This week's Capped discusses the 2016 year in review.
Welcome back to the first Capped article of 2017. It is crazy to think that I have been writing these articles for four months, and it is still going. I have had such a great time with this, and I am looking forward to continuing in the New Year. I also feel that I have learned so much, both from the research that these articles require, as well as from all of the readers, other writers, and forum members. So I would just like to say a big thanks to all of you for a great year, and all the best for 2017.
Looking back at 2016, there were certainly a lot of interesting story lines. This article is going to run through some of the bigger storylines of the past calendar year and tie them into the Salary Cap.
Restricted Free Agents
My first article here at Dobber Hockey (September 2016) discussed some of the restricted free agents (RFAs) that had yet to sign. There were a couple of hits with the predictions of the contracts in that article, but also a couple of misses. The biggest surprises though, were the length of time that some of the players held out, and the small salary of Nikita Kucherov. It just goes to show how tough it can be to try and peg a future contract when there are so many moving parts for the player and the organization. When trying to forecast future contracts, we can take away that it is better to assume the contract will be a little higher, and be pleasantly surprised, than the other way around.
Going back to the holdouts, has there ever been a year where a more prominent crop of young talent has held teams hostage as a bargaining chip for a better contract? From Johhny Gaudreau and his massive demands (then settling for the same pay as Flames captain Mark Giordano), to Jacob Trouba and his 15 games missed due to the holdout, there was lots of RFA intrigue to go around. With the class of 2017 including big names such as Ryan Johansen, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Galchenyuk among others, we could be in for another set of interesting negotiations this summer.
The Pittsburgh Championship
Since the hiring of Mike Sullivan in December of 2015, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a 58-24-10 record in the regular season, and won the 2016 Stanley Cup. This was a big deal, because every team looks to the Stanley Cup winner of the previous season, and tries to emulate them. There are a few things that Pittsburgh did very well: They rolled three scoring lines, they played with speed, and they supplemented their stars with smart young talent. Supplementing a core of pricy stars with cheap talent is something the Chicago Blackhawks (winners of multiple Stanley Cups in the past decade) have also had a lot of success with over the last few years.
In hindsight, the smartest thing to do would have been to find the teams that have the best third lines that will be seeing more ice time, and who the fastest teams are, and target them. I won’t say that I could have predicted Columbus’ rise to the top of the league, but what could have possibly been foreseen is that deeper and faster offensive teams like the Rangers, Wild and Blue Jackets would find success this season. Some of the second and third line players on these teams have become among the best bargains of the first half of this season. Players like Kevin Hayes, J. T. Miller, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Cam Atkinson have all largely exceeded expectations. Looking at the effect of Stanley Cup champions could be another interesting projection tool for future seasons depending on the strengths of those winning teams.
Age Means Nothing
The 2016 calendar year saw a few records broken by both old and young. Jaromir Jagr passed Mark Messier for second all-time in career points, and he says he thinks that he still has a few years left! Shane Doan recently scored his 400th career goal in his 1500th career game, becoming the 12th member of an exclusive club to do both. On the flip side, Auston Matthews scored four goals in his first career NHL game, becoming the first player in NHL history to do so. Out West, Connor McDavid is showing why he is touted as one of the best players in hockey, currently tied for the league lead in points. In addition to the above, players both young and old such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Laine and Jack Eichel are showing that we can’t judge players solely based on their age.
In salary cap leagues, it is nothing new that a big part of success is collecting the young guys before they break out, and reaping the rewards of an entry-level contract. Again and again, once players hit the age of 30 they become poison in the eyes of fantasy owners, and they are traded almost as soon as possible. Age can be a useful tool sometimes as a tiebreaker when debating between two players, but it should never be used as a be-all and end-all when making the decision. The older players sometimes still have it.
All three of Doan, Thornton and Jagr have their contracts expiring at the end of this season. Jagr and Thornton at minimum are expected back. Also having them at a smaller price tag for next season, they could be a little bit of an unexpected bargain. Moving forward, grabbing a handful of older guys on a fantasy team can be a great way to accumulate some stats from undervalued places. Whether it be buying low in a trade or a later draft pick, you know exactly what you are getting with these players. In a salary cap league, it is hugely important to make sure that you are getting proper bang for your buck. Balance between everything is important, and mixing in some key veterans can shore up a lineup very nicely.
As always, thanks for reading, and best wishes to everyone in 2017!