Ramblings: Rangers win the Lottery; Hamilton update; previewing the first round – August 11
The big news we've been waiting a month for was which play-in team would end up with the first overall pick in the lottery. Because of the abbreviated season, teams agreed to allow the play-in franchises to the lottery draft, and they won. The lottery for first overall was Monday night and as hockey fans will know by now, it went to the New York Rangers.
I imagine there are a lot of hockey fans out there that may not be happy but are at least relieved. It would have been a game-changer had it gone to a team like Pittsburgh or Toronto. It's still a game-changer for the Rangers, obviously, but those are teams at various points of their Cup window who could use top-end talent for cheap. The Rangers don't have the same cap issues, but now they get to add a top-6 forward on an ELC and can focus on their blue line.
One thing I wonder about is if the Rangers will draft Lafrenière with their first overall pick. There are prospect people – our Cam Robinson being one of them – who have Byfield over Lafrenière on their board. The team also has Panarin and Kreider, two left wingers, under contract for most of the upcoming decade. The Rangers have a glaring hole down the middle that they've been plugging with Ryan Strome, and they have hope for Filip Chytil being that guy, but that spot needs an upgrade. Do they entertain adding Byfield instead of Lafrenière? Teams have gone a bit off the board in the last couple seasons with high picks to draft for need, like Montreal with Kotkaniemi and Detroit with Seider. Could the Rangers do something similar? We'll have to wait and see.
In a normal year, making decisions based on playoff performance is usually a bad idea. Just think of the legacy contracts given out by Los Angeles and Chicago over the last decade and readers will get real close to the basic premise here: decision-making on small samples of pressure-cooked hockey will, most often, leave a Warheads-esque taste in the mouth.
That makes the upcoming off-season even more delicious. Teams aren't only going to make bad decisions based off a small sample, but they'll do so from an even smaller sample in very difficult conditions. What star will get traded for because they shot two percent for four games? Who is going to sign that 10th forward for three years at $4M per season? Who will bench the goalie who was bad for 80 minutes? It's all so exciting.
This extends to Toronto, naturally. Dobber went through a post-mortem on each team so I'll refrain from doing the same. But I will say that the Leafs had a PDO of .944 for a week and now they're home. (In fact, of the 16 teams from the play-in matchups, the eight teams that were sent home had the eight lowest PDO marks at 5-on-5. Funny how that works.) Columbus had a save percentage over .980 at 5-on-5. If the Leafs landed 50 shots a game at 5-on-5, at that save percentage, they'd score one goal a game. It's hard to win games like that.
Believe me, I'm not absolving the Leafs, their GM, or other teams (thank god Dale Tallon is back!) of making poor decisions. This is a Toronto blue line that has had two years to be built. No, you can't rely on drafting superstar defencemen but yes, you should be able to rely on not having Number Three Defenceman Cody Ceci years into your rebuild. That he and Morgan Rielly – nary a defensive fibre between them – were the top pair for this team heading into the 2019-20 playoffs speaks volumes about where this team is right now. They badly need all of Dermott, Sandin, and Liljegren to be regular NHLers, and probably need at least two of them to be top-4 guys.
It makes me wonder what's going to happen in Edmonton. They are, more or less, in the same position as the Leafs. I do believe that Edmonton's blue line is further ahead, but I'd rather have Toronto's goaltending and forward depth. Regardless, both teams need to figure out their issues, because they have elite, young players but limited cap space and windows close faster than we'd like sometimes.
Over the off-season, I will read any and everything on Tyson Barrie's time with the Leafs imaginable. By a number of measurements – WAR, primary points/60 at 5-on-5, points/60 on the power play – it was his worst season in five years and possibly his worst season since his rookie 2013 campaign. This was a guy who established himself as one of the top offensive defencemen in hockey over the course of a half-decade, and he looked anything but for most of his Leafs tenure.
What happened? I would be very interested to read any and all analysis of his year.
Dougie Hamilton was at Carolina practice on Monday and the team seemed hopeful he'll be able to return for Game 1 of the first round. Sweeping the first round without him, getting some good, hard hockey in but getting time off, and then getting him back, would be a nice little progression of things for the 'Canes.
That might spell the end of Sami Vatanen on the top power-play unit, too. Just something to keep in mind for those who may be drafting their playoff pools tonight. (On the other hand, were something to happen to Hamilton again, we know who the next man up will be.)
A note from the Flyers:
For strategic purposes, Flyers will keep line combinations to themselves moving forward before each game.
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) August 10, 2020
This may not affect a lot for playoff pools, but for DFS people, this is a nightmare. Other teams will likely perceive this as a competitive advantage and follow suit. If the NHL doesn't force them to reveal lines, and there are no reporters present, do lines actually exist?
NFL requires inactives within an hour of kickoff. MLB is a little more lax but most lineups are in about 3-4 hours before first pitch. There is precedent for this, though I doubt this is something the NHL pushes back on.
Just wanted to give some thoughts out on the upcoming rounds. We'll have our Experts' Panel picks posted, but this is just a bit more of a discussion. (I went 2/8 in the first round but hit on Chicago so that's basically 8/8.)
Tampa Bay needs to get healthy. They're an elite team, but with a hobbled Stamkos and Hedman, they're not much deeper than a roster like Toronto's is, er, was.
Liam Foudy's continued progress towards top-6 scorer is impressive to watch. A welcome development for Columbus, I'm sure.
I'm not as worried about Boston as some others may be. They're a team that's earned the right to approach the playoffs as they see fit. I just think Carolina is better at the moment with Hamilton (hopefully) back.
Carter Hart is going to be the difference-maker for the Flyers in these playoffs, but don't sleep on Shayne Gostisbehere. He looked good in the one game he had in the lineup. If he can be the guy of a couple years ago…
I'm also not worried about St. Louis. The round robin was pretty obviously something they didn't care about. They just wanted to stay healthy.
Vegas getting Max Pacioretty back is so big for this team. Now they can move Chandler Stephenson back to the third line and it gives them three scoring lines (though the third is a clear step down, Alex Tuch has looked great). If we don't get a matchup with them and Colorado at some point, we'll all be the worse for it.
The riches Colorado boasts are starting to come to fruition, and there's even more in the pipeline. Is there a more exciting franchise to be a fan of at the moment? I guess maybe Carolina or Vegas, but otherwise, this is a Megazord reaching final assembly.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Bob McKenzie announced his semi-retirement on Monday. I believe he has hinted at this for a while, but he's taking a step back from day-to-day things at TSN. He says he'll still be around for items like the World Juniors and free agency, but he won't be there day in and day out through the season as he'd been for decades.
This is his full statement:
Thank you. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/wJisCYt7eW
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) August 10, 2020
For hockey fans outside of Canada, it's hard to really measure McKenzie's impact on hockey. Beyond just being the measuring stick for being a reporter, he's also one of the driving forces being the World Juniors being the success it is today. That wasn't the case 30 years ago. The outpouring of thanks from young reporters he's helped along the way showed his impact behind the scenes as well.
There is a reason one of the unwritten rules of what we do is to wait until Bob McKenzie confirms it. His presence is that large in the hockey world. Congratulations to him on an incredible career to date, and at least we'll still see him around for the big moments.
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