Ramblings: Playoffs, Leafs Signings, Fantasy Performances, and Goaltending (April 14)

by Michael Clifford on April 14, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Playoffs, Leafs Signings, Fantasy Performances, and Goaltending (April 14)

Playoffs start, the Leafs make major signings, and recapping some fantasy performances.

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Tampa Bay took the first game of the series, at home, in a 3-2 win over Detroit. Nikita Kucherov had a three-point night for the Bolts, including a rocket shot for the first goal of the game on a rolling puck.

There were a few things that stood out to me:

  • Jonathan Drouin had an excellent game for Tampa Bay. He was physical, fighting for space in the dirty areas, and generating very good entries with his speed. His first test is passed.
  • Tyler Johnson had an excellent game himself with two assists, and looked very good with Kucherov.
  • This series is going to be extremely physical, and doesn’t appear it’ll be a short one either way.

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Pittsburgh’s big boys showed up in game one, as Patric Hornqvist had four points (including a hat trick), with Sidney Crosby contributing three points of his own. Jeff Zatkoff made the start for Pittsburgh, and saved 35 of 37 shots. This all led to a 5-2 win for the Penguins, and a 1-0 series lead.

The big news, of course, was Henrik Lundqvist taking an inadvertent stick blade through his mask from his own defenceman, Marc Staal. It forced Lundqvist from the game, and coach Alain Vigneault would only say on a television interview that he’s day-to-day. Video of this through here. All the best to The King, as that is a scary injury to see. 

With Fleury not ready to play, giving way to Zatkoff in net, and Lundqvist now injured, the goalies are the focal point here. At the outset, this was probably the only distinct advantage the Rangers had, and if Lundqvist were to miss any more games, that could be the nail in the coffin. Stranger things have happened, though.

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It seemed destined from the outset. The Blues and the Blackhawks went scoreless into overtime, only to have a David Backes bank shot go in off of Trevor van Riemsdyk and through Corey Crawford’s legs, giving the Blues the 1-0 win, and a 1-0 series lead.

Brian Elliott had an outstanding game for the Blues posting the shutout. He saved all 35 shots he faced in the win. In recent postseason memory, it has been goaltending that let down the Blues with relative consistency. Should they get the goaltending they got all year from Elliott, or Jake Allen, this is a dangerous team.

One player that really stood out to me for St. Louis was Robby Fabbri (and, coincidentally, I will be discussing him later). He had a couple of dangerous chances, may have saved a goal coming back – and taking a penalty – on Patrick Kane on a Chicago 2-on-1 in the third period, and absolutely flattened Michal Rozsival.

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The big news from Wednesday morning was the announcement that Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly were given six-year extensions, the former for an average annual value of $4.5M, and the latter at $5M. This buys unrestricted years from Kadri, and avoids the bridge deal from Rielly, where if he continued to progress, the Leafs would be paying considerably more than $5M a year.

Kadri seems to be the perfect second line centre. Some will point to charts and possession numbers to indicate that he has played to the level of a first line centre. Technically, this is true, as there are 30 first line centres in the NHL. There is a difference between a First Line Centre, and a “first line” centre. True first line centres are in the vein of Bergeron, Crosby, Kopitar, Toews, Malkin, Thornton, Getzlaf, Backstrom, Henrik Sedin, and so on. Then there are other first line centres that have to prove it like Barkov, Galchenyuk, Monahan, Scheifele, and others. Then there are guys that are first line centres by default, and Kadri, for me, falls into that group.

That is fine, though. If William Nylander develops into the first line centre he seems destined to be, or if Steven Stamkos is signed, then Kadri slots in as a very, very good second line centre. He does a lot of things that helps his team win, including driving possession and drawing penalties. That is a perfect role for him, and in turn, makes this a very good signing.

Like most young defencemen, and there’s another one I will get to in a bit, Rielly still has some work to do defensively. Worst-case scenario, Rielly develops into a Torey Krug-type; a defenceman who can play second pair minutes and run a top power play, making this contract look decent. Best-case scenario, he develops into the true number-1 the Leafs need, and this contract is a steal. Either way, another solid signing.

The Leafs are getting smart compared to the way the team was run for the last decade, and it does make the hockey word more exciting, at least. These are two very good signings for both the players and the team, and still leaves them room down the road to add more.

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Still have a playoff draft to do? Don’t forget to grab your copy of the Dobber Interactive Playoff Draft List!

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With the fantasy offseason here, I will be going through some fantasy performances, likely every week, and what to look for in the future. These aren’t full-out player profiles, and will be kept as short as possible.

Matt Duchene

In all, it wasn’t a bad season at all for Duchene from a fantasy perspective. It was his first 30-goal season, he had four more points in six fewer games than last year, and cracked 200 shots for the third season in a row. Unfortunately for those in head-to-head leagues, he was injured at the worst possible moment, so all those points may have been for nothing.

