Ramblings: Stepan Producing, Karlsson for the Norris, Bruins Slumping (Mar. 24)

by steve laidlaw on March 24, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Stepan Producing, Karlsson for the Norris, Bruins Slumping (Mar. 24)

Ramblings: Stepan powering Rangers power play, Karlsson for the Norris, Bruins slumping and more.

That Derek Stepan has been money since the All-Star break. A three-point night pushes him to 21 points in 25 games. He is helping the Rangers (who typically struggle on the power play) to find some competence with the man-advantage. It is really nice to see.

It is a bit frustrating to see Stepan go on this run because it seems as though he should be able to reach another level as a scorer but he has never done better than the 57 points he scored a couple of years ago. The past two seasons have been injury-plagued ones for Stepan. For whatever reason he has only been able to put together a half-season’s worth of dominance in any given year and that even goes back to the lockout shortened 2013 season when he scored 44 point in 48 games. Does that showing mean he is capable of 70 or even 80 points? Maybe but maybe not. It’s worth noting that Stepan shot 16.7% that season but is just a 10.9% career shooter. Stepan can get hot with the best of them but good luck shooting that good for a full season.

One of these years Stepan is breaking the 60-point barrier though. It’s coming. Just a matter of when, not if. In the meantime, take advantage of his ability to only put together half seasons of good play. Stepan is still available in 52% of Yahoo! leagues and is ripe to be plucked off the waiver wire.

Don’t look now but Rick Nash has goals in back-to-back games!

No points for Eric Staal though. Alain Vigneault recently took the blame for Staal’s lack of production with the Rangers:

“I haven’t put him in ideal situations — it’s my fault,” said the coach, whose team faces the Bruins at the Garden on Wednesday. “I’ve been moving personnel around trying to find the right chemistry with the lines.”

I didn’t realize that Vigneault was moonlighting as Father Time. Because it’s not the line combos holding Staal back. He just isn’t a big time scorer any more. Maybe they could get more out of him if they used him as a net-front presence on the power play but that would work against the nice chemistry they have going. The Rangers have clicked on 14 of their last 52 power plays, a 26.9% success rate, which has bumped them up to middle of the pack (16th) in power play efficiency for the season. Not bad.

The thing with Staal is that he is a vet. He is a pro. Sure, he wants to be scoring to feel like he is making a difference but he appreciates that winning is more important. He doesn’t need to be validated. Let him put in work as a two-way guy and as long as the team is winning it doesn’t matter if he is scoring. You’ve got guys like Stepan and Derick Brassard as more offensively inclined centermen at this point.

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Fourth straight loss for the Bruins, who had been killer on the road up until this stretch. Miserable timing for Tuukka Rask owners. The Bruins are back in action tomorrow night at home. Look for a serious bounceback.

You know how I know that Zdeno Chara is getting old:

No chance that happens to Chara in his prime. JT Miller is a big boy and he’s fast but the point is Chara isn’t putting himself in that position if he’s still in his prime. Once you start fighting it you become a much easier target.

Lee Stempniak started his Bruins tenure with a bang but quietly went scoreless in six games before ending that slump last night. He was perhaps the Bruins’ most dangerous skater.

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No Dion Phaneuf for the Senators last night due to a lower-body injury. That opened up a bit of an opportunity for Chris Wideman to grab some power-play time. You know that Erik Karlsson is going to skate pretty well the entire power play and Phaneuf will generally join him with the second unit. Last night it was Wideman jumping up.

It’s a bit of a shame to see that Cody Ceci is developing into more of a two-way defenseman than an offensive dynamo. It’s great for the viability of the Senators of course. When you have the single best offensive defenseman in the league, you don’t necessarily need more offensive guys. And it’s not like Ceci doesn’t have the skills required, he is just being used in a different fashion.

Eventually, maybe we’ll see Ceci develop into a guy like Alec Martinez or Ryan Ellis who can produce as a #3 behind two studs but both of those guys gets secondary PP time. So far that hasn’t been in the cards for Ceci. Still, he’s an incredibly talented player even if he isn’t particularly fantasy relevant. Don’t forget about him should he move on from Ottawa at some point.

