Ramblings: Leafs, Devils, Avalanche Bounce Back; Ryan Pulock; Changes in Goals from Defencemen – April 17

by Michael Clifford on April 16, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Leafs, Devils, Avalanche Bounce Back; Ryan Pulock; Changes in Goals from Defencemen – April 17

Marcus Johansson made his return to the Devils lineup following a recovery he from a concussion he suffered back in late January. Needless to say, this is a big boost to a Devils lineup that has had trouble handling the depth scoring of the Lightning so far. He was slotted on the second line with Pavel Zacha and Patrick Maroon, affording him some easier matchups. Though I suppose there’s not much in the way of easy matchups in the Tampa lineup.

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Riley Nash also made his return Monday night, sliding back into his usual third-line role for the Bruins. It may not seem like a huge addition, but this season, the line of Nash, David Backes, and Danton Heinen had great shot-share and expected goal share numbers at five-on-five. This third line being reassembled just lengthens and strengthens what was already a dangerous lineup.

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Toronto got the game it needed from Frederik Andersen in order to climb back into the series against Boston. Maybe he should have saved the first goal the Bruins scored, but he had a few absolutely spectacular saves en route to stopping 40 of 42 in the win. Of those saves, none was better than this:

A bit lucky? Of course. All the same, lucky to be good, right place right time, etc.

The Leafs got some production from forwards they need to as James van Riemsdyk tallied a power-play goal from his usual spot while Auston Matthews had an absolute snipe. Patrick Marleau had a two-goal game including one late in the third to seal the 4-2 victory.

Boston had just one power play and though they didn’t score, the Leafs looked miserable killing it. I know people don’t really factor penalty kills into season-long preseason projections, but Andersen’s going to have a rough time next season if this penalty kill shows up in 2018-19.

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Taylor Hall did his thing for the Devils to help them get back in their series with the Lightning. He scored New Jersey’s first goal and had the primary assist on their next two. The final was 5-2 with a couple of empty-net goals factored in.

This one got nasty at the end. Mikhail Sergachev caught Brian Coleman with what looked like an inadvertent elbow to the head in the third period and Brian Boyle tussled with him at the end. Ryan McDonagh took a healthy run at Hall (and just missed him). Victor Hedman sticked Nico Hischier in the, er, groin area. This series is turning real fun, real quick.

This game made me wonder what they do with Will Butcher next season. He really wasn’t given much ice time but did get loads of top power-play time. He scored the game-tying goal in this one, though he did see his least amount of ice time in the third period. Are they going to take the reigns off him for 2018-19? If he can get to 20 minutes a game as their primary puck-mover… look out.

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Nashville didn’t get much of a chance to get out of the blocks in Game 3 against Colorado. Blake Comeau scored just under two minutes into the game and it was 3-0 by the end of the first period. Nathan MacKinnon had a pair of goals to ensure the Avalanche victory.

It’s been a story all season but the discipline for Nashville has to improve. If you give three, four, five power plays to a team that can load up their top unit like Colorado can, you’re probably going to have a bad time. Colorado didn’t click on their PP opportunities but it’s really playing with fire, and it’s also 6-10 minutes a game your stars are stapled to the pine.

As I watched this game, and saw Ryan Ellis run a five-on-three, I found myself wondering if he’s going to be over-drafted next year. He definitely had an excellent season when he’s on the ice but I still think he’s third on the depth chart behind Roman Josi and PK Subban, at least as far as creating offence is concerned. One thing to consider: he’s a free agent after 2018-19 and he’s going to get a huge raise on his $2.5-million annually. Do they keep him around? They already have a lot of long-term money tied up. Just wondering out loud…

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The Ducks had their goose cooked and then were feasted upon by the Sharks. That’s probably the best possible way I can phrase that sentence.

Martin Jones kept his team in the game when Anaheim really poured it on in the second period and San Jose responded with four goals to salt this game away before the final 20 came. The top line looked great again as Pavelski had a goal and assist, Joonas Donskoi had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane chipped in a helper. Should Joe Thornton return later this series or in the next round (assuming the Sharks don’t blow this), they have a serious decision to make about the top line.

**Update: Admittedly, I went to bed after the Sharks made it 5-1. Their onslaught didn't stop there, however, Add a goal for Kane and an assist for Donskoi to the above totals. 

