Ramblings: Malkin Returns; Updates on Carter and Crawford; Ho-Sang; Strome; Hertl – February 12

by Michael Clifford on February 12, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Malkin Returns; Updates on Carter and Crawford; Ho-Sang; Strome; Hertl – February 12

 

The Pittsburgh Penguins welcomed Evgeni Malkin back to the lineup after missing the last handful of games with an upper-body injury. He slotted on his usual second line with Phil Kessel and Nick Bjugstad as wingers.

The team also tinkered with their power play, spreading the talent across two units rather than just one. This isn’t good news for upper-tier players like Malkin, Kessel, or Sidney Crosby (less ice time), but it’s good news for the lower-tier ones like Bjugstad and Marcus Pettersson, who should see some increase in PP time. That is, at least until Justin Schultz returns, which could be soon.

*

Nate Thompson and a fifth-round pick were traded to Montreal in exchange for a fourth-round pick. There’s no fantasy relevance here whatsoever but it’s always nice to see Marc Bergevin in the midst of his annual Fourth Line Bonanza. One of these seasons he’ll acquire useful players at the deadline (Phillip Danault excepted) and we’ll all rejoice.

*

The Chicago Blackhawks signed goaltender Collin Delia to a three-year deal with an AAV of $1-million. Delia has been very good for Chicago with a .923 overall save percentage, but that came in just 12 appearances. Other measures like his goals saved above average and high-danger save percentage are all very good as well but, again, we’re talking about a sample that is about 20 percent of a full season’s workload, and even a full season’s workload isn’t enough to make a determination on a goaltender. This is obviously another goaltender signing like Pheonix Copley’s in Washington: sign a goalie for cheap who can be exposed in the next expansion draft.

Sticking with Chicago goalies, Corey Crawford said he’s feeling much better since his last concussion and has not considered retirement at all. There’s still no timeline on a return but this is good news for himself, the organization, fans, and fantasy hockey players alike.

*

The update on Jeff Carter is that there’s no real update. Los Angeles coach Willie Desjardins said he’s a few days away, which, as Curtis Zupke points out in his linked tweet, has been the common refrain.

I guess this will come off as whining, but how do NHL teams get away with this? Erik Karlsson has had an illness for weeks (which, if it’s serious, fans would want to know about rather than worry) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic was day-to-day for a month. On Vlasic, he was a “game-time decision” a week after his upper-body injury and didn’t play for more than three weeks after that. Teams are just flat-out lying to the media and their fans. How doesn’t the NHL care about this?

*

There were some murmurs that Alexis Lafrenière, the uber 2020 prospect, might be going pro next year in Europe, taking the same route that Auston Matthews did prior to being drafted. That was very quickly put to rest by the future star’s agency:

 

 

 

Not that it’s hugely relevant for us fantasy-wise but I always wonder about development for a player like this. Would it be better for a supremely talented player to go overseas for a season rather than spend it in junior hockey? Would it make him better prepared for his first season in the NHL? I don’t have an answer and I’m not sure there’s a concrete answer one way or another. I just think it’s an interesting discussion.

*

Evgeny Kuznetsov had two goals and two assists in Washington’s 6-4 win over Los Angeles. After what would be considered a slump, posting 1 goal and 14 points in 22 games from early December through mid-January, the young star has 7 goals and 15 points in his last eight games. It also pushed him over a point per game on the season. It appears as though he’ll be just fine.

Kuznetsov, by the way, was reunited with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. That was often the line down the stretch for the Capitals last season. Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in the contest, with eight shots on goal to boot. He’s now just shy of four shots per game on the season.

*

In his return to the lineup, Malkin took a match penalty for a one-handed stick swing at the head of Michael Raffl. It wasn’t completely vicious, but it was reckless and dangerous. He had an assist earlier, so he finished with one helper, four shots, and 15 penalty minutes. Of course, it may be a few games before he’s back in the lineup again. Here’s the play:

 

 

Matt Murray stood on his head, holding off the Flyers for nearly straight 50 saves until Jakub Voracek broke through late in the third period during Malkin’s five-minute major. He ended up with one goal against on 51 shots, a career-high in saves for him. A good night to be a Murray owner.

*

Vancouver prospect goaltender Mikey DiPietro got the start at home to San Jose on Monday night. Update on that game in the morning. You can read his Dobber profile here

San Jose’s second line continued their torrid pace in San Jose’s 7-2 shellacking of Vancouver. Evander Kane had two goals, Tomas Hertl had a goal and an assist, and Joonas Donskoi added a helper. For Kane that makes 26 points in 19 games since Christmas, with Hertl posting 24 points and Donskoi having 15. They’re obviously shooting a bit over their heads but the metrics for the trio are very, very good.

The top line for the Sharks was pretty good as well with Joe Pavelski having a goal and an assist, Logan Couture pitching in a couple assists, and Timo Meier tallied his second goal in his last 24 games.

It wasn’t a very good start for Mikey DiPietro, though he was left out to dry. The Canucks didn’t have a backup goalie in place for him because of a minor injury to Jacob Markstrom, meaning this team, which is pushing for the playoffs, had absolutely no backup plan beyond a 19-year old goaltender. That’s embarrassing.

*

Last week, Josh Ho-Sang was a healthy scratch in the AHL, and it was his third consecutive game as a healthy scratch at the time. Through his AHL career, he has 74 assists in 137 games, a 44-assist pace per 82 games. He’s not shooting at all this season, with 32 shots in 37 games. That’s nothing new, either,  as he had 51 shots in 50 AHL games last year and 68 shots in 50 games the year before. He’s actually shooting less now than he was earlier in his career, but his assist rates have climbed. That’s the trade-off.

