21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles

by Mario Prata on June 23, 2019

Every Sunday, we'll share 21 Fantasy Rambles – formerly 20 Fantasy Thoughts – from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's ‘Daily Ramblings’.

Writers: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, Cam Robinson, and Dobber

 

1. If you were hoping for some unpredictability with the order of the NHL Draft’s first-round picks, you weren’t disappointed on Friday. However, if you were looking for some significant trades or just simply the nasally voice of Gary Bettman stating “We have a trade to announce!” then you were left wanting more. We had to wait one more day for some deals.

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were drafted 1-2 by the Devils and Rangers, respectively, just as we all expected. Let the comparisons begin. Who’s the better bet for your fantasy team? Well, pick up your Prospects Report and you’ll find out lots more. If you have yours already, you can now compare the actual results of the draft to the pre-draft rankings and mock drafts.

One big surprise was the selection of Kirby Dach at number three by the Blackhawks. I don't believe Dach was listed in the top-5 of many mock drafts, but the Hawks obviously valued his upside as a potential No.1 center. Another surprise (at least in the first half of the first round) was the number of blueliners picked. In a draft year that wasn’t considered overly deep on defense, five of them were chosen within the top-15. Many mock drafts might have had only three in the first 15. (june22)

 

2. One pick of interest locally was Vancouver Giants’ defenseman Bowen Byram, who was the first d-man chosen, going fourth overall to the Avalanche. I had a thought that Byram could fall as far as sixth, given the needs and perceived interests of the teams drafting third, fourth, and fifth. The Avalanche already appear stockpiled with young promising blueliners such as Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, and Connor Timmins, so I’m a bit surprised that they went with Byram, in spite of his growing upside.

Immediately following the Byram pick, there was plenty of buzz that a Tyson Barrie trade was imminent (especially from Canucks’ fans). With a year left on his contract, Barrie seems like trade bait at this point. However, would one of Makar or Girard be ready to step into a PP1 role for a team that looks ready to take the next step? As for Byram, junior hockey fans in the Lower Mainland should safely assume that he’ll be back with the Giants in 2019-20. (june22)

 

3. If Kaapo Kakko is in fact NHL-ready, the Rangers could potentially throw him on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider at some point during the season. However, Kreider’s name has been on the trading block recently. Kreider has just a year left on his contract but the Jacob Trouba trade plus any potential free agent acquisitions (Artemi Panarin?) could fast-track that rebuild. Like there is on many non-playoff teams, there’s opportunity for blue-chip prospects right off the hop. If Vitali Kravtsov is also a top-6 center going forward, then he is also a potential linemate for Kakko.

Players such as Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey and even Pavel Buchnevich could find their top-6 and power-play ice time eventually reduced with the Kakko acquisition. These are players that Rangers’ veteran beat writer Larry Brooks describes as endangered species. For now they are probably safe, but their days could be numbered when the youth movement of Kakko, Kravtsov, Filip Chytil, and Lias Andersson is finally ready to take over. (june22)

 

4. Was there a team out there that had a better Draft weekend than the New Jersey Devils? They followed up their first overall pick of Jack Hughes with a trade for P.K. Subban. Sure, they’re picking up all of Subban’s $9 million salary, but the cost for the player didn’t seem all that high. In addition, the Hughes and Subban acquisitions legitimize New Jersey as a place to stay for Taylor Hall, who has one year left on his contract. As for Nashville, they achieved their objective of a salary dump but now they need to put that cap space to good use on July 1.

In case you’re reading the Subban take and wondering how his own fantasy value will be affected, I would say not so much by the deal. It might improve a little, based on the fact that he will be going to a slightly (although not drastically) better power play. However, any bounceback from Subban will have less to do with the team and more to do with the player. I don’t think the projections are going to be a whole lot different. In my opinion, his point total (barring injury) will vary from anywhere between about 45 to 65 points, regardless of the team he plays for. (june23)

 

