Ramblings: Yzerman Back In Motown, Flames Doused, Advantage Leafs (Apr 20)

by Ian Gooding on April 20, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Yzerman Back In Motown, Flames Doused, Advantage Leafs (Apr 20)


There were two playoff games on Good Friday. As we like to say in Canada, both of them involved Canadian teams. One team had a good night. The other, not so much.

Leafs/Bruins

Both teams played a very conservative style through the first two periods, as each team had barely reached double digits in shots on goal midway through the second period.  

Auston Matthews opened the scoring over halfway through the third period on a goal that the Bruins contested was goalie interference. It looked to me like the Bruins had a case, but in any event the call stood and it was a good goal.

A week ago I discussed how Matthews was having a hard time scoring goals. Since then, Matthews has scored four goals over his past three games while taking 16 shots over that span. That matters because your best players have to be your best players in order to win. Now the Leafs have two chances to exorcise the Bruins demon, starting on Sunday afternoon.

Just over two minutes later, Kasperi Kapanen scored his first goal of the playoffs. He had also assisted on Matthews’ goal. The two points are his first points of the series.

David Krejci made it close, scoring with just 43 seconds left in regulation. It wasn’t enough for the Bruins, who will try to force a Game 7 on Tuesday night.

Don Cherry and Dobber agree on at least one point: Frederik Andersen is the best goalie in hockey. Andersen stopped 28 of 29 shots he faced to backstop the Leafs to the Game 5 victory.

Sean Kuraly was back in Bruins’ lineup after missing past four weeks with a broken hand. He was back on the fourth line with Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner.

Avalanche/Flames

The Avalanche are the third team that you I didn’t pick to advance to the second round, eliminating the Flames in just five games with a 5-1 win. With the addition of Cale Makar in this series and a high first-round pick via Ottawa as early as next season, the Avs are only going to climb the standings from here. If Philipp Grubauer can sustain his late-season success, this result could be a sign of things to come for Colorado next season and beyond.   

Once the damage was done, Colin Wilson and Mikko Rantanen each scored two goals and added an assist. Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie each added three assists. Rantanen has racked up nine points (5g-4a) in this five-game series, while MacKinnon has eight points.
 


In addition, the Flames and the Lightning combined for just one win. It’s not as if these series were even close. This might be shaping up to be the most unpredictable Stanley Cup Playoffs in league history. Keep reading, because later on I’ve got something for you if your bracket is busted.

After Game 1 the Flames appeared to be a team that would roll all over the Avalanche, but since then the Avs have clearly been the better team, even though they had to go to overtime in Games 2 and 4.
The Flames’ big guns were snuffed out in this series, in particular Johnny Gaudreau (1 point in 5 games) and Sean Monahan (2 points in 5 games). It was simply not Gaudreau’s night.
 


In fact, Sam Bennett led the Flames in scoring in this series with five points in five games. He was rewarded with a spot on the top line in this game, so this could even be a case of his playoff performance improving his stock for next season. Better line deployment could be what is needed to push his career back on the upswing. After scoring 36 points in his rookie season, the 2014 fourth overall pick has failed to reach 30 points in each of his last three seasons. 

James Neal was a healthy scratch for Game 5. As you might expect, he had no points in four games. Neal has quite simply been a bust for the Flames since signing a five-year contract worth $5.75 million per season last summer. His 19 points in 63 games is his lowest point total in his 11-year NHL career, and he doesn’t seem to fit into the Flames’ younger core going forward. Hopefully you didn’t draft him hoping he’d play on the Flames’ top line. We could now be seeing why Nashville left him unprotected in the expansion draft.

The Flames have a major decision coming up with respect to their goaltending. The series result is by no means entirely on Mike Smith (his 188 saves leads all playoff goalies), but he was easily considered the biggest question mark for the Flames entering this series. You’d have to think that the 37-year-old Smith won’t be returning and that the Flames would instead turn to a tandem with RFA David Rittich and a goalie that they find as a UFA (maybe they circle back to Smith?) There doesn’t appear to be anything waiting in the system, as the numbers for both Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons don’t suggest that they’re NHL ready. Maybe a trade?

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Stevie Y is coming home. To nearly no one’s surprise, the Red Wings are bringing their former captain back as general manager, with current GM Ken Holland moving to the role of senior vice president.

This move is a home run for the Wings, both from a hockey and a PR perspective. During his time in Tampa, Yzerman has taken a relatively unstable team in a non-traditional market and turned it into a Cup contender. In fact, the Lightning are perceived by many to be the NHL’s model franchise for its ability to develop players through its minor-league system, a trait that was associated with the Red Wings during their run as one of the league’s top teams.

