March 9th, 2015

Austin Wallace

2015-03-09

Lack vs. Lehner, the Lawson Crouse debate and much more…

 

Thanks to a switch to help me deal with some Stats/Computer Science/Business midterms (which went well, I think), these are my second ramblings in four days, you can check out the previous one here. Buckle up, these are what I call a doozy.

 

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There are some interesting prospect notes in Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts, and I encourage you to read the whole thing, as it is excellent as usual.

 

Maybe the most fantasy relevant thing talked about is the uncertainty in the goalie market. There are a number of potential starters that could be moved, and that makes things interesting if you own a starter-ready backup.

 

 

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One of the goalies being sought after has never played a minute of professional hockey. That would be Matt O’Connor, the 6’6 recent Beanpot winner. He led BU to the championship and has a stellar 0.927 SV%. According to Darren Dreger, five teams have promised him NHL action this year if he signs with them, so the attention is serious. It seems like he is the cream of this year’s college free agent crop as none of the skaters look to have realistic scoring-line potential. Vancouver, Buffalo and Edmonton might be leaders in the race to sign him: He attended Vancouver’s prospect camp last year while Buffalo and Edmonton might have the clearest paths to a full-time job. If you can add him, he is another lottery ticket in the world of prospect goaltending, and a pretty good one at that.

 


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In my relatively complicated/realistic cap league [plug for the best league I’ve ever been in, above even the Dobber Experts league], I had to choose between moving two of the aforementioned starter-ready bacups, Eddie Lack and Robin Lehner.

They had similar returns, and varying levels of interest around the league; it was really interesting weighing the different factors to try and guage their respective values.

 

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Lack is three and a half years Lehner’s elder, and has a fairly encouraging track record as a starter. He did very well in the SHL before coming to the Canucks organization as a free agent and proving himself in the AHL. He proved himself good enough that the organization was happy to give him the backup spot after the Schneider trade. Then he actually performed roughly the same as Luongo the next year, to the point where Tortorella chose him to start for the outdoor game on merit.  Days later, Luongo is out of town and Lack is the full-time starter.  Torts started Lack, who hadn’t faced an NHL starter’s workload before, 19 games in a row despite him playing through a back injury. That doesn’t, and shouldn’t happen, even when a team is fighting for the playoffs and doesn’t trust their backup, Jacob Markstrom. Obviously his numbers took a hit though he performed admirably and cemented his reputation as a fan favorite.

 

This year, the story has been remarkably similar. Pre-injury, Lack had been outperforming Miller somewhat with a better save percentage and even-strength save percentage. While the Canucks have been excellent in their efforts to completely squash the word “controversy” out of their fans’ collective vernacular, Miller’s injury leaves them in the same situation as a year ago. Lack is the unquestioned starter, especially with Markstrom’s meltdown in his first start. This is backwards from their time in the SHL, where Lack backed Markstrom up.

 

Markstrom let in three goals on four shots, leading some to finally close the book on him being cut out for starting in the NHL. I think that is highly unfair, he has dominated in the AHL on a different level than he ever had before, and one game says next to nothing about his talent or mental fortitude. The Canucks know this, and won’t wear Lack out on another crazy run, but it puts any notion of a 1A/1B split on hold, the type of hold that is more likely to end with you hanging up than it does with the call actually being answered. I hope Markstrom makes more out of his next start. Lack does too. It generally takes at 3000 shots at the NHL level to have any idea of a goaltenders true talent. Markstrom has seen 40% of that total. Unfortunately, goalies rarely get that much time and Markstrom’s clock has been ticking for a while.

 

If Lack does well from here on in, he could be near the top of a volatile trade market. While he has had some stinkers in the past month, his last three games have been excellent with save percentages of .958, .943 and .950 over his past three games. Ryan Miller is very unlikely to be moving anywhere, and the Canucks are in an interesting situation with Lack. He makes 1.15 million and then is a UFA after next year, and unless they promise him a starting job, we could see him moving clubs. The only way that Lack starts in the NHL next year is if he plays lights out the rest of the way and the Canucks either trade him or Miller. Given their recent investment in Miller, Jim Benning’s Buffalo connection with Miller, and his up-to-par performance so far, he is unlikely to be moved. Lack is unlikely to be moved unless he indicates an unwillingness to re-sign with Vancouver, or Markstrom shows he can, again be the goaltender of the future.

