Toronto Maple Leafs

2019 Draft Looms Large for the Toronto Maple Leafs

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft might be a defining moment in the Maple Leafs journey towards playoff success.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs own exactly zero (0) first-round draft picks in this year’s draft. That’s probably why, if you’re a Leafs fan, you haven’t heard much about this year’s crop of prospects. Honestly, other than the top-prospects, I don’t know anything about this year’s draft-eligible players—aside from a few names that have been the subject of twitter arguments in the days leading up to the draft.

However, the Leafs need to make their seven picks—one second, one third, two fourths, one fifth, and two seventh-rounders— count for their competitive window to stay open as long as possible. The Leafs are already entering salary cap-hell, and as they continue to swap out depth players like Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev for low-cost rookies like Trevor Moore and Calle Rosén, one of Kyle Dubas’ main priorities lies with keeping the pipeline flowing.

Currently, with the Leafs’ lack of drafting success under ex-Assistant GM Mark Hunter, and the mass promotion of prospects that came with the rebuild, the teams cupboards are bare. They have minimal talent up front with just Pierre Engvall, Jeremy Bracco, Mason Marchment, and (maybe) Adam Brooks as potential solutions that are close to NHL ready. Their future on the blue-line looks brighter mostly because of their past-two first round picks, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. After them, all they have is last year’s fourth-rounder, Mac Hollowell, and their only other promising back-end prospect, Sean Durzi, was shipped out in the Jake Muzzin trade. However, only Sandin is regarded as NHL-ready or close to it, and the Leafs may only begin next season with two of their top-six defenders from last year as Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are unrestricted free-agents, Nikita Zaitsev will very likely be traded, and Travis Dermott will be out for at least the first month as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery.

The Leafs’ goaltending pipeline is strong, as both Joseph Woll and Ian Scott are highly regarded and had successful seasons this year. The latter is coming off a season in which he won the WHL’s Del Wilson Trophy, the WHL Playoff MVP award, and the CHL Goaltender of the Year award. Somehow, even after a season after that, he is still seen as an inferior prospect to Scott. An that’s not an indictment on Scott; it’s a testament to just how good Woll—and the Leafs’ future goaltending picture—is.

The Main Focus

While fans will expect a good draft haul at the draft, all eyes will be on Kyle Dubas as there are plenty of trades he could make. With that said, let’s explore all possible trade candidates that could be sent out in a deal.

Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner‘s agent, as you likely know, has been making waves in the media, claiming that they will accept an offer-sheet if the Leafs don’t cave in to their demands of more than $11 million AAV. The possibility of a trade will be very real until this situation ends one way or another, but it won’t be at the draft—especially since free agency hasn’t even started yet. They are making calls, though. Now, onto the real candidates for a trade at the draft:

Nikita Zaitsev

To the bewilderment of most hockey analysts, Zaitsev is highly regarded by some teams, with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks reportedly the front-runners in a potential deal. Zaitsev is the Leafs’ only right-handed defenseman that played in the playoffs, and the stars aligned for the Leafs when he requested a trade for personal reasons that reportedly do not have to do with Mike Babcock or his system. He is very good at stopping the cycle in the defensive zone and recovering the puck, but his issue lies in transition, where he can’t make a pass to his forwards if his life depended on it, and on offence, where he has floundered since being taken off the power play after his rookie season, as he often takes bad point-shots into the shin-pads of opponents, turning the puck over. He did play well in the playoffs with Jake Muzzin against the Bruins’ top line, but it should be noted that Muzzin’s possession numbers fell when paired with Zaitsev.

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After getting 36 points in his rookie season, then-GM Lou Lamoriello signed him to a seven-year deal with a $4.5 million AAV. However, Zaitsev has only had 27 points in the last two seasons, and his contract is in the way of the Leafs signing their restricted free agents like Marner, Andreas Johnsson, and Kasperi Kapanen.

Dubas’ asking price is reportedly a bottom-pairing defender, a mid-round pick, and a prospect, which would be a complete steal of a trade for Kyle Dubas. Hell, before I knew how much interest there actually is in Zaitsev, I would’ve thought getting his contract off the books with no salary retention in exchange for a seventh-rounder is great value. By now, it’s a forgone conclusion that Zaitsev will be dealt; it’s just a matter of for what and when.

Dubas may want to wait until after July 1 to trade Zaitsev, when his $3 million signing bonus will be paid. Zaitsev also has a 10-team No Trade List that kicks in on this date, but he will not use it as he requested a trade.

I’d be comfortable with a trade to either Edmonton or Vancouver with how they’ve managed their teams the past few years. But, with the news that Peter Chiarelli may join the Canucks front office, bring it on, Vancouver!

Connor Brown

The Leafs’ are likely to move Brown for cap relief, as he is an expensive fourth-lined with a $2.1 million cap-hit. Dubas has plenty of options in a potential Brown trade. Brown hasn’t been able to match his 20-goal rookie season in the two since, with 14 and 8 goals the past two years. He has played all 82 games in each season. Perhaps with a larger opportunity, his production will increase back to his rookie levels (and maybe even higher). According to Bob McKenzie, Connor Brown will not be a Leaf next year because of the cap crunch.

