Ramblings – Thoughts on Allen and Binnington, plus Oshie, Talbot, Suzuki, Trocheck, and more (August 24)
You may have noticed that a lot of European prospects who may or may not have been playing in the AHL or CHL, are being "loaned" to various European Leagues over the past few days. NHL teams are giving their prospects the extra ice time and game experience in the leagues that are opening up over the next few weeks. When training camps open in mid-November we'll see most, if not all, of these players back over here. The KHL is set to begin their season on September 19. The SHL begins in late September and Liiga (Finland) begins October 1. So these players may get between 12 and 20 games in before coming back over. In the cases of prospects who are relatively close, this should be a bit of an advantage in terms of making the team.
We say goodbye, here in late August, to a few more teams as the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto start to empty out. My thoughts…
St. Louis Blues
The biggest fantasy thing with this team is the status of Vladimir Tarasenko. His (very) serious shoulder injury and ensuing surgery…didn't go so well? It's being re-evaluated. When he played, it was giving him pain. If this requires another surgery will he be the same? Will he become a Band-Aid Boy going forward now? Or will things get back to 100%? These are things we don't know now, but will (hopefully) know in time of our fantasy drafts. Which I hope you have re-scheduled to take place in November. If you haven't do it now. I'll wait.
The close second in terms of fantasy questions is the Jake Allen vs. Jordan Binnington situation. Winnington was, to be frank, terrible. His playoffs were terrible and his regular season was below average. And that's worrisome because he wasn't exactly an elite prospect to begin with. He was a good prospect who was fading quickly and most of us, myself included, had written him off by the time last season began as having any kind of an NHL career. Then the magic happened. So was he just pulling an Andrew Hammond? The Blues are a great team and they can win a Cup if they just had average goaltending. Binnington came in and gave them that. But in 2019-20 he did not. However, and I can't believe I'm saying this – Jake Allen did. In a backup role, with zero pressure, Jake Allen was actually a good goaltender. My hunch is that Binnington will get the nod as the No.1 goalie to start 2020-21, but by the 25th game he will have ceded the job to Allen. But as No.1 again, will Allen fold like a rusty chair? I can't say I trust him, but I think we'll get a chance to see the answer.
Zach Sanford, 25, had 26 points in his last 42 games during the season and carried that pace into the playoffs (four points in nine games, sixth in team scoring). He played with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron, so he's being taken seriously as a potential top-sixer.
I think Nick Suzuki is poised to top 65 points next year, or at least come close. He had 32 points in his last 51 games during the season, and was – most of the time aside from a couple of quiet games – Montreal's best forward.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi started out the playoffs and play-in with a splash, but kinda faded away towards the end. But he proved that he's ready to stay in the NHL for good. The points may take a couple of years though.
Tomas Tatar shocked the fantasy world with his incredible numbers this year. He was consistently putting up the stats all the way through – until the playoffs. Just two points in 10 games?
The Caps fired their coach and speculation is that they will bring in an experienced coach such as Gerard Gallant. I think that would be a brilliant move, but I am curious (concerned?) as to why he was suddenly chased out of town in his last two NHL jobs. In both cases he was doing just fine, but then suddenly the organization sent him packing. Assuming there's nothing to that, I think he's the best coach not currently working and one of the best coaches, period.
The Caps also said that it would be tough for them to re-sign Braden Holtby. I say there's no way that happens – he's gone. So get Ilya Samsonov while you can. The Caps may sign a cheaper but experienced goalie to take the pressure off the youngster. I'm thinking Corey Crawford, Craig Anderson, Thomas Greiss or Brian Elliott.
Ilya Kovalchuk – One point in eight games. He’s now 37 and I don’t know if an NHL team will sign him again. He showed with Montreal that he can still contribute, but needs to be pampered in terms of ice time and linemates – you can’t just throw him out there with anybody against anybody in any situation.
I suspect that in 2020-21, TJ Oshie's decline begins. He turns 34 about a dozen games into next season. He showed signs of slowing later in this past season, and his playoff output was just three points in eight games. Oshie has five years left on his contract, and I have a nagging worry that the last four of those years will be the next contract joke. At least the Caps got three great years from his contract, plus next year will be "okay". But man, signing players who are over the age of 30 to eight-year contracts would just be a personal no-no for me if I were a GM. Dobber for GM!
