Ramblings – Cup matchups finalized, post-mortems on the eliminated teams, and more (August 10)
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Friday was so nuts that I wish I had the Ramblings for Saturday. Six teams could have been eliminated – and five actually were. With the lone team coming back from three goals down with four minutes left. Some parting thoughts on the eight eliminated teams:
New York Rangers
My two favorite dark horse teams squared off, so I was stuck picking just one. Carolina has this deep, underrated team that for my money has the superior coach. The Rangers have Shesterkin and a Top 3 MVP-type scorer. I put my money on the Rangers. But then Shesterkin was injured for two games. Dems da breaks. But the Rangers are a scary team with a bright future. If they landed Alexis Lafreniere it would just be unfair. Only on two teams would this be more unfair (see below). From a fantasy standpoint, the Rangers were the fourth-highest scoring team in the league and that's only going to improve (not even considering Lafreniere when I say this).
Kaapo Kakko – still has a lot of growing up to do. By November it was clear to us that he was a little over his head in the NHL. Hindsight being 20-20, he never should have been rushed into the NHL. For all we know, if he made his debut in 2020-21 then he would have flourished as a rookie. Instead, I'm not even confident about 2020-21 now.
Ryan Strome – nothing I saw in this short series indicated to me that his strong regular season numbers were a fluke. Granted, he was off the Artemi Panarin line, but he still posted points and he was still on the top power-play unit. His regular season 5on5 S% of 10.5 indicates a small decline, but that would depend on if he is off the Panarin line permanently. Obviously playing with Panarin inflates that number.
Julien Gauthier – It's worth noting that Gauthier got into all three games. After a fantastic AHL season, Gauthier was called up on February 19 and Coach Dave Quinn liked his play enough to keep him. And now, when it matters most, he remained a part of the team, albeit with limited minutes. The power forward will take several years to get the numbers we want at the NHL level, but it looks like his NHL career has truly started.
Igor Shesterkin – We can't judge his talent based on the one game, but we can definitely judge the way the team treated him. He was treated like the second coming. It was clear from the get-go that New York wanted this guy as their starter, but couldn't because he was hurt (groin injury). I hope he can stay healthy next season, and if he can I wouldn't be surprised to see him play 55-plus games.
Jansen Harkins – Well…
Time and again I go on here and preach about opportunity. Prospects who aren't doing "great" but still get ranked highly because they were top picks and will get a million chances to thrive. And prospects who are doing great, but get just one or two opportunities at the age of 23 or 24. They need to take full advantage of those limited opportunities and Harkins has done this. Jordan Winnington is another example. I can see Harkins as a third-liner next year, but with the type of work ethic and clutch play to force his way into the top six. Perhaps sooner than we think.
Nikolaj Ehlers – Happy to see him get the monkey off his back. I think he'll be a future clutch playoff guy.
Sergei Bobrovsky – What the hell was that? Actually, it wasn't quite as bad as we think when we look at the numbers. Still bad, just not as bad. Since November 9, his regular season numbers were 17-17-2, 3.14 and 0.906. His play-in numbers were 1-3-0, 3.07 and 0.901 SV%. He didn't play terrible in the playoffs, but he didn't steal any games either. And that's what he's paid to do – steal at least one out of four playoff games. I attribute his weak October to adjusting to a new team and system. After that, his season was similar to what we saw from him in 2015-16. He bounced back from that with a Vezina the next year. I put a cautious "buy" label on him. Two Vezinas is track record enough for me. Let's see what the Panthers do in the offseason to fix their defense.
Mike Matheson – On paper, Florida is pretty awesome. So besides Bobrovsky, I blame Joel Quenneville. I think a lot of other coaches could have played on the strengths of Matheson and turned that raw talent (and huge paycheck) into a star. Instead, Matheson was a healthy scratch at times. Minimal ice time, followed by getting scratched twice. He's not going to get into the flow of the game if he gets 11 minutes of ice time. Right now, Quenneville is a legend. So in a Quenneville vs. Matheson battle, obviously Quenneville wins. But the team can't carry Matheson at $4.875M contract for the next six years if he's getting scratched from games! How can they trade that contract though? I'll be watching what the Panthers do with Matheson. If he's traded, I'll admit I'll be very interested in him on a different team.
Mike Hoffman – He is a UFA this offseason and he just boosted his value tremendously after posting five points in four games. This, on the heels of posting back-to-back seasons of 0.85 and 0.86 points-per-game. He hasn't been hurt in nearly four years. Wherever he signs, I think he'll be a first-liner.
Viktor Arvidsson – I was very impressed with his play, both in scoring twice in the exhibition game and then adding three more goals in the three-and-a-half games that he played in the play-in round. Not impressed with how he got injured yet again. Granted, it was fluky. But that's four injuries in the last two years (lower body, thumb, lower body, and now rib). I fear he's becoming a 70-game, 55-point guy.
