Ramblings: Strome Signs, Nichushkin Leaves, Changing Draft Strategy, and More (September 22)

by Michael Clifford on September 21, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Strome Signs, Nichushkin Leaves, Changing Draft Strategy, and More (September 22)

Ramblings: Strome signs, Nichushkin Leaves, Defencemen in abundance, and more

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It’s inevitable that the restricted free agent dominoes start to fall, and one notable re-signing this week was Ryan Strome. The official deal comes in at two years with an average annual value of $2.5-million. The bridge deal. Classic.

Strome’s contract is comparable to teammate Brock Nelson’s and New York’s Kevin Hayes. The 23-year old is coming off a disappointing season that saw him garner just 28 points in 71 games which included a demotion to the American Hockey League. If he puts up another 50-point season, maybe he gets six or seven years instead of just two. It’s amazing how things can change in the NHL.

There are red flags around Strome’s performance last year, most notably the decline in shooting. From his rookie year through last year, per Hockey Analysis, his shots per 60 at five-on-five rate has declined from 9.36 (really good!) to 7.07 (not so much!). That’s normally not a good thing when it comes to young players. However, last year per Corsica Hockey, Strome led the Islanders in on-ice CorsiFor per 60 minutes and scoring chances for per 60 minutes. No, I’m not lying:

This is the point where it should be noted that from 2013-2015, he managed a point on 65.6-percent of goals scored at five-on-five while he was on the ice. He also personally shot 8.25-percent at five-on-five. Last year, those numbers cratered to 53.8-percent and 4.46-percent, respectively.

Did things go poorly last year? Yes. Did he suffer from some sort of mental block or lack of confidence? Maybe. Is there a reason to give up on him in fantasy? Absolutely not.

Taking his three-year career as a whole, he has the same points per 60 minutes as Tomas Hertl, Jeff Skinner, and Chris Kreider. It’s also slightly higher than guys like Alex Galchenyuk and Reilly Smith. There are also a lot of notable names just below him as well. He should have a top-six roster spot, and, Joe-willing, a top power play spot to start the year (for those missing the reference, brush up on your George Carlin).

As far as the contract goes, this is low-risk for the Islanders. If he doesn’t improve, it’s not much money on a short term. If he does, he’ll be worth the money they have to pay him. He’s being neglected in fantasy, and could have a very solid bounce back year. Grab him in the late rounds.

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While news-worthy, it is nonetheless heart-breaking for fantasy owners, and hockey fans in general, that Valeri Nichushkin is indeed on his way home to Russia. The 21-year old signed a two-year contract with CSKA Moscow.

This is far from the end of his NHL career. Dallas has his rights until he’s 27 years old, if I’m not mistaken, which means he could be back for the 2018-2019 season in a Stars uniform. Maybe there’s a one-year out clause, but this is speculation. I have no idea how the transfer works. Either way, he will not be suiting up for the Stars this year.

It was a tumultuous tenure for Nichushkin. The kid was very highly-regarded coming into the 2013 draft where he was selected as the 10th overall pick. He ha a successful rookie year, putting up 34 points in 79 games, playing nearly 15 minutes a game. Some shifts, it legitimately looked as though he would be the Next Big Star (pun totally intended). He was hard to knock off the puck, had the size and speed to be pretty much a one-man cycle down low, and showed great hands around the net. It was all coming together.

Nichushkin underwent a hip surgery early in his sophomore season and basically lost the year. He returned at the end of the year for a few games, but it was a finished season. He would have to wait until his third year to really prove himself.

Things did not progress for Nichushkin last year, finishing with just 29 points in 79 games. He played under 14 minutes a game, and at times, seemed to butt heads with coach Lindy Ruff. For whatever reason, he just couldn’t get his game going. He certainly looked the part of the future superstar at times, but was also inconsistent. He still gave good underlying numbers, but didn’t produce.

And now we’re here. After clashing with the coach and not progressing in his third year, Nichushkin is gone. This is a blow to keeper league owners and dynasty owners. Few players that weren’t top-3 draft picks over the last few years have the tools and upside that Nichushkin has.

Here’s to hoping he figures out whatever it is he has to in Russia and comes back to the NHL as an offensive dynamo. He has the talent to do it, and it would make a great story.

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So it seems everyone is putting in their two cents with regards to the World Cup, namely Team USA. Craig Custance of ESPN had a solid read on this. May as well add to the pile.