The Edmonton Oilers are said to be interested in Brown. This would be an interesting fit as Brown and Connor McDavid were line-mates in the OHL with the Erie Otters. Maybe Brown is the solution to the endless cycle of line-mates for McDavid. He could be included as a sweetener in a Zaitsev deal or a (less likely) Patrick Marleau deal. He also could be paired with Kasperi Kapanen, and the Carolina Hurricanes are said to be interested in this possibility.

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A potential deal with the Oilers could include Matt Benning, who the Leafs have previously been linked to, and he has a cap his of $1.9 million. Jesse Puljujärvi could also be involved in a trade, as he has demanded a trade and threatened playing in Europe is he is not moved. However, he is a RFA and the Leafs would need to ink him to a new deal. Something like Zaitsev + Brown for Benning + Puljujarvi could work for both sides, affording the Leafs some valuable cap space.

According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, the Oilers would trade Puljujärvi for a third-line forward. Depending on how they view Connor Brown, he could fit this qualification.

Elliotte Friedman says that the Leafs may also be willing to trade Brown straight up for a second round pick. This would be a great trade for Dubas to make as he continues to replenish the Leafs’ depth through the draft. Could a draft-day trade be in the works, or could he trade for a future pick? Only time will tell.

Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau has clearly regressed, and as the saying goes, Father Time is undefeated. The Leafs’ winger will be 40 years old at the beginning of next season, and his cap-hit of $6.25 million keeps getting worse for the Leafs. Marleau has requested a trade back west near San Jose, but his contract puts the Leafs in a tricky situation, as any trade involving Marleau will probably require the Leafs to include a ‘sweetener’ to account for Marleau’s cap-hit.

Potential destinations for Marleau include Colorado, Arizona, and Los Angeles. Marleau reportedly only wants to return to San Jose, but in the wake of Erik Karlsson‘s albatross contract and their slew of free-agents that need re-signing, a reunion seems unlikely unless the Leafs can find a third team to buy Marleau out, similar to the Brooks Orpik deal between Colorado and Washington last year.

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Marleau put his house on the market earlier this month and his family has moved back to San Jose as they reportedly found the transition to Toronto difficult. Yeah, I think he’s gonna waive his no movement clause.

Dubas recently said that there is “a good chance” that Marleau will remain a Maple Leaf next season, but Pierre LeBrun believes that this is solely a media ploy to find more teams willing to take on his salary.

Because Marleau’s deal was signed after the age of 25, a buyout does not get rid of hit $6.25 million cap-hit, which complicates the deal for some teams. Additionally, according to James Mirtle of The Athletic, the final year of his deal is oddly constructed with his $3 million signing bonus split between July and December, and only $1.25 million left to pay in base salary (PAYWALL).

Depending on how much the Leafs are willing to give up, the scope of a deal can vary widely. The Avalanche have reportedly made Tyson Barrie available for trade, and the Leafs could use a good right-handed defender like him. How much would the Leafs need to give up to get a return like this, though? The Leafs are reportedly considering using Brown and/or Kapanen as sweeteners is a potential deal, so they may be able to work something out. According to Mirtle, “Colorado [is not] interested at this time” (PAYWALL), but if their cap situation is alleviated, maybe they would take a second look at Marleau.

Los Angeles is said to be interested in completing a deal, but they would want something in return for taking on his contract. They reportedly want to send a big salary the other way though, which makes it difficult for a trade to materialize. Perhaps the Leafs could pry Tyler Toffoli and his $4.6 million cap-hit out of Los Angeles with a sweetener in the form of Kapanen, Johnsson, or a pick.

The structure of Marleau’s deal makes it more likely for a team near the cap-floor like Arizona to trade for him and complete the buy out. With the Coyotes recent sale to Alex Merulo, their demands have lessened from Kapanen or Johnsson to just “something good to get Arizona to blink.” They reportedly want a prospect in a potential trade, which makes me wonder if the Leafs can sell high on Jeremy Bracco. In his sophomore season with the Marlies, the skilled right-winger has a career-year with 79 points (22-57). He ran the power play from the half-wall in the Mitch Marner role, and although he could impact the Leafs second power-play next year, his 5v5 play left much to be desired. Jeff Veillette’s data has Bracco at a -5.7% Corsi Rel in the regular season, and he was last out of all the Marlies’ regular forwards in the playoffs. With public perception around him still high with his inflated point totals, the Leafs could sell high on Bracco and ship him out to Arizona with Marleau. One wrinkle in these plans is that John Chayka is a staunch supporter of analytics and may not value Bracco highly as a result of his shaky 5v5 play.

Kasperi Kapanen

The Leafs are taking calls on Kapanen, and there is a possibility that he can either be used as a sweetener in a Zaitsev or Marleau deal, or as a centrepiece in a deal for a defender. He is a RFA, so the Leafs would be trading his rights in any deal.

According to Darren Dreger, the Leafs would only deal Kapanen if they receive back-end help in return. Pierre LeBrun says that Carolina has interest in Kapanen and Brown, and that the two teams recently discussed a deal that would send a package based around Brett Pesce to Toronto for Kapanen and Brown. Talks quickly ceased as Carolina wants to keep Pesce.