I think, last game aside, that Cam Talbot's performance as the season wore on and then into the playoffs were enough to reel in a team that will sign him to be their starting goalie this offseason. Despite giving up those four goals on 15 shots in that last game, Talbot salvaged a 0.924 SV% in 10 playoff games. He just turned 33 last month and I think a team will give him a two- or three-year contract as a starter. If he re-signs with Calgary, which is certainly possible, it would be at a number that makes it clear that he will be their starting goalie over David Rittich.
Erik Gustafsson had three points in the first five postseason/play-in games, plus another point that was later taken away from him. But then going pointless in the next five games despite all that PP time was disappointing. Where he signs – and for how much – will tell me his odds of rebounding. Defensemen who get 60 points don't grow on trees and it was just one bad year. But I have be honest with you, I don't have a lot of hope here.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Oliver Bjorkstrand really disappointed me with his production – and he played with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexandre Texier in the first round. His linemates won't get better than that. I still think he's going to be a superstar in the NHL, but early in his career I think he'll struggle to figure out playoff hockey.
Joonas Korpisalo has earned the right to start next season as the No.1 guy. Elvis Merzlikins is the better goaltender. But in the end, the top guy has to lose the job. And under John Tortorella's coaching system that revolves around weaker forwards and elite defenders – it's going to be tough for a goalie to lose that job. Another injury to Korpisalo needs to happen in order for Elvis to get another shot at showing what he can do.
The Hurricanes have an awesome team. Of skaters. And nothing against Petr Mrazek and James Reimer who were absolutely great in the postseason – but the Hurricanes will need a top goaltender. They may go a little further next year, perhaps second round. But with Reimer and Mrazek they will keep hitting the Boston or Tampa wall. Both goalies are signed through 2020-21.
Very worried about Vincent Trocheck for fantasy leagues. After five months off, he came back and managed just two points in eight games. He wasn't put on the top line (and yet Jordan Martinook was?). Not that you were considering him after back-to-back seasons with points in the 30s, but he's 27 and in his prime and has had a long layoff to recover from any lingering injury concerns.
Phil Kessel really had me wondering there for a minute. He had four points in the four games of the play-in round. But then my judgment of his career decline was justified as he was completely shut out by the Avalanche (five games) and his ice time was chopped by four or five shifts in each of the last three games. He has 44 points in his last 83 regular season and playoff contests. He still has two years left on his contract at an AAV of $8 million.
Clayton Keller was the only truly hot scoring Coyote in the playoffs (seven points in nine games). But I thought Vinnie Hinostroza did well in his limited ice time. It impressed enough that he was put on Taylor Hall's line for the last couple of games.
Olli Maatta saw zero PP time, yet led all Chicago defensemen in scoring with six points in nine games. Adam Boqvist was off the top PP unit but saw secondary PP time – and was pointless in eight contests. He was scratched from the second Vegas game. Still only 20 (just turned, last week), it's a learning experience. He's gonna kill it next year.
Alex Nylander was a healthy scratch in the last game of the series, after going eight postseason games without a point. The 22-year-old made the Blackhawks and started off pretty well, but then faded in December and January finishing the regular season with five points in five games. About a third of Nylander's 26 points came while playing with Patrick Kane despite just 18% of his shifts with him.
As for the actual hockey games that were played Sunday, I have no shocking notes for fantasy owners. I thought Jaroslav Halak played a great game, and to me he's more than capable of leading the Bruins all the way. Wouldn't it be something if he did? He'd win a Cup, and then have to return to being Tuukka Rask's backup.
Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves combined for 20 Hits on the Canucks last night. Vancouver was thoroughly overmatched and Jacob Markstrom was chased from the net after giving up the fifth goal mid-third period. Even Quinn Hughes was a minus-3 in the game. It was just the fourth time in his NHL career that he saw a minus-3, and the first time since December 10.
See you next Monday.
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