November 7, 2015

by steve laidlaw on November 7, 2015

Getzlaf returns and makes an immediate splash, Morgan Rielly's development, Panarin the Calder favourite, and more.

No Marian Hossa for the Blackhawks again last night as he continues to nurse a lower-body injury. That meant more top-six time for Teuvo Teravainen who has enjoyed a three-game scoring streak with Hossa out. The Blackhawks are hopeful for a return from Hossa soon so Teravainen doesn’t make the safest waiver pickup. He’s a cheap guy to grab in daily fantasy if you find out Hossa can’t play on Sunday.

I mused before last night’s action that Brent Seabrook was basically an automatic play based on his current run. Of course he was held scoreless for the first time since Duncan Keith want down, a seven-game scoring streak. Still a beauty but I’ve been saying it since Keith first got hurt, the run of productivity will dry up when Keith gets back. So sell high people!

The injuries are starting to pile up for the Blackhawks as Artem Anisimov sustained a lower-body injury and did not return. On the plus side, there seems to be some optimism that he’ll be able to play Sunday.

Andrew Shaw grabbed Anisimov’s spot on the second line so he might see a boost if the Russian centerman misses any more time.

Corey Crawford got yanked after the first giving up three goals on 13 shots. He’s had a tough run after giving up six to the Blues the other night. Wouldn’t shock me if Scott Darling, who stopped 12 of 13 in relief, got Sunday’s start. Obviously you’ll hit up Goalie Post to confirm but if you need a spot start, could be worth a move now to plan ahead.

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The Devils jumped on the Blackhawks early and we are getting close to the point where we should start taking some of their forwards seriously in fantasy.

Travis Zajac keeps on chugging along, up to six goals and 10 points after a two-point night. He’s shooting an absurd 33.3%. Yes, you read that correctly, one third of his shots are going in right now. For some perspective, if Zajac’s shooting percentage regresses towards his career average of 10.6% the rest of the way, and he continues to fire just 1.5 shots per game, he’ll score just 10 more goals the rest of the way. And if his shooting percentage finishes at 10.6% at his current shot rate, he’ll score just six more goals the rest of the way.

That latter scenario is not how statistical regression works, which is why it’s more sensible to think Zajac is good for around 10 more goals. Still, a far cry from the 40 he is on pace for.

Zajac’s underlying figures actually indicate that he’s been unlucky at even-strength with a 5on5 on-ice shooting percentage of just 5.0% and an individual-point percentage of 60.0%. That’s because Zajac has done most of his damage on the power play, with four power-play goals already, matching last season’s total.

Zajac only skates 2:04 per game on the second power-play unit though so the PPP are going to dry up soon.

The other guy off to a mad dash is Lee Stempniak. He has made a career out of being a nice depth scorer on teams’ second or third lines but has never really been a top option. His underlying numbers look pretty solid as well with just a 6.5% on-ice shooting percentage at 5on5. And he isn’t even producing way too much on the power play like Zajac is with just two power-play points to his name. Stempniak is even playing a bigger role than Zajac skating 2:44 per game on the top power-play unit.

What Stempniak is doing is playing a butt load of minutes (19:37 per game) on a Devils team that is playing way better hockey than most expected. Skating alongside Adam Henrique and Mike Cammelleri on an oddly productive top line is proving to be highly beneficial.

This reminds me a little of the years when Clarke MacArthur, Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski came out of nowhere to form one of the league’s most productive lines. We’ll see if they can keep it up. It all depends on Cammalleri’s health. If they can, Stempniak has an outside shot at 50 points. I’m treating Stempniak like a 40-point guy right now.

Jiri Tlusty was scoreless in his return to the New Jersey lineup, skating 14:46 on the second line.

If the Devils can stay competitive, and the underlying figures suggest that they may not, how valuable does Cory Schneider become as a fantasy asset? Top Five? Top Three?

The Devils are getting outscored on the season and are getting outshot by 1.9 shots per game, as one of the lowest shooting teams in the league. They’ll go only as far as Schneider can carry them. He’s wicked but I’m keeping him right around 10th in my rankings and I’d sell high for someone like Braden Holtby or Ben Bishop if I could.

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I had an interesting debate on Twitter with our old friend Michael Clifford regarding Mike Babcock’s motivation for withholding power play time from Morgan Rielly. He thinks that this is all part of some subtle tanking manoeuvers, while I think that Babcock is genuine when he says that this is about developing Rielly into a better player in all facets of the game.

In the past I’ve criticized coaches for not giving talented young players the prime minutes for scoring without even considering that this might be a tactical strategy in player development. Whether or not dangling a carrot like power play time in exchange for improved habits at 5on5 is an effective strategy one thing I think is certain, coaches don’t tank games. They just don’t. In a business where coaches are judged on wins and losses a coach isn’t going to wilfully lose games, not even a coach with as much job security as Babcock.