The big story in the NHL right now is Karlsson vs. Drew Doughty for the Norris trophy. I am firmly in the camp that Karlsson is the runaway winner for the Norris. I realize that scoring isn’t everything but Karlsson is fourth in the league in scoring with 75 points in 75 games, which is just crazy to think about from a defenseman. More importantly, Karlsson has answered the doubters. He’s become a quality defender. He drives play for the Senators. They drown when he’s not on the ice. Sure he gambles offensively but he also gets away with it more often than not. That’s what genius is.

Doughty is awesome. He does it all for the Kings. In a league without Karlsson he probably wins this award. In fact, he probably will at some point. But he’s only 26. He doesn’t need some sort of lifetime achievement award. If Karlsson had never won the award before this season and then put up a performance like he has there wouldn’t even be a conversation about Doughty’s candidacy. This is all just voter fatigue crossed with false controversy in order to generate clicks and discussion at a time when the playoff race is mostly dead. There’s nothing wrong with being the second best in the world.

This is a cross-sport reference but both Charles Barkley and Karl Malone won MVPs during Michael Jordan’s prime, largely because of voter fatigue. Those MVPs look so silly in retrospect. Michael Jordan was the greatest ever. Let’s not go handing trophies to second best just because they have been really good for a long time and because we want everyone to get recognition. This isn’t Timbits. Not everyone needs to get a trophy. Doughty could go his entire career without getting a Norris and still would have a great Hall-of-Fame candidacy, assuming nothing derails his career (knock on wood.) You might even argue that what he has done thus far warrants consideration and he is only half, maybe even just a third of the way into his career.

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JF Berube got the start and the win for the Islanders, which is further unpleasant news for those like me who are in on the Thomas Greiss bandwagon. With the Islanders going back-to-back this weekend we will probably see another start from Berube (likely on Saturday in Carolina.)

In other Islander news, they signed prospect goaltender Eamon McAdam to an entry-level deal yesterday. My strategy with goalie prospects is basically to spray and pray. Grab as many as possible, if your league isn’t too stringent in terms of minor league size, and then hope a few stick. I don’t think McAdam is the Islanders’ top goalie prospect but he’ll start plying his trade in the minors, which is important.

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Pierre LeBrun looks at what a great fit Trevor Daley has been in Pittsburgh:

In Pittsburgh, Daley has fit like a glove. Consider that since the trade, according to war-on-ice.com, the Penguins control 54.8 percent of the even-strength shot attempts; before the trade, 49 percent. The Penguins were 15-11-3 when they got Daley; since then they've gone 25-13-5.

Daley has 18 points in 43 games with the Penguins, which is right around a 35-point pace. Not quite the level he was at in Dallas last season but he was miscast as the #1 defenseman on that team for a good chunk of the year. Considering that was the only season in his 12-year career that he scored more than 30 points, it’s safe to say producing at a 35-point pace is still a very strong showing with the Penguins in a secondary role.

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Cool article contrasting the seasons that the Canadiens and Ducks have had:

"The point in time was when the realization was, 'Hey, you know what? We might not average more than a goal and a half a game.' But if we want to win, that means we have to limit the teams to one goal a game and not using the crutch of bad luck or puck luck or whatever you want to call it, because that might never end," Boudreau said. "So the coaches took it upon themselves to say, 'OK, let's just focus totally on defense.' If things went better that way, the confidence would allow them to score more. And they did."

I wasn’t particularly interested with what was in the column regarding the Canadiens but I really liked this quote from Bruce Boudreau. I do wonder if those early struggles weren’t the best thing that could possibly happen to the Ducks. The past couple of seasons the Ducks got by with great goaltending and timely scoring. Remember their record in one-goal games last year? It was something insane like 25-0-1. More importantly, they were basically a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of puck possession, at least as far as shot metrics go. That has not been the case this year. The Ducks are now second in Fenwick For % and third in Corsi For %. Combine those possession metrics with their great goaltending and deep stable of forwards and you’ve got a team ready to beat the Kings at their own game.

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More teasing for PK Subban owners. He will travel but won’t play tonight.

