October 31, 2015

by steve laidlaw on October 31, 2015

How to mine value from Cam Ward, Rick Nash's struggles, Koivu's upside and more…


Happy Halloween everyone! Hopefully the trick-or-treaters don't purturb your enjoyment of tonight's hockey action too much. We had a busy night in the league last night, which means a jam-packed ramblings. Consider this your treat!


The Sabres littered Pennsylvania with rubber firing 93 shots at the goaltenders of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh over a short road trip through the state. They returned home to play the Flyers once more and continued their onslaught tossing another 36 shots at Michal Neuvirth.

The Sabres have been outshooting opponents all season, at a clip of 6.9 shots per game, which is a great sign for those invested in skaters on this team. You have to figure their offense will perk up above their rate of 2.27 goals per game.

In particular, Jack Eichel is going to find some more offense and indeed he scored last night. It’s been all goals for Eichel, however as his linemates have yet to cash in one of his passes or rebounds. His five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage sitting at a cool 2.48% tells you he’s definitely due for some help. He’s had a revolving door of linemates but his most common one, Evander Kane, won’t be back from injury for a while.

Check out the Sabres’ lines from last night:




















Tyler Ennis has missed the last couple of games with a lower-body injury. No indication that this will be a long-term thing.

It seems as though Ryan O’Reilly was double-shifting last night, as he led the team with over 26 minutes in a regulation game, crazy numbers for a forward. The Sabres are bound and determined to get their money’s worth from their big offseason acquisition. It paid off last night as he recorded three points, giving him 10 points in the last five games. An incredible run of production.


As mentioned, Neuvirth got the start for Philly but did not earn a shutout so his shutout streak ends, as does the imminent threat that he might usurp Steve Mason.

There are 18 players in the NHL with 20 or more SOG who are without a goal and somehow the Flyers have three members of that list: Jakub Voracek, Michael Raffl and Michael Del Zotto. The latter two you can understand, but Voracek is leading the pack, up to 44 SOG. If you are looking for the league’s most snake-bitten star, look no further than your buddy Jake.


Mats Zuccarello scored a hat-trick with assists from Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, in that order, on all three tallies. That’s a nice bit of uniformity and a huge lift for Nash who owners who have been living through his slump. To be able to steal away three secondary assists in one night is a huge bit of good fortune.

Nash doubled his point output with last evenings haul. You aren’t out of the woods yet, Nash owners. You still have to deal with the fact that Nash is skating just 16:29 per game with only 2:08 on the power play, the lowest minutes he’s seen since arriving in New York. He’s also shooting less than he has since the 2006-07 season averaging just 3.0 SOG per game. He scored just 57 points that season, a healthy total to be sure, but not the star numbers you hoped for when you drafted Nash.


Joffrey Lupul scored the lone goal for Toronto. He’s an interesting fantasy piece. Unless you are in a deep league, Lupul is waiver fodder. But he’s also skating over 16 minutes per game and receiving top power play minutes for the Leafs. He’s also healthy for the first time in what feels like forever and shooting 2.8 SOG per game. So far, that hasn’t led to many points, but there’s some intriguing value here… if he stays healthy.

Also, looking at the Leafs’ cap situation on Cap Friendly, you’ll note they have retained salary on only two contracts at the moment. Could they make Lupul a third if a contender sends back some goodies. Lupul has two years left after this one so eating salary would mean a lengthy self-imposed tax. But it wouldn’t be longer than the one they already have after moving Phil Kessel and Lupul is going to be on the Leaf books for two more years regardless.

You don’t want to tease yourself into thinking Lupul is going to get a fantasy boost, not when he’s such an injury-prone commodity but I can’t help but wonder if teams are sniffing around. We know the Ducks are in the market for goal-scoring.


The early returns on Cam Ward aren’t terrible, they also aren’t what you’d consider good either. He’s 4-4-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a 0.912 save percentage. He’s basically hitting the bare minimum for competent save percentage on a team that is doing an impeccable job of suppressing shots at just 25.5 per game, good for second in the league.