A coach looks at a team as devoid of talent as the Leafs and see it as a challenge. He tries to figure out a way to turn it into a winner. He doesn’t think, “Well, if I just throw away this season, I’ll have better players.” Instead, he looks at the players he has and sees them for what they could be rather than what they are. It’s a kind of hubris in your own ability to develop talent and an optimism in people that powers this forward thinking in coaches.

The results have not been there for Babcock and I’ve little doubt that the front office intentionally put together a roster sparse on talent in order to tank. But Babcock’s decisions haven’t been based on trying to lose. That’s just not in a coach’s DNA.

Michael and I did agree that Rielly is one to try and acquire now in keeper leagues because by next season or even part way through this one, Rielly is going to be a force.

I truly believe that Babcock’s efforts will turn Rielly into a better all-around player and that’s going to mean a productive fantasy asset who can skate 25 minutes per game, instead of one stuck on the third pairing acting as a power-play specialist. Once he proves that he has made the necessary adjustments at 5on5, I think he’ll win back a big chunk of the power play time. Trading Dion Phaneuf could further facilitate the transition. Once that happens, Rielly becomes a 50-point defenseman. 50-point defensemen are top-15 commodities at that position.

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Niklas Kronwall has toned down the hitting in recent years but he went off for fantasy owners with eight hits and four blocked shots in an impressive rotisserie performance. He’s still not scoring much for his fantasy owners with no goals and just four assists so far.

Whenever Pavel Datsyuk returns, I feel like Kronwall takes off a little bit. The whole Red Wings team will, really. They can definitely use a kick in the butt because they are getting outshot by 7.1 shots per game while averaging a league low 25.4 shots. That they have scored as many goals as they’ve allowed is a testament to their goaltending, which has been stellar thus far.

Petr Mrazek got the start last night, coming oh so close to shutting out the Leafs only for Dion Phaneuf to squeak one past him in the final minutes to force overtime.

Neither Mrazek nor Jimmy Howard has separated himself in the Red Wing goal. Though Howard does have the more impressive rate statistics, Mrazek has made one more start. Ultimately, this looks like anyone’s crease and it will take someone collapsing to swing it one way or another.

It is worth pointing out that five of Howard’s six starts have come at home, while six of Mrazek’s seven have come on the road. Maybe this is coincidence but it shows slightly more confidence in Mrazek’s abilities.

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Antoine Roussel sat out for Dallas as he is dealing with an upper-body injury.

Ales Hemsky, who has been dealing with hip soreness, got back into the lineup scoring his second goal of the season. His last goal came on opening night but his scoring has really dropped off after a hot start. So damned streaky.

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Alex Tanguay had his knee buckled on a hit from Oscar Lindberg. He left the game and did not return. I suspect he’ll miss some time here. The Avalanche can ill-afford to lose any sort of depth. What do they do, call up Mikko Rantanen?

It’s too bad because Tanguay had just been reunited with Jarome Iginla and it promised to make fantasy hockey dreams come true.

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Rick Nash missed last night’s contest after tweaking his back. It’s too bad because it was starting to look like Nash was going to heat up alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Now all that momentum/confidence/voodoo may be lost. Emerson Etem grabbed Nash’s spot but the whole line went scoreless.

Kevin Hayes continues to see results in a depth role alongside Oscar Lindberg. Could be worth a waiver pickup, though I know a lot of you are still hanging onto him even through his slow start. Good on you. Patience rewarded.

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Pascal Dupuis was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons possibly related to his prior issues with blood clots and sat out the game as a result. All tests were negative but Dupuis will sit out tonight’s game against Calgary all the same.

Check out the Penguins’ lines with Dupuis out:

22.18%

EV

KESSEL,PHIL – MALKIN,EVGENI – PERRON,DAVID

16.55%

EV

CROSBY,SIDNEY – FEHR,ERIC – HORNQVIST,PATRIC

16.2%

EV

BENNETT,BEAU – BONINO,NICK – KUNITZ,CHRIS

13.03%

EV

CULLEN,MATT – PLOTNIKOV,SERGEI – SPRONG,DANIEL

 

Even with a top-six forward down, Chris Kunitz still can’t climb back onto one of the top lines. He’s going to have to earn his way there and the simple reality is he may just have too many miles on him to get there.

The Penguins are thoroughly intriguing. Despite all their forward talent, and their weak defense group, this is the league’s best defensive team, tied for a league low 1.77 goals allowed per game. They’ve also got the league’s second best penalty. Good news for Marc-Andre Fleury owners (and those who got Jeff Zatkoff in for just his second start of the season!) but not so much for those hoping for a big offensive explosion.

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The Oilers were a bit unlucky to lose last night hitting four posts in a one-goal loss.

