August 31, 2014

Thomas Drance

2014-08-31

Thoughts on Ryan Johansen, Brent Burns, and player age

 

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As negotiations drag on with little movement, the Columbus Blue Jackets are reportedly preparing to enter training camp without top-line center Ryan Johansen. The 21-year-old pivot, already a thirty-goal scorer in the NHL, has been unable to come to an agreement with the club that drafted him with a top-five pick a few years ago; and the two sides are thought to be as much as $3 million apart.

 

As good as Johansen is, and I really think he has the potential to be a lockdown top-line center with first-liner skills – in the mold of an Anze Kopitar – there are some good reasons for the Blue Jackets to be leary of compensating him like he’s a top-20 centerman (namely that he’s an RFA who isn’t arbitration eligible).

 

Chief among those reasons, obviously, is that Johansen is only about 15-months removed from being a healthy scratch in the Calder Cup Playoffs and has only performed at a 30-goal, 60-point, play-driving dynamo level in one of his three professional seasons. Another reason: Johansen’s 30 goal season was driven in large part by extraordinarily favorable, Joe Pavelski-like, shooting luck as Jonathan Willis touched on at length over at Sportsnet.

 

Personally I’m higher on Johansen than Willis is, but it’s worth noting – especially for fantasy owners – that he’s probably not a true talent 30 goal guy. He’s especially not a 30 goal guy if he’s going to miss the first couple of weeks of the hockey season to a contract dispute…

 

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Let’s take a minute on this labor day long weekend and discuss player age, shall we? Repeated studies from folks with Ken Kryzwicki and Gabriel Desjardins have shown that players ‘peak’ from an offensive production standpoint a lot earlier than conventional hockey wisdom might dictate.

 

There’s no easier way to get hockey fans upset than describing a player like 26-year-old superstar Phil Kessel as “likely past his scoring prime” but, you know what, mathematically speaking it’s probably true. 

 

The key word there is ‘probably’ though, and obviously a guy like Kessel is a pretty special player. Also we’re talking about players as a group, not as individuals here. Obviously there’s going to be individuals who buck the wider trend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the data to better inform your fantasy hockey decision making…

 

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Anyway, I was thinking a lot about player age this week because of a couple of recent news items. The first was the reaction when Justin Schultz signed his one-year, nearly $3.5 million contract (an awful deal for the Oilers, by the way).

 

Shortly after the deal was done, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish described the ex-Wisconsin Badger as having “Norris potential” and Schultz himself said that he’d like to win a Norris one day “but it’s early.” Well, you know what, it’s not really that early – Schultz is 24 and is likely in the midst of his prime scoring years.

 

Not only is Schultz nearing the point of his career where he sort of just “is what he is,” but also, like the Oilers themselves, Schultz is a spectacular defensive liability despite his boundless offensive skill and “potential.” I don’t think people understand just how lost Schultz is in his own end, but I really think his defensive game is Marc-Andre Bergeron quality at the moment.

 

Consider that Schultz is the only NHL blue-liner to rank in the bottom five in the league