The NHL trade deadline has faded in the rearview mirror, and the playoffs are almost a month away, so we’re pretty much wide open in terms of discussion topics for the Ask Me Anything Mailbag. Note that its frequency has slowed down of late. Until draft/free agency season, I won’t automatically publish one every week, but I’ll ramp up in the summer again.
Aayush Das (@notthatbrownkid) asks…
Will Andrei Vasilevskiy rebound? Is it really fatigue? Is Tampa out if he goes down in the playoffs? Louis Domingue (.907 SV% and 3.09 GAA) and Peter Budaj (.876 SV% and 3.77 GAA) have been weak in support.
Hey there, Aayush. I actually have a lot of thoughts on this question, as I’d already been asking it for the past few months.
First off: I can see why anyone would have concern over fatigue for Vasilevskiy. He’d never started more than 47 games in a season before this one. He sits at 56 now, constituting 80 percent of the Lightning’s games so far and putting him on pace to finish 2017-18 with 66 starts. He entered the all-star break with a .931 save percentage and has stopped pucks at a .905 clip since. He’s also been prone to slumps and blow-up games in his young NHL career.
He’s an undeniable goaltending talent but also an enigmatic one. I wanted to understand more about him, so I interviewed him – and Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean – in recent weeks. I want people to read the full story in our next magazine, so I won’t give everything away, but I can share some of the insights I gleaned.
Jean, who mentored Corey Crawford and many other promising netminders in QMJHL Moncton before the NHL, told me Vasilevskiy was pretty much the most talented goalie prospect he’d ever seen when the Bolts picked him 19th overall in 2012. Jean found Vasilevskiy’s skating and especially his reaction and recovery time after rebounds to be off-the-charts good. Jean went on to explain what they wanted Vasilevskiy to work on most:
“His skill level was already really high, so it was a question of refining everything and putting everything together in a system that would apply to pro hockey. One of the big elements from Europe to coming to North America was his screen play and traffic play. So that was a big element of the work we did with him early on. And the rest was really to put all his skill set into a game plan that we could execute every day to build a certain consistency in his game.
“The last thing we really put a lot of emphasis on is just his maturity as a pro. Being able to show up every day and be level-headed. He’s a guy that’s very intense, very competitive, and sometimes the emotions would take over a little bit..”
I met Vasilevskiy for the first time in late January, and I agree – he’s quite an intense dude (also a sneaky-funny dude). I specifically asked him about his propensity for slumps and how he manages his emotions these days, and his answer was interesting:
“Games like that are going to happen. There’s nothing we can do about it. We have to control what we can control. It’s our effort, our attitude and our work ethic.”
Quite a level-headed response. Maybe he’s learning. He also said he talks on the phone with his father, a former Soviet League goalie and current KHL goaltending coach, all the time. The discussions aren’t about technique, Vasilevskiy said, but about the mental side of the game. So to me, it seems he’s an emotionally mature guy, tough enough to endure these skids. Jean also said Vasilevskiy is as dedicated as any goalie he’s ever seen when it comes to day-to-day, fatigue-fighting discipline like nutrition, sleep and stretching.
But I said repeatedly leading up to the trade deadline that I felt Lightning GM Steve Yzerman needed to pursue a high-end backup goaltender. This team is clearly in a Cup-contention window, for this season and next before Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point become RFAs in summer 2020. Yzerman already went for broke to get Ryan McDonagh…so why not pay up a little extra for a better backup goalie? I would’ve loved to see the Bolts rent, say, Jaroslav Halak or Antti Raanta as a “luxury backup.” Not only could they have spelled Vasilevskiy down the stretch, but they would’ve been viable starting options if Vasilevskiy imploded or got hurt in the playoffs. Budaj and Domingue? Good luck.
Andrew Nazareth (@canuckguru) asks…
Whose draft + 1 season is more impressive: Eeli Tolvanen’s or Elias Pettersson’s?
Great question, Andrew, especially since both these drafted 2017 prospects have spiked their stocks so significantly this year. I’m splitting hairs by picking one over the other, but I lean ever so slightly toward Tolvanen. I’m not saying he’s the better prospect – I would choose to build my team around Pettersson over Tolvanen, actually – just that Tolvanen has impressed me most.
