Ramblings: Blues Win The Cup; Reviewing Playoff Performers – June 13

by Michael Clifford on June 13, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Blues Win The Cup; Reviewing Playoff Performers – June 13

 

Game 7 Stanley Cup Final. It took two months but we got there eventually. For some reason this felt like a BASEketball season. 

It was a period that coaches and players have nightmares about. Boston was absolutely running St. Louis out of the rink for most of the first frame. The Blues went about 16 minutes without a shot after registering their first early in the game. Jordan Binnington had to make a few clutch saves to keep the game 0-0. And – if you’ve watched enough hockey you know where this is going – with a little under four minutes left in the frame, Ryan O’Reilly redirected a point shot from Jay Bouwmeester and past Tuukka Rask to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. Then, with eight seconds left before the intermission, Alex Pietrangelo tallied his third of the postseason on a pinch to extend the lead to 2-0. A period thoroughly dominated by Boston saw the home team down a pair of goals. Such is hockey.

A relatively even second period brought us to the deciding third with a 2-0 St. Louis lead intact.

Vladimir Tarasenko found a streaking Brayden Schenn from the corner with 8:35 left in the third period and the ensuing one-timer made it 3-0 and Zach Sanford would later score to get us to 4-0.

A late goal from Matt Grzelcyk broke the shutout.

St. Louis went into Boston and skated away the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, about five months after being last in the league. This is an all-time turnaround, regardless of sport.

I thought Tuukka Rask might deserve it even in the loss, but Ryan O’Reilly took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP.

There are a lot of good stories here. Whether it’s O’Reilly’s performance, the play of Pietrangelo and Parayko, Bouwmeester getting a Cup after nearly 1200 games, Patrick Maroon’s homecoming, Craig Berube guiding the ship, and a lot more.

Icing on the cake for the Blues: lots of good young players still to come and loads of cap space without any major deals to make outside of possibly Binnington. Alex MacLean will have more on him in his column to be published later today.

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I hesitate to change my mind on a player too much after one postseason. The reality is that it’s a small sample against the best competition in the NHL with a rulebook that is applied haphazardly. Going too far one way or the other on a player in these conditions can lead to missed opportunities at the draft table in September.

That doesn’t mean the playoffs are irrelevant, however. There can be breakout performers – Jake Guentzel a few years ago – or letdowns – Yanni Gourde last year – that can give a glimpse into the future for these players.

Now that the playoffs have mercifully ended (I love hockey, but playoffs in the middle of June is a bit much) I wanted to go through some players who’ve given me a different perspective on their talent level based on their playoff performance. Most are just re-affirming prior assessments, but these sort of affirmations can be important in their own right.

There are going to be a few players left off the list. Please do not yell at me about Miro Heiskanen, I was already over-the-moon with him.

 

Vince Dunn

With all due respect to the likes of Heiskanen and Jaccob Slavin, no defenceman did more to re-affirm my stance on him than Dunn. Going into Game 7, he had managed eight points in 19 games, which isn’t a monster total, but pretty good for a guy who was playing just 15:15 per game.

At five-on-five, Dunn has the best shot share on the Blues by a good margin at 56.6 percent, with Joel Edmundson next at 54.2 percent, and no other Blues liner over 52 percent. He also leads all Blues defencemen in individual shots per 60 minutes, ranking 8th among 37 defencemen with at least 150 minutes played. On a per-60 basis, Dunn has been on the ice for the same relative shots attempts for St. Louis as Brent Burns was for San Jose. That’s really good.

For the foreseeable future, he’ll be stuck behind Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko on the depth chart. The best we can hope for is some sort of Mattias Ekholm-type season. But it does gives hope that if anything should happen (trade, injury), Dunn is more than capable of stepping up and being a reliable, top-end puck mover.

 

Erik Karlsson

It feels weird to have Karlsson on this list but he was a break-even possession player with a very good primary assist rate, and had 16 points in 19 games playing on, effectively, one leg. We’ve seen this kind of performance from Karlsson before in Ottawa’s playoff run a couple years ago but that he’s still doing it at age 28 should give fantasy owners hope going into next year.