Earlier in the offseason, LeBrun said that the Hurricanes could have interest in doing a Kapanen + Zaitsev for Pesce/Dougie Hamilton/Justin Faulk, so the interest in Kapanen is apparent. Any of those defenders would greatly help the Leafs next year and undoubtedly step into the top-line with Morgan Rielly since all of them are right-handed.

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Another rumour has the Leafs trading Kapanen for Zaitsev for Kris Letang. Kevin McGran said that Pittsburgh “was one possibility that “makes sense” according to a source.” The Penguins have told teams that any trade would any trade would need to include a package of at least “an impact player on a controllable contract and/or a projected future salary-cap hit that was reasonable” (PAYWALL), according to The Athletic’s Rob Rossi. He also said that two unspecified teams, both from the Eastern Conference, have recently contacted Penguins GM Jim Rutherford about Letang, and that Letang would accept a trade to either team. One of these clubs could very well be the Leafs.

No matter what, expect the Leafs to receive a right-handed defender if they choose to trade Kapanen.

Nazem Kadri

Nazem Kadri most likely will not be traded. They’re taking calls on him, and would need a centre back in any trade, according to Dreger.

Kyle Dubas said that it is his “full intention” that Kadri will be back with the Leafs next year.

Most of the chatter was sparked by Kadri getting suspended in the playoffs for a retaliatory hit for the second year in a row in Game 2 of the Leafs’ first round series against the Boston Bruins.

Garret Sparks

Garret Sparks is being shopped after a horrendous year as the Leafs’ backup. He was sent home the day before the Leafs’ first playoff game to focus on the basics as the Leafs’ recalled AHL goaltender Michael Hutchinson. Yeah, it was that bad.

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Our Matthew Ricks wrote about Sparks being shopped here. I don’t expect for Sparks to get anything more than a late pick, but given his age and the fact that he is only two years removed from his career-year in the AHL, he could hold more value. If the Leafs were able to get a seventh-rounder for Jhonas Enroth in 2017, I’m confident Sparks could net them at least that, or maybe even a fifth or sixth-round pick.

Other Trade Chatter

I’m not sure who the Leafs would trade for him, but TJ Brodie seems like a prime trade candidate and the Leafs have shown interest. Not so sure what the Leafs are going for here given that he is a left-hand shot, but hey, anything’s better than Ron Hainsey, right?

Each of the names above, with the exception of Kasperi Kapanen, are on the TSN Trade Bait board, with Zaitsev coming in at #1. All eyes are on them and Kyle Dubas will most likely be busy on the phones these next few days at the NHL Draft in Vancouver.

Contract details taken from capfriendly.com

Statistics taken from eliteprospects.com, hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

Puck77

NHL Draft Profile Trevor Zegras

Possibly the best play-maker in the draft, even with full knowledge that Jack Hughes exists. The slick passing forward has played both at center and on the wing with the USNTDP but likely goes into the NHL as a left winger who drives play. Shifty, water bug who sometimes gets overly creative.

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Name: Trevor Zegras

Date of Birth: March 20, 2001

Nationality (Place of Birth): American (Bedford, NY, USA)

Hieght: 6’0″

Weight: 178lbs

Shoots: Left

Position: LW/C

Rankings

Ranked #10 by TSN/McKenzie

Scouting Report

The above spider graph, courtesy of Kyle Pereira of Puck77, displays the available data from Will Scouch. As shown, Zegras is very good at driving the play and his production at 5-on-5 is very good. He could stand to shoot more but as an pure elite playmaker its expected that his goal and shot totals are lower. Overall Zegras isn’t the best at anything but still drives play very well and has an excellent on-ice Goals For%.

An excellent skater, Trevor Zegras has as elite edge work and agility. His shiftiness is aided by good speed on his skates. He can create separation in one-on-one scenarios in a number of ways. Zegras uses his agility and quick change of direction to break away and once he gets a step he has the skill and speed to make defenders pay. His skating is on display when he is shifted to the wing as he has excellent offensive awareness. He often leaves the defensive zone at the perfect time to put pressure in the opposition by attacking the blue-line. A tendency to overly trust his skill and skating has gotten the American water-bug into trouble at times.

Video courtesy of Draft Dynasty Youtube Channel

With his elite skating ability as one of his primary tools, he uses it to his advantage in all three zones. Transitional play is a strength of Zegras’ because of his tendency to take unique skating paths out of the defensive zone, patiently waiting for the smart and efficient play. This same ability is used to enter the offensive zone often times skating east-west looking for the opening to carry the puck into the zone. The the video below, Zegras does an excellent job of getting behind the defence and the using a burst of speed to beat the opponents to the outside and then unleashes a good, well placed shot on net for the goal.

Tweet courtesy of @DraftAnalyst

A hard worker defensively, his coverage low in the zone when playing in the middle is good. He supports his own blue-liners well and rarely over-commits to a player in the corner. The defensively underrated forward has good positioning and couples that with an active stick that’s constantly getting into passing lanes. Despite his lack of size and pure strength, the American forward is excellent at getting under the opponent skin. He seeks to engage physically and plays with an edge. His ability to create contact and still focus on the play at hand is a talent that infuriates his opponents.