This is no new trend for the Hurricanes either. Last season, their first under Bill Peters, they finished third in shot prevention, allowing just 27.3 per game. So you know that you are getting an insulated goaltender if you do opt to carry Ward.

Ward isn’t the type you can just roll out on any given night. He’s a third goaltender at best, or a second in deep leagues. The best way to utilize his type, and I’d include Arizona’s Mike Smith, Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov and Philadelphia’s Steve Mason in this group (just to name a few) is to very selectively deploy them.

You wait for optimal matchups, preferably on home ice where teams do still boast a slight advantage. Ward is an extreme example boasting a career 141-89-28 record at home (a 54.7% winning percentage), versus a 108-106-30 record on the road (44.3% winning percentage). His rate stats aren’t much better at home than on the road but it seems that the team ahead of Ward has played much better in Carolina over the years.

You can really see a stark difference in Ward’s home/road splits from last season:




















You can’t point to the same trend this season as Ward has received just two of his eight starts at home so there simply isn’t enough data to analyze. Actually, last season’s sample probably isn’t even enough. The takeaway is the career win percentage at home versus the road. Your odds of getting a good start are much better when your weak third starter is going at home.

Of course, getting a win isn’t enough, especially if your weak third starter only has a career winning percentage of 54%. You also would like to get a “quality start”. You can find different definitions of what amounts to a quality start from different resources but for our purposes, let’s define it as any game with a save percentage of 0.910 or above.

So far, exactly half of Ward’s starts have been of the quality variety and last season, just 24 of his 50 starts would be considered quality. But split the home and road starts and you’ll find that 17 of Ward’s 26 home starts were quality, which is just about a two-thirds success rate. Not bad!

You can find similar splits for pretty well all of the goalies listed above. In fact, most all NHL goalies are going to show home/road splits that favour home play, it just happens that the best goalies will give you quality starts more often than not, no matter the setting.

There’s more to managing these lower-level starters than simply only starting them at home against bad teams. Sometimes, your goalies get into a funk where you just can’t trust starting them, like Tuukka Rask or Sergei Bobrovsky to open this season. But again, those are really good goalies, so this can happen to anyone.

In head-to-head leagues you’ll certainly encounter go-for-broke situations where you need a quality start to swing a matchup and your only goalie left is your crappy third starter. You toss him out there regardless of situation because there’s no other recourse.

You’ll never manage this situation perfectly. You will undoubtedly start your crappy third guy on a night when he gets shelled. You’ll invariably sit him on a night he gets a shutout. Such are the breaks. In leagues short on goalies but flush on roster space, these guys can provide value if managed properly.


Pavel Datsyuk is on schedule to be back in two weeks. He can’t get back soon enough. The Red Wings have slipped to 20th in goals per game and are dead last in shots on-goal per game, even after firing 30 at Andrew Hammond last night.

Henrik Zetterberg has managed to stay productive with 12 points through 10 games but everyone else is floundering to one degree or another.

Justin Abdelkader hasn’t scored in eight games after opening with five points in the first two. Neither Gustav Nyquist nor Tomas Tatar are having the breakout we all anticipated. Niklas Kronwall has just two points and nine SOG thus far. Rookie sensation Dylan Larkin is now scoreless in his last three games.

Datsyuk may not be a cure-all but he worked wonders last season. In games that Datsyuk played the Red Wings averaged 2.95 goals per game. In games where he didn’t that fell to 2.37, which, coincidentally, is not far off where the Wings are at this season (2.30).


Aaron Ekblad is off to a slow start with just three points in 10 games and it’s worth mentioning that his usage has declined from last season. He’s down to just 18:58 per game.

Ekblad’s power-play usage is also down below 50% of the Panthers’ overall time. He’s seeing almost as many minutes with the man-advantage as he was last season having lost just nine seconds per game but he isn’t getting the same amount of run as a percentage of the Panthers’ opportunities, which is disconcerting.

