Ramblings: Changing of the Guard? (Mar 17)

by steve laidlaw on March 17, 2017

Ramblings:Are we witnessing a changing of the guard in goal-scoring supremacy?


Alex Ovechkin ended his career-long goal-scoring drought earlier this week but we’ve been talking about his down season all year. He had a hot run about a month ago, when the Capitals were rolling through the league but he has otherwise failed to live up to his lofty standards. His minutes, shooting and scoring are all down this season.

I enjoyed this piece from Andrew Berkshire examining Ovechkin’s decline:

Over the past nine seasons, there has been a slow, but mostly steady decline in Ovechkin’s shot numbers. He’s still the king of shot volume overall and that linear trend line of decline could easily level off if he were to have a dominant season next year. But the evidence of decline is there.

Actually, Ovechkin is no longer the shot king, having been usurped by Brent Burns. Hell, even Patrice Bergeron was ahead of Ovechkin in SOG (by one) going into last night’s games. If you want to argue that this is a one-off, by all means make that argument. Betting against Ovechkin in fantasy hasn’t often worked. But, I’d point out that he’ll be 32 going into next season potentially dealing with the wear and tear of a lengthy playoff run (don’t laugh too hard.) There’s also the looming specter of the Olympics, which Ovechkin says he is going to whether the NHL joins him or not.

Cutting two weeks out of his season would not endear Ovechkin to fantasy owners. And if the NHL does go to the Olympics then you are adding even more wear and tear.

Now, Ovechkin’s durability is one of his many freakish qualities. He has missed more than four games in a season only once, missing 10 games back in 2010 and he went ahead and tied for second in scoring that season anyhow. But between this year’s World Cup, this season, the playoffs, next season and the Olympics, we might be looking at Ovechkin having played in the neighbourhood of 200 games in a 20-month span.

Where this all leads me is to wonder if this is the season we look back at this season as the year we passed the torch from Ovechkin, the greatest goal-scorer I have ever seen, to the next generation. It is almost certain that Ovechkin’s run of four straight Rocket Richard trophies will come to an end. We just witnessed David Pastrnak and Rickard Rakell hit the 30-goal plateau, joining Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov as 23-and-under players to reach that mark. Filip Forsberg and Mark Scheifele will be soon to follow.

It might be worth throwing some cold water on that notion, however. As impressive as this young group is, seven under-23 30-goal-scorers is the average we have come to expect since the ’05 lockout. The only things particularly outstanding about this group are the rookies (Laine and Matthews) who will join Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner as the only teenagers since the lockout to score 30 goals in a season. That changes the conversation a little bit.

It is very dangerous glomming onto breakout scorers, even ones as young as Pastrnak and Rakell. We’ve seen 315 30-goal seasons since the ’05 lockout and the list is riddled with players who appear only once or twice. Even the guys who pop up on the list at 23 or younger are at risk of never showing up again.

Guys like Nicklas Backstrom, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Dustin Brown, Nathan Horton, Bryan Little, Devin Setoguchi, Logan Couture and Milan Lucic have all not scored 30 goals in a season since turning 24. There are younger examples like Jordan Eberle, Jeff Skinner and Ryan Johansen. Evander Kane and Michael Grabner are currently battling for their second 30-goal season after experiencing some early success.

The latest aging curves suggest that players peak in terms of per-minute performance around age 23-25. That production may go up with more minutes as they get older but any player with an aberrant performance, even in his early 20’s might already be looking at his best season.

Each individual is going to be different. I trust Pastrnak’s breakout than I do in Rakell’s and trust Laine and Matthews even further. Age, even a difference of a couple of years, matters a lot.

Boiling it all down, what I am essentially asking is if Laine is going to takeover the league similar to Ovechkin. Laine is the heir apparent but is probably more Kovalchuk than Ovechkin. Stamkos should have been the guy if not for some brutal injuries, which only reinforces the majesty of Ovechkin. If this is the passing of the guard, it’s been a great ride. But I don’t think anyone is ready to count out Ovechkin just yet. Where are you looking to draft him next season?


The Brad Marchand/Connor McDavid battle for the scoring title lived up to the hype with each player netting three points. Marchand even had another one in the dying seconds that was wiped off because Matt Beleskey went down. Good call:

I swear, if Beleskey didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. Somehow, he skated off under his own power.

Marchand is now tops among players with 30 points in 19 games since the All-Star break. If you’ve been getting destroyed by him this week, the good news is that the Bruins don’t have any games left.