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The Canucks signed veteran prospect Anton Rodin to a one-year deal the other day. My understanding is that he won’t come over until next season due to waivers and also a current injury. Our old friend Thomas Drance has a good take on this move:

Though Rodin’s is the path less travelled, it isn’t without precedent. Other European-based professional players such as Jori Lehtera have found success on their second crack at North American professional hockey. And for what it’s worth Rodin scored at a better rate for Brynas this past season than Carl Soderberg did in his final SHL season and at a younger age.

You can read more about Rodin here.

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Lots of goodies in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts:

25. Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart went from zero goals in a short NHL window last season to 20 so far this year. Since 2005-06, he’s become just the fifth forward to go from nothing as a 19-year-old to 20-plus as a 20-year-old. The others: Jamie Benn, zero to 22; Patrik Berglund, Michael Frolik and Derek Stepan, zero to 21. (I fully admit to some cheating on this. Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin also had zero goals as 19-year-olds, but that was lockout-driven.) The only defenceman to do it? Dion Phaneuf in 2005-06.

Watchout for Mikko Rantanen joining this list next year. If he can make the leap to the Avalanche next season, which he should be able to do, we know he’ll have a good centerman with Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Carl Soderberg on the roster. Where exactly will he fit? That’s a good question but one that cannot really be answered given Patrick Roy’s propensity for line shuffling.

What we do know is that Rantanen has dusted up the AHL with 21 goals and 52 points in just 44 games since getting sent down. He is done with that level of play. I am a big fan of Rantanen and believe he has a future very similar to that of Patric Hornqvist. Think shot volume plus net-front presence. Lots of goal opportunities.

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Bob MacKenzie debunks the notion that Auston Matthews would re-sign in Switzerland next season if he were drafted by an NHL team.

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Really interesting piece looking at the value that playing aggressively on the penalty kill may have for teams:

PK aggressiveness shows a strong positive relationship with both shot generation and goal scoring on the penalty kill. On the other hand, the relationship with goals allowed is basically non-existent, while the correlation with CA60 is actually negative (meaning being more aggressive actually results in fewer shots against). Regardless of which metric you look at, the results seem to be pretty clear: playing more aggressively on the penalty kill will generally result in better outcomes for teams.

I have railed against using shorthanded points in head-to-head leagues in the space on many occasions. It’s not that I don’t believe in shorthanded scoring as a skill. Some guys like Rick Nash have shown a consistent ability to score while down a man. It just doesn’t happen nearly enough for my liking. In rotisserie leagues, I see value in the stat because over the sample size of a full season you have a larger sample with which to draw from. If the best shorthanded scorers are only getting four or five SHP a season, you won’t necessarily see them giving you that advantage in any given week.

Anyhow, it was interesting to read about the notion that pushing things while shorthanded may actually have real value for teams. I do suspect that the ability to push for offense while shorthanded does somewhat involve personnel. I don’t think that just any player can be given free rein to gun for offense while down a man. If a team has such players, however, they should take advantage.

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Check out my latest waiver wire column giving you eight different options to maximize your games played this week.

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I’ll close with an invitation for you all to join our 10th annual Dobber Hockey Tiered leagues for next season. We have three tiers: the Entry level, the Pro level and the Expert level. There is only one Expert league with the Dobber Hockey writers and then the winners of the pro league from the previous season. I won the Expert league last year but haven’t been particularly competitive this season. I’m currently tied for seventh with Rick Roos. The winner this year looks to be a forum member/reader, going by the handle “Temek”, who worked his way up all the way from the Entry level. The only way to move up is to win so you might call Temek the King of Kings. I’d call it a rags to riches story if I didn’t know better. In reality, Temek is really good at this stuff. So if you want a chance to take down some of us “Experts”, as Temek has done, throw your hat into the ring.

Right now, we are just banging the drum to generate interest before people have committed to too many leagues for next season. We currently run two Entry leagues, but have run as many as four in the past, so there should be plenty of spots for those who are interested. You’ll find more info in this thread here. Make sure you sign up for the forum to get in on the action!

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Steve Laidlaw is the Managing Editor of Dobber Hockey. Follow him @SteveLaidlaw.