Ramblings: Spezza In Decline? (Dec 9)

by steve laidlaw on December 9, 2016

Spezza in decline? Jets at full strength, Draisaitl stays hot and more.

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Jason Spezza is struggling? Okay, we’ll just fire him onto the wing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Not a bad ace to keep up your sleeve but obviously the Stars would prefer not to have to use it often. The point of having Spezza is to have secondary scoring, which he hasn’t been able to provide.

Half of Spezza’s 14 point have come with the man-advantage and only four of his seven even-strength points have come away from Benn and Seguin.

Gus Katsaros recently profiled Spezza as someone in decline:

When doing predictions for the McKeen’s Yearbook, Spezza landed with the following prediction (73-26-30-56). So far, the 73 games may still be at risk, and the 26 goals would require circumstances similar to the second half blowup in ’15-16 to achieve. Topping 50 points may be the only high water mark, closer to 20 goals than 26.

I was, and am more optimistic about Spezza but I must admit that it is alarming how reliant he has been on Benn and Seguin to get his offense going. Those two should be helping drive Patrick Eaves towards fantasy relevance, not having to hoist up their $7M second line center.

I don’t like that Spezza’s shot rate has slipped. He is on pace for just 182 SOG this season, a significant drop from the 200-SOG baseline he has established over the past few years.

None of this matters until we see a healthy Jiri Hudler. I want to see the Hudler-Spezza combo before giving up. I still believe there is a dynamite second line there yet, because under the right circumstances, Spezza is explosive:

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Down two centermen, including their #1, the Canadiens played one of their best games of the season. Tomas Plekanec centered the top line with Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty but was on the second power play unit. It could be better but with Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais both out for 6-8 weeks, Plekanec will not have more value than he will for the next month or two. No points for Plekanec but you get the vibe he will be scoring.

Andrew Shaw is the one centering the top PP unit, acting as the net-front presence. He’s been in this spot for a couple of weeks now. He has three goals and six points in his last seven games. Shaw was the net-front guy in Chicago for extended stretches but never managed to be all that fantasy relevant, reaching a career high of merely 39 points, so don’t fall in love with this hot streak.

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New lines for the Blues last night:

#1 28.3% FABBRI,ROBBY – LEHTERA,JORI – TARASENKO,VLADIMIR 

#2 23.6% SCHWARTZ,JADEN – STASTNY,PAUL – STEEN,ALEXANDER 

#3 18.5% BERGLUND,PATRIK – JASKIN,DMITRIJ – PERRON,DAVID 

#4 12.4% BRODZIAK,KYLE – REAVES,RYAN – UPSHALL,SCOTTIE 

Nothing really new about those combos as the Blues are always shuffling things around. I am sure we have seen this exact groupings at some point previously. No power plays for the Blues so we can’t dissect those groupings.

Steen has been moved back onto the wing, which means no more super top line. Instead we have Lehtera centering Tarasenko and Fabbri who were still productive. I scooped up Lehtera in one league hoping to get in on some of this action but no such luck. Strategically, I picked Lehtera because the Blues have two more games this week so perhaps he’ll get it done for me another night or I’ll be moving on to the next option. Lehtera is never a long-term solution.

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Six goals for the Flyers in a dramatic comeback but none for Brayden Schenn who has just one goal and three points in nine games since Sean Couturier went down and he was shifted to center.

This could just be coincidence. Schenn is still seeing huge minutes on the Flyers’ top PP unit and is centering Wayne Simmonds and Travis Konecny at even strength. I’m not overly concerned but the cold streak isn’t what you signed up for.

On the other hand, the Flyers have won seven in a row, including six in a row for Steve Mason, who hung in their for the win despite allowing five goals against. Can’t say I am particularly happy about Mason torching my goalie stats in this win but he’s been so reliable lately that I can accept it.

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Dobber alerted you that Drake Caggiula had been promoted to the Oilers’ top line earlier this week. Indeed, he was out there with Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic last night and picked up an assist. You know the rules: play with McDavid, produce like a star. I swear, tracking the line changes for Edmonton is going to be a season-long endeavour and it could result in you cobbling together a 65-point player out of a bunch of waiver wire pickups. Of course, it all goes to hell once Jordan Eberle makes his way back to the top line.

It’s also worth noting that Leon Draisaitl stayed hot despite being dropped from McDavid’s wing. He is still seeing top unit PP time and the Oilers’ PP is picking up steam so he should never fall off entirely. It would really be something if he could start carrying a line of his own. I might take the Oilers seriously if they became more than a one-line team.

