Ramblings: Laidlaw Checks In to Talk Swarm Intelligence, RFA Defenseman Contracts and Breakout Candidates

by steve laidlaw on August 1, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Laidlaw Checks In to Talk Swarm Intelligence, RFA Defenseman Contracts and Breakout Candidates

Laidlaw checks in to talk swarm intelligence, RFA defenseman contracts and breakout candidates.

Hey gang! Laidlaw stepping in for a mid-summer one-off rambling. This is my first writing since the end of March so bear with me if I am a bit rusty. A lot has happened over the past few and I will try to touch on a bit of everything since I may not have the time available for another contribution until the season gets going. Before I begin, I’d like to give a quick stick tap to Dobber, Ian, Neil, Mike and the rest of the writing staff for keeping the great content coming all summer. Good work all around. I’d also like to give a stick tap to Pete and the gang at Dobber Prospects for really ramping things up. It looks like that site is hitting another level.

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The first thing I want to touch on is swarm intelligence. It’s a concept that I heard about on a recent Cracked podcast that outlined how this group of researchers is trying to replicate the collective intelligence of swarms of bees, schools of fish, etc. and apply it to human swarms. The idea is that in a swarm of bees, no one individual has the right answer about where the swarm should go but that every individual pushing, pulling and responding to the movements of the swarm eventually leads the whole group to favourable outcomes.

If you check out the podcast, you’ll discover that the researchers utilized this theory with horse racing experts to correctly predict the top four horses at the Kentucky Derby, which is a bet you can get at like 1000/1 odds. And then they did it again for the next race at the triple crown. Obviously, you can start to see why this would intrigue me for fantasy hockey purposes.

It’s important to note that the researchers had all their horse racing experts create rankings for the race before performing their study and not one of them predicted the top four correctly. They also took the mean rankings for all of the experts and this too failed to be as accurate as the swarm’s projection.

How it works is they’ve created a program where the experts log into a computer program that will ask a question and the potential answers are circled around a widget. The expert will pull the widget based on their confidence level in the answer to that question, while all the other experts are doing the same. The widget will then move in accordance to the swarm’s collective answer and then you do it again. Some will be swayed by the movement of the widget because they weren’t that confident in their answer to begin with, while others will remain entrenched in their position. Eventually, the swarm should come to an answer that would not likely have been reached independently.

They have now created a website where you can propose your own questions. As best I can tell, it is still in a beta phase but is fun to use and extremely interesting all the same.

I haven’t zeroed in on my exact goals for using this program, or if I will even have time to implement them but I couldn’t just sit on this information. I really believe this could be a game changer. One thing I want to do is to organize some swarms to answer over/under questions for Vegas over/under point totals. The betting market does operate like a swarm in a lot of ways because bets are basically just pulls on a widget but I wonder if this program wouldn’t do a better job and ultimately lead us to some lucrative betting.

If you have any thoughts on this subject, please leave them in the comments! I am open to any help I can get in finding a practical way to implement swarm intelligence in fantasy hockey.

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Are you excited for the World Cup of Hockey this fall? I have to admit that for the most part I haven’t been all that excited but I am starting to feel awfully intrigued because of the questions that the World Cup might answer regarding the upcoming NHL season.

The single most intriguing team in the tournament is the North American 23-and-under roster because there are so many potential breakout stars on the roster. Not everyone can be used in an offensive capacity so where will all these talented players be used? Who will emerge as the alpha dog?

Jonathan Drouin is probably the most interesting guy on the roster. Beyond his playoff run, Drouin hasn’t done much as an NHL player. If he can emerge as a top-six guy on this stacked roster, he is probably ready for the same in Tampa Bay.

The goaltender battle between John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck and Matt Murray is also something to watch. I won’t get hung up on how each goalie performs since they are all studs capable of being starters in the NHL but I want to see who actually wins the job. Both Hellebuyck and Murray have to rip the starting gig away from entrenched guys on their NHL clubs. If they can do the same on this roster, I go into the season with more confidence.

I should mention that if the Jets don’t hand Hellebuyck the starting gig this season that it should be considered outright tanking. He’s that much better than his competition.

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Other World Cup of Hockey questions:

Does Filip Forsberg emerge as the offensive leader for a veteran Sweden team or will he be left deferring to the previous generation of stars?

How does the trio of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson perform?

Who steps up as #2 defenseman for Sweden after Erik Karlsson? Will it be Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Victor Hedman?

Do Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen skate on the same line for Finland and does either one emerge as an offensive option?

Rasmus Ristolainen or Sami Vatanen as the defenseman on the Finnish top power-play unit?

Will Nikita Zaitsev receive power play time for Russia?

