Game 7! Also Thoughts on Vegas, Tavares, Kane, Niemi
With all the parity in the NHL these days, it’s hard to believe that the Tampa Bay/Washington Game 7 will only be the third Game 7 of these playoffs. At least the winner of this game won’t have to jump into the next series almost immediately, as Winnipeg did after defeating Nashville. The Stanley Cup Final doesn’t begin until Monday, which should give everyone enough time to rest before the big series.
So who wins Game 7? Tampa Bay has been my Stanley Cup winner since the start of the playoffs, so I have to stick with them. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Washington wins. They’ve carried the play for the majority of this series and were definitely the more physical team in Game 6. You know that Alex Ovechkin will bring the intensity and then some to this game, trying to will his team to win and get to the Cup final for the first time in his career. But remember that momentum can be short-lived, and Tampa has home-ice advantage, for what it’s worth. Anything is possible.
Don't let someone tell you how you should feel about the Vegas Golden Knights.
— Ian Gooding (@Ian_Gooding) May 21, 2018
I sent this tweet because I wanted whoever read it to see both sides of the argument.
On one hand, the first-year Vegas Golden Knights are an incredible story. At this point I don’t need to elaborate on the “misfits,” as they call themselves. This story will be told again and again and again, even if they lose in the Stanley Cup Final. There hasn’t been anything like it before in NHL history and there may never be again (unless Seattle can pull off the same feat with the same set of rules… fool an NHL GM once, shame on you Mr. GM; fool an NHL GM twice… an NHL GM can’t get fooled again, right?) Maybe you’ve heard this joke before, but I bet you’d like your favorite team to fold and return as an expansion team next season.
But the angst of your team not winning the cup (again) is a real thing. I’m a Canucks fan who in my lifetime has seen my team go 0-3 in Cup-clinching games and 0-3 in Stanley Cup Final series. For the Leafs, it’s been 50 years and counting of not even getting to the Stanley Cup Final. Heck, there are even teams that have never even been to a Cup final, and Vegas gets there on the first try. Vegas benefitted from a more generous set of expansion rules than others (as well as no competition in the expansion draft), so I can understand where the “anyone but Vegas” crowd is coming from.
Just pull for whoever you want in the final. I won’t judge you. Or just enjoy it as a neutral observer, like I do for many playoff series.
The Islanders were already a team to watch this offseason because of the John Tavares situation. Add in the Lou Lamoriello hiring, and now things get really interesting. Lamoriello provides the Isles with more credibility, and as a result, better odds of re-signing Tavares before he hits free agency.
We all know about Mathew Barzal’s breakout season and Josh Bailey’s breakout first half. But kind of under the radar when compared to his contract situation, Tavares assembled another impressive season with 37 goals and 84 points – his second-best total in both categories over his nine-year career. Is that the contract year talking?
Much of Tavares’ success in 2017-18 can be attributed to solid chemistry with linemates Josh Bailey and Anders Lee. Bailey in particular had a breakout season (71 points in 76 games), although his first-half numbers (50 points in 39 games) was far more impressive than his second-half numbers (21 points in 37 games). So how much did Bailey’s downturn affect Tavares?
Oct-Dec: 49 points in 39 games (1.26 PTS/GP)
Jan-Apr: 35 points in 43 games (0.81 PTS/GP)
Not exactly a steep decline like Bailey in the second half (0.57 PTS/GP), but a decline nevertheless. I wanted to explore this in case the Islanders manage to retain Tavares. Of course, none of this matters if Tavares decides to sign with another team, in which case you can count on us to elaborate on the fantasy implications of Tavares with his new team, as well as how Islanders like Bailey would be affected. But just keep this in the ol’ memory bank in case Tavares is back.
Some interesting takeaways about the Isles from Elliotte Friedman from an interview at Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver this afternoon (transcript here). For starters, Ilya Kovalchuk’s name came up. Another takeaway is that Scott Stevens tends to follow Lamoriello, which could result in improvement to the defense. But anyone who followed the Isles’ situation last season knows that they need help in net more than anything, which Friedman mentioned. With Jaroslav Halak becoming a UFA, it will be interesting to see what direction the Isles take with adding a goalie. If you’re an Islanders’ fan, would you sacrifice Tavares if it meant your team finally receives top-flight goaltending?
Evander Kane’s decision to stay with the Sharks should serve as great news for his keeper owners. After all, Kane looked right at home with his new team (nine goals and 14 points in 17 games) mainly set up on the top line with Joe Pavelski. A while ago, I compared Pavelski’s production with and without the injured Joe Thornton, which showed Pavelski’s production actually improve after Thornton’s injury. Let’s do the same for Pavelski without and with Kane.
Pavelski before Kane acquisition: 46 points in 62 games (0.74 PTS/GP)
Pavelski after Kane acquisition: 19 points in 20 games (0.95 PTS/GP)
We don’t know what will happen with Thornton in the offseason. But regardless of whether he is back, the Sharks need to keep their newly signed left wing with Pavelski in order to yield maximum gains from both.
Of course, if you’re in a league that counts shots on goal, you’ll want to move Kane up a little in your pre-draft rankings. Kane was fourth in the entire league with 307 shots. The Sharks as a team were second in the NHL with 34.3 shots per game and could be the league leader in that category next season with both Kane and Brent Burns in the fold for a full season. Kane hardly slowed his shot total after the trade, staying in the top 5 in that category after the trade with 80 SOG.
Antti Niemi’s days as a must-own fantasy goalie are in the past. But he’s earned his way onto an NHL roster for at least one more season, signing a one-year contract for the Canadiens. Even though Niemi is no longer considered an NHL starting goalie and even though the team in front of him was a mess last season, Niemi performed reasonably well for the Habs. If you throw away his awful brief stints in Pittsburgh and Florida, Niemi posted a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .929 SV% in 19 games in Montreal. Did you notice that if you were searching for goaltending starts late in the season?
Niemi won’t unseat Carey Price as the starter. But he could he find a way to cut into Price’s starts should Price continue to struggle or if the soon-to-be 31-year-old Price needs more time to rest. Under normal circumstances, I could see Niemi playing in as many as 30 games. How many games he plays is still a function of whether he has put his struggles behind him.
Niemi’s resigning also signals that Charlie Lindgren is not ready to be on the NHL team. The fact that Lindgren is also still waiver exempt also factored into the decision, in case you’re waiting on him in a keeper.
For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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