Ramblings: Couture Heating Up, Chad Johnson’s Starter Potential (Dec 1)

by steve laidlaw on December 1, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Couture Heating Up, Chad Johnson’s Starter Potential (Dec 1)

Chad Johnson stays hot, Couture picking up steam, expansion draft thoughts and more.

 

Is Chad Johnson the only fantasy relevant Flame right now? 39-save shutout for Johnson, his third of the season. He has faced 34 shots or more in four straight starts and has won three of those. Good show.

Travis Yost makes the case that Johnson is better than a backup:

All this to say: Johnson is having a quality run, yes, but he’s also been a quality goaltender for 112 games and thousands of shots against. At some point, you have to start asking about whether or not this is the sort of player that should be getting more opportunity to start at the NHL level.

I am open to the possibility that this is more than just a hot run for Johnson. He may very well be the best goalie in Calgary. I still think that this team is bad and that will eventually show through in Johnson’s numbers. Ultimately, it’s just hard to be a runaway #1 on a bad team, especially when Brian Elliott looms. That’s no reason not to take advantage of this hot run though.

Kris Versteeg has three points in his last four games, skating on the top line. We know he can get hot. Perhaps a streaming option for this weekend. The Flames play the off-night Friday/Sunday schedule this week.

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There aren’t too many teams that divide their ice time as evenly as the Maple Leafs do. Auston Matthews leads all forwards with 17:21 per game, and deservedly so, but the Leafs have nine other forwards who average at least 14 minutes a night. This is why you cannot complain too much about the mixing and matching of lines. All the talented players will find minutes.

At some point, Matthews is going to skate 20 minutes a night because he’s going to be used on the penalty kill but for now, it’s probably better for his numbers that his role is a little bit limited.

My one quibble is how the Leafs divide power play time evenly. Their power play is pretty good (currently 12th in efficiency at 19.1%) but I prefer teams who load up one unit. If you have two #1 units, you really have no #1 units. It has to be tough to keep everyone happy with so much offensive talent on the squad.

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Anders Lee saw his power play time dwindle last night as he was once again bumped off the top unit. It would be nice if they would stick with him as their net-front guy. He has the best tools for the job and seems to be getting to the right areas in recent games. The game-winner he scored on a tip in front is a testament to that.

Just when you thought his usage was in the dumps he was out there for a late shift with John Tavares and winds up with a goal, his fourth in the last four games. I wish I could tell you that this hot streak will continue, but with the way Lee’s deployment is bouncing all over, it’s hard to get a feel.

The Islanders tried to give last night’s game away but bounced back after blowing a 3-0 lead heading into the third period. That’s three wins in the last four games for Thomas Greiss who is becoming more of a factor in the Islander crease. Expect Jaroslav Halak tonight, given the back-to-back.

Josh Bailey has points in three straight but he’s so damned streaky you cannot get on board. He’s going to yo-yo his way to 45 points.

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Just the second loss of the season for Matt Murray, and his first real hiccup. Murray did have this beauty of a save:

I have been unwavering in my belief that the Penguins will need both Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury this season. Now that Murray has had a hiccup, we really get to see what shakes out.

Patric Hornqvist returned from a concussion and was right back on the top line and top power play unit skating 17:15 and notching an assist.

The HBK line was back together but we’re all still waiting for them to get it going like they did during the playoffs. Phil Kessel has been awesome but both Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino have struggled. I’m not even expecting much from the latter two. Even a 40-point pace would be nice. Lots of time for them to right the ship but I’m looking to bail out.

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Logan Couture finally helping to provide some secondary scoring? He’s been okay thus far, having scored nine goals but five of those goals have come on the power play, where we know the Sharks have a lethal #1 unit. What the Sharks need from Couture is more of what he provided last night: even-strength scoring. He had two goals and an assist at evens to give him 15 points on the season. He is on pace for 51 points but has more to offer. It would help if his linemates could score a little.

Joel Ward had a pair of assists but features in my latest for Puck Daddy, which looks at some of the coldest shooters in the league.

