Great timing from Wayne Simmonds to return for the fantasy playoffs.
Simmonds’ return pushed Nolan Patrick back onto the second power play unit, and likely off of many fantasy teams. Looking forward, the Flyers play tonight and on Saturday, both densely packed slates where you’re unlikely to slot Patrick in. Even though he notched an assist and remains on the second line as Jakub Voracek’s centerman, this demotion means it’s time to look for juicier options.
Still, it was nice to see a flash of what the future might hold for Patrick. Net-front man on a tent-pole power play? I can dig that. Claude Giroux has had a brilliant bounce-back season, but overall has seen his physical ability eroding. One thing that hasn’t yet dropped off is that ability to run a power play. Giroux might be able to quarterback a power play for another decade, or at least until his mega deal runs out in 2022. We have seen numerous examples of how hockey IQ can carry playmaking forwards well past their prime.
Simmonds has one year left on his deal. The Flyers would be wise to either sell this summer or treat him like an “own rental” a la James van Riemsdyk in Toronto. He remains a premiere net-front man, but the Flyers have multiple options to replace him in house with Patrick and Oskar Lindblom. Let someone else buy the next Lucic.
Jake Guentzel has made some splashes in the past couple of weeks. He has four multi-point efforts in the past eight games, good for 10 points. He also has four goose eggs. Since the trade deadline he has settled back in alongside Sidney Crosby at even strength, which has helped, but I’m feeling gun-shy about jumping back in. I kept Guentzel on only one of my teams thanks to his strong hit totals. In a league without hits I can’t risk it.
Dougie Hamilton ended a five-game scoreless drought with a power-play goal. Getting him back onto the top PP unit has been key to his second-half rise. He has 23 points in 29 games since the start of January. Since this second-half push is becoming an annual affair for Hamilton it’s really worth making a note so you can buy low around Christmas.
In two games since returning from injury Micheal Ferland has averaged under 12 minutes of action. Some of this is him being eased back in. Some of it is that Matthew Tkachuk has grabbed his spot on the top PP unit. It’s probably a bad sign for Ferland’s long-term potential that Tkachuk has taken so well to that net-front spot. It was only a matter of time, now there’s no getting that cat back in the bag.
Decent post-All-Star run for Derek Stepan with 13 points in 16 games. He’s on pace for 52 points and 216 SOG. Solid season, especially considering his environment. He’s also shooting just 6.5%, so there could be a little more to offer, but I suspect that the shooting decline is a result of declining footspeed.
With Brock Boeser out of the lineup and Thomas Vanek traded to Columbus Sam Gagner scooped up top PP usage for the Canucks. He notched an assist to end a five-game scoreless drought. We know he is capable of getting hot.
More intriguing is likely Brendan Leipsic who now has six points in four games with the Canucks. He is skating first-line minutes with Bo Horvat. Good spot.
David Backes has been suspended three games for interference on Frans Nielsen. If you need to stream in some multi-category punch, perhaps Tommy Wingels can offer some decent filler while Backes is out, though he won’t get you the marginal scoring potential.
Nielsen was injured on the play and will miss at least the next two games. Evgeny Svechnikov has been called up to fill in. Svechnikov’s AHL numbers this year leave a lot to be desired with just 22 points in 52 games. His rookie pro season went much better. He’s a 21-year-old former first-rounder, so there’s still plenty of time for him to develop into something. Read more about Svechnikov here.
Marcus Johansson has been skating on his own for the past few days. I assumed he was done for the year after going down with his second concussion of the season, but with the Devils hanging in the playoff race there is a significant carrot being dangled for him to get back. Concussion timelines are never straight forward, but I’m assuming he’ll get into a game or two before the playoffs hit to try and get back up to speed. That’s likely still a ways off though.
If you are looking for something fun to distract you for a couple of minutes, the NHLPA released the results of its player poll yesterday with some intriguing results like Aleksander Barkov the fourth most underrated player.
Barkov is in the middle of an obscene run with 23 points in 17 games since the All-Star break. This combined with good health (knock on wood) has vaulted him past his previous career high of 59 points. Over the past three seasons Barkov is tied for 15th in points per game with Alex Ovechkin at 0.93. He narrowly edges out Nicklas Backstrom who was voted as the most underrated player.
