For the next few weeks, I’m going to try something new; a more column-based approach to the content routine. The goal is to put these out on as many Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays as possible. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment – either on here if you have a membership, or on Twitter!
Galchenyuk Gamble Paying Off
When the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Alex Galchenyuk from the Carolina Hurricanes on February 15th, there were a good deal of questions about the move. Why take a gamble on a player who had bounced around five teams in three years? Or, if you were someone like me who wanted to gamble, but was less patient, why would you let him clear waivers and then trade assets (albeit low-level ones) for him?
As it turns out, the team may have been onto something. While it took some time to get him into his first game with the team – a little over a month, in fact – the buildup seems to have paid off. His first two weeks were spent on the taxi squad, working out what kinks the team wanted to shape out of his game, and what strengths they wanted to promote. On March 1st, he suited up for his first game for the AHL Marlies, and picked up a point in his first period of action, setting up Nick Robertson on a powerplay tally.
Sending a former third overall pick to his first AHL assignment in their late 20’s is risky business, as you never know what level of commitment you’ll get. But in this regard, Galchenyuk was a very pleasant surprise, buying into the system and working to keep up with the play and fit in with everyone else. He quickly put up eight points in six games while averaging multiple shots per outing, and when Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd were lost to waivers, it opened an opportunity for him up with the big club.
To say he’s embraced it might be an understatement. Everyone from Auston Matthews to Jake Muzzin has praised the work ethic he’s shown on the ice, while Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe, and previously, Marlies coach Greg Moore have covered the off-ice part. Combining his work with the development staff, confidence boost with in the minors, and the urgency of a career that needs to not fall off the rails any further than it has in the past year, it looks like the Leafs have landed the player who was a lock for 40+ points in a regular year rather than the one who’s footing seemed lost.
In eight games, averaging 12 minutes per night, Galchenyuk has picked up four points – all at even strength. He’s been willing to work along the boards, throw his body around, and he even looks a little more mobile than he did a year ago, despite his knee injury history being a legitimate point of concern. The underlying results are strong too, as the team has maintained a 53% share of the shot attempts with him on the ice at 5v5, along with a 64% share of the Expected Goals and 75% share of the slot-area shot attempts. In recent games, he’s been elevated to the left wing of William Nylander and John Tavares’ line, and has posted even better results with them, giving the duo an injection of energy that they seemed to be missing for a few weeks.
The sample is, of course, small, and it’s hard to say whether the motivation or the momentum will last. But so far, when you consider the minimal cost of rehabbing the player, this swing seems to carry the DNA of a Home Run. At this point, I’d be looking into the cost of a short-term extension, to see if even more can be done to help him find his gears of days past over the course of a full offseason after this year is done.
Around The Organization
- Michael Hutchinson deserves a lot of credit for his effort in last night’s win against the Calgary Flames. A lot of people were ready to panic after a long-distance, unscreened, untouched shot by Andrew Mangiapane beat him high blocker. The fact that the right side is Hutchinson’s blocker rather than his glove like the majority of non-off-handed goalies likely made the goal look worse than it was, but it had backbreaker potential. Instead, he went a perfect 23 for 23 in the next two periods. That’s a completely different brand of Hutchinson from what we saw last season, and it mattered in a game where the skaters didn’t look quite like themselves. Hutchinson is now 0.919 on the season through seven appearances – a 33 point increase over last year.
- Tonight’s goaltending situation seems a little more fluid at the moment. Jack Campbell’s status remains unknown, though he did get about 15 minutes of practice time in at morning skate today, in the starter’s net. You likely don’t want Hutchinson to start back-to-back games. Personally, with Calgary drifting out of the playoff picture and Toronto’s odds relatively secure, I’d like to see the team roll the dice on Veini Vehvilainen for the first time, but my best guess here is that we’ll probably see Campbell tonight.
- It was nice to see John Tavares pick up a pair of points last night. As mentioned above, the line has looked noticeably perkier with Galchenyuk at his side, and while I feel his off-puck play has balanced out his abnormally low (still at a 70ish point pace) production this season, this is still a player likes to, and gets paid to, put the puck in the net.
