Ramblings: Wideman Suspended, Hamilton Stepping Up, Eichel Cruising (Feb. 4)

by steve laidlaw on February 4, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Wideman Suspended, Hamilton Stepping Up, Eichel Cruising (Feb. 4)

Ramblings: Wideman Suspended, Hamilton Stepping Up, Eichel Cruising and more.

 

We will open with news from Tuesday regarding the NHL setting dates to reschedule the three games lost in January due to the snow storm.

Washington and Pittsburgh will play on March 1st, while the other two games involving Washington vs. Anaheim and Philadelphia vs. the Islanders will be played on April 10th (which now becomes the last day of the regular season).

All of these rescheduled games set up back-to-backs for these teams. Particularly sticky is the situation for Anaheim who finishes with a three-game road trip starting April 7th in Los Angeles, then playing in Colorado on April 9th and finishing up in Washington April 10th. If they have a playoff spot locked up by that final game you can bet they will be mailing it in.

Be sure to snag an updated version of the Same Night Tool, which has been updated to reflect the schedule change. Stick tap to former Looking Ahead columnist Bob Fisher for continuing to produce this invaluable tool.

If you aren’t familiar with the Same Night Tool it’s a spreadsheet that allows you to look at how many games a team plays in a given time period and also shows you when teams have overlapping schedules. For instance, if you owned Sean Monahan, Tyler Johnson and Tomas Plekanec but only started two centres per night you were left with a situation where you had to sit a good player. The choice may be an obvious one but you still lose a potential game. The Same Night Tool shows you which teams have the most conflicts, which can help you optimize your roster by reducing conflicts and maximizing games played out of the players you do have.

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I have some genuine complaints about the new NHL.com webpage. I really don’t mind the new layout of the homepage, it will take some getting used to but I used to do all my work off the boxscores provided by the site. Now it is unnavigable. You can’t toggle between games without having to open a new page. Tons of key pieces of information are missing. It’s just a disaster. I’ve switched to ESPN boxscores as it is the closest facsimile to what NHL.com had before but it isn’t quite the same.

I checked out Yahoo!’s boxscores but they don’t provide power-play ice time, which is key info. Does anyone know of a better option than ESPN?

This is all entirely too frustrating. The NHL won’t provide us salary info for teams despite the fact they are a salary cap league so that information is vital to being an informed fan and they refuse to provide it under the guise of “no one wants that information”. They’ll trot out that BS and then give us an advanced stats page that doesn’t work. Now they have capped it off by taking something great about their site that actually worked just fine and ruined it. Good gravy, I am frustrated.

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The NHL did not take the Dennis Wideman hit of an official lightly suspending the defenseman for 20 games. He will almost certainly appeal this decision but he is definitely missing extended time here, enough to make him basically an automatic drop in your league.

I really like that the NHL took all the time that the All-Star break afforded them to come to a decision on this because it was certainly an important one. I’m not sure they came to the right conclusion here but they clearly came down hard to make a point that the officials are off limits, which is a stance we can all respect. With how important power plays are to scoring, the officials really do have a ton of control over the outcome of games. You’d hate to have a mutiny take place.

There is also clear language in the rules that any intent to injure an official results in at least a 20-game suspension so it seems evident that the NHL concluded this was a malicious act. Some have speculated that since the only defense for Wideman is in saying that he was concussed at the time there is little chance that Wideman gets out of this on appeal. Very little chance the NHL admits wrongdoing.

They could of course reduce Wideman’s suspension, pretend they supported him all along and then later claim him as a hero. Oh wait, wrong conspiracy.

As far as fantasy goes, Dougie Hamilton becomes even more intriguing as it is likely that the Flames load up their top two pairings with 22+ minutes a night like they did last season.

Indeed Hamilton played a huge role last night skating 21:50 including over four minutes on the top power-play unit. He scored two points. This is a huge opportunity for him.

Part of the minutes spike for Hamilton was also the result of the Flames losing TJ Brodie to a lower-body injury. Sounds like he took a shot off the knee.

Hamilton wasn’t the only Flame to have a big night. As it turns out, only five Flames got on the board but they all skated on the top power-play unit and they all had multi-point efforts.

