Category: NHL

NHL DraftKings Tournament – 3/7/21

A good opportunity to play a competitive contrarian lineup in a two game slate presents itself this morning. One figures that most players will go Tampa Bay heavy but the underrated Blackhawks are at home, and a good Islanders team remains underappreciated.
Of note, starting goalies have not been announced so be prepared to swap Lankinen for Subban if that’s who Chicago slides out today. Good luck!


NHL DraftKings Tournament Lineup – 2/26/21

UPDATE: Grubauer is sitting tonight, so you can fairly comfortably pivot to Hunter Miska or, if you’re feeling a little more bold, one of the Kings goalies, whichever starts.

Today is a small game slate, which removes a little hit of variety in terms of your punting options. It also heightens the importance of not screwing up your goalie choice, and the best option today is probably Grubauer. If you believe in the fallacy of “due,” the Avalanche certainly are – hence the choice of their line here.
I’m avoiding the Kings except to punt with Maatta on defense as Doughty’s partner. It figures to be low scoring which might make Quick an attractive play but his stats actually look better than his play recently. If the Kings start Cal Peterson instead, you can start him with confidence and maybe upgrade a punt.

Of the punts available to you, the Rangers’ Lafrenierre is attractive on price point, power play time, and his opponent just leaked seven goals to the Islanders.

NHL DraftKings 50/50 Lineup – 2/20/21AM Games

I hate this slate of matchups. But I’ve been on a heater so why not play them anyway. The Capitals seem a bit underpriced in what could be a blowout against the Rangers. The Avalanche and Golden Knights are playing outdoors which could make for crappy ice and a low scoring affair, leaving Marc-Andre Fleury as a potential bargain in goal. That’s all I have for analysis. Enjoy.

The LA Kings Are Ready to Compete. So Why Won’t They?

Yes, just another armchair GM wondering what a guy who gets paid to do the job is thinking. This column isn’t meant to impugn the job Rob Blake has done as Kings GM. The team is almost universally regarded to have the best prospect pool in NHL, so he’s quite obviously done a remarkable job in accumulating talent. One could argue he waiting too long before conceding the team was in need of an overhaul, and flipping dependable veterans like Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli for young assets and draft picks. But all in all, if your team is number 1 in something like prospect quality, you get to take credit for that.

In the title, I say they’re ready to compete. This isn’t to imply they’re some kind of Stanley Cup favorite or anything, but they’ve shown me enough in a limited sample size, despite a brutal schedule and significant injuries to multiple key players, that they could be very much in play for a postseason spot in a very competitive Western Conference. Stars like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are playing as well as they ever have. Sean Walker and Matt Roy have emerged as two of the NHL’s best young defensemen. One-time captain Dustin Brown is aging like wine in an age when most NHL players age like bread. Cal Peterson is in the process of wresting the starting goalie job away from multiple time Stanley Cup hero, Jonathan Quick. There are a lot of reasons to be excited.

Oh, there are flaws. For one, they’re not deep. We saw how badly their defense sagged after Walker and Roy suffered injuries in the same game – Walker taking an errant slapshot to the eye, Roy on the receiving end of a brutal cheap shot into the boards by Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala. They’ve also got a few too many place holders keeping seats warm for whenever the prospects get called up. There’s nothing wrong with guys like Trevor Moore, Blake Lizotte, Michael Amadio et al as human beings, and they probably deserve to be employed in the NHL, but no team with designs on contending is giving them significant ice time. And there’s of course the big one, which has been the big one for several seasons now. The “experts” will tell you it’s secondary scoring. Secondary scoring is just a fancy way of saying…well, scoring. Funny thing about ice hockey, it’s a difficult sport to win games in if you don’t have guys who can smash the puck into the net with some kind of frequency. Kopitar is a likely Hall of Famer, and one of the best two-way players of this generation, but has always been a pass first guy. He’s on the top line with Brown and Alex Iafallo. Brown leads the team in goals to date with seven, but is unlikely to sustain that pace considering his last (and only) 30-goal season was thirteen years ago. Iafallo is a nice player with terrific CORSI and ‘goals for percentage’ numbers, but has never broken the 20-goal threshold. The only name hockey casuals will recognize from the second line is Jeff Carter, who is well past his prime as a goal scorer, but still a tremendous defensive forward and elite penalty killer. So where are the goals going to come from?

That deep prospect pool, right? Well… here’s the thing. None of the Kings’ top prospects are that Alex Ovechkin type scorer. I mean, Ovechkin is a unicorn and one of the greatest to ever play, so maybe his standard is unreachable. But there’s no Leon Draisaitl. No Alex DeBrincaat. No David Pastrnak. No Sebastian Aho. Name whomever you want.