 

I assign roughly a 10% probability to Lack being a starter or 1A/1B next year, a 40% probability to him starting or being 1A/1B in 2016-17 after his contract is up and a 75% probability to him starting or being 1A/1B in 2017-18 after Miller’s contract is up.

 

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Fellow Swede to Markstrom/Lack, Robin Lehner wasn’t undrafted, rather he was the second goalie taken in the 2009 draft (after Mikko Koskinen, who is having an excellent year in the KHL with, with a .927SV% in the regular season, and a .933SV% so far in the playoffs). He has been inconsistent, and has battled the mental side of the game at every level, but he has always seemed a sure bet to eventually dominate. In his last year playing AHL games, 2012-2013, he did just that to the tune of a 2.12 GAA and .938SV%, earning the call-up for good. In Ottawa, Craig Anderson battled injuries and inconsistency of his own, while Lehner was stellar with a 0.936 SV%. Then next year he was only as inconsistent as the embedded starter, Craig Anderson, finishing with similar stats in 36 games and sparking conversation regarding whether he could start this year.

 

Unfortunately, this year hasn’t gone anywhere near as planned, for Ottawa or Robin. Lehner has a .905 SV% this year, his lowest since his eight-game NHL debut in 2010-11. Like Lack, Lehner’s roadblock was injured for a long period of time, but unlike Lack, he didn’t have much of a chance to take advantage, thanks to inconsistent play and then his own injury, a concussion.

 

While Lack’s well-known backup did nothing to help himself, Lehner’s unknown backup, Andrew Hammond has been on a run for the ages. 7-0-1 with a 1.43 GAA and .954SV. That is insane for a kid whose previous high in save percentage in a full-season is .917. In college. At least Martin Jones had played well for a few years at the AHL level before exploding in the NHL; Hammond currently has a .898 SV% in the AHL. Hammond’s run is great, but I’d put money on him not being a (planned) NHL starter, ever. If you can get any sort of return for him, pull the trigger immediately. I love his story, he might get some more starts, but they will dwindle along with his trade value.

 

The biggest worry for me right now is Lehner’s concussion. He has no plans to start skating, and it has been three weeks since it happened. Concussions are so variable that he could never be the same, or he could be completely fine and play a long, healthy, all-star career.

 

Other than that, Lehner’s path to starting is a little more clear, though his age and RFA status will afford the Senators the opportunity for some more patience. If Ottawa is committed to their rebuild, can get better than the usual market value for Anderson and thinks Lehner/Hammond can win in a year or two, then Anderson will be expendable. Anderson’s new contract is moveable, with no no-trade clause and an average salary of only 4.2 million. I think Lehner is much less likely to be traded than Lack, but Anderson is much more likely to be traded than Miller.

 

I assign roughly a 15% chance to him being a starter or 1A/1B next year, 25% chance in 2016/2017, 40% chance in 2017/18 and 80% chance in 2018/19 (after Anderson’s contract ends). He has a higher chance right away, but his expected start date is later than Lack’s.

 

In the end, I traded Lack to a Canucks fan in a package that netted me Evgeni Malkin. They are so close in value that the final factor in my trade wasn’t me choosing Lehner over Lack as much as it was another person wanting Lack more than I did.

 

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Good news/bad news for some Canucks prospects.

 

Sven Baertchi with his first goal in the Canucks organization:

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Baertschi is playing on the first line with Cal O’Rielly and Alex Grenier, and should get a ton of ice with the high-flying Comets the rest of the season. With four points in his first four AHL games, he is doing what he can to impress the Canucks brass. There will be enough space on the Canucks roster as early as next year, as long as Baertschi can separate himself from the rest of the Canucks’ young hopefuls. Take a look at his competition here.

