Ramblings: Draisaitl, Bjorkstrand, Kuemper, Tatar, & Assessing Binnington’s Future

by Cam Robinson on March 26, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Draisaitl, Bjorkstrand, Kuemper, Tatar, & Assessing Binnington’s Future

 

The Panthers have officially hit the wall. They could only ride Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov for so long. Those two were on the heater to end all heaters the last month or so. Alas, all good things come to an end. And for my finals' opponent (who owns them both plus Keith Yandle) it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

 

The Panthers were smacked around 6-1 by the Habs on Tuesday. Tomas Tatar scored two goals and added an assist, Carey Price stopped 33 and the Canadiens moved to within a point of the first Wild Card.

 

Florida was officially eliminated from contention.

 

Tatar has been a godsend off the bench for many squads this month. The 28-year-old has 10 points in 12 March contests – nine of which have come at even-strength. His 57 points in 75 games represent a new career-high. All the metrics are right where they need to be. This is a rejuvenated player who should be capable of posting 55-plus again next season.

 

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Speaking of the Panthers, Roberto Luongo didn’t dress in this one but recently had some words for reporters about his future. The gist of it is he’s unsure. To me, that speaks volumes. The 40-year-old's decision to hang them up holds massive implications for the Canucks.

 

If you recall, he was signed to a monster 12-year deal that found a sneaky way to circumvent to old CBA by front-loading the dollars. The current CBA slid in the recapture penalty that forces the Canucks to eat a big stinky sock’s worth of cap if he decides to retire early. Seems fair, eh? Penalize something that was technically legal when it happened. I know a lawyer or three who would have a field day with this in any other setting. 

 

Here’s how that looks if Bobby Lu retires early:

 

Here’s what I think of it:

 

 

 

I guess we’ll have to wait and see if he simply finds a way onto LTIR to collect his cheques and save his former club.

 

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Sergei Bobrovsky is showing up when it matters most – for his squad and for his fantasy owners. The Blue Jackets’ netminder rattled off his second consecutive shutout on Tuesday evening. This time making 26 stops to blank the Islanders 4-0.

 

Much has been said about the pending unrestricted free-agent and the likely anchor of a contract he may sign on July 1. Well, the two-time Vezina winner has been near the top of the heap for the last three months. Stretching back to the beginning of February, Bobrovsky is 14-7-0 with six shutouts and a 0.930 save percentage make. He’s had a few clunkers mixed in there, but the overall theme is positive.

 

He remains a tier one guy heading into 2019-20 – especially if he finds himself on a contender next fall.

 

Cam Atkinson (1+1) and Matt Duchene (0+2) led the way for CBJ. But Oliver Bjorkstrand looked strong as well. He tallied his 17th goal of the season and peppered six shots on goal. He has three goals in his last four games.

 

 

The 23-year-old has seen his production dip in his second full campaign, but with Artemi Panarin all but gone this summer, he’s in line for a major uptick in deployment.

 

You’d be wise to take a long look at him in drafts next fall.

 

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Reports came out on Tuesday that Hurricanes prospect and Hobey Baker finalist, Adam Fox will return to Harvard for this senior year and test unrestricted free agency in August 2020. This is a big blow for the Hurricanes who targetted Fox in last summer's blockbuster trade with Calgary. It's great news for all the teams in search of a young, super offensive right-shot defender though. 

 

Fox will have plenty of suitors next summer. 

 

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In another 4-0 affair, the Sens defeated the Sabres. Both these teams are pretty bad so I’m going to just leave it at that. Okay, maybe a bit more. Thomas Chabot recorded two assists in this one. 52 points in 64 games for the sophomore blueliner is… nutty. He’s the real deal.

 

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Evgeni Kuznetsov tallied three helpers, Alex Ovechkin scored his 49th, and Braden Holtby made 27 stops as the Capitals defeated the Hurricanes 4-1. Nicklas Backstrom finished this one off with an empty-netter to give him 70 points on the season. He joins and surpasses, some lofty company with that point.

 

 

Backy remains one of the most underappreciated stars of this generation. I like him for 70 more next season too.

 

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The Oilers dropped a touchdown and two-point conversion the lowly Kings in one of the late games on Tuesday. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had four points. McDavid went the 1+3 route to set career-highs in assists (73) and points (112). Meanwhile, Drai scored the hat trick and added an assist. His 46 goals sit second behind Ovechkin with a handful of games left on the schedule for each team.