Sure, the Lightning haven’t won a Stanley Cup with the current core group, and the recent four-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets is still raw. However, Yzerman has left the Lightning in a position in which they should be one of the league’s top teams for at least several more years to come. I’d expect the Wings to be back in the playoffs within 2-3 seasons, although the 2019-20 playoffs are probably a reach with this group as it stands today.

Current head coach Jeff Blashill was signed to a two-year extension earlier this month, so his job for at least next season is secure. However, I’d think that Yzerman would immediately raise the bar for a former contender that has now missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. The Wings have some nice pieces centering around Dylan Larkin, but Stevie Y will need to add more in the way of draft picks. With some cap space, Yzerman could even dip into the free agent pool as early as this summer. Optimism abound in the Motor City.

For more detailed analysis, see Mike Clifford’s fantasy take.

As for Holland, there have been rumors abound that he is being considered for the GM jobs in both Edmonton and Seattle. But according to Darren Dreger, Holland has withdrawn his name from the Oilers’ GM search.

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The Blue Jackets’ four-game sweep of the Lightning has easily been the surprise story of the NHL playoffs so far. The Islanders’ four-game sweep of the Penguins will come in as a not-too-distant second in that department. As of tonight, there’s the Flames as well. That isn’t good news if you’d built your fantasy playoff roster around the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Sidney Crosby.

There’s the old expression “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” So can fantasy owners learn anything from these surprise quick exits of the Lightning and Penguins, two teams that have been on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders over the last few years? I can think of at least three takeaways.

The playoffs aren’t fair

Tampa Bay’s record-setting regular season of 62 wins didn’t matter in the end, as they failed to post even a single win in a season that they were picked by many to win the Stanley Cup. This is a problem not unlike that in head-to-head fantasy leagues, where a team with a strong regular season can be eliminated quickly because of a down week, an unusually strong week by the opponent, or a combination of both. 

To ensure fairness, some fantasy leagues give first-place teams a bye in the first round. That is something that probably won’t be made possible in the NHL unless the league decides to adopt a one-game playoff similar to what MLB currently uses. A complete first-round bye might make a team more well-rested than they should be, but the real reason the league will probably never use it is that it would generate less playoff revenue for teams than simply playing the games.

So what can fantasy owners do about this? Even first-round byes don’t ensure deserving first-place teams win championships, although they make the path a little easier. You can look at your fantasy league’s playoff schedule to confirm that you don’t have key players on one- or two-game weeks (the Dobber Midseason Guide has an article on this topic). Even if you examine the schedule, it doesn’t guarantee against trades or injuries changing the course. It doesn’t hurt to draft with your playoff schedule in mind, although your first priority should still be to get to your league’s fantasy playoffs.

If the whole idea of a successful regular season going up in smoke in one week bothers you, perhaps rotisserie scoring is for you. Like the English Premier League, the team with the most points at the end of the season wins the title. Fair and square.

You won’t be the only one

Like many, I was hit with the losses of Tampa Bay players from my playoff pool (6 of the 25 players I picked were from the Lightning). However, note that I said “like many.” In spite of this loss, I’m still in fifth place among 70 teams in my playoff pool (pick any 25). All the teams in front of me also lost players with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay being eliminated.

Not all playoff pools are constructed the same way, but many use the “pick any X number of players” model. If you play in a smaller group and perhaps use a draft, then you’re okay to diversify with players from different teams. So the key to winning might be not to miss on some of your other playoff picks. Regardless, the net effect for individual fantasy owners might not be as disastrous as you might assume.

By the way, did you know that you will be able to submit a second-chance playoff bracket over at NHL.com? Just call this the “Tampa Bay rule”, as this is the first time that the league has created this do-over bracket.

Zig when the others zag

The one writer on the Experts Panel who picked Columbus over Tampa Bay looks like a genius right now. (That was Capped writer Alexander MacLean, in case you were wondering.) It’s a high-risk strategy, but one that can pay off if the expected result doesn’t happen. Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean you have to. This strategy makes a little more sense in a larger pool, where picking a similar team to others won’t help you stand out. Or you could simply be the contrarian to challenge your friend’s wisdom.

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The Islanders will be without a significant top-4 defenseman for their second-round playoff series. Johnny Boychuk is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury, which resulted from a blocked shot during the Isles’ first-round series against Pittsburgh. Boychuk was third among Isles’ defensemen in total icetime (18:50) during the regular season. Thomas Hickey is expected to enter the Isles’ lineup to replace Boychuk.

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Cam Robinson’s 2019 NHL Draft Rankings for the month of April are out. Is Jack Hughes still projected to go first overall? Which player is projected to be picked when your favorite team steps up to the podium? Cam has the answers to these and more.

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