Big news for the Flyers as Nolan Patrick was practicing with the team on Wednesday, and he was cleared for contact. He was skating with what would be called the fourth line/scratches unit, indicating that he’s still not near ready to return. The young centre has been dealing with a migraine problem that has kept him out of the lineup all year. That he’s even practicing is a good sign.
Anthony Mantha appears close to a return, as it seems he should be back in the lineup for the Red Wings as soon as next week. We found out that it was a punctured lung he was dealing with, which is obviously a scary situation. It’s nice to see he’s mended and nearly ready to get to games.
Sticking with Detroit, Taro Hirose was called up. Now, this is an awful, awful team but Hirose had been getting some run on the top PP unit earlier in the year. I certainly wouldn’t pick him up unless my league was rostering like 500 players, but keep an eye on his slotting when he gets in the lineup.
The Leafs acquired goaltender Jack Campbell and winger Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of third-round picks (one conditional) and winger Trevor Moore. Clifford is in the final year of a five-year deal, at the end of which he’ll be a UFA, while Campbell has two more years left ($1.65M AAV), and Moore has one ($775K AAV). Campbell will be a UFA at the end of his deal while Moore will be an RFA at the end of his. I will have a breakdown of the trade on the site either late tomorrow morning or early afternoon.
The Rangers took a lively 5-3 win from the Leafs on Wednesday night, giving Toronto their second regulation loss this week, dropping them to 6-5-2 since the calendar turned to 2020. The Rangers are now 6-4-0 in their last 10, and 7-6-0 since January 1st.
Pavel Buchnevich led the way for the Rangers with a goal and two assists, landing six shots and adding a pair of hits. He’s now on pace for 49 points, which would be a career-high.
Auston Matthews had a pair of goals for the Leafs, giving him 23 tallies in 24 games over the last two months. He has 33 points in that span, and it’s time to legitimately start discussing his Hart Trophy candidacy.
Cody Ceci left the game with an (assumed) injury and did not return.
Not a ton to report from the Bruins-Blackhawks game aside from some fisticuffs, so I’ll just say this: Kirby Dach is a very impressive player. Always competing for battles and never giving up on a play, it’s easy to see why the Blackhawks think he can be their two-way centre of the future.
Robin Lehner took the 2-1 overtime loss, making 38 saves along the way. It’s pretty funny how he’s never discussed as one of the best goalies in the league when he’s second behind only Ben Bishop in Goals Saved Above Average over the last five years.
I don’t normally pay attention to trade rumours but when it’s on TSN from one of their insiders, and it’s a name that is seemingly out of nowhere, I think it’s worth paying attention. It’s one of those situations where it seems so out of left field that it’s either complete nonsense (which I hesitate to think TSN’s insiders would announce on television, but I’m also incredibly gullible) or they’re getting information from someone in the know (it’s their actual job to do that).
Anyway, on Tuesday night’s edition, they were talking about the possibility of Josh Anderson being traded by Columbus. It seemed wild to me when I first heard it, but thinking it over, it kind of makes sense.
Remember, it was a few years ago that Anderson went through difficult contract negotiations with Columbus that went through training camp. He rewarded them by playing to a 26-goal pace per 82 games over the next two seasons before struggling in 2019-20. Part of it is injury-related, part of it is him shooting 1.6 percent (!!!), and part of it that this isn’t a good offensive team, it’s a good defensive one. Anyway, it doesn’t make it a stretch to seem Anderson wanting a big contract given he’s a year away from UFA status, but Columbus doesn’t want to pay big money for a power forward who will be 26 years old for next season. We’ve seen power forward after power forward struggle as they approach and surpass 30 years old; Benn, Perry, and Lucic being recent examples. Not wanting to sign Anderson for seven years makes sense.
This is a fascinating fantasy player because he is eminently possible of reaching 30 goals, 200 shots, and 200 hits, something very few players can manage. If he can get traded to a good offensive team where he sees 17 minutes a night, there are special fantasy seasons ahead. At his age, though, there probably aren’t a lot of those potential seasons left.
Pretty quietly, Ryan Pulock is putting up another very solid fantasy season. As we were heading into Wednesday night’s action, he was the 20th overall defenceman in standard Yahoo! leagues, but worse (37th) in ESPN leagues where PIMs take precedence over hits. Regardless, Pulock is on pace for 42 points, which would be a career high. His paces should get him close to 190 shots and 120 hits, which shows his ability to provide across the board (except, again, in PIMs). He has six points in his last seven games and has averaged two hits a game since the calendar turned to 2020.