Sean Monahan led the way with a four-point night. Meanwhile, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano and Jiri Hudler – YES, JIRI HUDLER – scored two apiece.

I am not certain that this is where Hudler gets it going again. After all this was Calgary at home, where they have extremely favourable splits. Still, he is skating on the top line again, which is a real positive.

The Flames recalled Jakub Nakladal from the AHL to help fill in. Not very interesting in most leagues but you can read more on Nakladal here.

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Fresh new lines for the Canadiens last night:

15.59%

EV

ELLER,LARS – FLEISCHMANN,TOMAS – SMITH-PELLY,DEVANTE

14.83%

EV

DESHARNAIS,DAVID – PACIORETTY,MAX – WEISE,DALE

14.45%

EV

GALCHENYUK,ALEX – GALLAGHER,BRENDAN – PLEKANEC,TOMAS

7.6%

EV

FLYNN,BRIAN – LESSIO,LUCAS – MITCHELL,TORREY

5.32%

PP

DESHARNAIS,DAVID – PACIORETTY,MAX – WEISE,DALE

5.32%

PP

GALCHENYUK,ALEX – GALLAGHER,BRENDAN – PLEKANEC,TOMAS

 

Galchenyuk is back on the wing skating on the top line with Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec. He scored a goal and added five shots. The line as a whole combined for 13 shots, which is a positive sign. I know most folks would still prefer to see Galchenyuk at the center position but frankly, whatever it takes to get him going.

David Desharnais had no points despite being reunited with Max Pacioretty in all situations. Desharnais is probably the big winner if these combos stick as he is back on the top power-play unit, one that clicked with Dale Weise scoring as the net-front presence.

PK Subban, by the way, skated on both power-play units skating the full 3:08 that the Canadiens had in power-play time. This has been a growing trend, Subban skating on both units. He has joined the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson and Alexander Ovechkin as guys skating for nearly the entirety of each power play. Subban’s percentage of time for the season is up to 82.4% as he is averaging 4:50 per game with the man-advantage.

Somehow, TSN felt it reasonable to publish some clickbait nonsense about the Canadiens considering a Subban deal. I won’t even link to that ridiculousness.

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Robin Lehner has started four of the last five for Buffalo and has a .940 save percentage or better in each of those four games. Perhaps the rumours that he simply wasn’t in shape to start the season were true and perhaps now he is in shape. I haven’t been a big believer in Lehner for a couple of years now but this being goaltending anyone can get hot for an extended period. It will be interesting to see how long Lehner keeps this run going for.

Jack Eichel is up to 21 points in his last 19 games all while having the likes of Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson, Jamie McGinn, Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta as linemates. Last night it was mainly Girgensons and Moulson. I actually really like Girgensons. His relentless physical effort combined with a smooth stride really reminds me of Ryan Kesler.

It took Kesler a few years before it all came together so while Girgensons really hasn’t done a ton thus far he could yet become a really stout fantasy asset, particularly in rotisserie leagues and particularly if he can stick with Eichel over the years. Girgensons does have three points in three games since returning from injury.

Sam Reinhart skated 17:37 in his return to the lineup skating alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane as well as on the top power-play unit. That Sabres power play is quite lethal with O’Reilly, Reinhart, Eichel and Ristolainen plus a net-front presence (currently McGinn). They quietly are tied with the Blackhawks for the league’s sixth most efficient power play.

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Ladies and gentlemen, a Gustav Nyquist sighting! He scored his second goal and fifth point in 16 games since Christmas. Talk about irrelevant. Nyquist scored despite seeing just 13:27 in ice time. Part of the reduction in ice time was that Nyquist spent four minutes in the penalty box last night but part of it is a downward trend in minutes for the now third line winger.

Riley Sheahan sat out last night due to illness.

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Much better night for the Lightning who took advantage of Red Wing penalties to build their lead. The Lightning power play is up to 13th in the league at 19.0% but they are certainly trending up.

The Lightning power play turning it up doesn’t necessarily benefit one player as they are one of those teams that (when healthy) prefers to roll their first and second units evenly. It means you get a bunch of good productive players but no standouts though Nikita Kucherov (two points last night) and Steven Stamkos (none) have been standouts the past couple of months.

Tyler Johnson got on the board with his first power-play goal of the season. Even with the injuries it’s crazy that it took him this long for a power-play goal.

