November 12, 2015

by steve laidlaw on November 12, 2015

What to expect from Letang, Perry rolling, Draisaitl hot, the latest in Daily Fantasy and more…

Sorry to keep inundating you with daily fantasy stuff but the hits keep on coming. Word is that the Canadian Gaming Association has found a legal opinion claiming that daily fantasy sports are illegal. What comes out of this, no one knows but it is pretty clear that around North America the stakeholders in gambling – casinos, lotteries, etc. – are not happy with the massive amounts of cash Draft Kings and Fan Duel are raking in. Gambling is their turf and they want their piece of the pie. They will be calling in all of their political favours to get daily fantasy classified as gambling so the money starts heading back their way.

I have been diving into daily fantasy hockey on Draft Kings recently. It feels like my responsibility as someone heavily involved in the fantasy industry. Even with all the forces mounting against daily fantasy there is still a ton of momentum driving it forward. It is where the industry is headed. Who is in charge of daily fantasy might shift but it is clear that there is a buck to be made. And if the local governments are going to be really obtuse about it, then the companies will just move overseas. It is already an Internet driven industry so it doesn’t have to be centralized in North America even if the leagues themselves are.

I have been fortunate enough to win more than I have lost in the past couple of weeks but I am not sure if that is good luck or some inherent skill on my part. The only real strategy I have employed is making sure to have Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in my lineup any time they are playing and to use Goalie Post to identify who the starters for that day are and pick the cheapest one with a favourable matchup.

It seems that the real way to make money is to download the available players and their prices into a spreadsheet and map out the best possible roster with formulas and projections, etc. but I am seeing how well I can do based on “intuition”.

All I can say for sure is that it is pretty entertaining but maybe I would have a different outlook if I was losing.

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Mike Condon just had his toughest outing of the season, allowing three goals for the first time at the NHL level. He was beaten on a number of other tries with the Penguins ringing the post four separate times including a glorious chance for Kris Letang in overtime.

Condon ultimately took the loss in the shootout. He was good enough to get the game there but there are suddenly some chinks in the armor.

Some brief scares for the Canadiens on the injury front as both Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise had to go to the locker room to check on injuries. Ultimately they both returned but we shall see if this is enough to slow those two down. At one point it was looking like the return of Alex Semin would be imminent.

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There was also a scary moment on the Pittsburgh side as Marc-Andre Fleury took a stick to the face from Ben Lovejoy, forcing him from the game briefly to deal with a cut under the eye.

Lovejoy, coincidentally, was the one who felled Weise and Gallagher with an accidental chop block and a slap shot to the foot respectively. He was just a menace last night, dishing out seven hits.

The top hitter on the Penguins so far is Chris Kunitz. I suppose if he cannot score any more he is trying to make an impact physically. This trend began last season as he upped his hits to a career high 211. This season he is on pace for 284 hits, a nearly hit-per-game leap. So there is some value lingering here in rotisserie leagues.

Good to see Pascal Dupuis score in his return to the lineup. He was skating on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Beau Bennett. This could be a nice spot for Bennett, at least until his next injury.

Phil Kessel is on a four-game scoring streak. I am not certain that he is officially rolling but he looks pretty good. It is frustrating to watch him on the Penguins’ power play. You would figure as a big shooter and right-handed shot he would be the perfect fit in the Ovechkin/Stamkos spot in the left slot but he cannot shoot a one-timer. He is worse at it than James Neal and Neal would manage to get it off receiving the puck across his body as a left-hander.

It just seems like if you cannot shoot a one-timer you have no business playing a perimeter role on the power play and it is infuriating to see how many teams continue to utilize players in big shooting spots who are not capable of doing so.

Seven SOG for Kessel last night though so he is doing something right.

Patric Hornqvist also had seven SOG and found his third goal of the season. He is skating on the third line with Kunitz and Nick Bonino but is also getting minutes on the top PP unit so he still has plenty of value.

Lots of folks wondering what to do with Letang. He has always been a big minute muncher but it seems like this season he is getting dragged into the Drew Doughty realm where he has to do so much heavy lifting that his numbers take a tumble. It does not help that he is stuck skating with Ian Cole who is just plain struggling. I like Cole but he is not ready for this role.

One thing Letang owners can be hopeful about is a little bit of puck luck. As mentioned, Letang hit the post in overtime. He is shooting 2.7%, which is half his usual shooting percentage. His 5on5 on-ice shooting percentage is even worse sitting at a ghastly 2.3%. A little bit more puck luck and he kicks it up closer to a 50-point pace.

You almost might think that with the power play struggling that Letang could get a boost there but thus far he has found his power-play points. With four PPP over half of his scoring has come with the man advantage. That may kick up even higher but not too much.