Nail Yakupov rang one of those posts and added an assist. He skated with Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’ll see a drop off with McDavid out but I wonder if it’ll be that steep since he’s occupying the same role just with the Nuge as his centerman instead. I figure the drop-off can’t be more than five points over the 30-40 games McDavid will miss.

That pushes Yakupov from a 50-point guy with a shot at 60 to a 45-point guy with a shot at 55. I think fantasy owners would still live with that. The situation bears more monitoring.

Leon Draisaitl shifted to center, as expected, skating with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. That’s a plum spot but like Yakupov he isn’t seeing time on the top power-play unit, which limits his upside. Draisaitl, had some chances. Like Yakupov he also rang one off the post. But ultimately I don’t think Draisaitl even gets to 40 points. 30 points is only even probable because of his hot start to the season.

Oscar Klefbom continues to produce with Justin Schultz out. Give him four points in the last six games, while skating as the lone defenseman on the top power-play unit.

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Ryan Getzlaf returned for his first game since his appendectomy and made some sweet, sweet music with Corey Perry. They combined to create the Ducks’ first three goals, notching three assists apiece. Only a matter of time folks. Now, I suspect these two will start rolling.

Who comes along for the ride? Last night it was Patrick Maroon skating with Getzlaf and Perry at even strength and on the power play. He even scored a goal, his first of the season. We’ve seen this story plenty of times before, however. Maroon gets hot alongside Getzlaf and Perry, goes scoreless for a couple and gets shuffled to the third line to toil for 10-15 games, while another winger gets his crack.

Maroon makes for a great daily fantasy option in the short term. And you might even make a waiver claim if you need some help right now. Not a long-term solution. I guarantee that by Black Friday Maroon is scratched or on the third line, while someone like Jiri Sekac takes his spin with the big guns.

Sekac, by the way, is out with a sprained ankle and still in a walking boot. So he may need the full three weeks to get back for my off-the-cuff prediction.

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I was asked the other day about my preference between David Savard and Ryan Murray. Savard seems the clear choice. Under Tortorella he is getting the top power play minutes alongside Jack Johnson. Savard has five points in eight games under Tortorella, helping to make up for a slow start to the season.

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Check out Bovada’s latest Calder Odds with Connor McDavid essentially out of the running. Jack Eichel and Artemi Panarin are the top two choices available and as such the odds aren’t very good for either of them.

I think Eichel is the most talented of the bunch but he isn’t my favourite to win. I think it is Panarin. Dude is just ready to produce right now and skating with Patrick Kane, on most nights, is the most perfect situation.

A lot of the other guys are interesting but I can see them stumbling at one point or another due to inexperience, inconsistency or just plain lack of opportunity.

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Zach Parise’s injury is proving to be reasonably serious. He has been ruled out for the next “couple of games” as they wait for results of his MRI.

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Lots of housekeeping by the Blues yesterday. The biggest news is that they activated Kevin Shattenkirk from the IR, so he should be good to go today.

They also signed Martin Havlat to a one-year deal, while releasing Dainius Zubrus from his tryout and sending Ty Rattie back to the AHL. This team is way too deep and Havlat way too far gone for me to have any interest in Havlat for fantasy purposes. He’s just a filler while they deal with injuries.

For some perspective, Havlat has yet to be claimed in my 24-team salary cap league. With teams hurting for cap space and begging for NHL talent he still can’t get picked up in this league. Just not a valuable fantasy asset. You can bet he gets snapped up if he shows any signs of life though.

Havlat will need to prove a lot before he warrants picking up in your average league.

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The Bruins have called up top AHL scorer Frank Vatrano. They sent down Alex Khokhlachev in the process. Apparently Khokhlachev’s two games of scoreless third-line duties weren’t enough to keep him around. Two games; that’s what second-round draft status gets you against an undrafted guy, apparently.

I don’t know much about Vatrano but his 10 goals in 10 AHL games has to have him on your radar. If, like Khokhlachev, Vatrano doesn’t see any power play time, he doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially since his game is all offense.

Kirk Luedeke has a really good take on the situation:

So, Frankie Vatrano, Bruins nation turns its lonely eyes to you. The wicked shot with an instantaneous release, pinpoint accuracy and heaviness that belies his lack of height (though he is built like a bowling ball with a thick, powerful trunk) is already well documented. What isn’t as well known to B’s fans is the natural instincts/smarts, the willingness to hustle over all 200 feet of the ice even if the innate ability to play a defensive game aren’t there and the overall body of work still needs to improve.

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Interesting tidbit on Dale Weise from Dave Pagnotta:

Will say this about Weise, after speaking to a few NHLers about him, who played MTL this season, they've noticed how much he's improved.

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Just like when they called him up, there is little fantasy relevance to Rich Clune getting placed on waivers by the Leafs yesterday.

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Dobber answers your fantasy hockey questions in his latest mailbag.

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Thanks for reading! You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.