Ramblings: Playoffs Ahoy!; Kovalchuk Returning?; Monahan Injuries – April 10

by Michael Clifford on April 10, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Playoffs Ahoy!; Kovalchuk Returning?; Monahan Injuries – April 10

One report early on Monday morning had Ilya Kovalchuk signing with the New York Rangers for anywhere around two or three years. He has expressly made his desire to return to the NHL previously known so it’s a matter of where he lands, not if he leaves the KHL.

A lot of people are going to project how many points they see Kovalchuk racking up and I just don’t know how to go about it. Here is a guy who left the NHL in his age-29 season and will be turning 35 at the end of this week. Since the 2013 lockout, only one player aged 35 or older has managed at least 70 points (Joe Thornton, 2015-16 with 82). The highest-scoring winger was Martin St. Louis with 69 in 2013-14. Keep in mind that St. Louis did that playing nearly 21 minutes a night. Wherever Kovalchuk signs, there’s no chance he plays 21 minutes a night.

We have to remember that over his final two seasons, Kovalchuk was playing over 24 minutes a game in order to be a point-per-game player. No team is going to give him anywhere close to that. He won’t be over 20 minutes a game, for that matter. I love Kovalchuk as a player, and I’m getting excited to watch him again in the NHL, but we should feel fortunate if he can get 17-18 minutes a night. At that level, I’d be hard-pressed to project him for more than 60 points. We have all offseason to figure this out, but that seems about right for now.  

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An interesting quote from Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly at lockout clearing day:

There were some more details later added by beat writer Joe Yerdon.

This is a guy pretty accustomed to winning even if it hasn’t been in the NHL. There are gold medals from the Ivan Hlinka, World Championships, and World Cup of Hockey. He also had two playoff appearances with Colorado. I’m sure when he signed with the Sabres a few years ago, he was looking at a team that may be bad for a year or two, but will have stockpiled enough young players (stars) by this point to be a perennial playoff threat. Things haven’t worked out that way.

It didn’t affect his fantasy performance, though. He set a four-year high in goals (24) and points (61). He had a career-high in shots (230) and face-off wins (1273). He cracked 20 power-play points for the third straight season, setting a career-high in PP goals along the way with 15. Statistically, it was a pretty good season for him.

If Ryan O’Reilly has the kind of season he had at a time when he lost love for the game at times, what can he do if (VERY BIG *IF*) the Sabres can right the ship next year?

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Don’t forget to grab your copy of the Dobber playoff list. It has been updated now that we know the teams and matchups. Get the edge you need for your playoff pools!

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Micah Blake-McCurdy (whom you should follow on Twitter and whose work in hockey is among the best) released his playoff odds per round as well as Cup odds:

I think the two some people may disagree is Minnesota as slight favourites over Winnipeg and Washington as heavy favourites over Columbus. What say you, Dobber heads?

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This isn’t playoff-related, but hoo boy:

This is going to be a crazy offseason for Sean Monahan. That’s, uh, a lot to rehab and come back healthy from? I’d be wary for the 2018-19 fantasy season.

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It looks like Steven Stamkos will be ready for beginning of the postseason. He missed a few games at the end of the year but the plan is for him to be in the lineup for game one. If you’re worried about his injury with regards to playoff pools, he’s healthy enough to play as it is. How much risk you’re willing to tolerate is up to you.

Joe Thornton, however, will not be in the lineup for game one. He’s been out of the lineup since the end of January and at a minimum won’t start the postseason for the Sharks. It seems to me he’s a guy to just avoid for drafts.

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Beyond the draft list available in the Dobber Shop, we’re going to have a lot of playoff content. Each Dobber writer, editor, and contributor will be providing their picks for each series as we have every year. We will also have some fantasy picks over on Sportsnet as well as daily updates here in Ramblings.

I wanted to give my thought on some series and players for drafts.

 

Colorado/Nashville

Nashville is a massive favourite to win the series. By Vegas odds, they’re the biggest favourites, and it’s not even close; using Bodog odds, they sit at -500 to win the series. If you want to convert that to a percentage, it’s about 83 percent to win the series, or they win the series five out of every six opportunities.

