Ramblings – Where I went wrong on the Lightning, digging deep into Brock Nelson and Miro Heiskanen (Sept. 14)



Okay, so it's not my year for calling playoffs. I'm afraid to tally up how I'm doing this year, but figure it's 3-11 or 4-10 or something like that. Assuming Dallas and Tampa move on. I've had a year like that before. And I've also had a 13-2 year. Like all of you, I'm generally 9-6 or 8-7 with calling playoff series over the last 15 years. This year, not so good. Just one week after explaining why I picked the Islanders to win – they're clearly not going to win. I singled out the Yanni Gourde line not being the answer (although thankfully I gave Blake Coleman props, so at least I don't look like a complete idiot) to the J-G Pageau line. And here is Gourde, being the answer.

Gourde picked up two more points Sunday to give him five on the series. He has 12 points in 17 playoff games, but 10 in his last 11. Coleman has eight in those 11 games, while dishing out 47 Hits in that span! He's an elite third-liner, and the third member – Barclay Goodrow – is very good in that role as well (38 Hits in last 11 games). If Gourde has truly re-invented himself from a small offensive player into a Pageau-like defensive forward who can chip in points, then I obviously had it all wrong. And the beauty of it is – much like the Islanders have Pageau and Derrick Brassard who could both play center as need – the Lightning can rotate Gourde and Goodrow as needed.

Tampa I think is still lacking on the fourth line, but with Casey Cizikas done for the playoffs (he is out of the bubble), the Islanders now lack on that fourth line too.


That being said, from a fantasy hockey standpoint, it is to our advantage to see Tampa Bay go all the way. In a copycat league, having a team with some of the best scorers in the NHL winning the Cup would further open up the offense. Whereas having a deep team that plays a checking style and boasts no 90-point potential players or potential 70-point defensemen would probably move things in the other direction.


Brock Nelson – as a bigger player at 6-3, 212 pounds, I understand that he can take an extra year or two to get acclimated to the NHL. He barely fits our "big player" profile, which is 6-3 and/or 215 pounds or bigger. He hit his Breakout Threshold a couple of weeks into 2018-19 and he certainly saw his points per game jump (beating his career high of 0.56 points-per-game by .09 to 0.65). But I would argue his real jump has come 'this' season. He was on pace for 65 and his points-per-game average was 0.79. In the playoffs he's taking it even further, jumping to 0.90. So at the age of 28, Nelson is still on the rise. Don't underrate.

And by the same token, his linemates could see a big jump next year along with him – Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier. The trio is really clicking.


I wish I had an answer for the Vegas – Dallas series. I have no explanation. Robin Lehner is playing well, but Anton Khudobin is playing better. It's a battle of two teams that made coaching changes in the middle of the season – Dallas in early December and Vegas a month later. Normally, most of us would give the coaching nod to Peter DeBoer. But Bowness seems to have found his niche…

As interim Head Coach of Winnipeg in 1988-89, he wasn't off to a great start in his head coaching career (8-17-3). As Head Coach of Boston it was also short-lived. He was not brought back after one season there and went to the expansion Senators. He lasted four seasons there, but as an expansion team coach his record was obviously pretty pitiful (39-178-18). He coached the Islanders for parts of two seasons and then Phoenix as (again) an interim coach for 20 games. Overall, his NHL head coaching numbers were 103-276-43. His non-expansion numbers (let's not lump in his Sens record, okay?) he was 64-98-25. Still bad. As coach of Dallas, he took a 17-11-3 record and pretty much drove the same results (20-13-5). But in these playoffs he's finding something more in this team.


It sure helps when Miro Heiskanen is the second coming of Erik Karlsson. He has 22 points in 20 games and is a lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy if Dallas goes all the way. Even buried behind John Klingberg in the battle for PPTOI, Heiskanen is dominating. He's making it harder and harder for Bowness to turn to Klingberg on the power play. Klingberg is no slouch – he's a top PP defenseman and he has four PPPts in 19 games. But Heiskanen has eight, with 36 fewer seconds per game on the ice with the man advantage.

