It is a bit of a surprise that we are this deep into the season and haven’t yet seen a coach fired. Not that I think firing your coach mid-season always makes a difference. There are clear success stories like when the Penguins brought in Mike Sullivan mid-season, changed their playing style and won back-to-back Cups. However, there are plenty of success stories that can be chalked up to regression more than anything. As I always say, things have to go unsustainably bad for a coach to get fired. We certainly have examples of things going unsustainably bad, but either through patience, or random confluence of circumstances, no team has yet found the justification for firing their coach.
I’d consider this a step in the right direction, if it weren’t that I don’t give general managers much benefit of the doubt. Over a third of the league has a coach in his first full season with his team, so many of the GMs have already played the coaching card, they just played it last year. There are also many GMs who are apparently up for a new contract this summer, so ownership may be disinclined to allow these GMs to make a change, if they might be replaced themselves. There’s also the matter that many of this season’s underachievers have previous success to hang their hat on like Sullivan in Pittsburgh and Joel Quenneville in Chicago.
Of course, there is still plenty of time for axes to fall and heads to roll. This is a league where Jon Cooper is now the second longest tenured coach and he hasn’t even made it to five full years. A coach will get fired, it just hasn’t happened yet. Peter DeBoer was the odds-on favourite to be the first coach fired heading into the season, but appears safe. Maybe it’s a good sign that I haven’t found any current odds for this sadistic bet.
The NHL released the full All-Star rosters yesterday. I have some quibbles, but it’s impossible not to under a format where every team needs to have a representative. You also have to accept that this is a showcase event so star players will be shoehorned in whether they are deserving or not. This is at the crux of my #1 quibble:
From a marketing standpoint I understand where this pick is coming from, but from a merit perspective Kessel is the choice. He leads the foundering Penguins in goals and points and has been their most consistent offensive option.
It’s not even like Holtby is a big star that had to be shoehorned in. Nor is it a case where he’s the lone representative for his team. Alex Ovechkin is the freaking captain for the Metro. No, they just decided that Holtby has been better for reasons I cannot explain. Because he has more wins? Bob was a no-brainer All-Star for me. I’m not even certain I’d have taken Holtby over Cory Schneider.
If we need more Caps representation as the leader of the toughest division, why not the #2 defenseman scorer in the league? Or how about Shayne Gostisbehere who comes in at #4? Is Letang really that big of a star?
Come on now. I understand that as a former All-Star Neal has some cache, but it’s not like all their decisions were based on pure star power. Brayden Schenn was selected over Vladimir Tarasenko, which is reasonable enough, but eschews “star power”. They couldn’t do the same with Marchessault, the clear top guy for Vegas? Neal is their fifth leading scorer. Maybe we should just be happy Vegas got more than one token representative.
Again, this is the All-Star game so it’s hard to get particularly upset. It’s awesome to see some new blood rewarded like Schenn, John Klingberg, Brock Boeser, Rickard Rakell, Josh Bailey, Aleksander Barkov, Jack Eichel, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Noah Hanifin, Alex Pietrangelo and even Blake Wheeler!
While I’d like to have seen a few different players make it. Or rather felt there were some candidates who had more merit. None of these decisions are ones that I’ll lose sleep over.
These are all mostly bit parts, particularly Dauphin and Clendening, but both are still young enough (22 and 25, respectively) to potentially uncover previously untapped talent. Clendening has shown some flashes as a third-pairing guy, which could help the Blackhawks who have cycled through six different young options on defense outside of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Currently, it is Jordan Oesterle who has emerged as a strong #2 alongside Keith. In fact, Oesterle led all Blackhawks defensemen in ice time and power play time last night. He has had an intriguing run with seven points in his last seven games. He also has nine points in 14 games since being recalled and thrust into a top-two role. Oesterle demands use in leagues scoring hits and blocked shots, but I’d have less confidence in the offense sticking around.
The more impactful players here are Duclair and Panik. Duclair is particularly interesting based on his youth and the potential he flashed in his rookie season. I discussed his trade potential a week ago, so we should revisit that here:
Duclair scored 2.0 points/60 at 5-on-5 through his first 99 games in the NHL as a 19-20 -year-old. Impressive stuff, but he has fallen off in the last two seasons with Arizona. How much can we attribute to growing pains, and a bad environment? Last season was a total write off. This season, he’s up to 1.56 points/60, which is okay. He is shooting at the highest rate of his career. I definitely think there’s potential for Duclair, but I want to see him get back to 2.0 points/60 before considering him truly intriguing.
If he can’t score at a good rate as a lower-line player, he doesn’t stand much chance of getting elevated to a spot in the lineup where he can gain relevance, so we are talking two hurdles here, not one.
