The next generation of NHL talent will find a home Friday and Saturday and THN's tracker shows you where each of the prospects is headed.
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We're far enough into the season that certain players' slow starts have become more than that. Is it time to cut bait on formerly reliable studs like Kuznetsov?
It's almost time to toss "don't panic" talk out the window in fantasy hockey leagues. Slow starts are insurmountable at this juncture in most pools, but GMs should start identifying and assessing their problem areas. Some struggling stars can still shake off their slumps, but others are showing legitimate red flags right now. The sample sizes are big enough to warrant worrying in certain cases.
That seems to be the theme of almost every question I received for this month's mailbag. Plenty of you find yourselves at crossroads with some typically valuable fantasy commodities. Let's see if I can help you make some tough decisions.
Austin Gagne (@gagne31): Who are the top 10 prospects outside the NHL?
Fun question, Austin, and I'll use it as a chance to plug our recent special THN magazine, Prospects Unlimited. In that edition, we ranked the top 100 players aged 21 and younger at any level. That included current NHLers, players drafted to the NHL but not yet playing there, and even youngsters years away from their draft years. As for a top 10 prospects outside the NHL, I'll pull the best 10 from Prospects Unlimited. I'll include their overall rank too (as they're mixed in with 21-and-under NHLers like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, too):
Note the inclusion of Connor. He just got sent to the AHL, so he's not an NHLer right now.
Ryan Kleinau (@rkleinau): Will Semyon Varlamov ever turn it around, or is keeping him as one of my two starting goalies a mistake?
Varlamov is undoubtedly better than his season numbers suggest. He's actually improved a bit of late, posting a .926 save percentage over his past eight appearances. Still, it's understandable to be concerned about him. He has a bad team playing in front of him. He regularly faces 30 to 40 shots in a game. He has a good backup behind him in Calvin Pickard. If your league is relatively deep and relies on volume goalie stats such as saves, however, I wouldn't cut bait on Varlamov yet. Your best-case scenario might be a real-life trade that puts him on a better team. It could happen.
Darrell Samuels (Darrell_Samuels): I am first in my pool. Goalies are Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury and Devan Dubnyk. Tempted to move Fleury. Do I deal him? #Dealornodeal
If you can move Fleury for another goaltender with a clearer path to regular starts, go for it. We know the Penguins can't finish the year with Fleury and Murray, as it would mean losing Murray in the expansion draft (Fleury has to be protected because of his no-movement clause). So rather than sit on a platoon and wait for a Fleury trade, why not use him to secure yourself goalies from three different teams, increasing your ceiling of starts? That said, I wouldn't rush to move Fleury for a skater, especially if teams in your league carry many goalies and rotate them, as you won't get enough starts from just Murray alone. If you can buy low on a Freddie Andersen type for Fleury, though, do it.
Bran Glen (iB20GLEN): Who wins this trade: Wayne Simmonds, Max Pacioretty and Vincent Trocheck for Patrik Laine, Dylan Larkin and Marc-Andre Fleury? #keeperpool
This is a slam-dunk. Any team acquiring Laine in a keeper pool is in good shape. And you get Larkin coming your way on top of that? This one's a no brainer. Laine is a top-10 forward commodity already in keeper formats.
Harold P (@howie379): Do you like Patrick Maroon from Edmonton?
He's a handy and underrated player in fantasy. I have him on my team in my most important league. He's played 45 games as an Oiler over the past two seasons, amassing 16 goals, 27 points, 62 penalty minutes and 100 hits. Pro-rated to an 82-game season: 29 goals, 49 points, 113 PIM, 182 hits. That's a valuable stat line in any league. He's a nice depth option who gets chances to play with Connor McDavid from time to time.
Robert Doane (@Daybreak_Dude): Your expected BIGGEST second-half producers with slow starts?
I'll single out three top-flight producers from last year: Johnny Gaudreau, Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov.
The three-week injury layoff seemed to do 'Johnny Hockey' wonders, as he's returned to the lineup possessed, with three straight two-point games. He's making up for lost time. It wouldn't be remotely surprising to see him score at a top-five rate the rest of the year.