Unless the Penguins get some help on defense it is tough to see Letang pushing more than a 50-point pace. That is a scary notion for owners since we have not yet mentioned injuries. Knock on wood. Letang has missed an average of 25 games the past four seasons.

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Leon Draisaitl is proving to be quite the fantasy producer. After another three-point effort Draisaitl is up to 10 points in just six games. He will slow down but to what extent is debatable. They have shifted him back to wing alongside Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, to form a line that is absolutely schooling foes.

Draisaitl just looks more comfortable skating on the wing, where he has fewer responsibilities and can instead focus on getting to the dirty areas and using his size/strength.

Some of the points Draisaitl is getting, you might suspect Jordan Eberle would have gotten in earlier years. But he is not yet up to speed coming back from injury and is instead skating on the third line with Anton Lander and Teddy Purcell. Eberle is skating on the top PP unit though so he will get his.

There was some post-game concern that Eberle had reinjured his shoulder taking a fall on his last shift but as of yet there is no news of injury. I digress…

That Draisaitl is only skating on the second PP unit is a knock against his upside for this season. It is hard to see where he cracks the Oilers’ top unit, though Purcell is a notable outlier on that unit.

A word of caution: it is easy to get carried away with youngsters when they produce early on. Remember when Dylan Larkin was a point per game? Me neither. I still think Draisaitl caps out at 40 points but I’ll be the first to admit fault if he blows past that.

Nail Yakupov has one point in three games since McDangles went down. The slowdown was inevitable. He probably scores at a 40-point pace from here on out.

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Corey Perry has the lid off, ladies and gentlemen. Two goals last night to double his season output and thrust him into first on the Ducks with four goals. Anyone want to bet he doesn’t relinquish that lead the rest of the season?

No points for Getzlaf but that was just happenstance. These two are rolling now.

Joining Getzlaf and Perry was Rickard Rakell who returned to the lineup after missing a couple of games due to injury. Rakell assisted on both Perry goals and looks like an intriguing addition though the Ducks only have one game left in this H2H week.

Patrick Maroon still skated on the top PP unit but it is starting to look like his time is up. So short-lived. But such is life with wingers on a Bruce Boudreau team. Rakell looks hot now, but like with Maroon, someone else will have that coveted top line spot by the time you are hanging Christmas ornaments.

Good bet Anton Khudobin gets the start on Friday with Freddie Andersen losing the last two games.

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It appears that David Pastrnak’s foot is broken, not just bruised. He was one of my favourites coming into the season based on his underlying numbers, including his rabid shot totals, as well as what would be a favourable deployment in the Bruin top six. It just hasn’t come together.

You can safely drop Pastrnak in one-year formats. He still has potential when he returns from injury but if you do not have room on the IR you probably are not losing out by dropping him.

Pastrnak is still someone to lust after in keeper leagues.

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Antoine Bibeau has been returned to the AHL so we know Jonathan Bernier will be back tomorrow. It seems as though James Reimer has done enough to hang onto the starting gig for the foreseeable future but with a back-to-back slated for Saturday and Sunday you have to figure we will see Bernier get his shot.

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The Hurricanes have re-assigned Brock McGinn to the AHL. He looked pretty good in my limited viewings.

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Less fantasy relevance with this injury but Kyle Quincey will miss about six weeks following ankle surgery.

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Some good stuff in this five-minute chat with Patrick Roy from Frank Seravelli including this tidbit on his creation of a superline:

Q: Matt Duchene now has five goals in his last five games. What was your idea behind putting Duchene on the right wing with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog?

Roy: “One thing I like is that it gives me the flexibility to play them a lot. They’re young and they have good legs. I’m sure they’re capable of eating a lot of minutes. The last game, we played back-to-back against Arizona and I used the three of them for an average of 22 or 23 minutes – just to show they’re capable of taking those minutes and playing hard.

If you own any of these guys you have to like the sounds of that. You just do not see forwards skating that kind of ice time regularly. It is a real chance for these guys to boost their numbers.

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Entertaining read on what appears to be an inevitable reduction in size of goalie equipment for next season:

One of the reasons — and this is truly rich — is that some goalies are starting to complain that the equipment is becoming the great equalizer. Now, average goalies are competing with above average ones, despite having less talent.

This part is truly interesting to me because it’s a theory that I don’t really buy. The athleticism goalies show on a nightly basis make ludicrous saves look routine. They are truly masters of their craft, studying angles and shooter tendencies, perfecting their subtle techniques. Their precise skating is almost as impressive ludicrous acrobatics required for the desperation saves that have now become common-place.

