Ramblings: Pair of Bruins signings; Sobotka surgery; Top line Thomas; Vrana’s season – November 28

by Michael Clifford on November 28, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Pair of Bruins signings; Sobotka surgery; Top line Thomas; Vrana’s season – November 28

 

The Buffalo Sabres announced that Vladimir Sobotka will undergo knee surgery. Fantasy owners will remember the low-bridge hit from Nikita Kucherov in their Sweden series that knocked Sobotka out of action. It looks like his absence will be even longer than originally thought.

This has to put pressure on Buffalo management. They’re rostering guys like J-S Dea and Rasmus Asplund daily while they have too many quality NHL defencemen to even dress. Given Buffalo’s slide this month and the injuries that are piling up, I cannot imagine the team stands pat as is.

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Speaking of Tampa Bay, the Bolts were without Steven Stamkos again on Wednesday night. He said he’s hopeful to be back in the lineup for this weekend, but nothing is for certain. By the wording of some of the comments to the media – “managing it,” “tweaked it,” – it seems like a soft tissue injury that could linger. Let’s hope a few days off clears this up because it’s no fun to watch one of the most exciting players in the league struggle through an injury.

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Jeff Skinner was on the third line for Buffalo on Wednesday night. I wish I was kidding.  

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Josh Morrissey was in the lineup for Winnipeg on Wednesday night so fantasy owners can breathe a little bit easier.

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The Bruins announced the extensions of Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner. The former for six years at cap hit of $5.25M annually and the latter at $1.35M. Wagner has had good underlying numbers this year so I wonder if this is a bet by the Bruins before he turns it on offensively.

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Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, responding to a question about John Tavares and Auston Matthews playing over 22 minutes and 20 minutes, respectively, on the weekend, said it’s a trend you’ll see moving forward. That’s music to the ears of poolies worldwide.

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Robert Thomas was on the top line for St. Louis with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn.

This is something I hope sustains itself moving forward. With Vladimir Tarasenko likely out for the season, it’ll be tough for the Blues to make another deep Cup run. Even if he is back in time for playoffs, what kind of shape will he be in? I think it’s a perfect opportunity for the Blues to acclimate Thomas to a bigger role against tougher competition. Get him used to playing 17 minutes a night and get him used to playing with the team’s top forwards. Just a thought.  

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It should be noted that with Anthony Mantha out of the lineup, Filip Zadina has taken his spot on the top PP unit. It’s nice that they’re giving him those minutes but be wary about relying on PP production from the Wings.

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Jimmy Howard was injured during the first period of Toronto’s dismantling of the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. All we got was that he suffered a lower-body injury and he did not return. It made for a bit of a mess as Jonathan Bernier was scheduled to start but had the flu, so Howard took his spot. Then Howard got injured and Bernier had to get dressed to play anyway. Detroit hockey, folks: catch the fever. Sometimes literally!

The game was basically over at that point, but Andreas Johnsson had himself a big second period, adding two goals and an assist to his seasonal totals. The Resurgence of Tyson Barrie also continued as he had a goal and an assist in this one. That makes seven points in his last five games, and after his abysmal start, he’s not far off from a 40-point pace.

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Buffalo blew a 2-1 third-period lead to lose 3-2 in overtime at home to Calgary. The overtime winner was scored by Elias Lindholm, marking just his third goal this month.

This game was really about T.J. Brodie, though. After that scary incident when he collapsed in practice a couple weeks ago, he returned this week and had a goal and an assist in this game. That included a helper on the overtime-winning goal from Lindholm. It’s good to see him on the ice and having success again.

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Henrik Lundqvist was The King on Wednesday night with 41 saves at home in a 3-2 win over Carolina. It’s nice that he can still do this, but you have to wonder if he’s tired of seeing league-high shot rates against year after year.

Mika Zibanejad scored a power-play goal in his return, had three total shots, one block, and two penalty minutes in a solid fantasy return.

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It was a wild, wild game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. The Penguins held on for an 8-6 win, and that was after falling behind 4-2 and 6-3 in the third period. Bullet-point stats will probably be easiest:

There’s more, obviously, but that’s the gist of it. All caught up? Good.

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Max Pacioretty (1+1), Mark Stone (1+1), and Paul Stastny (one goal) combined for three of four Vegas goals on Thursday night, with the latter scoring in overtime to seal the 4-3 win.

It should be noted that Pacioretty in specific tied the game with seconds left on the clock, and is on pace for 75 points right now, which would be a career-high. He’s also putting up nearly four shots per game and managing over a hit per game. It’s been a pretty good start to the year.

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Following his one-goal, two-assist performance in a 5-1 win over San Jose, Patrik Laine is back to a point-per-game pace. And he’s doing that while shooting just 9.5 percent after shooting nearly 16 percent in his first three seasons. There is a lot more upside to come.

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Dobber is looking for submissions for the Fantasy Player of the Decade. That would technically start January 1st 2010 and stretch to the end of next month but I’m just going to start with the beginning of the 2009 season and stretch until now.

