Every Sunday, we'll share 21 Fantasy Rambles – formerly 20 Fantasy Thoughts – from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's ‘Daily Ramblings’.
Writers: Michael Clifford, Ian Gooding, Cam Robinson, and Dobber
1. One season does not make a career, but despite the high shooting percentage, it was a marvelous campaign for Hawks’ Erik Gustafsson.
The question is if he maintains his power-play role; he had more than 100 minutes at five-on-four over the next-closest Blackhawks defenseman. Henri Jokiharju looked great whenever they allowed him to play in the NHL, while Adam Boqvist was a top-10 pick last year for the franchise and has been tearing up the OHL playoffs.
It seems certain that unless he falls off the map (he won’t), Gustafsson should have the PP role for 2019-20. Beyond that? Less certain. (apr12)
2. You know who the Leafs don’t need? William Nylander. I mean, sure you could use a second-line talent with good first-line upside. But they have enough of those and could shed one if it means keeping a top-six character player who brings other things to the table.
Since Nylander makes the money he does, logically he would be the best one to shed. Still shaking my head over that “not trading Nylander” comment from Kyle Dubas. Nylander is a great top six forward, perhaps even a first liner, but there are several dozen of him in the league – most definitely not a rare commodity.
And if he costs the team keeping the likes of Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen (I won’t even consider them losing Mitch Marner over keeping Nylander, I shudder), and prevents the team from acquiring a No.3 or 4 D, then that’s too big a sacrifice. (apr8)
3. The reason I am not a big fan of Alex Nylander in keeper leagues? Injuries. He had himself a nice season this year taking a big step forward in his pro career after a couple of steps backward. But he had a different injury wipe out two of his training camps, back-to-back, and then finally getting an opportunity with Buffalo that looks as though he is there to stay – and he gets hurt again.
If every time Nylander gets some sort of opportunity, or gets on a role he suffers an injury, he’s never going to get going. There are too many other prospects to roll the dice on, so I’ll leave the younger Nylander to someone else.
I just realized I’m kinda trashing on both Nylander brothers today. Time to write something nice: Both have tremendous upside and I really like William as a potential first-liner – no matter what team he plays for. In fact, I think it’s better for both him and the Leafs if he went somewhere else. He would flourish elsewhere and they would address some serious needs. (apr8)
4. By far the biggest question regarding the Flames entering the playoffs was their goaltending. Mike Smith had been downright awful during significant stretches of the season, so would he be able to hold up during the playoffs? Why didn’t the Flames give David Rittich a go instead?
Smith has found his game and then some. Since he doesn’t fit the definition of a stud goalie, he fits the definition of a hot goalie, which can just as well get the job done in the playoffs if he can be hot for long enough.
Even though Smith has a brief playoff history for a goalie of his service time, his career playoff numbers are outstanding (11-8, 1.79 GAA, .947 SV% entering Game 2). Maybe that could have counted for something in coach Bill Peters’ decision to start him in Game 1? The numbers aren’t recent, though, as his last playoff experience was in 2011-12 when he led the Coyotes to the conference final (his playoff numbers are mainly from that season). It’s more likely that Smith’s much-improved play swayed the decision (9-5-1, 2.08 GAA, .916 SV% since February 14). (apr14)
5. This year’s Dobby Awards!
Fantasy Player of the Year: Andrei Vasilevskiy. It’s not a coincidence that the teams that won each of my leagues that involve goalies, owned Vas. As I noted to one GM when we were discussing the fairness of the goalie points system in that league: “Owning Vasilevskiy under these rules right now is like owning Gretzky in 1986.”
Vasilevskiy only played 53 games thanks to a broken foot, and yet he still managed 39 wins. If healthy all year, he may have taken a run at 50 wins. He also boasted a 0.925 SV% in an era where goaltenders don’t really do that very often.
Runner-Up: Nikita Kucherov, who finished with 128 points, 12 more than the next player and the highest total in 23 years. (apr8)
6. Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Jordan Binnington. I wrestled with this one for a long time because I’m a huge Elias Pettersson fan and feel he will be an elite player. As in, top-5 in the league. Meanwhile, Binnington could Jim Carrey his way out of the NHL and become this massive bust. But we’ll always remember this year.
In the end, I asked myself: which rookie did the most to help a fantasy owner win? And frankly, Winnington turned more than a few fantasy squads around on his own this year. So, even though I would much sooner own runner-up Pettersson and honorable-mention Rasmus Dahlin by a wide, wide, ridiculously wide margin in keeper leagues, Binnington has to be the ROY in fantasy hockey. (apr8)
7. Fourth Year Magic Award: Dylan Larkin teased in Year 3 with 63 points and then took another huge step this season with 73. This is quite the feat when you consider that no other Detroit player reached 55.
