to get over the hump for 2018-19, and might make good values at the draft table.
We’ll dig into the forwards for today.
Forwards – Goals
It’s been disappointing to see Tatar on the sidelines for most of the playoffs since Vegas acquired him at the trade deadline but sometimes a player doesn’t mesh immediately. It speaks to just one of the issues that can arise post-deadline with acquisitions. Regardless, they acquired Tatar because both James Neal and David Perron are UFAs and it’s not certain both (or either) return. Tatar has posted four straight 20-goal seasons, averaging 24 goals per campaign in that span, playing just over 16 minutes on average a night. He should find himself in the Vegas top-6 next year with power-play time and a return to 25 goals seems possible in those circumstances.
Nashville was a Cup contender so hopefully their second-round exit will mean a bit of a discount on some players at the draft table in September. Fiala managed a 23-goal season in 2017-18 and that was despite playing just 15:09 per game. He put up a shot attempt rate that came in just below what Filip Forsberg’s was in the regular season so even a modest increase in ice time should mean flying past the 200-shot mark. He was very good all year for the team and did nothing to warrant a push down the lineup. He seems primed for a full breakout campaign.
The concern is that DeBrusk’s playoff performance – 6 goals in 12 games – will inflate his ADP next year but like Fiala, hopefully an early-ish exit doesn’t bring this to fruition. Regardless, DeBrusk was impressive basically from the start of the season, mixing speed and skill to get to the net with regularity and that kind of skillset is useful on the power play. The hope is he gets first crack at the top PP unit should Rick Nash move on, and that, along with a small boost in five-on-five ice time, should be enough to get him to 25 goals.
Forwards – Assists
It’s hard to see Dubois being undervalued going into drafts next year given that by the end of the year he was on both the top line and the top PP unit for Columbus. My hope is two-fold, though: people are scared of Tortorella’s… let’s call it whims… and that he’s pushed down the list given he’s a centre. But he was a monster down the stretch for the team with 16 assists and 26 points in 33 games post-All Star Game and on the top line there’s no reason not to think he can’t post similar numbers over a larger sample next year. Getting to 35 assists with guys like Panarin, Atkinson, or Anderson on his wing is doable.
I’m going to fully reserve a prediction here until we get more certainty with Minnesota’s future because there might be some big changes coming. There is a new general manager in town while the team hasn’t reached their postseason goals since the signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise years ago. All the same, Coyle missed 16 games last year but his 82-game pace still worked out to 32 assists. He also saw a three-year low in shooting percentage. There is enough talent where he won’t be a focal point of the roster but getting back to 15+ goals and 35+ assists is reasonable in a full season.
I like to poke fun at the aggrandization of Toews’ contributions as much as the next person but he should see a bounceback in 2018-19. He still managed 32 assists in 2017-18, meaning he’s cracked 30 assists in every season in which he’s played at least 60 games. He also did that with a revolving door of wingers all season long in conjunction with an underperforming Brandon Saad and a career-low second assist rate. Despite all that, his 82-game pace for assists was 35 (he only played 74 games). Do not be surprised to see him back over the 60-point mark again next season thanks largely due to just a jump in assists.
Forwards – Shots
Anyone who reads my Ramblings with regularity knows I’m a fan of Palmieri. In 2017-18, he set a career-high with 2.92 shots per game even though he had a three-year low in TOI per game. He cracked 180 shots despite playing just 62 games. A full season with the Devils, hopefully on the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, could see career-highs across the board for Palmieri. Even if he were to pull back a bit on the shots per game, just getting a full season in should see him cross 200 shots. He’s a guy I will be targeting in every fantasy draft with the assumption his ADP will be depressed due to low raw totals.
Lehkonen is one player whose ADP I’m interested to see in September. I doubt it’s even inside the top-200 given his horrific start to the year depressed his numbers (remember, he had two goals at the All-Star Break, and both goals came in the same game). All the same, his 82-game pace for shots was 203 and to do that as a 22-year old in his second season on this roster is impressive. He doesn’t even need a bigger role to be a fantasy contributor next year but consistent top-six minutes with top power-play time should help.
The way Anderson finished the season makes it easy to forget the way he started the season. Up until the All-Star break, he had 15 goals and 25 points with 151 shots in just 47 games. And that was with an offseason contract dispute that didn’t see him signed until October. He was injured at the end of February, though, and by that point he had been pushed down the lineup. Aside from Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, and probably Pierre-Luc Dubois, I’m not sure anyone has a lock on top-six minutes next year and we know what Torts can be like. All the same, all things equal, I’ll put my faith in talent and Anderson oozes it. A healthy season should see him cruise past 200 shots.