January 1, 2016

by steve laidlaw on January 1, 2016

Is Tavares due for a big second half? The importance of Letang. Eichel a top shooter. And more.

John Tavares ends 2015 with points in two straight, which shouldn’t be notable but totally is because of how the star has struggled. 28 points in 35 games with three missed games is how he will go into the second half, which is extremely disappointing considering how Tavares closed last season 54 points in his last 45 games.

That raised an interesting question for me: does Tavares always start slow? Check out his career monthly splits:

 

Games

Points

Per Game

October

62

65

1.05

November

79

58

0.73

December

81

63

0.78

January

75

86

1.15

February

66

58

0.88

March

71

61

0.86

April

32

37

1.16

 

There isn’t a ton there but it is notable that November and December have been his worst months. Perhaps something to hang your hat on heading into the New Year.

I look at what a struggle offense has been for the Islanders all season and really question Tavares’ chances of emerging in the second half. He is elite but the Islanders have been playing so darned conservative that it’s tough to see where the offensive break comes from.

Last season the Islanders were one of the most wide-open/high flying teams in the league, now it seems they are intent to play the dump game, clog the neutral zone and get into rock fights. It’s as though Jack Capuano has been possessed by the spirit of Ken Hitchcock, except Hitchcock is still very much running things for the Blues.

The effect is that this team goes from having multiple 80-point threats to maybe not having a single player clear 70, which is a fantasy hockey nightmare. It’s great for the goalies though.

By the way, some good news for Jaroslav Halak owners as the Islanders netminder practiced yesterday. Thomas Greiss has performed well enough that there is no need to rush Halak back though. 42 saves for Greiss to hang on for the win.

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Evander Kane continues to be a rubber flinger of the highest order. 22 shots in the last four games. Only one goal in that stretch though.

Also flinging rubber? Jack Eichel, with 19 shots in the last four games. The Sabres have really been pressing of late. Eichel at least ends 2015 with nine points in his last six games but as I said yesterday, a good chunk of that came in that four-assist game so this isn’t necessarily something that gets built on.

Only nine players have fired more shots than Eichel so far this season. That's why I can't let him go in my one-year league. Well that and a dearth of juicy options on the waiver wire.

I continue to like what I have seen from Zemgus Girgensons skating on Eichel’s wing. No points but four shots for the Latvian.

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Last night was a clear indication of Kris Letang’s importance to the Pittsburgh offense as he factored in on both of their power-play goals to jump start the offense. He added an empty-netter to end the game. Full stat line for Letang: two goals, one assist, six PIM, five SOG, four hits, three blocks. Imagine if he could stay healthy.

Also getting in on the act were Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist with three points apiece. Hornqvist continues to have a spot on the Penguins’ top power-play unit so one can only assume the points will come eventually. He continues to shoot like a mad man so with any luck (and he hasn’t had much) Hornqvist will start producing.

I think most folks drafted Hornqvist figuring 55 points was the bare minimum but he’d have to go point-per-game the rest of the way to do that. Let’s aim lower. Say 28 points in the second half. That gives him 43 for the season, which ain’t great but 28 in the second half is awesome. Consider that 28 points puts you in the top 50 scorers right now.

All of this assumes Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Letang all stay healthy in the second half, which we can’t just assume will happen. By the way, Crosby now has 18 points in his last 18 games. I’m having fun tracking this.

I had some concerns about Nick Bonino as he was cross-checked in the back and left holding his shoulder but he wound up finishing the game. Even got an assist on the empty-netter. Not much relevance in Bonino any more as he is firmly on the third line and second power-play unit but he is still valuable in rotisserie leagues as he is one of the top shot-blocking forwards in the league with nearly a block per game. Sneaky value in the right format.

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Tomas Tatar briefly made an appearance on the scoresheet for Detroit but his assist was eventually transferred to Gustav Nyquist. Both players could have used it as they each had just two points in the past 10 games. Now Tatar is at two in 11, while Nyquist is at three in 11. Tough times.

These two have basically become third liners for the Red Wings. Though Detroit does a good job of rolling their top three lines and both of their power-play units, this still isn’t an optimal situation. I’ll go back to the well with another Hitchcock comparison. This is quite reminiscent of how the Blues rolled their lines up until this season. The result is a whole bunch of moderately effective fantasy players, which sucks because I had both Tatar and Nyquist pegged for big seasons.

This slump won’t continue forever. They’ll have a hot streak but in the end this probably finishes with 45-55 points once again when I had dreams of 60-70.

Dylan Larkin, continues to impress. He has certainly slowed down with just seven points in 12 games in December but I don’t know that the rookie will hit a wall. He can tear a team to shreds with his speed at any moment. It’s that type of game-breaking ability that prevents slumps from going too long.

