Ramblings: WASHINGTON DID IT!, Preds Force Game 7, Zucker, Hall, Reilly Smith – May 9

by Michael Clifford on May 8, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: WASHINGTON DID IT!, Preds Force Game 7, Zucker, Hall, Reilly Smith – May 9

They slayed the beast, exorcised their demons, and eradicated their tormentor. In other words, the Caps beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series to move to the Eastern Conference Final.

Things looked bleak as we found out during warmup that Nicklas Backstrom would miss the game with a hand injury. Lars Eller moved up to the second line, and with the home matchup, things looked ripe for a Pittsburgh win, forcing a Game 7.

That is not what happened.

A goal early in the second period by Alex Chiasson – assisted by Australian Nathan Walker! – gave the Caps the lead, only to have Kris Letang score about 10 minutes later to tie the game.

Evgeny Kuznetsov sealed the deal with a breakaway goal a little over five minutes into the first overtime.

From just about start to finish, the quality of the game was fairly poor. Maybe that was Washington’s plan, though. Clog the lanes, force turnovers, and limit the high-danger chances. If that was the plan, Pittsburgh fell prey to it because the Penguins had seven shots on goal through the first 30 minutes of the game.

Whatever it was, it worked. And now Alex Ovechkin and (hopefully) Nicklas Backstrom get their chance to advance to a Cup Final. Congrats to the Caps and their fans. This would make for a heck of a story.

*

Thanks to their victory in Winnipeg last night, the Nashville Predators have guaranteed us a Game 7 out of this second round. A crazy redirection from Viktor Arvidsson as he was ducking out of the way of a point shot opened the scoring, Filip Forsberg added another on a semi-breakaway and that was all the team needed on this night.

For good measure, Forsberg added this circus shot in the third period to nail the coffin shut:

Considering the quality of the teams, it’s not surprising this one is going the distance. Buckle up for Thursday night, boys and girls.

*

Just wanted to chime in my two cents on Vegas moving to the West Final.

This is one of the best stories in all of sports. They are an incredibly fun squad to watch and I’m very much looking forward to the matchup with Winnipeg.

**Update: As pointed out in the comments and written just above, obviously Winnipeg did not move on. Most of these Ramblings are pre-written with updates for the games that evening as they occur. I simply missed this on edit. My apologies.

One thing that is getting a lot of run that shouldn’t be is the idea that this team is some sort of “misfit” team. Consider:

  • James Neal has scored 20 goals in each of his NHL seasons. He has one 30-goal season and one 40-goal season. Before getting to Vegas, he was tied for 13th league-wide in goals per game for his career. He’s literally one of the top goal scorers of the last decade.
  • Jonathan Marchessault was coming off a 30-goal season himself and was long hailed by pockets of the hockey community as a player who just needed a legitimate shot in the NHL.
  • Reilly Smith had two 50-point seasons in four full NHL campaigns, cracking 20 goals twice.
  • David Perron had three 20-goal seasons from 2009 through 2014. The two seasons he didn’t manage 20 goals were the lockout season and the year he played just 10 games due to injury.
  • Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb were both defencemen who, like Marchessault, were often praised by certain corners of the hockey world as guys needing a legitimate opportunity to be consistent contributors.
  • Shea Theodore was a first-round pick and a guy long coveted by just about any team in the league. Anaheim had to make a hard choice about which d-men to keep. They were going to lose someone good.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury had one bad year before he was supplanted by Matt Murray. He was a .917 goalie in the six seasons prior to that.

No, there were no legitimate superstars like a Sidney Crosby or a Nikita Kucherov. But there were a lot of both very good NHLers and guys undervalued by the 200 Hockey Men. Of course no one, present company included, expected them to be this good. Calling them misfits is, however, at best, not understanding the quality of the players they actually drafted, or at worst a purposefully misleading description.

*

Part of reviewing any fantasy season is looking at players outperforming their ADPs and why they did so. Not only does it help in identifying seasons that are unsustainable, they also help identify seasons whose circumstances dictate that this might be the start of a new trend rather than a blip in an existing one. It’s also a good exercise to look for players with low ADPs this coming September who fit the profile for a potential breakout.

Here some selected players who greatly exceeded expectations. Some are obvious, some less so. Stats from Corsica Hockey and Natural Stat Trick. I also used standard Yahoo settings, so people who play in leagues with real-time stats: please put down the pitchforks.

 

Taylor Hall

It’s easy to forget Hall had a three-year stretch that saw 168 points in 173 games, so being close to a point-per-game wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Coming in at 1.22 points per game – one of five players to manage at least 1.2 points per game this season and one of seven with 75+ games played to do so since the 2013 lockout – is a deviation.

