Ramblings: Marner returns; updates on Strome, Spurgeon, and Landeskog; Fiala – December 5

by Michael Clifford on December 5, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Marner returns; updates on Strome, Spurgeon, and Landeskog; Fiala – December 5

 

After missing the last few Blackhawks games, Dylan Strome was back at practice on Wednesday, skating between Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. It seems likely that Strome returns on Thursday.

*

The change finally came as Ryan Strome was replaced on the top power-play unit by Kaapo Kakko. The PP has scuffled a bit with Mika Zibanejad back in the lineup but that’s a chicken/egg-type of thing. Regardless, I think it’s worth just further developing that chemistry with Artemi Panarin.

Unfortunately, David Quinn felt the need to boot Pavel Buchnevich off the second PP unit as a result of Strome moving down. I said it a couple weeks ago and I mean it: it’s crazy to me how much multiple coaching staffs just absolutely cannot stand Buchnevich. Once he gets out of New York – I can’t imagine it’ll be long now – I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

*

Mitch Marner returned for the Leafs on Wednesday night in their home game against the Avalanche. A bit more on that later.

*

There was still no Patrice Bergeron at practice for the Bruins.

*

Robby Fabbri is on the top line in Detroit, or at least he was in practice.

*

The Winnipeg Jets claimed Nick Shore off waivers from Toronto. Not sure there’s a lot of fantasy value here but it does make me wonder if this is a move to just… Shore up… their fourth-line centre, or if this is done with the intention of bumping everyone up a spot and getting Blake Wheeler back to the wing. We’ll find out soon enough.

*

Gabriel Landeskog was skating at Colorado’s Wednesday game day in a regular jersey, the next step to him returning. (The actual next step would be getting PP work in practice, but he did not, which indicates he’s still not quite ready.) Remember that once Landeskog returns, Joonas Donskoi will largely lose his fantasy relevance. It’ll be the top line with Nazem Kadri on the power play while Donskoi plays second-line minutes. Now would be the time to trade him if possible.

*

The Minnesota Wild will be without defenceman Jared Spurgeon for at least the next two weeks with an upper-body injury. He left Tuesday’s game in the first period and did not return.

A couple things here. First, Jonas Brodin took his spot on the power play. Whether that’s a long-term solution or not remains to be seen, but it would be at least a little boost for Brodin, who was mostly fantasy irrelevant this year.

The second thing is that Mathew Dumba played over 26 minutes, a season high. He probably won’t play that much once they get a sixth defenceman in the lineup, but he probably should see more than the 23-24 he had been getting this year. It’ll be a nice little short-term bump for Dumba owners.

*

I watched the whole Leafs game, a 3-1 loss to the Avalanche, mostly just to see how Mitch Marner would fare. To be honest, he looked like himself. I know it’s probably not entirely true because it’s hard to miss that much time with that kind of injury and have everything be normal upon returning. But he did look good on the backcheck, had a couple of extremely beautiful dangles (one late in the third period would have been on highlight reels everywhere if the play had been finished off), and even sold out to block a shot with the empty net at the end of the game. Maybe he wasn’t a huge factor on the score sheet, but I think it’s all systems go from here.

Nathan MacKinnon scored Colorado’s first goal, Valeri Nichushkin scored the second, while Joonas Donskoi potted the third. Nichushkin’s goal was the result of some hilarity between Jason Spezza and Morgan Rielly and, well, just watch for yourself:

 

 

Shout out to Nichushkin on the absolute snipe. Where’s that been for years?!

*

Tristan Jarry had a 28-save shutout at home to St. Louis on Wednesday night, his season save percentage sitting at .936 as a result. That’s about all that came out of that game.

*

Tyler Ennis had a three-point game (1+2) in Ottawa’s 5-2 win over Edmonton. After several very lean seasons, Ennis is up to a 42-point pace on the season, which is a nice rebound for him while playing just 15 minutes a night down the lineup of a non-playoff team. It’s always cool to see guys be able to resurrect their careers after several down years. That’s persistence.