I should make the disclaimer that I don’t outright bet on hockey games. If you’re looking for a professional handicapper, I am not that. But an 83 percent implied win rate seems high for any seven-game NHL playoff series. All it takes is for Jonathan Bernier to get hot for two weeks. Or the Nathan MacKinnon line to get hot for two weeks. Or any other number of ways one playoff team beats another playoff team four times out of seven.

Nashville wins this series most of the time. It just seems very pricy.

 

San Jose

When I do playoff drafts, the very first question I ask is: which team has the easiest path to the Conference Final? When I look at this year’s bracket, it goes something like this:

  • Boston and Tampa Bay, should they win their first-round matchups, will face each other in the second round.
  • The winner of Columbus/Washington (a series I think is close) will probably have to go through the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Should Nashville and Winnipeg win their series – and they both should – they’ll face off in the second round.

And then there’s the Pacific bracket.

Of the four teams in the Pacific side of the bracket – Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vegas – only the Sharks finished in the top-15 teams league-wide in expected goals percentage at five-on-five, and San Jose was in the top-10. That holds up if we count games just since the All-Star break or, in other words, since the Joe Thornton injury.

I’m a believer in San Jose. I know we say that every year, but they’re a good team. I’m less convinced on the other teams in their bracket. Anaheim is a pretty tough first-round draw and the Sharks could very well be bounced out early. However, San Jose is not a team that will be targeted heavily in playoff drafts, which means that after you get the obligatory Bruins/Leafs/Lightning/Penguins/Predators players (or whomever is heavily targeted), you can really rack up the Sharks offensive players.

 

Columbus

If I had to pick a team in the East to target that I think most people will overlook, much in the same vein as the Sharks, it’s Columbus.

The Blue Jackets’ Achilles’ heel all season was special teams. Though the common trope is that fewer penalties are called in the postseason, that has been found to not be true. At the least, Columbus did improve their power play as the season wore on, finding themselves in the middle of the pack with the man advantage after the All-Star break in expected goals. They were also mid-pack in actual goals. The PP doesn’t have to be a world-beater, but it has to be better than the ~10 percent it was over the first half of the season. And it was. If they can stay out of the box against Washington, they stand a decent shot in that series.

With all the popular teams flying off the board early, you’ll probably get your pick of the players from Columbus. The top guys like Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin are locks, but don’t forget Thomas Vanek, Alex Wennberg, or the returning Josh Anderson.

 

Pittsburgh/Philadelphia

Can I just say, from a neutral fan’s standpoint, this is the first-round series I’m looking forward to most? I know a lot of people will say Leafs/Bruins, but I remember that 2012 Penguins/Flyers series. I was in Toronto for the Blue Jays’ home opener series watching the NHL games at a bar. I was almost in disbelief at what I was watching. Nothing but goals and fights.

Of course there’s been significant roster turnover since then but a lot of the major players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds are still around. They’ll remember. We probably won’t get fireworks like that again but one can hope.  

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There’s a lot of talk about “what went wrong” with the Oilers. There’s a laundry list: trading talented wingers, injured defencemen, and Cam Talbot having a down year are all worthy talking points. One thing we can’t overlook is special teams. On the season, if you subtract power-play goals against from power-play goals for, the Oilers were an incredible minus-26. The next-worst team was Detroit at minus-17, and only five teams in the league were minus-10 or worse (the aforementioned teams plus Montreal, Columbus, and Ottawa). Of the 10 teams with the best differential (Boston, Colorado, San Jose, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vegas, New Jersey, the Rangers) only the New York Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs. I think a healthy Oscar Klefbom will help the power play next season but that penalty kill needs cleaning up in the worst way. 

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I know he’s not the same broadcaster he was 20 years ago but count me among the hockey fans who will miss Bob Cole this postseason. Sportsnet has not included him among their playoff broadcast teams so unless something changes, we won’t be getting a hearty Oh Baby this spring.

It’s nostalgia, for sure, but Bob Cole is one of the voices of my childhood. For me and many Canadians near my age, he’s the voice of hockey. I wish they could have had him in the booth for the Leafs/Bruins. That would have been special.