Cal Clutterbuck

Islanders are rolling: 14-0-1 stretch harkens to 1982 glory

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders insist they don’t think about how well they are playing. They are too busy preparing for their next opponent.

However, win after win after win has added up to a point streak the franchise hasn’t seen since its Stanley Cup dynasty days,

Since opening the season with three losses in four games, the Islanders are 14-0-1 while matching the team points record set during a 15-game winning streak from Jan. 21 to Feb. 21, 1982, in the midst of their run of four straight Cup titles (1980-83).

“The teams they’ve had in the past, they’re legendary teams,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t know if it means anything right now because we’re so focused on just the next game and then just this season. I think when you look back, when you’re done, you can say, ‘Hey, remember that streak we had?’”

The Islanders have earned points in 15 straight games for just the fourth time, with the previous three coming long before teams earned a point for losing in overtime and long before shootouts (1978, 1980 and 1982).

They have pulled it off different ways. The Islanders have given up the first goal seven times, trailed after one period four times and after two periods twice. They won three times in overtime and twice in shootouts. At Philadelphia on Saturday, the Islanders trailed 3-0 in the third period before scoring three times in the last 12:14 to tie it and then winning in a shootout. At Pittsburgh on Tuesday, New York scored twice in the last 4:19 to tie the score 4-4 before winning in overtime.

The two comebacks made the Islanders the first team in NHL history to win consecutive games in which it trailed by multiple goals in the final seven minutes of regulation.

“There’s going to be games when you’re down in the score and you have to find to kind of get back in the game,” said veteran forward Derick Brassard, who has had a resurgence in his first season with the Islanders.

Trotz, in his second year in New York, has repeatedly said his players are so focused on the upcoming game they wouldn’t know about it except for reporters.

“The media seems to keep bringing it up, so we’re understanding the numbers now,” he said, “but really the mentality has been just look at the next game.”

Mathew Barzal has led the way with nine goals, but seven other players have scored at least three goals in the run. The goaltending has been stellar, with Thomas Greiss 7-0-0 with a 1.69 goals-against average and Semyon Varlamov 7-0-1 (2.45 GAA).

“We have a group of people that put a great plan in place for us and then we’ve got a group of guys who have committed themselves to going out there and executing that plan 100% of the time,” veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck said. “It’s never perfect but our goal is to make sure that mental errors don’t get in the way of us winning hockey games, and I think we’ve been able to do that over time.”

To set a new team point streak record, the Islanders will have to do it against the Penguins in the back end of the home-and-home set Thursday night. Pittsburgh is responsible ending New York’s two longest winning streaks – the 15-game run in 1982 and the 10-game stretch earlier this month on Nov. 7. In that loss, the Islanders took a 3-0 into the third period at home before the Penguins tied it and then won in overtime for New York’s only blemish since Oct. 11.

The Islanders were a surprise team last year, reaching the playoffs in the first year under Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. New York led the Metropolitan Division for a chunk of the season before finishing second and then reaching the second round. After the Islanders returned largely the same team this season without any big-name additions, many predicted a regression.

The Islanders are proving their doubters wrong again.

“Anyone that doubts us can doubt us, that’s up to them,” Clutterbuck said, “but there’s no doubt in here.”

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Fabbri, Pageau highlight this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Nick Paul, Senators – C/LW: Paul has gotten tastes of The Show for years now, but coming into this season he was far from established as a regular in the NHL. In 2018-19, he had a goal and an assist in 20 games while averaging a mere 8:28 minutes and the season prior to that he had a goal in 11 games while averaging 7:54 minutes. However, when he played in the minors, he was developing into a serious offensive threat, to the point where he scored 16 goals and 39 points in 43 AHL contests last season. Now he might finally be ready to apply those skills to the NHL. Over his last six games he’s scored two goals and six points in six games while averaging 17:03 minutes. The rebuilding Senators have given him a chance to prove himself and he seems to have taken advantage of it. Obviously, he’s still a significant risk, but it’s also worth noting that he’s only owned in 2% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re feeling aggressive, you can scoop him up now in the hope that this is just the start of something bigger.

