The Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock on Wednesday afternoon, following two years of playoff disappointments and a start to this season that saw Toronto with nine wins in 23 games, sporting an expected goals percentage just slightly ahead of Detroit’s.
Sheldon Keefe has been named as his replacement.
I really don’t have a lot to say here. I think Babcock is a terrific Xs and Os coach who is terrible at line/player deployment. I mean, Cody Ceci was part of the shutdown pair to start the year and William Nylander was given third-line minutes in the playoffs this past April. Those sorts of things are inexcusable from an NHL coach (and Babcock is far from the only guilty party in the league).
Anyway, the Leafs should be a playoff team again, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can put together a deep run.
(Honestly guys, I’m just so tired of talking about this, or even having it discussed in my general vicinity. Head to the Dobber forums. I’m just so tired.)
Bobby Ryan will be away from the Senators for an indefinite amount of time as he enters the NHLPA’s player assistance program. We didn’t get anything more than that so it’s not worth speculating further.
Garnet Hathaway got three games for his spitting incident. If someone can clear up the functional difference between spitting on someone’s face and licking someone’s face, that’d be great.
Patric Hornqvist may be back on Thursday night but it looks like Justin Schultz may be out of the lineup. He apparently injured his groin in practice on Wednesday and did not return. It’s like this team can’t get ahead.
Buffalo had a pretty big shakeup in practice with their line combinations, the most important one being Jimmy Vesey being moved to the top line with Victor Olofsson being moved to the third line alongside Casey Mittelstadt. This is undoubtedly a move to get Vesey’s scoring going, but I think this is a solid move overall. With Olofsson, the top line hadn’t really been generating a lot, or certainly not the level they should: under 57 shot attempts per 60 minutes and just over two expected goals per 60 minutes. Those aren’t good numbers for a top line. I would still prefer Jeff Skinner there, but we don’t always get what we want.
Also: Rasmus Dahlin on the third pair? Really?
Tuesday on Twitter, I mused that there weren’t many players, if I were a GM in real life, I’d trade away Andrei Svechnikov to acquire. We need to consider: he’ll likely be under contract for 8-9 more years, he still has a rookie year left on his ELC, and is already proving himself as a game-breaking talent. I would probably trade for guys like McDavid, MacKinnon, and Pastrnak. Maybe guys like Cale Makar, Elias Pettersson, or the brothers Hughes. Other than that, I was coming up empty. Barkov and Couturier are great but have just two years left on their current deals; Matthews and Eichel are over $10M a season and have issues in their own end; Draisaitl still hasn’t proven he can produce away from McDavid. That’s my reasoning on a few of the players. What are your thoughts?
Obviously, there’s been the clear decline on the power play. This, of course, was predictable for anyone paying attention; I wrote as much in July and twice in September (here and here). He wasn’t going to walk out of training camp with PP1 status, so fantasy owners were hoping he’d take over for Morgan Rielly at some point in the season. (I didn’t think he’d drop in PP production this much, even on the second unit, but things haven’t exactly been “going well”.) Regardless, expecting more than 15 PPPs was asking for way too much.
Here’s the long-and-short of it: the team is shooting under five percent with him on the ice at five on five, resulting in 1.72 goals per 60 minutes. That’s about 20 percent less than his expected on-ice goal rate of 2.06. That means he should have been on the ice for 2-3 more goals. He’s also about 20 percent under his three-year individual points percentage rate, which means he’s been cheated by 3-4 points at five on five. Not that it’s a significant change, but four points would have him at 11 in 23 games, and closer to a 40-point pace which can be expected with the power-play-point loss.
I think it’s worth poking around what he can be had for in a trade. Expecting him to be a top-12 defenceman this year is (was) nonsense, but he can still be useful in fantasy. His shot, hit, and block rates are all within a normal range and there’s clearly due for some fortune in the production department. Even without much changing, he should play to a 40-point/82-game pace over the balance of the season. Despite him not being Colorado Tyson Barrie anymore, that’s still solid production for a fantasy blue liner.
