Let’s start with something I just want to touch on very briefly: William Nylander. The fact that he signed is a big deal, but I already dedicated so much time on the subject in past Nuggets columns that there isn’t much to add now that the contract has actually been signed.
I will say that I tend to be on the more pessimistic end in terms of what he’ll likely do this season. Given how much time he’s missed this season, I’m concerned about rust combined with the potential of his new big contract providing him with extra pressure. With that in mind, I’m penciling him in for 25-30 points the rest of the way, but if you look at what my fellow Rotoworld writers said in this week’s Roundtable, you’ll see that every one of them is predicting a better return out of Nylander than I am.
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The big news since my last Nuggets column though was Seattle being approved for expansion as the NHL’s 32nd team. They won’t start playing until 2021-22 though with their expansion draft set for June 2021, so it will be a while before this decision has an impact on the league. The expansion draft rules will be the same as Vegas’ though, so keep in mind that Seattle could be a contender right out of the gate even if it’s unlikely that they’ll do as well as the Golden Knights did in their inaugural season.
Vegas is also the only franchise exempt from the expansion draft (they aren’t getting a portion of Seattle’s expansion fee either), which creates an interesting dynamic that I haven’t really seen discussed yet (though maybe I’m not looking in the right places). Here’s what I’m thinking: In the lead up to the expansion draft, Vegas will be in an ideal position to trade picks and draft-exempt prospects in exchange for players that other teams were positioned to lose in the expansion draft. Vegas might be able to take advantage of the situation by acquiring those players at below market value because those team’s options are lose player X for nothing in the draft or lose them to Vegas and at least get something back.
In other words, Vegas could stand to gain a lot more from being exempt than just than just being the only one of the current 31 teams that doesn’t lose a player to Seattle. Vegas could be the natural Seattle alternative whereas there wasn’t an equivalent during the Golden Knights’ expansion draft. That in turn could result in Seattle selecting from a weaker pool than they otherwise would have, though the effect will be somewhat tempered. After all, while Vegas might take advantage of the situation to pull off a couple trades they might have otherwise been unable to do, there’s only so many players that the Golden Knights can realistically take, so it’s not as if every team or even a large number of teams will work something out with Vegas.
Moving on to something more immediate, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon have been an unreal combination this season. Rantanen is presently on a nine-game point streak that includes four goals and 17 points. In total, he’s scored 11 goals and 46 points in 28 contests, which puts him on pace for 135 points. Of course, it’s unlikely that he can maintain that pace, but it is always interesting to see how a player’s hot start measures up to other recent examples to get a better sense for if something is unprecedented.
Through Dec. 6, 2017 for example, Nikita Kucherov was leading the league with 19 goals and 40 points in 27 games, so there was someone close to mirroring Rantanen’s start, but not quite there. For reference sake, Kucherov finished with 100 points. No player was even close to this level in 2016, with Connor McDavid leading the pack with 11 goals and 34 points in 27 games, but in 2015, Patrick Kane had 16 goals and 41 points in 26 contests through Dec. 6. Kane finished with 106 points in 2015-16. If we jump back to 2013, we find our next decent example of this kind of start with Sidney Crosby, who had 15 goals and 41 points in 30 games en route to a 104 points campaign. Going back to 2010, Crosby had 23 goals and 46 points in 28 contests, but injury ended up limiting him to 41 games that season.
So by dialing back the clock, we can see that Rantanen’s start is on the high end for this era, but not completely unusual. Those who have done nearly as well as Rantanen up to this point of the campaign have typically ended up in the 100-110 point range, with 2010-11 Crosby being the only notable exception and in his case it was an injury that prevented it.
Despite his current nine-game point streak, Rantanen isn’t the league’s hottest player. He’s close, but if you look at the league leaders from Nov. 6 to present, Kucherov is in the lead with seven goals and 28 points in 15 games. Rantanen is part of a three-way tie for second place with 22 points in 14 games over that span. At this point, Kucherov isn’t too far behind Rantanen in the scoring race with Kucherov having 12 goals and 42 points to his name.
Kucherov’s strong play as of late has helped Tampa Bay through what might have otherwise been a rough patch. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t played since Nov. 10 and in his absence, Louis Domingue has a 2.91 GAA and .905 save percentage in 11 starts. The Lightning have managed to power through it, giving Domingue an 8-3-0 record during that stretch. Thanks to that, Tampa Bay is sitting atop the Atlantic Division even as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres hold the second and fourth best records in the NHL respectively. Vasilevskiy is expected to miss a few more weeks though, so the burden will be on Kucherov and the forwards to carry the team for a little bit longer.