Runner-Up: Max Domi jumped from 45 points in his third year to 72. He was a big reason why the Habs made it to Game 81 before finally being eliminated from the playoffs. (apr8)
8. Second-Half Stud Award: Patrick Kane’s 59 points in 39 games tied Nikita Kucherov in scoring since January 5. It was also a nice jump from his already-solid first-half pace of 51 points in 42 games.
Runner-Up: Sean Couturier, who had 47 points in the last 42 games after starting out with 29 in 38. This was despite managing just three points and going minus-9 in the final seven contests. (apr8)
9. Second-Half Swoon Award: Patrik Laine had 20 measly points in the last 49 games after starting the season with 30 in 33.
Runner-Up: Jeff Skinner was a revelation with 44 points in 45 games to start the year. He was going to demolish his career high of 63 points, no question about it. That is, until he didn’t. Just 19 in his last 37 to finish up with, you guessed it, 63 points. Congrats to anyone who traded either of these players in January. (apr8)
10. Although Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov was the top-ranked player in playoff pools, he has been held without a point in two games so far and will still be scoreless in the playoffs after Game 3 because of his one-game suspension.
Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, who were projected to go second and third, have also been held without a point in the first two games (see our Dobber Hockey Experts Panel picks for more). In addition, Kucherov has been held to just two goals in his last 14 playoff games. He’s been getting it done and then some in the regular season, but not so much in the playoffs when the intensity is turned up several notches.
So, if the Lightning is eliminated in the first round, does that mean the folks that didn’t pick any Lightning players will win their playoff pools? It probably isn’t that simple, but it goes to show that playoff pools aren’t as easy to predict as you might think and sometimes a counterintuitive strategy (although more risky) wins in the end. The silver lining is that if the Bolts come back and win this series, you’ll probably get the same four or five games of production out of them than you thought you would receive from them in the first round anyway.
It's funny how in two short games that the narrative on the Lightning has shifted from being the model franchise to the ultimate choke team. A win in Game 3 would go a long way toward righting the ship. A loss, well… (apr14)
11. Jordan Weal has teased us at the end of the season like this before. And the last time he did it, he was set to become a UFA and earned himself a two-year, one-way contract.
I think his progress was derailed by the Flyers lucking into the draft lottery win and adding Nolan Patrick to the lineup. It nudged Weal down the roster and he hasn’t done much of anything since.
Here he is, set to become a UFA again and he ends things in Montreal with eight points in nine games. What kind of contract he earns from that should determine how much of a chance he will get. And to be fair, he had plenty of top-six opportunities in Arizona, but couldn’t find the chemistry. He is clearly a guy who will lean on chemistry with a talented player for his points. (apr8)
12. Vince Dunn has long been thought of as an offensive defenseman. He had 99 points over his final 120 games in the OHL, and had 45 points in 72 games as a 20-year old rookie in the AHL back in 2016-17.
All I’m saying for now is that I’m leery of predicting some sort of Erik Gustafsson-esque breakout. In St. Louis, there is still Alex Pietrangelo’s ice time to contend with and Colton Parayko isn’t someone to just eschew. Of course, Dunn is still just 22 years old, so the fact that we’re even talking about him potentially being an offensive factor from the blue line is a very good sign. (apr12)
13. When we look at the list of top producers per minute from the blue line at five-on-four, most of the names make sense. We see Torey Krug, Dustin Byfuglien, Keith Yandle, Victor Hedman, and Morgan Rielly, among others. Who’s the defenseman that finished second in points/60 minutes at five-on-four this year (minimum of 100 minutes)? It was Rangers’ Neal Pionk.
In fact, over the last two years, Pionk leads all defensemen in points/60 minutes on the power play. Yes, all defensemen. Granted, it’s limited ice time (140 minutes or so) but it’s been an unbelievable run.
I think a bit of caution should be used here. Pionk had a poor season defensively, as much of the rest of the team did. Tony DeAngelo had a good season for the team even if coach David Quinn wouldn’t play him every night. Kevin Shattenkirk is still lurking and I’m sure he’d like to have a rebound season of his own. I’m not entirely sure what the Rangers are going to do on the blue line next year. I’m not entirely sure the Rangers know what the Rangers are going to do on the blue line next year.