- Speaking of players who put pucks in the net, Auston Matthews picked up his 25th of the year yesterday – and his 58th through 82 games under Sheldon Keefe. Funny enough, though, I’d say that calibration was his highlight of the game rather than execution – watching him fumble over preparing a fresh stick mid-game to ensure it was just how he wanted to, from removing stickers to getting the exact height to taking care of his own tape-job between shifts was entertainment in its own right.
Around The League
- I’m really happy for former Marlies and Leafs forward Mason Marchment today, as he signed a one-year extension with the Florida Panthers today at an $800,000 cap hit. The Leafs moved the 25-year-old to the Panthers last season in a trade for Denis Malgin, hoping to get some immediate help for a player that they liked and had developed into someone who was exceeding expectation, but struggled to stay healthy. This year has gone great for him, as he’s picked up a respectable 7 points in 22 NHL games. He’s given them a physical component while still driving play, averaging two hits a game to go with a 57% Corsi share. It’s nice to get cheap, physical depth that actually improves your team’s game flow, and while it didn’t happen here, the organization seems to have been correct about Marchment being a guy who could do it with the right patience and opportunity.
- I’m always curious to see which teams have well-timed fortune deliver them playoff berths. The most obvious way to do that in the analytics era is to go through shot metrics and see who is outperforming their shot share, usually as a result of high on ice shooting and save percentages. Another fun one is seeing who is winning despite being outscored, though, and we’ve currently got two teams in playoff spots: The 0.526 Nashville Predators at -14, and the 0.539 Arizona Coyotes at -14. Interestingly enough, the teams closely trailing them are also over a negative dozen.
- Part of the situation for the Predators comes from a huge winning run that they’ve had in recent weeks, going 9-2 in their last 11 games, with margins of 3 or fewer coming in 8 of those wins. This might be the reason that the price tag on the players they expected to be selling before the trade deadline has shot up – I saw a note from Darren Dreger on the Daily Faceoff podcast that suggests that they’re asking for Ville Heinola, a 1st Round Pick, and a topper from the Winnipeg Jets for Mattias Ekholm. If that’s their idea of the market right now, it might be time to start taking their name out of your trade proposals.
Instead of doing five questions every Monday, I’d like to shift to answering 1 or 2 questions in each of these mashup pieces. If you’d like to ask a question, simply tweet at or DM @faceoffcircleca, leave a comment on here if you’re a subscriber, or use this contact form to email me.
@JoshProksch asked: In a normal season playing for a tie can be an effective strategy to ensure you get at least a point, however this season every team you face is competing for the same playoff spots. So why are more teams not playing hard for a win in regulation this year?
So to the point I mentioned above on teams in playoff spots despite a negative goal difference, there are actually six teams in the league who are at or above 0.500 with a negative goal differential, ranging from -13 (Chicago) to -23 (Philadelphia). 22 teams have 0.500 or above records, nearly half (14 of 31) of all teams have a 0.600 or above record, and should Toronto and Vegas win their games tonight, seven teams will have a .700 or above record.
How is this possible? Overtime points. Three point games absolutely load up the board and create tight races and a league where the average record is 0.559. Mediocrity is a 92 point pace!
Josh is correct in suggesting that, if you’re worried about the playoff race, you’re best off trying to clip games in regulation, forcing your team across the finish line sooner than later to ensure you’re not pulling up a divisional rival with you. But overtime seems to, if anything, be slightly more common this year than it was last year, where the league average record was 0.558. Honestly, most of this just comes down to risk aversion – playing to not lose rather than to win, and from a coach’s perspective, maintaining job security. That habit will never change in coaches, and with respect to overtimes, it definitely won’t change until the loser point is taken out of the league.
@futureleafs99 asked: If the Leafs make a forward deadline acquisition and the cap doesn’t allow them to have a 21 man roster… which current forward gets waived? And do you think it is 100% that they get picked up by another team (ahem Canucks)?
Trying to guess what the waiver market will look like in two weeks is a fool’s errand – so much of the landscape can change by virtue of other trades, COVID protocol, and injuries. Player viability, quite literally, changes by the day, and by the player.
I would imagine that if Toronto was so tight to the cap that this became a concern, they would be sending a player back the other way to avoid that very scenario. Should they not, though, I wonder if Pierre Engvall would be the sacrifice here. He’s already cleared through the wire once this year and, while I do like a lot of elements of his game, he hasn’t exactly broken out in a way that would make him a hot commodity.