The NHL season has started, meaning we finally have statistics that matter…but only barely. I could say that Rickard Rakell won’t have a 246-point campaign despite him technically being on pace for one, but that’s so blatantly obvious that it’s not worth further discussion. However, it is the case that there will come a point in the very near future – I’d give it about two weeks – where fantasy owners will start to genuinely worry about star players that are underperforming or look at rookies or previously low-level players that are suddenly on a 60-70 point pace in a whole new light.
Context is going to be the key for those situations and I’ll try to point out the particularly interesting cases in future editions of this column as they arise. For now though I’d recommend being generally cautious about the statistics you see at least until we’re into November. I don’t much harm in picking up a player that has surprised you because the cost is presumably just dropping bubble player to create roster space, so it’s a low-risk gamble. The danger will be in the trade market. Like for example, let’s say Tuukka Rask gets lit up once or twice more over his next seven starts and that makes him look particularly unappealing. At that point, some people might be resigned to trade him at a reduced rate, which is where the bigger danger lies.
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One bit of news that we can talk about with obvious implications is the 20-game suspension of Tom Wilson. That can be appealed so it is possible that he won’t end up missing a quarter of the campaign, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a neutral arbitrator does decide to uphold the suspension should it reach that stage in the first place. Although Wilson’s suspension is rather long if his most recent actions are taken in a vacuum, his long history suspensions despite his career being relatively young does make it pretty easy for the NHL to justify their actions.
In the end, perhaps this suspension will be even to Wilson’s benefit. He has big discipline issues – you only need to look at the fact that he’s finished in the top-five in penalty minutes for four straight years to see that – and it’s getting to the point where he’s in danger of wasting his talent. Wilson is perfectly capable of being a major factor in games both through his gritty play and his skill. He played a significant role in the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup and while his six-year, $31 million contract is perhaps richer than he should have gotten, it’s easy to see why Washington wanted to lock him up ahead of his prime years.
He’s a good enough player that every time he gets himself into trouble with the Department of Player Safety, he’s making things worse for his teammates by taking himself out of the equation. Hopefully that, if nothing else, will eventually convince him to amend his game. Otherwise, talented or not, he’ll go down the path of Raffi Torres at this rate.
Another matter right now is William Nylander, who has missed all of training camp and the Maple Leafs’ season opener as a restricted free agent. He had 61 points in each of his first two seasons, so naturally his absence is being felt both by fantasy owners who took a chance on him and the Leafs themselves – though Toronto won its season debut over Montreal anyways.
I can understand why there would be an impasse. Toronto has roughly $12 million of cap space for this season, so there’s obviously room for him right now, but when you look at John Tavares’ $11 million annual salary, factor in that Auston Matthews could very well get more than that and Mitch Marner is going to command a pretty hefty salary as well, the Maple Leafs need to be careful when it comes to these contract negotiations. If not having Nylander for the first couple of weeks of the season ends up equally even a few hundred thousand dollars in cap savings annually, then that’s likely a trade they’re willing to make.
That said, this whole ordeal could mean significantly more than Nylander missing a few weeks. A young player, even a highly skilled one, who misses training camp and the start of the season could take quite a while to get back into the swing of things. Even if Nylander signed today, I would be worried about him underperforming in October and November as a result of what he’s already missed. There’s no guarantee of that of course, but the point is that this contract situation has made him a significantly bigger risk than he would have otherwise been.
Speaking of contract situations, Sergei Bobrovsky is entering the final season of his deal, which makes Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella’s decision to start Joonas Korpisalo for the season opener on Thursday all the more intriguing. It is the first in a back-to-back set, so Bobrovsky will simply start on Friday instead, but typically you would assume that the honor of playing in the first game of the season would be reserve for the number one goaltender. You would also think that Bobrovsky would clearly be in that role given that he won his second Vezina Trophy in 2017 and still finished in the top-10 of Vezina Trophy voting in 2018. On the other hand, Korpisalo has potential, but posted a 3.32 GAA and .897 save percentage in 18 contests last season.
So there really is no comparing their resumes, but the Blue Jackets might hope that Korpisalo will be able to step up and assume the starting gig if they don’t think that re-signing Bobrovsky is in the cards for them. It’s also possible that we’re reading too much into Tortorella’s decision. Tortorella certainly made that argument this afternoon. Plus at the end of the day, I still expect Bobrovsky to get the lion’s share of Columbus’ starts this season, so what does Korpisalo starting in the opener really change? Maybe nothing, but it will be interesting to see how the goaltending situation develops over the next couple weeks in Columbus to see for sure.