Depending on how these questions are answered, these could foreshadow an upcoming fantasy hockey breakout.

What are you keeping an eye on at the World Cup?

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Tyson Barrie signed a four-year deal at $5.5 million per season. Is that contract a win for the Avalanche? I believe so because there is definitely a chance for Barrie to out-perform that deal.

Barrie isn’t yet a #1 defenseman because he doesn’t kill penalties, however Erik Karlsson (aka the best defenseman in the game) also doesn’t kill penalties. The difference is that Karlsson still gives you almost 30 minutes a night and is on another level offensively.

Barrie’s minutes have gone up in back-to-back seasons and if that trend continues he’ll hit that 25-minute-a-night mark typical of #1 defensemen. He can probably get there even without much penalty killing either. Fantasy owners don’t want Barrie killing penalties anyhow. You don’t get many cracks at scoring on the PK so he is better served using his energy at evens and on the power play.

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Contracts like Barrie’s and that of Steven Stamkos are big wins for NHL teams. Not too many of those going around however. Take for instance the example of Danny DeKeyser’s extension.

DeKeyser is a fine player so I don’t necessarily disagree with the contract. We’ve simply reached the point where the market for any restricted free agent defenseman worth anything is $5 million a year. Both Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella saw extensions kick in this past season paying them $4 million annually but DeKeyser gets a bump for hitting free agency a year later. That’s a 25 per cent jump for a comparable player. Things are escalating quickly.

The only way this escalation stops is if the NHL teams can take back some leverage and that means collective bargaining, where the owners, not the players hold the hammer. More contracts like the DeKeyser one and we could be headed for another lockout.

The positive spin is that as established guys start soaking up bigger chunks of the cap there becomes more room for young talent to step into larger roles. For instance, the Jets just handed Mark Scheifele a ton of money and if the DeKeyser contract is any indication, they are about to do the same with Jacob Trouba. They’ll have to fill out the roster with guys on cheap entry-level deals, which means their loaded farm system is going to see NHL action sooner than later.

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There was a bit of a kerfuffle on the web yesterday when a translated interview from Oscar Klefbom was released indicating that the Oilers defenseman was underwhelmed by the play of his former teammate Taylor Hall:

“Taylor [Hall] has been our best player in recent years, but it’s also hard to tell what he contributed,” suggested Klefbom (via translation).

 

“He never played his best games against the tougher teams, which was when we really needed it. However, he was fantastic when we met inferior teams.”

Klefbom would later relate that all of the Oilers’ top players had underwhelmed:

"All of our key players underperformed, including myself. Not only Taylor Hall," Klefbom told Ola Winther of HockeySverige.se in a follow-up interview, hours after his original remarks were published.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject:

1. I never fully trust translated interviews to convey the exact meaning of what was said. For Klefbom to have to go back and clarify just reinforces that.

2. I love honest interviews whenever possible. We blow honest statements from athletes out of proportion to the point that athletes never want to give away anything in an interview, which ruins the fun for everyone.

3. Hall will be just fine in New Jersey. I suspect he’ll continue to be an offense generating, possession driving force, just as he was for the Oilers. Did he underwhelm? Maybe, but I would disagree with that notion. What was really underwhelming about that Oilers team was the number of replacement level players they had populating the roster.

4. I still dislike the Hall for Adam Larsson trade but am really excited about the potential for a Klefbom-Larsson pairing. That’s a legit top pairing that can soak up 25 minutes a night. It’s certainly not on the level of Hedman/Stralman, Keith/Seabrook or Josi/Subban but it’s a defense pairing without any dead weight, which is a first for this Oilers rebuild. The Oilers don’t have many answers for the other 35 minutes per game but a solid top pairing is a great start.

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One more Oilers thought: they really need to find a way to get James Wisniewski onto the roster on a short-term deal. He fits all of their needs as a veteran, right-handed defenseman who can move the puck and run a power play. The desperately need a righty defenseman for that top PP unit because Connor McDavid is obviously locked in as a lefty on the right half-wall. Larsson is unlikely to fill that role.

Wisniewski immediately becomes a 50-point threat if he lands in Edmonton. Someone needs to make this happen.

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Last Oilers thought: Connor McDavid will lead the league in scoring this season. 95 points is my projection.

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Our 11th annual Fantasy Hockey Guide releases today. Please pick it up if you haven’t already. It’s the best in the business because it is frequently updated as more and more news comes available, up until the start of the season. No matter when your draft will take place, this is the best guide you can get your hands on to be prepared for your draft.