For one, Tolvanen plays in the KHL. Pettersson has done amazing things with Vaxjo of the SHL, but the KHL is a consensus top-three league in the world. It’s the NHL, some combination of the KHL and AHL, and then a little gap before you get to the fourth and fifth, which I would say are the Swedish League (SHL) and Finland’s SM-liiga. The KHL is a league good enough to employ the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, not to mention some of the world’s most elite goalie prospects, such as Ilya Samsonov, Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin…and Tolvanen has carved the circuit up. He set a new record for the most points by a player younger than 20, with his 38 beating Evgeny Kuznetsov’s mark of 32. On top of his KHL accomplishments, Tolvanen went nuts in the Olympics, too, with nine points in five games for Team Finland. Considering he was the No. 30 overall pick in 2017 and Pettersson was the No. 5 selection, Tolvanen has surpassed expectations more and thus impressed me more.
Pettersson is a monster, though. He leads the entire SHL in scoring at 19! And since he’s a center, I think he’ll be more of a difference maker in the NHL. If Pettersson fills out and gets strong enough, I see him becoming a Nicklas Backstrom type. Tolvanen, being a pure goal scorer, could have a bigger impact sooner since he doesn’t have to be the creator of chances, but I’d bet on Pettersson in the long term.
Shayne Rounds (@shayne_58) asks…
If Evgeni Malkin wins both the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard, does he win the Hart Memorial Trophy?
Let’s start by looking at the historical context. The last player to lead the league in goals and points in the same season was Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 (65 goals, 112 points, and he ran away with the Hart Trophy, earning 97.9 percent of first-place votes. Players to lead the league in goals and points in the same season since the Art Ross was introduced in 1947-48:
Alex Ovechkin, 2007-08
Jarome Iginla, 2001-02*
Mario Lemieux, 1995-96
Mario Lemieux, 1988-89*
Wayne Gretzky, 1986-87
Wayne Gretzky, 1984-85
Wayne Gretzky, 1983-84
Wayne Gretzky, 1982-83
Wayne Gretzky, 1981-82
Guy Lafleur, 1977-78
Phil Esposito, 1973-74
Phil Esposito, 1972-73*
Phil Esposito, 1971-72*
Phil Esposito, 1970-71*
Bobby Hull, 1965-66
Bobby Hull, 1961-62*
Bobby Hull, 1959-60*
Gordie Howe, 1962-63
Gordie Howe, 1956-57
Gordie Howe, 1952-53
Gordie Howe, 1951-52
Gordie Howe, 1950-51*
Bernie Geoffrion, 1960-61
Bernie Geoffrion, 1954-55*
Dickie Moore, 1957-58*
Jean Beliveau, 1955-56
Names with asterisks did not win the Hart. So a player has led the league in goals and points in the same season 26 times in the past 70 years – and 16, or 61.5 percent, went on to earn league MVP honors. That precedent hardly makes Malkin a shoo-in, then.
I also liken Malkin’s situation to Esposito’s. He led the NHL in goals and points four straight years and only walked away with one Hart over that stretch. Two of Bobby Orr’s three MVPs came over that time. So Esposito likely lost votes because of the perception his teammate Orr was feeding him for so many of those goals. As great as Esposito was, that was partially true, and Esposito wasn’t the top player on his own team. Orr was even better.
And Sidney Crosby is a borderline top-five player of all-time at this point, at worst a top-10 player, which could hurt Malkin in the MVP voting. Is it a coincidence Malkin’s lone Hart came in a year when Crosby was shelved with concussion problems? When Sid and Geno share a team, the perception among PHWA voters seems to suggest a player can’t be most valuable to his team when the world’s best all-around player shares that same team. Malkin has been sublime this season, but opponents also must choose between deploying their shutdown lines against Crosby’s trio, Malkin’s trio or Phil Kessel’s trio since Penguins coach Mike Sullivan splits them onto different lines most nights. Per corsica.hockey, among forwards with 500 or more minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Malkin ranks 256th in quality of competition. Crosby ranks 137th.
Malkin is an unbelievable talent, and it’s a travesty that he wasn’t named to the NHL’s top 100 players of all-time last year. He already owns two Art Rosses, a Hart, a Calder, a Conn Smythe and three Stanley Cups. And look at the other names who’ve led the league in goals and points in the same year: all Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers. But if we want to vote on the Hart using the proper definition of the award, has Malkin been the most valuable player to his team? I’m not yet convinced. The Colorado Avalanche are a one-line team, meaning everyone can stack their shutdown unit against Nathan MacKinnon. He’s 80th in quality of competition in the aforementioned sample. Connor McDavid is 41st. So I don’t think we can automatically hand Malkin the Hart just yet. If he ends up distancing the field significantly in goals and points, it will be tough to deny him the award, but I don’t think Ovechkin or Patrik Laine will stop filling the net anytime soon.