Zegras can play center from a defensive perspective, although he will likely need to add some strength of he truly wants to play down the middle at the next level. On the wing, Zegras does an excellent job at supporting down the boards and closing the gap on defencemen with puck possession at the point.

Tweet courstesy of @StarsStripesHKY

The “wow factor” in Zegras game comes offensively with his play-making. His ability to identify a play before it happens is a testament to his outstanding hockey IQ and offensive awareness. His passing ability is the best in the entire draft class, with Jack Hughes being a close second. Zegras has the ability to make any pass and do it with consistency. In the video above, Zegras does an excellent job of rolling off the half wall to recive the pass before identifying a soft spot in the defensive coverage and completing a creative drop pass to an area allowing defenceman Cam York to step into the shot. His shot is decent but he relies on an accurate, quick release. He has soft hands and good puck handling ability that doesn’t disappear when Zegras is moving at top speed. Zegras has high upside offensively. If paired with a goal scorer, Zegras could have legitimate 80-plus point potential.

Preseason Outlook

Zegras finished last year as the top center on the USNTDP U17 team after both Hughes and Alex Turcotte were called up to the U18 squad. He took advantage of the extra playing time, showing off all of the offensive skills that are making him one of the top prospects in the 2019 NHL Draft. His playmaking and vision were key in filling in down the middle.

This season was set to begin with Zegras playing on the wing in the top-six but the injury to Alex Turcotte prevented that from happening. Zegras again filled in at center for Turcotte, slotted in behind Hughes. This would help raise his draft stock yet again as he displayed an ability to play center, at least on a part-time basis.

Started in the Middle, Moved to the Wing

The season for Trevor Zegras started in flux as he was moved from the wing to center before the season started to fill in for the Turcotte injury. Due to the circumstances, Zegras was fortunate to be able to display his full arsenal of skills. His underrated defensive game was on display early in the year. His early season on the second line of the USNTDP was productive. He was able to show off all of his offensive skills, both positively and negatively.

He showed his ability to make passes that no other players in this draft can make because his vision and willingness to take chances to make a play are at another level. Due to his inept passing ability, the passes often work out for Zegras. Where the negative began to show was when he would hold onto the puck too long. His desire to look for the perfect play often times comes at the cost of not taking scoring chances of his own. He has often passed up a good shot looking for a great pass even though it never presented itself. As a tendency that can be coached out of his game, this is a weakness that he dealt with all year and improved slightly as the year went on.

Tweet courtesy of @DraftAnalyst

After moving back to the wing upon Turcotte’s return to the lineup, Zegras moves back to the left wing. It was at this point that his offensive game took its biggest step as he was able to stay on the outside, complete royal road (through the slot) passes as he was able to open up to give himself roughly three quarters of the offensive zone. It’s at the point that Zegras gives himself the option to make the pass or drive to the net a draw defenders towards him. In all this year Was quite successful for Zegras. He put up impressive numbers with the USNTDP with 87 points in just 60 games.

World U18 Disappointment

Zegras performed in the shadow of the dynamic duo of Hughes and Coke Caufield as the third wheel on the line that dominated the tournament. Despite being the tertiary offensive force on the line, Zegras racked up nine assists in just five games. He continued to show off his dynamic skillset but the USA fell to Russia when their 16-year-old goaltender, Yaroslav Askarov, stepped up and stole the game from the Americans. Defeating their rival Canadians in the bronze medal game wasn’t enough to heal the wounds of missing out on a prime chance to win the U18 title with one of the best American teams ever to enter the tournament.

Video courtesy of Puck Prodigy Youtube channel

What the Detractors Say

There are two main complaints that scouts have had with Zegras. Neither is a major issue and both can be easily repaired in his game. The first of which being the lack of total strength. He has the strength to fight through defenders amongst his junior aged level peers, but he may need to put some weight and strength on his 6′ frame, creating a better balance structure. The second fault in Zegras’ game is a fault of many young players. Overconfidence in his ability. The young dynamo can sometimes attempt to be too perfect and he has held the puck for longer than he should have and passed up decent-to-good shots in pursuit of the perfect play/shot even though it won’t always be there. If a coach can get the playmaking wizard to be willing to settle for good chances over forcing great chances and he has a good summer or two post draft, he could easily be on an NHL roster in a couple of years.

Trevor Zegras will be taken…

In most rankings, Zegras is placed somewhere between four and ten. The forward is among a group of players that have settled into what’s been known as the “second tier”. Zegras is firmly in that group. Much of the decision making process in this range will likely be a stylistic preference for whichever team is on the clock.

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A couple of fits within that range are the Detroit Red Wings (6th overall) and the Edmonton Oilers (8th overall). In Detroit he would be able to slot in as a center or winger but the important position that he would fill would be that of the primary playmaker. For as good of a playmaker that Dylan Larkin has become, it’s more of a testament to Larkin’s hard work and ability to adapt to what’s needed. Inserting a playmaker such as Zegras next to emerging offensive powers Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha, serious offensive magic could ensue.