As for Kopitar, he's done this before. He had 13 points in 23 games through the end of November last season, then had 61 points in 58 games from December onward. He'll be just fine.
Barkov, though, is probably my favorite buy-low in the whole league right now. He's scoring on just 7.7 percent of his shots and is a 12.8 percent career shooter, so he's in store for positive regression. He's an outstanding possession player who generates lots of shot attempts. He's already starting to come out of his slump, with 10 points in his past 11 games. The overall season line of 5-13-18 in 28 games doesn't look too special, though, so it's worth trying to steal him in a trade from an oblivious owner.
Ben gravel (@Powerforward68): Evgeny Kuznetsov AND Andre Burakovsky? What's up with them?!?
Bad sign: I chose Kuznetsov for the main photo in the previous mailbag, too. It's been a problem all season. Owners understandably drafted him expecting a top-10 scorer after he was one last year. So what on Earth is wrong with the kid? We can't blame it on deployment. Kuznetsov's most common linemate this season has been Alex Ovechkin, and Kuznetsov's ice time has been virtually identical to last year's. On one hand, Kuznetsov has some of the game's best pure hands, and he's bound to get hot at some point, so he's a decent buy-low target. On the other hand, if you're buying low, aim to get him for 75 cents on the dollar. Don't give up too much, as he's shown some red flags. Kuznetsov shot the puck 2.35 times per game last year and has tumbled to 1.60 this year. He seems to be more hesitant. Concern is officially warranted.
As for Burakovsky, he's just not quite established yet as a consistently dangerous NHL scorer. He's prone to streaks and slumps, and he doesn't always play on Barry Trotz's top two lines. I wouldn't blame anyone for dropping him, but the funny thing is…if you do, I'd advise other GMs to scoop him up. His shooting percentage is way below his norm, and his upside makes him worth a one-week flier for any team.
Chris Pumo (cpumo21): What's up with Filip Forsberg???
Forsberg's struggles are a fluke in my eyes. He still gets lots of ice time. His shooting percentage is ridiculously low. He'll go on a tear soon enough. Don't worry about him.
Terry Cain (@tcain47): Due for a comeback or not: Patrice Bergeron? Tyler Johnson?
Bergeron for sure. He remains an absolutely elite defensive forward, the sport's best, and will always get oodles of ice time as a result. Bergeron is also shooting the puck at close to his normal rate. The pucks will start going in. He's due for a huge surge. Johnson, on the other hand, confounds me a bit. It's starting to look like his 72-point breakout of 2014-15 was an anomaly.
Jasoc Pullen (@JacobPullen): Will Jamie Benn get back to normal?
I think he will. He's still producing at close to a point per game. It's possible Benn just needed time to get physically comfortable after recovering from core muscle surgery, which forced him out of the World Cup. I predict a big second half.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Kevin Dineen father Bill Dineen head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers pose for a photo before the game against the Boston Bruins at the Boston Garden.
Inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2014, Dineen led the Adirondack Red Wings to Calder Cups in 1986 and 1989.
The hockey world lost a coaching icon on Saturday.
The American Hockey League confirmed the passing of Bill Dineen at age 84.
Inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2014, Dineen led the Adirondack Red Wings to Calder Cups in 1986 and 1989. During his six seasons behind Adirondack’s bench, he led the club to a 246-182-52 record and won the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach twice.
“During his time as a player and coach, and in the values he instilled in his family, Bill Dineen created a legacy of greatness in the American Hockey League that still resonates today,” said David Andrews, AHL President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our deepest condolences go out to the entire Dineen family at this time.”
Bill’s sons Shawn, Peter, Gord, Kevin and Jerry all went on to play and/or coach in the AHL. Gord Dineen is currently the associate coach of the Toronto Marlies.
Our thoughts are with Associate Coach Gord Dineen today, as the hockey community mourns with the family over the passing of Bill Dineen.— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) December 10, 2016
Kevin Dineen is currently an Assistant Coach with the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Bill Dineen was a tremendous man," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN's Tracey Myers. "Everyone who had the privilege to meet Bill and be around him loved the guy. He was probably one of the most liked people you'd ever want to meet.