This was a wild game with the Oilers scoring seven goals for the second straight game. Patrick Maroon scored a pair, upping his total against the Bruins this season to five.

David Desharnais has four points in six games since joining the Oilers despite seeing only about 12 minutes a night with next to no power play time. The Oilers desperately needed secondary scoring, so this is a welcome sight but counting on it with this sort of deployment would be foolish.


Dave Hakstol might be the most infuriating coach for fantasy owners. Between his frequent scratches of productive youngsters like Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere and his inconsistent approach in goal, I’ve had enough.

Now, the goalies he’s had have not produced but Mason had been playing well of late. Last night he rolled out Mason on the balk half of a back-to-back, which is something I have been discussing as a serious no-no. Somehow, Michal Neuvirth was good enough to start for the Flyers in the middle of Mason’s hot run last week, when Mason would have been rested but wasn’t good enough to start on the back half of the B2B.


Having ranted about goalies on the B2B, watch John Hynes use Keith Kinkaid again tonight after he beat the Flyers last night. Can you tell that I am a Cory Schneider owner itching to get a start out of him? Here comes a start against a fresh Penguins team. Yikes.

Before getting too excited about the offensive flashes from New Jersey last night, remember the awful position that Mason was put in last night. Also remember that the Devils have owned the Flyers this season, outscoring them 14-3 in three games. They’ll play twice more in April.

The good news is that this ends a 10-game losing streak and brings their total for the month of March from eight to 14. This was huge.

Taylor Hall scored a pair including this beauty:

Hall has points in three straight and 15 in 19 since the All-Star break. That’s not bad, although losing Tuesday’s game to the storm was something of a killer.

The Devils have two games left this week with the nice Friday/Sunday slate. Obviously there will be no scooping Hall off the waiver wire but you might find Palmieri available. He has been excellent with 12 goals and 18 points in 19 games since the All-Star break. This is especially impressive because of the Devils’ struggles otherwise. Hall and Palmieri are the beginning and end of any discussion of fantasy value regarding the Devils.


There was some talk of Josh Ho-Sang jumping onto the top line with John Tavares but there was no deviation from the money top line group of Tavares with Anders Lee and Josh Bailey.

We did see some fluctuation in power play configurations as the Islanders went 0/4 with the man advantage. Ho-Sang saw 4:25 in PP time, third among Islander forwards, including some top unit time. No points for Ho-Sang but if you need help, he’s definitely an option worth considering.

Thomas Greiss continues his sub-standard second-half run. He is 10-9-1 with a 3.12 GAA and a 0.897 SV% since the All-Star break. They’ve got the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Penguins coming up next. Oof!


Part of the fallout of Tuesday’s lost game for the Jets is that the game was rescheduled for March 28, during the finals for standard H2H leagues. The Jets were looking like a write-off for that week with just two games on the schedule. I had plans of dropping both Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine if I made it that far. Now they’ve got three games that week, which will save some manoeuvring for fantasy owners.

This is all great news because of how many useful fantasy options that the Jets have. We all know their top-six options are good, although Mathieu Perreault continues to fly under the radar with 13 points in 19 games since the All-Star break. They are even getting some scoring from third-liners Adam Lowry and Joel Armia who have 10 and nine respectively since the All-Star break.

Jacob Trouba missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury following a fight with Sam Bennett. With no real time-table you might be forced to look for other options off the waiver wire.


Similar to the choice you might be facing with Trouba, I was forced to dump Mark Stone this week, even knowing that he might return on Sunday. It’s a sprint not a marathon and I’ve been fighting a losing battle with injuries to Craig Anderson and Stone, plus the postponed Jets/Devils game that cost me four man-games. It’s frustrating but shit happens, I’ll just continue to roll with the punches and hopefully work my way out of the hole.

It would help if my league used Yahoo’s IR+, which is four years old now. Every league should be using IR+ instead of the regular IR because it actually serves the purpose of allowing fantasy owners to replace injured players, rather than relying on a specific salary-cap related designation by his NHL team. As with so many rules it’s about the spirit, rather than the specific wording and IR+ solved a lot of problems. It’s my first year in this league so I’ll be having a word with the commissioner to get this league into the 21st century.

Anyhow, with Stone dropped, I scooped up Nick Schmaltz. I’ve already jumped on Jake Guentzel so Schmaltz is the next man up. No points for Schmaltz last night, although he was involved as the net-front guy on Duncan Keith’s opening goal.

