Ramblings: D.J. Smith Hired in Ottawa; Larkin Injury Update; Nelson Contract; Meier and Labanc – May 24

by Michael Clifford on May 24, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: D.J. Smith Hired in Ottawa; Larkin Injury Update; Nelson Contract; Meier and Labanc – May 24

 

The big news from Thursday was Ottawa hiring their next head coach, D.J. Smith. That name might sound familiar to some as he ran both the defence and penalty kill of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He will be going into 2019-20 as Ottawa’s next bench boss.

You can read Cam Robinson’s take on the hiring here.

I don’t really have much to add here. The only real responsibility that Smith will have for the next two seasons is to develop all their young players. That includes Tkachuk, Chabot, White, and many others currently in the organization or on their way after the upcoming draft. This team could post 50-point seasons the next two years and it would not matter whatsoever as long as the young kids come along, and he can instill whatever systems he sees fit for his team. We’ll see if the owner has that kind of patience.  

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So, uh, remember Dylan Larkin taking a slap shot to the testicles in the World Championships? He didn’t return to that game and he was taken out of the tournament altogether. Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill says Larkin will be fine, which is a big relief.

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Brock Nelson signed a six-year, $36-million contract extension with the Islanders. In a nutshell, I don’t have a huge problem with this contract in the real world but it’s hard to see him being worth it in cap leagues. Fifty-point centres are pretty easy to find and you can find them for less than a $6M AAV.

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The rumour mill around the Penguins has been going strong since they were ousted in four games in the first round of the playoffs, but Josh Yohe of The Athletic is reporting there is a deal more or less in place between Pittsburgh and Minnesota involving Phil Kessel and Jason Zucker. That Kessel has a partial no-trade appears to be one of the final hurdles to clear.

Both Zucker and Kessel have been part of trade rumours for a month now, so this isn’t unexpected. But Zucker is on a very team-friendly deal and is coming off a bad year driven by percentages and not poor play. Minnesota better be sure about what they’re doing, and the Niederreiter-Rask trade gives me cause for concern about the Wild making more big moves.

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A pretty interesting tweet here from Steve Laidlaw on Wednesday night. Hi, Steve!

 

 

As I often say, I rely on the expertise of others as well as my own, limited, viewings of prospects to figure out guys to target. I will say this much: in dynasty rookie drafts this summer, I’d have a very hard time not taking Cole Caufield at third overall behind Hughes and Kakko. His goal scoring skill and sense are off the charts. I don’t care one iota how tall he is.

Of course, don’t just take my word for it. The 2019 Dobber Prospects Guide comes out next Saturday, June 1st. It has everything you need to know about not only the top-end prospects, but the lesser-known players who can make an impact on dynasty rosters. Readers can pre-order here

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It’s kind of funny how hockey works, right? San Jose was one of the best teams in the NHL all season long, get to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, and a handful of injuries all hitting at the same time effectively sealed their fate. They certainly had their chances in that game, but it almost felt like the writing was on the wall before the puck even dropped, right?

Regardless, the 2018-19 season was San Jose going all-in. They traded for one year (so far) of Erik Karlsson in the offseason, Joe Thornton came back despite all those knee injuries in recent years, they traded for Gustav Nyquist at the trade deadline, and did all this with Joe Pavelski a pending unrestricted free agent, and both Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc as restricted free agents. Whatever San Jose looked like in 2018-19, it’s a pretty good bet this team looks much different in 2019-20.

But what did we learn about a few of the Sharks players in 2018-19, fantasy-wise?

 

Timo Meier

It seems like it will be sooner rather than later that Meier will be a superstar in this league.

I hope those who read my Ramblings paid attention to what was written about him last year:

  • April 6, 2018: “Heading into this September’s drafts, keeps guys like Andreas Athanasiou, Josh Anderson, and Timo Meier in the back of your mind. They’re young guys among the shooting leaders this year.”
  • May 25, 2018: General concern about role, but discussing his great playoff shot rates.
  • September 29, 2018: “… Meier is a guy to get late in drafts. He quietly had 20 goals last year and has the profile of a guy who can push 30 goals even without the top PP minutes.”

After all that, Meier scored 30 goals and tallied 66 points last year, adding 250 shots, 55 penalty minutes, and 99 hits. He was top-20 league-wide in goals/60 minutes at five-on-five (minimum of 750 minutes played) and was fifth in shots/60. The guy who could probably be had around the 200th pick overall in standard Yahoo! leagues (depending on the league) finished the season just outside the top-50 players (56th, actually).

The playoffs did absolutely nothing to slow down Meier’s ability. Believe it or not, his shot attempt rate at five-on-five actually went up compared to his regular season even if his shots per game at all strengths went down. He only managed five goals but did have 15 points in 20 games. He showed flashes of his brilliance in all three series and generally looked outstanding even when the team did not.