It isn’t just equipment that is helping goalies. Coaching, as well as a flood of elite athletes has helped to level playing field. There are still some plodders but those guys get exposed really easily and wash out fairly quickly. The only way they stick around is to improve, to adapt.

I’m glad there isn’t a direct quote to one player here because this notion of equipment as the equalizer stinks of elitism. As though goaltending isn’t a skill that requires hard work to develop. The best are the best because they perfect their talent.

It will be interesting to see how goalies adapt if the shrinking of equipment is significant. I would bet that it’s the goalies with this elitist mindset who ultimately falter.

There could be a really big adjustment period for everyone, including us in the fantasy hockey field. Who benefits most if goals suddenly shoot up to three per game, per team? Which goalies will remain elite? Will there be an eruption of goals early on until goalies adapt? Will the goalies competing at the World Cup of Hockey have an advantage or disadvantage?

They have mucked around with goalie equipment before, it did not halt the progress towards the athletic megalodons we see manning the crease for every NHL team today. We might see a small bump in scoring, especially early on but the goaltenders will adapt. Defenses will too.

More importantly, I am in the camp that the league does not need more scoring. When you move to increase scoring you are not necessarily addressing the real issue. If you want more scoring, what you really want is more entertaining games. For that you need more scoring chances, not more actual scoring.

Maybe reducing goalie equipment will open up enough of a sliver for the league’s top scorers to turn mundane situations into genuinely threatening opportunities. If that is the case, then maybe the game opens up.

Or perhaps the mere act of increasing scoring will cause more early deficits that will force coaches to employ riskier strategies in an attempt to mount a comeback, leading to more wide-open affairs. I don’t know.

What I do know is that today’s league is packed with more skilled players than ever before. The game is faster than ever. What happens if an increase in scoring just leads to a decrease in parity? Does that really help the game?

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Elliotte Friedman with some digs on the Patrick Marleau trade talks.

CSN’s Kevin Kurz reported Tuesday Marleau would waive for Anaheim, Los Angeles or the Rangers. There’s a better chance of me being Miss America than San Jose trading Marleau to the Kings. It’s my belief the Sharks and Rangers have talked, but the problem is not this year. It’s next season, when New York has to sign Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and JT Miller, even as Dan Boyle comes off the cap.

It is really tough to see the Sharks trading Marleau to any of the reported teams he’d be willing to go to. The safe bet is on him staying and when Logan Couture returns the Sharks maybe get rolling again. Their power play has DROWNED without Couture going just 2/30 with the two goals both coming against the Dallas Stars’ dreadful penalty kill.

Marleau, in particular, will benefit from Couture’s return as a direct linemate. Marleau started the season hot but has since cooled but his overall play has been elevated from last season’s disaster.

Marleau should also kick it up another notch when that power play gets going. He has averaged just shy of 25 PPP over the past four full NHL seasons. He is on pace for just 11 PPP but should easily finish with 20.

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Rich Chere asks if Eric Gelinas is still part of the future in New Jersey:

"I can bring some things that other players can't," Gelinas said. "The way I can shoot the puck is one of my strengths. It's probably one of the best shots in the league. If I can put everything together, I believe I am a key player. That's what they want me to be."

That is some strong self-praise but I view the confidence as a good thing. Still, I am not much of a believer in Gelinas for fantasy purposes. Maybe once he starts getting back into the regular lineup.

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The Score gives us five interesting stats to consider:

The New York Islanders' fourth line has 194 hits through 16 games.

Martin sits atop the league with 82 hits, Clutterbuck is a close second with 68, and Cizikas is 17th with 44. With a team-worst average of 11.6 minutes of ice time, the three forwards are making it their priority to hammer the opposition, solidifying the Islanders as one of the most physically draining teams to play against.

This is not news to experienced rotisserie competitors but we bring in new readers every day. Matt Martin can single-handedly win you the hits category if you happen to use it in your league. I believe he has led the league in hits for four years running, averaging 372 hits in the past three full NHL seasons.

What is great about Martin is that unlike other pure checkers he does not miss games due to injury or healthy scratches. Over the past four seasons Martin has missed just nine games total. That kind of dependability is hard to find.

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The Red Wings are on the verge of signing Justin Abdelkader to a fat seven-year ~28 million contract extension. Seems a tad on the high side both in term and in dollars but I suppose that this factors in an escalating cap situation.

Abdelkader will be 29 when this deal kicks in and will finish after he has turned 37. It is tough to watch how a similar player in Kunitz has fallen off after age 35 and not see the last couple of years of this contract as dubious for the Wings.

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Check out my latest Waiver Wednesday column giving you six players widely available in fantasy leagues.

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Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.