Draisaitl’s shooting percentage is up to 19.4% so I am a bit skeptical about him continuing at his current pace but he did sustain a 14.3% shooting percentage last season so it’s not like efficient shooting is a foreign concept to him. I think he’ll finish in the low 50’s for points but we’ll see how long the PP stays productive.

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Colorado’s turnover game was strong last night, as there first three goals came directly off of Bruin turnovers and were thus all unassisted. Rare that you see that.

Matt Duchene scored his 10th goal of the season, which has him kicking around a 35-40- goal pace. He’s also shooting 19.2% so we know there is some regression due here. Duchene scored a career high 30 goals last season. His hot start opens up the possibility for another 30-goal season but he’s always been more of a 25-goal guy. For a 25-goal guy, a 30-goal season is reasonably within random variance, reaching into the 35-40 range is less likely.

I haven’t provided an Avalanche lines update in a while:

#1           28.1%    DUCHENE,MATT – MITCHELL,JOHN – RANTANEN,MIKKO

#2           24.1%    BOURQUE,RENE – COMEAU,BLAKE – MACKINNON,NATHAN

#3           17%        GRIGORENKO,MIKHAIL – IGINLA,JAROME – SODERBERG,CARL

#4           7.6%      COLBORNE,JOE – MARTINSEN,ANDREAS – MCLEOD,CODY

I continue to be impressed with Mikko Rantanen’s game. He is seeing top-six minutes and time on the top PP unit. No reason he can’t be a 50-point guy this season.

It’s a bit shocking to see Joe Colborne become so irrelevant. He’s been buried on the fourth line skating less than 10 minutes in several games recently. Remember, Colborne closed last season on a tear with 10 goals and 22 points in the final 24 games, finding a home on the Flames’ top PP unit. He then opened this season with a hat-trick.

It isn’t like Colborne got paid this summer and is resting on his laurels. He only got two years at $2.5M per from the Avalanche. Apparently, the Flames were smart to let him go.

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After an insanely slow start to the season, Anders Lee now has seven goals and eight points in his last eight games. Who saw this coming!?! He has been seeing top unit PP time off and on but much of this hot streak has been accomplished at even strength.

Certainly, Lee has been shooting the puck more frequently. After firing just 12 SOG in nine October games, Lee has 37 SOG in 17 games, better than 2.0 SOG per game. But Lee is also now shooting 16.3%, well above his 11.6% career average. He is seeing the fewest minutes per game since breaking in full time at just 13:03 this season. I’d suggest that as awesome as this hot streak is, it is unlikely to continue.

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For all that’s been made of the analytics in Florida and how they have uncovered some hidden gems like Jonathan Marchessault, the team is looking awfully traditional under Tom Rowe, at least in terms of the way they are riding their top two lines. There might be skill on those bottom lines but they aren’t seeing much use.

Nick Bjugstad and Denis Malgin are both seeing power play time and still skated just 12 minutes. Meanwhile, the fourth line was virtually non-existent. There are injuries to consider with Jonathan Huberdeau and Marchessault out but I’m not sure that would change much with the usage.

Both Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov, the top two centermen, were over 21 minutes of ice time. Trocheck currently ranks fifth in the league in time on ice among forwards, but he might lead the league at this rate. Interestingly, it’s Patrick Kane who leads the league in forward ice time, despite not skating on the penalty kill. That’s some feat.

Back to the Panthers. Barkov has 11 points in his last 11 games, so things are looking up. Trocheck has just one point in his last eight games and is getting dumped from my teams as soon as I have a chance. Unfortunately, injuries to the likes of Rickard Rakell, Alex Galchenyuk and Rick Nash have me scrambling to plug so many holes that I can’t afford to indulge in actually dropping players from my various squads.

On the plus side, Trocheck has 19 SOG in his last five games. I do love when players provide shot volume even when they aren’t producing points.

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Jon Cooper’s explanation for Ben Bishop starting three in a row:

"I guess you can lay out a plan at the beginning of the year and you try best-case scenario to follow it, but you know how things go, the ups and downs of the season," he said. "Some guys are hot, some not. Does this mean we're just going to keep going with Bish? No it doesn't. This could have easily been Vasilevskiy, but both these guys are in our plans. It's been weird because we've played all these games right in a row and now we have a couple days off. Somebody's got to play, but both of these guys are going to play now in the next little while here, so don't read into anything because Bish is getting three in a row."

This brings the start counter to 18 for Bishop and 10 for Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s a 64/36 split, which is damn near the 60/40 split we’ve been calling for all year. I know there are rumours that the Lightning would (or should) pursue trading Bishop but I don’t see it. I have often expressed that you need two goalies to win it all. That’s technically not true, but it certainly helps to have a capable backup.

