This week I’m trying something new. The idea is to take the “pick a winner” concept of Cage Match and make it appeal to a wider audience. How? Covering more players (three, instead of two) and focusing on each player individually (versus by comparison) within a shorter column, yet still providing the thorough information Cage Match readers have come to expect. Liking what you hear? Read on……
It’s a play on Goldilocks and the Three Bears – where Goldilocks tasted three different porridges and found one to be too hot, another too cold, and the third just right. Applying this to fantasy hockey, I’ll cover three skaters and declare one “too hot” (i.e., doing unsustainably better than he should), another “too cold” (i.e., doing unsustainably worse than he should), and the third “just right” (i.e., producing right around where he should). What’s nice is unlike Cage Match (where I’m somewhat limited by needing to pick skaters who, on paper, are similarly matched and haven’t been covered too recently), here I can pick virtually any three skaters, mixing and matching different ages, positions, etc.
How It Will Work, and Why It’s Useful
I’ll present relevant data and explain why I reach my conclusions, indicating who’s too hot, too cold, and just right, plus the degree to which each label applies. Think of it this way – on a scale of 1 to 10, 1-3 represents too cold, 4-7 just right, and 8-10 too hot. If a just right player is a 4, that means although he’s technically in the just right range he’s on the border of being too cold, which in turn suggests he’s more likely to do a bit better over the rest of 2016-17 than a just right player who’s a 5. Meanwhile, a 6 or 7 rated just right player, by virtue of being closer to the too hot range, could be more at risk of a slight decline over the rest of the season than a 4 or 5 rated just right player.
The column is useful for poolies in one-year leagues, since it focuses on ROS output. It’s also beneficial for keeper GMs, to let you know whether a player is a candidate for buying low (i.e., too cold), selling high (i.e., too hot), or a hold (i.e., just right) and to determine who to keep if you only have a limited number of slots.
Player #1 – Brad Marchand
The feisty Marchand is seemingly experiencing a mid to late career breakout the likes of which haven’t been seen in ages. Although three prior seasons of 53-61 points (along with high PIM and solid SOG) had already put him on the fantasy roadmap, now suddenly he’s a top five scorer. Of course given his age, past production, and the lack of even a 70+ point scorer on the Bruins since 2008-09, on top of Boston’s coaching change, poolies naturally are wondering whether his ascent into elite territory is a temporary mirage or the new normal. Let’s find out.
Looking back to his 55 points in 76 games in 2011-12, 53 in 77 for 2013-14, and 61 in 77 for 2015-16, it turns out he posted between 0.64 and 0.69 non-PP points per game each season. And guess what – his 2016-17 rate (0.70) is in the same vicinity. Moreover, Marchand’s 2016-17 points per 60 minutes rate of 2.17 at 5×5 is actually lower than in three of his past five seasons.
Marchand’s other 5×5 metrics further suggest he’s not overachieving at even strength. Most notably his 7.29% team shooting % not only is well below the NHL average of 9.00% among forwards, but would’ve ranked him 92nd (tied) among 125 forwards who played 1000+ minutes at 5×5 last season. Beyond that, he’s receiving a point on 76.3% of the goals scored while on the ice at 5×5 this season, which is only a bit above the 73.7% average over his prior four seasons. Plus, although his 2016-17 OZ% is 56%, compared to 46.7% and 49.5% over the past two seasons, it had been 50% +in each of the three seasons before those last two, so this isn’t uncharted territory.
Not surprisingly, a big difference for 2016-17 is his PPP success, where he’s accumulated as many PPPts in 58 games as he did during his first 377 contests. Much of that is due to him taking the ice for 50% of his team’s shifts with the man advantage (when he’d never been above 33% in any previous full season); however, there’s also the fact that his 6.27 P/60 at 5×4 ranks him 21st among 151 forwards with 100+ minutes of 5×4 time thus far this season. On the other hand, he’s only tallying a point on 65.2% of the PPGs scored while he’s on the ice, which is down from 80% last season.
Those worried Marchand might not be favored by interim Bs coach Bruce Cassidy – breathe easy, as early returns have his Total Ice Time and his PP utilization consistent with YTD averages. Thus, the Ice Time ingredients are there for continued success.
Based on the collective data, plus Marchand’s fiercely competitive nature, he receives a rating of JUST RIGHT, landing at a 6 out of 10, or just a tiny bit toward the too hot region. In short, poolies must get used to the reality that Marchand’s “new normal” apparently is 75+ points.