As for Edmonton, Zegras could easily fill their need along the wing, paired with any combination Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. His ability to thread the needle and the Oilers center depth would be a welcome sign for a team with two elite finishers down the middle. While he is likely to be taken as a center, don’t be the shocked if he comes into camp at 6′ still 178lbs. The dynamic play maker had extensive time on the wing so he could start his NHL career there after a year in the NCAA with Boston University. 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is Alex Biega A Fit?

Alex Biega could be an affordable option for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I have made several articles popping the question of what the Lightning can do, will do, should do, etc., this offseason. I’ve looked at the entire off-season, with the draft, re-sign phase, and free agency. I’ve looked at the Erik Karlsson rumors. Independently, I’ve done research on what can be done just to re-sign the guys who are upcoming free agents. In every single outlook, article and private research, trades must be made. It’s inevitable, unavoidable, an impenetrable brick wall. Or, as my science teacher Mr.Pollino would say, a new threshold in the Lightning franchise’s big history: one moment that will forever change the course of the team that is ultimately irreversible. But I’m not going to hit you with another rumor, or another prediction, or more mock trades. I’m simply here to tell you an option, a route, that the Lightning can take, to create room and fill holes that may need filling, while still keeping them in contention for the all-important Stanley Cup.

Who To Trade For

Just one guy to talk about here, I’m not going to throw 250 different trade options in your face anymore. Just one defenseman. Alex Biega of the Vancouver Canucks comes to mind as a potential fit. He’s 31 years old, with one year left on his $825k contract with the ‘Nucks. Lightning fans are currently scratching their heads, and other fans are laughing at the idea. But hold on. The Lightning have Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, and Braydon Coburn without a contract for next season. That leaves them with 5 defenseman: Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Rutta. Hedman and McDonagh are staples on the blueline, but Cernak was a rookie who played a little over half of last season, and there’s no way of truly knowing if he can be as good next season, even though I really like the kid. Mikhail Sergachev is wildly inconsistent, but is a top prospect, nonetheless, but he may be equally inconsistent next season, and that could prose a problem. Jan Rutta played only 37 games last season, with only 14 of those games in Tampa, and the Lightning were very adamant about playing him in the lineup at first. While he was solid in the regular season in a depth role, he looked really bad in the playoffs. No one knows if we will get end of the season Rutta or playoff Rutta when next season rolls around. There was a rotation last season that helped minimize the negatives of those bottom guys, which they can try to achieve again next season. Re-sign Coburn and Girardi, plug them into the rotation, and you’ll be good. If only it was that easy, right? Point is the top priority, and he will surely eat up all of the remaining space the Lightning have, which forces the trade. But then they have Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette to re-sign as well, and while letting Erne walk isn’t a big deal, Paquette is a vital piece to the bottom 6, that has been coveted by the Lightning organization since he has been in the NHL. That being said, it’s not that easy, and they have a need on defense, in a depth role. Biega is the band-aid the Lightning can apply to their blue line for next season at a very cheap cost, which will then allow Tampa to let their defensive prospects grow for one more season in the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Syracuse Crunch.

Why Biega

I see you’re starting to understand why a depth defenseman is important to acquire now, I see. But, why Biega of all people? Because he was arguably the most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL last season with a struggling Canucks team. Let’s get some visuals, shall we?

Alex Biega (blue) is shown here against his “competition”. Hedman and McDonagh are the two Bolts defenseman not shown here. The data point cut out at the bottom of the graph is PossExit60 (Possession exits per 60 minutes). Biega trumps every other defenseman when it comes to stopping the opposition from entering the offensive zone (PossEntryAllw60, PossEntryAllw%) but when it comes to breaking up passes, or taking the puck away from the opposition in general (breakups60), he struggles. Him and Sergachev both separate themselves from the rest of the pack when it comes to the transitional game. He takes a lot of shots (Shots60) but doesn’t contribute a lot off of those shots (ShotAssists60, ShotContr60). But the fact that he is arguably the second best defenseman on this graph should be a sign that he should be on the Lightning radar if they’re looking to ship a big contract to Vancouver. Biega doesn’t just show his value there, either. How about WAR, or Wins Above Replacement?

Alex Biega ranks 6th overall on the WAR chart, and 2nd among Vancouver defensemen. Had he played as good this past season with Tampa, he’d be the Lightning’s 5th best defensemen, ahead of Coburn, Girardi, and Stralman. For whatever reason, Rutta is not on the graph, but Biega is still on the high end, so to compare those guys again, scroll up and get a quick refresher of the spider graphs. As for Sergachev, him and Biega are almost identical here. But how about GAR, or Goals Above Replacement?

Biega is 9th in GAR among Canucks and Lightning defensemen. He ranks 3rd on Vancouver and 7th among Lightning defenders, ahead of Stralman and Rutta. He has a tiny negative relative to Sergachev, who was a liability on the Power Play. Cernak blows Biega out of the water again, as he posed to be a very important piece on the Lightning last season, but Biega is a seasoned vet, while Cernak still has a tiny question mark over his head since he hasn’t been sustainable longer than last season, his rookie year.

