Posted - 04/09/2017 : 10:49:22
The Toronto Maple Leafs just made the playoffs.
Chances are that if you said that to someone who hasnít followed the NHL closely this season but is still familiar with the NHL, they responded in disbelief when they heard that statement. Yet here we are, a season after no Canadian-based teams made the playoffs, where the Leafs are the fifth Canadian team to punch their card. As a Canadian, I donít necessarily care if a Canadian team finally breaks that 20-plus year Stanley Cup drought. But to me, the playoffs are a whole lot more interesting when there are Canadian teams involved. In some cases more so because Iím cheering against a particular team.
The Leafs managed the come-from-behind win against a Penguinsí team that had no Evgeni Malkin or Olli Maatta, and of course no Kris Letang. Marc-Andre Fleury was also giving Matt Murray a night off before the playoffs start. There was also the matter of Frederik Andersen leaving the game after a hit to the head in the second period from Tom Sestito. So backup Curtis McElhinney had to save the day for the Leafs.
Itís not surprising that the hit comes from a goon like Sestito, who has suited up for a grand total of 12 games this season. Imagine if something like this happened during the playoffs, let alone a must-win situation for the Leafs as this game was. You could suspend Sestito, but he is of such little value to the Pens, so thereís nothing really to lose for him or the Pens. In other words, it wouldnít be like suspending Brad Marchand, which would give the Bruins a major void in their lineup.
The good news is that Mike Babcock said that ďideally Andersen can play tomorrow.Ē But the bad news is that this is not Andersenís first hit to the head this season. Now that the Leafs have the playoff spot under wraps, expect McElhinney to start Sundayís now-meaningless game against the Blue Jackets.
Kasperi Kapanen picked a perfect time to score his first NHL goal, tying the game in the third period. With the amazing seasons of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, Kapanen has been pushed to the side as far as notable Leafsí prospects go. Yet Kapanen, acquired in the Phil Kessel deal, is not one to ignore either.
In his second season with the Toronto Marlies, Kapanen has scored at a point-per-game pace (43 points in 43 games). He seems like a strong bet to be on the NHL squad next season, as a near seven-week injury got in the way of him possibly being recalled sooner. Top-six minutes might be an issue, though. Kapanen played this game mainly on the Leafsí gritty fourth line with Matt Martin and Brian Boyle.
The injuries on defense cleared the way for Mikhail Sergachev to be recalled on an emergency basis. He skated 17 minutes and was held without a point.
Nathan Beaulieu showed what he could do when given the opportunity, scoring a goal and leading the Habs with 24 minutes in icetime and first-unit power-play time. Iíll qualify this observation (and a few others in this installment of the Ramblings) by saying that because of all the notable absences on Saturday, we probably shouldnít read too much into Saturdayís developments.
This also brings up the debate as to whether fantasy leagues, particularly head-to-head leagues, should shut it down before the final week of the season. A total of 15 of 16 teams had clinched playoff spots prior to Saturday. In addition, two first-round matchups had already been set entering Saturdayís play: the Penguins/Blue Jackets and the Canadiens/Rangers. So the NHLís final weekend seems to be playing out a bit like Week 17 of the NFL season. Many fantasy football leagues skip Week 17 entirely for that reason. Is it time for fantasy hockey leagues that play the final week to do the same?
If you want to find out exactly who was out of action on Saturday, Mike Clifford compiled a nice list in yesterdayís Ramblings. Iíll also add a few more names to the list (not a complete one on my end, Iím sure):
Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello (Rangers)
Mikael Granlund, Jared Spurgeon (Wild)
Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bonino, Bryan Rust (Penguins)
Saturdayís results also set up the playoff matchups in the Central Division: the Blackhawks/Predators and the Wild/Blues. Plan your brackets and fantasy lineups accordingly.
The Flyersí 4-2 win over the slumping Blue Jackets was perhaps Steve Masonís final game as a Flyer. Looking ahead to the potential of Mason signing elsewhere, it will be interesting to see if a) a team signs him to be a starter (Iím thinking more 1A or 1B-type goalie at best), and b) how the Flyers will be able to survive with a potential Michal Neuvirth/Anthony Stolarz tandem. Neuvirth canít stay healthy, while Stolarz doesnít strike me as a top-level goaltending prospect. There seem to be very few teams that have through the years mishandled goaltending like the Flyers.