Joonas Donskoi was moved off of that line in favour of Kevin Labanc but did manage to assist on Couture’s goal as their was some overlap taking place. Labanc has three points in the last four games. Colour me intrigued.

Don’t even get me started on Mikkel Boedker, who I won’t touch in any league.

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Marian Gaborik was buzzing last night. He had three shots on goal, but they were all dangerous. He also chipped in an assist. Unfortunately, there is probably room for only one of him or Tanner Pearson to be consistently fantasy relevant. Right now, it’s Pearson getting the time with That 70’s Line and on the top PP unit. Meanwhile Gaborik is skating on the fourth line and second PP unit.

 

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I finally got around to publishing my first mock expansion draft. Check it out.

A few highlights:

I discussed the Ducks last week but their situation continues to intrigue me. They have more than four forwards that they want to protect and more than three defensemen. Kevin Bieksa also has a No-Move clause but I think they find a way around that. That still means losing one of Cam Fowler, Josh Manson or Jakob Silfverberg.

I don’t know if the plan is to make a backdoor deal with Vegas to leave one exposed but have Vegas pass them over or if they decide to make a trade before hand but something will have to give. For what it’s worth, I have the Ducks losing Fowler in the expansion draft. It makes some sense for the Ducks to expose him since he hits unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018. It helps them avoid the media circus of a final season and they get to keep everyone else.

Plus, the Ducks are loaded with defensemen in the pipeline. Shea Theodore is begging for regular minutes, while Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson also loom. They’ve got so many defensemen that on paper it is insane that they haven’t dealt one for a forward. It’s forcing me to think up wild trades like Fowler for James van Riemsdyk.

On paper, that deal could make sense, especially when you consider that both hit free agency in 2018. But the Leafs want more of a defensive defenseman and the Ducks seem content to give their current group one more shot. Also, Randy Carlyle seems to love Fowler so there are off-paper factors that just do not allow for a trade.

 

The Wild have a glut of options available. Ultimately, I went chalk and plucked Jonas Brodin but a part of me wanted to steal Eric Staal instead. Staal looks rejuvenated. He remained a quality possession guy in Carolina, but he has rediscovered the offense in Minnesota. He’d offer a #1-ish center option. But if you’re starting a franchise you are probably taking the 23-year-old defenseman over the 32-year-old forward. Especially when the defenseman is locked up on a reasonable deal long term.

Brodin hasn’t reached the level many hoped he would so I do wonder if that would give the Vegas team pause. We could see the Wild try to make a backdoor deal as well but they just have too many guys to protect. On top of Brodin and Staal, Jason Zucker also looms as a decent option.

 

Tampa Bay has so much talent that you cannot help but get someone good. Figuring out the third defenseman that they will protect after Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman is a challenge. The consensus is Andrej Sustr but I could hear cases for Slater Koekkoek or Nikita Nesterov.

Any one of those defensemen would look good in a Knights uniform but I opted for help up front. There again, you have choices with Vladislav Namestnikov and Alex Killorn looking juicy. Those options might shift if Steve Yzerman can get shrewd can have Valtteri Filppula and/or Ryan Callahan waive his No-Move clause. I picked Namestnikov for my expansion team. I like his center/wing flexibility and think he could offer more in a larger role.

 

I don’t see my expansion team winning too many games but I did leave myself plenty of cap space with which to chase free agents. Martin Hanzal, Kevin Shattenkirk, and TJ Oshie sit atop my list. Doubtful that Vegas gets any of them, let alone all but suddenly you can imagine a competitive roster if they can swing it.

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Some exciting news:

I have been waiting all season for Jakub Vrana to get his chance. Especially once TJ Oshie went down with an injury, I expected Vrana to get the call. He is an offensive dynamo who has scored 25 goals and 55 points in 57 career AHL games. There isn’t a ton of room for Vrana when this lineup is healthy but with Oshie out there’s a top-six wing spot for Vrana to shine in.

I feel similarly about Vrana as I did about Jake Guentzel, who has been a mild hit for the Penguins in limited action. Read more on Vrana here.

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Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.