May 21, 2015

by Michael Clifford

Rangers-Lightning combine for 11 goals, Stamkos is just fine, Babcock to Toronto, and Blackhawks-Ducks Game 3. 


Game 3 between the Lightning and the Rangers was one of the most entertaining yet these playoffs. Sometimes games are entertaining because they are goalie duels. Sometimes it’s for the physical nature. This game had two blown two-goal leads, a tie game broken by Tampa Bay with just under six minutes left, and the game tied by New York with under two minutes left. Sometimes the track meet games where no lead is safe is pretty darn entertaining too. It should go without saying that it wasn't a banner night for either goaltender, though the goals seemed more a function of the skill of the skaters than their poor play. That's an important distinction before labelling this one a clunker for both goalies. 

Tampa Bay’s top scoring line of Tyler Johnson Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat accounted for four of the six Tampa Bay goals, with Kucherov scoring the overtime winner. Kucherov just coasted to the middle on a rush and snapped a shot just inside the far post to give the Lightning a 2-1 series lead with a 6-5 overtime win.

With a two point effort last night, Steven Stamkos now has 11 points in his last nine playoff games going back to the start of the Montreal series. For whatever reason he struggled against Detroit, he most certainly has not since that series. With the Tyler Johnson line doing so well, it’s almost got lost in the shuffle that Stamkos is back to being Stamkos.

It figures this type of game had to happen once. For as good as both goalies can be, there is a load of speed and skill up front for both teams. Even the elite goalies aren’t elite every games, and neither are elite teams. I don’t think this figures to be the norm for the rest of the series, so it’s nice as a change of pace.


Just wondering aloud, as a trio, is there another line that is better than Tampa Bay's Johnson line? There are a lot of good duos like Perry/Getzlaf, Backstrom/Ovechkin, Seguin/Benn, and so on. There are few lines that really stay together as a trio for a very lengthy amount of time that have the success they do. Of course there is the Jonathan Toews line with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad. An honourable mention to Taylor HallRyan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle. The Sedins with Radim Vrbata were pretty good when they played together.


So the saga is over and Mike Babcock is going to be the Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs for a long time (hopefully). The team that hasn’t made the playoffs in an 82-game season since before the 2004 lockout gets the coach that hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2004 lockout. As Diane Keaton might say, Something’s Gotta Give (I'm sure she's never said that). The fantasy take from Dobber is here

There is still a lot of work to be done in Toronto. If they are hiring a General Manager, that needs to be checked off, and likely pretty soon with the draft next month. As of today, from NHLNumbers, the team has 13 players under contract for next season, and one of those is Nathan Horton. Among the players needing to be re-signed is goaltender Jonathan Bernier. He’s been good for Toronto, but what interests me the most I suppose is what term he gets from the team.

Toronto’s blue line might seem like a bit of a question but that’s been the case in Detroit since Nicklas Lidstrom retired anyway. I don’t think that’s something Babcock will struggle to deal with. Maximizing the potential of Nazem Kadri is one important task that comes to mind.

The only real question that may not have a solid answer for years is what the team does with the young potential stars. William Nylander looks like one, and they may get one in the draft this year too. Will the Leafs adopt Detroit-style development where players are left in the AHL for a few years, or does that stay in Detroit with Ken Holland? For fantasy purposes, it’s important for dynasty and keeper league players. Nylander was impressive in his rookie year and carries good dynasty value. That value changes if his development time changes.

I’m a Montreal fan but it’s easy to admit that the NHL is more interesting when Toronto is a good team. There seems to be a lot of turnover coming to this team in the next couple of years but they have the management pieces in place to succeed (so far). As always, players win championships, so Babcock can only do so much with whatever roster he is given.


It seemed like Buffalo and Toronto were the last two teams that were really in the running to get Babcock. It’s an interesting pair of teams because of where both are in stages as a franchise. Which team looks more appealing to a coach? Set aside the legacy of turning around the Maple Leafs as a franchise, which roster (including draft picks and minor leaguers) looks to be heading in a better direction?

I think Toronto will have the better team next year, and the Sabres have a long way to go considering the quality of the product on the ice the last couple of seasons. I suppose if I’m looking to be a consistently good team for years, Buffalo is on the right track, and Jack Eichel helps a lot. It doesn’t seem to be clear-cut one way or the other, though.


One area Buffalo needs some work before they have any hope of taking a step as a team is in net. Any goalie that dared perform well for the Sabres was traded last year, and AHLer Andrey Makarov still has much to prove. Maybe improving a lot next year isn’t in the plans so it doesn’t matter, but it’s been hard to get much fantasy value from this team for a while now. I don’t think that changes next year.

I don’t see the Sabres being one of the bidders on Antti Niemi for free agency. This team needs a year for many of their young players to develop together, learn from a new coach, and just improve from top to bottom. This isn’t a team that needs to spend money in goal just yet. Targeting someone like Thomas Greiss or Viktor Fasth would make sense.


With overtime two nights in a row now, let’s see if Anaheim-Chicago can make it three. Apologies to the sportswriters out there. The more overtime hockey, the better.

Chicago was able to take a game in Anaheim which, given the Ducks’ home record, seems to be a pretty important accomplishment. Marian Hossa got on the board on the power play in Game 2, but his line seemed to have some very good shifts at five-on-five as well. Again they were matched against the Ryan Kesler line, and again they seemed to get their opportunities. The even strength goals will come for them, though we’ll see how Joel Quenneville matches things up for Game 3.


The big concern for Chicago is the load on their defense. At one point last night during the overtime, the Blackhawks had four defensemen with more ice time than any Ducks player (and three Chicago d-men ended up leading all skaters in ice time). Using the same four players so heavily on the back-end can’t sustain itself for long. As games wear on, the players will wear down. It’ll be interesting to see if this strategy changes at all moving forward. 


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