Top prospect Quinton Byfield profiles more as a Kopitar type, and while that’s nothing to shake a stick at, it’s not an elite goal scorer. Alex Turcotte is a relentless energy guy and plays both ends of the ice, but again, not an elite scorer. Arthur Kaliyef has the talent profile to potentially develop as a goal scorer, but persistent concerns about his work ethic make reaching his ceiling prohibitively unlikely. The other guys: Gabe Vilardi, Samuel Fagemo, Rasmus Kupari, Carl Grundstrom, Jared Anderson-Dolan and a handful of others all project to be quality second and third line player – a tremendously valuable collection of assets there – but again… no elite scorer.

It’s hard to find an top end goal scorer. There’s maybe one Auston Matthews, or Nathan MacKinnon, or Patrick Kane to draft every year or two.

That’s what makes the Kings disinterest in grabbing one this season all the more perplexing. It’s the consensus missing piece to the contention puzzle. But when the salary cap troubled Vegas Golden Knights made Max Pacioretty available during the off-season, the Kings weren’t interested despite having the most available cap space in the league. When Winnipeg’s disgruntled sniper Patrick Laine became available early in the season, the Kings once again demurred, and Laine was ultimately flipped for fellow disgruntled stud Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jack Roslovic. Even when Alex Galchenyuk, a former third overall pick whose production never quite lived up to his immense talent, was essentially free to a good home with zero long term commitment, nothing.

Where are the goals going to come from, if not grown on trees?

Back to the current squad, all the Kings’ best players are north of 30. Kopitar? The 14-year veteran is now 33. Doughty? The 9-time all star is 31, having averaged an absurd 26 minutes plus of ice time over his career. Brown and Carter are both 36. If they wait too long to make another charge at a title with their current veteran core, they’ll have to replace them too.

It’s a frustrating and peculiar complacency being shown by the organization. It’s one that poses the question, what is it exactly that they are waiting for?

NHL Mock Draft

1. Buffalo – Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda HC
2. Carolina – Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie Colts
3. Montreal – Filiop Zadina, LW, Halifax Mooseheads
4. Ottawa – Adam Boqvist, D, Brynas J20
5. Arizona – Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston Univ.
6. Detroit – Oliver Walstrom, RW, US U18
7. Vancouver – Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan
8. Chicago – Evan Bouchard, D, London Knights
9. NY Rangers – Ty Smith, D, Spokane Chiefs
10. Edmonton – Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
11. NY Islanders – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat
12. NY Islanders – Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville Voltiguers
13. Dallas – Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds
14. Philadelphia – Joel Farabee, LW, US U18
15. Florida – Bode Wilde, D, US U18
16. Colorado – Rasmus Kupair, C, Karpat
17. New Jersey – Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds
18. Columbus – K’Andre Miller, D, US U18
19. Philadelphia – Vltali Kravstov, RY, Traktor Chelyabinsk
20. Los Angeles – Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea HF
21. San Jose – Martin Kaut, RW, Dynamo Pardubice
22. Ottawa – Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo Lakers
23. Anaheim – Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa Generals
24. Minnesota – Akil Thomas, C, Niagra IceDogs
25. Toronto – Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax Mooseheads
26. NY Rangers – Ryan McLeod, C, Mississauga Steelheads
27. Chicago – Grigori Denisenko, LW, Loko Yaroslavl
28. NY Rangers – Alexander Alexeyev, D, Red Deer Rebels
29. St. Louis – Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint Firebirds
30. Detroit – Benoit-Olivier Grouix, C, Halifax Mooseheads
31. Washington – Nicolas Beaudin, D, Drummondville Voltigeurs

Overthrown Royalty

It’s not unprecedented: A major sports team wins a championship and then fails to qualify for the post-season the following year. Before the Los Angeles Kings just somehow managed to do it, the Carolina Hurricanes did in 2006-07. It happens in other sports more frequently, baseball being a perfect example, but what makes it such a, uh, accomplishment in hockey is that so many teams make the playoffs. 16 to be exact. That’s more than half. 

And what makes it such a monumental shock to many is that the Kings were in the midst of a mini dynasty, with two Stanley Cup Championships sandwiched around a Western Conference Finals loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. 

It didn’t take long for the excuses and the finger pointing to start. And granted, some of it is valid. Those pointing to injuries could accurately say that the loss of young superstud Tanner Pearson for much of the season with a broken leg severely impacted the team’s offense. They could say that the weeks Alec Martinez, he of the game winning goal from last year’s Stanley Cup Final, missed with a concussion had a profound impact on a defense already thinned due to the season-long absence of Slava Voynov while his domestic violence case moves forward. They could say that losing Andrej Sekera to a leg injury just a few games after they acquired him to thicken the aforementioned thin defense was another nail in the coffin. All of these points have some validity. 