 

Draisaitl now has 99 points on the season. Just think, the Oilers will have two 100-point scorers on their team and be NOWHERE NEAR CONTENDING. As my good buddy, Jason Botchford says, It takes an army.

 

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Jon Quick allowed five goals on 11 shots. He doesn’t even look like an NHL goaltender anymore. Turns out netminders who rely on reflexes and desperation saves don’t age well. Who’d have figured?

 

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Chicago and Arizona met on Tuesday with real playoff implications. The Yotes came into the evening two points back of the Avs for the final Wild Card spot. The Blackhawks sat five back – technically still in it, but we all know they aren't. 

 

Darcy Kuemper continued to be a rock for the desert dogs. He made 31 stops for his fourth shutout of the campaign. This season could've easily been a write-off when Antti Raanta went down in November. But thanks to Kuemper, Arizona has a legitimate shot at some playoff revenue. He's posted a quality start in 34 of 51 outings, while his 0.924 save percentage on the year is fourth amongst regular starters. 

 

His value lies at this moment, as we won't be seeing him earn this amount of starts next year. That is unless we see a team make a play for the 28-year-old via trade. He makes 1.8 million next season before hitting unrestricted free agency. 

 

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The late game featured two more non-playoff teams as the Ducks visited the Canucks. While the players are trying to win games, each fan base is rooting for regulation Ls. 

 

Sam Steel scored a hattrick through two periods of play and was buzzing throughout. He has four points in the two games since being recalled. The 21-year-old has had a strong first professional season. He’s hovered around the 0.8 point-per-game mark in the American League – no easy feat for a youngster, and now appears to be finishing the year off on a high note with the big club.

 

Personally, I prefer Troy Terry between the two young Ducks’ forwards, but Steel has a nice set of skills and should slide nicely into a top-six centre position; potentially as early as next season.

 

The Ducks took this one 5-4 after the Canucks scored two late third period goals.

 

Obligatory Elias Pettersson highlight. 

 

 

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Let’s talk about Jordan Binnington for a moment. For years, the Blues have swung wildly with the tides of mediocre goaltending. Jake Allen, long pegged as the goaltender of the future, became the goaltender of now. It started out so promising.

 

As a 24-year-old, Allen came in and posted a 0.913 save percentage in 37 games back in 2014-15. He followed that up with a 0.920 over 47 contests in 2015-16. The ball was officially given to him in 2016-17 and he rewarded the organization with a 0.915 in 61 games – including a 54 percent quality start rating.

 

Since then, things have not been so rosy. Over the next 103 contests, the now 28-year-old has a 0.905 save percentage and has made a habit of blowing up and giving up softies. He’s been a clear Achilles heel on a team that on paper should be a contender most years.

 

Enter Binnington. Well, not exactly. Heading into 2018-19, the expectation was for Ville Husso to make a play to peel starts away from Allen. Huuso had produced spectacular numbers in the Finnish Liiga and followed that up with a 0.921 over his first 60 AHL contests. He had the size (6’3), pedigree, and recent production boxes all checked off.

 

Personally, I had Husso ranked very high amongst goaltending prospects and fully expected him to make some noise this season. Conversely, Binnginton was a bit undersized and was shipped off to Providence to get starts because he couldn’t push Husso out of the crease in San Antonio.

 

What has happened since is nothing short of miraculous. We know the story, Binnington has arrived and has slammed the door shut on many an evening. His .930 save percentage trails only Ben Bishop for goalies with at least 20 games. His 68 percent quality start mark also sits second in the NHL.

 

His 0.942 mark at even-strength leads all netminders by six points.

 

It’s been nothing but gravy in Missouri for the Ontario-native. So what the hell do we do with this heading into drafts next fall? We can’t pencil this guy down for 45 wins and a Vezina, that would lunacy.

 

Is he Andrew Hammond or Devan Dubnyk?

 

If I’m being completely honest, I can’t say. I can say that he’s been producing these metrics in a somewhat reasonable manner. He’s making clean saves, controlling rebounds like a veteran, and recovering from tough goals and outings. Those are traits I love to see. It doesn’t hurt that he has a decent defensive core in front of him and a team that has found their mojo. There’s little reason to expect the Blues to fall back off that cliff early next season like they did this year.

 

If I’m sitting down to draft a one-year league next fall, I’m pencilling Binnington into a tier two position. I feel that’s as aggressive as anyone should be. We’re constantly burned by the masked men, that drinking the kool-aid too quickly will send you on a not so welcoming trip.

 

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