Ramblings: Baertschi and Ward Sign, Vrana/Marner, Morgan Rielly’s Upside (June 17)

by Michael Clifford on June 16, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Baertschi and Ward Sign, Vrana/Marner, Morgan Rielly’s Upside (June 17)

Baertschi and Ward Re-Sign, Vrana and Marner Next Year, Rielly, and more

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It’s probably worth noting that Sven Baertschi re-upped with the Canucks for two more years, carrying a cap hit under $2-million a season. Not a bad bet.

Baertschi did reasonably well for the Canucks last year, posting 28 points in 69 games. He now has 30 points in 72 games with Vancouver, which is a decent total for a kid getting third and fourth line minutes.

Behind Daniel Sedin, Baertschi seems like a reasonable option to slot on the second line’s left wing. With Chris Higgins a non-factor, and pretty much no one else nipping at his heels, I think Baertschi can start the year on the second line, and that would give him some fantasy value.

This is a guy that’s still only a deep league option, but I’ve always loved the talent here. He just has never been given much of an extended shot. Hopefully he can start the year on the second line and second power play unit, which means 40 points is within range.

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As I’ve repeated often here, I’m not a prospect guy. There are hundreds of players to “scout” that are currently NHLers; all the prospects just compound the problem. That’s why I lean on people that do scout the prospects that I trust, and use resources like Dobber’s Prospect Report, which is now available in the Shop.

I can’t help but fawn over Jakub Vrana, though. Washington’s first round pick from 2014 looked like he was on another level in the AHL Final games that I happened to watch. The speed and the skill were obvious, but anecdotally, he seemed to make good decisions with the puck, and that’s how you get to, and stay at, the next level.

We’ll see how he slots for the Capitals, but I assume he’s on the third line to start the year next year. This is a prospect I will be grabbing at the end of drafts, though. If they decide to slot him as a left winger, there is a second line wing spot that Vrana can probably grab with solid play through the first month or so of the season. It doesn’t seem to me like Andre Burakovsky is a lock to play there next year, and Marcus Johansson played very well on the third line last year.

One other player I’m curious about is Mitch Marner. It’s still way too early to wonder about where he’ll slot, because I assume the Leafs will have more than a few trades and signings over the next two or three weeks. But it’s clear he’s too good not to at least start in the NHL next year, and training camp will probably tell us a lot.

Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on Vrana and Marner for next year in one-year leagues. I’m buying in at the end of drafts on Vrana, and taking a wait-and-see approach with Marner. How about you?  

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Morgan Rielly had 36 points last year. That’s pretty good. One thing I didn’t realize until digging into this: it was his lowest power play point per game output of his career. That seems odd, given it was his third season in the league and the Leafs traded just about everyone that could bring a reasonable return.

Rielly was basically one of three defencemen used on the power play last year, alongside Dion Phaneuf (pre-trade) and Jake Gardiner. Given the lack of other options, I would have to think that Rielly gets a big bump in power play time next year, and finished closer to 20 power play points than 10 (he had 12 last year). 

As for what he’s done so far in his career, he’s in really good company. From Hockey Reference’s Play Index – and from their newly-redesigned site – these are all the defencemen since the 2005 lockout to post at least 90 points through their Age 21 season. The list is short, and (mostly) distinguished:

       

Assuming Rielly isn’t the next Tyler Myers – he won’t be – his production should only get better.

So what about next season?

I can’t imagine that Rielly doesn’t crack 40 points next year. Now, that might not seem like a crazy total, but only 26 defencemen had at least 40 points last year. Assuming constant production at even strength, Rielly should crack that barrier through an uptick in power play production alone.

There is more upside beyond that as well. Toronto was one of the lowest scoring teams in the league last year, largely in part to trading away a plethora of assets, but also due to injury. Remember that James van Riemsdyk played less than half the season, and Joffrey Lupul just a bit over half (though that’s about normal now). Also, William Nylander wasn’t called up until later in the year, Mitch Marner is on his way to the roster, and Auston Matthews will be in the fold as well. In short, I don’t see this team finishing 25th in scoring next year. Corsica Hockey has them as 12th in expected goals in all situations last year, and that sounds about right for the team in 2016-2017.

