Ramblings: Dvorak Contract, Arizona PP, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, and More – August 10

Michael Clifford



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Arizona signed centre Christian Dvorak to a six-year contract carrying a $4.45-million AAV. Dvorak had 37 points in 78 games last year and will be going into his age-22 season. The pivot has one year left on his entry-level deal so this won’t kick in until the 2019-20 campaign.

If the team does go with Alex Galchenyuk at centre, that ostensibly makes Dvorak the team’s third-line centre. Paying $4.45-million for a third-line centre isn’t a bad thing. Just look at some of the teams around the league like Washington, Toronto, Calgary, Anaheim (if Kesler is healthy) and so on. But the third-line centres on those teams are more established than Dvorak, and are third-line centres only because of how deep the teams are down the middle. This is more a payment on what the team thinks he could be rather than what they think he is at this moment in time, but if he doesn't develop into more than a true third-line centre, this isn't very good. 

For those in cap leagues, unless your league counts face-off wins, this prices him out of the value range. But, remember, that this deal doesn’t start for a year, so you can still get a year out of him at a very cheap price. At that point, if he’s taken a step forward offensively, maybe he’ll be worth it. If he doesn’t, this is likely too much.


The 30th anniversary of the Wayne Gretzky trade was yesterday, which was tough to miss because it seemed like every outlet had their own tribute to it. The one from Stephen Whyno, which he wrote five years ago in discussion with Gary Bettman, was worth the read.


I know it seems like I link to stuff from The Athletic all the time, and, well, it’s because basically every notable hockey writer seems to write there now.

Anyway, a couple good reads from yesterday.

This one, from Joe Smith, in which he discusses Tampa Bay Lightning prospects Alex Volkov and Mathieu Joseph with the franchise’s AHL coach Benoit Groulx. Presumably, all the roster spots are spoken for at the moment, but we’re always looking for guys who could surprise out of camp. Groulx seems to think those two may have a shot.

And then there was this one, from John Vogl, in a discussion with Jack Eichel. Most player interviews are not revealing at all, but it was at least nice to see Eichel talk about how the team needed to play with speed and skill and he thinks some of the additions brought in could help the team do just that. Whether or not that comes to fruition is another matter.


Found this interesting: Former NHLer Alex Kovalev ripped into the NHL’s current state of the game, and named Dan Bylsma as an offender of this in the meantime. He was lamenting how the game is constantly chips up the boards and flips into the neutral zone. This isn’t new for former players, especially Russians, to talk about the game in this way but I always think about how we could change it. The most exciting players are the creative ones but they also drive coaches nuts for the same reason. Is there a reasonable change we can make here? I know one thing that I’ve seen floated often on social media is getting rid of offsides. It sounds crazy, but that would really open up the ice and get rid dump-ins and zone flips. Imagine being able to make a 150-foot stretch pass? Erik Karlsson’s dream.

It won’t happen anytime soon but it is fun to think about the game with drastically different rules than we currently have.


Yesterday’s Ramblings discussed players who are likely due for a shooting percentage rebound on five-on-four power plays and thus should be able to add at least a handful of power play goals to their totals this year.

Today’s Ramblings will discuss a few players at the other end of the spectrum; guys who could see their goal totals decline from an over-heating shooting percentage. Data from Corsica.

In order to capture guys who actually played meaningful minutes, I set the minimum at 100 five-on-four power play minutes. When I looked at the extreme end of the spectrum of shooting percentage, one thing stuck out to me: there aren’t many guys who will be focal points of their respective power plays. This is the list of players who shot over 30 percent:



The first thing that stuck out to me: this list is littered with Lightning forwards and none named Stamkos or Kucherov. Both Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat played most often on the second power-play unit, and with JT Miller in town, and as long as Alex Killorn stays mostly on the top unit, both Gourde and Palat will stay on the second power-play unit. If both their shooting percentages crash, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson will have to do the heavy lifting.

(I do think Point ends up taking Killorn’s spot on the top PP unit, as he did at times towards the end of the year, but that would still leave Gourde/Palat on PP2)

It’s crazy to see Erik Haula shooting at the percentage he did. He won’t maintain 41+ percent, but it’s hard to know where his true talent lies given his lack of PPTOI when he was in Minnesota. For that reason, I looked at guys with extremely high five-on-four shooting percentages in 2016-17 to see how they fared in 2017-18. In short: not good. Of the guys who managed 100+ 5v4 minutes in both seasons, and shot at least 27 percent in 2016-17, the vast majority of them crashed in 2017-18. Only Nazem Kadri managed anything close, the rest found themselves declining by over half, some regressed into oblivion:



Given that Haula plays on a team who splits their power plays, which I’m assuming they do again, it’s not as if there will be a bevy of PP minutes to help mitigate the impending crash. Falling to 10 percent shooting on 300 minutes would hurt, but falling to 10 percent on 175 minutes just makes it even worse. I think Haula fantasy keeper owners should ready themselves to see him score five power-play goals this year, if he’s lucky.