Schmaltz did indeed skate on the top line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. He skated 16:31, his third highest minutes of the season, and fired three SOG. I’ll take the heavy involvement, even without the production I so desperately need. Schmaltz has just one point in the last five games but had nine in the previous five. Even in a sprint, I remained focused on process.

It is worth mentioning that Schmaltz is not on the Blackhawks’ top PP unit. Richard Panik is and he scored the game-winner with the man-advantage.

Scott Darling got the start, his first game in a couple of weeks after battling an injury. He was outstanding, which has become his standard.

Corey Crawford was apparently feeling under the weather. Maybe this is wear and tear from starting all the games with Darling out or maybe it’s some “cobwebs” after taking that Shea Weber slapper right in the mask on Tuesday. Whatever the case, with Darling back you can bet Crawford won’t be pressed too hard. Darling makes an excellent spot start any time you get the chance.


I mentioned this yesterday but with Ottawa going back-to-back against Montreal this weekend, Mike Condon is relevant again. He had another strong performance last night, filling in for the second straight game with Anderson out. I expect we see Anderson in goal for one of these weekend games but if you need a start you can bet on at least one from Condon.

May I point out that four of Burrows’ six points since joining the Senators have come against Colorado?


Huge bounceback for the Leafs to cool off the Lightning. They smashed Andrei Vasilevskiy for four goals on 15 shots, chasing him halfway through the second period. This after Vasilevskiy had been brilliant for the past couple of weeks. It seems like every goalie is getting touched up at least once this week.

After three goals in the previous two games Brayden Point was held scoreless but he has been awesome filling in for Tyler Johnson. Point’s play is giving Yzerman a ton of leverage/ammunition going into RFA negotiations with Johnson this summer.

Even after all the selling at the trade deadline, I have no idea how the Lightning are going to keep their team together. This was supposed to be the year that they’d go for it once more. That was the point of signing Nikita Kucherov to a bridge deal instead of locking the superstar up long term. They might still get the job done. But whether through trade or getting squeezed in contract negotiations Johnson is likely to suffer to keep this team under the cap next season.


Freddie Andersen with a heroic shutout after getting blown up earlier this week. I was on hard times in the goalie categories in one league, contemplating using a move to scoop up Aaron Dell (more on him later) but Andersen’s shutout has me back in the game. I am loving the swings of the fantasy playoffs, up and down!

Morgan Rielly has four points in his last four games, after scoring five in 16 coming out of the All-Star break. This continues to yo-yo his yo-yo performance. Maybe this is just how it’s going to be for Leaf defensemen. Rielly is up, Jake Gardiner is down. Gardiner is down, Rielly is up. Both are down, Nikita Zaitsev is up. I suppose that’s how it goes when you down have a true #1. Maddening.

Auston Matthews’ scoring slump has hit seven games. Horrific timing. The rookie wall? Nonsense.

I am advocating ruthlessly short-sighted moves in order to win the sprint that is a H2H playoff matchup. I can see the argument for cutting Matthews in a shallow setting if you’re up against the wall. He plays at the loaded center position and has only a Saturday game remaining this week. Avoid this at all costs. But you do what you’ve got to do to survive and advance.


Back to Dell, who lost for the first time in over a month. He’s a backup so that’s not entirely impressive but his record is outstanding with a 10-4-1 record, a 1.91 GAA and a 0.936 SV%. That’s a guy I want to spot start. Even conceding three goals in a loss to St. Louis he posted a save percentage above 0.900.

The real reason to get Dell on your radar is because all of San Jose’s games next week come in B2B situations. He’s looking at two starts next week. The Sharks have another B2B the following week. Suddenly Dell is looking awfully relevant. Although do take note of the Sharks’ brutal schedule with seven of their final 11 coming on the road, including all of those B2B.


Since I acquired Devan Dubnyk he is 5-5-0 with a 2.72 GAA and a 0.916 SV%. Send your boo-birds in my direction.


I have been hollering about the usefulness of Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm for a while now. Lindholm is on a five-game scoring streak and has 27 points in his last 31 games. Rask, meanwhile, has a more modest nine points in his last 12 games.


We saw the return of the Stars super line with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. Your winner: Spezza who notched a pair of assists. He has nine points in the last eight games.

Of course, it wouldn't be Stars game without bad news. Benn got into a scrap with Nikita Tryamkin and did not return to the game. Why, oh why are star players fighting?

Ales Hemsky scored his first goal of the season!


Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw