Ramblings: McDavid’s Contract; Backstrom and Kuznetsov; Free Agent Frenzy – June 29

by Michael Clifford on June 28, 2017 | (0 Comments)
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: McDavid’s Contract; Backstrom and Kuznetsov; Free Agent Frenzy – June 29

One of the two monster contracts that the Oilers are handing out this summer is expected to come in shortly, with Connor McDavid taking a full eight-year deal from the Oilers for roughly a $13 million average annual value.

As mentioned below, the percentage of the cap hit will be about the same as Sidney Crosby’s when he signed his mega-deal:

This has major implications for those in cap leagues, though it’s not unforeseen. Hopefully, McDavid’s cap league owners were preparing for this.

My only point here is to avoid the Death By A Thousand Cuts that so many real-world general managers suffer. A true generational player earning about 17 percent of his team’s cap – and that percentage should decline moving forward – through his true prime years is not a problem. What is a problem are the pieces with which he’s surrounded, and their cost. That is where fantasy owners need to be smart.

McDavid cap league owners don’t need to sell high him fear of the cap hit, they just need to be smarter about the other pieces of their team. Having McDavid isn’t an issue; having guys like Jonathan Toews and Justin Abdelkader on that same roster is an issue.

I would recommend our readers checking out Alex MacLean’s ‘Capped’ section here at Dobber, particularly a couple of articles he did in May on rebounds from injuries. It’s time to go bargain hunting!

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There are probably some fantasy owners out there disappointed with the performance of Evgeny Kuznetsov in the 2016-17 season. After posting 77 points two years ago, that was followed up with 59 points last year, and falling just short of the 20-goal mark with 19.

A big reason for those 77 points a couple seasons ago was leading the NHL in primary five-on-five assists with 28, a rate of 1.45 per 60 minutes. To put into context just how high that is, Connor McDavid led the NHL with 29 this past year, and Ryan Getzlaf led the league on a rate basis at 1.34 per 60 minutes. In the Behind The Net era, or since the start of the 2007-2008 season, this is the entire list of players with at least 28 five-on-five primary assists, excluding the one already named:

That’s it. The list is H. Sedin, Malkin, Richards, McDavid, and Kuznetsov. Rarified air, indeed.

This is just a long way of saying that putting up such a rate as a second-line centre likely meant that regression in this area was coming. Kuznetsov didn’t have a bad year, it’s likely our expectations were too high.

It does make me wonder, however, if his true fantasy potential will be fulfilled in the next few years. Even with the downturn in assist rate, he still had a higher rate than guys like Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. However, not being a high-volume shooter means that he probably needs around 40 assists a year to be a consistent 60-point player. To be more than a 60-point player, he needs those premier power-play minutes from the Capitals.

Last year, over 45 percent of Washington’s PP combinations were either Ovechkin-Johansson-Backstrom-Oshie, or the same first three with Justin Williams swapped in for Oshie.  Kuznetsov largely being left off the top unit gave him over a full minute less per game than Nicklas Backstrom. The difference in power-play points between the two (35 to 14) was most of the difference in their total production.

This is a shame, too, because it appears that Kuznetsov has all the making of the next Backstrom. Here is where they stood between their respective Age 22-24 seasons, at five-on-five:

 

Kuznetsov, 2014-17 (3208:10 minutes)

Backstrom, 2009-12 (2954:52 minutes)

Goals/60

0.56

0.80

Assists/60

1.48

1.48

Primary assists/60

1.01

0.80

Points/60

2.04

2.28

iCorsi/60

12.08

12.66

Shots/60

6.86

7.26

Shooting Percentage

8.17

11.02

 

The two discernible differences here are the goals – which is largely explained by shooting percentage – and the points per 60, but the difference in points is completely from goals. At least numbers-wise, these two players performed very similarly in the same age range.

Back to the original point, however, is that unless Kuznetsov gets those coveted top power-play minutes, he might not reach the fantasy heights that Backstrom consistently has. Also, even if Williams leaves in free agency, he’s a right-shooting winger who often plays the net-front on the PP. Kuznetsov is a left-shooting centre who is more, at least in what he’s shown to this point of his career, to be more of a distributor. He could take Marcus Johansson’s spot – and probably should – but until he does, it will be hard for him to reach his fantasy potential year after year. He might be the next Nicklas Backstrom, it’s just unfortunate for his fantasy owners that he plays on a team that has the actual Nicklas Backstrom.

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Free Agent Frenzy is just a couple days away, and we’ll be around covering the signings from a fantasy angle on Saturday, July 1st. Be sure to check in here at Dobber this weekend for your coverage (in between barbecues and beers).

I have something else planned for my Ramblings on Saturday, so I wanted to discuss free agency a bit here first. Not only players to watch, but landing spots to watch for as well.

Free agent data is pulled from Cap Friendly, by the way.

Joe Thornton

From the rumours, it appears Thornton would like to return to San Jose, and having the team bring Marleau back. It’s not hard to understand why – this is still a pretty good team, a year removed from a Cup Final.

I have talked in previous Ramblings that the Canadiens would be a fit (and that’s likely just my homer hat talking there). Realistically, what team couldn’t use a centre who would slot as a very good number 2 centre, could play a number 1, and engineer a power play? For all the talk of Kevin Shattenkirk – and he’s very good – Thornton is probably the single most impactful free agent out there. Go get that Cup, Joe!

Andrei Markov

Signing a defenceman whose knees are held together with spit and duct tape, going into his Age 39 season, is usually not a very wise move. Funny thing about this is, when the Habs signed his three-year deal in 2014, I thought the same thing. Alas, this sentiment was wrong.

It’s not as if Markov has fallen off a cliff and is looking for a pity one-year deal, either. This is a blue liner with 80 points in his last 144 games, which gives him a higher point per game mark in that span than names like Alex Pietrangelo, Justin Faulk, and Rasmus Ristolainen. He has still been incredibly productive into his late thirties.

The biggest question for any team looking to sign him will be a matter of usage. At this point, even with as good as he still is, he’s probably better suited for second-pairing minutes, and top power-play time, rather than playing heavy minutes every night. That’s fine – almost every team can use a second-pairing guy who can run a power play.

I am curious as to where he’s going to sign, though. Most teams that could be considered Stanley Cup contenders already have a power-play quarterback (Pittsburgh, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Washington, and so on). I have no real insight as to his thought process, but I would think that, at this point of his career, he wants to be on a contending team. Is that back in Montreal? We’ll see. Wherever it is, his value is tied to his power-play minutes, so his landing spot will heavily influence his value.

Radim Vrbata

Teams usually overpay for free agents, but it feels like, invariably, the guy with a similar five-on-five scoring rate over the last three years to Jeff Carter and Wayne Simmonds is going to get plucked late on a one-year deal. Such is the nature of the NHL.

There are not many teams that aren’t consistently looking for scoring. Perhaps Vrbata isn’t the most efficient shooter – he’s shooting just 8.7 percent since the most recent lockout – but finding players who can average 20 goals a season isn’t easy, either. This is a guy who can slot in on most third lines to provide some depth scoring, and play the power play. He is always undervalued in fantasy thanks to where he’s usually playing, so keep an eye on where he lands. 

 

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