Kyle Palmieri was back in the lineup for New Jersey on Monday night, skating in his usual spot on the top line with Nico Hischier. He should remain there for the balance of the season unless they decide to trade him, and he should get lots of minutes.
Both Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin practiced in non-contact jerseys for Montreal on Monday morning. That they’re both back on the ice is a good sign, but we shouldn’t hold our collective breaths for an imminent return, given Gallagher already having a false start and Drouin having missed so much time.
Colton Parayko returned for the Blues on Monday night.
Eric Robinson has signed a two-year extension with Columbus. I suspect we’ll see a lot of these kinds of contracts in the near-future as teams get ready for the expansion draft and need guys under contract for 2021-22.
Roope Hintz was injured in his home game against Tampa Bay on Monday night. It happened early in the first period as he took a hard hit along the boards, finished his shift, but never returned. They’re just calling it an upper-body injury for now, so stay tuned for further updates.
Kasperi Kapanen was also injured last night. He left the game after the second period with what the team is calling an arm injury and did not return. Like Hintz, we'll update when we can.
Jakub Vrana’s breakout season continued on Monday night with a goal and assist in Washington’s 4-2 win over Montreal. He now has 23 goals and 41 points in 50 games on the season, and he’s doing that largely without top PP minutes while playing under 15 minutes a night. He’s a special player, and he’ll be a perennial all-star now.
The All-Star Game is behind us and that means the stretch run of the NHL season is upon us. There is a little over two months left to secure those fantasy championships. Seeing as we’re still enduring the bye weeks and there isn’t a whole lot to talk about, how about discussing those final two months of the season? It can be anything: future production, call-ups, trades, and whatever else that crosses my mind.
I was listening to the NHL channel on SiriusXM last week and they had Andy Strickland on whatever show was slotted at the time. Anyway, Mr. Strickland is a beat writer who covers St. Louis, and he was telling a story about having recently spoken to Vladimir Tarasenko about his shoulder recovery. Remember, Tarasenko was knocked out of action because of a shoulder injury at the end of October, and the initial timeline was five months, bringing him back just in time for playoffs. That would, effectively, knock him out for the fantasy season, maybe roto owners would get him for a few games.
That timeline had apparently been moved up a bit as Strickland said he asked Tarasenko if he was going to be back mid-March. Tarasenko’s response, according to Strickland, was, “sooner.” If Tarasenko thinks he can be back sooner than mid-March, that means fantasy owners can probably still get a month of usage out of him (how effective he’ll be returning from a four- or five-month absence as teams are grinding for the playoffs is another question.)
Of course, this is all subjective, and we’re talking about a player returning from a serious injury that requires months of rehab. He might think he’ll be back in a month, but it could end up being six weeks. Or seven. Or eight. But I think it’s worth it for H2H fantasy owners with an open IR spot to see if he’s been dropped this year, or if he can be acquired for very cheap.
A small side note on the Blues:
From the start of the season through December 6 (30 games), the Blues had a 46.6% expected goal share at 5v5, 27th in the NHL. In the 19 games since, their expected goal share is 54.1%, fifth in the league https://t.co/Js5LxroG9K
— Michael Clifford (@SlimCliffy) January 26, 2020
Gustafsson is a guy I wrote about in the Dobber Mid-Season Guide (still available in the Dobber Shop, by the way) because he’s a pending UFA and the Blackhawks don’t have a lot of cap space – the team has $70M tied up in 13 players for next year. Now, what happens with their injured players, namely Brent Seabrook, is still uncertain, but they won’t have a lot of cap space for next year regardless. I assume their playoff push will fall short and they’ll be sellers come deadline, which puts Gustafsson’s future with the team in doubt.
The numbers this year are obviously down from 2018-19, but it’s worth noting that he’s posted a pace that would still see him put up nearly 40 points. When looking for a reason for his decline, look at his IPP (individual points percentage, or the rate at which he garners a point at 5-on-5 when the ‘Hawks score a goal with him on the ice): this year, it sits at 28.9 percent, down from 48 percent last year, and a career average of 45.5 percent before this season. If he had put up just his career average IPP this year instead of that paltry 28.9 percent, we could add seven points to his current total, he’d be on pace for 51 points, and that’s with lower PP production from last year. His offence-driving numbers according to Evolving Hockey are down a bit from last year, but still well above average. In other words, yes, Gustafsson is clearly having a down season compared to 2019-20, but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it looks, and he could see a solid rebound over the final 30 or so games, be it in Chicago or elsewhere.
I think Gustafsson is more than capable of 50-point seasons, he just needs to land in the right spot. If Gustafsson is traded to, say, somewhere like Tampa Bay or Nashville, where he might be the fourth or fifth option, then it’s doubtful he can reach that level. If he were to go somewhere like Boston, Florida, or Winnipeg, a franchise where he’d probably be the number-2 or number-3, maybe he can reach those highs again with a bit of luck. Either way, I think Gustafsson will at least make a good buy at the draft table in September, if not for the balance of this season.
Taylor Hall’s first game in Arizona was on December 17th. Since that point, the Coyotes are 7-8-1, or tied for 21st in points percentage in the NHL. Now, goaltending has a lot to do with that as they’ve gone through their injuries in net and they did post a .902 save percentage in that span. At the same time, Arizona has posted a 47.1 expected goal share at 5-on-5 in those games, lower than teams like the Blackhawks and Rangers. They’re undoubtedly going through it in goal, but the team itself isn’t playing particularly well, either.
This is a problem for the franchise. They’re clearly all in on not only making the playoffs this year, but making a run (why else acquire Hall and Phil Kessel). As it stands, they’re in a playoff spot right now, and the two teams within striking distance (Winnipeg, Chicago) are both pretty bad. There is still Minnesota and Nashville to worry about (Nashville is last in the Central yet still on pace for 89 points) but they’re a bit further behind. Either way, it looks like it’ll take about 94 points to get to the playoffs in the West, and Arizona needs 37 points in their final 31 games to get there. In other words, the playoffs are well within reach for this team.
The question remains: is this it for Arizona or do they keep adding? I don’t think the roster, as currently constructed, is good enough for a deep run unless they get .930 goaltending (something that applies to a lot of teams). How much pressure there is from ownership could dictate what moves management makes in the next month. If I were Arizona, I’d be very cautious about continuing to mortgage the future for a single playoff run that may not even materialize.
The loss of Jake Guentzel is big, even if it hasn’t shown in the team’s results yet. This is a franchise that hasn’t been scared to make big moves in the past as they head into the final month of the season, and that they’re without their top winger for the remainder of this campaign should only thrust them into action.
To me, the obvious move here is to go acquire Tyler Toffoli. I imagine the asking price is high for him with Taylor Hall off the market, so it’s a matter of what Pittsburgh is to pay for him. Looking back to scoring wingers in previous seasons moved at the deadline – Mats Zuccarello and Gustav Nyquist – neither commanded a top prospect and neither commanded a direct first rounder (there were conditions that could turn a second into a first). If that was the case for those two, I can’t imagine Toffoli, who has 25 goals and 61 points in his last 131 games, commands more than Zuccarello or Nyquist, which would price him into Pittsburgh’s range.
Regardless, now is the time to acquire Toffoli. We know he’s almost assured to be moved and it’ll be to a much better situation than the one he’s currently enduring.