Here’s the thing: nothing was terribly out of line for him at five-on-five. The Devils shot 10.3 percent with him on the ice; he had two seasons in Edmonton where the Oilers shot 10 percent with him on the ice. He scored 1.06 goals at five-on-five, not a career-high. He managed 2.38 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, just the third-highest mark of his career. His assists per 60 minutes were nowhere near his career bests. Realistically, the five-on-five production wasn’t the reason for his superb output.

The difference was on the power play, where he set a career-high with 37 PPPs, by far a career best (his best prior to this year was 21, way back in 2010-11). He had 33 PPPs in 207 games over the previous three years combined.

This is where it should be noted that the league-wide power-play conversion rate (20.18 percent) was the highest since the 1980s. The Devils shot 19.1 percent with Hall on the ice on the PP, by far a career high for him. Even with the league trending to more efficient PPs, he still led the league among forwards with 200 minutes on the man advantage in this regard. It’ll be very, very difficult (read: unlikely) he repeats 37 power-play points.

Hall can still be a point-per-game player and the progression of Nico Hischier will help keep him an offensive star. Expecting a repeat of this year seems misguided, however.

 

Reilly Smith

If there is going to be one bone of contention this entire summer in the fantasy hockey community, it’s going to be what to do with the Vegas top line. I picked out Reilly Smith here but it could easily be applicable to any of he, William Karlsson, or Jonathan Marchessault. The latter a little less so because at least he was drafted inside the top-200 players, which means he was taken in most 10- and 12-team leagues. Karlsson is going to be left to a later date for a much deeper dive.

So here’s the thing. Vegas shot over 11.3 percent with that trio on the ice and the trio played over 690 minutes together. Since the end of the lockout-shortened season, Corsica has 25 line combinations with at least 600 five-on-five minutes together, and 13 of those had an on-ice shooting percentage over 10 percent. Seven of those 13 combinations were this year. This is how each trio fared the following season:

 

 

SH%

Following Year SH%

Change

Marchand-Bergeron-Smith, 2013-14

10.24 %

8.76%

-1.48%

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane, 2016-17

10.71%

—–

N/A

JvR-Bozak-Marner, 2016-17

10.73%

6.77%

-3.96%

Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr, 2015-16

10.94%

8.24%

-2.70%

JvR-Bozak-Kessel, 2013-14

11.17%

6.31%

-4.87%

Palat-Johnson-Kucherov, 2014-15

11.59%

8.98%

-2.61%

Zucker-Granlund-Koivu, 2016-17

11.9%

7.48%

-4.42%

 

Artemi Panarin was traded so obviously we can’t do much there. Every other line saw their shooting percentage decline, some to catastrophic levels. Smith and company were on the ice for 406 shots and 46 goals resulted. If we’re optimistic and say that they drop off only 1.5 percent like he did when skating with Bergeron and Marchand a few years ago, they lose six goals. If that shooting percentage falls off about four percent, which half these lines saw, that means about 16-17 fewer goals. Smith’s 82-game pace this year was 72 points. If that four percent drop comes, assuming he figures in on three-quarters of goals scored at five-on-five when he’s on the ice, he’s knocked down to 60 points without any other mitigating factors coming into play yet, like loss in ice time due to increased depth. Or maybe teams hard-match against them next year and they don’t take the league by surprise in the first half again? Or maybe they just generate fewer shots, which in conjunction with the inevitable percentage crash, leads to a disaster?

We have all summer to argue about this and there’s no chance it’s not one of the oft-discussed narratives of the offseason. Value is going to depend on ADP, of course, but we need to prepare ourselves now for the decline in raw production.

 

Jason Zucker

In the table above, Zucker’s name appears as a player whose line’s shooting percentage cratered in 2017-18. Despite this, he set career-highs in both goals (33) and assists (31). Zucker managed 16 power-play points after amassing just six in his entire career to that point. He did spend some time with Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter and that trio shot nearly 9 percent, so that helped matters.

Anyway, Zucker is an interesting case. Over the last five seasons, there are 178 forwards with at least 4000 minutes of five-on-five time. Out of those 178 forwards, he’s tied for 11th in goals per 60 minutes with Jamie Benn and James Neal. He’s ahead of names like Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, and Phil Kessel. Remember, that’s not a small sample. That’s over 4000 minutes spanning five years and Zucker’s not just among the good goal scorers, he’s among the elite. It’s really quite something.

The question becomes, what do we do with this information? A new GM in Minnesota is coming but most of the core is around for at least one more year. Zucker himself is an RFA so maybe they dangle him in a trade to shake things up? Maybe they trade someone else. Maybe nothing changes. I wouldn’t fret too much until both the draft and free agency have come and gone.

Regardless, Zucker seems like one of those guys who will fly under the radar this coming September despite a very good year. It’s doubtful he’s inside the top-100 and after that it’s a matter of where he slots in rankings.