Cal Clutterbuck, Islanders – RW: Clutterbuck is a bit of an interesting one from a short-term perspective. He’s spent his entire career as a bottom-six forward who makes his presence known physically and can chip in a bit offensively, but he’s logged over 16 minutes in each of his last six games. To put that in perspective, his average playing time over his entire 457-game tenure with the Islanders is 13:18 minutes. He’s done more offensively while his playing time has been up, scoring two goals and four points over those six games, which is pretty nice given that he’s also one of the best sources of hits in the league. His uptick in playing time is probably not going to last and it is worth noting that the Islanders have dealt with more than their fair share of forward injuries lately. Still, for now he’s an interesting pickup.

Tony DeAngelo, Rangers – D: DeAngelo had 30 points in 61 games in his 2018-19 breakout campaign and he’s been building off that this season. He has five goals and 13 points in 13 contests and he’s hot right now with at least a point in each of his last four games. If you look at his average ice time this season, you’ll see it’s at 17:58 minutes, down from 19:20 minutes in 2018-19, but that shouldn’t be taken as a warning sign. He only logged 8:09 minutes on Oct. 18th and that’s skewed down his average. From Oct. 10th onward, he’s averaged 18:49 minutes in 10 contests.

Jared McCann, Penguins – C/LW: McCann wasn’t a major offensive threat when he was with the Florida Panthers, but he was a young forward with upside. When the Penguins acquired him during the 2018-19 campaign, it offered him a fresh start and even the potential to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Malkin missed a major chunk of the season due to injury, but since returning on Nov. 2nd, McCann has been getting minutes with him. In fact, McCann has a goal and four points over his last two games with Malkin factoring in on three of those points. As long as he’s playing with Malkin, McCann should have some fantasy value.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Senators – C: Pageau isn’t exactly a major offensive threat most of the time, but he’s red hot right now. He’s on a four-game goal streak and five-game point streak. That’s brought him up to eight goals and 12 points in 16 contests this season, but don’t expect him to come close to maintaining that pace. Once he starts to cool down, you’ll want to re-evaluate owning him.

David Krejci, Bruins – C: Krejci had 20 goals and 73 points in 81 games last season, which made him a pretty compelling player to own in most fantasy leagues. What it didn’t do is convince fantasy owners that he would be a great option this season. Krejci was only drafted in 6% of leagues and his average draft position was 164.1. Now a lot of that has to do with him only having center eligibility and in fact, Krejci is a good example of just how deep that position is. Nevertheless, after shaking off an early season upper-body injury, he’s gotten on track with two goals and six points in six games. Even as a center, he should be good enough to be a factor on a lot of teams. He’s currently owned in 24% of Yahoo leagues.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jared Spurgeon, Wild – D: Spurgeon set a career-high last season with 43 points, but that was hardly an anomaly for him given that he had 38 points in 76 contests in 2016-17 and 37 points in 61 games in 2017-18, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that this season should produce more of the same. Certainly he’s on that track with two goals and 10 points in 17 contests. Even if that’s not enough to appeal to you, he’s still worthy of consideration as a short-term pickup given how hot he is. He’s scored a goal and six points in his last seven games.

Tyler Bertuzzi, Red Wings – LW/RW: The Red Wings are a terrible team this season, but there are a few silver linings on this squad. Bertuzzi is one of the main ones. He had six goals and 16 points in 19 games while averaging 19:32 minutes. He’s owned in 52% of Yahoo leagues, so the window on scooping him up is closing, but if you still have the option to grab him, you should seriously consider doing so.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: Rust suffered a hand injury in the preseason that prevented him from making his season debut until Oct. 26th, but he’s already made up for that lost time. He’s recorded at least a point in each of his six contests, giving him five goals and seven points in six games. It certainly doesn’t hurt that, like McCann, he’s been playing alongside Malkin recently. That makes this potentially more than just a hot streak, but even if it ends up being just that, he’s still worth considering as a short-term grab.

Robby Fabbri, Red Wings – LW/RW: Fabbri had 18 goals and 37 points in 72 games with St. Louis as a rookie in 2015-16, but injuries have proven to be a significant roadblock in recent years. Fast forward to 2019-20 and he’s healthy, but the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues just didn’t have a role for him. With that in mind, trading him to Detroit last week was something of a favor. It gives him a fresh start on a team with openings for young players. Fabbri has taken advantage so far with two goals and three points in two contests with Detroit.

