Alex Edler returned to the Vancouver lineup following a 10-game absence due to injury. That he’s back is a good sign but it seems pretty clear that he’s not going to wrangle the top PP minutes away from Quinn Hughes anytime soon.
Playing their second game in as many nights, Arizona went back to the well with Antti Raanta, given the injury to Darcy Kuemper. Party of me wonders if this was going to be the plan no matter the time of year, or if Raanta got the back-to-back games only because of the holiday break. If the team had another game tomorrow, would they still use Raanta? Either way, it’s obvious he’s going to get as many starts as he can handle until Kuemper’s back.
Jesper Boqvist was on the top line for the Devils on Monday night in Chicago in place of Jesper Bratt. Maybe it was just because it was the Battle of the Boqvists, or maybe that’s where he’s going to stay long-term. If it’s the latter, he’s going to have some fantasy relevance here soon. Just something to keep an eye on.
Joel Farabee returned to the lineup on Monday night for the Flyers, skating on the third line with Jakub Voracek and Morgan Frost. The top line has been playing well and the second line has been on fire, is the reason for Farabee going where he did. Whether that’s something that persists remains to be seen.
In what can only be described as, “this game was definitely played in the middle of the afternoon two days before Christmas,” Toronto took an 8-6 win over Carolina with them into the holiday break. Mitch Marner had a monster five-point night (2+3), giving him 17 points in nine games since his return from injury. That’s good, I think?
It’s worth noting that Pierre Engvall spent most of the game on a line with Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev, while William Nylander was stuck on the third line. If that doesn’t change, it’s going to kill Independent Willy.
Martin Necas had two goals and two assists for the Hurricanes, bringing him to 21 ppints in 33 games on the year. It’s been a great rookie effort.
This is my last Ramblings until after Christmas, so Merry Christmas to all our readers and their families.
I wanted to give a Christmas gift to Detroit Red Wings fans, so here it is, my gift to you: how the Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs in 2021.
A couple weeks ago, my Christmas wish list included Detroit landing the top overall pick for going through their Suffer Year. They, and more specifically their fans, deserve it for having to sit through whatever this 2019-20 team is. But I do believe there is hope that the team is back in the playoff picture as soon as next year. Allow me to explain.
In my mind, this Detroit roster has a pretty good top-6 mix already. If we look at the top line, the trio of Bertuzzi-Larkin-Mantha has been excellent in their time together to the tune of a 52.6 percent expected goal share and 55.7 percent actual goal share. They’ve done that largely with one of the worst blue lines in the NHL, which in part helped fuel an awful goaltending situation. Mantha is on the verge of being a 30-goal scorer, Larkin can play all three phases well and is just coming into his prime, and Bertuzzi is very good at driving offence even if he isn’t solid defensively (he doesn’t need to be, either). The team has a capable top line, so at least they have something.
As we move down the depth chart, the first glaring hole is the second-line centre position. Let’s assume Robby Fabbri can be a 20-goal, 50-point guy (he’s averaged nearly 40 points/82 games for his career but done so playing just 14 minutes a game). Let’s also assume Filip Zadina’s maturation keeps going smoothly and he’s no worse than a bona fide second-line scoring winger. (I personally believe he becomes a bona fide top-line scoring winger, but let’s just assume a little less for this exercise.) We’re missing a second-line centre here. The hope, obviously, is that Joe Veleno can become that guy, but we’re considerably less sure on where he stands in his development relative to the NHL because he simply hasn’t gotten to that point yet. I’m going to return to this in a minute.
As far as the bottom-6 goes, that’s the easiest part to fill. The reigning Stanley Cup champs were notorious for having a lot of different players fill in the bottom of their roster until they settled on a group. The Pittsburgh Penguins, just prior to their recent Cup runs, completely rebuilt their bottom-6 effectively in one summer. It’s something that can be done, it’s just a matter of signing the right (read: good) players, and not giving Justin Abdelkader $30M.
Most importantly, we get to the blue line. That blue line is, in a word, atrocious. There is one (1) defenceman on the roster on pace to have positive value this year relative to a replacement player per Evolving Hockey. That guy is Filip Hronek, and he’s only playing to the calibre of a second-pair defenceman. I don’t mean that as a disparagement; obviously every team needs guys who can play on the second pair. I just don’t want expectations to get out of control here if he doesn’t end up a guy who can play 25 minutes a night competently in all three phases. If he ends up being a 21-minute guy who only plays the power play, that’s just fine. In fact, it’s good! Just don’t pigeon-hole him with lofty expectations just yet.
But to outline the problem: Hronek is the only Red Wings blue line performing better than a replacement-level defenceman this year. The only one. One. Une personne. Solo. It’s literally Filip Hronek and a bunch of AHL defencemen. We wonder why the team is so bad defensively, but also wonder why they can’t sustain offence, either. Here’s the upside: this is the last year for each of Mike Green, Trevor Daley, Alex Biega, and Jonathan Ericsson. If we exclude Biega – he was a recent signing for a couple years – that’s three regulars (all below replacement, mind you) gone from the lineup, that’s nearly $13M in cap space freed up on the blue line. In fact, they’ll have a lot of cap space next year – over $35M for sure. Now, they have a lot of RFAs to sign like Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Fabbri, but even chewing up $20M for their RFA would still leave them a lot of cap space left to use.
There is a great UFA group of defencemen here. We have names like Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Barrie, Jake Muzzin, Chris Tanev, Torey Krug, a rehabilitated Kevin Shattenkirk, and more. Now, whether they all get to market is a different story, but it seems eminently possible that the Red Wings can go out and sign, say, Barrie and Tanev, and still have cap space left over. (Whether they actually want to use their free cap space right away or not, you’ll have to ask Stevie Y.) The Red Wings will have lots of cap space to replenish their blue line and should have the options to do so if they choose. All this doesn’t mention Moritz Seider, who has been very good in the AHL this year and should be ready for the NHL next year. If they go out and grab a couple good guys among the UFA market, Seider continues his ascendance, and Hronek keeps doing his thing, they have the makings of a competent top-4 here. That would be something the team hasn’t had in years.
All this is why I believe the Detroit Red Wings can be a playoff team next year. I believe they have the horses to make a very good top-6, they’re just missing a second-line centre, and hopefully that ends up being Joe Veleno. The blue line is going to look radically different in nine months and the options are there to improve it immediately. Goaltending is still a big of a problem but that’s also the case for about two-thirds of the league. I have no confidence in Blashill to coach this team but I don’t think he’ll be the coach at Christmastime next year. I know it’s a bit of a stretch but if Detroit wants a quick turnaround, the avenues and players are there for them to do so. Again, whether this is the path they want to take or not is another matter.