Time to Downgrade

Rick Roos





Time to downgrade Pavelski, Ryan, Staal, Sharp and Koivu says Rick Roos

Every year right before the playoffs, while information is still fresh on our minds about players from all 30 teams, it's good to take stock of what happened during the season and how it might impact the future. Some people like to make mental notes on which guys are trending upward or might be poised for a breakout next season; but I find that doing the opposite actually can be more useful and reliable at this point in time.  So instead, I figure out which guys I can finally write off as never being able to achieve a certain level of production – I call it my "time to downgrade" guys.


This year I thought I'd turn it into a two part column, focusing this week on forwards who should no longer be projected to score 75+ points in a season during their career, and next week I'll shift to forwards who should be ruled out as 60+ point scorers.  For my "Final Verdict", each week I'll give some general thoughts on how to reliably identify guys like these.


Forwards who will never be 75+ point producers

In today's NHL, a 75 point season is as rare – and therefore as valuable – as a point per game season was just a few years ago, with an average of only just over 20 players per year hitting the 75 point mark in the past five full seasons. But the reality is that 75 points now seems out of reach for the five guys discussed below, each of whom was thought to be a good bet to score at least that many points at some time during his career. As a result, it's time to lower expectations for them once and for all.


Bobby Ryan

With Ryan having scored 30+ goals in each of his first four full seasons, there's no doubt he's a very skilled player. After all, the only other current NHLer to have accomplished that feat just happens to be some guy named Alexander Ovechkin. But the reality is that despite being only 26 years old, Ryan just hasn't looked the same since last season. It's true that Teemu Selanne can't stick around forever to affect Ryan's ice time, but looking on Frozen Pool we can see that Ryan is playing more than 25% of his even strength shifts with both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry this season, and nearly another 15% with either Perry or Getzlaf, so it's not like his situation stands to get that much better than it is now.

And although Ryan's power play time is below two minutes per game this season (1:56), that’s only about 20 seconds less than the average of his man advantage time from the past two seasons, so we can't look to that as an explanation. In the end, whatever the reasons might be for his poor performance, and with Ryan on pace to score only in the 50-55 point range this season (after putting up just 57 last season), it's time to cap future expectations for him in the 60-65 point range, with perhaps a remote shot of hitting 70 again down the road. But forget about 75 points ever happening.


Jordan Staal

Most everyone was rooting for Jordan Staal to break out this season, after seeing his considerable talent go to waste on the third line in Pittsburgh for six long seasons. But after this campaign in Carolina, where Staal has received an abundance of top six time (over 50% of his even strength shifts have been alongside Jeff Skinner, according to Frozen Pool), he's simply not shown any indication of his skills translating to elite point totals.

The reality is that Staal is simply too well-rounded of a player to put up big points, as evidenced by him getting almost as much shorthanded time per game (2:11) as power play time (2:23). It's yet another case of "real hockey" getting in the way of fantasy hockey, sort of like John Carlson's offensive output being held back in Washington because he's simply too valuable defensively. Some might still be holding out hope that Carolina will put Jordan on a line with big brother Eric Staal next season, and I agree that doing so would likely help his point total improve (especially given Skinner's struggles since his rookie season). But even if he was to line up with Eric at even strength, I still don't see Jordan making the leap into anything close to 75 point territory in the future, what with him now basically scoring at the same pace he did in most of his seasons with Pittsburgh. Instead, look for him to perhaps settle somewhere in the 60 point range in future seasons, with some hope to exceed 65 points down the road.


Mikko Koivu

Koivu's problem is similar to Staal's in that everyone figured his inability to put up big points in past seasons was due to surrounding circumstances, not a lack of talent. But unlike what happened with Staal, who was stuck in a largely non-offensive role for the Pens, Koivu was getting top six minutes pretty much all along; it's just those minutes were in Minnesota's defensively-minded system without elite scorers around him or puck moving defensemen on the blue line.

Fast forward to last summer, and Koivu finally saw his supporting cast improve, what with the arrival of proven scorer Zach Parise and offensive-minded defensemen Ryan Suter (plus, to a smaller degree, the return to full health of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and a full season from Tom Gilbert). But we all have seen what's actually happened – the result has been great for Suter, who's enjoying his best offensive season, but Parise's production has fallen off somewhat and Koivu is once again scoring at a roughly 65 point pace.  And all this is happening despite the Wild’s team scoring totals being way up (by nearly half a goal per game).