Barkov is only 22. We’re looking at another 5-10 years of locked in point-per-game play with the potential for more if the Panthers can ever figure out their power play.
Here’s hoping Barkov stays underrated, because I’d very much like to keep being able to draft him outside the top 50, but it seems unlikely to happen again. Barkov was going with 92nd pick in the average Yahoo league. What a steal.
It may be too early to speculate about where Barkov may go in drafts next season but consider that Mark Scheifele went 22nd in the average Yahoo draft after a breakout 82-point season. Barkov could be in for similar billing especially if he continues on this second-half tear that will no doubt linger in peoples’ minds.
One of my new fixations is on the importance of ownership with regard to how professional teams are run. Ultimately, GMs have to answer to ownership with any major decision they are going to make like trades or free agent signings. There was a really interesting tidbit in the latest Woj Pod interview with Nuggets and Avalanche owner Josh Kroenke where he discussed how he applied lessons learned from his experience in trading Carmelo Anthony to help guide Joe Sakic through the Matt Duchene trade situation.
Would a different owner have pushed Sakic to get a deal done sooner? Sakic took a lot of heat for failing to trade Duchene last season but got what many now feel was a good haul. However, it wasn’t necessarily spun that way when the trade was consummated. My own take was that the Avalanche got magic beans. Only now that Nathan MacKinnon has exploded into an MVP candidate and the Senators have fizzled despite recent success from Duchene does Sakic look like a genius because he may be nabbing a lottery pick from the Senators.
Duchene trade aside, just contrast the ownership situation in Colorado with the one in Ottawa and the Avalanche are on much more stable ground. That is going to make Sakic’s life a lot easier going forward.
New Carolina owner Thomas Dundon is starting to make his mark on the Hurricanes removing Ron Francis from GM duties, while keeping him on as President of Hockey Operations. The new GM will report directly to the owner, which sure seems like a good way to cut Francis out of decision making. This sort of “promotion” out of hockey decisions is a common one, executed recently by teams like Philadelphia and Edmonton in recent years, keeping their GMs on staff in a new role while bringing in a new decision maker for roster decisions.
The inside story of the 'Canes change is that the owner wants to deal directly with the coaches and the players...and have a figure head GM. Dundon wants to do it like Mark Cuban runs the NBA Mavericks.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) March 8, 2018
The way that’s phrased makes it sound as though this will go horribly but we really cannot know. Consider the track record for Cuban with the Mavericks. They have won a championship and have been competitive throughout his tenure. This could work. It’s not nepotism. It’s not the old boys network. It's something different. We’ve seen new owners look to make an immediate splash only to have it result in bad long-term contracts for over-the-hill stars. We could see that here. Or we could see the Hurricanes push to add a legitimate franchise changing star.
As I discussed with Kroenke above, you need good ownership. Good owners should have their hand in the mix. They are the ones who own the team. They feel the heat when the team is losing. When the arena isn’t full. They are going to be around in 10 years long after any GM is likely to be there. They have an investment in the long-term health of the franchise. We know how it can go horribly wrong, but there are also examples of where it’s gone right.
There may be sweeping changes to come. They don’t have much time to put together a new staff in time for the draft and free agency, so the in-house options will likely stick around at least until July. There’s little doubt Francis is being kept around in part to help make this transition go as smooth as possible.
It seems likely that this spells the end for head coach Bill Peters. Dundon and the new GM may want to pick their own man. Peters can buy himself some good will if he gets the Hurricanes into the playoffs, but that’s a long shot. The Hurricanes have looked good by shot-attempt metrics throughout Peters’ run, but they’ve consistently gotten poor goaltending.
The biggest challenges ahead will be finding a #1 centerman, and also finding a solution in goal. Francis bet big on Scott Darling being the solution (so did I, if you recall). Darling has failed miserably in his first year of a four-year pact, leading to the Hurricanes once again leaning on Cam Ward, the creakiest of crutches.
Will Dundon end the love affair with Ward, who enters free agency this summer? Would he consider a bold move to buyout Darling, even if they don’t really need the cap space?
I suspect many in the hockey world will be rooting for Dundon to fail. I just want to see how this goes with an open mind.
Thanks for reading! You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.
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