5. Then there was the J.T. Miller trade to Vancouver. Canucks’ fans are obviously screaming mad about losing a non-lottery-protected first-round pick, so Jim Benning must feel confident about the Canucks’ chances of making the playoffs over the next two years. Or, perhaps even this year, so that he’ll be able to save his job (he has one year left on his contract). But as a Canucks’ fan, yes, this trade makes me nervous. Even if they’ve added the top-6 winger that they set out to acquire and are now focusing on adding a top-4 defenseman. As I start to think about the deal and what could follow, though, I’m having an easier time with it. Teams can’t be in perpetual rebuild mode forward. Eventually, they have to try to take a step forward. Anyway, you can have a look at the fantasy take here. (june23)

 

6. I see the Jacob Trouba trade as a nice opportunity for former AHL Defenseman of the Year, Sami Niku. The 22-year-old doesn’t immediately jump up the lineup with the departure of the right-shot Trouba, but it does move him up the power-play pecking order.

With Tyler Myers potentially leaving on July 1 (for far more money and term than he should receive), suddenly Niku is the third offensive defenseman option for the Jets. That will all but assure him consistent PP2 time and the potential to see that top squad if (when) Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey go down with their annual injuries. (june19)

 

7. I feel pretty confident saying Jesse Puljujarvi is going to flourish elsewhere. He was good for the Oilers when he wasn’t chained to the atrocity they called a bottom-6, not to mention he fought injuries, as well. I’m excited to see who trades for him. (june20)

 

8. We can take another potential free agent off the board as Alex Edler signed a two-year, $12-million extension with Vancouver. The 33-year old blue liner had 34 points in 56 games last year with the Canucks.

Obviously, injuries are the concern. He’s averaged 64 games per season since the 2013 lockout year and has missed at least 12 games in four straight seasons. When he’s on the ice, he can be a decent second-pair guy who is very good on the power play. That’s probably worth $6-million a season on a short-term deal. It’s just a question of whether he can stay on the ice for 75 games. (june21)

 

9. Now, one season does not make a pattern but given how much discussion there’s been publicly about controlling goalie starts, I feel comfortable saying that’s the direction the league is moving. And when we get to an even higher threshold, say 65 starts, we only had one goalie get there in 2018-19 (Devan Dubnyk) compared to six in 2014-15. With the success of the Islanders, Hurricanes and Bruins, there will be even more public discussion about it.

Of course, a lot depends on the two goalies. If Bruins’ Jaroslav Halak is posting a .902 save percentage rather than .922, does he get 40 appearances and 37 starts? Sometimes you end up with a situation like the Islanders, in which case it doesn’t really matter which goalie starts, or sometimes you end up with a situation like the Panthers, in which case it doesn’t really matter which goalie starts, though not for the same reasons.

I know this might seem like an obvious observation to make, but games played affects everything for a goalie. It affects wins (only 10 goalies had 30 wins in 2018-19, down from 12 the year before and 14 the year before that) to shutouts, and to your ratios as well; a .925 save percentage in 45 games is not as impactful as a .925 save percentage in 55 games. Not to mention leagues where saves are counted rather than using save percentage. Games played is crucial for fantasy value among goalies, especially where options are limited and you can’t run to the waiver wire to cover like with a defenseman or forward.

One thing I do appreciate about this approach is that it changes fantasy draft strategy. There may be only 10 goalies who get 55 starts next year. Does that make people more aggressive for guys like Frederik Andersen, or John Gibson? Or do people get nervous that those teams will adopt those policies as well, driving down their draft-day price? I’ve usually been a guy who has waited on goaltending but this could change things for me. (june20)

 

10. In buying out Corey Perry from his contract, the Ducks will save six million in cap space this year, two million next year, and then carry two million in dead money the year after. Perry has fought injuries the last two years especially, managing just 23 goals and 59 points in 102 games. He turned 34 in May.

This is one of those cases where it’s easy to forget just how good he was. Individually, Perry has a Hart Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy, multiple All-Star nods, and has the 10th-most goals since the 2005 lockout. He also has a Stanley Cup, a World Junior title, Olympic gold, and a World Cup. It’s a distinguished career that probably won’t get him to the Hall of Fame but will have him in the conversation of the next tier below.

