Ramblings: Eastern Conference Finals Begin; Leafs Injuries; Avalanche Future – May 10

by Michael Clifford on May 10, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Eastern Conference Finals Begin; Leafs Injuries; Avalanche Future – May 10

 

A pair of Boston power play goals about 30 seconds apart in the third period was the difference in Game 1 between the Hurricanes and the Bruins, with the latter jumping to a 1-0 series lead thanks to a 5-2 win. It wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicates. Carolina carried a 2-1 lead into the third period and Boston scored two goals 11 seconds apart, including an empty netter, with just over two minutes left.

As has been the case through much of these playoffs, many of the calls (and non-calls) were questionable. At some point, without radical changes, we have to just accept it and move on.

Even in the loss, the big note was that Andrei Svechnikov skated alongside Sebastian Aho both at even strength and on the power play. Unsurprisingly, the addition of Svechnikov to the top PP unit made that unit look significantly better than it had all postseason.

This change was probably inevitable, but there’s a huge change in Svech’s 2019-20 outlook if he’s on the top line with top PP minutes rather than the second or third line with secondary PP minutes. Just the role changes alone, by my quick napkin math, could mean somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 additional points. He’s a guy I will be drafting as much as I can.

Tuukka Rask was phenomenal in this game, particularly in the first half. He made a handful of spectacular saves that was the difference between a 2-1 Carolina lead in the second period or a 4-1 Carolina lead. He made 29 in all to help secure the victory.

We have no games on Friday before both series play on Saturday.

[Editor’s Note: the West starts on Saturday but Boston-Carolina does not continue until Sunday]

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John Tavares will not play for Canada at the World Championships as he suffered an oblique injury getting ready for the tournament. He has returned to Toronto and will undergo more evaluation. We don’t know any more than that right now. Maybe the news won’t be so bad?

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There was definite bad news for the Leafs, however, as defenceman Travis Dermott will undergo shoulder surgery today and is expected to be out a minimum of six months. That would take him out of game action for at least the first month of the 2019-20 regular season, potentially longer.

The cap crunch Toronto is facing means that it’s pretty close to certain Jake Gardiner has played his last game with the Leafs. If Dermott is out for a quarter of the season, it’s going to be Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and a cast of cheap vets or prospects.

Will they address the blue line further, maybe trading someone like Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen for some cheap help? Or will they just rely on a couple Marlies to step up? It’ll be interesting to see what Dubas ends up doing.

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On the topic of injuries, from Dallas’s final media day:

 

 

Hopefully none of those injuries are anything that lingers long-term. They shouldn’t, but I’m not a doctor, I only play one on Twitter.

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The Dobber team released their Conference Finals picks Thursday morning. I would like to go on the record and switch my pick from San Jose in seven games to St. Louis in seven games. It slipped my mind that I had picked St. Louis to make the Cup Final from the outset and it would be disingenuous for me to change that pick now. I really do want to see Joe Thornton win a Cup, though. 

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Detroit signed defenceman Dylan McIlrath to a two-year, two-way deal.

In a nutshell, I don’t hate this deal. It’s defensive depth for a cap-strapped team whose defence corps will look wildly different in two years than it does now, once all the contracts (save Danny DeKeyser) run out. I just hope this doesn’t prevent the young blue liners from getting the NHL ice time they need.

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Blackhawks prospect Victor Ejdsell is heading back to Sweden. Maybe he returns to the NHL at some point later in his career but for now, it appears any thoughts of being an NHL regular are over.

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It’ll be fascinating to see where Martin Jones’s ADP lands next year.

Let’s go back in time a bit to, say, about four weeks ago. Remember that there was a legitimate discussion as to whether Aaron Dell should take over for Jones as the latter was shelled early in the Vegas series. In the team’s Games 2, 3, and 4 losses, he allowed 11 goals on 54 shots.

Beyond that, there’s evidence that Jones just isn’t very good; since arriving in San Jose four years ago, he has the second-worst Goals Saved Above Average in the league (minimum of 5000 minutes played at 5v5). But that’s a cumulative stat, so more minutes means more of an opportunity for a lower number. When adjusting as a rate state (per 60 minutes), Jones is 42nd out of 45 goalies, being tied with Keith Kinkaid, and trailing Antti Niemi, Cam Ward, and Scott Darling. Not great company. 

To me, Jones has been a bad goalie hidden by a great team. This is an aging core and they could be without a couple significant pieces next year. Will he be drafted as a top-12 goalie? Top-15? Top-20? It’s going to be fascinating to see where the market falls. 

