Ramblings: Updates on Price, Eichel, Pacioretty; Nilsson Traded; Looking Ahead to 2019 – January 3

by Michael Clifford on January 3, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Updates on Price, Eichel, Pacioretty; Nilsson Traded; Looking Ahead to 2019 – January 3

 

Alex Ovechkin is turning down the opportunity to play in this year’s All Star Game, opting instead to just take the week to rest. With the rules the league put in place years ago, that means Ovechkin will have to miss a game either directly before or directly after the ASG itself. Given the playoff run last year, his age, and the team’s expectations for another deep run this year, I can’t really blame him. He’s given us some of the best All Star Game moments over the last decade, he’s earned a weekend off.

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Minor trade:

 

 

I say it’s a minor trade but this should lead to a call-up of Thatcher Demko at some point, so it could be a major deal in that sense. Something to monitor.

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There was no Jack Eichel at Sabres practice and afterwards the coach says he’s still being evaluated medically. There won’t be an update until their next gameday, so owners should prepare for Eichel to miss at least the next game Thursday night against Florida.

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Max Pacioretty was skating on the third line at practice for Vegas, giving a pretty good indication that Brandon Pirri, still on the second line, will be staying. I mean, the guy’s a goal-per-game in his Vegas career. If that doesn’t give him an extended look in the NHL, I’m not sure what will.

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No change in Corey Crawford’s status according to ‘Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton. I suppose no chance is better than worsening, but in the leagues where I have Crawford on my roster, I’m operating as if he won’t return this year. This is a scary situation. Let’s just hope he comes out of this ok as a person, let alone return to the ice.

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Speaking of goaltender injuries, Carey Price was taken off the injured reserve by the Habs, meaning he should be good to go for their next game. Get him off your fantasy IR lists.

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The NHL All-Star Game rosters were announced. Keep in mind there will still be a fan vote to come and every team needs at least one representative. Here they are:

 

Thoughts/Complaints? 

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We had a huge upset at the World Juniors yesterday as Switzerland defeated Sweden 2-0 in their quarter-final matchup. A team that has had relegation concerns in recent history defeated a gold medal contender. And the thing is, it wasn’t one of the typical upsets where it’s a couple fluke shots and a goalie standing on his head that were the difference. It was basically an even game. That’s a huge credit to the Swiss.

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It was quite the game between Finland and Canada as the Canadians held a 1-0 most of the game but the Finns tied it up with under a minute left. It had been the Mikey DiPietro show to that point as he had made several key saves for Canada but Eeli Tolvanen had the look of a guy destined to score. He took the shot that redirected in off of Aleksi Heopniemi to tie.

Finland won it a little halfway through the overtime period following a wild overtime. Canada had a penalty shot, and Noah Dobson had an open net goal on his stick, before his stick broke. Finland went the other way and got another deflected goal. Just a crazy, crazy overtime period.

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The next game following a four-point outing, Johnny Gaudreau managed another four-point night in Detroit on Wednesday night. He had a goal and three assists, Elias Lindholm had a goal and two assists, while Sean Monahan had just one of each the lazy bum. That makes 21 points over the last two games for the top line, and Lindholm has set a career-high with 47 points. There’s half a season left.

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Kris Letang had a goal and an assist to go with four blocked shots in Pittsburgh’s 7-2 stomping of the Rangers. That gives him points in five straight and 35 in 38 games this year. This pace would give him a career-high, topping the 67 points he had a few years ago. Guentzel, Crosby, Malkin, and Simon all had a goal and an assist as well.

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In the hours following his All-Star Game selection, Elias Pettersson tallied a hat trick for Vancouver in their 4-3 overtime win against Ottawa. That pushes him past 20 goals, giving him 22 and 20 assists this year. He’s shooting about 27 percent, but even half that and he’d have 30 points in 37 games as a rookie on a bad team. Truly a special first-year player we’re watching right now.

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Well New Year’s is behind us, as is the holiday season, it’s time to look ahead to 2019. It could be a very tumultuous year for the NHL as though the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t expire for a few years, both the players and owners can opt out of the current CBA in September. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we could be about eight months away from our next NHL lockout. Good times.

But let’s not focus on the negative right now. Let’s focus on the positives. I want to go through a list of players I’m excited for in 2019, whether it be the second half of the 2018-19 campaign or the first half of the 2019-2020 season.

