Ramblings: Colorado-San Jose Game 7; Columbus Post-Mortem; Niemi – May 9

by Michael Clifford on May 9, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Colorado-San Jose Game 7; Columbus Post-Mortem; Niemi – May 9

 

The big news before Game 7 was that Joe Pavelski returned to the lineup for San Jose for the first time since the Vegas series. There may have been questions about how ready he would be for a game of this magnitude, but the fact that he scored a trademark redirection in the first period quietly quelled most of those.

The big news early in Game 7 was when Nathan MacKinnon went crashing into the boards and seemed to injure his shoulder. He went to the room and missed several shifts before returning. In the meantime, Pavelski and Tomas Hertl scored six minutes apart to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead.

Mikko Rantanen, Joonas Donskoi, and Tyson Jost would trade goals to give us a 3-2 game, which would end up being the final. San Jose goes through to the Conference Final for the fourth time since the 2005 lockout while Colorado goes home after their first Conference Semi-Final appearance in over a decade.

To me, this was the most entertaining series of the second round. It should be noted that the Avs had the expected goal share over San Jose through the first six games and played equally well in Game 7. It’s an incredibly bright future in Colorado. I’ll have more on them in tomorrow’s Ramblings.

Cale Makar looked great again. He makes some of the mistakes you’d expect a rookie to make but the talent, and his decision making, was on full display in his postseason showing. It’ll be very interesting to see where he’s ranked across the industry over the offseason. It’s a team on the rise but there is still Tyson Barrie to contend with for another year. All the same, Makar looks every bit the franchise defenceman poolies were hoping for.

I am very much looking forward to San Jose-St. Louis.

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There wasn’t much to come from the Columbus locker cleanout. As expected, the pending UFAs didn’t have much to say on their futures, there were shoulder injuries for both Josh Anderson and Riley Nash though neither is thought to be severe, while Markus Nutivaara suffered a torn oblique.

There’s a lot more on Columbus, from a fantasy perspective, later in these Ramblings.

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It appears Antti Niemi’s NHL playing days are over. Not his hockey career, as he goes the top Finnish men’s league to play for Jokerit, but the end of his time in North America.

He had a pretty bad year in 2018-19 with an .887 save percentage in 17 games. It’s easy to forget that he has had some good years, though. He won a Stanley Cup in 2010, finished top-10 in Vezina voting twice (and top-3 once), all the while managing to carve himself a nice NHL career. He’s not one of the best over the last decade, but he was just fine for a good chunk of it. Good luck to him on the next phase of his life.

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The guys over at Evolving Wild, a stats-centred website that has a lot of very useful and informative tools, have released their estimations for contract signings this summer. It shapes up to be quite the summer with names like Karlsson, Pavelski, Bobrovsky, Panarin, and a whole lot more all available. The methodology for their estimations can be read here.

These obviously won’t be perfect. There are 350 players on the list and as anyone who’s tried projecting individual performances for a fantasy season can attest, projecting that many players is going to invariably involve some misses. It is a helpful guide for those in cap leagues, though, and makes for good water cooler fodder.

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This isn’t relevant to anything but goodness, this shootout goal from Richard Panik:

 

 

Not every day you see what looks to be a back-hand toe-drag that ends up being a snapshot?

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Ian Gooding’s take on the Ken Holland hiring can be found here.

I don’t really know what to make of the hiring; on the one hand, Detroit was the standard bearer for success for years. On the other, that dominance was largely a product of finding Hall of Famers late in drafts because thorough European scouting was an inefficiency to be exploited 20-30 years ago. More recently, there is a litany of horrific contracts that have greatly hindered Detroit’s flexibility and ability to contend for years:

 

 

Boy, does that seem familiar.

If people want to argue that those were deals made in the name of trying to squeeze every ounce they could out of the tenure of Datsyuk/Zetterberg, that’s fine. They’re still horrific deals. 

This is going to be a great test of Holland’s ability as a GM. He has the best player in the world, and there are some good young defencemen on the way, but this team has tens of millions in terrible contracts for years to come. He has to clear some (or all) of it while not mortgaging the future but also turning the team around quickly enough that there isn’t a mutiny in two years. He’s walking a tightrope with no net. Good luck.