As far as the impact of Keefe on Barrie’s future value is concerned, unless he takes Rielly’s power-play minutes, it doesn’t really matter.
One question I often receive is: how do you predict goals on the power play? When people are looking to fill out their fantasy rosters, power-play production is crucial in their assessment of a useful or useless player. Knowing which people may be in line for an uptick in power-play production, as the season wears on, is possible.
As far as I know – if anyone has seen/done more recent research, please link below in comments – the best way to predict future goals at five on five is looking at shot generation rather than current level of scoring or expected goals. It was an article by Arik Parnass at Hockey Graphs, who is now an analyst for the Avalanche, that showed this work. So, if we’re looking to players and teams that could score a lot of power-play goals in the future, it’s teams that haven’t scored a lot of power-play goals in the past but have generated a lot of shots. Clear as mud? Good.
Here are some players with high on-ice shot rate at 5v4 but who haven’t been on the ice for many goals yet. Most stats from Natural Stat Trick.
We can just add all three guys from the top line (well, the old top line) here. There are 155 forwards in the NHL with at least 40 minutes of ice time at five on four this year, and this trio is first, third, and fourth in on-ice shot attempts per 60 minutes. Despite that shot rate, every one of those players is outside the top half of on-ice goal rates. When we look at the rest of the leaderboard – San Jose, Edmonton, Nashville, Vegas’s second unit – they all have high on-ice goal rates. When looking at players with high on-ice shot rates from last year, we get guys with seven, eight, nine or more goals per 60 minutes. The trio from Vegas are all around five.
I know that shot attempts are not en vogue anymore, and people are (correctly) gravitating towards expected goals and shot locations. I agree that not all shots are equal, so I think it’s at least worth looking at where these guys are getting their shots from. From Hockeyviz, these are the shot locations for Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith this year while on the power play:
They’re shooting from the tops of the circles, the slot, and right at the goal mouth. In other words, these aren’t shots from long distances or bad angles, but rather exactly from where you would want your forwards to shoot from.
It might be tough to pry the Vegas guys from their fantasy owners at the moment but with how prolific their shot generation has been, it’s hard not imagining a power-play outburst over the final 60 or so games of the season.
Benn, Pavelski, and Others
The Stars have been on a tear of late, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, but the power play hasn’t really come to life yet.
The tough part about Dallas’s power play is that they’ve used many different combinations. Of late, they’ve split up Benn and Pavelski from Seguin and Radulov. When Pavelski and Benn are on the ice without Seguin, the team has been generating 146 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Even with Seguin, they’re generating over 120 shot attempts per 60 minutes. In aggregate, with Benn and Pavelski on the ice, regardless of combination, the Stars are averaging over 130 shot attempts per 60 minutes (near the range of the Vegas guys described above), yet just 4.24 goals/60 minutes. For reference on how low that is, among all forwards with 150 minutes at five on four last year, no player with an on-ice shot attempt rate over 110, no player was under 6.9 goals for per 60 minutes, and most were over 8.0.
Much like the Vegas viz, we can see that, at the least, Pavelski and Benn are getting shots from good areas, the former especially:
There may be issues with other players fitting in here, but I would bet on the Dallas power play in general improving on their current 14.1 percent rate, and perhaps by a lot.
Just wanted to point out that Logan Couture has zero power-play goals on 22 shots at five on four this year. In the three years from 2016-19, he shot 14.8 percent at five on four, so he’s probably been short-changed by three or four power-play goals this year. If he shoots at his current rate all year, and scores at his current rate all year, we would expect 12 power-play goals. Now, I’m not saying he’ll score 12 PPGs in his next 60 games because that’s a pretty high rate for any player not named Ovechkin, but it does show just how much growth he could have in his point production if he can maintain his current production rates while adding some power-play goals to the total. In other words, the goals will come. Have patience.