Then they point to all the extra hockey the Kings played the last three seasons. Extra hockey… what a bunch of crap. The point is, of any professional sport, to play as much extra of it as you can! Because that would mean you’re in the running for a championship. You didn’t see all that extra hockey impacting the New York Rangers, who have the league’s best point total, despite the lengthy absence of Henrik Lundqvist.

The blame game usually starts with Mike Richards and his disproportionately huge cap number compared to his offensive production. Similar vitriol is thrown at captain Dustin Brown, whose paychecks are similarly gaudy while his offensive production is equally meager. 

And again, these points are not entirely devoid of merit, nobody wants to put any blame where it really belongs – with the coach and general manager who were at the reigns for the team’s first two championships in…well, in ever. Kings fans should be forever grateful to Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi. But as happens frequently with success, complacency and/or arrogance never lurks far away. It’s worth noting that in Sutter’s coaching career, he’s won less than half of the games he has coached. So, while there has been some success, it hasn’t all been chocolate and roses. And Lombardi, while having been general manager of some very good San Jose Sharks teams from 1996 to 2003, had plenty of detractors in hockey circles for failing to fill out those rosters with the players to take the team from good to championship level. It explains why he eventually wasn’t employed there anymore.

Now, good coaches/executives don’t get every decision right. Billy Bean doesn’t get every decision right. Bill Belichick. Vince Lombardi. Pat Riley. (Phil Jackson is being intentionally omitted). Bruce Bochy. They get decisions wrong. What makes these guys better than everyone else is that they get more calls right than they get wrong. Fred Claire trading Pedro Martinez to Montreal for Delino Deshields would have been forgivable if there had been two or three moves where the scales tipped back in the other direction. But they didn’t.

Moving back to this past off-season, Dean Lombardi made two decisions that would ultimately prove fatal to the Kings’ playoff hopes. First, the decision was made to not re-sign defenseman Willie Mitchell. He may not have a ton of household notoriety, but those who know hockey know that Mitchell is an exceptional player. Not all defensemen score like Erik Karlsson or PK Subban. Some just control their defensive end, move the puck well, and chew up huge, productive minutes. And the decision not to re-sign Mitchell was reportedly due to…wait for it… they didn’t want a defense partnership with two left-handed shooting defensemen. Yeah. Never mind that they won two Stanley Cups with that arrangement, and when they lost to Chicago in the Conference Finals, Mitchell was out with a knee injury. Coincidence? Lombardi the compounded ludicrously inept bit of business by giving Matt Greene a new four year deal. Greene was once a borderline serviceable third pairing defenseman who worked hard, was a favorite of fans and in the clubhouse, and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves to protect a teammate. Then injuries hit. And more injuries. And at this point he would be overmatched on the junior circuit and should seriously consider retiring and beginning a coaching career. If you want to criticize Lombardi further, you can also point out that he failed to take advantage of the opportunity to amnesty Richards, instead giving the veteran a chance to prove he had something left in the tank…at a cap hit of just under six million. Bad call? Possibly. But let’s move on to Sutter.

Quick, what do Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty have in common? If you said they’re universally regarded as four of the best players in the NHL, you’d be right. Then you have super sniper Marian Gaborik, puck possession monster Justin Williams, young star Tyler Toffoli. There are so many great pieces to the Kings’ puzzle that it’s incomprehensible they failed to make the post season. Sutter epically screwed up so many different things this season that it’s hard to pick just 12. So let’s just start ripping off a few. Repeatedly jacked with line combinations that were working…because who effing knows why? Demoted the underperforming Mike Richards to the minors to send a message, and replaced him with the woefully inept Nick Shore. And when he did have Richards in the lineup, put him on a fourth line ill-suited to his abilities. Somehow kept throwing Jarret Stoll in the lineup instead of, well, anyone with a pulse. Paired two top notch centers who own the puck in Kopitar and Carter on the same line. The team had fifteen overtime/shootout losses, and only three wins. The only way a Stanley Cup champion team can have that woeful record in overtime and shootouts is if 4 on 4 skating and penalty shots were never practiced. 

Going on at this point would be self-indulgent to my own disgust at how the Kings were run this year. Fortunately, the core of a great roster remains. Fans will just have to hope it’s run by new and competent leadership next year. And I still can’t believe the team only had three more overtime/shootout wins than my cat did this season. What a joke.