Ramblings: Return To Play News, Top July 1, 2018 Signings… Two Years Later (July 12)
On Saturday more players opted out of the return-to-play plan, including Mike Green, Sven Baertschi, Roman Polak, Lias Andersson, Steven Kampfer, Karl Alzner, and Zach Trotman. As mentioned yesterday, Travis Hamonic has also opted out. It might be easy to assume that some players are opting out because they are unhappy with their current situations with their teams, but that's beside the point here.
The Canucks didn't have room for Baertschi and buried him in the AHL this season, so he was likely only a taxi-squad player had he played. Former second-round pick Kole Lind is expected to take Baertschi's spot in the Canucks' lineup. With one year remaining, Baertschi's contract is one of several that will force the Canucks to make some very difficult decisions this offseason. Hence the Brock Boeser trade rumors.
Meanwhile, Green's stint as an Oiler likely ends at two games. He will be a UFA at the end of the season. Could this be the last we see of the former back-to-back 70-point defenseman? Green finished the season with 11 points in 50 games.
Steven Stamkos has suffered a lower-body injury, which means he won't be full participant at the start of training camp. He is expected to be available for the round-robin games, though. It sounds as if the Lightning are simply being cautious here.
In other injury news, Brett Pesce isn't expected to be ready for the start of the qualifying round after offseason shoulder surgery.
Speaking of injuries, you will soon long for the days when injuries were described as either "upper body" or "lower body." COVID-19 necessitated this, although I also wonder if there will ever be any kind of detail with injury information again other than what we see in a game.
Last Sunday in the Ramblings I recapped the top free agent signings (in terms of dollar value) from a year ago. This was on my mind because we missed out on our usual July 1 fun. At least we can count on that happening this year, as it can happen without a live audience and with physical distancing.
Today I'm going to go back two years and do the same. Here are the top four signings of the 2018 offseason, along with my opinion on whether the player's fantasy value has increased or decreased since that time.
John Tavares (Cap Hit: $11 million) – Increased
Yes, the Leafs continue to have cap issues resulting from this signing, and he may not be exactly the player they need to get over the hump. And yes, Tavares' point pace (0.95 PTS/GP) this season was his lowest in three seasons. But signing in Toronto may have improved Tavares' fantasy value simply for the reason that he was able to avoid Barry Trotz's defense-first system in Long Island. You see, over those past two seasons, the Islanders have the 24th-ranked offense in the NHL (2.75 GF/GP). Conversely, the Isles scored 3.18 GF/GP in Tavares' last season. That may have something to do with Tavares leaving, but it definitely has something to do with Trotz changing the style of the team.
We're not talking about a major increase in value for Tavares. He'll continue to record his 70+ points per season in Toronto or wherever he plays. The worry with many of these guys is that they get the big contract and then they coast knowing that they're now set for life. That hasn't been the case with Tavares, who with a 974 PDO may still improve over last season. It's the guys that Tavares left in Long Island (eg. Josh Bailey) that have suffered.
James van Riemsdyk (Cap Hit: $7 million) – Decreased
This isn't a massive decrease in fantasy value. In fact, van Riemsdyk reached 27 goals for the fifth time in six seasons in 2018-19 while slightly improving his points-per-game total. Then this season hit, where JVR started the season without a point in his first seven games, then went through two more eight-game point droughts. He was also used all over the lineup – sometimes with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek; sometimes with Scott Laughton and Tyler Pitlick.
Interestingly enough, JVR is picked as the Seattle team's selection from the Flyers in this mock expansion draft over at The Athletic. That might speak to his cap hit (which the Flyers may want to part with) and the fact that Seattle will be okay with taking it on to reach the cap floor. It may also speak to him being what seems like the odd man out, as he is being moved around the lineup and is not a consistent first-unit power play option anymore. Getting added by Seattle in the expansion draft would probably help his fantasy value.
Paul Stastny (Cap Hit: $6.5 million) – Decreased
This is another one in which there isn't a massive overall decrease in fantasy value. In fact, Stastny's 0.84 PTS/GP in his first season in Vegas was his highest since the 2013-14 season. The only problem was that he only played in 50 games. Healthy for a full season this season, Stastny was barely a half-point-per-game player (38 points in 71 games). This in spite of being used frequently on a line with high scorers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.
Stastny's IPP of 52.1 suggests that his output could be a bit higher, although he'd have to keep his spot on one of the top two lines. More recently, he had been centering Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, so that would seem to be the case. Stastny was also a better second-half player, scoring 19 points in his last 26 games after starting the season with 19 points in 45 games.
As for the contract, it could turn out to be one of the better ones of the 2018 offseason, simply because of the term. Stastny has just one year remaining after this one, as he has signed for only three years. If Stastny has another subpar year, then Vegas can easily decide to go in a different direction, or perhaps Cody Glass is ready for a top-6 role by that time.
Ilya Kovalchuk (Cap Hit: $6.25 million) – Decreased
Although the Kings were praised for landing Kovalchuk that day, it goes without saying that Kovalchuk's return to the NHL hasn't gone as planned. Should that have been a surprise? Kovalchuk had just turned 35 and had been away from the NHL for five seasons after the Devils got out of their massive contract. This signing is one of numerous reasons that the Kings are now in a rebuilding state, as both the player and team no doubt regret this signing.