Ryan Johansen – After an absolutely miserable season that saw him on pace for just 43 points, Johansen led his team in scoring with five points in four games. He really clicked with Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, and I suspect his struggles were closely tied with Arvidsson's injuries. So again – a healthy year from Arvidsson would help Johansen tremendously.
Mikael Granlund – Coach John Hynes put the struggling trio together. Their high-priced, high-reputation players that the team acquired at cost over the last couple of years. Granlund with Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris! The gambit really paid off – not. Granlund is a UFA and he killed his value just a little more when he managed just one point in four games despite playing with Duchene. He's only 28, but I question whether there is a team out there that can coax Granlund's mojo back into him. Wait until he signs his big contract, let the hype build for a day or two… and then sell.
It's a game of inches and it's a game of momentum.
If that shot by Crosby is one inch lower – the Penguins take a 1-0 lead. Then the Habs start scrambling to tie it, which opens them up for more Penguins' goals. Pittsburgh wins in a walk and the series goes to five games. They close it out and Montreal goes home.
Instead, it hits the crossbar and Montreal moves on. If they end up going deep into the playoffs, always remember this play and how everything could have changed over one inch.
Conor Sheary – I think the trade back to Pittsburgh did little to change his fantasy hockey outlook. He was given every opportunity, back with Sidney Crosby, and he squandered it. There was one game where he had two assists, but otherwise he wasn't a factor and his ice time dwindled to 12:49 in Game 4. He is a UFA this summer and I would be surprised if he got more than the NHL minimum, or anything more than a camp invite. Coach Mike Sullivan would have been wise to scratch Sheary and play Jared McCann on the Crosby/Jake Guentzel line.
Jason Zucker – After 12 points in 15 regular season games, Zucker got two in four play-in games with different linemates. He was on the Crosby line in the season, but on the Evgeni Malkin line in the playoffs. Considering the shift in styles, I think he produced well. I look forward to career numbers in the year ahead, as he has three more seasons on his contract.
Tristan Jarry vs. Matt Murray – Murray wasn't terrible, but Jarry was great albeit in limited action. Everyone seems to think that a trade is inevitable, but I disagree. I think these two restricted free agents will sign "show me" deals. Likely just under $3 million for Jarry, and just under $4 million for Murray. Both for one year. Murray just made $3.75M so likely similar there. Yes, this pushes him straight to UFA status, so maybe the Pens give him a bit more and sign him for two years, but I see them carrying both goalies and letting the best one take over the net by the spring. Murray's constant injuries seem to have hampered his skills, so Jarry may come out on top here.
On paper, drafting the obvious, most skilled player is the right move. Signing top talent is the winning formula. But Edmonton and Toronto are proving that…maybe that's the wrong move. Instead, sign mediocre guys with speed and tenacity, build your team around big, franchise defensemen, and get a gritty coach who preaches defense and team system, such as Columbus and Montreal. I sure wish these skilled teams find a way to break the – what I call – "dart board" teams (teams that, when you play them, may as well just send up a representative from each team to throw a dart, and closest to the bull wins). Anyway, it's another learning experience for both young teams. Pieces need to be put into place to bring on a true checking/energy line and continued effort on shoring up the blue line. The latter is easier said than done. If Edmonton (or Toronto) wins the lottery later Monday – should they consider trading it for a franchise defenseman along the lines of a Rasmus Dahlin? Can that type of d-man be had for said pick?
Tyler Ennis – What to make of this guy? Long-time readers would know that I was pretty high on him back in his Buffalo days. He had a 49-point rookie year after a nine-points-in-10-games stint the year prior. Very promising, from a high draft pick (26th overall in 2008). In the lockout-shortened year, he got 34 points in 48 games which is a 58-point pace. But then the injuries started. An injury hurt his next season, and the following year it still seemed to impact him. He was hurt two of the next three after that, and was a shadow of his former self. It wasn't until his stint in Toronto where he actually showed signs of life again – but by then he was pigeonholed as a fringe player, so he didn't get the ice time he would have gotten were he doing the same thing but was 20 years old. That brings us to Ottawa, a team that needed this type of player and sure enough they wound up giving him the best ice time he's seen in four or five years. He had 33 points in 61 games with the Sens and honestly, if he stayed there and the season went the full 82, I think he would have made it to 50 points. Which is ironic because his career-high was the rookie season of 49! With Edmonton, including play-in, he got six points in 12 games. He's earned a nice contract and if he can stay with the Oilers I think he can get to that 50 points next year, health permitting. He missed Game 4 with an ankle injury.
