Tyson Barrie

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Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Stromes among 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

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Washington took Burakovsky with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but he never had much of a role with the Capitals. Burakovsky averaged 12:45 minutes over 328 career games with the Capitals and his best output was 38 points in 2015-16. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s been given 15:11 minutes per game and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. He’s scored eight goals and 16 points in 20 games this season. Despite that strong start, he’s owned in just 23% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re interested, the odds are in favor of him being available in your league.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Early in Ennis’ career, he was a solid top-six forward, but his role declined substantially over the last couple years, to the point where the Maple Leafs gave him just 9:56 minutes per contest over 51 games last season. He’s been given a chance to rebound with the Senators though and so far he’s done alright with it. He got off to a pretty slow start with just two goals and three points in 12 games, but has settled in with three goals and six points in his last eight contests. His long-term value is still in question, but he’s worth the risk while he’s hot. 

Andrew Copp, Jets – C/LW: Like Ennis, Copp is a player who is hot now and thus worthy of short-term consideration, but also with the potential of having some staying power. First off, he has two goals and five points in his last six games, so clearly things have been working out for him lately. He’s never recorded more than 28 points in a single season, but he’s still relatively young at the age of 25, and he’s getting a far bigger role this season. He’s averaging 16:52 minutes, up from just 12:10 minutes in 2018-19. If he continues to get that kind of ice time, then there’s a fair chance that he’ll average out to be a solid secondary scorer.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Senators – LW/RW: Namestnikov began the season with the Rangers, but they traded him to the Ottawa on Oct. 7th in exchange for Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick. He only averaged 13:30 minutes in two games with the Rangers prior to the trade, but he’s managed to carve out a sizable role for him with the Senators. He’s averaging 17:27 minutes per game since the trade and that’s led to him contributing six goals and 12 points in 18 games. His eligibility on both wings provides owners with some critical flexibility, making him a solid fallback option if you need injury relief.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman had 22 goals and 36 points in 78 games last season, which isn’t too exciting by fantasy league standards, but his contributions tended to come in waves. That hot-and-cold nature makes him a potentially decent short-term pickup if you get the timing right and right now might be such an occasion. He’s on a three-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s action.

Dylan Strome, Blackhawks – C: Strome looked great after being acquired by Chicago last season, scoring 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. He’s been somewhat hot-and-cold so far this season, but lately everything has been clicking for him. He has a goal and nine points in his last six contests. Unfortunately he only has center eligibility and that’s a rather deep position, but at the least he’s worthy of consideration while he’s hot.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: While you’re at it, you may want to consider Dylan’s older brother, Ryan. The elder Strome has certainly has had some low points in his career already, but he seems to have finally put it all together this season. He has six goals and 18 points in 18 games while averaging 19:09 minutes. If he’s still available in your league, you should grab him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have gotten off to an unreal start to the season, but the rest of the Oilers’ offense has been lacking. Kassian has been something of an unlikely exception to that. The 28-year-old has never reached the 30-point milestone, but he already has seven goals and 15 points in 22 contests. A big part of his success has been getting to play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl. Just one of Kassian’s 15 points didn’t involve Draisaitl or McDavid.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: The biggest knock on Danault is that he only has center eligibility, but he’s been good enough that he’s worthy of consideration in spite of that. He has six goals and 15 points in 20 games while averaging 18:23 minutes per contest. He set a career-high last season with 53 points and it’s not unreasonable to believe that he will top that this time around.

Charlie Coyle, Bruins – C/RW: Coyle had 18 goals and 56 points in 82 games in 2016-17, but he hasn’t come close to that since. I’m not confident that this will be a bounce back season for him, but if you’re looking for a short-term pick up, then Coyle is pretty hot right now. He’s on a four-game point streak with two goals and five points over that span.

Players You May Want To Drop

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin hit the ground running this season with three goals and eight points in his first eight games and 12 points in his first 13 contests. He was limited to three assists in six contests from Nov. 2-15 though and now he’s out with an upper-body injury. It’s not clear how long he’ll be sidelined for, but he was moved to the injured reserve list. Between the injury and his hot streak being over, it might be time to move on.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: This is a tough one. Barrie had 57 points in 2017-18 and 69 points in 2018-19, but he’s done very little offensively with the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, he has no goals and six assists. The big X-Factor here is what might happen with Toronto’s coaching situation. There are certainly Leafs fans calling for Mike Babcock to be fired given the team’s shaky start, but is that actually going to happen? If it does, the new bench boss could make substantial changes that might lead to Barrie bouncing back. Those are some big ‘ifs’ though and in the meantime, he’s not much help.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had an incredible nine goals in his first eight games this season, but his offensive contributions have dried up. He’s scored three goals and five points in his last 14 games and has only found the back of the net once in his last eight contests. It wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually got hot again, but that might not happen for a while and in the meantime he doesn’t have much value to fantasy owners.

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen is another player who got off to a great start with a new team.  The defenseman had two goals and five points in nine contests and eight points in 14 games to start the campaign. He’s fizzled out though with an assist over his last six contests. Niskanen does chip in offensively, but not enough to make him worth owning long-term in standard fantasy leagues.

