Ramblings: Rielly injured; Atkinson and Bjorkstrand skating; next wave of defencemen – January 14

by Michael Clifford on January 14, 2020
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Rielly injured; Atkinson and Bjorkstrand skating; next wave of defencemen – January 14

 

Morgan Rielly will be out for two months following a foot fracture suffered on the weekend. Rasmus Sandin has been called up and given the length of time that Rielly will miss, it seems that Sandin is here to stay. How that affects the rotation and who is in/out of the lineup remains to be seen. Stay tuned for practice updates on Tuesday.

*

The Flyers broke up the top line of Giroux-Couturier-Konecny and with the way the team has been playing, it’s hard to fault them. At the same, that top line had been excellent for them this year and, well, every year. It could easily just be a one-game thing as they try to get Giroux and Konecny away from the Bergeron matchup from Boston.  

*

Not fantasy-related, but it bugged me that Dylan Larkin felt the need to apologize for his remarks about not wanting to be voted in to the All-Star Game. The hockey season is a grind that is a year-round endeavour. I’m sure there are a lot of players that would rather just have a week off in late January. Maybe it would make more sense if the words came from a player on a playoff team, but I certainly understand the sentiment. By the time the All-Star Game rolls around, I’m ready for a break from the fantasy game for a few days. I imagine it’s the same for players. Let them speak their minds without chastising them. We need interesting comments and quotes.

*

Colton Parayko remained out of the St. Louis lineup on Monday night, but he was skating with the team during gameday skate and has been for the last few days. It seems his return is imminent, if not immediate.

*

Both Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson were practicing with Columbus on Monday. Good news for a team that has far too little of it this year.

*

Jonathan Marchessault was skating in practice with his usual line mates on Monday. We’ve had a bunch of false starts with his return of late, so hopefully this is the final indicator.

*

John Klingberg should be back tonight for the Dallas Stars as they travel to Colorado.

*

The Rangers laid the wood to the Islanders by a 6-2 score. There was another five-point game by a Rangers player, this time Artemi Panarin, who had 2+3 with six shots on goal here. He now has 67 points in 45 games, being on pace for 122 points. I was out on Panarin in leagues that count hits and while I stand by that preseason assessment, it seems pretty obvious I was wrong here. At least I was still able to get him in one of my redraft leagues. Small victories, I guess?

*

Carey Price picked up his second shutout of the season, a 2-0 win over Calgary. That brings his save percentage up to .907, which is still below average league-wide, but looks a lot better than the .901 he had as recently as Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope for more of this over the final three months.

On the topic of shutouts, Ilya Samsonov got the first of his career in Washington’s 2-0 win over Carolina on Monday night. He stopped all 23 shots he faced while Alex Ovechkin scored twice. Because of course he did.

*

Sean Couturier had his second three-point game of 2020, posting a goal and two assists against Boston on Monday night. That he did that while largely matched up with the Bergeron line all night is a testament to just how good he is as a player. One of the most underrated players in all of hockey as he’s truly among a handful of elite centres.

*

Last week I asked Twitter for some questions and there were a lot of good ones but this one was probably the most thought-provoking. It basically amounts to this: which defencemen in high-value spots could be susceptible to losing these spots? Alex Edler losing the top PP spot to Quinn Hughes in Vancouver would be one such case. Another would be Neal Pionk in Winnipeg, though that was simply due to injury. Regardless, there are such spots in the NHL that are extremely valuable for fantasy hockey. Which ones should be drawing the focus of fantasy hockey owners? Let’s see.

 

Boston

Let’s get one of the obvious ones out of the way first. The Bruins have about $17M in cap space for next year with Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, and Anders Bjork as RFAs, and Jaroslav Halak and Zdeno Chara as UFAs. Even if Chara retires, it’s easy to see most of that $17M being chewed up by the first four names, or at least three and a replacement for Halak. What all that means is that Torey Krug is likely going to be a cap casualty, and that means Boston’s top PP spot should be up for grabs after this year.

