Ramblings: Leafs sign Lehtonen; Draft and expansion thoughts – May 5

Michael Clifford

2020-05-05

The Leafs signed defenceman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year contract beginning in the 2020-21 season. The 26-year old left-shot blue liner led Jokerit in scoring in the KHL, no small feat from the back end. He is expected to battle for a spot on the third pair whenever the next season begins.

Readers can view Lehtonen's Dobber Prospects profile here.

Where Lehtonen fits in remains to be seen. He's a left shot, and as far as right-shot defencemen go, they have Cody Ceci (pending UFA), Tyson Barrie (also a pending UFA), and Justin Holl. If we assume that they just let the UFAs walk, there could be five LHD in the lineup next year, which would make it a lot easier for Lehtonen to crack the lineup (what they do with Timothy Liljegren is TBD). My assumption right now is that Lehtonen cracks the lineup, and with the scoring on that roster, it immediately puts him on fantasy radars. It could be on either the left or right side, let's just hope he plays closer to 19-20 minutes a night than 14-15.

Before making any firm declarations, let's wait and see how their offseason (whenever that is) shakes out. The UFAs may be back, they may trade for or sign someone else. There are still a lot of moving parts here.

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Sticking with the Leafs, TSN announced their all-time Leafs team, with input from their panel of insiders and scouts. This is what it looks like:

 

I'm not a Leafs fan and I'm not near old enough to remember most of these players, so I'm indifferent. What I will say is that with how bad modern Leafs teams have been, I think the excellent players on teams from the last 15 years will probably get overlooked. Guys like Phil Kessel and Tomas Kaberle were elite players while they were with Toronto, they just mostly didn't play on elite teams, though even Kaberle went on a couple playoff runs in the early aughts.

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In his Ramblings yesterday, Dobber discussed the draft potentially happening in June. I mostly agree with him on all his points. This is happening because the NHL saw the monster ratings for the NFL draft and wants a similar boost. There has been no hockey content outside of old games or Zoom meetings for nearly two months. If we get a mid-June draft, it'll be three months. They're dying to put something on the airwaves, and I wager that fans will mostly be on board.

It's that last point that is what I really want to discuss here. At the end of the day, the fans are the reason there's a league. With no fans, there's no money, and there's no NHL. If the fans are mostly on board with a June draft, and whatever complications that will entail, then why not do it? I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but if hockey fans want to see a draft similar to what the NFL did, and that would bring in money and ratings for the league, then I say we do it. Get all the teams in line, try to make it as fair as possible, and let's get this show on the road.

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One thing that would be interesting: let's say the regular season is cancelled but the playoffs start in early July. Would a team be able to use their draft picks in the playoffs? I have to imagine not letting them play will be a part of the deal, and teams in the playoffs are unlikely to need the services of a back-half-of-the-first-round 18-year-old, but I was just thinking how cool it might be for a player to be drafted and then jump right into the playoffs. Unlikely, but again, just an interesting thought.

Also, I wouldn't expect many, if any, draft-day trades for similar reasons.

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We haven't really heard a lot about how this might affect expansion, right? I guess there's not a lot to say right now as most of the world is still adjusting to whatever this new normal is, and we don't know when hockey will be back.

Regardless of when the NHL returns, Seattle is set to draft their expansion team in about 13 months or so. There need to be contingencies in place. If the NHL can't finish the 2019-20 season, if the playoffs don't happen, if the 2020-21 season can't start on time, and so on. Those things come into play for service time for young players as it relates who Seattle can and cannot select. Not to mention it cuts down on their ability to do some scouting.

Again, we have to see where the NHL goes with its seasons before this gets figured out, but it's another complication that the NHL will have to consider in the coming months.

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Last week, our own Alex MacLean wrote a column on changing hit rates over the last several years. This is important for fantasy owners need to know what their benchmarks are heading into a draft. Do I need 80 hits per player? 90? 100? Fewer than 80? More than 100? The answer to that question can change not only how we value players, but our strategies in drafts. I would recommend reviewing Alex's article. It's one of those things that will be very helpful to keep in mind whenever we get hockey back.

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There was a good video released over at SBNation a few days ago that covers the modern rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens – the last decade or so. It covers the playoff meetings, the Chara/Pacioretty incident, P.K. Subban's, let's say, influence in certain games, as well as a host of other issues. It's a nice walk down memory lane for both Bruins and Habs fans, though as a fan of Montreal, I dare say they got the short end of the stick in this particular instance of the beef.

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ESPN has been playing 'The Last Dance' over the last few Sundays and catching the episodes later on Netflix up here in Canada has been awesome. My earliest memories of sports involve Michael Jordan's Bulls, as my older brother was a huge fan. I still remember where I was when Jordan hit the last-minute shot in Game 6. Anyway, it got me thinking: what would be the best team to cover in this format? Going back through history, which teams would have been fun to follow for nearly a decade?

The first one that came to mind was the 2010s Chicago Blackhawks. Not only do we have three Stanley Cups for a franchise that went so long without one, but there is definitely no shortage of interesting stories. Just go ahead and google "stories about the 2010 Blackhawks" and get ready to dive into what was effectively the end of an era. Guys going out to all hours of the night, night after night, just doesn't happen anymore. Those guys did, though, and some of the stories would be great to hear. It could even be an ongoing documentary, as the guys who were the core of those Cup teams are still around hoping for a second crack at a dynasty.

I would have just loved to have seen something on the early 90s Penguins as well. Mario at his peak, Jagr coming over with the hype, and multiple Hall of Famers. There could be lots of discussion about saving the team or whatever from Mario's draft year and then move forward. In fact, you could have it span from Mario's draft year right until Crosby showed up. It would make a nice book-end.

At the end of it though, it's the 1980s Edmonton Oilers teams we need to see. Not only were they potentially the greatest dynasty hockey has ever seen, but there are all the rumours of what they did in their off-hours. I'm sure there wouldn't be any shortage of material that would make great headline material, not to mention covering some of the best players that have ever skated.

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 T.B Players
30.8% NIKITA KUCHEROV ONDREJ PALAT BRAYDEN POINT
20.7% ANTHONY CIRELLI TYLER JOHNSON ALEX KILLORN
18.5% BLAKE COLEMAN BARCLAY GOODROW YANNI GOURDE

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