Ramblings: Snow and Weight Gone, Cup Final, Guide to Physical Defensemen (June 6)

by Ian Gooding on June 5, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Snow and Weight Gone, Cup Final, Guide to Physical Defensemen (June 6)


Maybe this was inevitable with the hiring of Lou Lamoriello, but Garth Snow and Doug Weight are out as Islanders’ GM and coach respectively. This will be an interesting offseason on Long Island, where the main story will be whether John Tavares can be re-signed. I wrote my piece on the Lamoriello hiring here, which included a breakdown on some key Islanders should Lamoriello and his new regime (Barry Trotz?) convince Tavares to stay. Still lots of unknowns here.

To me, as much of a key as the Tavares situation is the goaltending, which finished 28th in the NHL with a team .900 SV%. Jaroslav Halak will probably be gone. Throw out this past season and Thomas Greiss seems like an ideal 1A. So I could see the Islanders targeting a Philipp Grubauer or a Carter Hutton to compete with Greiss. If Grubauer or Hutton don’t seem ideal, you can check out this list at Cap Friendly and draw your own conclusions. The UFA goalie options this summer are 1A at best, with plenty of backups available.

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In serious fantasy hockey keeper leagues, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. That’s why you’ll want to download your own copy of Dobber’s 2018 Fantasy Hockey Prospects Report. Inside you’ll find top 50 charts, top 25 goalies, breakdown of prospects by team, unsigned prospects, 2018 draftee profiles and mock draft, and much more!

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If Washington finishes the job in Game 5, the player I believe deserves the Conn Smythe is Evgeny Kuznetsov. I think it would go to Alex Ovechkin, though, based on reputation and how long he has waited for a Stanley Cup.

I won’t make any predictions for Game 5, seeing as how I am close to going 0-3 on my conference finals/Stanley Cup Finals picks. I believe, though, that Vegas will come out flying just like they did in Game 4. Watching that game, I believe they deserved a better fate, as the score could have been 1-0 or even 2-0 Vegas midway through the first period with some slightly different puck luck. Game 5 could play out exactly the same way. But we will see.

Full disclosure: I’ve been more wrong about the Capitals than I have been about the Golden Knights up to this point. But chances are, many of you were wrong about the Capitals too. To me, it was the lack of playoff success combined with Braden Holtby’s shaky regular season. It’s easy to forget that in spite of a drop off from the 2016-17 regular season, the Caps were still a division winner that finished sixth overall in the regular season.

By the way, if any of you Dobber writers are reading this and thinking, “I knew right from the start of the playoffs that the Capitals would go all the way!” … nope. Props to Looking Ahead writer Adam Daly-Frey, who was the only writer to correctly predict one of the finalists at the start of the playoffs, with his pick of a Vegas-Boston final. I would think that expert panels on other websites played out similarly. Maybe it’s just me, but I found picking series winners much harder as we went deeper into the playoffs.

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During Sunday’s Ramblings I focused on the topic of power forwards, detailing several of note. Today I will focus on the more physical defensemen. Some will offer great scoring, but all will offer at least one solid peripheral category. Just like the forwards, I’ll include penalty minute and hit totals. I’ll also add another category that seems to pertain to defensemen specifically – blocked shots.

Dustin Byfuglien

As mentioned on Sunday, Byfuglien was one of seven players to score at least 35 points and pick up at least 75 penalty minutes. Of that group, P.K. Subban was the only other defenseman. Byfuglien is especially known for filling statsheets in multicategory leagues, having accrued at least 45 points and 100 penalty minutes over each of his last four seasons. Byfuglien is hard to miss when he plays, and his stats show that.

There is cause for concern that Big Buff’s style of play is already leading to a statistical decline. Although Byfuglien’s points-per-game average has remained steady over the last four seasons (0.65 PTS/GP), he is now 33 years old and was held to just 69 games last season due to injuries. His hit total has also dropped from 222 in 2015-16 to 183 in 2016-17 to just 147 in 2017-18. The Jets appeared to be a tired bunch after their hard-fought seven-game series win over Nashville. Although Byfuglien played three minutes less per game in 2017-18 compared to 2016-17, logging nearly 25 minutes per game is still heavy mileage. Understand all that Buff provides in a multicategory league, but be careful not to overpay.

P.K. Subban

Subban might be the defense position’s version of Evgeni Malkin – not necessarily known for penalty minutes, but he packs a punch in that category anyway. Early in his career, Subban posted back-to-back 100+ penalty minute totals. Since then, he has reached the 70-minute mark in penalty minutes in four of his past five seasons. Or to put it in the same terms as Malkin (see my earlier Ramblings if you don’t know what I mean), Subban has more penalty minutes (658) than games played (582) in his career. Remember to move Subban up your rankings a little if your league counts penalty minutes. I guess being a player that not everyone likes can result in penalty minutes.

As you might expect, however, Subban is not particularly strong in either hits or blocked shots, finishing outside of the top 50 in both categories.

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There is less concern for a defenseman than a forward if he is not a scorer but can dominate one or more of penalty minutes, hits, or blocked shots. So in a deeper league, it might be wise to target specialists in this area in the late rounds of your draft. The next two defensemen aren’t dominant when it comes to points, but they will still contribute in multiple categories.

Nikita Zadorov

Zadorov finished second among blueliners (to Byfuglien) with 103 penalty minutes and first among all players with 278 hits. This was the first season in which Zadorov reached triple-digits in penalty minutes and the first season in which he has reached 200 hits. For what it’s worth, Zadorov also reached a scoring career high with 20 points (7g-13a), so he was one of many Colorado players to improve over a dismal 2016-17 season. Zadorov finished the season owned in 28 percent of Yahoo leagues.

If you believe that today’s game has less hitting than even last season’s game, then one stat supports your belief. In 2016-17 two players finished with over 300 hits (Mark Borowiecki led with 364), while in 2015-16 three players finished with over 300 hits (Matt Martin led with 365). We know that penalty minute totals have dropped through the years with far fewer fighting majors, but the number of hits could be declining as well.

Brayden McNabb

McNabb also didn’t earn a particularly high point total (15 points) in 76 games. Yet his physical style of play resulted in strong contributions in both hits and blocked shots. He won’t often be mentioned as a reason that the Golden Knights were so successful, but McNabb finished sixth among defensemen with 226 hits and sixth among all players with 176 blocked shots. That represented the highest combined hits/blocked shots total (401) among all players.

Interestingly enough, those weren’t the only categories where McNabb shined in 2017-18. McNabb also finished tied for 13th with a plus-26 ranking (and fourth on the Golden Knights). McNabb is also a decent option in penalty minutes, having nearly reached 100 penalty minutes two seasons ago with the Kings and amassing at least 50 penalty minutes in each of his last four seasons.

Although McNabb was owned in only 14 percent of Yahoo leagues, he turned out to be extremely valuable in leagues that count all of plus/minus, hits, and blocked shots. Here’s a glimpse of where he ranked among defensemen in one such Yahoo league:
 

Player

Rank

G

A

+/-

PPP

SOG

HIT

BLK

Jeff Petry

95

12

30

-30

23

178

167

138

Keith Yandle

98

8

48

7

18

179

26

101

Brayden McNabb

99

5

10

26

0

88

225

176

Colin Miller

104

10

31

-4

17

177

165

64

Morgan Rielly

108

6

46

-4

25

182

48

84


McNabb isn’t a player that you’re going to read about in a whole lot of fantasy articles. Yet in the right type of league he could be extremely valuable – a true hidden gem on a team that unearthed plenty of  hidden gems.

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For more fantasy hockey information, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.