From what we've now been able to observe, it's finally time to permanently adjust expectations for Koivu. At age 30, and with ten or more games missed in four of his seven full seasons, Koivu simply does not have a realistic chance to hit 75 points down the road. If he even gets to 70 again, that will be an accomplishment in and of itself.


Patrick Sharp

Sharp is a victim of being a band-aid boy, coupled with the emergence of young Blackhawks forwards like Brandon Saad, Victor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw. What's most concerning is that Sharp is scoring below a 60 point pace this season despite being the only Blackhawk forward averaging over three minutes of power play time per game; and that amount will only go down in the future, being given instead to the likes of Saad (1:30 in PP time per game in his first full season), Stalberg (2:15 of PP time per game, up from 0:27 per game last season), and Shaw (2:01 in PP time per game, up from 1:29 in 37 games last season).

At age 31, Sharp likely still has a few years of decent productivity in him, and there's little doubt that he'll continue to be counted on by the Hawks to contribute offensively. But there are only so many minutes and points to go around. As a result, expecting even another 70 point season is likely a stretch, and 75 is now simply too far out of reach, especially since – counting this year – he'll have missed eight or more games in four of his past five seasons.


Joe Pavelski

Pavelski's situation is similar to Ryan's in that he seems to have taken a surprising step back over the past couple of seasons. As Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have slowed, most likely thought that Pavelski would step in and compensate for the offense they no longer were providing, with his point total climbing in the process. But that simply hasn't happened, despite the 28 year old Pavelski still getting over three minutes of PP duty per game and close to the overall ice time he had received in the past. And this decline was without a Martin Havlat in the mix for most of last season and a good chunk of this season to eat up points.

What it boils down to is that Pavelski's overall situation probably won't get any better than it has been during the past couple of seasons, especially since San Jose as a team doesn't have many other players about to enter their prime and because Pavelski simply hasn't shown an ability to score on his own. Although it's possible that he'll truly step up to the plate only after Marleau and Thornton are entirely out of the picture, I have serious doubts based on what I've seen. My personal feeling is not only will Pavelski be unable to hit 75 points down the road, but it's uncertain whether he'll even cross the 65 point threshold again.

Final Verdict

It's never easy to downgrade a player who was thought to be a good bet to become a top 20 scorer. But to win in fantasy hockey you have to know how and when to spot these situations before other guys in your league, as that way you can do better in your draft and ensure that you come out on the winning end of trades.

But how can you tell?  How can you know which players to downgrade, and when?

When it comes to downgrading guys who were thought to be on track to achieve 75+ points in a season, the biggest key to watch out for is decreased production that seemingly bears no relation to injury or ice time and that occurs despite the player still having been given every opportunity to succeed by his team. In other words, if this player is still getting favorable top six and PP minutes yet his stats are going down while others around him are doing just fine (or improving), then you need to take a hard look at the situation.

One thing to avoid is writing off a player because of what might very well be a "defense first" focus of the team around him, since as we've seen (with Washington this year, for example), that can change quickly. But it is reasonable to look at guys on consistently defensive minded teams like Nashville, New Jersey, and Los Angeles and factor in their team's long term defensive philosophy when figuring whether or not they might hit 75 points. Age is not automatically a huge factor, but it should be considered on sort of a sliding scale – that is, you need more evidence to write off a guy who's 25 years old with only five or so seasons played than you would with someone who is 30 years old with 10+ seasons under his belt.

One last thing – some of you might be reading this and thinking it's too early to write off most of the guys I named, since they could be traded or find themselves in a more favorable situation down the road. Both of those are valid concerns, but in fantasy hockey you have to plan for the future based largely on what you know now, which is what I did in this article.


Previously, from Holding Court:


The Playoff Chase – Fantasy Impact
What’s got into these guys? 
5 Huge Deadline Mistakes to Avoid 
Over 30, But Yet to Peak 
Under 30, But Has Already Peaked 
Does Size Really Matter? 
15 Signs That Your Team is not Going to Win This Year 


Mar 29 - 12:03 PHI vs PIT
Mar 29 - 15:03 CHI vs L.A
Mar 29 - 15:03 N.J vs CAR
Mar 29 - 15:03 WPG vs VGK
Mar 29 - 19:03 STL vs MIN
Mar 29 - 20:03 EDM vs ANA
Mar 29 - 21:03 COL vs NSH
Mar 29 - 22:03 S.J vs ARI


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