Take last night for instance. Ekblad received just 3:43 in power play time, whereas Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kulikov were at 6:36 and 5:21 respectively.

Campbell may be experiencing a bit of a resurgence. He’s got five points through 10 games, though three of those came in one outburst. He’s averaging 2.0 SOG per game after averaging 1.43 the past three seasons.

Campbell’s minutes are way down but that’s because he’s no longer being used on the penalty kill, a nice reprieve from some hard minutes for the veteran. He’s now skating just 19:58 per game, just a year removed from averaging up over 26. Like Ekblad, he’s also seen his overall percentage of power play time fall below 50%. It will be interesting to see if that creeps up over the season though it seems unlikely as the pair have been split up between the two power-play units.

Campbell is owned in just 26% of Yahoo! leagues, which means there’s plenty of opportunity to make him a pick up one of these days.



Jonas Hiller will miss at least a week, which opened the door for Joni Ortio. Karri Ramo was recalled and backed up last night. Ortio got shelled by a motivated Habs team giving up six goals in the contest. It’s growing fairly evident that the Flames’ goaltending situation is just not one that will provide fantasy value right now.

That said, these things often find a way of working out. Even Mike Smith, had a stretch of decent play after being dreadful for much of last season. Will the Flames patch some of the holes in their leaky defense?

At least they’ve got most of their studs scoring on offense. Johnny Gaudreau has been split up from Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan for a couple of games but that hasn’t stopped any of them from putting up points. Meanwhile, Mark Giordano has five points in the last six games. Oh and TJ Brodie is back from injury so we can all stop using that as an excuse when the Flames lose.

Kris Russell has dropped to what I assume is a league-worst minus-16 rating. Believe it or not, negligence on my part has resulted in my dragging this anchor around for the entirety of the season. Oh, and we don’t even score blocked shots in this league. At this points, it’s a badge of pride to still be winning while Russell feasts on my plus/minus like a ferocious parasite.


If you are considering picking up Dale Weise after last night’s hat-trick you need to stop. Put down the bottle. Walk away from your device of choice. Run to the nearest body of water. Hurl yourself into it.


I feel dumb for whiffing on the perfect analogy for Martin Hanzal. He’s not injury-prone David Backes, he’s Mikko Koivu 2.0!

Koivu is up to 11 points through 10 games after a three-assist performance. He’s spent most of his time alongside Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter but also skates on the top power play unit.

Neither Zucker nor Niederreiter will blow you away but both are coming off of 20-goal seasons and the bulk of the scoring for each of them was at even strength. In all, they combined for 36 even-strength goals last season. If Koivu can get in on a healthy percentage of those goals then he’s got an outside shot at 60 points.

What opens everything up for him is the Wild finally discovering how to score on the power play. Koivu has three power-play points so far and the Wild have scored on 25% of their chances while up a man. This puts Koivu on pace for about 24 PPP. Assuming some slippage as the season wears on, he should still get to near 20. Add in 25-30 assists at even-strength and Koivu’s usual complement of 8-10 even-strength goals and there’s your case for a 60-point season.

That’s the best-case scenario and the first way things can go wrong is if he gets hurt. And Koivu has missed an average of 11 games over the past five years.


Mark Arcobello has cleared waivers. That’s not all that fantasy relevant on its own but I mused yesterday that the Coyotes might put in a claim on Arcobello to help fill in for some of the injuries they are dealing with at the center position.

Antoine Vermette returned last night and Hanzal is presumably not far behind. Vermette found his first two points of the season, a pair of assists. He split his time between centering the combinations of Tobias RiederAnthony Duclair and Mikkel BoedkerMax Domi. Most of the season Vermette has centered Boedker and Domi so expect them to be his main linemates when Hanzal gets back.


Brandon Prust will miss the next 4-6 weeks, which might help Jake Virtanen keep his spot in the lineup.


Tyler Johnson missed practice yesterday for body maintenance. He is questionable for tonight’s action. Vladislav Namestnikov will fill in if Johnson can’t go.