His issue is obviously the team’s reluctance to use him on the top PP unit. Over the last three seasons, Mathew Barzal has a shade over 600 minutes at 5-on-4, and fewer than 80 of those minutes have been with Pulock. The team’s commitment to using a rotating cast on the blue line – they have four defencemen basically within a minute of each other in PPTOI/game this year with Devon Toews leading the way at just 2:04 – remains Pulock’s biggest impediment to taking the next step in fantasy production. Whether he gets that deployment, I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t look to be in the cards for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean he can’t be very good for fantasy owners, though.
Just as a small aside while talking about the Islanders: it’s probably worth pointing out how good Anthony Beauvillier has been this year. He’s on pace for 52 points, which would blow his previous career high (36) out of the water. He’s also on pace for career highs for blocks (46, previous high of 35), hits (101, previous high of 87), shots (161, previous high of 156), goals (24, previous high of 21), and PPPs (10, previous high of eight). A lot of this is that he’s playing considerably more minutes than he ever has, but that just means the coach has faith in his ability to contribute positively to the team. Even with that said, his wins above replacement (WAR) per 60 minutes, per Evolving Hockey, is more than double the rate from his previous career high, set in 2017-18. So, yes, he’s getting more minutes and that helps with his counting stats, but he’s also certainly earned those minutes. (Just as an FYI: league-wide, Beavillier’s WAR/60 compares favourably to names like David Pastrnak and Mark Stone. Now, it’s a sample of just two-thirds of one season, but he’s also just 22 years old. That he’s going through some growth as a player is not unexpected.) Below are some guys in his neighbourhood of WAR/60 across the league this year:
One thing I will say is that there’s a good portion of Beauvillier’s value being derived from his limited PP exposure. He’s only on pace for about 150 minutes at 5-on-4 this year, and one-year PP samples can be wonky. Just a fair warning.
I still have concerns about Beauvillier just because of his environment; Barry Trotz is committed to team defence. It sure helps them win games in real life but it doesn’t do much for us in the fantasy game. Just beware of that before running out to go get some Beauvillier shares in dynasty or keepers.
Speaking of quietly good years, how about Ryan Suter? As it stands, he’s on pace for 57 points, which would be a career-high, having never surpassed 51 points before. He’s already at seven goals, two off a career-high nine goals set in 2016-17. Some of his peripherals have taken a hit as his ice time has gone down the year, but the point production (including 15 with the man advantage) has been very strong. He’s never been a guy to rely on for peripherals anyway.
I’m not sure how much he has left in the tank given he’s 35 years old now, but it seems he’s always underappreciated. He has the fourth-most WAR among defencemen since 2007, sandwiched between Victor Hedman and Alex Pietrangelo.
I guess the question is whether he’s a Hall of Famer. He has zero Norris Trophy wins, one top-3 Norris finish, zero Stanley Cups, and has never even been to a Conference Final. It’s tough to make the Hall without accolades, and there are few here, even internationally post-college. All the same, we shouldn’t take his elite career for granted, and he may be having one of his best fantasy seasons ever. It’s been a great career with many years still to come.
Here’s a fun one: since December 11th (Taylor Hall was benched on December 10th in anticipation of a trade from New Jersey), Nikita Gusev is tied for the lead on the Devils in 5-on-5 points with 11. He’s done that, mind you, while shooting just 2.4 percent individually.
If I have one qualm, it’s that he seems to be shooting indiscriminately. In that span, his individual expected goal rate is 0.56 per 60 minutes, sixth among their forwards, but he’s second in shot attempt rate. There aren’t a lot of players who can survive by doing that (Patrik Laine being one of them). Gusev has a good shot, I’m just not sure it’s that good. That partly explains his low shooting percentage.
Either way, it took some time, but Gusev is making good on the promise he showed outside the NHL. It’s just too late for New Jersey.
Something fun (or sad, depending on your POV) I forgot to include the other day when discussing zone entry/exit rates: Marc-Edouard Vlasic is last in our sample in the league in combined entries/exits with possession. Literally last; worse than Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson. He’s never been an elite puck-mover, but there’s a difference between “middling-to-below-average” and “I can’t carry Jack Johnson’s jockstrap.” It’s horrific, and I’m not sure what’s wrong. Thoughts, Dobber readers?