Andreas Athanasiou – Injuries, a trade, and Covid killed my hopes of Athanasiou reaching the minus-100 mark, but man it was fun while it lasted. He ended minus-46 in 55 games and was minus-2 and pointless in four play-in games. Athanasiou was coming off a 30-goal season and is entering his prime (he turned 26 a few days ago). He was tried with Dylan Larkin, he was tried with Connor McDavid and in the play-in round he was tried with Leon Draisaitl. He failed miserably. How was he so bad? I wish I had an explanation. The luck metrics indicate that luck played at least a small role, but not enough to explain just how low he sunk. Athanasiou is a restricted free agent in the offseason and currently makes $3M per season. Do the Oilers qualify him? They can't afford to let him go, but he's not getting anything that is long in term. I'm scared to touch him. I'd be interested in adding him to my keeper team if he was being practically given away, but I wouldn't pay any kind of 'real' price to get him.
Goaltending – While Mikko Koskinen had a weak play-in performance, on the plus side he had a decent season and seems to be improving each year. But he's now 32 – will he peak soon? Has he? I can't see the Oilers re-signing Mike Smith, who is now 38 and clearly not an NHL starter anymore. Can they afford to bring in another free agent goalie? They can't afford Braden Holtby or Jacob Markstrom. Ironically, they can afford Cam Talbot, who seems to be upping his value back to where it was three years ago. Robin Lehner? He might go cheapish (sub-$5M) if he gets a long-term deal. And Koskinen would be the perfect backup, even though he's making $4.5M. Thomas Greiss is another option, but do they want to go that old again? Greiss is 34.
Matt Dumba – It would have been nice to see that a four-month break was just what the doctor ordered for Dumba. But alas, in four games he managed just an assist. But he did pound 14 shots on goal, which is promising. He's off for another three-and-a-half months, and we'll see if that's enough or if he really is 'pulling a Gostisbehere'. I'm still slightly optimistic, but it's admittedly fading.
Ryan Donato – After a slow start, the 24-year-old seemed to be coming around in the second half. But in the play-in, his ice time dwindled before becoming an outright healthy-scratch. I don't look at this as a reason to drag his long-term outlook down. Instead, I look at it as a gift. His value goes down so it's easier for me to acquire him. I think next season he'll start slowly again, but really come on in the second half. So my plan was to acquire him midseason when his owner got sick of waiting on him. But now I wonder if he can be had for cheap immediately. I don't think he'll be a superstar, but I do think he could be a player that produces in the mid-60s.
Goaltending – Devan Dubnyk had a tough, rocky season. He's 34 years old now and his numbers have been steadily declining. Alex Stalock had a decent year, but overall it wasn't good enough to enshrine him as a legit NHL starter. Winning the job in the play-in round, Stalock had a chance to really make headway in that department though. But he didn't. So the No.1 job is up for grabs in the fall and Dubnyk has a long track record and is signed for another season at an AAV that is nearly six times that of Stalock's contract. So Stalock has a bit of a hill to climb. Adding fuel to the fire is Kaapo Kahkonen, who has proven to be one of the top prospect goalies out there. Bottom line is, with Stalock not staking his claim, it will come down to Dubnyk likely winning his job back – until Kahkonen is ready in a year or so.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The note (above) in the Edmonton section applies here as well. I really like skill teams and I want them to thrive. In this copycat league, a grinding team that finds success would be the worst thing that could happen to fantasy hockey. Fortunately, Tampa Bay and Vegas will lead the charge and carry the banner for "skill" teams – i.e., the teams that fantasy owners want to see copy-catted. Let's see if Tampa can do what Toronto (and Tampa circa 2019) couldn't, against the stifling Blue Jackets.
Nick Robertson – the 18-year-old did not look out of place as an NHLer and he has nothing left to prove in junior hockey. But he was mostly snakebitten and eventually scratched in favor of the returning Andreas Johnsson. Robertson will probably stay with the Leafs for at least the first nine games, but he'll need to put points on the board or he may not make it to 10 (thereby activating his contract and burning a year of their control over him).
Ilya Mikheyev – I had high hopes for the team's top player in camp and exhibition, but it turns out that too much was expected of him too soon. In hindsight, he should have started on a depth line and earned his way up into the top six instead of vice-versa. I still believe he has a very bright future in the top six and he did have a lot of chances in the play-in round to make a mark on the score sheet, but it didn't happen.
William Nylander – His four points in five games are a little misleading, because he disappeared for long stretches. And when the coach felt he was forced to stack his top line, Nylander was unable to anchor a second line on his own. Two of his three ES points were with the goalie pulled, while his other point was with John Tavares. When he lined up without Tavares or Auston Matthews, he wasn't productive. It's a good thing the Leafs have two elite centers, as it makes it extremely likely that Nylander will always have that top linemate that he needs in order to produce well.
Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky wanted to join teams that they thought could win with their help. They abandoned Columbus, leaving them with a shell of a team. That shell is still playing, while Duchene, Panarin and Bobrovsky are making golf plans.
Torts and Pierre-Luc Dubois:
Max Pacioretty will be in the Vegas lineup for Game 1 against the Blackhawks.
See you next Monday.
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