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I wanted to dive a bit more into Columbus losing out than what I could offer in a quick recap Tuesday morning. So let’s do that.

When Columbus was eliminated from the 2019 playoffs, the first thing that popped into my mind, from a fantasy perspective, is this offseason will probably see Columbus treated as the Islanders were a year ago when they lost John Tavares. There is, and already has been, a lot of chatter about how the team will probably lose the likes of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky, and how that will affect the team.

To be sure, losing players of that calibre will hurt the entire roster. I am not disputing that. That is not what we should be focusing on, however. What we should be focusing on is what is left and the value they can bring.

A lot of people wrote off the Islanders before the 2018-19 season; I know I did. But writing them off for the season is not the same as writing off individual performances for fantasy purposes. I thought both Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle were greatly undervalued heading into the year and while Eberle didn’t pull through for fantasy owners, Lee certainly did. Ditto for Ryan Pulock.

It’s dangerous to write off an entire team because of free agent losses. For our collective sake, let’s hope the fantasy community at large did not learn their lesson last year because this could present a great buying opportunity for Columbus next year.

It seems easy to forget that the year before Artemi Panarin was traded to Columbus, Cam Atkinson posted a 35-goal season. He was one of just seven players that year to score at least 35 goals, tally at least 60 points, and manage at least 240 shots. From 2014-17, Atkinson scored at the same rate at five-on-five as Brendan Gallagher and Jamie Benn. He turns 30 years old in June but I wouldn’t expect him to just crater.

Pierre-Luc Dubois isn’t exactly a forgotten young player in the league as he seems to get a lot of praise but he does seem to be mis-cast a bit. Perhaps my perception of his perception is incorrect, but it does seem like he’s cast as a defensive centre when that hasn’t really been the case. From the aforementioned Evolving Wild website, here is how Duchene and Dubois compare over the last three seasons (yes, I know Dubois has only played two). It measures their impact offensive and defensively on expected goals and shot attempts:

 

 

This shouldn’t be seen as disparaging. A 20-year old centre being even average defensively is just fine for his development curve. But he’s been very good offensively, as measured by both Evolving Wild’s RAPM model and here with Hockey Viz’s isolated impact (red on offence is good, as is blue on defence):

 

 

My feeling is that with all the negativity surrounding Columbus already, and Dubois likely being viewed as a defensive stalwart than offensively impactful, he’ll be largely undervalued by the market this summer. He’s already demonstrated to be very proficient offensively by underlying numbers and should get more ice time next year that should include consistent top PP minutes. There is a lot that will change between now and September but Dubois is being pencilled in as a centre I will target heavily next season.

Let’s also not forget about Zach Werenski. There has been a lot of chatter around Seth Jones (and rightfully so; he’s really good!) but Werenski has been superlative through his first three seasons: he’s 1 of 14 defencemen to manage at least 30 goals and 90 assists through his age 19-21 seasons. Of those 14 defencemen, 11 are retired, and 8 of those 11 are Hall of Famers. The three that are still active, including Werenski, are Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson.

There are questions about Werenski’s defensive ability and those question are valid. Let’s remember that he’s just 21 years old (22 in July) and his offensive prowess far outweighs any defensive issues. Here’s how his first three years have compared to the most recent three seasons of Morgan Rielly’s career by things like zone exits/entries, shots, and shot assists (passes that lead to shots):

 

Werenski is already a great puck-mover and probably won’t really hit his stride for another year or two. The only thing keeping him from a 50-point season is high usage on a decent power play.

 

Those are only three players. It leaves out Josh Anderson becoming a top-end power forward, David Savard’s wonderful 2018-19 season that could be a springboard to higher highs, Alexandre Texier performing well enough to earn postseason action, and others.

Undoubtedly, the Jackets have their work cut out next year and years to come. They’re missing half their draft picks over the next two drafts including both second rounders and this year’s first. But that doesn’t really matter for fantasy purposes. All that matters is whether or not the players currently on the roster are a value or not. My instinct tells me they will be.