In Conclusion

A big thing I noted was Coburn’s effectiveness in GAR and WAR, where he ranked higher and one spot lower, respectively. The Lightning should try to keep Coburn and still trade for Biega, and here’s why. I noted the defenseman rotation earlier in the article, which lessened the mistakes made by some Lightning defenseman. A safety plan, if you will. Coburn, Rutta, Sergachev, and maybe even Cernak, can be thrown in a rotation with the veteran Biega, to keep that system going for them. It helped limit injuries as well, which Biega and Coburn are succumb to. While I really like what Biega was able to do, and really how he seems like a really good fit, it’s likely not going to happen. But Biega is a very cheap and reliable option that is out there, whether or not Vancouver is actively shopping him.

Spider graph created by Kyle Pereira, data gathered by CJ Turtoro

WAR/GAR graphs via Sean Tierney on Public Tableau

Featured Image Credit: Justin Miner

Clearing the Puck! Your Weekly Look at the World of Hockey!

Welcome to Clearing the Puck! Your weekly look at the world of hockey from the week of May 19th-May 25th. This week we look back on the Blues advancing to the Stanley Cup final, the Ottawa Senators have a new head coach and there’s a team who isn’t good but they know it.

Incase this is your first time, here is the rundown. What we’re going to be doing at Puck77 is putting out a weekly recap. There are going to be observations, summaries and some cool things that we noticed around the web from the NHL and the world of hockey from the last week. There will be 10 points every Saturday morning. Included will be links to articles from our website as well as many others to help fill you in on some of the best hockey and NHL content from around the web. Without further ado, let’s dive into the week!

St. Louis Blues Continue the Dream

The St. Louis Blues continue to defy expectations. Well known is the fact that they were dead last in the league, they made some changes and they have been one of the best resurgence stories in years. Led by some timely goal scoring from Jaden Schwartz and stable goaltending from Jordan Binnington, the Blues took the injury plagued San Jose Sharks down in six games. After losing the first game of the series in convincing fashion, many wrote the Blues off but much like every other time they’ve been written off this year, St. Louis fought back and counter punched winning four of the next five, not even needing a seventh game.

Video courtesy of Sportsnet

They had players step up at key times all throughout the playoffs and this series was no exception. Tyler Bozak provided the game winner in game four, Schwartz had a hat-trick in a pivotal game five and Binnington provided air tight play in goal as they shut the Sharks out in game six. The Blues magical run continues onto Boston for the Stanley Cup. Can their magic continue?

San Jose has to Face the Music

The sharks missed out on what may be one of their last true chances at the Cup. They face questions as to who stays and who goes as they have integral pending free agents Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton with limited salary cap space. What to make of their restricted free agents? Both Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier are in need of new deals as well. General manager Doug Wilson has a lot of work to do if he wants to extend the Cup Window another year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Erik Karlsson will be a part of those plans as he tweeted out this message, thanking Sharks fans and seemingly saying goodbye.


Tweet courtesy of @ErikKarlsson65

The message conveyed doesn’t sound like someone who realistically thinks there’s a chance to return. The questions immediately turn to captain Joe Pavelski. It’s likely the Sharks retain their captain but it’s no guarantee. There are a lot of questions in the Shark Tank.

Ottawa lands DJ Smith

If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you think this is hilarious. If you are an Ottawa Senators fan, you are worried because of his failures as the Leafs assistant coach. If you’re an optimist, you’re just happy with the new blood. It’s probably best to be in that third camp. Last time DJ Smith was a head coach, he led the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup in the 2014-15 season. Prior to that, he was an assistant in the bench of the Windsor Spitfires, winning two more Memorial Cups there. Having worked with and developed young players in the OHL, as well as with the Leafs, DJ Smith has shown the ability to develop prospects.

Now for the pessimist point of view. Smith was not great in his role with the Maple Leafs. He failed to scheme an effective defensive system and he lacked directing the special teams. His contract was up in Toronto and there was no guarantee he was being brought back. For more on the entire situation, you can check out this piece here by our very own Josh Tessler.

Puck77 Three Round Mock Draft!

It’s here! The team here at Puck77 along with many outside contributors completed a three round 2019 mock draft. Each team was represented by a different member of the team. Acting as that teams GM we tried to draft according to the route that we felt the team could do. From having players taken right before our picks to making off-the-board picks, this activity felt authentic and genuine.

Special thanks to all involved from the Puck77 team. Thank you as well to everyone from outside of the team that helped out and represented a team such as Steven Ellis (The Hockey News), CJ Turtoro (SB Nation), Tom Hunter (Puck Don’t Lie), Jesse Marshall (The Athletic), Jeff Chapman (SB Nation), Josh Walfish (Daily Hampshire Gazette), Ryan Quigley (SB Nation), James Reeve (Fansided) and Dave Stevenson (Fansided) for helping us out! They are all in the tweet below so make sure to give them a follow!

https://twitter.com/thepuck77/status/1130845172395257858?s=21

Corey Pronman’s Draft Rankings

Draft season is here for most teams and this week one of the best in the business released his rankings. Corey Pronman’s NHL Draft rankings from the Athletic put his rankings out for the subscribers of the Athletic to consume. He has some major differences from other public rankings and does a fantastic job explaining why he has players where they are. Draft season is always fun because the rankings can vary from person to person and let’s be honest, we’re all wrong in some things and right on others. It all comes down to watching, evaluating and then making your best estimation on who’s better than who. Check them out if you haven’t yet and you subscribe to the Athletic. If you don’t already subscribe, then you probably should.