The Blackhawks keep cycling through young forwards to fill out the roster. They’ve now called up Ryan Hartman.


Pekka Rinne talks about last season’s late collapse and the sense of urgency he and the Predators are now feeling:

It had an effect on my play, too," Rinne said. "I wasn't at that same level right away and took time to get back. Also as a team, I don't know, we talked about it a lot. It's tough because you play so well and all of a sudden we start to just win a game, but then lose three games in a row, then win a game, [lose] three games in a row.

These late-season drops in performance are becoming a bit of a trend. Rinne isn’t the reverse-Sergei-Bobrovsky but looking at his splits for March and April, there is a notable decline from his performance in every other month.


























This is not a case where one or two bad finishes are bringing down Rinne’s career numbers in March and April. He has consistently underwhelmed in these months, relative to his otherworldly performance the rest of the months.

There’s still a chance that this is all just small sample noise but Rinne has over 100 games of action in the late months that seem to indicate something is amiss once the season reaches that point. Whether it’s fatigue, or nagging injuries or the play of the team ahead of him, Rinne goes from world-beater to average once we start to sniff springtime.

Looking at his huge shutout total from those months, it looks like what plagues him is erratic play. Like he turns into Jaroslav Halak once the snow starts to melt.

How do you act on this as a fantasy owner? If I had Rinne in any leagues I’m not sure I’d have the gumption to sell him at the end of the year. But this is the most important part of the season for those in head-to-head leagues. A well-timed trade could help you get the most out of Rinne while abandoning him before he starts to slump. File this one away for consideration once we hit the All-Star Break.


Ducks GM Bob Murray has given head coach Bruce Boudreau a vote of confidence. I’m not sure how much rope he actually has but it’s great to see a calm and rational approach after such a disastrous start. You’ll often see that teams will perform better after a coach is fired but that doesn’t necessarily indicate that the new coach has actually improved things but rather that things had to go really poorly for the first coach to get fired and the improvement is just natural regression.

How about four surprising stats on the Ducks’ terrible start?

Numbers are most effective with proper context. 3.57 would be a solid grade point average or a respectable starting pitcher’s ERA (it would have been 34th-best in baseball this year!). As an NHL team’s shooting percentage, though … not so much. Yet that’s exactly where the Ducks find themselves so far, having thrown 252 shots on net and seeing all but nine turned aside. The league as a whole is shooting 9.1 percent this season, which is about how an average modern team fares overall.

I’ve got one more stat for you: 35.3 scoring chances created per 60 minutes on the power play, good for second last in the league. At that rate, the Ducks might get one scoring chance per two-minute power play – a pathetically low rate. This is not some one-season trend either. The Ducks have had the third worst power play in the league over the past three seasons. Maybe Boudreau doesn’t deserve to be fired but he needs someone who can help him run a power play.


A good read on Sergei Gonchar’s legacy and making the transition to coaching for the Penguins.


Not really hockey news but ESPN has decided to shutdown Grantland, which is really sad for me. Grantland was a daily visit for me for the past five years. It came into existence right around when I was leaving university and has been a part of my life, helping to shape my identity as a sports fan and sports writer. I can hardly remember what sports-writing looked like before Grantland. I just remember it involved a whole lot of Sports Illustrated, SLAM and The Hockey News magazines piled on my bedroom floor. I can’t go back to that.

I’ll continue to follow many of the writers but not being able to go to one place for all of their content is going to make doing so a challenge. You can understand why ESPN went this direction. Grantland was never as profitable as some of their other ventures. But the real issue is that they canned Bill Simmons and this was his passion project. They just don’t have anyone else who could manage the product the same way.

Here’s hoping the writers land on their feet and continue to pump up out content to the Grantland standard. Word is that ESPN will honour their contracts and find homes for them on other ESPN platforms, whatever that means.

As far as their hockey content goes, you can always find Sean McIndoe’s content at his personal site, DownGoesBrown.


Thanks for reading! You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.