It’s a fair question to ask what kind of impact Erik Karlsson had on Meier’s performance, and the performance of others. As for Timo himself, Karlsson undoubtedly was good to the young Swiss forward: without EK65 on the ice with him, the team’s shot rates with Meier on the ice went down about 10.7 percent and goals by about 9 percent. But it’s all relative: the overall shot rates for the team with Meier on the ice without EK65 (65.93 shot attempts/60) was in the top 10 percent of the league while the team’s goal rates in the same situation was in the top 15 percent of the league. So yes, undoubtedly, Karlsson helped Meier look a bit better than he otherwise would have. But he was still great even when he was skating without Karlsson, and his isolated impact over the last two years (from Hockey Viz) shows us this:

 

 

Red in the offensive zone is good. In short, Meier is absurd.

I won’t keep going on but it’s pretty obvious that Meier is an absolute stud and some people just don’t know it yet. There are changes coming to the Sharks, but at the least, they’ll have Hertl, Couture, Kane, Burns, Labanc, and Vlasic returning. That’s enough to support Meier’s continued ascent to fantasy stardom. He should be a top-100 pick in the fall and I’ll be buying him almost regardless of his ADP.

 

Kevin Labanc

I say it often, but every year there are a handful of players who really impress upon me, and Kevin Labanc was definitely one of them in 2018-19. I didn’t think he’d amount to being more than a ride-along player. Someone who can’t carry a line or generate much offence individually but has good enough play-making skills to be a decent bottom-6 guy.

Maybe he will be that guy down the road, but he certainly didn’t look like that guy this year.

This is anecdotal but one thing that stuck out to me about Labanc this year is that he seemed to always take a second to look for an extra play(er). I know that the general thought is that you want your skaters making plays almost automatically; that everyone should know where everyone is, where they’re supposed to be, and get the puck off their stick as quickly as possible. In many cases, that’s the ideal option. Your opponent, however, is also aware of where the immediate play is and if they’re in the right position or can make the right read, it can lead to a turnover. Rather, what I look for from players, especially once they get in the offensive zone, is whether they can look for the second, third, or even fourth option. It’s like a quarterback getting the snap, dropping back, and going through their progressions. The first option is ideal if it can be completed, but often the QB has to go to the second, third, or fourth read before making a play. A lot of players can consistently make the initial play – it’s why they’re in the NHL in the first place – but next-level offensive players can take an extra second, or make an extra move, to get through their progressions down the list in search of a better option. I saw that from Labanc this year, and that’s exciting. Those extra moves lead to seam passes, backdoor passes, or better shooting angles. Yes, they also lead to turnovers, but as long as he’s not losing ice time because of it, it really doesn’t matter for fantasy purposes.

There are questions about Labanc defensively, but like with the extra reads/moves, as long as it doesn’t cost him ice time next year, it doesn’t really matter for our purposes. (Yes, we can get into the plus/minus discussion but it’s the last week of May, I’d rather not have a plus/minus discussion.)

Two small concerns here: Labanc’s shot rate/60 went down a little less than 20 percent from the year before and his secondary assist rate nearly doubled. I will say that if he’s being more deliberate about his play, these kinds of things make sense. He would shoot less if he’s more often eschewing his primary read, and if those reads lead to more passing, his assist rates (even secondary ones) would climb. It’s not a big concern for me because we never really expected Labanc to be a big goal scorer like Meier and even with a normalized secondary assist rate, he’d only lose about five helpers off his season total.

Finally, the American forward really cemented himself on the power play. Even with all the weapons this team has (had?), Labanc was fourth among Sharks forwards in PP ice time, managing more than Kane, Thornton, or Meier. I’m expecting him to be on the top PP unit next year, although how many of their guys return could throw this into flux.

Labanc won’t reach the fantasy highs of Meier and it might take another year or two to realize his potential, but he has the makings of a guy who can put up 20-goal, 60-point seasons with heavy PP contributions. As long as your fantasy team’s peripherals are solid, he should be a target later in drafts come September.

 

Tomas Hertl

There’s been enough digital ink spilled by myself and others this season but it’s just nice to see him reach the fantasy potential he flashed all those years ago. Now, a lot of his performance this year was thanks to shooting nearly 20 percent when he was a career 11.3 percent shooter, and I do think he’s closer to a 25-goal guy than a 35-goal guy, but there’s not much reason to doubt his ability to post a 25-goal, 60-point season with decent peripherals. I wonder, however, if his ADP will be inflated next year because of that unsustainable shooting percentage. Let’s put it this way: I’d much rather have Meier than Hertl on my fantasy roster in 2019-20.

Speaking of Hertl, it was a head injury that kept him out of the elimination Game 6. That he was at locker cleanout and talking to reporters is, I assume, a good sign.

 

I’ll write more on the Sharks (and everyone else) this summer so I won’t keep going but I really did want to go into a bit more depth with Meier and Labanc. The former looks to be a building block for fantasy rosters for years to come while the latter looks to be a nice complementary piece. The Sharks may lose some players, but there are others around who can certainly fill the necessary roles.