All this is to say that I expect big things from Rielly next year. With the team finally looking to make a push, and a new wealth of talent (with everyone hopefully healthy), this team should be much better offensively next year. I don’t see a huge jump in total ice time, maybe about a minute, but the production with the minutes he’s given next year should improve a fair amount. I think 40 points is being safe, and looking for 45 points from Rielly next year is more than realistic.

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A little over a week after my Ramblings discussing Justin Faulk’s fantasy value, with a focus on Carolina’s poor goaltending over the last couple of years, the Hurricanes re-signed goaltender Cam Ward to a two-year contract carrying an average annual value of $3.3-million. Ward should also send a very expensive bottle of scotch to his agent, as there was a modified no-trade clause included in the contract. The modification is that Ward can submit a list of 15 teams he can be traded to. That would seemingly remove the possibility of him being grabbed in the Las Vegas expansion draft. That's a sweet deal. 

Over the past two seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes have been a top-10 team in limiting shot attempts against at five-on-five. That would indicate to me that the team has a fairly sound defensive structure. Using Corsica Hockey’s score and venue adjustments, Ward has been the third-worst goalie by five-on-five save percentage. Fourth-worst? Eddie Lack. These are the bottom-10 (note that part of Lack's time came with Vancouver):

         

What needs to be said is that A) the free agent goalie draft class is weaker than the Atlanta Braves lineup, and B) they probably didn’t want to part with assets (other than cap space and money I suppose) to improve their goaltending situation. They probably think they are a year or two away from really making noise in the East, but that’ll put them at nearly a decade between playoff appearances. Probably not good for business.

Fantasy-wise, this is killer for the Carolina players that would be drafted (Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, etc.). Even though they are a good defensive – and possession – team, there still isn’t a ton of top-end skill (yet). I have to think they aren’t better than mid-pack in scoring. And when you add in two goalies that could put up a sub-.910 save percentage next year, that should lead to a lot of bad plus/minus ratings. Again. That’s not good for roto leagues.

Remember that any goalie – literally any goalie, look at Ondrej Pavelec in 2014-2015 – can put together a good season. The evidence indicates that this won’t be the case for the Carolina goaltenders this year, though. That has to be taken into account when drafting in roto leagues that use plus/minus. Relying on your Hurricanes to contribute in a positive manner in this stat is not looking likely.

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Keeping with the Carolina theme, I thought it’d be worth looking over Jordan Staal’s season last year. By raw point totals, it was his best year in a Hurricanes jersey, and was his first 20-goal season since 2009-2010.

The thing is, other than an elevated shooting percentage at 13.2-percent (he had been under 10-percent each of his other three seasons in Carolina), none of his indicators were out of line; the team’s on-ice shooting percentage with Staal on the ice was 6.78-percent at five-on-five, and he managed a point on two-thirds of the goals scored when he was on the ice. Those numbers are completely normal on the Hurricanes.

He also had 10 power play points, the same total as 2013-2014. So, it really does seem the only difference for Staal was the goal scoring.

At this point, it’s worth noting that the average Staal shot at five-on-five was from under 27 feet, according to Behind The Net. That is about right for him, so it’s worth exploring whether or not he had been unlucky the three previous years with his conversion rates, or lucky last year. That is another topic for another day, but I should note that two of Staal’s three seasons prior to last year were pretty much half seasons, one due to the lockout, and one due to injury. So maybe he didn't have enough games those years for the luck to swing in his favour. 

With Teuvo Teravainen joining the fold, Elias Lindholm a year older, and Jeff Skinner back to doing Jeff Skinner things, maybe it’s possible that Staal can be a regular 45-50 point player again like he was for much of his tenure in Pittsburgh. He’s still only a deep league option, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy into his production last year as a mirage just yet. 

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Just as a small aside, to expand a discussion in the comments of my Ramblings yesterday, I want readers to read this article from Matt Cane. It’s on the topic of zone starts.

I won’t ruin the article for readers, I just encourage everyone to read it. If it doesn’t change the way zone starts are accounted for in your mind, it should at least give readers some food for thought.

*Stats from Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, Corsica Hockey, and Behind The Net. Cap information from Cap Friendly