Ramblings: Updates for Stephen Johns and Byfuglien; Williams; dive on Cirelli – January 9

Michael Clifford

2020-01-09

 

Major news for the Dallas Stars as defenceman Stephen Johns was loaned to the AHL for a conditioning assignment. That means he’s finally moved beyond from his post-concussion issues that have kept him out of the NHL for nearly two years.

I guess I should be careful with the verbiage and avoid saying he’s recovered. To say someone’s recovered from a concussion is both true and not. Regardless, that he’s even cleared to be back in game action, even if it’s in the AHL for now, is wonderful news. It looked like this may be something that would not only keep him out of hockey but adversely affect the rest of his life. Best wishes to the young man on a successful career and long-term health.

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Just a sweet little moment for Dougie Hamilton and his grandmother watching him from home after he scored the overtime winner the other night:

 

 

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An update on Dustin Byfuglien:

 

 

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Justin Williams is back with Carolina. I don’t know what to expect but I assume that when he’s game-ready, he’ll slot alongside Jordan Staal and get some secondary PP minutes. I’m assuming he won’t be in a spot to produce a pro-rated 20-goal, 55-point pace.

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With Victor Olofsson out of the lineup for at least a month, Rasmus Asplund has taken his spot on the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. You can read Asplund’s Dobber profile here. How long he actually lasts is another matter, but he should have some short-term value in deeper leagues. 

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I am a life-long Seinfeld fan, which means hearing Larry David talk about Kaapo Kakko had to make its way into my Ramblings:

 

 

Bonus points for being skeptical of Quinn’s handling of his young players.

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Just a quick mid-season update on my National Fantasy Hockey Championship team. I know, no one likes to hear about someone else’s fantasy team, but the NFHC has a great format for people wanting to spend a couple hundred bucks on a league with a huge top prize. The format is a points league with PP points, hits, and more. It was a 30-round draft-and-hold (no waivers, no trades), with bonus points for defencemen. You start 12 players every week: two goalies, three defencemen, and seven forwards. 

Here is where I’m ranked in my individual 12-man league:

 

 

I think I can catch third but first and second are out of sight.

In all honesty, I can’t really complain about where I am right now. My first pick was Brent Burns (remember, bonus points for d-men) and my second pick was Dylan Larkin (points for hits but his hit rate has cratered). Had I taken Ovechkin over Burns (Kucherov went first overall), and Carlson over Larkin, I’m in third place right now. Likely still not in striking distance of first or second, but much better off. Also, Jacob Trouba getting PP1 back would be nice.

I don’t really regret the Burns pick given the scoring format, but I do regret the Larkin pick. I was picking just before the turn (23rd and 26th) but if I didn’t get him there, I wouldn’t get him with my next picks. I was really high on Larkin in this format given I thought he’d post somewhere close to his 2018-19 stat line rather than the stat line from his rookie year. Detroit was going to be bad, but I thought the Bertuzzi-Larkin-Mantha line would still be great. And they were… until Mantha’s injuries. C’est la vie.

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A few nights ago, I just sent out an innocuous tweet while watching a Lighting game, to the effect of, “Anthony Cirelli is really good.” It seemed like stating the obvious as he just scored a goal, but it went beyond that. Over the summer, I mused that this could be the year that Steven Stamkos is finally moved to the wing for good, à la Claude Giroux, and that Cirelli would be the guy to take his place as the 2C, meaning that one of Stamkos or Nikita Kucherov would be Cirelli’s right winger. That would, obviously, mean a big boost in production. It hasn’t been a monster boost, but he is on a 54-point pace (had 39 last year) and over 100 hits (had 94 last year). He could stand to shoot more – under two per game despite playing over 18:30 a night – but playing on a line with Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos for a long stretch makes it unlikely he’ll rack up shots anyway. That’s not his job on that line.

It’s worth asking: just how good is Anthony Cirelli, and what’s his upside for fantasy hockey. Let’s answer our own questions.

Evolving Hockey – a wonderful stats website – has gone through painstaking lengths over the last few years to develop their own Wins Above Replacement (WAR) model. No, it’s not perfect, but yes, it does a good job of showing us what a player has done in totality to be valuable to his team. It measures offensive contributions, defensive ones, penalty differential, and more. You can read their explainer, which starts here. On the year, in total WAR, Anthony Cirelli sits at 1.7. For reference, that’s tied for 18th among all forwards in the league with names like David Pastrnak, Mark Stone, and Andrei Svechnikov. That’s elite company.

Of course, we’ve only played half a season. He did play 18 games a couple years ago and a full season last year. That means we have nearly two full seasons of data to work with, which gives us a much better sample. Here is where Cirelli ranks league-wide among all forwards since the start of the 2017 season in WAR, as expressed as a rate per 60 minutes:

 

 

Yeah, he’s been that good. But what’s the upside here?

It’s worth noting that Cirelli draws a lot of his value from two areas: defensive prowess and power-play contributions. Again from Evolving Hockey, here are his offensive and defensive impacts for the 2019-20 season:

 

 

Now, he’s still good at driving shots for his team, but he brings more value in limiting shots and quality defensively. Without keeping the inundation of charts going, he had a similar profile in his first full season back in 2018-19. This is a guy who is a legitimate two-way centre.

The second area, the power-play production, is a big problem. He’s posted a better points/60 rate on the power play for his young career than that of Brayden Point, but the problem is he rarely gets PP opportunities. For his career, he’s averaged 18 seconds (!) of PPTOI per game, and isn’t currently slotted on either Tampa PP unit. He’s typically used after a power play, to give them a defensive presence on the ice with the lesser players while the offensive stars rest from the preceding man advantage. It doesn’t really matter how good he is on the power play if he never gets power-play ice time.

In that sense, Cirelli could run into the same problem that Jakub Vrana is running into in Washington. Despite being a great talent, there are so many elite talents on the top PP unit that it’ll be hard to crack. Assuming they largely leave Stamkos-Kucherov-Point-Hedman together, it leaves one open role, and that’s largely been filled by other guys over the years like Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Patrick Maroon, J.T. Miller, and so on. As evidenced by his PPTOI, it has infrequently been Cirelli. Unless he gets more PPTOI, his upside his capped, much like Vrana’s is.

There are also other questions about just how effective he is offensively. Yes, he drives shot differentials, but, as mentioned, that’s more through defensive effectiveness. Offensively, his zone entry/exit numbers are flat-out bad while his individual shot rate at 5-on-5 is worse than guys like Alex Steen and Adam Henrique. That makes it unlikely he has a season like Vrana has, where he can threaten 30 goals even without significant PPTOI.

At 22 years old, this is still a young NHLer with fewer than two full seasons under his belt. That means his future is not set in stone. At this point, though, it’s clear what his role is on the team: be a steadying defensive presence at 5-on-5 while the other elite talents do the heavy lifting offensively. Weere I to make a five-year projection right now, it’s something like Nino Niederreiter, where with enough minutes, he can threaten 20-25 goals and 50-60 points. Given his lack of PPTOI as well as other concerning offensive red flags, this could very easily be a situation where a player has significantly more value in the real world than he does in the fantasy game. He’s a real, real good player, but I’m not sure he’s a real, real good fantasy asset; think Mikael Backlund with more hits and fewer shots. At least for now.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency CGY Players
31.3% MIKAEL BACKLUND ANDREW MANGIAPANE MATTHEW TKACHUK
25.4% JOHNNY GAUDREAU ELIAS LINDHOLM SEAN MONAHAN
19.6% DILLON DUBE MILAN LUCIC DEREK RYAN

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