Jonathan Willis’ piece on Duclair’s potential is even more glowing, and has me convinced that this is, if nothing else, a very good bet to make on Chicago’s part. Where exactly does Duclair fit into a Blackhawk lineup that most recently rolled out lines looking like this:
#1 29.7% HINOSTROZA,VINNIE - SAAD,BRANDON - TOEWS,JONATHAN
#2 27% HARTMAN,RYAN - KANE,PATRICK - SCHMALTZ,NICK
#3 14.4% DEBRINCAT,ALEX - KAMPF,DAVID - SHARP,PATRICK
#4 13.1% BOUMA,LANCE - KANE,PATRICK - WINGELS,TOMMY
As hot as Vinnie Hinostroza has been, his scoring streak since being recalled did end last night. He has by no means locked down that spot on the top line. Remember, the guy Duclair got traded for spent most of his shifts on that line and fizzled out after a hot start.
Ryan Hartman’s spot in the top-six is also precarious, but we must remember that he is merely filling in for Artem Anisimov. Perhaps in the short term we could see Duclair on that Kane line, and maybe even long term if Nick Schmaltz proves strong enough at center to use Anisimov on another line. But these are big buts.
If the worst-case scenario is that Duclair bumps a bumbling old Patrick Sharp off the third line to mesh with exciting rookie Alex DeBrincat, this is an okay fate. However, are DeBrincat and David Kampf better linemate options than Max Domi and Christian Dvorak (his most frequent Coyote linemates)? Unlikely, but the Blackhawks are undoubtedly a better offensive environment, having scored 36 more goals than the Coyotes in the same number of games (43). This should help Duclair, but perhaps not to the level of fantasy relevance.
As mentioned earlier, Panik showed flashes early in the season, when he scored five goals and eight points in the first nine games. It wasn’t until Tuesday’s drubbing of the Senators that he scored another goal. Kind of eerie how both Panik and Duclair scored goals in their last games with their clubs. It’s almost as though this production provided the spark needed to consummate the deal.
In any case, Panik has shown some flashes previously, with his best pro season coming last year with 22 goals and 44 points. He scored at a 1.85-points/60 rate at 5-on-5, and chipped in with some value as a net-front guy on the top PP unit, briefly nudging Anisimov out of that gig. This coincided with a high shooting percentage 14.2%, which isn’t totally out of character for a player who has proven to be a decent net-front option. It also came with a career high 9.6% on-ice shooting percentage. With both having regressed this season he has been waiver fodder.
Given that Panik is headed towards a poor scoring team, and that he boasts a career 5-on-5 scoring rate of 1.45 points/60, I am not inclined to give him much benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his net-front play is exactly what a young team like the Coyotes needs. Martin Hanzal did have some intriguing runs as the top net-front man in Arizona despite not being the most gifted offensive talent.
There should be top-six minutes available to Panik given how he is replacing Duclair. If Panik fails, it will mean more minutes for Christian Fischer and Brendan Perlini. It will also likely mean Panik is on his way out of the league as this is now his fourth NHL franchise. If he can’t make it here, who else is giving him a shot?
With Bobby Ryan out with another hand injury Filip Chlapik was recalled to the Senators. He skated just 5:53 on the fourth line with Alex Burrows and Gabriel Dumont. He did record an assist, but I’m not sure we’re at the point where Chlapik is ready to contribute. The former second round pick is interesting, however. He scored well over a point-per-game in the QMJHL during his draft year and has 15 points in 28 games in the AHL as a 20-year-old rookie pro. I want to see near a point-per-game pace at the AHL level before getting really excited, but the flashes at lower levels are interesting.
The more intriguing prospect here is Colin White, who was bumped up to play with Matt Duchene and Mike Hoffman, though without any power play minutes. Exactly the value of top-six minutes on a Sens team that has been shutout more than anyone remains to be seen, but it’s better than being in their bottom-six. No points for White in his three games since being called up. His AHL scoring has also not been particularly strong so perhaps we are a season away from him being truly impactful.
We don’t have a timeline for Ryan’s injury, but the Senators are heading into their bye week, which would buy him some time if it isn’t serious.
This break may prove to be poorly timed for Duchene who has scored six points in the last four games.
The Leafs are also going on their bye, but theirs will prove shorter, receiving only the minimum five days off. There is no massive advantage to this, but it does put them in position with six games between their bye and the All-Star break. Six games in a 10-day stretch is as densely packed as a schedule can get, so don’t look to dump all your Leafs because of their bye.
I would consider dropping Patrick Marleau who has gone silent since Nazem Kadri’s return. Marleau did score five points in a four-game stretch where he saw top PP minutes, but has since been held off the board. Marleau has just seven points in 18 games since the start of December and is trending towards being a 40-point question mark.
Marleau still has merit being that he is on pace for over 200 SOG, but in a lot of leagues any forward scoring below a 50-point clip is instant waiver fodder.
Alex Wennberg was activated off IR earlier than expected. He hasn’t had near the fantasy relevance folks hoped from him, but perhaps he can mesh in well enough with the Columbus power play finally getting back to reasonable productivity.
Check out this ESPN article on how NHL referees have become fitness oriented.
Make sure you read Cam Robinson’s Top 75 Prospect Rankings for the 2018 draft.
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