"Great family man; the kids are just like the dad. We had a good time with him on the dad's trip last time. Seeing him at that stage and being around hockey again, it was fun to be there."
During his playing days, Bill Dineen was a four-time 20-goal scorer over six AHL seasons with Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester and Quebec, and made appearances in the Calder Cup Finals in 1959 and 1964. He recorded 271 points in 391 AHL games during his playing career.
Dineen also appeared in 324 NHL games with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, winning two Stanley Cups in Detroit. He later coached the Philadelphia Flyers from 1991-93.
Additionaly, Dineen won three other league titles as a head coach, with the Western Hockey League’s Denver Spurs (1972) and the World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros (1974, 1975). He was twice named the WHA’s coach of the year (1977, 1978).
From big off-season acquisitions struggling to oft-maligned players proving their worth, the NHL has its fair share of players who are hard to figure out.
I'm still confused.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NHL's five most confusing teams, at least from my perspective. These were the teams that I just couldn't figure out. Were they good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? I'd spent the season trying to work it out, and come up empty.
As it turned out, I wasn't alone. More than a few readers confessed to being confused by those teams too, not to mention several others. It was like having a support group. A support group of confused hockey fans, all watching the games unfold with their heads tilted like a puppy seeing a toilet flush for the first time.
Well, today I'm going to call another meeting of the confused hockey fan network. But this time, we're not looking at teams. No, today we're going to dive into some specific players that have me perplexed. In most of these cases, I thought I had a handle on things. But now I'm not so sure.
Maybe you can help me out. Or maybe you're just as confused as I am. Either way, I think it will be good for my soul to admit that I just can't figure these guys out.
What I thought I knew: After an up-and-down start to this NHL career, Elliott had settled in to a predictable pattern with the Blues. He'd play well. He'd post strong numbers, sometimes even league-leading ones. And then, just when push came to shove, the Blues would lose faith in him and hand the starter's job to someone else. Maybe it was the backup. Maybe it was a pricey trade acquisition. Maybe it was even a semi-retired legend, in a move we'd all agree to just pretend never happened. But time and time again, the Blues had no faith in Elliott.
And I was convinced that they were wrong. This was the classic case of a team over-thinking things, or maybe letting dressing room politics or a faith in intangibles override basic logic. The numbers didn't lie: Elliott was one of the best goalies in the league. And when the Flames nabbed him at a discount in the offseason, I was sure that they'd found their starter.
Where I'm at now: Sitting around wondering what happened. Which is also where Elliott finds himself most games these days.
Chad Johnson has been a great story, and you can't blame the Flames for riding the hot hand. Elliott got off to a bad start, and when you're a young team that hasn't earned a ton of self-confidence quite yet, you can't let yourself fall too far out of the race. The Flames are being smart here.
But… Elliott is still good, right? Every goalie has the occasional slump, so we can't panic over 13 games. Then again, Elliott's never really done much outside of Ken Hitchcock's goalie factory, and the Blues still didn't believe in him. Did they know something that the rest of us, including the Flames, somehow missed?
What I thought I knew: Remember when Ryan was left off of Team USA in 2014, partly because Brian Burke didn't think he could spell "intense"? What a ridiculous snub that was. Hey guys, 30-goal scorers in their prime don't exactly grow on trees.
Where I'm at now: Has anyone noticed that Bobby Ryan doesn't score 30 goals anymore?
Well, sure, I imagine Senator fans were already in the loop on this one. But it feels like the rest of us have been slow to realize that Ryan just hasn't been the same player in Ottawa that he was in Anaheim. His best year since the 2013 trade was only 23 goals, and that was back in 2013-14. This year, he has just three goals through 21 games.
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen that coming. Ryan was 26 when the trade went down, and in today's NHL, that's already past the peak of many forwards. But the Senators clearly thought they were getting an elite player with some big seasons left in him – remember, we're just two years removed from them handing him a $50-million contract.
Ryan's had to overcome some tough hurdles in his life, including the loss of his mother this summer. It still feels like he could rebound and reclaim his status as a first-line player. But if not, the budget-conscious Senators may be stuck with an ugly-looking contract that they can't really afford.