Phil “The Thrill” on the move?

The lovable Phil Kessel could be in the move again. Seemingly on the trade block since donning in Pittsburgh Penguins colours, the sniper has been rumoured to be going to the Minnesota Wild for Jason Zucker and more. Including Jack Johnson and Victor Rask in the deal has been discussed as well. The Penguins have been trying to improve their backend on limited funds and seem to have settled on giving up Kessel, and his cap hit of $6.8 million, in order to gain a defenseman in a trade or free agency. It was first reported by Josh Yohe of the Athletic Pittsburgh here.


Tweet courtesy of @FriedgeHNIC

As stated above, the Wild don’t seem to be on Kessel’s list. He is said to be weighing his options and allowing time for other deals to manifest. Kessel is able to score goals and out to points without a doubt. His demeanour has been criticized as being slightly aloof while also managing to be abrasive with some teammates and coaches but he produces. Kessel can be a key cog on any team looking to compete for a Cup, but if the Wild are hoping that he’s their “Guy” then they could be falling into a problematic situation similar to the Toronto Maple Leafs did years ago.


Tweet courtesy of @Sportsnet

Finland, Canada Tie it at the Buzzer, Wins in OT!

The quarter finals of the IIHF World Championships went down on Thursday. Canada set to play the pesky team from Switzerland. A team that always seems to give the Canadians issues, the Swiss opened the scoring early in the game. After Mark Stone put Canada on the board, Nico Hischier responded at the end of the second period. With less than a minute left, Canada had an empty net while down 2-1. Hoping to avoid a second consecutive year of heartbreak at the tournament at the hands of the Swiss, they pushed for a goal. The hockey gods answered their wishes and with 0.4 seconds left in regulation, Damon Severson‘s point shot hit the Swiss goalkeeper only to trickle through, barely making it across the goal line to tie the game. In overtime, Mark Stone directed the puck into the net to give Canada the victory they never imagined with a few seconds left in regulation.


Tweet courtesy of @HC_Men

Similarly, the Finnish squad led by 2019 top prospect Kaapo Kakko was up against the reigning champions, Sweden. The game was back and fourth. Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist allowed three goals from distance, only one of which had a serious screen in front of him. This seemed to give the Fins all the life they needed. Fighting back to get within a goal, the Finnish team pulled their goalie. The captain of team Finland, Marko Antilla, scored his first goal of the tournament with 1:28 left in the game to tie it up for the Fins! After an offside review called by the officials, it was confirmed, Finland tied the game. Going into overtime the Swedes has the obvious advantage skill-wise as they were loaded with NHL talent including tournament leading scorer, Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (18 points in 8 games). That didn’t matter however as the Fins were relentless. Less than two minutes into the extra frame, Sakari Manninen streaked down the left wing and fired a laser beam of the far side shoulder of the future Hall of Famer, Lundqvist. Game over, Finland was onto the semis.


Tweet courtesy of @IIHFHockey

The other two quarterfinal games were competitive in their own right but neither held the drama of these two games. For a full recap of the days events, check out the World Championship recaps by Frederick Frandsen here.

Larkin can still have Lar-kids (I’m sorry)

If you’ve been following the World Championships, you know that Detroit Red Wings center, and likely next captain, Dylan Larkin has been one of the best players on the American squad. He produced five points in seven games, with two game winning goals including an overtime winner against Finland. He’s been a good 200-foot presence who has showed up offensively in the big moments.

What you also might know is that he didn’t play the final game of the Americans tournament, a 4-3 loss to Russia in the quarterfinals. The reason he didn’t play was that he was hit in the… how do I say this without getting in trouble? Let’s just say we were concerned about his future children. Thankfully all is well and his chance at being woken up with breakfast on some future Fathers Day is still there.


Tweet courtesy of @TSN_Sports

I don’t know about you, but that didn’t look pleasant. Sitting out the rest of the tournament definitely seemed wise. Also, credit for the terrible pun goes to Steve Dangle (Sportsnet, Steve Dangle Podcast) and Ryan Hana (Winged Wheel Podcast).


Tweet courtesy of @Steve_Dangle

All QMJHL Memorial Cup Final!

The Prince Albert Raiders continued the WHL Champion losing streak in the Memorial Cup tournament losing all three of their games. The last time a WHL champion won a game at the tournament was in 2015 when the Kelowna Rockets advanced to the final. The OHL champion Guelph Storm represented the league well but fell in the semi-final to the QMJHL champs in the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 6-4 last night. This set up a final with the host Halifax Mooseheads who won the round robin.

Video courtesy of Sportsnet

The years final is set to be the first all QMJHL final since 2006 when the Quebec Remparts defeated the Moncton Wildcats. The final should be great action as these two teams know each other well from playing in the QMJHL together. It should be an action packed, fast-paced and intense final!

“We’re Sh*t! And we know we are!”