There could be some sneaky value here should: A) Pionk be a regular next year again and; B) no one else is brought in. There are a lot of moving parts that can change in the next 5-6 months. (apr12)
14. I’m interested to see what Robin Lehner’s contract ends up being this summer. A lengthy postseason run with the Isles could mean a significant pay raise. Cap league owners are watching carefully. (apr11)
15. In spite of the loss in Game 2 vs the Predators, Ben Bishop was stellar, stopping 40 of 42 shots to keep the Stars in this game. With his 1.92 GAA and .946 SV% in two playoff games, Bishop is carrying a strong regular season into the playoffs, where he has been the Stars’ best player so far. Bishop finished the regular season with a 1.98 GAA and .934 SV% and seven shutouts, which are numbers that could result in a Vezina Trophy nomination. (apr14)
16. David Savard had a marvelous season for Columbus. It’s a shame he’s stuck behind Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on the PP depth chart. I would like to see him get top power play minutes sometime. (apr11)
17. So, I wanted to take a stab at what the NHL might look like in four years. Ready to be made a fool of again? I am.
A lot of stars have signed huge contracts in recent seasons with lengths of anywhere from six to eight years. A lot of those contracts will be running out in the same three-year span, and that will lead to a lot of talent in unrestricted free agency, even if they’re older.
Per Cap Friendly, here are some of the names that could theoretically be available after the 2022-23 season: Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jonathan Toews, David Pastrnak, Sean Monahan, Nathan MacKinnon, Dylan Larkin, Ryan O’Reilly, Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Huberdeau, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Bo Horvat. That kind of talent in a single free agent class is almost surreal.
Of course, as alluded to, a lot of players will be in their 30s by that point. There are a handful of guys who will be in their mid-to-late 20s like MacKinnon, Pastrnak, Monahan, and Larkin. With the likelihood of a lockout looming, will some of the older players not named who will also be UFA like Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo and Duncan Keith be bought out?
The younger guys, I’m sure, will be extended by their current teams. What about everyone else? Wouldn’t it be cool for Toews and Kane to do what Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne did and take cheap contracts to sign somewhere together? Regardless, in a few years’ time, there will be a lot of high-profile free agents that will start hitting the market. (apr10)
18. It seems pretty likely that Colorado is one of the top teams in the league in four years, isn’t it? They’ll have Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the roster, Samuel Girard will be a top-tier puck-mover, Cale Makar has the look of a future Norris Trophy contender, and then there’s Ottawa’s top pick from this year. There will be a great core to build around and if management can manage to not pull an Edmonton or Buffalo, it will hopefully be a championship core.
Of course, there is a lot else the team will have to deal with. Their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, is a free agent after the 2020-21 season. Will he still be around? Will Tyson Barrie? Will any of the young guys currently on the roster like J.T. Compher, Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost be making an impact on the 2022-23 roster? This is certainly a team on the rise, but the toughest leap to make is from a good team to a championship-calibre team. Can the Avs be that team?
I say yes. There were some early bumps in the road but the Avalanche management group has made solid deals over the last year or so. As long as they can keep making positive deals for the franchise, there’s no reason to believe they’ll flounder. I believe that in April 2023, we’ll be talking about the Avalanche as one of the top franchises in the league, returning to the glory they enjoyed early in the franchise’s existence. (apr10)
19. Cale Makar is the 2018-19 Hobey Baker winner. After playing in Saturday’s championship game, it’s possible that he could debut with the Avalanche as early as Game 3 on Monday night. Of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on the top prospect blueliner should he enter the Avs’ lineup. With 49 points in 40 games with UMass, the 2017 fourth overall pick is definitely a blueliner that should be heavily sought-after in keeper leagues. (apr13)
Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing Makar in the NHL, but what an introduction to the top professional hockey league; “Here ya go kid, you’re starting your career in a playoff series against the top team (Flames) in the West.” (apr11)
20. Dustin Byfuglien was injured on December 29. He returned in early February for five games and then was injured again, not returning until the end of March. That’s important because Byfuglien is a top-pair defenseman whose relative expected goals against numbers were among the top-20 defenseman league-wide this year.
Over the last three years, Mark Scheifele’s shot share numbers drop from nearly 53 percent to under 49 percent when he’s not on the ice with Byfuglien, while Bryan Little’s drops from 52.2 percent to 49.2 percent. Big Buff is an important player. (apr9)
21. Legendary coach Joel Quenneville was hired by the Florida Panthers to be their next bench boss last Monday. He replaces the recently fired Bob Boughner and will try to take the Panthers to the playoffs for the first time in four years, and past the first round for the first time in over 20 years. You can read Dobber’s take on the hiring here.
All I will say is that I do not believe coaching was and is the issue with the Panthers. I’ll leave it at that. (apr9)
Have a good week, folks!!