 

Mark Stone

This year’s free agent crop is one absolutely loaded with talent. Aside from Stone, names like Erik Karlsson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Joe Pavelski, and Jeff Skinner top the list, and that’s discounting guys like Alex Edler and Jordan Eberle. But Stone is one of the few players I suspect will be on the move at or before the trade deadline, and that means there’s a lot of interest in the future of Mark Stone both for the balance of this season and next year.

Let’s set aside the balance of this year for a second. One reason Stone’s UFA contract should be fascinating is that he’s truly one of the best wingers on the planet: According to Corsica’s wins above replacement model, Stone is top-25 in the league in a per-82 games basis since the start of the 2016 season. The only wingers ranked ahead of him are Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, David Pastrnak, Taylor Hall, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jeff Skinner, TJ Oshie, Kyle Palmieri, Brad Marchand, and Rickard Rakell. That puts him somewhere near the top-10 wingers, and he will be a free agent. But do other general managers view him as such? Are there enough GMs who view him as such that there will be a bidding war? He has 105 points in his last 98 games so his offence has started to show through over the last couple seasons, too.

Stone may not be a coveted fantasy asset like Marchand or Tarasenko but he’s similar in real-world talent. He should see north of $8-million a year. How much further will depend on how general managers value him which is, in a nerdy-ish kind of way, exciting.

 

Erik Brannstrom

I thought there would be a chance that Brannstrom would crack the Vegas roster coming out of camp, especially with the early-season suspension to defenceman Nate Schmidt. But he didn’t, and they sent him to the AHL to start the 2018-19 year. As a 19-year old defenceman in the AHL, Brannstrom has put up 20 points in 24 games. It surely seems that this will be his first and last year in the AHL.

Brannstrom has the look of a player ready to be a great puck-mover in the NHL and he’s proving this in the AHL. I suppose one issue would be is that if he starts the year in the NHL next season, he’ll still be behind guys like Schmidt, Shea Theodore, and Colin Miller. All the same, there should be a lot of reason for excitement and he’ll be a guy firmly on my radar for rookie and keeper drafts when September roll around.

 

Vladimir Tarasenko

Even with 33 goals and 66 points in 2017-18, it was seen as a down year for Tarasenko. He had been battling through injuries and the St. Louis power play didn’t do him any favours, but some (present company included) were excited for a turnaround for the 2018-19 season. Things haven’t gone as planned as he has just 11 goals and 22 points in 37 games. It’s been a brutal first half for him.

It’s also been a brutal first half for the Blues as they find themselves tied for last in the NHL (as of Wednesday afternoon) with the Ottawa Senators. The team making its way to the playoffs seems like a far-fetched idea. What if Tarasenko doesn’t turn his season around in the second half? We’re talking about a guy who had established himself as one of the top wingers in the league (see: write-up on Stone) over a three-year span and then will have had back-to-back poor seasons on a team that missed the playoffs. What does management do?

It seems unfathomable to trade an elite talent like Tarasenko coming off a bad year (or two) while secured to a very team-friendly contract. Then again, we thought the same thing about Taylor Hall. I’m excited to see what Tank does in the second-half of the 2018-19 season, but more importantly, what his future holds in 2019-2020 and beyond.

 

Morgan Frost

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t watched much of Morgan Frost before this year’s World Juniors. I don’t watch much junior hockey and without some NHL games, he just wasn’t on my radar. This year’s World Juniors has changed that.

Frost tore up the OHL last year and is doing so again this year. Though he’s not big by any means (he’s listed as 6’0”, 185 pounds but that seems generous on both counts) he doesn’t seem to have any problem going to the dirty areas to use his hands and quickness to make plays in traffic, which can draw coverage and leave teammates open. That kind of ability is coveted because not only can he create plays, but he can create plays will creating space for line mates. That’s how you score goals in the new era of the NHL. Whether he can do that in the NHL rather than the OHL remains to be seen, but that he can do it now bodes well for the future.

With the way the NHL plays these days, worrying about size is a fool’s errand. It’s all about speed, skill, and quick decisions. Frost has all those. If the Flyers decide to use him on the wing, he could find himself in the top-6 right out of the gate next season. He’s another player I will be targeting heavily in rookie and keeper drafts.