We couldn’t leave you without your weekly laugh. Possibly the best story of the IIHF World Championships didn’t come from a team with crazy talent or an unbelievable performance. It was the fun loving, boisterous and recently hockey-crazed team from Great Britain. The British entrant was entertaining from start to finish. They had some great jerseys and even better personalities. As you can see in the video above, they got their lone win in overtime against France. The goal was outstanding and it cleared them of relegation, actually pushing France to relegation. The best part of the game though? The post game celebration. The entire team gathers together at center ice and chanted “We’re shit! And we know we are!” This is other level self-depreciation and we all loved it!

Tweet courtesy of @CaitlinSports

Thank you as always for joining me this week to clear the puck and find the news for the week! Tune in next week when we finally have some Stanley Cup final games played and the World Championships and Memorial Cup both conclude!

For more on the NHL, follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari on twitter!

All stats and information courtesy of NHL.com, Hockey Reference, the IIHF, the OHL, the WHL, the QMJHL and eliteprospects.com

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Player Evaluation Part 4: Victor Hedman

For part 4 of my Tampa Bay Lightning individual player evaluations, we move to the backend to examine the Norris-winning defender Victor Hedman. 

Embed from Getty Images

The Basics

Victor Hedman played just 70 games last season for the Lightning, recording 12 goals (0.17 goals per game) and 42 assists (0.6 assists per game) for a total of 54 points (0.77 points per game). Hedman averaged 22:46 time on ice, and had a 51.9 Corsi-For%. He started 51.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone last season. He held a takeaway to giveaway ratio of 32 to 50, which is a -18 differential. Hedman also notched a PDO of 1.026, which means he was getting quite a few good bounces his way. When he was on the ice, Tampa Bay had an expected goals for of 57.3 and an expected goals against of 53.3, which is a +4 differential.

Advanced Analytics

Looking at the basic stats, Hedman didn’t really have a stellar year. Granted, point totals isn’t exactly what you look for in a blue-liner, his totals are a bit down compared to recent years, specifically the last two seasons. He wasn’t smart with the puck, with more giveaways than takeaways, and not exactly the best when you look at expected goals and expected goals against. Here’s my spider web based on Hedman’s performance last season.

 

Offensively, Hedman was golden, looking great in terms of his shooting, as seen above. He also looked good when getting the puck into the offensive zone, and breaking out of the defensive zone. But where he really seemingly struggled last season, was in the defensive end, breaking up the oppositions entry attempts. First, let’s take a deeper dive into his breakout tendencies using CJ Turtoro’s Exits per 60 minutes visual.

Hedman was the 5th ranked player on the Lightning when it came to breaking out. For a defenseman, it’s better to see a higher rate of exit passes, which is exactly what you get with Hedman. He very rarely attempts carrying it out himself. If the passing option is not there, he tends to just clear or dump the puck out and force the opposition to regroup in the neutral zone. He did ice the puck a few times, but not often enough to be a problem. But what is extremely concerning is the fails per 60 minutes (fails/60) section of the graph. He fails to get it out a LOT, almost as much as he successfully passes the puck up and out for a teammate. That is not a good sign at all. But is Hedman’s ability to enter the offensive zone better? Let’s find out using CJ Turtoro’s Entries per 60 minutes visual.

The rankings were a bit messed up, but Hedman ranks 15th on the team when it comes to entering the offensive zone. For me, I don’t expect defenseman to lead the rush at all, and it’s evident on this visual, as the majority of the players ranked around Hedman are all defenseman. Regardless, let’s break it down. Ultimately, I want my defenseman to be able to pass it ahead to enter the zone or to gain the red line (aka center ice) and dump it in deep. In Hedman’s case, he never really makes an entry pass, and carries it in himself. However, he mostly just dumps it in, but he never really finds himself in an entry situation, so I don’t worry much at all. So long as he doesn’t make mistakes (which he doesn’t), I’m fine with what he has here. So, how about his defensive abilities? Is he really as bad as the initial visual portrays at breaking up opponents on the rush? Let’s look at Sean Tierney’s “controlling the blueline” visual.

Upon looking at this visual, Hedman does a good job of generating breakouts (Y-axis represents possession exit %). However, he does not breakup the oppositions entries. Basically, the opposition either constantly dumps it in, or Hedman simply backs in and takes away shooting lanes with his big frame, and forces players to the outside. Again, he does not break up plays on the rush, but he still does a nice job getting the puck up and out of the zone, which is still good.

In Conclusion

Embed from Getty Images

The Lightning’s number one defenseman continued his dominance in the offensive zone, following up a Norris Trophy win the the year prior. Despite putting up less points, Hedman still had a very strong and consistent season. He is good at moving the puck up ice, despite all the fails/turnovers that he faced. A lot goes into defending the rush, and if an opponent is constantly dumping it in when you’re on the ice, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to break it up. But the fact that he still has a great Possession Exit% in that last visual tells me that, despite the low breakup numbers, he is still a reliable two-way guy. Next player evaluation will be on Ryan McDonagh!

All Stats via hockey-reference, The Spider Charts used Data from CJ Turtoro, created by Kyle Pereira, Entry/Exit Charts via CJ Turtoro, Defensive zone chart via Sean Tierney.

Feature Image courtesy of Nikos Michals