One thing I worry about is the 15-percent shooting, a career-high after four straight seasons under 13-percent. Without a jump in total shots, that goal total will almost certainly come down next year. The lack of power play points is a problem, too: Duchene had 21 power play points in his rookie 2009-2010 season, but has just 22 over his last two years combined.

There seems to be turmoil in Colorado, and it’s a long offseason for the team. It’s possible Duchene isn’t in an Avalanche uniform next year. At this point, considering where the franchise is, expecting more than 60 points a season from Duchene is a bit too lofty. Not saying he can’t get more, just saying expecting more is likely misguided.

Robby Fabbri

With under 14 minutes a game this year, Fabbri was two goals away from a 20-goal season, and probably would have gotten there had be played 82 games. As a rookie, at five-on-five, Fabbri took as many shots per minute as Jordan Eberle, and had the same points per minute as Patric Hornqvist. He was also pretty much a break-even possession player on the Blues, so all in all, a very impressive rookie campaign.

The issue here, it appears, is what his role will be moving forward. The Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen signed though next year, and will assuredly be signing Jaden Schwartz as an RFA. At best, he’s their fourth winger, and more likely, on the third line somewhere. Outside of a very low number of players, in most fantasy leagues, third liners don’t have a lot of value. To me, this screams of a Tyler Toffoli situation, where it’ll be Fabbri’s third year before he brings a significant amount of fantasy value, rather than next year.

My hope is that maybe Fabbri is used on the top power play unit, and that power play time can supplement is total point next year. A season with 15 power play points could push him towards the 50-point mark. Otherwise, it will probably take injuries like this past season to see him make significant progress on his point totals.

Rasmus Ristolainen

Not sure how many people would realize this, and I didn’t until I went to Hockey Reference’s Play Index, but Ristolainen was one of nine defencemen with at least 40 points and 200 shots on goal last year. He was also the youngest defenceman on that list by three years. That is darn impressive.

His roto value was murdered last year by his minus-21 rating. That is kind of to be expected though for such a young defenceman leading a rebuilding team. The defensive numbers weren’t kind, either, as he was on the ice for the most shot attempts against per minute this year of all regular Sabres defencemen, but again, at his age and in his role, that shouldn’t be overly concerning. I will say this: Ristolainen was on the ice for as many goals against per minute at five-on-five as Shea Weber. Take that as you will (hint: Pekka Rinne didn’t help much in this regard).

Buffalo still needs to rebuild their depth forwards, and still need a couple of more blue liners that aren’t pylons. This is another situation where it seems to be one more year of pain for Ristolainen’s plus/minus before things really turn around. For those in points-only leagues, I think Ristolainen is a 40-point floor defenceman moving forward. For those in roto leagues, though, that plus/minus has to be taken into account for at least one more year.

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In his Ramblings last Saturday, fellow Dobber writer/editor Neil Parker discussed a changing paradigm for fantasy goaltenders. There were some follow-up comments from both Neil and Steve Laidlaw, as well as myself, in the comment section at the bottom of the article.

The one thing that is overlooked is just how volatile goaltending is. Think about a few of these facts, all taken from Hockey Reference’s Play Index (and yes, injuries are a factor in some of these):

  • Over the last three seasons, Cory Schneider is the only goalie to make at least 41 starts and post a .920 save percentage in each campaign. There were nine others that did it at least twice. Over those three years, there were 75 instances of a goalie starting at least 41 games in a season. That means of the 75 times a goalie started at least half the season over the last three years, under 14-percent of them posted a .920 save percentage two-thirds of the time.  
  • Ben Bishop is the only goalie to post three consecutive 35-plus win seasons, and only Fleury, Quick, and Holtby have produced at least two 35-plus win seasons in the last three years.
  • Only five goalies have started half of each of the last three seasons, and posted a goals against average under 2.30, and only Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider have done it each of the last three years.

There are a handful of goalies that are at least average and play for good teams: Quick, Bishop, Holtby, Crawford, Fleury, and maybe Price (depending on your view of the Habs). Schneider is an elite goalie that plays for a bad/rebuilding team, and Lundqvist plays behind a bad defence. There may be 7-8 goalies that we can say, outside of injuries, are reliable. Other than that, it’s murky at best.

I don’t have a real problem with taking a goalie early, as one of the elite ones should return their value. Again, though, there is a lot of volatility at the position. To me, they’re like running backs in fantasy football in this way – you need good ones to win, but outside of a handful of the reliable ones, figuring out which ones will be good in a given season is not easy to do given the nature of the position.

*Some stats from Hockey Reference and Hockey Analysis. Contract information from Cap Friendly