That makes things interesting for fantasy next year. I think everyone assumes Kane signs in San Jose. I was worried about the team in the post-Joe Thornton area but they’ve showed they can still play at a high level without him. I wouldn’t be too worried about the production of their top players other than what they showed this year should Thornton not be re-signed for next year.

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One thing that I’ve been fascinated with in the NHL over the last several years has been the evolution of offence. Regardless of age, hockey fans can remember a time not so long ago where the standard play was this: defenceman goes glass-and-out, forwards chase down the loose puck in the neutral zone, forwards dump the puck in and chase, opposing defenceman goes glass-and-out, rinse and repeat. Looking back, it’s amazing it took so long for the NHL to move away from this incredibly inefficient model.

It was one thing I noticed watching the Los Angeles Kings under Darryl Sutter back when they were winning Stanley Cups. We can make fun of them all we want for not being a high-scoring team but I think that was a function more of talent, specifically in the bottom half of the roster, rather than not being able to create offence. If you go back and watch games from the Kings 3-4 years ago, they would make three, four, even five passes to ensure they’d get out of the defensive zone with control in order to counter-attack. That aspect, at least, was fun to watch.

That leads me to my point of this whole section of the Ramblings: the evolution of offence has necessarily included defencemen. Long gone are the days of the traditional stay-at-home defenceman. Guys like Roman Polak, much like pure face-punchers, are a dying breed. Defencemen are expected to not only start the attack with outlet passes or the ability to skate the puck out of the zone with control, they’re expected to participate in the offensive zone beyond just ripping knee-high slap shots.

Nearly three years ago (times flies), I wrote in a Ramblings about how defencemen were scoring more, which necessarily makes goals from defencemen less valuable. It’s a basic supply issue: if defencemen are scoring more, and total goal-scoring remains relatively unchanged, the goals from the defenceman are worth less in fantasy. That was, in fact, the case: Natural Stat Trick has 4399 total at five-on-five in 2013-14 and 4404 total five-on-five goals in 2014-15. Though the total five-on-five goals in the NHL went up by just five over those two seasons, defencemen scored 36 more goals. That’s a 5.5 percent increase in goals by blue liners despite a 0.11 percent increase in total goals.

But that was all a few years ago. What’s happened since?

As has been written about elsewhere, five-on-five goal scoring absolutely exploded this year. From 2013-14 through 2016-17, the total goals at five-on-five were anywhere from 4248 (2015-16) to 4475 (2016-17). This year the NHL had 4903 five-on-five goals. That’s a 9.6 percent increase in 2017-18 from the highest-scoring season of the previous four years. One thing about that: goal-scoring from defencemen increased as well. A lot:

Note that those are a percentage of total goals scored, not total goals by defencemen. Rearguards scored at five-on-five at the highest rate since the end of the lockout. As I discussed earlier, defencemen scored more in the first couple seasons after the lockout. That rate tapered off for a couple years before this season’s huge increase.

There weren’t many high-end scorers, though. The league-leaders for total goals by defencemen was 17, and the previous four seasons had 10 instances of at least 20 goals. If the high-end of goal tallies came down, but there were more goals and a higher percentage of goals, that means the floor is rising.

The crux of all this is the power play. Keep in mind that this season saw power-play conversions league-wide average out to over 20 percent for the first time in nearly 30 years. That power play efficiency would probably lead some people to think that the increased efficiency might lead to more goals from defencemen. It’s been quite opposite, in fact: power-play goals from defencemen as a percentage of goals scored has declined every year since the 2013 lockout ended. It’s pretty incredible:

That’s not a small decline. That’s a crater. No defenceman had more than seven power-play goals in 2017-18; 2013-14 have five score at least eight and two in double-digits. Power plays are scoring at a rate not seen in a generation but it has nothing to do with the defencemen, at least in terms of goals. With regards to assists or starting the play through the neutral zone, that’s another topic for another day.

This is important for fantasy. If defencemen are scoring less on the power play, it has impacts on leagues that count power-play goals. There just isn’t a whole lot of value for them in that category. The days of guys pounding slap shots from the point are gone. Now, it’s off-target wrist shots looking for a deflection at the side of the net, high-slot tips, or shots intentionally wide looking for a rebound off the boards on the other side of the net.

There are more goals by d-men at five-on-five but fewer on the PP. Blue liners are scoring more, but high-end totals are drying up. Getting 10 goals from a defenceman just doesn’t have the same impact in fantasy that it did a few years ago. Keep that in mind for next season; even though you might expect 10 goals from a particular rearguard, you should expect that from at least 30 other guys as well. The impact from these defencemen in fantasy has to be made up elsewhere.

