Ramblings: Tatar and Ehlers; Nichushkin; Hyman; Habs take Game 2 – June 17

Michael Clifford

2021-06-17

I think there's a lesson being taught to fantasy owners these playoffs that we need to keep in mind each and every fantasy season: we are at the mercy of individual coaches, the minutes they give players, and the combinations they use them in.

I am reminded of this as I sit here and contemplate Montreal's lineup for Game 3. It is Wednesday afternoon and the game is in about eight hours. Tomas Tatar looks like he'll be a healthy scratch yet again, in favour of players worse than him. Over the last month, a lot has been talked about Tatar and his value and what he's done in the playoffs. A couple things about that.

First, Tatar, in these playoffs, has over double the 5-on-5 points rate of Paul Byron and Josh Anderson, while Jake Evans doesn't even have a point. So, if the argument for scratching Tatar is that he hasn't been productive enough, why are Byron and Anderson still in the lineup? Why are they itching to get Evans back in the lineup when he's healthy?

Ok maybe it's something other than production. What about defensive ability? Well, his line with Gallagher/Danault posted a 44.4 expected goal share against the Leafs, and that's not good. But we have to remember that they were matched against the Matthews line, and going nearly 45 percent against the Matthews line is good work. The Habs scored one goal with Tatar on the ice and allowed one goal. Breaking even against Hyman-Matthews-Marner? Is that supposed to be bad? Even just looking individually, in the five games Tatar played, the team had a 1.75 expected goals against rate per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, and 1.08 actual goals against. Paul Byron, conversely, was on the ice for 4.09 expected goals against per 60 in those five games, and a whopping 5.29 actual goals against per 60. So if it's defensive performance, what gives? (Arturri Lehkonen's numbers were similarly awful.)

So it's not offensive production and it's not poor defence. What is it?

Anyway, this is a guy with a long history of not only being good in this league, but also forming what is arguably the best 5-on-5 line in hockey with Danault and Gallagher. And despite a down-turn in production, he's still out-producing players that are replacing him in the lineup.

So, when I say that we're at the mercy of coaches, this is what I mean. It doesn't have to be 5-on-5, either, as limited power-play minutes is one of the most frustrating thing about owning a potentially elite fantasy option; say hi to Nikolaj Ehlers, everyone.

And it's an important concept to keep in mind as we round into any fantasy season. Maybe it's a bit early to be talking about all this right now, and we can do all the projecting we want, but what the roles are wh