I have a theory that Johnson still isn’t back to 100% yet. He hasn’t once skated over 20 minutes in a game since returning from injury and really has not been used on the penalty kill all that much. Johnson was an important penalty killer the past couple of seasons and it’s hard to imagine they don’t want him back out there in all situations even if the team is about league average at killing penalties without him. Once you see Johnson killing penalties on the regular that’s when you know he is completely back.

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Jaden Schwartz is back skating. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready to go tonight and perhaps not even this weekend but at some point in the next week he should make his return. He is still 53% owned in Yahoo! leagues so there is time for plenty of you to make a move and stash him briefly.

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The Rangers cannot get out of injury prison as they have lost Kevin Klein to injury once again as he is out indefinitely with a broken finger. Klein has quietly been one of the Rangers’ more effective defensemen and an important cog considering how they are locked into the overpaid duo of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.

Looks like life isn’t getting any easier for Henrik Lundqvist.

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Both Brandon Prust and Mason Raymond have cleared waivers and have been sent down to the AHL. Neither one was making much of a fantasy impact.

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It sounds like Dan Hamhuis is ready to return from that brutal broken jaw he suffered earlier this season. It will be really interesting to see how effective he is because he could be an important trade chip at the deadline. Teams will also be evaluating him as a potential free agent acquisition this summer. Millions are at stake for Hamhuis here and the Canucks are still technically in the thick of the playoff race.

Not much fantasy value with Hamhuis but if he plays well he will help Jacob Markstrom or the starter for whatever team he gets dealt to.

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The Blues have moved David Backes to right-wing with Alex Steen lining up at center:

“We need more ‘hunt on the puck,’ which is right up David’s alley,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “And the only way we can do that is to put a center iceman in there that plays well with him. We just feel that by turning a couple of people loose, we can get more pressure on the puck. That’s one of the things that we looked at when we did analytics … we don’t create enough turnovers. The way you can do that is put more speed and more big bodies in on the forecheck.”

This is a great spot for Backes, since it gets him skating with Steen again. It’s also worth noting that Backes just gained RW eligibility on Fantrax thanks to this move, which is a huge boon for fantasy owners.

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Awesome stat from Adam Gretz:

The Ducks are 22-11-5 since starting 1-7-2. If they fired Boudreau at that point the new guy would probably win the Jack Adams.

I was vocally in favour of keeping Bruce Boudreau around and applauded GM Bob Murray for sticking beside the coach even while the team struggled. All too often you see a team turn it around under a new coach simply because things have to reach unsustainably bad levels to get a coach fired in the first place. In the case of the Ducks, the whole team was shooting an unsustainably low percentage. Now they are scoring again and one of the hottest teams in the league. People are even talking about the Ducks as contenders once again.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when a coaching change makes sense. For instance, Mike Sullivan has made real changes in terms of player deployment in Pittsburgh that simply seemed to elude Mike Johnston. It just never seemed to me that Boudreau needed to be made a scapegoat when he has a long history as one of the better coaches in the league.

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Bombshell dropped from Bob McKenzie yesterday where he broached the subject of expanding the playoff pool and noted that 16 GMs favoured having a play-in game for the final wild card spot in each conference.

I love the idea. I would even go as far as making both wild card spots in each conference be play-in games. I recall several years back, when I was still in university, the Flyers had what amounted to a play-in game against the Rangers on the final day of the season. The game went to a shootout and I believe Claude Giroux scored the winner to get the Flyers into the post-season. Even though we only had one Flyer fan in a house with eight guys, we were all watching and it was bedlam.

It should be noted that a lot of discussion in this article was regarding making it a play-in best-of-three series. I’m not a huge fan but there would be the obvious benefit of ticket sales for owners so you can see why they’d want to go this direction. Who wants to make the playoffs and not get at least one home game?

I would add one caveat that if they are expanding the playoff pool they should look to then shorten the season, especially if they are going to a best-of-three play-in format. The season is too long as it is. I’m a big proponent of dropping the season to 70 games but even making it 78 games instead of 82 would make a difference with fewer back-to-backs. Healthier players makes for a better overall product on a nightly basis.

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Check out my latest Waiver Wednesday column.

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Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.