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While we’re on the topic of goal-scoring from the blue line on the power play, how about Ryan Pulock? I’ll fully admit I had left him for dead when it came to fantasy value, but he absolutely exploded for the Islanders this season. His power-play goal total (5) was as many as names like Brent Burns, Torey Krug, and PK Subban. He did so in considerably less ice time than those guys, too.

It must be said that his shooting percentage was high (top-10 in the league among those at his position with 100 minutes of power-play usage) but he absolutely unloaded with volume, ranking fourth in the league in shot attempts taken per minute, behind only Shayne Gostisbehere, Roman Josi, and Colin Miller.

I’m not sure what to do with him next year but we have all offseason for that. There is a lot that will happen to this team in the next three months or so, be it John Tavares signing (or not), trades, free agents, additions/subtractions to the coaching staff, what have you. I just wanted to point out that Pulock had a good season. If other fantasy owners were like myself, they were running out of patience for him to develop into the player we’d hoped he’d be. Not only was he productive on the power play in limited time, he was the only Islanders defenceman with 900 minutes of five-on-five time to have an expected goal share over 50 percent. Sure, there’s nuance to that – his minutes were more sheltered than Leddy’s, for example – but even in sheltered minutes, it’s important to have good results. He did. I’m intrigued for next year as a bench defenceman in 12-team leagues.

 

10 responses to “Ramblings: Leafs, Devils, Avalanche Bounce Back; Ryan Pulock; Changes in Goals from Defencemen – April 17”

  1. Striker says:

    Donskoi had a goal & 2 assists.

  2. wholi says:

    Based on the Dman/scoring conversation, it sounds like we should use the Dman category to focus on peripheral categories in standard Yahoo 12-team leagues – Hits, Blocks, PIMS. Correct?

    • Michael Clifford says:

      I wouldn’t focus specifically on that. You still need point production. It’s something I’m going to discuss continually through the summer.

  3. Luke P says:

    Re: Will Butcher, it looks to me like the Devils had a plan for him and stuck to it. They limited his exposure to those tough NHL minutes but gave him all the opportunity to acclimatize himself to all the aspect of the NHL game – the speed, the long season, the physicality, the training, the road trips, etc. – WITHOUT putting him in a position to fail more than was necessary for him to learn. It should not be lost on anyone he played 81 games and isn’t showing signs of fatigue.

    There have been a few analyses published recently showing that Butcher drives play as well as any Devils defenceman, even considering his sheltered and limited deployment. I don’t think they’ll take the leash off completely next year, but with a full offseason of conditioning and learning, he should take a step forward next year and solidify his place as the primary PP QB and a solid 5/6th defenceman. 40 points is a fair projection with upside for a lot more (50+) if this team is able to take another step forward offensively.

    • Michael Clifford says:

      That makes total sense with regards to his development. My only issue is that if he remains a 5/6 defenceman, which means maybe 13 minutes a night at 5v5, that’s still maybe just 16-17 minutes a night in total TOI. So a repeat of this past season seems reasonable, just don’t see much growth potential if he doesn’t get more ice time than that.

      • MarkRM16 says:

        Predicting the production of Devils D is tough now with the 3 headed monster of Butcher, Vatanen, and Severson, all 3 of whom are capable of being their go-to offensive D. I’ve been really impressed by Butcher, as I’d expected a flash in the pan followed by a demotion, but he stuck around all season. My sophomore slump alarm bell is going off, though. The thing about Butcher is that if he isn’t scoring, there doesn’t appear to be a good reason to have him in the lineup. Going by his stats: 4 minutes SH TOI all year, 21 hits, 62 blocked shots, was only +1 despite sheltered minutes, and had 16 more giveaways than takeaways. I never saw him play a full game, so I don’t know how effective he may be in other ways, but the stats scream 6/7 D powerplay specialist to me.

  4. Dobber says:

    In February I had faded enough to know I was out of it so I traded Torey Krug for Ryan Pulock, Logan Brown and a 2nd. I needed depth and picks and I felt Pulock could, as early as next year, replace Krug 1-1. So I’m sure what to do with him next season! Very bullish

    • Michael Clifford says:

      I think he can if he can take away those top PP minutes from Leddy, which is very much possible. If he doesn’t and only has like 7-8 PPPs it might be hard for him to mimic is value. Either way, I’m with you; way more bullish than I was three or four months ago.