Milan Lucic may finish the season with under 50 points, which on the surface may seem like a failure considering the 60-point projections that were being predicted with the promise of time with Connor McDavid. But a closer examination reveals some hidden value in leagues that count multiple categories.
Just over half of Lucicís points were scored on the power play this season. His 12 power-play goals and 25 power-play points are easily career highs in both categories. Whatís more, Lucic scored only seven power-play goals in his previous four seasons combined. Thereís also been an increase in shots taken from 124 in 2015-16 to a near-career high 170 in his first season in Edmonton.
When we assess how a playerís fantasy value could change with a move to a new team, these are the kinds of things that we look for. And the Oilers are clearly getting the most out of Lucic as a net-front presence on the man advantage.
With the Canucks as thin as they are in scoring, Brock Boeser should be penciled in as a top-6 forward with power-play time next season. On a Canucksí team that seems to be doing its best to tank, Boeser has now scored goals in back-to-back games and four goals in eight games. The Canucks may be burning a year off his entry-level contract with nothing left to play for, but Boeser is clearly NHL ready. Put him on your sleeper draft list next season.
Scoring his first goal as a Flame on Saturday, Curtis Lazar now has three points in his last four games. Perhaps on a trial basis, Lazar was on a line with Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik on Saturday. Iím not projecting Lazar as a sleeper in playoff pools at all, but itís too early to write Lazar off as far as his career goes.
Final stick tap to some players who either are retiring or could be retiring as their teams will miss the playoffs: Patrik Elias, Bryan Bickell, Shane Doan, and Shawn Thornton. Best of luck in their futures, particularly Bickell as he battles MS.
With the regular season almost in the books, letís look ahead to the playoffs. I designed my pick 25 playoff pool team around four teams that I think will make it to the Conference Finals: Edmonton, Chicago, Washington, and Montreal. This group is especially weighted around teams I think will make the final: Chicago and Washington. (I know, picking top team in each conference is playing it safe, but I think my other two conference final teams are more of a reach.)
Regardless, itís best to pick most of your players from the four teams that are left in the conference finals. Iíll back that up by referencing Steveís article from a year ago, which is an excellent read as you prepare for your playoff pool. His data sample covers the last ten seasons.
Of players scoring in the top 50, 70% came off teams that made the conference finals.
Of players scoring in the top 10, 97% came off teams that made the conference finals.
So if youíre picking somewhere in between (like I am), youíll want to target players from four teams. Maybe throw in a normally high-scoring player from another team, like Sidney Crosby in my case. Iíve noticed in playoff pools that Iíve played in through the years that many winning teams seem to use this strategy.
But the key is which teams to pick from, which is a lot harder. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are, from a statistical viewpoint, a series of random and often unfortunate events. Teams are more evenly matched today than ever because of the salary cap. Before 1990s expansion, 5 of the leagueís 21 teams missed the playoffs (less than a quarter). Today, 14 of the leagueís 30 teams miss out (almost half). That makes for more competitive playoff series starting in the first round, while making true dynasties such as the Oilers and Islanders of the 1980s practically impossible today.
Goal differential is often an indicator of who will win, but thatís only the case for about 65 percent of series, according to Steveís research. Thatís not a strong enough correlation for me to sleep easy at night, considering that it is closer to a coin flip (50 percent) than it is to a sure thing (100 percent). Honestly, Iíve had much better luck through the years picking players in playoff pools than I have picking teams in bets.
Of course, you can also check out my tips on how to pick a great NHL fantasy playoff team, published last season by Sportsnet. Iíll let you read it, but Iíll emphasize one additional point from the article before you do: League format and scoring system matter. Study it.
With the season ending, I hope we at Dobber Hockey were able to provide you with what you needed to help you win your fantasy league. Or at least that your results were better than mine. For the first time in the last five seasons, I wonít be winning any of the three fantasy leagues that I participate in. I just couldnít catch a break in the fantasy playoffs, but I also have to give a shout out to my competition, which is stronger than ever. Plus I know at least a few of them also frequent Dobber Hockey as well. :)
Written by Ian Gooding of www.dobberhockey.com
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