The slam-dunk is Alex Ovechkin. The guy has scored 77 more goals than anyone else, averaged over 4.5 shots per game (honestly), and put up huge hit and power play totals. He also didn’t fall very far behind the points race (816) as some other superstars (Patrick Kane had 827 and Sidney Crosby had 836). The fact that he missed more than four games once in that span (and it was 2009-10 when he missed 10 games) speaks to the durability, too; he’s missed nine total games since the lockout.

As for the runner-up, I have some options:

  • Sidney Crosby – by far the most points per game of any player at 1.25 (no one else was at 1.15 or higher). Despite the injury issues early in the decade, he tied for the most 100-point seasons with Connor McDavid (lol).
  • Patrick Kane – second-most points of the last decade behind Crosby, but it was really a tale of two halves, as he failed to crack 70 points from 2011-2015 (though he did have a great lockout-shortened season), but has managed at least 70 points every year since, including multiple 100-point seasons. After Ovechkin, he’s likely the top offensive winger.
  • Steven Stamkos – one of two players with at least five 40-goal seasons in the last decade (Ovechkin had six, no one else had more than two). Was capable of seasons with over three shots and a hit per game.
  • Erik Karlsson – despite his reputation for being injured, he really only had two injury-plagued seasons out of 10 and he leads defencemen in both points and points per game. He had six different 60-point seasons, the most of any blue liner (Burns had five, no other defenceman had more than two).
  • Keith Yandle – given that Burns wasn’t really a defenceman for the first few years of the decade, Yandle technically was second among defencemen in points (502, Erik Karlsson had 581). He finished with at least 40 points every year and didn’t miss a single game. (The idea of presenting Yandle was stolen from Dobber’s timeline, by the way 🙂

There are guys like Kucherov and McDavid who could be considered but really only have half a decade’s worth of production. Guys like Stamkos, Crosby, and Karlsson all have injury histories, which is why I put Ovechkin above them all. Reliability in the fantasy game is an important thing, after all. What say you?

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The Jakub Vrana breakout season is truly a sight to behold. As of Wednesday afternoon, he was on pace for about 35 goals and 62 points. The lack of assists don’t really mean a lot to me because this is a guy we pegged for goal scoring. And scoring goals is what he’s doing.

Again as of Wednesday afternoon, Jakub Vrana is top-5 in the NHL for individual expected goals per 60 minutes at five on five at 1.1. For the uninitiated, it’s basically just averaging the value of his shots (based on historical scoring rates of different shot locations on different types of shots) over a 60-minute span. 

Also across the league, Vrana is 11th in five-on-five scoring per 60 minutes, and he has one (1) secondary assist. That’s how good his primary production has been. So, what has changed?

Let’s take a bit of a macro-level look first. Here is where Washington is shooting from with Vrana on the ice this year. Red areas are where they take shots at a rate higher than the league average, and the darker the red, the more shots above average they’re taking (all charts from Hockey Viz):

 

 

In short, once Vrana’s line gets in the offensive zone, it’s a bloodbath.

But has he changed anything, specifically?

One that that’s really worth mentioning here is how much Vrana has changed his approach to shooting. Namely, from where he shoots. In years gone by, his shot volume largely came from the slot. That he could shoot so much from that area isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, and it’s a reason why he set a career-high in goals last year. But, again, this is where his shots came from:

 

 

I won’t flood this Ramblings with a bunch of charts, but it was the same thing in 2017-18, which was effectively his rookie season. This is a guy who could do a very good job of getting shots from the slot, but that’s about it.

That means predictability. That means defenders know where you’ll be, they know how to get in the lane to change the shot angle, and goalies will know where the shot will come from. This year, however, has been a completely different story. To this point of the season, here’s Vrana’s personal shot map at five on five:

 

 

This is all over the map, no pun intended, but that’s a good thing. Again, without just jamming these Ramblings full of charts, David Pastrnak’s shot map ranges from face-off dot to face-off dot, and Patrik Laine’s from his 44-goal 2017-18 season is more low-to-mid slot but also the tops of the circles. None of these guys have a similar shooting pattern, but what they do share in common is their ability to find different areas inside the opposing team’s defence from which to shoot. Vrana is just starting to get that.

Is this something he’s doing on his own or is this driven by coaching? Like most things, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Regardless of the reason, his shot rate is sky-high (third in the league per mintue behind Gallagher and Tkachuk) and he’s getting shots off from multiple dangerous areas. That’s the kind of profile that can lead the NHL in scoring one day.

But to get to my point: Vrana will come nowhere near his ceiling until he starts earning more ice time, particularly on the power play. He’s on pace for 35 goals this year and he’s playing 14 minutes a night with sparse secondary power-play time. Until he starts playing 18-19 minutes a night with top PP minutes, we’re going to have to be satisfied with 30-goal, 60-point seasons. He’ll be a valuable fantasy option, but not nearly as valuable as he could be.

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Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers!