Ramblings: All-Star Game; Marner; Toews; Letang – January 29

by Michael Clifford on January 29, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: All-Star Game; Marner; Toews; Letang – January 29

The 2018 NHL All-Star game took place on Sunday with the Team Pacific taking home the title with a 5-2 win over Team Atlantic. Brock Boeser was named the MVP with two goals and an assist across the two games. The games themselves were fine. Again, as I mentioned in my Ramblings on Saturday, this is an event for kids to enjoy, not necessarily adults. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I don’t think more digital ink needs to be spilled on the subject of the All-Star Game.

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This is the unofficial mid-point of the season – we’re actually well beyond the mid-point – which means it’s time to solidify rosters for a roto/points push, or a head-to-head playoff run. For some, that may mean not touching their roster beyond some minor changes. For others, that could mean big overhauls to try and get the most out of a lacklustre start.

Here are some players I’m looking to target for trades in my leagues (to my league mates: please don’t read this). I’ll simply go with a starting lineup of three forwards and two defencemen.

 

Cam Atkinson

I assume he will be a popular target because of his consistency over the previous four seasons, but it still doesn’t hurt to ask.

There are a lot of reasons to target Atkinson so let’s take them one at a time.

First, there is his five-on-five performance. The guy is a shooting machine, and this year is no different as he’s averaging a career-high 17.89 shot attempts/60 minutes. That puts him inside the top-20 league-wide among forwards, in the same range as sublime scoring talents like James van Riemsdyk and Nikolaj Ehlers. That level of shooting is supposed to help guarantee some consistency in scoring, but it’s not five-on-five where the problem is.

Where Columbus’ problems are, and by extension Atkinson’s, is the power play. It’s no secret the Blue Jackets PP has struggled mightily most of the year, but things are turning around; since the team united Zach Werenski and Seth Jones on Decmeber 29th, their power-play unit is generating 111.55 shot attempts per 60 minutes. For reference on how good that is, the team as a whole was generating 81 shot attempts per 60 minutes altogether from October through the end of December. That has translated to over 12 goals scored per 60 minutes for that unit. Of course it’s a small sample, and typically two-defencemen PPs aren’t as successful offensively, but we only have 32 games to work with for the rest of the season. This seems like a risk worth taking.

This is relevant to Atkinson because it looks like he’ll be slotting on that top PP unit after the All-Star Game; they didn’t get a 5v4 PP in his first game back, but they did get a 4v3 and he was on the ice with Jones and Werenski. There was also this tweet:

With Atkinson’s track record for scoring, and a power play potentially on the upswing, there is huge upside down the stretch here. He scored in his return, and again, he’ll be a popular target. He won’t finish the year with zero PP goals, though, so don’t be shy to be aggressive in acquiring his services.

 

Jonathan Toews

Toews has been roasted at times this year for his offensive performance but he’s on the same goals/game pace as last year as well as a higher shot rate. Things could be worse?

Like Atkinson, I think the value for Toews moving forward lay with the power play. There are 11 forwards with at least 50 power-play minutes this year and zero PP goals. Of the rest of the forwards with at least 50 PP minutes, Toews has the lowest shooting percentage at 3.45 percent. For reference on just how bad that is, his career-low before this season was 11.1 percent, he’s shot over 21 percent in three separate seasons (most recently in 2015-16), and he’s scored at least six PP goals in three straight campaigns. What’s important out of all this as well is that he’s personally averaging the most PP minutes per game (3:26) since 2008-09.

The acquisition price will be key here. That could be said with all players, obviously, but sometimes people are reluctant to trade players based on their name alone. Even though he’s well on his way to a sixth consecutive season with neither 30 goals nor 70 points, he’s sometimes treated as a second-tier centre, outside the elite tier of guys like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos. This is wildly overvaluing him. Check with the Toews owner in your league, though. He could be fed up with him at this point, and there is serious power-play uptick potential over the final 32 games.

 

Mitch Marner

I suppose the most interesting development in Leaf Land over the last week or so was Mitch Marner being moved up to play with Nazem Kadri. This bumped Leo Komarov down to the fourth line. It’s not like Komarov and company were getting buried – being nearly break-even in goals (both actual and expected) isn’t bad for a shutdown line – but the team had hit a bit of a skid and Marner wasn’t living up to last year’s promise. Mike Babcock has said it’s just supposed to last while the team is on the road, so we’ll see what they do when they return home on Wednesday. I can’t imagine he changes things up if the team keeps winning.