 

From the same 2011 draft, but picked 16 slots later, Nicklas Jensen was a healthy scratch on Monday.  He has been scoring at a half point per game, but is a team-worst -14. Plus-minus is a terribly applied stat, and has much less meaning compared to most, but when compared to the rest of the team it can shed light. Jensen has either been bad defensively or terribly unlucky, or most likely a bit of both. Hopefully, his luck rights itself and he finishes the season strong, but this is definitely a situation to monitor for Jensen owners. The former first rounder has had flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t experienced sustained AHL success yet, at age 22. Don’t panic yet, but again it bears watching.

 

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Lawson Crouse has been the most divisive prospect I’ve seen in a long time. The opinions range from top-5 pick to far, far away from the first round. I’ll let Brendan take care of the actual analysis, which he did here in November and I’m sure he will continue to do in the coming months. As well, here is another look at what people are saying about him from The Hockey Writers.

 

The stats vs. eyes debate has reared its head again, but in a different form. The most predictive thing we have for prospects at the Junior level is pure points, and points alone can, at times, predict success better than CSS rankings. Crouse doesn’t get many points, relative to other likely top picks. His .83 points per game puts him 11th among 17 year olds in the OHL alone. His statistical comparables have a 10% chance of making the NHL, and at least one writer think that scouts are crazy for even suggesting a top-five pick.

 

On the other side, there are those who love him for the way he plays, and his physical tools. Like it or not, scouting reports are much more valuable at that level than they are at the NHL level. We don’t know his time on ice, we don’t know how many scoring chances he creates or prevents, we don’t know how lucky he has been.

 

On average, points might tell you more than a given subjective ranking, but in specific situations they can suggest things that are simply incorrect. I am interested in finding a blog, or talking to a team with access to information regarding his luck and scoring chance differential. I venture that they put him in a positive light.

 

In the end, most of the scouts agree that he isn’t likely to be a top line force, while most of the stats guys agree that he is worth a top-20 pick. Statistical analysis can tell quite the story, but sometimes we just don’t have the words.

 

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Canadien’s prospect Morgan Ellis had been trending down lately, going from two AHL seasons to the ECHL, but with Beaulieu up full-time, Ellis has been called up and doing very well with 6 points in 11 games, going plus-7. He has very little chance of making an impact in the NHL, but that might have gone up from .001% to .01% with his recent run of play. If he continues to put up a half point a game at the AHL level, it might not be too late for him.

 

I found this out thanks to Eric Daoust, who does excellent work scouting Canadiens’ prospects and doing the Eastern Edge series, among other things, for DobberHockey. He has been crazily productive lately, with 17 updates and a new top 10 just yesterday! Make sure to give yourself a refresher on Montreal’s organizational depth by checking out their page here.

 

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If you like baseball, make sure you take a look at the Dobber Baseball prospect ramblings here. They have three up in the past few days, and are trying to start the season of strong.

 

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Not a prospect, but a sweet goal from Alex Semin.

 

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It was his fourth, goal of the year. Three years ago even, it would have been more believable to think that Semin would have 40 goals in 40 games than four goals in 40 games. While it is doubly so for prospects, even the most talented and established players can fall from grace. At least Semin’s fall is cushioned by a bed replenished with a fresh set of 7 million dollar bills. For all we talk about that, I don’t know if the money is actually making him any happier about his season. 

 

 

 

Another highlight-reel goal, this time by Louke Oakley who isn’t really a prospect either:

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After scoring a point per game in his last year in Div 1. NCAA, Oakley has played at varying levels with offensive success in North America and Europe. This year, he took the level of competition down a notch. In Germany’s third division, he has 51 goals, 55 assists and 106 points in 38 games, which translates to a 229 point pace over 82 games.

 

Scoring three times a game and pulling moves like that sounds like a pretty fun time for a 25 year old Ontario kid whose favorite player is Patrick Kane. He’s probably also enjoying drinking German beer, travelling Europe/experiencing different cultures and maybe exploring opportunities related to his business degree from Clarkson. Not too bad!

 

You can find me on twitter @austeane

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