Where he ends up is to be determined but he’s a guy I see in a team’s bottom-6 with top PP minutes. He can’t play a top-line role anymore and teams would do well to recognize that. Maybe he latches on somewhere to chase another Cup, or maybe it’s to get one last payday. I doubt he has much fantasy value outside of deep leagues regardless, but let’s wait and see where he lands. (june20)

 

11. Kevin Hayes inked a seven-year deal for 50 million (7.14 per) with Philadelphia on Tuesday. That is a MONSTER contract for the big center. One that will surely afford him consistent offensive minutes in the City of Brotherly Love.

He won't be pushing out Sean Couturier though, so his wingers will likely still be secondary. And also, that's a ton of dough for a player who didn't impact the game all the well while playing with high-end skaters in Winnipeg down the stretch. Philly is swinging hard on his upside. (june19)

 

12. Over in the rumour mill, apparently, Buffalo is opening the phone lines and listening to offers on Rasmus Ristolainen. Depending on the cost of acquisition, Risto could provide a club with a unique skill set – so long as he's deployed appropriately.

The 24-year-old has only played one season above a 50-percent ozone start average. Last year he saw just 44 percent of his starts at the fun end of the rink. That's ludacris to me. Ristolainen is consistently buried at even-strength. With the arrival of Rasmus Dahlin last season, Risto saw his power play ice dip by 40 seconds per contest. He was often found on the second unit. This negatively affected what could have been a career season.

If Ristolainen does find himself on the move, one would likely expect (hope) his new club would place him in positions to succeed. That means a healthy dose of offensive zone starts and a gig on the team's top power-play unit. The blocks may dip for you multicategory folks, as he shouldn't be eating biscuits all night in the d-zone, but his offensive value should improve. (june19)

 

13. One player whose season I found very fascinating was Jamie Benn’s. His 53 points were the lowest for him in an 82-game season since his rookie 2009-10 campaign while shots per game rate (2.42) was also his lowest since that rookie year. He will be turning 30 years old in July, so I certainly understand people having a very conservative outlook for him moving forward.

In sum, there are some definite causes for concern. The shot rates are down and his declined usage on the top line is worrisome. He’s also going to be 30 years old with 10 years in the league as a power forward. When the decline really hits, it will be steep and merciless.

But 30 years old is still young enough for me to take a gamble at the draft table. Depending where you drafted and what type of league, Benn was likely a mid-second to mid-third round pick last September. People will be scared off by the 53-point season but the savvy fantasy owner will know that if he can stave off the shot decline, the rebound in PP assists could see him back over the 60-point mark yet again, even if he’s not attached at the hip with Seguin. I imagine they’ll look to sign an impact winger, whether it’s Mats Zuccarello or someone else, and that’ll make a difference at 5v5 as well. I think the 40-goal, 80-point seasons for Benn are a thing of the past, but what he offers across the board in roto leagues means I’m fine drafting him in the fourth or fifth round should he drop that far by ADP. (june18)

 

14. Dallas Eakins was announced as the new coach for the Anaheim Ducks on Monday. You’ll remember that Randy Carlyle was fired during the season and Bob Murray took over on an interim basis. You can read Ian’s take on the hiring here.

I’ve long been a fan of Eakins, going back to his pre-Edmonton days. To me, he’s a guy who can think differently about the game and try to find edges for his players that can add up over the course of a season. He’ll have a good mix of veterans like Ryan Getzlaf and Cam Fowler with young up-and-comers like Troy Terry and Max Comtois. There is also John Gibson in net. The team has some work to do this off-season but I’m kind of optimistic for Anaheim. (june18)

 

15. Anthony Duclair has re-signed with the Ottawa Senators. (Slowly but surely, they’re making their way to the cap floor.) I still don’t think he’s anything more than some bottom-6 scoring depth but it’s a nice signing for the Sens. Before trying to extrapolate from his stint with the Sens last year, keep in mind that he was still playing under 14 minutes a game on a bare-bones roster. Don’t get too excited about a potential breakout just yet. (june18)

 

16. I didn’t get the impression that St. Louis won with grit and size, I don’t know why people keep saying that. It was a deep, talented team that many people liked for success last summer, but had written off by December (as I did). But the team came together, the new coaching system worked, and they got above-average goaltending. With a team like that, all they needed was ‘above average’. They weren’t getting that from Jake Allen. Bottom line is: Tampa Bay would have had them for dinner. Probably a couple of other teams, as well. I don’t think there will be copycats over this one. If they repeat as champions, that’s another story. (june17)

 

17. I think Nashville got a great deal from Tampa Bay last week when they landed goaltending prospect Connor Ingram for a mere seventh-round draft pick in 2021. In my fantasy leagues, that’s as low a return as you could offer – a pick in the final round in a future year. I honestly don’t understand why they did that. Best guess – it was a trade demand.