The past three Cup champions have needed their backup to carry the load for an extended stretch, while the starter was hurt or struggling. The Lightning have had Bishop battle injuries in each of their last two playoff runs, so they know the importance of having two capable goaltenders.

Also, where exactly is the team that is a starting goaltender away from being a contender? And how would it benefit this phantom team to deal a serious roster piece in exchange for an upgrade in net? That’s the problem with the trade market today, it is very hard for teams to find a player-for-player exchange that helps both sides, especially mid-season. The goalie market is especially fickle.

I’ll gladly be wrong but I don’t see any Bishop trade happening so it’s a 60/40 split going forward. One of the two goalies will wrest the starting gig come playoff time and it could be either one of them but Bishop is going to continue to get the larger share.

Also worth noting, I wrote this blurb before Bishop got chased by the Canucks but stand by it. One caveat, with the Lightning sitting outside the playoffs, there may come a point where they need to ride the hot hand, just to earn a playoff spot. We aren’t near that time yet.

Sorry to keep re-hashing this but the story won’t go away and I continue to receive questions about this situation.

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Was last night the first night we got to see the full Jets forward complement this season? Considering Bryan Little got hurt minutes into their opening game and Mark Scheifele just returned from his own injury, I will say yes. There were still some minor injuries like Alex Burmistrov and Nic Petan, but the big guns were all there:

#1           25.9%    SCHEIFELE,MARK – STAFFORD,DREW – WHEELER,BLAKE

#2           20.5%    EHLERS,NIKOLAJ – LAINE,PATRIK – LITTLE,BRYAN

#3           8.6%      COPP,ANDREW – LOWRY,ADAM – TANEV,BRANDON

#4           7%          COPP,ANDREW – TANEV,BRANDON – THORBURN,CHRIS

Mathieu Perreault was in there centering some form of the third line that doesn’t show up in the combos but his only relevance is in seeing almost three minutes per game on the power play.

The Jets were messing with their PP combos big time last night:

#1 31.3% DANO,MARKO – EHLERS,NIKOLAJ – LAINE,PATRIK – PERREAULT,MATHIEU 

#2 18.8% LOWRY,ADAM – TANEV,BRANDON 

#3 18.8% EHLERS,NIKOLAJ – LAINE,PATRIK – PERREAULT,MATHIEU 

#4 18.8% LITTLE,BRYAN – SCHEIFELE,MARK – WHEELER,BLAKE 

They had Toby Enstrom as the lone defenseman on that top unit. Meanwhile, they had Enstrom or Jacob Trouba with Dustin Byfuglien on those bottom couple of groups, and Byfuglien was being used as the net-front guy. I can’t remember the last time we saw Byfuglien in that role. He’s so dynamic as the point man that I wouldn’t use him elsewhere. This strikes me as getting too cute. But then again, despite boasting an all-world shooter like Laine, the Jets’ power play still stinks, converting on just 15% of chances.

We’ll spend the next few weeks monitoring how this all unfolds.

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No Jimmy Vesey who is out with an upper-body injury and no Rick Nash who is out for a week with a groin injury. With Mika Zibanejad out long-term that’s a full forward line gone for the Rangers.

With the injuries, and the Rangers’ shooting percentage regressing, Ryan McDonagh has just four points in the last 11 games. I’ve been batting around the idea of selling high but selling high is all relative and I am not sure that he’s a big enough name to draw a winning return.

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I assume this is related to the walloping Max Domi received in a fight with Garnett Hathaway that he instigated.

It’s always been curious to me that we have concussion spotters but somehow guys who get into fights aren’t immediately sent off for the concussion protocol, even though they have to sit for five minutes anyhow. It’s as though the many premature deaths of former NHL enforcers have left no imprint. But then again, this is a league that is still refuting the link between concussions and CTE so why would anything they do make sense.

Also curious, why do we still have fighting at all? How is bare-knuckle boxing illegal but strap some knives to the bottom of your feet, hop onto a frozen surface and you can throw down at will? I’m not 100% against fighting. I enjoy watching the UFC. And in general, I still get excited at seeing a good punch. I think there’s something innate about that, which is what draws us in but hockey fights are rarely that entertaining and the cost just isn’t worth it. I’d rather see these players trying to string together passes to score a rare goal than to hug each other trying to get off a sloppy punch. Leave the fighting to the professional fighters. Let’s stick to the hockey, hockey players. You’re slowing down the fastest sport that there is.

Bottom line: how is it good to have a skilled guy like Domi dropping the gloves and getting himself hurt?

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The Capitals return home on Sunday so this could be a short stint on the injured list.

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It doesn’t sound like Seabrook will miss much time but their depth is being tested.

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 Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.