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Colorado was bounced from the playoffs on Wednesday night, which is certainly not the end the team wanted. All the same, this is a team that’s probably ahead of its rebuild curve, right? It’s easy to forget, but the Avalanche were absolutely not supposed to make the playoffs last year and did so on the back of a Herculean effort from Nathan MacKinnon and the rest of the top line. This year, they were tied in points with the Blackhawks at Valentine’s Day, and behind Minnesota and Vancouver. It was another season where they probably weren’t likely to make the playoffs even as late as mid-February, and were one game away from getting to the Western Conference Finals.

So what do we make of Colorado next year?

It’s easy to see them as a team on the rise. Nathan MacKinnon will be in his age-24 season next year with four years left and Mikko Rantanen will get a fresh contract this summer keeping him around for a while. Gabriel Landeskog is still just 26 years old with a couple years left as well. Both Cale Makar and Sam Girard looked fantastic in the postseason and there’s no reason to think they won’t be the same next year. They also have the fourth overall pick which could have easily been the first overall pick, as well as 16th overall. Not only do the Avs have all the aforementioned players, but they have the two first-round picks this year and five picks in the first three rounds total.

Before diving into the fantasy angles of a few of these players, this could be a very fascinating offseason for the Avs. They have loads of cap space and the only significant contract to be signed is from Rantanen. There are guys like J.T. Compher, Alex Kerfoot, and Nikita Zadorov, but the AAV of those deals might only combine to equal Rantanen's. This is a team that, even after all these guys are signed, will only have a handful of roster spots to fill and, depending on how much those guys sign for, could have up to $20-million in cap space (though it’ll likely be less). This is a loaded free agent summer, and this is a franchise looking to be on the verge of being a perennial contender.

Do they go get a big-name free agent? Do they hold on to their picks and keep building for the future? Do they trade a couple picks to help with their current roster? Do they weaponize their cap space to take a bad contract (say, Ryan Callahan) and add more picks and/or prospects? Do they just sit on their hands and keep building through the draft? Some combination of the above? The fact that these are all legitimate options for Joe Sakic just shows how good of a job he’s done managing this roster. I don’t think he’s often mentioned in the same breath as some of the top GMs in the NHL right now, but he's certainly building a case. 

Anyway, the most interesting aspect of the Avalanche, from a fantasy perspective, is the defence corps. At least for me it’s the most interesting.

As it stands, Tyson Barrie has one year left on his deal. Next year will be his age-28 season, putting him in his age-29 season for the first year of his next deal. He’s going to get a lot of money considering his production; when we look at some big-money signings recently for guys around his age, it’s somewhere in the $6-$8M range per season. I like Barrie a lot and would want him on my team but he is a one-dimensional defenceman. That dimension is very, very good but he’s just not great defensively. Should the Avs give, say, six years and $6.5M per season to a soon-to-be 29-year old defenceman who isn’t good defensively?

Sakic’s decision on what to do with Barrie will have a significant impact on the outlook of both Makar and Girard. If Barrie is back in an Avs uniform next season, it’s hard to see huge upside with the young blue liners. Barrie has 55 points on the power play over the last two years and did so while averaging 73 games a year. With the team being top-heavy scoring-wise and deployment-wise, at least right now, Barrie running the top PP unit would make Girard and Makar both reliant on even-strength scoring for production. However, in 2018-19, only 21 defencemen managed 30 points at even strength. I won’t know for sure until I run my projections this summer once we have an idea of what rosters will look like, but if Barrie is in the Colorado lineup in October, it’s hard to see either Makar or Girard greatly exceeding 40 points. Just think of the dynamic between John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen from this year.

There’s certainly an argument for using Makar on the top PP unit even with Barrie around but I don’t see a coach making that move given Barrie’s exceptional PP production history.

By the way, this is a good problem for Colorado to have. There aren’t many teams currently enduring a Do We Use Our Perennially Great Veteran Offensive Defenceman On The Power Play Or One Of The Two Emerging Blue Line Stars dilemma. But it does create a murky situation for fantasy owners. I’m very, very bullish on the futures of both Makar and Girard, the former looking like he’s got a Norris nomination or two in his future with the latter looking like he’ll be the next Ryan Ellis. I just don’t know if we can expect it to happen right away. Fantasy hockey isn’t all about talent (though it is a lot about talent). Players need opportunity, and as long as Barrie is around, I’m not sure the opportunity for high-end production will be there for Makar/Girard. 

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Another thing that popped in my mind for next season: there’s a good chance that MacKinnon is the consensus second overall pick, right? Spanning the last two years, he’s averaging 40 goals, 58 assists, 325 shots, and 44 PIMs. He’s exceeded 30 PPPs in both campaigns and is assured heavy minutes. I imagine Nikita Kucherov will be first and then there’s a good argument for a handful of players in second, including guys like Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, and MacKinnon. What say you?