Ramblings: Laaksonen; Polak perhaps staying home; Chicago vs. Edmonton – June 16

Michael Clifford


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Oskari Laaksonen, a Buffalo Sabres third-round pick from 2017, has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the team. You can read his Dobber Prospects profile here.

Buffalo's right side already incudes Rasmus Ristolainen and Colin Miller, with Henri Jokiharju waiting in the wings. With that said, Lawrence Pilut heading to the KHL probably forced their hand a bit here. There's legitimate depth there and that could be a problem for the next couple years. Though with the way Buffalo has been performing this last decade, almost everyone's job should be a year-to-year contract with that franchise.


Roman Polak has signed a multi-year contract in the Czech Republic. It appears his intention is not coming back to the NHL for the 24-team playoff and staying home.

While we're relying on Google Translate here and that is a precarious endeavour, it appears Polak believes he needs considerably more than three weeks to get ready for a season, and he doesn't want to leave his family behind for (potentially) months.

The family thing I understand completely and we're probably going to see more players feel that way. The "not ready in three weeks" thing was something I hadn't considered. I did think about injuries once players returned, but not about veterans needing more time.

It's something we've heard often in the past, right? Guys who know their bodies and know how much time they'll need to be ready. Not every player can be ready for playoff hockey in three weeks, and it'll be interesting to see if other borderline veterans feel the same way as Polak.


Over the weekend, we had the one-year anniversary of St. Louis's Cup win. I know everything seems like a fever dream as we enter our fourth month of quarantine, but it's still incredible the turnaround the team had under Craig Berube. Sometimes we see coaches take a team over and they go on a shooting bender, or a goalie gets hot, but St. Louis turned into a legitimate Cup contender in basically a few weeks thanks to Berube.

It always made me wonder just how much impact coaches have. We know bad coaches when we see them, but I'm not sure we (and I mean the collective 'we'; there are a few people working on this problem) have a good grasp of what makes a good coach. Specifically, what a coach teaches a team that turns them from bad to great.

As mentioned, people are working on this, and there is work from Micah Blake McCurdy at HockeyViz, and other people (like Ryan Stimson, Meghan Hall, and Arik Parnass) have written about the impact of tactics, which indirectly describes the impact of coaches.

My basic idea is that quantifying coaching tactics – what works and what doesn't, and what types of players are needed to make it work – should be the next step in fantasy analysis. I think there may be more utility for DFS than season-long, but I would also wager that it would just be good information to have.

I can't even begin to explain how to go about this, but I sure wish someone smarter than me would figure it out. I'm excited to see where the people currently working on it go with it. Every edge is necessary in fantasy sports.


Just reading tweets from reporters about their NHL Awards ballots, one thing seemed obvious: it's going to be hard to remember what happened in the NHL this year. I know I'm certainly forgetting a lot of things that happened and I can't be the only one.

To that end, I thought I would summarize each play-in series, one per day on my day for Ramblings. It's just a refresher of the teams' performances, how the players were doing, any concerning injuries, and so on. This could help for playoff pools, or just as a bookmark for when your buddies want to make some bets on a series against you. Let's start in the West. Most stats from either Natural Stat Trick or Dobber Tools.


Chicago vs. Edmonton 

The Blackhawks were a very average-ish team for basically the whole year. Their low was starting the year at 2-5-2 and their high was reaching 25-21-6 in February. They were within 3-4 games of .500 basically all season, and when looking at monthly splits, it makes sense:

  • October – 28th by expected goal share at 5-on-5
  • November – 26th
  • December – 28th
  • January – 18th
  • February – 25th

(Note: please don’t yell about my definition of a .500 team here. I know it’s not the true .500 given shootout wins and whatnot. I’m going for brevity.)

What helped them was being top-10 by PDO at 5-on-5, largely on the back of a good goaltending duo in Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. It must be noted, of course, that Lehner is now in Vegas because Chicago traded him at the trade deadline, having given up on the playoffs. Life is funny like that.

Dominik Kubalik had a great rookie season, managing 30 goals in 68 games, even if his shooting percentage was inflated. Alex DeBrincat, on the other hand, had just 18 goals, a low total given his 28- and 41-goal seasons to start his career. Those two, however, bring scoring on the wings past Patrick Kane, something the team has only had in sporadic spurts since the departures of Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa.

The blue line has been an issue all year. Brent Seabrook won't be back in the NHL anytime soon because of hip surgery, Adam Boqvist showed proficiency at puck-moving but still has work to do defensively, and Erik Gustafsson is now in Calgary. Both Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy had solid seasons, but even with Duncan Keith around, all this isn't enough. It's a bad defensive team, and though it isn't all on the blue line, they should bear a lot of the weight, and there's nothing that can be done about it right now.

Andrew Shaw was traded back to Chicago in the offseason but hasn't played a game since November due to a concussion. That's a bad situation so there's no need to speculate on a return for playoffs. On the flipside, Stan Bowman said each of Boqvist (concussion), Calvin de Haan (shoulder) and Drake Caggiula (hand) should all be ready for camp. Zack Smith also does not look to be ready. (From Second City Hockey)


The Oilers were in a precarious situation, and then Kailer Yamamoto got called up. He was called up on New Year's Eve. Up to that point, the Oilers were 23rd in points percentage, 11th in the West. In that time, they had a 48.3 percent expected goal share. After his call, the team was sixth by points percentage, second in the West, and they had a 49.8 percent expected goal share. I'm not going to say he's this other-worldly gamebreaker, but his chemistry with Leon Draisaitl allowed the team to move Draisaitl off McDavid's line permanently and now they have two legitimate scoring lines. That's something to be feared.

Rightfully, a lot of coverage will go to McDavid and Draisaitl for the team's success. Personally, I don't think Edmonton is nearly the team to be feared unless the blue line has the season it had. Both Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones had wonderful rookie seasons, and Oscar Klefbom did what Oscar Klefbom does: be really good. This was a team that had serious questions on their blue line, at least past the first pair, and I think we can say they figured out a second pair when including Darnell Nurse. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than recent memory.

The worry is in goal. Mike Smith is 37th out of 39 goalies (min. 4000 minutes at 5-on-5) over the last three years by goals saved above average and 33rd by high-danger save percentage. He turned 38 years old during the pause. Mikko Koskinen had a much better season than Smith, but they were still splitting starts just before the season's suspension. If they let Smith start a game or two, and he doesn't perform well, it may be too late to turn to Koskinen in a best-of-5 (and even then, Koksinen is an unproven commodity). It'll be interesting to see what they do in net.

As for injuries, there isn't much here to discuss (or nothing that I can find, anyway) other than Mike Green being ready from his knee sprain.

This should be Edmonton's series but I wouldn't write off Chicago completely. If Crawford is healthy and plays like he did for most of this year, Chicago has the scoring to make this a difficult round for Edmonton. Two good scoring lines and a good goaltending performance is enough to win a best-of-5.


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