Ramblings: Dallas to the Final; Konecny’s shooting; Buffalo cap; Bjugstad in Minny; brand new Brock – September 15
We got some quotes from Flyers coach Alain Vigneault but by AV's own admission, he hasn't had his exit interviews with his player since the end of their playoff run. So, we got a lot of vague phrases and we were short on detail. Hopefully there’ll be some clarification in the coming days/weels.
One quote I found interesting was that Vigneault found Konecny to be pressing and that led to some low-percentage plays. I found something similar, where Konecny's shot rates had increased in the playoffs but his individual expected goals (a proxy for shot quality) had declined.
That's one of the missing pieces we need to the Konecny Postseason Puzzle. If Konecny were putting added responsibility on his shoulders to bear the burden of playoff scoring, it would stand to reason he would be forcing shots, as evidenced by his shot quantity/quality rates.
I have no concerns about Konecny's future fantasy value. He's going to produce, and he's going to be a multi-cat performer. It's a matter of whether he's a top-25 player in 2-3 years, a top-50 player, or a top-100 player. We'll see.
Just last week – honestly, five days ago – I wrote about how the Buffalo Sabres were in a very good situation this off-season. Maybe not in terms of on-ice product, but they have boatloads of cap space to play with. With no one of significance to sign outside of Sam Reinhart, the Sabres will have about $30M in space to work with. A flat cap across the league would mean a lot of teams looking to shed salary, and with few teams in a spot to be the dumping grounds, it would be a buyers' market. It could be one of those off-seasons where the Sabres really set themselves up for the future, loading up on good prospects and picks. The last phrase in those Ramblings was, "They have a lot of flexibility, and they’d be stupid not to use it at a time when many other teams do not."
I should have known better when a lone commenter said the following:
Kevin: I’m so sorry.
They’re not going to do the smart thing. They're going to do the stupid thing and come in more than $10M shy by setting an internal cap around $70M. They're also shedding salary around the franchise by firing employees or asking for pay cuts. I'll just note that the Pegulas are worth several billions (with a B) and could find $15M to be a cap team and pay their employees by rifling through the glove compartment of their sixth Maserati.
(I should note they are far from the only team doing this; according to the report above, more than a dozen are.)
Are the Sabres under any obligation to be a cap team? Of course not. Teams have a minimum and maximum threshold for cap limits and as long as they're between them, it's fine. And yes, revenues are down in the NHL with no fans and missing games. All this is true.
Did I mention that the Pegulas are worth several billions (with a B) and could find $15M to be a cap team and pay their employees by rifling through the glove compartment of their sixth Maserati?
No, they're not under an obligation to be a cap team, but they've also treated this fanbase with complete disregard since they took the team over nearly a decade ago. The Pegulas' first season with the team was 2011-12 and they haven't made the playoff since. Barring a miracle, they won't make the playoffs in 2020-21, and they're even further from being a Cup contender now than they were two years ago. It didn't have to be like this, but this is the hole they dug themselves.
And now, they get a rope to climb out of the hole but refuse to grab on, choosing to dig rather than climb. Contenders aren't necessarily borne of draft picks and prospects, but they are a foundation, and the Sabres have a unique opportunity to be big-time winners this off-season by being the home for many a bad contract. Instead of being pound-wise, they're being penny-foolish, and at this point I wouldn't blame fans for walking away from the team. If they honestly go through with the plan of being $10M+ under cap, I wouldn't blame fans for saying that enough was enough and there are better avenues to spend time and money.
The Islanders may be on the verge of being knocked out of the playoffs but one guy that has been super impressive to me is Brock Nelson. My recent Ramblings have covered guys like Barzal and Beauvillier, but Nelson seems to have taken his game to another level over the last 12 months.
I don't know what it is. Nelson seems quicker and leaner than he has in recent seasons. He scored a nifty goal on Sunday that showed this improved… let's call it 'mobility'… and it was something we had seen from him often through the year.
One pairing of players to watch for next year is Beauvillier and Nelson. It seems unlikely that either is going to cost a top-100 pick in drafts, and both have upside. Beauvillier very much has a 30-goal/200-shot/100-hit season in him, while Nelson has 25-goal, 60-point potential if Josh Bailey ever starts shooting the puck.
I would say that the Isles should go get a true second-line scoring winger, but they don't really need it, and they have about $9M in space for Barzal, Pulock, and Toews. This won't be an off-season of shopping for them.
We got some sort of update on Stamkos, though it’s not much of one:
Steven Stamkos has been skating on and off, according to Jon Cooper. But it doesn’t sound like he’s close to a return.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) September 14, 2020
That he’s even skating is good, I suppose? But if he’s not skating consistently every day, it’s hard to see him being ready for game action in time for the Finals at any point. It would be quite something if Tampa won their first post-cap Cup but it was with Stamkos in the press box, huh? Still five more wins before that happens, though.
I'm intrigued to see what happens with Nick Bjugstad now that he's in Minnesota. It seems he's been around for a while but due to injuries and not getting to the NHL full-time until he was 21, Bjugstad only has five full-ish seasons to his name. In those five seasons, there is a 24-goal campaign, a 30-assist campaign, a pair of 200-shot campaigns, and a trio of 100-hit campaigns. Throw a pinch of each of those seasons in a pot, add thyme, let it reduce for two hours, and we might have a pretty useful multi-cat fantasy hockey player here.
I think there's a pretty wide range of outcomes for Bjugstad in Minnesota. They have a good top-pair duo in Eric Staal and Kevin Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov is on the way, Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello are still second-liners, and Joel Eriksson-Ek had a breakout year, so Bjugstad could be in a fight for a top-6 role. He may get there in spurts, or because of injury, but it's hard to see him having a full-time top-6 role with PP minutes.
It's a question of usage. If Bjugstad is on the third line and second PP unit, he could be 15 goals, 35 points, 160 shots, and 80 hits. If he's second line with top PP minutes, he could be 25 goals, 50 points, 200 shots, and 100 hits. To me, he seems like a player to grab off waiver wires (in non-deep leagues) rather than a guy to draft as a third RW or something. Of course, if he ends up Minnesota's 3C and he has RW eligibility, that could still play well in leagues counting faceoff wins. There's still more to unpack here.
Game 5 between Vegas and Dallas went as most Vegas games have gone this year: with the Golden Knights in firm control most of the contest. Dallas got a couple chances early in the first period but Vegas took control, and a breakaway goal from Chandler Stephenson gave them a 1-0 cushion that they would carry most of the contest. With 20 minutes to go, the expected goals (via Natural Stat Trick) were more than double in Vegas's favour and the shots were 25-14.
But Dallas showed up as the third period wore on, and after trading goals, Dallas tied the game thanks to Goel Kiviranta. The winger, who had a hat trick against Colorado 11 days ago, put one over Robin Lehner's outstretched pad to give Dallas hope in overtime.
It didn't take long as Zach Whitecloud took a puck-over-glass penalty early in overtime and Denis Gurianov scored on the ensuing power play to send Dallas to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.
I'm going to have more thoughts on both teams in my next Ramblings. For now, just want to highlight Kiviranta (Dobber Prospects profile here). He leaves Finland as an undrafted rookie, spends one year in the AHL, doesn't even play a dozen regular season NHL games, and now has a hat trick to go with a game-tying goal that helped send his team to the Final. Just fantastic stuff.
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