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz had 21 goals and 52 points in 78 games in 2017-18, but he was limited to 40 contests last season. So far this season he’s stood out with four goals and 16 points in 21 games, but those numbers are skewed by a stretch from Oct. 10-Nov. 5 where he scored four goals and 14 points in 13 games. Over his last six games, he’s been limited to two assists. I’m also a little worried about his role with the Coyotes. He’s averaging 15:48 minutes, which is down from 18:14 minutes in 2017-18 when he had those 52 points and 17:50 minutes last season.

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.

Maple Leafs GM gives interesting take on ‘polarizing’ players

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, and generally speaking, have seemed a bit underwhelming so far in starting 2019-20 with a 9-7-4 record (22 points, currently in second wild card).

Through 20 games, you’ll see players talk about getting “swagger” back, and you probably won’t be able to scroll Hockey Twitter without stumbling upon at least a few debates about the job Mike Babcock is doing.

With as passionate a fan base as the Maple Leafs have, you’ll see people really drilling down to parse even the depth aspects of the team. Maybe that explains why we got an interesting take from GM Kyle Dubas, who almost seemed to break “the fourth wall” when he acknowledged the many takes that defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie inspire.

Buffet of opinions

Dubas’ comments about Ceci are especially fascinating, as you can see from TSN’s Karen Shilton.

“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player,” Dubas said. “Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he’s good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he’s been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.”

In particular, Dubas captures the tenure of some Hockey Twitter debates when he says “it seems like every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum.”

But it’s not that hard to see where many of Ceci’s critics are coming from.

When the Maple Leafs acquired Ceci, and it became clear that he’d actually stick around for at least a while, the hope (for many) was that he wouldn’t have the same role as he did in Ottawa, where some believe the Senators promoted him to a level of incompetence. What if Ceci was in an easier role, with fewer minutes and lesser opponents? Instead, his ice time has been virtually unchanged from last season, and defensive measures like his Hockey Viz heat maps (via Micah Blake McCurdy) look as bad as ever:

But, truly, Dubas isn’t totally off base when he says that there are certain underlying numbers where Ceci comes across at least a bit more respectably.

There’s the argument, advanced by people like Jonas Siegel of The Athletic (sub required), that it’s too early to judge Ceci.

Maybe it’s too late; perhaps there’s an “eye test vs. analytics” divide that won’t be broken easily. It could be that the biggest uproar would come if the Maple Leafs brought back Ceci after his expiring deal melts away.

(Opinion: they absolutely should not bring Ceci back.)

Tyson not knocking it out of the park

In the grand scheme of things, the Ceci situation is basically going as prescribed.

The bigger disappointment might be Tyson Barrie, even if you ignore Nazem Kadri‘s promising early results in Colorado. The book on Barrie is that he can be an explosive offensive performer, although there were red flags about him negating much of that prowess with shaky defense.

Those red flags carry over to those Hockey Viz charts, as there’s a lot of the bad sort of red when you consider Barrie’s defensive impact (and arguably not enough of the good red on offense to justify that bleeding).

Keeping it as simple as it gets, Barrie barely has more points (zero goals, five assists, thus five points) than Ceci (one goal, three assists for four points). Those numbers are underwhelming even if you viewed Barrie as something of a paper tiger with superficial scoring stats coming in.

Maybe it’s telling that Dubas’ comments are more milquetoast about Barrie, stating that “we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here.”

***

Barrie, Ceci, and the Maple Leafs face a familiar foe on Friday in the Boston Bruins. In the Bruins’ own way, they want to get back on track too, as they’ve lost four in a row.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stunning numbers from first month of NHL season

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what stood out to us throughout the month of October. 

Carrying the offense, Edmonton edition: Let’s start with Edmonton’s insanely dominant duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl because right now there is nobody — NOBODY — in the NHL better than them.

Not only are they both among the top-five point producers in the league individually (again), they have (again) completely driven almost all of the offense for the Oilers. And when I say “all” that is not meant to be an exaggeration. There is almost no offense in Edmonton when these players are not on the ice. So far this season the Oilers have scored 42 goals. At least one of McDavid or Draisaitl has been on the ice for 33 of those goals, while they have both been on the ice for 31 of them. That means one of them has been on the ice for 79 percent of the team’s goals, while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every one of those goals they have been on the ice for. This is somehow even more top-heavy than last year’s team.

On this same date last year One of McDavid or Draisaitl was on the ice for 75 percent of the team’s goals, while one of them scored or assisted on “only” 68 percent of them.

Carrying the offense, Boston edition: The Bruins have their own dominant top line with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron carrying their offense. The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the big one here, having been on the ice for 28 of Boston’s 42 goals (66 percent) while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every goal with them on the ice.

Carlson’s start among the all-time best: With 23 points in the Capitals’ first 14 games John Carlson is off to one of the best offensive starts we have ever seen from a defensemen. Since the start of the 1979-80 season the only defenders with more points through their team’s first 14 games are Al MacInnis (27 in 1990-91) and Paul Coffey (24 in 1988-89). He is one of just 12 player to have at least 20 points through their team’s first 14 games, with the other 11 all doing it between 1980 and 1991 when the league was a goal-scorer’s dream.