It’s clear at this point that the Islanders don’t want him. But is he a gamble worth taking by another team, and is he a gamble worth taking in dynasty fantasy leagues? Let’s dive a bit deeper.

There’s not a lot to work with in regard to Ho-Sang’s NHL career, having played just 53 games so far. I wanted to compare him to another guy who is known more for his passing than anything, and doesn’t shoot at all: Alex Wennberg. Here’s how they compare in things like shot assists (passes leading to shots), zone entries and exits, and other such categories (via CJ Turtoro’s viz):

 

As is clearly stated in that viz, we don’t have enough of a sample with Ho-Sang to make any definitive statements. What we can say is that in what has been tracked, he’s performed very well by metrics that indicate he can help drive offence. It’s a good start.

As for how he’s helped the team when he’s been able to get to the NHL, the Islanders have generated more shots with him on the ice relative to his teammates, and allowed fewer. The expected goal metrics aren’t overly flattering as he’s been basically break-even on the Islanders over his span. However, he has shown chemistry with certain Islanders skaters in the past; in nearly 140 minutes spent skating with Anders Lee, Ho-Sang helped create over 18 high-danger shots with the duo on the ice. Apart, both players are considerably lower than that mark, with Ho-Sang taking a bigger hit than Lee. Keep in mind, though, that this year when Ho-Sang wasn’t skating with Lee, he was often skating with Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov (via Dobber’s line tools). Last year, he spent most of his time with Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Alan Quine. The year before that, it was Beauvillier, Nelson, and Andrew Ladd. All this is to say that yeah, Ho-Sang’s numbers without Lee aren’t sterling (though they aren’t bad), but just think who he gets to (got to) play with when he saw minimal minutes with either John Tavares or Mathew Barzal – out of more than 666 career 5v5 minutes in the NHL, about 82 of them has come with one of those two centres, or less than 12 percent.

We have a 23-year old winger who is almost exclusively pass-first, but has shown a lot of promise in that one skill set in his limited NHL usage, which has been largely devoid of ice time with whatever little star-power the Islanders have. This is a gamble a lot of teams should be taking as the trade deadline approaches.

Just be wary of his fantasy value. As I outlined above, I think the best fantasy comparison for him would be Alex Wennberg and we’ve seen both the highs and the lows from him. Before trying to buy low, make sure that kind of limited upside is even worth it.

*

After a three-point game on Sunday afternoon, Dylan Strome now has 30 points in 32 games with the Blackhawks since being traded by the Coyotes. Of course, we can’t just take that at face value. How did he get those 30 points? Dobber offered some insight yesterday in his Ramblings, I recommend going to read that. Allow me to expand a little bit.

As of right now, Strome is shooting 19.6 percent at all strengths, posting 56 shots in his 32 games with Chicago. It’s not a PP-driven shooting percentage, either, as his five-on-five shot conversion rate is also over 19 percent, which is far too high. His individual shot rate at five-on-five (9.2 shot attempts/60 minutes) isn’t far off from what Nick Schmaltz, the guy for whom Strome was traded, posted with the ‘Hawks this year (8.6). Neither is very good. Let’s be generous and say Strome is a true 15 percent shooter at all strengths. With this shot rate, his upside is about 20 goals. Of course, Strome is still just 21 years old and guys shooting more as they enter their prime is fairly common (he did have 144 shots in 50 AHL games last season). I’m just reviewing what he’s done so far.

At five-on-five, the Blackhawks are shooting 13.7 percent with Strome on the ice. For reference of how high that is, the current leader among forwards with 600-plus minutes at 5v5 is Cam Atkinson at 12.5 percent, there are only four players over 12 percent, and just 21 of the 201 players in the sample are over 11 percent. In other words, that is something else that is going to decline.

Finally, Strome’s secondary assist rate at five-on-five currently sits at 0.82 per 60 minutes. That leads the Blackhawks by a decent margin (Alex DeBrincat is second at 0.72), and that mark would put him in the top-10 league-wide this year in secondary assists/60 minutes at five-on-five (again, counting just his with Chicago). We know secondary assists are fairly random and any rate that is too high is likely to decline in the near-future.  

We have a player that is shooting at an excessive shooting percentage (particularly at five-on-five) with an on-ice team shooting percentage is far too high and whose secondary assist rates are, again, far too high. All three will regress, either this season or the next.

He has a bit of growth to do and he’s still getting acclimated to the Blackhawks. Despite great results, the metrics for DeBrincat and Strome when skating together are not flattering in the least with a sub-45 percent adjusted shot share and there’s no real indicator that Strome is the one driving the bus.

This is just a warning. The 30 points so far are largely the result of a percentage bender and not solid play-driving. There are still some things to like here; his passing metrics are solid and the line of him, DeBrincat, and Kahun have shown promise in a small sample of a sheltered role. Just be wary that the Blackhawks suddenly found a 70-point centre to play behind Jonathan Toews. I’m skeptical.

*

Considering we (the collective fantasy hockey community) have been waiting for a breakout from Tomas Hertl for about five years now, you’d think there’d be more celebration for a guy who, at time of writing, is currently enjoying a point-per-game pace and has already set career-highs in goals and assists despite two months of the season remaining.

Of course, this is another guy enjoying a percentage bender, shooting over 21 percent at all strengths, 14.3 percent at five-on-five, and the team is shooting 10.2 percent with him on the ice. All three marks are career-highs as well. The funny part is individually, he’s averaging his lowest expected goals of the last five years at 0.79 per 60 minutes; he had been between 0.81 and 0.92 each of the previous four seasons.

All of this aside, whatever happens down the stretch, we can live with. We have been waiting a long time for a season like this from Hertl and it’s finally happening. Patience pays off… sometimes.