Players You May Want To Drop

Nick Bonino, Predators – C: Bonino has been a pleasant surprise so far this season with eight goals and 13 points in 17 contests. Rather than being propelled by a major hot streak, he’s been fairly consistent in his contributions. While a hat trick on Oct. 29th certainly has skewed his goals total, it’s also true that he’s only been held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games once this season (Oct. 5-8). That said, his shooting percentage is at 25%, which is way higher than normal and doesn’t seem sustainable. His PDO and IPP are also similarly high, which are potential warning signs that he’s due for a regression. If you picked him up early and have ridden the wave then I wouldn’t advise dropping him at this time, but I do believe that you should at least see if you can cash him in for someone more likely to deliver long-term. As it is, there’s a good chance that he’s peaked in terms of value this season and will likely trickle down from here.

Erik Haula, Hurricanes – C/LW: After being limited to 15 games with Vegas last season due to a knee injury, Haula got a fresh start in Carolina in 2019-20 and was taking full advantage of it. He scored eight goals and 11 points through 14 contests, but the same knee that derailed him in 2018-19 is threatening to do so again. At first the injury didn’t sound too significant, but Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour went from describing him as day-to-day to saying that’s not the case. With Haula out indefinitely now, it’s unfortunately time to evaluate your alternatives.

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – C/LW: The Penguins got Galchenyuk in the Phil Kessel trade, but so far he hasn’t done much with his new team. It hasn’t helped that he’s missed time due to injury, but even while healthy he’s been limited to three assists in eight games. He’s averaging a modest 14:56 minutes per game, though he has seen some ice time with Crosby and Malkin. If you took him at the start of the season hoping that moving to the Penguins would give him a boost, it’s fair to drop him, but he is still interesting enough to warrant keeping an eye on.

Mikael Granlund, Predators – LW/RW: Granlund has fallen quick and hard offensively. He peaked in 2016-17 and 2017-18 with 69 and 67 points respectively, but last season he dipped to 54 points and so far in 2019-20 he has just two goals and four points in 17 games. He hasn’t recorded a single point in his last 12 contests and has fired an underwhelming 23 shots over that span. I think he’s fair to say he’s capable of more than this, but he’s not worth holding onto during this cold streak. If he starts to heat up then at that point he’ll be worthy of re-evaluation.

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat had two goals and five points in the span of four games from Oct. 26-Nov. 1, which drew some fantasy owners to him, but that hot streak has fizzled out. It’s worth noting that outburst corresponded with a stretch where he was averaging 18:49 minutes, but he has no points in his last two contests while logging 14:14 minutes and then 13:37 minutes. Palat is a solid secondary scorer who will have some hot streaks like that and periods of time where the Lightning lean on him more than usual, but his overall value over the course of a season is somewhat suspect in standard fantasy leagues.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Islanders’ winning streak reaches 10 games

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The New York Islanders are doing their part to silence the critics and doubters that were waiting for them to regress this season.

And they are silencing them emphatically.

With their 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night they extended their winning streak to 10 consecutive games, improved their record to 11-3-0 and pulled to within three points of the first place Washington Capitals while still having played in two fewer games.

After falling behind early, the Islanders scored four consecutive goals from four different players. Among the goal scorers were veterans Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Cizikas, and rookie Cole Bardreau who scored his first career goal — also the game-winner — on a penalty shot.

So, about the Islanders.

I admit I was one of the people that was, let’s say skeptical, of their chances to repeat last year’s success and wasn’t sure how they would do without Robin Lehner. It was going to be a big test to see how much of the success was goaltending and how much of it was a real change to the defensive structure to a roster that, quite honestly, isn’t exactly loaded with All-Star talent, especially up front. But the results are the results, and they keep winning. A lot. The Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole is going to be extremely competitive this season and the Islanders have certainly given themselves an outstanding cushion.

They have a chance to extend their winning streak to 11 games on Thursday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team they swept in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago.

Their next three games are all at home.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lee’s lead-by-example captaincy garners results for Islanders

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The New York Islanders could have played it safe a year ago when John Tavares bolted for Toronto.

But head coach Barry Trotz recognized an obvious candidate to fill a leadership role and didn’t hesitate to follow his instincts.

Anders Lee was in position to leave the organization as he headed toward unrestricted free agency and could have been the second captain in as many seasons to walk out the door.

But that didn’t stop Trotz from announcing Lee as the 15th captain in franchise history and the team is benefiting today from that important decision last season.