No puck luck for Simmonds, Barrie: Toronto’s Tyson Barrie and New Jersey’s Wayne Simmonds currently hold the league for “most shots without scoring a goal.” Entering play on Friday Barrie has put 36 shots on goal without scoring, while Simmonds is still searching for his first goal after 34 shots for the Devils. No other player in the league has more than 28 shots without a goal, while Simmonds is the only forward with more than 25 without a goal.

Jonathan Quick‘s struggles are concerning: He is tied for the league lead in goals against with 36 entering Friday alongside Sergei Bobrovsky and David Rittich. For as much as the other two have struggled they have played in 11 and 12 games respectively. Quick has given up his 36 goals in only eight games. He has played 100 fewer minutes than Bobrovsky and more than 250 fewer minutes than Rittich.

Still the power play specialist: Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson still has one of the league’s most bizarre stat lines through the early part of his career, having scored eight goals in the first 19 games of his career (including six in 13 games this season). Every single one of those goals has come on the power play. Zero even-strength goals.

A very one-sided trade: Let’s check in on that James Neal for Milan Lucic swap. Neal has scored 12 goals in 14 games for the  Oilers. Lucic has zero goals and 18 shots on goal in 15 games for the Flames.

No lead is safe in New Jersey: Expectations were high for the Devils after a massive offseason, but with just two wins in their first 10 games they have been a pretty big disappointment. Things might be different if they could actually finish a game. Four of their losses this season have come in games where they held a two-goal lead at some point in the game, including a couple of third period leads. They can start the game, they just can not finish it.

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.

 

Ovechkin walks the walk; Tom Wilson wreaks havoc as Caps beat Leafs

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Alex Ovechkin was the one ruffling feathers heading into Tuesday’s Capitals – Maple Leafs game, yet Tom Wilson created the most controversy.

Overall, Washington’s 4-3 overtime win against Toronto was brimming with storylines:

Alex vs. Auston (and some Carlsson)

It was quite a duel between Ovechkin and Auston Matthews. Matthews started strong by assisting on an Andreas Johnsson goal just 40 seconds into the game, and finished with a goal and two assists. Ovechkin got the last laugh, however, with the overtime winner, finishing the night with a tremendous four-point performance (2G, 2A).

John Carlsson also continued his molten-hot start to 2019-20, scoring Washington’s first two goals. Carlsson now has an absurd 23 points in 14 games.

If you dream up a Capitals – Maple Leafs game from a marketing standpoint, you want stars to deliver, and that’s exactly what Ovechkin, Carlson, Matthews, and Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) did.

More fodder for Tom Wilson debates

The league probably wouldn’t be as excited to mull over more polarizing hits by the Patron Saint of Polarizing Hits, Tom Wilson. Jake Muzzin left Tuesday’s game and did not return following this one:

The more questionable of the two hits was probably this late one on Tyson Barrie:

Wilson was only penalized for the hit on Barrie (charging and roughing), but we’ll see if there is any supplemental discipline. Whether either of those hits were truly bad or just part of the game, Wilson’s made a few more enemies after Tuesday.

TSN’s Mark Masters reports that Mike Babcock said Muzzin’s injury is a charley horse, rather than something knee related, which could end up being a relief. There’s no timeline on his issue, though, so we’ll see.

Work to do

Via The Athletic’s James Mirtle, Babcock remarked, “Holy God there was a lot of penalties.”

Washington ended up going 2-for-7 on the night, with Ovechkin’s OT-winner being one of those PP goals. Toronto ended up 1-for-8.

Babcock aims to clean up the sort of play that Ovechkin criticized, but as he told Masters and others, it’s not something that will happen overnight.

“Well, I don’t know if he’s wrong. He knows because he lived it,” Babcock said. “If you look at Steve Yzerman, he lived it. A lot of the guys live it until they’re 30. You’ve got to decide whether you wait until you’re 30 or do you want to figure it out now …”

Babcock admitted that those comments probably hurt players’ (and his) feelings, they might be part of the learning experience that gets them to where they need to go.

Of course, one can debate how much the Maple Leafs need to change, or how they should change. Would there be success by clamping down — even leaning on the “Yzerman learned to play defense”* bit that’s almost a trope at this point — or, on the other hand, finding ways to fully embrace your offensive-minded talent?

Ovechkin’s experienced that experiment first hand, although it’s easy to forget how much the Capitals went through in getting from the Bruce Boudreau era to the stage where they finally won the Stanley Cup. Washington arguably swung to too much of an extreme, particularly under Dale Hunter, before finding a better mix lately. It also didn’t hurt that they found some other nice players to help make life easier for Ovechkin, Backstrom, and others.

So … basically, the debate about finding the sweet spot between stingy defense and aggressive offense is just about as polarizing as arguments over the latest Tom Wilson hit.

What we do know for sure: Ovechkin and Matthews scored a lot on Tuesday, and the Capitals won 4-3 in OT.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.