In the guide, I do my annual piece on stock drops, reviewing 20 players likely to decline for the upcoming season. I want to do something similar here in these ramblings but instead looking at players likely to gain value. What ended up happening was I started identifying a bunch of Wild players who I am high on, so I guess I’m doing a Minnesota deep dive!

The first thing to point out is Minnesota’s coming off a season in which their top scorer (Mikko Koivu) finished with just 56 points. I suppose that makes sense, as the Wild were not an elite offensive squad, finishing a mere 18th in scoring at 2.60 goals per game.

The Wild are also a deeper team, lacking genuine star power so much of their offense comes off of playing a strong possession game and getting offense from four lines. This generally isn’t a recipe for elite fantasy performance.

It’s worth pointing out that the Wild were without their top offensive weapon (Zach Parise) missed 12 games and also suffered from some poor puck luck. Parise has been banged up in each of the past three seasons missing a dozen games on average so perhaps expecting stellar health from him in his thirties is too much. However, if Parise merely sees league average puck luck (his on-ice shooting percentage at even strength was 6.2 per cent) he should get back to the 60-point level. If you aren’t thinking about Parise as a top 10 left winger, you are sleeping.

Also suffering from woeful puck luck was Mikael Granlund who’s on-ice shooting percentage at even strength was among the worst in the league at just 5.7 per cent. Because of this poor luck, Granlund’s scoring failed to climb much despite an increase in ice time to 18:07 per game. Granlund did however record a career high for points (44) and shots on goal (160) so things are on the rise. Now 24, he is entering his fourth full season in the league, which is prime time for a breakout. More time alongside Parise, some improved puck luck, and perhaps even an improved Wild power play could drive Granlund above the 50-point mark for the first time ever.

Another guy who is entering his fourth full season is Nino Niederreiter. His breakout potential hinges on the unlikely possibility that he gains top unit power play time but he is reaching a point in his career where he probably deserves a shot. The only guy on the Wild who scored at a better rate than Niederreiter’s 1.92/60 at even strength was Erik Haula who was a frequent linemate. Niederreiter has hit a high level as a two-way possession player who packs a decent scoring punch and may be ready to provide even more.

The Wild also boosted their roster moving on from Thomas Vanek and bringing in Eric Staal. Staal isn’t the star he once was but he remains a possession engine, which makes him a great fit in Minnesota. He can even take on more of a shutdown role, which will help to free up Koivu and Granlund for more offensive opportunities. Staal probably won’t even be a top PP guy for the Wild so don’t look to him for a bounceback season. Instead, appreciate what his presence might mean for other guys on the roster.

The last breakout candidate in Minnesota is Matt Dumba, who recently signed a cheap bridge deal that should keep him hungry to prove himself. Dumba was predominantly used in a third pairing role but saw his usage expand as the season went on, particularly on the power play. By the second half of the season Dumba was averaging almost three minutes a night with the man advantage and was frequently used on the top power play unit. During that second half Dumba scored 15 points in 41 games, which is a 30-point pace. 30 points seems a reasonable projection but there is 45-point upside here with the right breaks.

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The New York Islanders are another team that I like for some breakout candidates. They lost two-thirds of their second line and top power play unit so there are some big minutes up for grabs. They did bring on Andrew Ladd, presumably to fill the Kyle Okposo absence but he will have competition.

I was hot on Ryan Strome leading into last season and he disappointed terribly but that makes him a decent option as a post-hype sleeper. Based on what I saw last season, however, he probably isn’t ready.

Anders Lee also failed to live up to the hype last season but I have more optimism for his chances. He suffered from some bad puck luck with an on-ice shooting percentage of just 5.9 per cent at even strength. He also shot just 8.2 per cent despite being an 11.1 per cent career shooter. As a net-front presence on a squad with John Tavares, Lee should have plenty of chances to bang in some pucks.

Lee profiles very similarly to Brayden Schenn before last season as he is coming off multiple season’s worth of chances with some elite players without totally clicking. Schenn finally found his groove, in part thanks to a spike in his shooting percentage, up to 14.6 per cent.

Expecting the shooting numbers to not only regress for Lee but surpass his career averages would be flawed but this is a potential outcome. If that were the case, a 30-goal/60-point season would be in the cards.

The return of PA Parenteau looms as a potential block to Strome gaining traction on the Islanders’ top line. I can’t imagine the Islanders bringing Parenteau back and not trying to recapture the chemistry he showed with Tavares from 2011 to 2013 when he put up 115 points in 128 games. Expecting 65 points would be unwise but don’t be afraid to be aggressive in picking Parenteau as a 55-point guy with potential for more. At that level, if he flops you should be able to replace him with a player with a lower ceiling but a higher floor.

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That’s all for now. Have a great summer! You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.