Ramblings: Prospect Backups, Series Previews

by Ian Gooding on May 15, 2016

Prospect backups, series previews, plus other non-NHL happenings…  

There were no NHL games on the telly tonight, so I’ll have to find other ways to inform, entertain, persuade, and so on. Good thing there’s lots of hockey being played, not just at an NHL level but at others.

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Nothing has been announced, but it’s looking like Ben Bishop won’t be available for Game 2 against Pittsburgh on Monday. I heard one radio sportscaster today say that the Lightning are now at a serious disadvantage with the “unknown” Andrei Vasilevskiy starting in net for the near future. Uh, weren’t the Penguins in the same boat with Matthew Murray not so long ago? Plus if this guy had spent time over at Dobber Hockey or Dobber Prospects, he’d know that Vasilevskiy isn’t just some journeyman goalie, like Michael Leighton circa 2010.

Now if Bishop is out for a while and Vasilevskiy backstops the Bolts past the Penguins, does that improve Vasilevskiy’s value for next season? Vasilevskiy and Murray are in very similar situations at the moment. Both are 21-year-old goalies with bright futures that happen to be behind established NHL starters. But if you think about it, should a 21-year-old be starting in the NHL? Perhaps Murray’s performance would have us rethink that general rule.

A while ago on the Forum, someone asked whether Murray or Connor Hellebuyck would be worth more next season. My reply:

Murray's value is really up in the air next season. Now that he seems like the real deal, I think there's a chance that they shop Fleury. I can't see how Dallas wouldn't be interested. Maybe even Calgary.

Both Murray and Hellebuyck are unknowns next season. Best case scenario, both could end up starting a lot of games next season. Worst case scenario, both could be spending most of their time in the AHL. But if I had to predict which goalie will start more games, I'd go with Hellebuyck.

Earlier in the thread, I mentioned that I thought Connor would start between 25 to 35 games, but that is still an early estimate and the offseason still needs to play out. Unless Fleury is injured and assuming both goalies are with the Penguins next season, I can’t see Murray starting that many games. That’s even if he wins the Conn Smythe. A starting goalie, like a starting quarterback, rarely loses his job because of an injury unless there are major performance issues.

So with that, how much stock should we put into a strong playoff performance for next season’s fantasy value? Maybe not as much as we think we should. The playoffs happen to be a segment of games during a team’s whole season, just like any other segment of games that could happen in November or February or whenever. The playoffs just happen to be the most important games of the season, but it’s not as if injuries and other usual problems go away during that time (they are magnified, if anything). Whether a player is a clutch playoff performer doesn’t mean squat in regular-season fantasy leagues.

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You can find our Experts Panel picks for Round 3 now. I’ll admit that I haven’t looked like much of an expert this season with a 6-6 record at picking winners. I was successful at picking the West winners but swung and missed at my East picks. I didn’t get a chance to provide any writeup for these picks, as Neil sent the email while I was at my other job and wanted to put the picks up the same day. So because the Ramblings are a blank slate as long as I stick to hockey, here’s the writeup (kind of) on the two series that I would have provided.

Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay

I was one of the 13 writers that picked Pittsburgh to defeat Tampa Bay, so I am already behind the 8-ball on that pick. But don’t the Lightning look like one of those “teams of destiny” by now? What I mean by that is that they face a never-ending uphill battle of injuries, yet they continue to win. Lose Steven Stamkos – no big deal, here’s your big opportunity, Jonathan Drouin. Lose Anton Stralman – okay, let’s be innovative and dress seven defensemen per game and see how that works out. So far, so good. Lose Bishop and Tyler Johnson in Game 1 – win Game 1 anyway.

I picked Pittsburgh because they look stronger than they have in a long while. As Dobber said, they’re the league’s strongest team since after Christmas. Their talent level no longer takes a serious nosedive after the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lines. Just look at the playoff year Nick Bonino is having (10 points in 12 games). If you don’t have depth in the playoffs, you have nothing. I guess all this means is that I have to adjust my pick to say Pittsburgh in 7.

St. Louis/San Jose

Which of these two teams will be more tired after both their previous series went the distance? You might think San Jose, since they will have one fewer day of rest because their Game 7 happened one day later than St. Louis’. But keep in mind that the Blues have played the maximum number of games (14) that a team can play over two rounds, so any difference here is probably negligible.

The slight majority of Dobber writers picked San Jose, but I picked St. Louis. Why? Because I gave myself about five minutes to make the pick. And now I have to justify it. Okay, here goes.

Remember when I said that depth matters in the playoffs? Well, St. Louis has it. But it’s not as if San Jose doesn’t (case in point Joel Ward). But on the Blues, you have someone like Robby Fabbri, who averaged only 13 minutes per game in the regular season and is stepping it up big time in the playoffs (team-leading 13 points in 14 games). But should we be all that surprised about Fabbri? Combined the last two months of the regular season with the playoffs and he has 32 points in 40 games. That has serious carryover potential to next season.

But I digress a lot. This is a tough series to pick. Really hard to pick when I read through balanced previews like this one. In fact, the more I read through it, the more I like the Sharks. I watched them play a number of games this season (both on TV and live) and came away impressed. Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton are a wondrous combination. I keep thinking that Pavelski has been the main reason that Thornton’s time as an elite scoring threat has been extended.

I call this the “something’s gotta give” series because one of these teams will push aside previous playoff disappointment and make the Stanley Cup Final. Plus I’ve never seen the Sharks or Blues make it that far in my lifetime. (I enjoy telling Leafs fans the same thing about their team.) Even though I’ve claimed all season that the West is the stronger conference, I will now predict that the winner of the East series takes the cup, simply because Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are more familiar with that setting.   

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With just two points in 12 games, Evgeny Kuznetsov was an epic fail for those who bought him in playoff pools. If there are any thoughts that he was injured during the playoffs, those thoughts should be put to rest after this goal during Russia’s match with Switzerland.

These goal calls sound so much more emphatic when they’re in another language, aren’t they?

It’s pretty amazing how quickly that Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov were able to join the Russian team after the Capitals were knocked out. In fact, I found out today that a player can join his country’s team at the World Championship as late as two hours before the gold medal match. So if the Penguins get swept in four, does that mean we get to see Crosby play for Canada?

We can’t talk World Championships without a shout out to Hungary for their first win in this tournament in 77 years. You don’t get moments like these when you try to create “unified” teams, as the organizers of the World Cup of Hockey are doing. But let’s see how that plays out before we judge.  

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With all four teams set now for this year’s Memorial Cup, keeper leaguers should have plenty of potential future stars to get excited about. Some prominent names that will be at this year’s tournament include Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, Matthew Tkachuk, Timo Meier, Jayce Hawryluk, John Quenneville, Ivan Provorov, and potential 2017 first overall pick Nolan Patrick.

Since we do round-by-round playoff picks on Dobber Hockey, how about a Memorial Cup pick here? London over Brandon in the final.

Enjoy your Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.