The latest update on Karlsson saw him undergo successful groin surgery and that he should be ready for next year. Whether it’s back with San Jose or not remains to be seen. All the same, I’m assuming there’s some sort of draft discount for him given that he’ll be coming off this surgery. I’ll be very interested in his ADP come September.

 

Jaden Schwartz

Just in general, it was really nice to see Jaden Schwartz have such a good postseason. He posted back-to-back 25-goal, 55-point seasons earlier in his career and then he’s had just a brutal time with injuries. He did have 59 points in 62 games in 2017-18 but his inability to stay on the ice made him an unreliable fantasy asset.

The 2018-19 season saw him carry an awful shooting percentage – six percent after being a career 13.7 percent shooter – but the 2018-19 postseason has seen him flourish with 12 goals and 18 points in 25 games. He’s played very well at both ends of the ice, as he’s been known to do, and his spot on the top line has been a near-lock for most of the playoffs.

I do wonder if this playoff performance won’t inflate his ADP next year but he’s a guy I’ll likely be targeting. These playoffs have shown the promise Schwartz has flashed over the years and as long as he stays healthy, I think he can continue (with a bit of shooting percentage regression to come). Be careful on the type of league he’s drafted in, though, as he doesn’t provide a lot in peripherals.

 

Shea Theodore

We only got to watch Vegas for one round but that could actually work in favour of the savvy fantasy owner. He had eight points in seven games and was great at driving offence for the Golden Knights. A few months back, I wrote about how good Theodore had been offensively in the regular season and that trend continued. The problem is the defensive end, but I’ve tweeted about just how much being attached to Deryk Engelland cratered some of Theodore’s defensive metrics:

 

 

Engelland is a free agent and with the team in a big cap crunch, I’m not sure he comes back. I know he’s beloved in Vegas, but they’re better off without him on the ice.

Theodore is the guy who will be often drafted, I think, outside the top-20 defencemen in September that I’ll be targeting the most. I believe a 50-point season is very doable for him.

 

Roope Hintz

This may be a situation where I’m fooled by line mates. Hintz played about 40 percent of his five-on-five time with Jamie Benn and he looked great in those minutes. In the 60 percent he played without Benn, he looked kind of bad, and the numbers bear that out. But is it a case where the top-end of Dallas’s roster is so good that this was inevitable, or that the scoring depth in Dallas is so bad that it was also inevitable? I just don’t know.

Hintz has a lot of speed and that helps Dallas leave their zone and enter the opposition’s zone with control more often than not. That in and of itself is a valuable skill in the NHL. That is also a reason why he played so much in the top-6.

Hintz isn’t a guy who’ll have much value outside of deep leagues. He doesn’t shoot often and won’t get top PP minutes. If he can be a 15-goal, 40-point forward, I think that’s a win. But that he even looks like an NHLer is important for Dallas because of their depth issues and should assure him a good amount of minutes at even strength in 2019-20.

 

Marcus Johansson

For years, I saw Marcus Johansson as a player with upside. This was back in his Washington days when he was skating on the second line and had top PP minutes. That never really came to fruition as he managed more than 20 goals and 50 points just once each. He never really caught traction in New Jersey – part of it injury-related – but has seemingly flourished again in Boston.

At this point, Johansson is a much better defensive forward than he is an offensive one. All the same, his shot attempt rate these playoffs (12.7 per 60 minutes at five-on-five) is more in line with his good years in Washington and brief stint this season with New Jersey than his earlier Washington days or the brief stint at the end of the regular season in Boston. He’s re-established himself as a guy who can be used on the top PP unit and that, more than anything, is a big takeaway.

Johansson is an unrestricted free agent this summer and with only about $14-million in cap space with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen to sign, I’m not sure Johansson is back with Boston. But if he can latch on to a team where he can get those PP minutes again, he’s a guy I might target at the end of drafts. We’ll see where he goes. 

 

Cale Makar

This is an obvious one. Anyone who watched him at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs caught a glimpse at how good he’ll be. There’s no need to inundate with stats and charts; he’s going to be exceptionally good. It’s just a matter of what his usage will be with both Tyson Barrie and Sam Girard around. Keep expectations in check for at least 2019-20, assuming Barrie is still there, but the sky is the limit for this kid.