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Hockey Daily Dose

Dose: Leafs Learnings

by James O'Brien
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Back in the 2011-12 season, many saw the Minnesota Wild’s hot start as a fluke, causing a flame war between “statheads” and “traditionalists” (or whatever you’d like to name the two “groups” … which is unfair since there are plenty of people who rest somewhere in the middle). For quite some time, the Wild seemed like they would defy the odds … until they didn’t.


As Cam Charron and Tyler Dellow noted heading into the 2013-14 season, this season’s Toronto Maple Leafs serve as the most fascinating - and potentially heated - point/counterpoint for the two crowds. While the move to add Jonathan Bernier was more reasonable (if harsh toward James Reimer, who came into this season with better career stats, albeit both in small sample sizes in the NHL), nearly every splashy transaction seemed to indicate that Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis were taking a “My way or the information superhighway” approach.


Maybe the most glaring example:


Out: a “fancy stats”-beloved and Carlyle-hated player in Mikhail Grabovski; In: A guy who openly acknowledged Wendel Clark comparisons (pleasing traditionalists) who also seemed to carry numbers that might be difficult to duplicate in David Clarkson.


For much of the season, the Maple Leafs managed to hang in there, seemingly by hook-or-by-crook. The true Kool-Aid drinkers could crow about quality vs. quantity when the Maple Leafs’ jarring shot disparities were noted. After all, they were still in playoff position.


And then … well, they came crashing out as if Old Cranky Man Regression had procrastinated in doing his job until the season was nearly over. Now the Maple Leafs find themselves with few answers and many questions in fighting an uphill battle against the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals for one of the two final spots in the East.


So, are there any fantasy lessons to be learned? I’m glad you fake-asked.


(And I’m going to transition to non-Leafs topics fairly quickly, because there is really a lot to say about good and bad luck this weekend.)


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-- James Reimer didn’t deliver in his big time: I’m generally pretty easy on netminders in tough positions (see: Devan Dubnyk), but every now and then, a seemingly competent one doesn’t pass in a big opportunity: (see … Devan Dubnyk).


I agree with Reimer’s agent that the Maple Leafs hang their goalies out to dry, especially in the Carlyle era. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that he only generated one win in eight high-profile March tries in a contract year. If goalies have “8 Mile” moments, then Reimer was nearly electrocuted by his microphone.


(The Leafs’ defense was the microphone and Carlyle is the negligent venue in this analogy, while the manager breaking the gate is clearly Reimer’s agent. Just to help.)


-- Phil Kessel can’t do it all: If you want a good sign that someone is throwing out the laziest criticism possible, you usually don’t need to look much further than a pundit bashing the best player on a team.


Kessel has 77 points this season, meaning he’s been directly involved (goal or assist) in 77 of the Maple Leafs 220 goals. Even ignoring goals he’s been on the ice for where he didn’t record a point, that’s one-third of the Leafs’ offense.


Kessel was called a “one-trick pony” during a recent telecast, which makes me wonder if scoring a bunch of goals and generating a ton of assists counts as a single trick. And if so, how many “tricks” are there, really? *Feels blood pressure rising dangerously*


The bottom line is that the Maple Leafs have been riding Kessel’s line, high shooting percentages and unsustainable goaltending for quite some time and the inevitable happened. Does that mean an epic eight-game slide was predictable? No, it wasn’t easy to see such a tumble coming in this exact way but let’s face it: they’ve basically been winning at Russian roulette for an absurd amount of time.


If there’s a fantasy lesson to take away, it’s this: if someone’s insanely lucky, don’t just assume it will continue to happen. Make note of your guys who are riding crazy waves of luck and develop a contingency plan.




… Which segues nicely into a few “character studies.”


-- Gustav Nyquist’s sublime streak continued through this weekend, to the point where people cannot help but throw the phrase “Hart Trophy candidate” around. So is he for real?


I don't know, but what I do know is that he probably isn't THIS real. Veteran readers of the Daily Dose know that the first way I sniff out a red-hot scorer is by looking at his shooting percentage; in Nyquist's case, it's 19.6 percent, almost doubling the Mason-Dixon line of 10 percent for NHL shooters. My advice would be to assume that his more expected output would be 14 goals (138 shots at 10 percent, rounding up to be nice), which would bump him down to the low 30's in points instead of 45. Which, honestly, isn't half-bad anyway.


Of course, there are other factors to consider. Assuming the Red Wings aren't so stodgy as to deny his breakout, would Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk's returns embolden or hinder his future production? You'd think the answer would be embolden, but maybe he feels like this is "his" team right now and wouldn’t then?


Nyquist has nice AHL stats. I think he could be a nice player. Still, chances are, someone will over-spend on him for 2014-15 … so maybe wait for them to drop him in a hissy fit?


-- Nyquist (60 percent owned) is Dose-approved for this season, though, no doubt. An even longer-term Dose-approved player - with caveats - has been Valtteri Filppula (62 percent owned), who might have the stealthiest 12-game point streak of the season.


The answer for Filppula is more obvious than Nyquist because he has more of a track record: the former Detroit Red Wings center is playing over his head with a 20.3 shooting percentage.


The difference is that Nyquist is putting up nice SOG numbers while Filppula isn’t. He only has 123 SOG in 70 games this season and has never had more than 129 in any single campaign. I'm not saying Filppula is a fraud, I'm just saying he's unlikely to deliver many 25-goal seasons, even in a fairly nurturing environment in Tampa Bay.




-- If you ask me, Ovechkin's -34 rating is as much of barometer of bad luck (and a mediocre Capitals supporting cast beyond the splendid Nicklas Backstrom) than Ovechkin's deficiencies. There is plenty of literature out there to denounce the plus/minus condemnation; see here, see interesting point/counter-points here and so on.


But let’s humor the haters out there and ask a question: is Ovechkin worth a first-round pick if he’s awful in plus/minus for the rest of his career (note: he won’t be; he’s a career +48 and is unlikely to suffer from such a weird season)?


I’d say yes, though it naturally depends upon when you’re picking (hard to deny Sidney Crosby and Steve Stamkos, health permitting):


1. He's easily the most prolific goalscorer; Ovechkin has 48 goals, towering over Corey Perry (38 in three more games) and Joe Pavelski (38 in five more games) along with the rest of the league. Stamkos certainly can keep pace if he’s healthy ... and that's probably about it.


2. He's a ridiculous shot producer. He's generated the most SOG in every season since 2005-06 except 2011-12, when he came in fifth. He has 363 this season, while no one else even has 300 yet.


3. While his PIM can range, he's a prolific hitter. He has 194 hits this season, tied for 27th. You won't see many top scorers who will do that, especially since Joe Thornton decided to surf instead of remain a power forward once he became a San Jose resident.


4. Oh yeah, he’s also the rare elite winger, which is very important in formats that divide positions rather than just copping out with “F” for all forwards.


So, in summation … continue drafting Ovechkin with premium picks. And continue thinking whatever you think about Ovi, even if you’re wrong.


(Note: If you want to beat up Ovechkin more fairly, failing to score an even-strength point in March > plus/minus stats that are affected by many factors out of his control.)


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James O'Brien
James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.