One other guy I wonder about is Sven Baertschi. With the Sedin twins gone, there is presumably two open spots on the top power-play unit. Baertschi signed a three-year deal with the Canucks and though they have some young guys coming up, among their proven, top-end forwards, they have two. And one of them is a sophomore. Does Baertschi crack that top unit? There is Gaudette, Pettersson, and Dahlen, but how many rookies do they want to put on PP1? Surely, Baertschi won’t shoot 30 percent at five-on-four again, but if he can manage to skate with Boeser and Horvat at 5v4 for most of the year, that extra ice time could mitigate some of the percentage drop. We’ll see. There are a lot of moving parts in Vancouver this year.


When looking through the list of guys with very high shooting percentage at five-on-four from 2017-18, two more names stuck out to me: Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg. They stuck out for two reasons.

First, they skate on the same PP unit. That’s probably why the team had the fourth-most 5v4 power-play goals up until the All-Star break. Second, yesterday I wrote about how Ryan Johansen would be one of the guys bouncing back from a poor 5v4 shooting season last year. If both Forsberg and Smith see their percentage crash, the other guys (Johansen and Arvidsson) are going to need to pick up the slack. Given that Arvidsson is the shooter of the two of them, we could see a big jump from the three total PP goals he had in 2017-18.

Also, we shouldn’t discount that, at some point, Smith may just be moved off the top unit entirely.

Regardless, it makes projecting Forsberg this year a little difficult. Maybe his PP assists jump up to make up the difference? His five-on-five shooting percentage is set to rebound, so that could mitigate some of the total drop in his goal total. But for those in leagues that count PP goals specifically, it’s probably safer to bet on Forsberg dropping somewhere around his 2015-16 season (around 8 goals or so) than to assume he’ll just keep progressing in a healthy season to the 15-goal mark on the PP.


Artem Anisimov also had a sky-high shooting percentage at five-on-four last year, finishing just under 30 percent. Like the guys in Nashville, it’s curious to see that number because of other players on his team. Nick Schmaltz shot an even 20 percent, and then we had the following: Brandon Saad at four percent, Jonathan Toews at five percent, and Patrick Kane at 6.9 percent. Those are a couple very high numbers and a handful of very low numbers. Don’t be surprised to see a reversal in 2018-19, which is another reason why I’m high on Saad this year, especially considering where he’ll be available to draft.


The last player worthy of discussion is Eric Staal. He’s been lights out for the Wild since they signed him, culminating with 42 goals last year, 11 of them on the power play. For reference, he had 12 power-play goal totals from 2014-2017 combined. He hadn’t cracked the double-digit goal mark on the PP since 2010-11.

Minnesota is a team that splits their power-play units to a degree which, as written above, is a concern. He shot 28.12 percent at five-on-four last year. If that comes down to 10 percent or so, in 175 five-on-four minutes, that’s a huge crash in production. Just that loss in PP goal production alone would knock him down to 35-ish goals. I don’t think anyone expects him to repeat 42 goals again, but just be aware of where the goal drop will come from. In leagues that count PP goals (or even PP points), it could be a double-whammy as the loss in production will likely come from the man-advantage side.



While I’m thinking about power plays, I’ll be very interested to see what the Arizona Coyotes do with their top PP unit this year. If we look at their PP line combinations from Frozen Tools, their three most-common PP lineups had three forwards and two defencemen. However, with the addition of Alex Galchenyuk and the hopeful emergence of Dylan Strome, and the lack of scoring talent down the lineup, it would make sense for the team to run a heavily-used four-forward top PP unit. They could go with Galchenyuk-Keller-Stepan-Strome-OEL and just play them 70 percent of the time. It would give them four lefties but that’s not really a huge issue. You can have Galchenyuk on his off-hand wall, Strome or Keller on their strong-side wall, the remaining forward and Stepan playing low/high in the slot with OEL on the point.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but it seems to me they finally have the offensive pieces necessary to run a very threatening top PP unit. Arizona was bottom-10 in five-on-four goals last year and if this team wants to earnestly push for a playoff spot, a boost on the PP would go a long way in helping. It’ll be curious to see what they run in exhibition games.


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