Given his usage over the last two years when Krug has been missing from the lineup, it seems likely that Matt Grzelcyk has the inside track on that particular role. The heir apparent seemed to be Charlie McAvoy but it seems they want to use him more like Aaron Ekblad in Florida – mostly used on the penalty kill and at even strength. And that’s fine because it’s just playing to the strengths of each player. There’s good evidence Grzelcyk is a very good puck-moving defencemen as he has very strong zone exit/entry rates as well as good shot assist numbers (from CJ Turtoro’s viz):

 

 

Now, there’s more that goes into being proficient on the power play than just good zone entry/exit numbers, but it’s worth noting that Boston’s PP goal rate doesn’t suffer that much with Grzelcyk on the ice over Krug (the drop is less than 10 percent in a small-ish sample).

There’s always the chance they move out some money – notably David Backes – and re-sign Torey Krug but that’ll take a lot of work. And the price for Grzelcyk will only go up if Krug signs elsewhere in July.

 

Detroit

I guess it depends on what we view as “high value” but I firmly believe Detroit is on the turnaround. There’s Larkin, Mantha, Fabbri, Zadina, and Bertuzzi already there with Joe Veleno on the way and the potential first overall pick. It’s not great right now, but the building blocks are there and it’s only going to get better.

It’s a matter of a lack of options. Mike Green is a free agent and he’ll be 35 next year, meaning a team in a rebuild isn’t likely to offer him a contract. I suppose they could bring him back on a cheap one- or two-year deal, but it wouldn’t be a significant financial commitment. What I mean is that he won’t be running the top PP unit next year.

Another change is in deployment. In 2018-19, the team had eight forwards reach at least 110 power-play minutes while the team will have, at most, six such forwards this year. They’ve gone from splitting time across two units to focusing on one (that they ever did it in the first place is hilarious, but I digress).

The team had been using Dennis Cholowski a lot on the power play, both last year and this year, but he seems to have fallen out of favour for now. The top PP distinction is now going to Filip Hronek, and he’s the guy I would target. I’m a Cholowski fan but he hasn’t been able to take the next step in his development, and I’ll always bet on the guy with the inside track. Hronek might be expensive to acquire in a trade though given the season he’s having.

 

Chicago

We’re already starting to see the transition as Adam Boqvist has started to eat more power-play minutes as the season has worn on, but with Brent Seabrook out for up to two years, Duncan Keith not being the guy he was in 2013, and Henri Jokiharju traded, there aren’t many impediments remaining to Boqvist being the full-time, go-to guy on the top PP unit. We might be there before this season’s out.

As with all things, it’s a function of how well the top PP unit can perform. With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane still producing, and the next wave in Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach already contributing, there are still pieces there for a great top PP unit. There might not be much else on the roster, but that doesn’t really matter for our purposes.

It’s still far too early to make a determination on Boqvist’s career but the early returns are promising. There are glimpses of the puck-mover everyone hopes he can be. There is also a lack of options for Chicago to turn to. I imagine he’ll come expensive in dynasty trades, though.

 

Tampa Bay

This one is a bit more out there, I’ll fully admit. I also suspect that this is also a longer-term project, looking three or four years down the road. With that said, I do believe that Mikhail Sergachev is the heir apparent to Victor Hedman on the top PP unit and what’s more, I think he takes that role from him in the next few years.

It basically breaks down like this: Hedman is excellent at what he does but I think Sergachev will be better. I know, that’s very high praise considering Hedman is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, but I do believe Sergachev will be that good, at least offensively. In fact, over his first couple seasons, he posted zone exit and entry rates comparable to Hedman, and remember that Sergachev did that as a 19- and 20-year old. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he doesn’t turn 22 years old until June. How good of an offensive defenceman is he going to be when he’s 25 or 26? And Hedman is in his age-29 season now; it’s a wonder how effective he’ll be at 32 or 33.  

All told, I think Sergachev is one of the better players to own in dynasty right now. At the least, he’s proven he can be a 40-point defenceman even if all he gets is 17-19 minutes a night (and Tampa Bay stays a high-scoring team, which, given how often they find extremely talented forwards, is not as much a concern as it is with other teams). If Hedman maintains is role for the next six seasons, at worst, Sergachev could still be a top-25 fantasy defenceman. If Hedman doesn’t, Sergachev could be an elite option three or four years down the road. That’s a perfect storm of floor and upside.