Ramblings: The Kessel Conundrum, Ranking Karlsson (May 25)

by Ian Gooding on May 25, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: The Kessel Conundrum, Ranking Karlsson (May 25)


After a couple of weeks off, it’s nice to be back. I used the time to visit family out of town and (I’ll admit) to finally catch up to the rest of the world on Game of Thrones. I might be in the minority, but I didn’t think the ending was terrible. Maybe more “meh” than amazing, but I’ve seen worse endings to long-running shows. So yes, I think it’s ridiculous that there’s a petition going around requesting that the writers change the final season. Hey, it’s their work. Leave it alone. Sometimes the result just isn’t what you’d hoped it would be. Just like your fantasy hockey team or your favorite real-life team. But I digress from my digression.

On to hockey. There’s a Stanley Cup Final still to be played. Want to know who the Dobber writers pick to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy? You can view our picks here.

In case you were wondering why I picked Boston in 5, it’s not that I lack confidence in St. Louis. It’s that Stanley Cup Final series seem to be over more quickly than earlier-round series. The last series to “go the distance” (7 games) was the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, which featured one of the teams in this season’s final. I just think Boston is the better team with a stronger top line and a goalie that has stood above his peers during these playoffs. St. Louis is a long-suffering fan base that is due for a cup and is as close as it’s ever been to one, but my head tells me that Boston will probably win. The rest period for the Bruins could go a long way as well, although we’ve learned this season that longer rest periods don’t necessarily help teams.  


 


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I should also announce that I’ll be taking over the Top 100 Roto Rankings. I’m aiming to have something ready sometime in June. Dobber needed someone to fill this role, and I needed to spark some potential Ramblings topics throughout the summer. I wouldn’t mind your help, though. Have a look at these last rankings (from December) and give me some feedback. Just keep in mind that they’re from December and a lot has changed. As well, they will be a work in progress throughout the summer as rosters change and projections are fine-tuned.

These rankings will cover single-season leagues that use multiple categories (G, A, +/-, PPP, SOG, HIT, BLK). I’d also like to include goalies in these rankings (W, GAA, SV%) so that you can valuate all players, though I understand the apples and oranges comparison. Even if you’re in a keeper league, I think these rankings will still be worth checking out, particularly if you’re trying to win your league in the coming season.

Clearly outside the top 100 rankings, Bubble Keeper Week will be back again this summer. Look out for details on that coming soon.

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Well, it sounds like Phil Kessel is going to get traded this summer. As Mike mentioned in yesterday’s Ramblings, there is a deal on the table that would send Kessel to Minnesota. However, he may not waive his no-trade clause to go to the Wild.
 


Although it took Kessel some time to adjust, his fantasy value increased overall with the move to Pittsburgh. His 92 points in 2017-18 were a career high, while his 82 points this past season matched his previous career high. We do need to account for scoring inflation somewhat, but his 30+ power-play points in the past three seasons (including 42 PPP in 2017-18) well surpassed the 20-25 power-play points he consistently attained with the Leafs.

This is where Kessel owners need to be at least a little concerned about a move to a team such as the Wild. Kessel will be good for at least 25 goals and 35 assists no matter where he plays. However, you’ll notice that his point totals tend to be lower in his first season with a new team (55 points in 2009-10 with the Leafs, 59 points in 2015-16 with the Penguins). Add in a move to a team with a power play that is less potent than Pittsburgh’s (tops in the NHL during Kessel’s four seasons there) and the power-play point totals will be back to Toronto levels. As well, he might not have a center that produces at the level of Evgeni Malkin. Kessel isn’t a player who drives the play, so linemates matter if you’re trying to figure out whether his numbers will be great or just simply good.   

If and when a Kessel trade is announced, we will of course provide our usual fantasy take. Until we know where he’s playing next season, we can’t truly forecast what his production will be. If for some reason you need to decide what to do with Kessel next season, my early prediction is that his scoring will decrease on a new team.  However, maybe after all the rumors he finds a way to stay in Pittsburgh. Then we’re not having this conversation.

Jason Zucker, the player mentioned as coming the other way, is also believed to be a player that is on the trade block. In fact, Zucker is listed as #4 on TSN’s latest Trade Bait List, behind Kessel, Jacob Trouba, and Ryan Callahan. Zucker’s production took a step backward in 2018-19, as he fell by 12 goals and 10 assists. In fact, most of that decline was in the form of even-strength points (20 points).

Zucker doesn’t have the kind of multiple-team season-by-season data that we have on Kessel. Yet the overall decline in goal production in Minny (a drop of 40 goals from 2017-18 to 2018-19) affected many players, including frequent linemates Eric Staal (24-point drop) and Mikko Koivu (16-point drop, mainly due to injury). Better-producing linemates in either Minnesota or elsewhere could clearly help Zucker rebound. That’s why Zucker would be a more desirable fantasy own if he moves to Pittsburgh.

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In case you missed Erik Karlsson’s recent tweet:
 


Since these types of thank-you messages are sent after a player officially leaves a team, it seems fairly clear that Karlsson is headed to free agency. It doesn’t place the Sharks’ chances of re-signing Karlsson down to zero, yet they might need to move heaven and earth in order to make room for him. They’d at least have to let all of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Gustav Nyquist (among others) become unrestricted free agents on July 1. I don’t think they’d be prepared to do that, at least with either Pavelski or Thornton.

Although the Sharks still have a strong core of players under contract (Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Timo Meier, assuming he signs), this group probably provided a better shot at winning a Stanley Cup than their near-future teams will. Once the favorable calls ended and the injuries piled up from facing a physical Blues team, the Sharks didn’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

As for Karlsson, we’ll just have to wait and see where he lands. He may not have looked like the same game-changing defenseman that he was during Ottawa’s conference final run two seasons ago, so it may surprise you that he finished with just two fewer playoff points (16 this season) in the same number of playoff games (19) when comparing the two seasons. That’s still good for fifth in playoff scoring so far. Throw in his 0.85 points per game during the regular season (6th among defensemen) and you can still keep him in the discussion of top-level defensemen.

In spite of that continued elite-level production from his position, however, I’m probably going to let someone else draft Karlsson in single-season formats next season. He’s averaged 20 games missed over the past two seasons with possible groin surgery on the horizon. Someone like Kris Letang has a longer track record when it comes to injuries, yet I’m wondering if I’m going to be ranking these two in the same tier considering that Letang produced at a similar point-per-game pace last season. I’d still take Karlsson over Letang at the moment, yet I can’t shake the thought that Karlsson is turning into what Peter Forsberg was just over a decade ago – an elite player that has worn down to becoming a perpetual game-time decision. Or if he is healthy, the next injury is just around the corner, as is the case with Letang. Even with a high level of production, that kind of player is as frustrating to own as anyone.

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Noah Dobson is having an amazing Memorial Cup tournament. He and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will face the Halifax Mooseheads for the Memorial Cup on Sunday. 
 

 

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For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.