Niklas Kronwall is quite evidently in decline but he has scored eight points in 14 December games so there is still some value to be found. A point every other game from here on out leaves him in the mid to high 30’s, which ain’t bad for a defenseman.

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Don’t look now but Eric Staal has six points in his last five games and is now on pace for 52 points. Oh wait, that’s still disappointing as hell.

Jeff Skinner ends December with a goal. Final December numbers: 10 goals, 13 points and 39 SOG in 14 games. The line of Skinner, Victor Rask and Philippe Di Giuseppe continues to produce.

Eddie Lack now has four wins in his last five games. I still want no part of this guy but he seems to be turning a corner.

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After a scare the previous night Nicklas Backstrom was in action for the Capitals. He even scored a goal showing no wear and tear.

Strong performance from Philipp Grubauer in the loss stopping 33 of 36 shots but he is no Braden Holtby.

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It’s not like we were completely without stars in this contest but with the Blues absent Vladimir Tarasenko because of the flu and Zach Parise missing for the Wild due to his unspecified lower-body injury we were absent quite a bit of scoring.

It feels like Paul Stastny might have waited until Tarasenko sat out to finally score a point but actually he scored in the previous game as well. He is really having a poor season though. Everyone assumed taking over top line duties with Tarasenko and Alexander Steen would vault Stastny back to star production but it just hasn’t happened.

Can you believe Stastny is making $7 million a year? For what he’s producing, Stastny should be getting closer to $3-4 million. On the plus side, while the Blues may have overpaid in terms of pure dollars, they didn’t commit to Stastny long term. With just two years remaining on his deal, Stastny is by no means an anchor. He’ll be 32 when he re-enters free agency.

For Stastny’s sake, there is plenty of time left for him to recoup his value and land another big UFA contract when this one is up. The Blues would love nothing more than for that to happen because it would mean a good return on their investment. Doesn’t look promising.

Steen, by the way, is having his best season yet. Injuries are always a concern, of course, but with 35 points through his first 40 games, Steen is on pace for his first 70 point season. Who thinks he gets there? The smart money says he misses about 10 games and finishes with between 60 and 65 points because that’s basically what he has done the past two seasons.

Jori Lehtera opened the season with seven points in his first nine games and has just eight points in 31 games since. Third line duties are not treating him well.

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Without Parise, the Wild turned to their depth scorers for help and luckily for them, those depth scorers have been hot.

Charlie Coyle jumped onto the second line with Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker, notching an assist. That gives Coyle six points in his last seven games.

Hotter still is Nino Niederreiter. Despite being stuck on the third line, Niederreiter has eight points in the last eight games with no signs of jumping up in the lineup. This is Niederreiter’s fourth full season in the NHL so the time is now for a breakout. His deployment isn’t quite there yet so Niederreiter will likely have his third straight mid-30’s season for the Wild but he showing flashes.

Remember when Ryan Suter was on pace for 70 points? Me neither. Suter is scoreless in six straight and has scored in just three of 14 games in December for a total of four points. That’s super-regression right there.

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Another guy hit by the flu: Tyson Barrie. He sat out last night. That made for a good evening for Erik Johnson who scored a goal and an assist. Johnson and Francois Beauchemin skated some huge minutes as their game went into overtime. Over 56 minutes combined.

Johnson has actually been on a mini hot streak with six points in the last five games. Hard to say that this is for real though, especially with how much he has struggled. Seven goals for Johnson already, which is high but not necessarily out of the norm. Johnson did have 12 goals in just 47 games last season and has 28 goals in his last 165 games. Clearly a defenseman who can fill it up. Just not having much luck with assists.

Tell me if you see a correlation here:

Carl Soderberg placed on top power-play unit.

Carl Soderberg scores power-play goals in back-to-back games.

Not rocket science.

Of course, skating on the power-play doesn’t guarantee success but it does open up the possibility for success and Soderberg is making good. Could be a nice waiver grab.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene are languishing on the second PP unit. Not sure I agree with the strategy as a whole.

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Nothing like a trip through Alberta to cure what ails you. The Ducks, and more specifically, John Gibson, have won three straight, two by shutout. Gibson needed to make just 35 saves combined for those two shutouts. But no one in Anaheim is complaining. That’s good team defense.

Gibson is grabbing a thorough hold on the crease but given their desperate situation this is really more of a win and you’re in situation. I’m still partial to Freddie Andersen but Bruce Boudreau is just going to take whoever gives him a shot at the double-u.