This Team USA roster is very reminiscent of what Canada sent to Torino in 2006. Remember, that was the year they brought Kris Draper to the Olympics and left Sidney Crosby at home. After an incredibly awful performance, Canada smartened up and finally sent most of their skilled players to Vancouver in 2010. The third line (if you can call it that) for that team was Heatley-Thornton-Marleau. They brought Drew Doughty, who had turned 21 about two months before the Olympics. Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby were both under 23 years old. Those three guys especially shined. Where Canada used to bring Rob Zamuner and Kris Draper to the Olympics, now, the leading scorer over the last five years (Claude Giroux) is a healthy scratch. That’s how they build their teams, and it shows on the ice.

That is why I’m dubious of the argument of “well all of USA’s best players were playing for Team North America.” Indeed they were. Would they have been on the national roster? This was a team specifically built for gritting and punching their way to victory. Is Jack Eichel guaranteed a roster spot? Auston Matthews? Heck, even Johnny Gaudreau? Judging by the way this team was built, it’s far from a sure thing. This was a team that willingly played Justin Abdelkader with Patrick Kane, and it wasn’t for a lack of options (Zach Parise and Max Pacioretty, anyone?)

One step back, two steps forward. That is going to have to be the way Team USA goes from here. The future is definitely bright. Aside from the three u-23s mentioned, there’s Brandon Saad, Shayne Gostisbehere, John Gibson, and Seth Jones. Not to mention the guys they left at home like Tyler Johnson, Justin Faulk, Alex Galchenyuk (though he was left behind by the u-23s), and Kevin Shattenkirk. Heck, should the NHL go to the Olympics in 2018, it’s about 17 months away. Older players like Kyle Okposo and Keith Yandle could help as well. That’s about a dozen players that can give Team USA a lot of depth.

If built correctly, with a coach that can coach them, this is one of the best teams in the world. The brain trust needs to have learned their lesson, though. Not evolving the roster and the philosophy with the way the game is played in the current era ensures more performances like this one.

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Last week, the Colorado Avalanche hired Arik Parnass. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Mr. Parnass has been doing excellent deep-dive work when it comes to hockey stats and analytics for years now. Mr. Parnass is renowned for his special teams breakdowns. They also hired Zac Urback, admittedly a name I’m less familiar with. The Avs have started building their stats department.

It is not a coincidence, I think, that less than a week after the hiring of these two gentlemen, Jiri Tlusty was extended a professional tryout. He has long been a guy that the stats community has loved for his defensive game, something this team sorely lacked.

Colorado has a pretty solid roster, and guys like Parnass and Urback, as part of their roles, can help identify weaknesses to strengthen. Tlusty is just one small part of that. Remember, the Penguins hired Sam Ventura after NHL free agency last year, and within a week, they had traded for Nick Bonino, and signed Eric Fehr. Those types of moved helped build the depth they needed for a Cup run.

This isn’t to say that Tlusty is the one missing piece from the Avalanche, but rather the start of the process for Colorado. With a good young core locked up with MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, and Barrie, this team is getting smarter. That should concern teams in the West. A new coach and a new approach is what this team needed. Things are looking up in Denver, and that means nothing but good things for fantasy owners.

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As far as strategy goes, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of other fantasy hockey writers over the last week or so. It basically revolved around how to build rosters given the ADP of certain players. One thing that this year’s ADPs and mock drafts have shown me is this: it is very doable to avoid drafting a defenceman in the first five or six rounds (12-team standard leagues) and still build a championship team.

In many leagues, both Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson will be going in the first round. Guys like Ekman-Larsson, Subban, Byfuglien, and maybe even Letang go in the top-30. After that, though, is where the value comes in.

The quality of defencemen runs deep this year. Names like Mark Giordano, Victor Hedman, Tyson Barrie, and Keith Yandle – all with 50-point seasons to their name – are all going outside the top-60 with regularity. Guys that have 50-point potential this year like Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk are as well. It’s eminently possible for fantasy owners to not grab a defenceman in the first five rounds (top-60 picks in a 12-team league), and still have two, maybe three, 50-point defencemen on the roster.

Yes, the peripherals will have to be made up somewhere, but drafting elite forwards in the first three or four rounds should take care of that. With the ADPs that we have, and the availability of top-end offensive defencemen that don’t require significant draft capital, my draft strategy has changed from as recently as a month ago. There is a championship roster that can be built by eschewing defencemen early this year.

*Stats from Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, and Corsica. Cap information from Cap Friendly. Nichushkin info from Defending Big D