LGD – Game 8: Hurricanes @ Leafs – Rielly and Skinner

We’re seven games into the season and I feel that for the most part, we’ve avoided the dreaded “Morgan Rielly Question”. To simplify Article 9.1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, an 18- or 19-year-old player that is eligible to return to junior hockey can have his entry level contract extended by a year if he doesn’t play 10 games at the pro level.

At this point, you worry less about “burning” the year off of the ELC, since Rielly has played enough games at the NHL level that he’ll probably surpass the 9-game limit once he gets recalled to the Marlies once his junior season is over (EDIT – @birky points out that only NHL games count here). It becomes a developmental question, whether you think that the benefits of having Rielly on your team now surpass the benefits of having Rielly on your team next year after a year of dominating the Western Hockey League.

How good has Rielly been? Well, it’s tough to tell, since defencemen are inherently tough to judge by watching alone (since a good defensive play is something that didn’t happen) and it’s not worth going to the usual websites to find out Rielly’s possession numbers. Underlying numbers mean little without context, and the context we’d apply to Rielly’s situation is “it’s only been five games”. 

He has three assists, ten shots on goal and has drawn a couple of penalties already in just five games. He’s also become fairly active in the neutral zone, and while I don’t have any hard numbers on his zone entry rate, it feels like it’s been pretty high with him and Jake Gardiner running that show. Generally, he’s faced second-pairing competition on the ice with Cody Franson, who has struggled to start the season. I don’t know if Franson is struggling because of his inability to adapt with Rielly, but it’s worth noting that even with Franson playing below a level he’s capable of, that 44-4 pairing won’t make a reasonable fan clench his or her sphincter.

At this point I’m leaning towards “A – keep him up in the NHL”. The smallest of samples, but nothing has happened during his five-game tryout that makes me feel the guy isn’t cut out for a regular NHL job, and as stated, it’s likely that Rielly would pass the 10-game threshold when he rejoins the club at the conclusion of his junior year. We still have four more games left for the powers that be to make a decision, and it will probably be more a development-related than contract-influenced one. I’m a little more bearish on the club’s depth than some, and while T.J. Brennan is cutting it up in the American Hockey League right now, he’s never shown anything particularly tasty at the NHL-level. Depth is never a bad thing. 

You could also flip a coin.

Rielly will play his sixth game of the season tonight, barring disaster, against Carolina.


Jeff Skinner’s PDO numbers and his even strength points per 60 minutes are pretty interesting. I’ve normalized his points per 60, in the far right column, to 955 minutes a season, or 73 games worth of 13 even strength minutes per game:

  On-ice Shots/20 On-Ice Sh% Points/60 Adj. Pts
2011 10.0 10.21% 2.44 39
2012 10.0 8.85% 1.93 31
2013 11.9 4.89% 1.26 20
2014 10.7 13.64% 2.93 47

(per Hockey Analysis)

Skinner’s a fascinating case study because he got off to such a hot start in his NHL career and won the Calder Trophy. He experienced the “sophomore slump” or regression to the mean, when his on-ice shot percentage was knocked down a couple of points. He slumped hard in the shortened season, getting just 24 points in 42 games, but as you can see, that was more related to percentages than performance.

Here are his individual shooting statistics:

  Goals/82 Shots/Game Sh%
2011 31.0 2.62 14.42%
2012 25.6 3.28 9.52%
2013 25.4 3.79 8.18%
2014 23.4 4.00 7.14%

It’s nuts how much he’s improved over his NHL career. Not many players can take more than three shots per game. Just 36 with at least 90 games played in the last three seasons (starting with 2011-2012) have taken than much, and Skinner is 12th with 3.51, tied with Henrik Zetterberg. His shot percentage though, is 32nd over the same span.

He was a player worth buying low on at the start of the season in any hockey pool you may be in. In my keeper league, I acquired him for Sergei Bobrovsky, since Skinner presents a unique opportunity: not many elite-level guys have had such pedestrian counting level stats over the last two seasons. So far in the season, the gamble has paid off, with Skinner on pace for his best offensive season yet at evens, but the catch is that his on-ice shot percentage is already much higher than it was in his 2011 season. If it can stay in the 9-10% range, my gamble will probably be a good one. If his individual shooting percentage numbers recover, he could be a goal-scoring force again. 

Skinner’s a fun case study, and if you play any fantasy hockey, he’s the type of player I have a lot of success on because everybody else in the league overlooks him. His nose-dive in counting numbers seems to fit along with the time he sat on the shelf with a concussion, and it makes people wary that he will never recover to play at the same pace as his rookie year, ignoring that his rookie season was an outlier in terms of percentages.


Per dailyfaceoff. James van Riemsdyk won’t play tonight and is listed as day-to-day, according to Arash Madani. Back issues.

Mason Raymond – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
David Broll – Nazem Kadri – Joffrey Lupul
Josh Leivo – David Bolland – Jay McClement
Carter Ashton – Trevor Smith – Colton Orr

Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Morgan Rielly – Cody Franson
Paul Ranger – Jake Gardiner

The big story yesterday was about how the Maple Leafs victory music is a Miley Cyrus track, picked out by Tyler Bozak. I still don’t know what the Leafs goal song is, so if anybody can let me know in the comments, but the Leafs are very committed to horrible music right now. The current goal song, plus the weird fascination with Harlem Shake last year, makes you pine for the days of the relatively un-annoying Zombie Nation.

One of the interesting things about the Leafs is that last season, Carlyle used a dedicated checking unit, usually comprised of a Mikhail Grabovski-Nik Kulemin pairing, up against the opposition’s top forwards. So far this season, van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel have seen the highest share of the opposition’s most used forwards, and that’s been with the majority of the games at home. Carlyle has strayed away from his use of a checking line at home, which is something he’s generally done throughout his career. Should the trend continue against Carolina, this could be worth a post on Friday.


Again, per dailyfaceoff, updated with some info from Chip Alexander:

Tuomo Ruutu – Eric Staal – Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe – Jordan Staal – Jiri Tlusty
Jeff Skinner – Riley Nash – Radek Dvorak
Drayson Bowman – Pat Dwyer – Kevin Westgarth

Justin Faulk – Andrej Sekera
Jay Harrison – Ryan Murphy
Ron Hainsey – Brett Bellemore

If you were naming somebody with the intent of him becoming a sports reporter in the American south, you’d call him “Chip Alexander”.

Jeff Skinner was moved off that top line, where he’d spent most of the season to date. Elias Lindholm will miss the game due to a recurring upper-body injury. Generally, head coach Kirk Muller balances out the ice-time for his top three lines and gives limited minutes to his fourth. He’s also a zone matcher: the Eric Staal line will get offensive zone starts and the Jordan Staal line will get the defensive zone starts. Westgarth is in the lineup to serve as Colton Orr’s punching bag tonight.


Hilariously, the Hurricanes have played seven games this season, and are 0-2-3 in games Cam Ward plays. He’s taken a loss in each of his appearances so far, despite a .913 save percentage and a very impressive .930 at even strength. He’s been lit up in special teams situations so far this season, with just 10 stops on 13 shorthanded shots. Ward’s had a heavy workload in his career, but he’s also lost a lot of games to injury in the last four seasons, so it’s unsurprising that the Hurricanes went to get some goaltender insurance in the summer in Anton Khudobin, who was the odd-man out of a pretty good goaltending triage in Boston.

The Leafs are going with James Reimer.


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So, uh, remember what I was saying about Jeff Skinner above? He’s the kind of player that fantasy leagues undervalue.

The Leafs and the Hurricanes face off at 7:00 Eastern on LEAFS TV.

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