Ramblings: Tampa Evens Up; Jeff Skinner; Tom Wilson; Andrei Vasilevskiy; Defence Shot Distribution – May 18

by Michael Clifford on May 18, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Tampa Evens Up; Jeff Skinner; Tom Wilson; Andrei Vasilevskiy; Defence Shot Distribution – May 18

We had a pretty lopsided game in Washington on Thursday night in favour of the Capitals. Unfortunately for Washington and their fans, this was a scene that has played out often in the playoffs over the last decade: dominate the opposition and lose.

A late third-period goal from Alex Killorn just as a penalty was expiring gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead, a lead they would not relinquish, adding a late empty-net goal for the 4-2 win. After falling behind at home 0-2 in the series, the Lightning won both games on the road to even things back up at two.

This was an outstanding game from Andrei Vasilevskiy. He faced nearly 40 shots and some of his saves were of the 10-bell variety, particularly in the third period. More on him a little later.

These types of games happen. Sometimes you just tip your cap (no pun intended, honestly) to the opposing goaltender and move on.

For what it’s worth, Nicklas Backstrom looked fine in his return, but Evgeny Kuznetsov was given significantly more ice time. This is nothing to be overly concerned about given Backstrom hadn’t played in a while and it’s doubtful he’s anywhere close to healthy anyway, but I wonder if this trend might continue next year. It’s nothing against Backstrom, he’s still a wonderful player. Kuznetsov is just that good, though. Maybe it won’t be a significant change, maybe they’re just close to even. Wondering aloud, over here.

Though Ovechkin is known for his goal-scoring prowess, this pass to Evgney Kuznetsov on the team’s second goal of the game, a backhand cross-ice sauce that fell right on Kuzy’s tape, was sick:

That’s not Erik Karlsson-To-Mike Hoffman, but it’s pretty good.

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Tom Wilson may not be a fan favourite outside the Washington fanbase but there’s no denying one thing: he had a monster fantasy season in multi-category leagues. Putting up 250 hits, 51 blocked shots, and 187 penalty minutes while being able to chip in 14 goals and 35 points is a very, very good year. Even in standard ESPN leagues where hits aren’t counted, he had so many PIMs that he was still a top-50 forward.

That brings me around to 2018-19. What do we do here? If he can replicate this season, there are no issues with drafting him as a top-100 player.

The big concern is his usage. He was a nice surprise on the top forward line at five-on-five and that slotting got him nearly 16 minutes of ice time per game. Does he get that slotting again? Jakub Vrana has played so well these playoffs he’s forced a reluctant Barry Trotz to eventually move him into the top-6. Andre Burakovsky is still a very talented forward who’s been battling injuries this year. If he can right the ship in 2018-19, do those two forwards push Wilson down the lineup?

Maybe not. Maybe Trotz decides that it’s best to lengthen the lineup and use one of Vrana/Burakovsky on the third line with Eller/Connolly (or whomever) to give them three more balanced scoring lines. Wilson is also an RFA and is undoubtedly going to get a raise on his $2-million that he made last year. Will that factor in?

Wilson’s upside is capped. He’s just not that good offensively without significant help and he won’t get anywhere near the top PP unit barring injuries or severe underperformance by that unit. He can be a Patrick Maroon-type where 15-ish goals and 40 points is a good year. With the peripheral stat stuffing, that’s more than enough. As long as he stays in the top-6, it’s more than doable.

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By now, we’ve all seen quotes and rumours that there may be some big changes coming to Carolina this offseason. I think we all assumed that would mean a defenceman or two moved, but another name has appeared:

This does make sense when you think about Jeff Skinner only having one year left and maybe the team doesn’t want to commit to him beyond that. It is kind of sad in a way, though, as the franchise failed to advance to the playoffs in any of Skinner’s eight seasons. A waste of an elite scoring talent. Carolina’s loss will be someone else’s gain.

This is a guy either Alberta team should be targeting.

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There was a good read by Joe Smith over at The Athletic a couple days ago on Andrei Vasilevskiy. They basically talked to current goalies like Henrik Lundqvist and Ben Bishop as well as former goalies like Brian Boucher and Kevin Weekes on what made Vasilevskiy so good this year. Most of the praise came down to two things: athleticism and footwork.

I have no way of really proving this but my thought has always been your goalie needs to be the best athlete on the team. When you look at elite goalies over the last 20 years like Dominik Hasek and Tim Thomas, they were what some may say is unconventional but they used their athleticism to their advantage. Carey Price (before the injuries) did the same even though he was technically very sound. Regardless, being a great goalie is about making saves you’re not supposed to make, not about stopping 50-foot slapshots from the point. Hasek, Thomas, and Price could all do this. Vasilevskiy does it as well.

