Ramblings: Training Camps, Exhibition Lines, Sobotka, Trouba (September 29)

by Michael Clifford on September 28, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Training Camps, Exhibition Lines, Sobotka, Trouba (September 29)

Ramblings: Training camp, exhibition lines, Trouba situation, Sobotka to the KHL

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UPDATE: Dobber's taking your fantasy hockey questions today – click here!

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Training camp is here, which means that the fantasy preseason is in its final throes. There is still information that can be gleaned even though most projections have been finalized at this point.

One thing that should be noted with regards to preseason hockey: almost nothing can be taken from the games themselves, and this is especially true at this point with the World Cup of Hockey players still trickling in, or not even there. An example of this was the game Tuesday night between Montreal and Washington. I couldn’t help but notice how often tweets that were some variation of, “Alex Radulov looks good” showed up on my timeline. Looking at the roster Washington sent for that game, it lacked: Nick Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt, Brooks Orpik, Braden Holtby, and Philipp Grubauer. So, Alex Radulov looked good against a minor league team. That’s great?

Judging level of play of a preseason hockey game, and then using the judgment to adjust perception of a player, is an incredible waste of time. Where the utility of these games comes in, however, is the line combinations used. These line combinations are available here at Dobber Hockey through the Frozen Pool. These are a few of the curious combinations that may have a fantasy impact. 

Barzal with Parenteau and Ladd

The Islanders had a split squad situation on Tuesday night with John Tavares obviously still at the World Cup of Hockey. In his absence, it was Mathew Barzal playing on the top line of one of the teams between P.A. Parenteau and Andrew Ladd. Brock Nelson was the centre on the second line behind this trio. This indicates a couple things for us.

First, it appears Barzal may have a real shot at making this roster. If the team had no intention of really keeping him for at least the month of October, he probably wouldn’t have been given a prominent role (like Mike McCarron being the third centre for the Habs behind Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, for example). Sure, someone had to play the top line without JT in the lineup, but at the least they wanted to see Barzal with skilled players, as opposed to just slotting Nelson in there.

Secondly, this confirms for us that the first line for the Islanders will indeed be Tavares, Ladd, and Parenteau out of the gate. This has been likely all along, but it now allows us to move forward with near certainty.

Jarnkrok with Fiala and Neal; Johansen with Wilson and Aberg

One lineup that shouldn’t have a whole lot read into it yet was the lineup Nashville used a couple nights ago. Ryan Johansen played with Colin Wilson and Pontus Aberg while Calle Jarnkrok was with Kevin Fiala and James Neal

The first thing that stood out immediately was that outside the top-six that night was Mike Ribeiro, even without Mike Fisher in the lineup. He was actually in the lineup on the third line. I would wager his chances at a top-six role, barring injury, are gone. Johansen is the top centre, Mike Fisher is still around, and management seems to be high on Jarnkrok.

What else stood out was Neal playing with Jarnkrok rather than Johansen. We know teams like to use pairs rather than trios when figuring out the composition of their top-12. Could we see more Johansen/Filip Forbserg and Jarnkrok/Neal? With those pairs solidified, some mix of Fiala/Wilson/Craig Smith sprinkled in the top-six? Again, don’t take anything for certain just yet, but keep an eye on the lineups over the next couple of weeks.

Vrana on the second line

My hopes of Jakub Vrana getting a spot out of camp may be losing some steam. Despite the skeleton crew that was sent to Montreal, he was playing on the second line of a roster that didn’t have Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, and Williams. He was likely going to be playing behind Andre Burakovsky anyway, but that he wasn’t even given a real look to play with Marcus Johansson tells us what we need to know about where he stands with the team. Maybe things change, it’s still very early, but it’s not great, Bob.

Montreal’s Top Six

So it seems like the Habs are going to be starting the season with a top line of Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Gallagher and second line of Shaw-Plekanec-Radulov. This setup is what should give potential Alexander Radulov owners some pause.

Tomas Plekanec had a revelatory season last year. For the first time since 2007-2008, the Habs scored at least 2.6 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five with Plekanec on the ice. It was also the first time since 2010-2011 the team scored at least 2.3 goals per 60 minutes with him on the ice. He also set a nine-year high in assists per minute. Needless to say, these kinds of single-season spikes for a player that turns 34 years old in October is a red flag.

Also, over the last three years, from sources like Corsica, Shaw has produced as a fourth liner. Not in terms of overall production, but rate production. So Radulov is being put on a line with a centre who is still good but appears to be in line for a regression, and a bottom-six player miscast as a top-six player. Buyer beware.