Lee changed the direction of the game with a critical goal in the early part of the first period in the Islanders’ 5-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday. The team’s seven-game winning streak is the longest (in a single season) since they won nine straight in the 1989-90 season per team statistician Eric Hornick.

The 29-year-old power forward won a race to the corner to help the Islanders establish possession in the offensive zone, then beat Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim to the back post to even the score at 3:17 of the first period.

”He’s our leader,” fourth-line center Casey Cizikas said. ”When you see him and he plays like that, getting to pucks, taking the body, fight in those dirty areas, you want to follow him. That’s what you want in your captain and he has done a tremendous job at leading us.”

The Islanders followed in Lee’s footsteps, scoring four of the next five goals as the team climbed to second place in the Metropolitan Division on the back of a seven-game winning streak following a 1-3-0 start to the season.

“You always look to your leadership and they’re going to set the tone,” Trotz said. “His (Lee) goal was a great example of leadership. Leadership is, you don’t have a license to do less, you have a responsibility to do more. He knew it was a big game, and he did more.”

The culture surrounding the Islanders has changed radically since Lou Lamoriello and Trotz arrived on Long Island. The Islanders have posted a 55-30-7 record and won a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for only the second time since the 1992-93 season.

[RELATED: In-depth look at Isles’ winning streak | Isles on the rise in Power Rankings]

The Islanders have established an identity over that time as a defensively sound team that frustrates opponents. But their mental toughness has been the team’s attribute that has seen the most significant improvement.

Take Sunday for example. Flyers forward Jakub Voracek scored 1:07 into the game and the Islanders didn’t blink.

”It didn’t affect us.” Trotz said of the early deficit. ”I thought our minds were in the right place. I don’t think it even fazed us.”

One of Lee’s most impressive traits is that he does a tremendous job creating a familial atmosphere that translates to success on and off the ice.

“We play for each other, it’s been a lot of fun,” said Derick Brassard.

Trotz and Lamoriello have played a large part in helping the Islanders form a new identity, but that message gets lost in the shuffle if a group of players is not able to relay the same information to their peers. Veterans Johnny Boychuk, Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck have been able to assist, but they are clearly following in the footsteps of Lee.

The organization took a gamble naming Lee captain at the start of last season, a risk that is paying huge dividends today.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Signing depth players long-term is usually losing move for NHL teams

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The Nashville Predators’ decision to sign Colton Sissons to a seven-year contract earlier this week certainly raised a lot of eyebrows around the NHL.

As PHT’s James O’Brien argued immediately after the signing, the salary cap hit is pretty reasonable and it might even be a decent value right now.

But it’s the salary cap that puts every contract in the league under a microscope. Teams only have so much money to spend, and every dollar they spend on one player is a dollar they do not have to spend on another player. Every dollar counts, especially if you a contending team that is probably going to be spending close to the cap. Mistakes and misevaluations matter, and if you get caught with too many of them at once it can have a negative impact. Because of that, teams need to make sure they are using their limited amount of money in the most efficient way possible, properly prioritizing what matters and what doesn’t, and the players that are worth committing to.

Traditionally, teams have mostly avoided long-term commitments to players that are not top-line players. This is especially true among teams that win and go deep in the playoffs. I say “mostly avoided” because there have been several instances outside of Nashville where teams have given lengthy term to depth players. The New York Islanders signed forwards Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck to five-year deals, and third-pairing defender Scott Mayfield to a seven-year deal. The Detroit Red Wings have Justin Adbelkader and Darren Helm on five-plus year contracts. The Kings gave Kyle Clifford a five-year deal several years back. The Pittsburgh Penguins gave Brandon Tanev a six-year contract this summer to play in their bottom-six after giving Jack Johnson a five-year contract one year ago.

Those are just a few examples of players that are currently under contract.

The question, though, is why teams would ever want to do this.

The answer is simple: By giving the player more term and more individual long-term security, it brings the salary cap hit down a little and helps the team in the short-term. But is that extra savings worth the long-term commitment to a player that may not retain their value over the duration of the contract?

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

One thing that has stood out about recent Stanley Cup winners and contenders is that pretty much none of them have had long-term commitments (five years or more) to players that played regularly outside of their top-six forwards or top-four defenders. It is practically unheard of. Identifying consistent lines and who is a “depth” player is a mostly inexact science. Coaches change line combinations constantly over the course of a season and a player’s role within a team can be a very fluid situation. For this, I simply tried to use even-strength usage as a way to identify a player’s spot in the lineup.

