Ramblings: Toffoli’s playmaking problem; Allen and Gallagher get new deals; Schmidt/Toews/Pietrangelo – October 15

Michael Clifford

2020-10-15

Montreal signed goalie Jake Allen to a two-year extension carrying an AAV of $2.875M. With the expansion draft a year from now, any goalie signing a deal longer than one year but shorter than, say, four years is almost certainly being done because of expansion. It seems as though teams learned from the Anaheim debacle at the last expansion when they signed a bunch of vets to contracts with no-move clauses and were thus forced to give up Shea Theodore. Or maybe teams are only thinking of their goalie situation and are looking forward to being relieved of a contract. Who can tell with GMs these days.

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The Tyler Toffoli signing is one that came as a big surprise to me, and I think to a lot of people. Whether it's the landing spot, the total contract, the fact that no one could beat it, what have you, there are a lot of reasons why this seemed out of left field.

The question is of upside.

When it comes to Toffoli, the first thing that should be said is he hasn't really been a monster goal scorer. Despite being coveted as much as he is, he's heading into his age-28 season and has one season with at least 25 goals, and one season with at least 30. He has a number of 20-goal seasons, which is why he's coveted, but he never broke through to that next level beyond the Craig Smiths and Brandon Saads.

Remember back to his Los Angeles days. He played most often with Jeff Carter, and if there's one thing Jeff Carter is not, it's a playmaker – he has zero 40-assist seasons in his career and has more career goals than career assists. According to Corey Sznajder's zone entry stats, Carter was the 67th percentile for shot assists (passes leading to shots) from 2016 through 2019. Putting Carter with Toffoli was effectively putting two goal scorers together with whomever – sometimes Tanner Pearson – on the other side. Goal scoring is good, but someone needs to get the goal-scorers the puck. It shouldn't come as a surprise that with those two on the ice, then, the team struggled to score, coming it at 1.89 goals/60 minutes at 5-on-5 (in over 1150 minutes) while shooting 5.9 percent as a line. Conversely, in 574 minutes with Toffoli on the ice alongside Anze Kopitar, a much better playmaker than Carter, that goal number grew to 2.23 despite the shooting percentage remaining a paltry 7.2 percent.

It shouldn't have been such a shock, then, that when Toffoli went to skate on a line with Elias Pettersson, more in line with Kopitar as a playmaker than Carter, Toffoli exploded goals-wise. (There's more to it, like playing with J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes, but there's another reason we'll get to.)

Finally, the power-play minutes will matter. Now, Montreal's power play hasn't been good in recent seasons, but with new faces and Nick Suzuki a year older, hopefully things are on the upswing. Toffoli got little power-play time in Los Angeles; he averaged two minutes a game, fifth among their forwards, over the last three years. Toffoli won't be a 25 PPP guy because Montreal splits their PP units and he's not a playmaker himself, but even just regular PP time on a good unit puts his career-high in PPPs – just 12 – within reach.

Toffoli won't be the point-per-game guy he was at the end of last season for Vancouver, but he has a real chance to put up 25 goals and 50 points regularly now. It may depend on where he's slotted, which leads me to…

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An interesting quote came out on Tuesday:

 

 

Basically, it says Toffoli played left wing when he got to Los Angeles and is comfortable moving to that wing if his new team asks him to. We have seen rumours lately that the Habs were looking to move Brendan Gallagher as they had Gallagher, Toffoli, and Josh Anderson down the right side. Apparently, Montreal can't have three good wingers at once or the team collapses on itself like a neutron star.

As if Bergevin was watching me while typing, the Habs re-upped Gallagher for six years at $6.5M per season last night. All is right in the world.

Anyway, for fantasy hockey, I thought it was interesting that Toffoli might be heading to the left wing. It would give him dual eligibility and we saw in Vancouver how good he can be with a good centre. No one in Montreal is in Elias Pettersson's tier, but there are a lot better than whatever tiers the Kings had outside of Kopitar. Watching a line of Toffoli-Suzuki-Gallagher would be a lot of fun.

This is all overly simplistic but Toffoli getting a playmaking centre for a full season should give us a much better idea of where his value lay than 10 games with Pettersson or 150 with Carter.

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Nate Schmidt going to Vancouver was curious for me, fantasy-wise. Schmidt did not get a lot of run on the power play last year for Vegas, averaging about a minute per game, and Theodore eventually took over completely when playoffs rolled around. Going to Vancouver, it'll be much the same unless Quinn Hughes gets injured. The two teams scored roughly the same (2.86 to 2.82) per 60 minutes at even strength last year, and really only lost Toffoli offensively, and he was only around for the final 10 games. If Vancouver can maintain a similar scoring rate in 2020-21 as they did in 2019-20, with the same amount of PP minutes, there's no reason to think Schmidt can't be around the 35-point mark in an 82-game season. Just be wary of peripherals because he doesn't bring a lot.

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Conversely, I do wonder about Devon Toews' value. He led the Islanders in PPTOI among their blue liners last year as they ran two PP units. He's now in Colorado, which runs one unit, and has Cale Makar.

It should be noted that despite those PP minutes, he didn't put up much for PPPs, posting just six last year. Sam Girard, who was the number-2 behind Makar last year playing on the second PP unit until Makar's injury, managed 13 PPPs in 70 games.

The question becomes this: who runs PP2, Girard or Toews? Or are they both there with three forwards? Either would be a legitimate threat for 40 points with secondary PP minutes, but not without them. The incumbent should get the edge but I thought the same thing last year with Girard/Makar and we all know how that worked out. What Dobber said in his take on the acquisition probably makes sense: both Toews and Girard lose total PPTOI even if both share second PP duties.

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I'll be interested in the minutes Alex Pietrangelo gets. He's shown the ability for 40- and 50-point seasons even with 10-15 PPPs, so it's not as if not getting top PP slotting kills his value. It won't help, though, and he's never been a guy to rack up hit totals (he hasn't posted more than 70 in eight years). It's also curious his shot blocks fell off the map last year, to 1.27 per game. The year before he was at nearly two per game, and he was over two per game the year before. If it's a conscious effort to keep him on the ice, that's great for point production, but a defenceman that doesn't get top PP minutes, that doesn't hit much, and is seeing plummeting shot-block totals is concerning. Like Dobber, I think this is a downgrade for Petro, but not a big one. The real downgrade could come in peripherals if those keep falling.

UPCOMING GAMES

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency COL Players
20.1% PIERRE-EDOUARD BELLEMARE MATT NIETO LOGAN O'CONNOR
17.5% NAZEM KADRI VLADISLAV NAMESTNIKOV VALERI NICHUSHKIN
17.2% ANDRE BURAKOVSKY NATHAN MACKINNON MIKKO RANTANEN

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