*

A week or so ago, someone was tweeting at me about Kevin Fiala and the resurgence he had been having. At the time he had finished the month of November with 11 points in 13 games, averaging just over two shots per game. He had missed a few games in October but finished that month with one point in eight games. That kind of mirrors the team as a whole, though: they were 28th in goals per minute in October but fourth in November. Now, I don’t think they’re so bad to be near the bottom-3 of the NHL, nor are they good enough to be somewhere inside the top-5. Like most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of the quality of the Wild as a team, we have enough to work with this season to see how Fiala himself is doing. Let’s provide some context by looking back first, however.

The 11th overall pick in 2014 had his way in the AHL. He had 69 points in 88 games as a 19/20-year old, meaning he had nothing left to prove there. His first full-ish season in the NHL didn’t go well production-wise, with just 16 points in 54 games, but he did show what he could do elsewhere on the ice. What we did see was a profile of a player who was great at things to help the team generate offence. For example, we know that carrying the puck generates roughly twice the shots of dumping it in (though the type of dump-in matters; that’s another conversation for another day), so guys that can exit/enter the zone with control are coveted. Well, this is what Fiala did in a shortened rookie season:

 

 

Readers will notice that the sample size isn’t really reliable enough for us. In that instance, let’s look at his three-year averages from 2016-19:

 

 

Just for comparison purposes, I put a former teammate who is also considered an elite-tier winger beside Fiala in that second picture. People will note how hard it is for even elite wingers to contribute in all three zones, in areas that make his teammates more likely to produce. It’s basically guys like Nikita Kucherov, Taylor Hall, and Johnny Gaudreau who can replicate the microstats that Fiala does. Once you get below that all-world tier, that’s where Fiala’s results fit.

Fiala being able to do what he does in terms of zone entries/exits, shots, and shot assists means that his line mates are in much better positions to produce. How much better? Well, HockeyViz has his isolated impact at 15 percent:

 

 

That basically means his impact is 15 percent higher than a league average player, and that’s significant. The elite guys mentioned above outside of Gaudreau are all over 20 percent, but it does show that what Fiala does personally translates to better offensive environments for his line mates, and to a considerably higher degree than the vast majority of players. (You’ll also notice how many penalties he draws, which is a valuable skill that fits well with this type of profile.)

So why aren’t these all-world microstats leading to better results for Fiala individually? A couple reasons.

First, he’s not getting much ice time, and never really has; he’s never averaged 18 minutes in any single month of his career, and has managed 17 minutes in three separate months. Most of them are under 16 and many under 15. Now, 15 minutes a game works out to 1230 minutes of ice time a season. In the last 20 years, only two players have played at least 80 games, finished under 1250 minutes, and managed 60 points. There are hundreds of players who fit the first two criteria and just two who fit all three. In other words, as long as Fiala’s ice time stays relatively where it has his whole career, there’s almost no hope of a top-end fantasy season, let alone an elite one. At best, he’s a bench guy in a shallower leagues and is a middle-of-the-roster guy in deeper ones. 

Second would likely be his line mates. Think back to his time in Nashville and ask yourself how much you remember him playing with Forsberg or Viktor Arvidsson. Out of nearly 2500 minutes at five-on-five from 2016-19, Fiala played 292 minutes with Forsberg and 120 minutes with Arvidsson. As a three-man line, he played under 200 minutes total with Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. (Their underlying numbers in those 193 minutes, by the way, were colossally great.)  So, for like 90 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time in Nashville, he was playing with non-top-line players, playing second- and third-line minutes. No, it’s no wonder why he hasn’t had a huge breakout season yet.

The Swiss winger is now 23 years old, which means he should be getting in his scoring prime, but he’s just not getting the ice time he needs to be a high-end fantasy producer. Playing in Minnesota, a team lacking high-end talent, only compounds this problem. It’s clear that coaches either don’t like his fitness or his defensive game, because there’s no reason offensively to be giving him just 14 minutes a night. He can be solid in the fantasy game, but until he gets the ice time and line mates necessary, it’ll be hard for him to take that next step.