Marner is shooting just 5.33 percent this year at five-on-five and that’s 199th out of 225 forwards with at least 500 minutes played. We don’t really have a baseline for him, but he shot 12.1 percent last year and was a solid goal scorer in the AHL so it’s hard to believe under 6 percent is his true shooting talent. Without posting a bunch of visuals (from Hockeyviz.com), his shot locations appear similar to last year. As explained in an earlier Ramblings, Marner is under-performing his expected goals at five-on-five, and though that number has dipped (0.56 per 60 minutes) from last year (0.75), the increase from Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk factor in here. New line mates, new life.

I still believe in Marner and he still holds a lot of value in keeper leagues. I do wonder if single-season owners are fed up, though. It’s worth inquiring.

 

Dustin Byfuglien

Fantasy owners have been frustrated with Byfuglien all year, be it lack of production or injury. He has just two goals on the campaign, and hasn’t really had a sustained hot streak that would indicate a turnaround on the horizon. All this is what makes him the ideal trade target.

I get the hesitation to target him given the production and his decline in ice time. That’s fair. However, he’s still more or less the same guy he’s always been. However, his shot rate from 2014-17 (11.81 per 60 minutes at five-on-five) isn’t far off from this year (10.84). One big difference is he’s shooting just 1.85 percent at five-on-five this season where he shot 7.85 percent over the previous three seasons. Though he’s shooting significantly less on the power play (a drop of about one-third), he’s also shooting just 3.85 percent where he shot 4.9 percent over the three previous seasons. Again, not a huge gap, but a shooting percentage decline this year should give us hope for a turnaround.

Even with the decline in production, he’s still providing a lot of peripherals: 2.3 shots/game, 1.55 PIMs/game, 1.47 blocks/game, 2.53 hits/game. With his shooting percentages lower this year than in year’s past, in some cases significantly, there is potential for a lot of upside over the final 30 or so games of the year. He should cost a fraction of what he would have three months ago, and at worst if the production doesn’t improve, the peripherals will still help. It’s a gamble worth taking if you need blue line help.

Another important note is that Byfuglien is probably going to get more minutes over the next couple of months thanks to this.

 

Kris Letang

I had a discussion a few days ago with fellow Dobber writer Cam Robinson about Evgeni Malkin. It revolved around the acquisition value of Malkin, in particular in a head-to-head league. My basic premise is that I refuse to trade for players that have a lengthy, and consistent, injury history. Malkin fits that bill, as does Letang. So why is he on this list?

Our conversation ended with me saying I would not trade for these types of players, unless the acquisition price makes it lopsided. If you trade right now for Malkin, good luck getting it lopsided in your favour; in standard ESPN roto leagues, he’s a top-10 skater on the season and the number-1 skater over the last month. Letang, however, isn’t even a top-12 defenceman on the year, and is just inside the top-50 blue liners over the last month. The acquisition cost, then, makes it much more likely for a trade to be lopsided than if you were to trade for Malkin.

Letang is shooting 2.1 percent overall this year despite a three-year average of 6 percent from 2014-17. His shots per game is right under 3.0, which is about where he’s been for years now. And as has been written about often, the Penguins shooting luck at five-on-five was set to turn, and that has begun this month.

I get it. Acquiring someone like this is incredibly risky. And I wouldn’t go get Malkin while having to trade away a top-10 player to get him. The price on Letang is much lower though, and that makes the risk much more palatable. He is a player that could be top-5 at his position the rest of the season and won’t cost the price of a top-5 defenceman. That’s how you make a push down the stretch. 

 

6 responses to “Ramblings: All-Star Game; Marner; Toews; Letang – January 29”

  1. starz31 says:

    Thoughts on Mike Hoffman? Had hopes he would turn it around but Ottawa is a dumpster fire right now and that obviously dampers some excitement. Very intriguing playoff-schedule though for the Senators.

  2. Chris Liggio says:

    I traded Horvat/Gudas right before the break for Buff.

  3. Phatsy says:

    Marner didn’t play in the AHL.

  4. The gun says:

    What about Ryjo? Bounce back or drop?