About the fantasy value: Kovalchuk started well in LA with 14 points in his first 14 games. Then coach John Stevens was fired, which really hurt Kovalchuk's value. It didn't work for Kovalchuk under either Willie Desjardins or Todd McLellan in LA, so his contract was terminated. He then signed the two-way minimum contract with the Habs and looked like a reborn player, scoring 13 points in 22 games. Remember that he was then traded to Washington? Before the league shut down, he played just seven games with the Caps and scored a goal and added three assists. Expect him to provide secondary scoring for the Capitals in the playoffs, but his status after that remains to be seen.
Here are my most recent picks for the playoff draft that I'm currently participating in. A total of 24 rounds, where we're allowed to pick one player per team. The league consists of ten members. The draft is over at the Forum, and you can view the full results on this page. I discussed picks from previous rounds in yesterday's Ramblings.
Round 15 – Coyotes Goalies
At this point I'm figuring out what teams I have remaining. I haven't picked anyone in the NY Islanders/Florida series or the Nashville/Arizona series. I was thinking about an Islanders player, although I was hoping their goalies would still be available by now and Anders Lee was picked just before me. I decided to pick another set of goalies in Arizona, which has been a top-5 team defensively over the past two seasons. I think their series with Nashville will be a low-scoring one, since neither team is overflowing with scorers. Maybe I'll even get a shutout or overtime win, which are both categories that are counted.
Round 16 – Jordan Eberle
I found my Islander, just as I said I would. I'm hoping Eberle can show the same playoff magic he did last season, even if the Islanders don't get very far in the playoffs. Over eight playoff games last season, Eberle scored nine points, including four goals. Eight games in two series means that the Islanders swept in the first round and got swept in the second round. I got a reputation comment of "he was next on my list", so this was the right pick for at least one other league member.
Round 17 – Flames Goalies
I'm searching for the top scorers on each remaining team at this point, then ranking them. Then I'm adding goaltending to the rankings, figuring that goaltending is probably better than secondary scoring. I had my eye on Tomas Tatar at this point, as he looked like easily the highest scorer remaining for me. Nearly a point per game, if you can believe it. I also had the Panthers goalies ranked high, but they also got taken here. Even with Sergei Bobrovsky's struggles this year, they are playing the low-scoring Islanders.
I think the rest of the goalies will get taken quickly, so I went with Flames goalies. I don't know who that goalie will be (if I had to guess, I'd say David Rittich), and I still slightly prefer the Jets in that series (as I mentioned yesterday), but I think it's a pretty even matchup (and what I think will turn out to be an entertaining series). Besides, there's no deductions for goals allowed. There won't be many goalies left soon, and statistically I've figured out they're a better option than a third-line forward.
Immediately after my pick, Alex MacLean of the Capped article selected the Canucks goalies. That meant four teams' goalies were selected in this round. I imagine that there aren't many goalies left, and the remaining goalies will be selected soon.
Round 18 – Ryan Johansen
Among teams that I think have around a 50/50 chance to advance, this was simply what I thought was best player available. Johansen has been a better player than he showed, although I wrote more about him here as to why we shouldn't expect a huge rebound.
Round 19 – Nick Suzuki
Again, I'm picking who I thought was the best player available. The Penguins are probably as big a favorite as you'll find in this play-in tournament, so the plan was to pick a Habs player near the end. I traded Suzuki in my keeper league earlier this year, so naturally he's going to explode. Why not do that in the playoffs?
Round 20 – Vladislav Namestnikov
I was considering a few players with this pick. One was Kasperi Kapanen, who was chosen two picks earlier (Tom Collins again!) Another was Samuel Girard, who was chosen three picks earlier. I knew I needed an Avalanche player, so Joonas Donskoi was also on my radar here. Donskoi has been on and off one of my teams for the past two seasons, and I'm not really sure what I'm going to get with him. Then I noticed Namestnikov, who had scored four goals and six points in his nine games as an Avalanche. He'd also spent some time on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Playoff deep sleeper? Maybe I'll roll the dice.
On a side note, I noticed that Bowen Byram was skating with the Avalanche on Saturday. I was really considering him as a final-round boom-or-bust pickup in the hopes that he could repeat Cale Makar's playoff output from last season. Then I remembered that the Avalanche still have Cale Makar. Oh well, I'd love to see him get into some playoff games. Watching him play for the nearby junior team, I can say that this kid can play.
Round 21 – Ilya Mikheyev
At this point I'm looking for potential hidden gems due to possible injuries, trades, or lower-than-normal production. The soup king is expected to return to the lineup after suffering a wrist laceration. Everyone else has picked a Leaf by now, so maybe I could have waited a bit on this one.
At the time I wrote this, Rounds 22 – 24 had not been selected yet. I'll provide an update on those picks next week. One thing I know for sure: I'll need players from Florida, Minnesota, and Chicago. Feel free to leave suggestions!
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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