Ramblings: Penguins returning; Norris and Selke finalists; notes from around the league – July 21

Michael Clifford


The NHL announced the finalists for the Norris Trophy (top defenceman) and Selke Trophy (best defensive forward). The Norris finalists are John Carlson, Victor Hedman, and Roman Josi. My personal ballot was Carlson, Josi, and Alex Pietrangelo. I have no problem with Hedman; Pietrangelo will probably finish in the top-5.

When writing about this a couple months ago, my selections for Selke were Patrice Bergeron, Brayden Point, and Valeri Nichushkin. I gave honourable mentions to Sean Couturier, Brad Marchand, and Teuvo Teravainen. The actual finalists were Bergeron, Couturier, and Ryan O'Reilly.

I didn't really think Nichushkin would win – I've explained how players need to produce big points and usually need to be a centre to win the trophy. I hope he does get some consideration, though.


There had been lots of chatter as to whether Max Domi – and other players with pre-existing conditions – would be playing in the NHL's Return To Play. While he hasn't suited up for a game yet, obviously, Domi was at Canadiens practice on Monday. It does seem as though he intends to play.

Just for posterity: Domi skated on what is effectively their fifth line, so he still needs to get up to speed.


A bevy of Penguins players – including Patric Hornqvist – have finally been cleared to return to practice. I'm going to talk about testing later, but this is going to be a big issue when playoffs hit. Players are going to miss playoff games waiting for test results. It's that simple. Fans better get used to the idea now.


One name that has stayed on their top line all through the RTP is Frank Vatrano. He's been stapled alongside Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov, while Jonathan Huberdeau is skating on the second line. Joel Quenneville did this a lot with Kane/Toews in Chicago, so it makes sense that he'd do this with Barkov/Huberdeau now. It would give Vatrano a lot more value than he'd have otherwise, though how far Florida will actually go is another matter entirely.


At least for now, the Jets seemed to have returned to their usual top PP unit of Scheifele-Wheeler-Connor-Laine-Pionk. They had given us different looks through the year, including Wheeler on PP2. Going back to their tried-and-true formation given the importance and brevity of the play-ins makes sense. We probably see a lot of teams do similar things both at 5-on-5 and on the power play.


It caught my eye that Josh Anderson returned to Columbus camp. He's skating on his own but that would be a very welcome addition if he gets some positive news over the next 10 days or so. It's probably fair to wonder what kind of game shape he may be in, but the same could be said for a lot of players. It's nice to see him on the ice regardless.


It seems Carolina is pretty set on their top-six:



That leaves a lot of talent for the third line. Vincent Trocheck is presumably the centre, with two of Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Dzingel, and Martin Necas on the wings. One of those guys is going to get hosed and sent to the fourth line. My money is on Necas, but overall, I bet that they just mostly rotate players.


One idea I've had when approaching these playoffs is that I'm not treating all players as if it's just a continuation of the 2019-20 season. Even if players missed a few games through the year, they probably still suited up for 60-65 contests, or over three-quarters of the season. They then had four months of "offseason" in which to "train." (I know it wasn't a real offseason and many players had suboptimal training areas, but a lot of these players have been skating for a couple months now.) In other words, I'm treating the 2020 NHL Playoffs as if they're a second regular season.

The implication of that is that I'm treating first-year players as second-year players, second-year players as third-year players, and so on. It makes sense, right? By the time games start, we'll be two months shy of when the 2020-21 regular season was supposed to start. If Cale Makar were playing in August scrimmages and this were a normal year, we wouldn't still consider him a rookie, would we? So why still consider him a rookie – for projection purposes – during August playoffs? Some food for thought.


My vacation has ended.

I use the term vacation loosely here because I don't think anything is anywhere near normal right now. My vacation included a canoe trip, a diaper party, and playing lots of video games. Not the usual summer vacation but that's to be expected when… *gestures broadly*

Anyway, it's not to say I wasn't keeping up on hockey news. I wanted to dig into some things I've noticed from around summer camps.



It seems inevitable that playoff roster problems are going to be created while players wait for their covid testing. Remember that two negative tests 24 hours apart are needed to return following a positive test. Also, players coming into Canada will need two negative tests 48 hours apart heading into the bubble. Hockey starts in under two weeks. There are going to be people missing games because of testing.

There doesn't appear to be an easy remedy. The tests are what they are, and professional athletes are already being given preferential treatment over the general public when it comes to steady access and quick results. We just kind of have to accept it for what it is.

It creates the potential for a very real, and very scary, scenario. It's Game 7 of the first round for St. Louis. Vladimir Tarasenko, Colton Parayko, and Jordan Binnington had inconclusive test results come back hours before game time. They don't have another time for a test. Does the team hold all these players out of the game? I would hope so.

Whatever hockey we get over the next 11 weeks or so is a blessing. We also shouldn't forget to remain vigilant about our expectations for NHL franchises. Not only do they have to hold themselves accountable, we, as fans, have to expect more from them as well.

Further to that, to bring to fantasy, and specifically DFS, we have to get in the mind-space now that players are going to be late-scratched for covid testing reasons. Whether it's inconclusive, a delay, or whatever else. It's going to happen. Just get ready for that now.



Reliability is a good thing for fantasy sports. While upside wins championships, reliability is the foundation upon which those championships are built.

That reliability has to be high production, though. Someone being a reliable 40-point guy doesn't do much for fantasy purposes. It's also why I'm confounded by anyone being high on the Stars for fantasy playoff purposes. Let's go through some of their offensive numbers after Rick Bowness took over on December 10th (from Natural Stat Trick):

  • Shot attempts/60 minutes at 5-on-5: 23rd
  • Expected goals/60 minutes at 5-on-5: 19th
  • Actual goals/60 minutes at 5-on-5: 30th
  • Shot attempts/60 minutes at 5-on-4: 3rd
  • Expected goals/60 minutes at 5-on-4: 7th
  • Actual goals/60 minutes at 5-on-4: 11th

At 5-on-5, this team was below average. On the power play, they were good, but there's a catch: under both coaches, the power-play time was effectively split. Under Bowness, Tyler Seguin (2nd in PPTOI/game among forwards) played 2:27 per game at 5-on-4. The guys who finished 5th through 8th among forwards in PPTOI, or effectively their second unit? All between 1:45 and 2:01 per game. Dallas may have a good power play, but the second unit did a fair amount of damage. It's why no Stars forward would have reached 20 PPPs this year (Hintz and Benn had 14 each at the break), though they likely would have had at least six forwards reach 10 PPPs (Pavelski needed one more to get to 10).

It's why I would question anyone targeting Stars forwards in pools. Sure, if they get to the Cup Final, they could win a playoff pool, but the same could be said for literally every team. If at all possible, avoid drafting the team that struggles offensively at 5-on-5 and splits ice time on the power play.



I don't want to spend too long here seeing as I reviewed the teams and previewed the series last month. Let's just not assume the Oilers are going to roll the Blackhawks, shall we? We know Chicago is bad defensively and that's going to make for some highlight-reel McDavid goals. But Edmonton was 20th by expected goals against at 5-on-5 and tied for 26th by actual goals against (that second mark was worse than Chicago's, by the by). They also still have no bottom-6 and are relying on a goaltending combination of Smith/Koskinen. Edmonton should be favoured to win, but I don't think it's some massive upset if Chicago somehow skates through to the first round.



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