McDavid’s first practice was between Eberle and Lucic

It was a given that Milan Lucic would play with Connor McDavid. The toughness and the grit and the punching and all that. The real bonus here is that Jordan Eberle does indeed look to be setting up on McDavid’s right wing. Oh baby.

Eberle’s numbers with McDavid last year were gaudy. Small sample size alert, but they were absolutely elite. Not “really good” elite, but “off the charts” elite. Even a 20-percent regression in goals scored by the Oilers with those two on the ice, and Eberle’s points per minute rate with McDavid, would still produce very, very good results. If Eberle stays with McDavid throughout camp, there is no chance he should slide outside the top-100 draft picks in a roto draft. I would take him ahead of guys like Palmieri, Zuccarello, Stone, and Okposo.

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With Valeri Nichushkin gone to Russia, another player (in a different situation) has returned as well; Vladimir Sobotka indeed reported to Avangard Omsk yesterday, and thus ends the saga-botka (I’m so sorry).

I am very, very interested to see how this shakes out for the Blues. Paul Stastny is still a good player, but Jori Lehtera is a bit overrated. This doesn’t really give the Blues a lot of great options for a third line centre now (or second line, for that matter). David Backes is in Boston, so it’s up to their internal options to fill the role Sobotka was supposed to (may have?) filled. It seems like Patrik Berglund should get the first crack as the 3C. Could they try Robby Fabbri eventually? Pay close attention to the lineup the Blues use in their exhibition games over the next week or so.

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One of the biggest news stories of the week is undoubtedly that of Jacob Trouba, more specifically his trade demand. There had been rumours for months that he was looking to get out of Winnipeg, and this desire was made public over the weekend.

It’s kind of easy to see his point here. He has four years to play before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. Presumably, unless he plays regularly on the left side as a right-shooting defenceman, he’ll be playing behind Dustin Byfuglien for the next five years. The difference between being paid as a perceived top-four defenceman (Alec Martinez) and a perceived top option (Drew Doughty) can be tens of millions of dollars. Not saying he is or isn’t, but if he can’t establish himself as a true top option because he’s playing behind Byfuglien, he’ll have a hard time getting paid as one. People can go on “he hasn’t earned it!!!” tangents all they want, but if I felt getting out of my current employment situation could mean an increase in pay of tens of millions of dollars over the next decade or so, there would be a Cliffy-sized hole in the door.  

Of course, this could be very good news for Trouba dynasty owners. If he finds the right landing spot, he could be the first or second option on a new team, rather than the third or fourth. That can pay immediate dividends for fantasy this year. It also boosts his value in one-year leagues depending where he goes.

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Remember earlier this summer when the use of player tracking was going on about the World Cup, and my Ramblings were loaded with hesitation as to what they would actually produce? Well…

This has been the case for about a decade now: blogs have provided more accurate work/info on NHL stats than anything the NHL has ever done. There is no reason to think this will change anytime soon, either.

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There has been links in these Ramblings before as to some work being done by Ryan Stimson with regards to tracking passes, and their efficacy. This has led to things like shot-passes, pass locations, and the like.

More work has continued to be done by Mr. Stimson and his army of game trackers, and the latest post referred to defending the passes. Not just every pass, but the ones that can lead to clean entries, or offensive chances. This article isn’t math-heavy at all, and uses in-game examples of how this works.

Since Tyler Dellow was hired (and subsequently let go by Edmonton), and Jen Lute-Costella isn’t doing a lot of publicly-available work anymore, this work by Mr. Stimson and his trackers is some of the most important work being done in the world of hockey. At least work that’s being done in the public eye, anyway.

Their entry assists against, and shot assists against are predictive, and are repeatable. That is what’s important here: it’s being done in the public, has repeatable results, and is predictive in nature. These aren’t characteristics that can be often used with work being done in hockey stats and analytics.

The application for daily fantasy is pretty important here. Where DFS players are relying on one-game samples to win or lose money, the ability to use repeatable and predictive stats that can show good team defence beyond just shot attempts allowed is important. As always, the sample size isn’t huge, but the work being done is incredibly exciting. Fantasy owners should brush up on that article, and everything else being done by the Passing Project team. We’re probably just a year away from needing to include this work in our projections, and daily fantasy owners could make use of it this year.

*stats from Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, and Corsica. Cap information from Cap Friendly