The table below shows the past six Stanley Cup winners and the players they had signed to contracts of five years or more in the years they won the Stanley Cup. Players highlighted in yellow were signed for six years (or more) at the time of the championship. Take a look at the names and see if you can identify a trend … they are almost all top-line players.

The only players on that table that were not either a starting goalie, a top-six forward, or a top-four defender are Olli Maatta with Pittsburgh in 2016-17 (he was top-four in 2015-16) and Mike Richards with Los Angeles in 2013-14 (he signed that contract in Philadelphia when he was a first-line center, and was a second-line center upon his arrival in Los Angeles in 2011-12).

I also looked at every team that made at least the Conference Finals in those seasons and found only five instances where a depth player was signed for more than five years. And even they have some asterisks next to them because they were at least signed with the intention of being more significant parts of their team.

  • Alex Killorn, signed for seven years, was outside of Tampa Bay’s top-six during their 2017-18 Eastern Conference Final run, but was in its top-six during its runs in 2014-15 and 2015-16. When he was signed, the Lightning probably figured he was going to be more of a top-line player. He has since been surpassed by a wave of talent that came after him.
  • Ryan Callahan also played third/fourth-line minutes for the Lightning during the 2017-18 playoffs but, like Killorn, played bigger roles in 2014-15 and 2016-17.
  • The Sharks had defensemen Brenden Dillon signed for five years to play third-pairing minutes 2018-19 and 2015-16 during their postseason runs
  • John Moore and David Backes (both signed for five years) were depth players on the 2018-19 Bruins.

Pretty much all of the Conference Finalists, and especially the Stanley Cup Finalists, over the past six full seasons had long-term investments in their stars and filled out their depth with younger, entry-level players and short-term veterans.

They were not giving out term to non-core players.

The problem with giving out term to depth players is that they can tend to be replaceable talents that may not maintain their current value throughout the duration of that term. You run the risk of that player regressing and not having the roster flexibility to bring in a cheaper and/or better player. If a star player ages and declines, they are still probably going to be giving you a solid return on that investment. The depth player may not, if they are even able to justify a roster spot.

Let’s take Sissons as an example. Right now he is a fine NHL player. Solid defensively, can chip in some offense, and plays a tough and often times thankless role within the Predators lineup. At around $3 million per year he is a fine investment … for now. Between the 2000-01 and 2012-13 seasons there were 14 players that were at a similar point in their development: Players that had played at least 140 games during the ages 24 and 25 seasons and averaged between 0.30 and 0.40 points per game, exactly where Sissons is right now.

Only five of those 14 players played an additional seven seasons in the NHL.

In professional sports dollars, an extra million or two over a couple of years is nothing more than a drop in the bucket to teams. But when the teams are limited by their leagues in what they can spend on players, little mistakes can quickly add up to big mistakes. The Penguins, for example, are now on the hook for $7 million over the next four years for the Johnson-Tanev duo, which is an egregious use of salary space for a contender pressed against the cap that is trying to get another Stanley Cup out of its Hall of Fame core over the next few years.

It is not just good teams, either. The Vancouver Canucks have spent the past two offseasons throwing big-money at the bottom of their roster and will enter this season with $12 million in salary cap space going to Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Myers for multiple years. The result of that is a bad team that only has $5 million in salary cap space and still needs to sign restricted free agent Brock Boeser. They are now in a position where they have to play hardball with their second-best player to get him signed, or have to make a desperation trade to clear salary cap space. It’s a headache that would have been easily avoidable had they not overspent on the bottom of their lineup.

As much as teams want cost certainty with their players and trying to secure their long-term salary cap outlook, it just doesn’t seem to make much sense to commit so many years to a player that isn’t going to be an impact player or a part of your core. The value probably will not remain, and it is going to limit what you are able to do in the future. There is not a third-or fourth-line player in the league right now that is so good at what they do that it is worth committing to it for five, six, or seven years. Age will eventually catch up to those players, and when they decline it is going to hit them even harder than the decline of a star.

Commit to your stars long-term because they can not easily be replaced.

The players around them usually can be.

More NHL Free Agency:
Sissons, Predators agree to seven-year contract
Predators being bold with term, but is it smart?
NHL Free Agency: Most long-term contracts will end in trade or buyout

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.