So is this just a playoff surge or does Heiskanen actually have Karlsson-like potential? He's progressing nicely and – up until this playoff 'pop' – his progress was steady. He seemed on track to produce above 60 points by the time he hit his mid-20s (and by then Klingberg would be gone). Klingberg has two more years left on his contract and he's actually hit 67 points before (just two years ago). So how do you sit proven production like that in favor of a hotshot youngster who looks to have potential to exceed that? I mean, Klingberg's playoff numbers pro-rate to 61 points over an 82-game season! I'm going to ramp up my expectations of Heiskanen (of course), but I'm still going to make his year-over-year projection move gradually. One thing I'm wary of is that his secondary assist percentage has jumped in the playoffs. After a career average of about 44%, his playoff number right now is 58.8%. So maybe his 17 assists should be more like 14 or 15. Still great, but not point-per-game great.

Heiskanen's pace this season was to finish with 42 points. I would have had him hitting 50 next year anyway, so I would probably bump that to 53 or 55 when I end up doing my full analysis and plug everything into my formula. The following year, probably something more of the same. And whenever Klingberg moves on to another team, I think at that point Heiskanen takes a run at 70.


Jamie Benn has 17 points in his last 17 games. Where is he during the regular season? Interesting stat: Benn was in on each of Dallas' three game-winning goals. If he does it again to clinch the series, he will become just the fourth player in NHL history to do that (Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Mike Bossy).


More interesting stats, these ones are regarding Joe Pavelski. He now has 57 career goals and he is behind only Doug Gilmour (60) and Luc Robitaille (58) among players drafted in the seventh round or later. Furthermore, he is behind only Joe Mullen (60) and Mike Modano (58) for playoff goals among US-born players. So it will be pretty cool if Pavelski can score four more.


Lou Lamoriello won the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award. He built a good team that looks better on the ice than it does on paper. But I believe the 2015 GM of the Year Award should be voted on now. I think at least five years need to pass before we can reflect on the impact of all the moves that General Manager made. I feel like under the current system a GM could trade all his draft picks in the first three rounds for the next five years to add veteran rentals at the trade deadline, boost a bad team into the playoffs – and that GM could win this award. Even though he destroyed his organization for years to come. Meanwhile, another GM could make smart deals for great young players, stockpile draft picks, and build something special that kicks in starting three or four years from now and he never wins the award. This award, as it stands now, is the biggest farce besides the Lady Byng.


Mark Giordano wins the Mark Messier Leadership Award. And yes, even that award is better than the Gregory or Byng.


Other award winners:

Matt Dumba wins the King Clancy, Bobby Ryan wins the Bill Masterton, Bruce Cassidy won the Jack Adams, Sean Couturier won the Selke, Nathan MacKinnon won the aforementioned Byng (traditionally given to a high points producer who has low penalty minutes so that makes him a gentleman I guess).

I was only given a ballot this year for the Bill Masterton – and that one went exactly as I had voted. Ryan overcame an addiction and a stint in rehab, returning to be a better player than he was when he left (four goals in eight games playing for a very bad team). Next year we can already assume Oskar Lindblom wins the Masterton after (hopefully) a successful comeback from cancer treatments!


Add notable prospects Dominik Bokk (CAR), Martin Kaut (COL), Oskar Steen (BOS), Adam Huska (NYR), Jakub Zboril (BOS), Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom (CBJ), Pius Suter (CHI), Gaetan Haas (EDM), Evan Bouchard (!) (EDM) and Libor Hajek (NYR) to the list I posted last week of prospects on loan in European leagues. I took the liberty of updating that list in case you want a tracker of sorts…

Edmonton was going all in last week with that list, and now they added a couple of big names since that time. At this point they lead all NHL teams in European loans.


A big thank you to Eric Daoust, who has done it again. He has added another great feature to Frozen Tools. This time he created a box score page customized for fantasy. This will be great for daily fantasy sports (DFS) players. You can access these a number of ways, but my preferred method is via the player profiles – just go to their game log and click the link on the date of that game.


See you next Monday.


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