The Lightning have three prospect goalies in their system now and none of them are anywhere remotely close to playing in the NHL even three years from now. And frankly, they each look pretty doubtful. Meanwhile, Ingram has been great. He was a third-round draft pick (88th overall in 2016), was a success in the WHL and has transitioned nicely into both the ECHL and AHL.

As I noted in the Fantasy Prospects Report, his lowest SV% in any league over the last four years was 0.914 and that was as a rookie-pro back in 2017-18. He’s been clutch in the postseason, too. In the FPR, we rated him a potential star starting goalie. To me, this seems like highway robbery for the Predators. I can see Ingram backing up Juuse Saros in two years, possibly three. (june17)

 

18. Columbus is in one of the best spots in terms of cap space right now and they just signed a 25-year-old Swedish free agent named Jakob Lilja to an entry-level contract. Jokke spoke of Lilja here back in January, suggesting he could find a home on a third line at some point. The SHL is a low-scoring league, so Lilja’s 37 points in 52 games led Djurgardens in scoring. His linemate, Blue Jackets prospect Emil Bemstrom, is obviously the big reason why he caught the eye of Columbus scouts. Not draftable, just notable. (june17)

 

19. Carl Hagelin re-signed with the Caps for four years at $2.75 million AAV. Kudos to his agent. I think this was a worthy cap price. He’ll be 31 in the fall and 34 in the final year of his deal. I’m not the biggest Hagelin fan out there and I don’t think he’ll be more than a fringe NHLer by the last year of this contract, but I think this was actually a good signing. The Caps need cheap experienced bodies filling their depth lines and he slots in there nicely and adds speed. If the Caps re-sign Brett Connolly, they can keep that third line together of Connolly, Lars Eller and Hagelin.

That being said, I think Connolly could sign for big bucks, get thrust into a bigger role than his ability, and that would act as a drag upwards on his production, pushing him into the low-50s for the first time in his career. That’s where I see Connolly. He’s 27, is a former sixth-overall pick, and with almost zero power-play help he had 22 goals and 46 points. It will be slightly less than that if he stays in Washington, but as I said already – on a new team with a juicy contract he tops 50. This is one case (maybe the only case this year?) where a ‘contract year’ boost isn’t an illusion. (june17)

 

20. In cap leagues, I doubt that Erik Karlsson’s new eight-year, $11.5-million AAV deal with the Sharks will be a contract worth drafting. He doesn’t provide hits, his blocked shot rates have declined two straight years (justifiably), and he doesn’t provide penalty minutes. You’re banking on points and shots, and in multi-category cap leagues, that isn’t enough to justify that heavy of a cap hit.

Not really a lot to say here from my end on the contract itself. Pay your superstars and figure the rest out later. (june18)

 

21. The Athletic’s Dallas Stars beat writer, Sean Shapiro, got an update on defenseman Stephen Johns. The 27-year old blue liner missed the entire 2018-19 season with lingering concussion issues and when a guy misses an entire season, it really is a big concern.

The good news is he has been skating and, “He feels much better, he looks like himself and he sounds like himself.” There is still no definitive answer on when/if he’ll return, but that there is a positive update such as this can only be a good sign.

Johns, though limited to just 150 regular season games in Dallas for his career, is a good defensive defenseman in the real world, and puts up monster peripherals in the fantasy game. It would be a huge boost to fantasy owners and Stars fans alike were he to return.

There are bridges to cross before we start thinking in those terms, though. First, he needs to get healthy and try to ensure he’s fully recovered. Let’s hope for that and then go from there. (june21)

 

Have a good week, folks!!