All Red Everything (@RedEvrything) asks…
Say Chicago gets the second overall pick. Filip Zadina/Andrei Svechnikov/Brady Tkachuk/Quinn Hughes, who do they take?
This is a fun sandbox to play in because I really like the 2018 draft class’ projected first round. To me, it beats the pants off 2017’s group. Chicago is a difficult case to assess because, honestly, this team needs everything. In our just-released Future Watch 2018, in which our panel of scouts from around the league grades every team’s farm systems and 21-and-under NHLers, the Blackhawks finished near the very bottom of the league. Their best individual prospect ranked 68th. That’s totally OK, as years of contending and mortgaging picks for playoff chases have that effect. It was totally worth it. Other teams ranking at or near the bottom in Future Watch include Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. But, even though it happened for the right reasons, Stan Bowman’s long-term roster blueprint looks barren.
Chicago’s deepest position right now is probably center, as Jonathan Toews and Artem Anisimov still have valuable years left and Nick Schmaltz’s career is just getting started. That actually works out for this draft class, because there are no can’t-miss, top-flight centers available. Svechnikov…Zadina…Tkachuk…winger, winger, winger. The Hawks sit 19th in goals per game right now, their lowest rank in the Joel Quenneville era, so they could use a pure goal scorer. Tkachuk is a beast of a power forward who does more than just score, while Svechnikov and Zadina profile as big-time snipers. I think Svechnikov has the higher goal-scoring ceiling, and there’s no ‘Russian factor’ risk for a kid who has spent his past two seasons in the USHL and OHL. To me, though, Zadina feels more “Chicago.” The Blackhawks love players who blend responsible two-way play with their scoring, and one of Zadina’s best reported features, on top of his scintillating offense, is his intelligent and dogged effort in all three zones. So if Chicago ends up with a shot to choose between those two, I’d predict Zadina, but it’s just a guess.
As for Hughes – this draft class is quite rich in defensemen, and the Hawks pick twice in the first round after acquiring a selection from Nashville in the Ryan Hartman deal, so I could see them using that second first-rounder on a D-man. You can pass on Hughes and still come away with an exciting blueline pick later.
Matt (@mattadkins) asks…
It’s been a while since a D-man has been a consensus No. 1 pick. Do you see any teams trying to trade up for Rasmus Dahlin if they lose the lottery? Furthermore, are there even teams that would trade the first pick?
You’re right, Matt. It’s tough to remember the last time a defenseman soared above the draft pack like Dahlin has. Aaron Ekblad went first overall in 2014 but wasn’t a consensus top pick. Sam Bennett won that honor in our Draft Preview magazine at the time. Seth Jones was a frontrunner for much of 2012-13 before slipping to the fourth overall pick.
The last time we saw a No. 1-ranked blueline prospect with Dahlin’s perceived ceiling as an offensive weapon? It honestly might be Denis Potvin in 1973. That sounds like hyperbole, I know. I’m not saying Dahlin will be as good as Potvin. I’m just saying that, compared to the first-overall blueliners since then – from Rob Ramage to Roman Hamrlik to Ed Jovanovski – I don’t think any had this level of hype. Maybe Bryan Berard did? He was projected to be a special scoring defenseman for sure. Even if Berard counts, that was 23 years ago. So Dahlin really is a unique prospect. I thus don’t believe any team would trade the first overall pick. It’s too valuable in the cap era to have a player with that skill level under team control deep into his mid-20s. Players are so good so young these days that teams with super-rookies on entry-level deals as teenagers get huge advantages. Dahlin is the rare ‘D’ prospect with potential to advance directly to the big league. You have to hold onto a chip like that.
The last first overall pick to be traded was the Panthers’ selection in 2003. It was actually the fourth time the No. 1 slot got dealt in a six-year stretch between 1998 and 2003! What the hell!? But this is a different NHL now. The pre-cap era feels like apples to oranges. No one has traded the top pick in 15 years, and the last time it happened, the transaction largely reflected roster needs, as Marc-Andre Fleury was the top player on the board in 2003 and the Florida Panthers already had a young Roberto Luongo.
So while I’m sure every team would have interest in trading for the Dahlin pick – who wouldn’t? – I don’t see it happening at all. If anything, landing Dahlin just increases the odds of his new team dealing someone else – an expensive veteran body. For instance, the Ottawa Senators and Arizona Coyotes have some of the best odds to win the lottery. If they did, the Dahlin pick wouldn’t be their most obvious trade commodities. It would be Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson a year out from free agency. You want the cheap years of Dahlin plus the many seasons of team control.