This is a mea culpa. Last summer, I wrote a couple times that I wasn’t sold on him but reading the opinions of others and watching him more this year has changed my mind a bit. Goaltending is a fickle thing so he could very well be a .910 goalie next year instead of .920. But when I read what is being said about him, it’s hard not to think he won’t have a very successful career. It’s easy to forget he doesn’t even turn 24 years old for two months.

Now, if Tampa could fix that penalty kill…

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For those reading my Ramblings this week, thanks! Also, you’ll be reminded that we’ve been talking about shot rates across the league.

On Tuesday, the discussion revolved around rising shot attempt marks at five-on-five and how this affects goal scoring. The basic premise is that with the rise in shot rates, the middling totals are become a little devalued, as are guys with middling goal-scoring totals. The most important thing to note is that the number of players with over 200 shots on goal or 20 goals at all strengths has risen a lot over the last few years.

Yesterday, we covered forwards specifically. Shot rates are increasing everywhere except the absolute top tier. Despite more shots in the NHL this year than in recent seasons, the elite forward shot totals at five-on-five didn’t increase. Rather, the elite shot seasons disappeared. There were still excellent seasons, and more crossed the 200-shot threshold at five-on-five, but the 220+ seasons were not there. The league-wide shot increase led to more shots in the middle but not at the very top.

Today, we look at defencemen.

While the forwards may have been nitpicking a bit – does anyone really care if Alex Ovechkin lands 219 shots instead of 226? – the defence shot distribution is a whole other ball game. It’s changed to a much greater degree than it has for the forwards.

First things first, here’s what the distribution looks like for defencemen at five-on-five in each of the previous five seasons:

Let’s go through a few things.

In 2013-14, the mean shot on goal total for forwards at five-on-five was 79.26, which rose to 83.54 in 2017-18. That represents an increase of 5.40 percent, which means the average forward is landing 5.40 percent more shots on goal than he was four years ago. Fair enough.

In 2013-14, the mean shot on goal total for defencemen at five-on-five was 51.32, which rose to 63.38 in 2017-18. That represents an increase of 23.50 percent, which means the average defenceman is landing 23.5 percent more shots on goal than four years ago. That is a lot.

That’s not a nitpick, either. Each season from 2013 through 2016 saw mean shot totals between 50.8 and 52.4 among defencemen. That has exploded each of the past two seasons with the mean in 2016-17 being 57.11 and of course last year was 63.38. While forwards are shooting more than they have in recent years, defencemen are just racking up shots.

Keep in mind that this is shots on goal and not just shot attempts. These are shots taken by defencemen at five-on-five on which the goalie has to directly make a save. This isn’t defencemen shooting around shinpads for a deflection or missing the net on purpose to look for a backdoor goal.

Also, unlike the forwards, elite shot totals from blue liners are becoming more readily available. You can see the 2017-18 season stretch further to the right than any previous year in the graph above but the numbers really tell the story: over the past five years, there have been 16 instances of a defenceman with at least 160 shots on goal at five-on-five, and seven of them came in 2017-18.  Four of them came in 2016-17, with the other five spread over the three previous seasons. The elite shot totals from defencemen has been increasing rapidly over the last couple years. So, again, unlike the forwards, not only are there higher middling totals, there are more elite totals as well.

Now, it’s a matter of what to do about the elite guys. Brent Burns continues to be far-and-away the best volume option. Dougie Hamilton was often among the top, and still is, but he’s got company now in guys like Seth Jones and Darnell Nurse. There are other young stars like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov who could be knocking on the door soon. Don’t forget a healthy Erik Karlsson. If Hamilton can’t consistently separate himself in the shot department as he has over the past few years, how much value does he really have above everyone else? Unless Calgary fixes that power play.

The devaluation of the non-Brent Burns top shooting options on the blue line is just one of the interesting fantasy angles here. What does this say about the increase in goal scoring if defencemen are shooting so much more and yet goals are still going up? Is it time we start viewing certain fantasy defencemen as if they were a fourth forward on the ice rather than a defenceman?

There is a lot more to dig into in the coming months. This doesn’t even start going into the power play production which is so critical to fantasy value. All the same, the way hockey is being played in the NHL is changing rapidly and with it is the way we should be valuing certain fantasy options.