I’d forgotten about this until now but Boudreau has a well-documented history of riding the hot hand. For instance, when he went with a rookie Semyon Varlamov over Jose Theodore in the ’09 playoffs. Or when he went with Michal Neuvirth over Varlamov in the ’11 playoffs. Or when he stuck with Neuvirth over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun the following season, which ultimately saw him fired. That was just his four glorious years in Washington. The list goes on with his tenure in Anaheim.

So yes, if you want to be invested in Anaheim goaltending, you probably need to own both Gibson and Andersen. And yes, I feel silly for only coming to this conclusion now.

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We are really starting to see teams focus their defensive efforts on slowing down Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl. It’s working too as they each have just one assist in the past four games. Some of this is tough matchups and maybe a little bit of puck luck but the regression has finally come for Draisaitl. That’s okay, he’s pretty clearly a stud. The next step is proving he can bring it even when teams are gunning for him.

It will likely help when Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov get healthy. A third scoring line to throw at opponents makes it more difficult to key on any one group. Theoretically that is the case, anyhow.

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Cool look from Rob Vollman at why Jarome Iginla is one of the best goal scorers of all time:

Consistency has been a key factor in Iginla's success. From 2000-01 and 2011-12, Iginla had 11 straight 30-goal seasons. The streak was broken by the 48-game 2012-13 season, after which he scored 30 goals once more, with the Boston Bruins. Given that he had a 28-goal and a 29-goal season immediately before the streak, and a 29-goal season immediately after his season with Boston, Iginla wasn't very far removed from breaking the NHL record of 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons, shared by Mike Gartner and Jagr.

Former superstars who hang on and maintain fantasy value are fantasy gold. A lot of folks think that the way to get ahead is to nail the breakout stars of that season. That is certainly one strategy but nailing the quality vets that everyone passes on because they are “too old” is another strategy. Sure, you can wind up with a dud like Vinny Lecavalier but when you nail a guy like Iginla or Jagr it’s just as valuable.

That said, the bubble appears to have finally popped for Iginla as he has been more Heatley than Selanne this season.

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Brendan Gallagher will make his return at the Winter Classic today. As such, Sven Andrighetto has been sent back to the AHL. I was hopeful that Andrighetto would have a big impact filling in for Gallagher but it seems no one can step into those shoes. Gallagher really makes the Habs’ offense click.

That said, Gallagher doesn’t really buy the narrative that he is the team’s engine:

“In no way do I think I'm the answer. I want to be part of the solution.”

But that’s what you are supposed to say. Whether he is the answer or merely part of the solution, I fully expect Montreal to start rolling again.

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Some Bruin news to report as they have recalled Alexander Khokhlachev and sent Colin Miller down to the minors. We’ve seen Khokhlachev get called up and not make an impact enough times that I’m not getting overexcited.

It is disappointing to see Miller sent down. I thought he was part of the Bruins discovering a new high-scoring identity powered by adding a little more skill and puck-moving on the back end. Miller has been scratched the past couple of games so we have been trending this way for a little while.

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Sprained knee for Matt Calvert will cost him four weeks.

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Dale Tallon has been extended for three more years by the Florida Panthers. Not much fantasy relevance in this but Tallon has done an excellent job as GM, first in laying the groundwork for what has become a dynasty in Chicago and now rebuilding the Panthers into what has become an extremely competitive young team.

Full marks to Tallon for bringing in key veterans like Brian Campbell, Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr that no one really wanted at their price tag any more. A lot of experience in that group to help the youngsters. I’m not so sure about the Dave Bolland contract but even the best GM’s make mistakes.

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That’s it for 2015! It was a great year, for me personally and professionally. Not everything has gone as I hoped or as I planned. I loved and I lost but I had a hell of a time doing it. Life is fun and I am tremendously blessed to have the privileges that I do.

Writing in this space is tremendously humbling. You guys demand a certain standard of excellence and I do my best to deliver. I really value the challenge and the feedback, both positive and negative. I didn’t always but that’s where the humbling kicks in. When constantly making projections, and subjecting them to scrutiny only to frequently be proven wrong, there is no room for ego in this. There is only room for learning. I hope you guys learn as much as I do from these ramblings.

Best of luck to you in 2016. It’s going to be another great year. I’m not sure how many of you are New Year’s resolution type folks but I’m not. I am always striving to get better, rather than relying on the demarcation of another trip around the sun to get me started. It’s like former NFL coach Jon Gruden once said,

“You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.”

Ain’t that the truth. Let’s all get better together.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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For more help in your fantasy hockey pool in the second half of the season pick up the Dobber Hockey Mid-Season Guide for $9.99. The Mid-Season Guide will be out January 8th.

You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.