What I thought I knew: Any Leaf fan who was paying attention was in on this one. Sure, Bozak had put up some decent stats over the years, but he'd done it as Phil Kessel's sidekick, inexplicably getting all the playing time with Toronto's best player and reaping the rewards. And even then, his numbers had been just OK, never topping 50 points in a season and struggling in his own end.
It was a classic case of a superstar propping up an also-ran. And once Kessel was shipped out of town, we'd see the real Tyler Bozak.
Where I'm at now: Hey, it turns out the real Tyler Bozak is pretty good.
Not "first line center" good. Certainly not "team MVP" good, despite some of the sillier hype from the Kessel era. But his production hasn't cratered without his superstar wingman. In fact, it's improved slightly, and he's on pace for the most productive season of his career this year.
Maybe he's benefitting from the Leafs finally having some depth at center. Maybe he's embracing his role as the "dad figure" on one of the league's youngest rosters. Or maybe he was just better than I thought he was all along.
What I thought I knew: He's easily one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league.
Where I'm at now: Pretty much the same place. Which is why what's going on in Dallas right now is so hard to figure out.
Last month, Lindy Ruff made Klingberg a healthy scratch, and everyone went "What?" Then we found out that Klingberg had missed a team meeting, so fair enough — the rules apply to everyone. But then last week he was scratched again, this time for performance reasons.
And sure enough, he hasn't been great this year. He's on pace for the worst offensive totals of his career, and he's getting creamed on possession, where he'd previously been very solid. Sure, maybe nobody would look good in front of that Dallas goaltending. And Ruff is carrying eight defenseman, which makes his decisions tougher. But Klingberg really has looked off this year, and with a 98.5 PDO, this isn't all about bad luck and shaky percentages. Something's wrong.
We're talking about a guy who finished sixth in the Norris voting last year, in just his second NHL season. It looked like the Stars had themselves a poor man's Erik Karlsson in the making. Maybe they still do. But this season has turned a sure thing into a major question mark.
What I thought I knew: No clue. None. He seems like a good guy. Smallish, and without any especially flashy numbers, but he always seemed like a nice underdog story who'd overachieved over the years on a long path towards earning some respect. I usually like those kind of stories.
But over the last few years, Russell has somehow morphed into the poster child for the debate between analytics and old school. And you're not allowed to stake out a middle ground. You have to either think he's the second coming of Scott Stevens, willing his team to victory by sheer force of heart, or you have to think he's hot garbage. Those are your only two options. And you better choose quickly, because as soon as his name get mentioned, everybody is going to start yelling.
Where I'm at now: SO MUCH YELLING!
Honestly, I have no idea. When Russell hit free agency this summer, I thought the big numbers being thrown around were a little ridiculous. So did the league, apparently, since he had to settle for a one-year deal with the Oilers. That seemed like a good fit, and you figured Russell could settle in, put together a decent season, and take another shot at a big UFA payday next year.
No such luck. No, apparently we all have to keep fighting the Great Kris Russell Battle until the end of time. Is he good? Bad? What position does he even play? Nobody remembers.
We have always been at war with Kris Russell. Now pick a side and go yell at somebody about it.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The New York Islanders captain undressed Jay Bouwmeester in the most unusual of ways, but the important thing is he kept the puck. Then he buried it
John Tavares: good at hockey.
The New York Islanders captain pulled off an absolutely stunning series of moves last night, culminating in a laser-shot goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen. But let's get back to his humbling of Olympic gold medallist Jay Bouwmeester, because that's where the real magic happened.
Witness, as Tavares puts his stick behind his back and grabs it with his other hand while still skating and fending off Bouwmeester. Then, since he is a patient boy, Tavares waits and waits and waits before firing one top corner on Allen:
As the soccer folks would say, lovely. New York would go on to beat the Blues 3-2, with Anders Lee scoring the other two goals for the Isles. After struggling to begin the season, New York is now 6-2-2 in its past 10 games. Tavares leads the squad with 21 points through 26 contests.