Player #2 – Leon Draisaitl
At the outset of 2016-17, there was concern Draisaitl might slide down to the third line center role in Edmonton, with Connor McDavid being the team’s unquestioned top pivot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins maintaining second line center duty. Fast forward to now, and although McDavid and RNH kept their spots it turns out Draisaitl, thanks to his versatility, has instead locked down RW alongside McDavid at even strength plus on PP1.
Of course the magic question is whether Draisatil’s current 67 point scoring pace will increase, decrease, or stay roughly the same. From the looks of things, I’d say there’s room for realistic improvement. For one, although his personal shooting percentage is high, his 5×5 team shooting % is 8.58, which is a bit under the 9.00% average for NHL forwards. Thus, he might be getting more goals than he deserves, but, at the same time, somewhat fewer overall points.
Also, Draisaitl’s 5×5 IPP, which was 84.5% last season, is 65.7% now, which to some degree is a bit of a price to pay for lining up with points-magnet McDavid. The thing is – not only should Draisaitl’s 5×5 IPP improve at least somewhat due to his track record, but more goals are scored while McDavid is on the ice so that too will give him a boost. To get a sense of how these factors will benefit Draisaitl, look no further than his 32 points in his last 34 games, which is masked somewhat by his 17 points in 24 games to start the season when he was more often lining up away from McDavid at 5×5.
There’s also the matter of Draisaitl having already tallied nearly double the PPPts for 2016-17 than he did for all of 2015-16. In part that’s due to a nearly 15% gain in PP Time per game; however there has been some influence of luck, as McDavid’s 5×4 IPP is over 81.8% (compared to just 53% last season). Yet we have to keep in mind Draisaitl didn’t receive even 50% of his PP shifts with McDavid during 2015-16, compared to over 90% of them with him in 2016-17. Overall, Draisaitl’s PPPt pace is either sustainable as is, or close enough such that any points he stands to lose with the man advantage would be more than compensated for via added 5×5 scoring.
Lastly, Draisaitl’s OZ% is 53.2%, which is down slightly from 2015-16 and which also reflects early season time apart from McDavid, whose is 56.6%. Provided Draisaitl continues to play alongside McDavid (and chances are he will, what with McDavid’s “Corsi For” being 64% while on the ice with Draisaitl compared to 60.5% overall), Draisaitl’s OZ% will rise somewhat, which in turn should only help his overall scoring.
Looking at his overall season-long metrics plus his production since being tethered to McDavid, it turns out Draisaitl is TOO COLD. His rating is a 2.25, since due to early season struggles he’s still scoring below what should be his true 75+ point scoring rate.
The fact that Draisaitl’s true worth is at least somewhat obscured by his totals gives poolies an opening to buy. I honestly think Draisaitl could be a top ten or even top five NHL scorer as early as next season. Or to put it a different way, remember the fantasy picture you had of Taylor Hall back about four years ago, when he was firing on all cylinders and seemed poised to be a truly top NHL scorer for years to come? That’s Draisaitl now, so grab him if you can get him for a lower price than Hall would’ve cost you circa 2012.
Player #3 – Rick Nash
Just two seasons removed from 69 points in 79 games, Nash has barely stayed above a 50 point scoring pace for 2016-17. Yet despite this poor output, it turns out he’s somehow doing better than he should.
Nash’s IPP at 5×4 is 77.8%, which is higher than any season since 2008-09 and the only time he’s been above 50% since 2012-13. Also, his 5×5 IPP (70.8%) is higher than three of his past five seasons, so he’s not being shortchanged points at ES either. Couple these metrics with his 10.43% team shooting % at 5×5, and incredibly you find a player who’s “too hot” despite his lower than expected production.
Is there hope Nash might turn this around? After all, he’s been given up for dead in fantasy before, only to rebound (59 points in 82 games in 2011-12 then 42 points in 44 games in 2012-13; 39 in 65 games in 2013-14 then 69 in 79 in 2014-15). Most likely he’s used up his nine fantasy lives. Not only is he 32 years old, but the Rangers have finally been able to look past his big contract and pedigree in order to lean on other players more than him. In his most recent two “rebound” seasons, his PP usage was over 55%, while 2016-17 marks the second year in a row it’s lower, now down to 42%. And his total Ice Time has dropped two seasons in a row and puts him sixth among Ranger forwards for 2016-17. Quite simply, the Rangers have moved on from Nash, and so should all poolies except those in the deepest of leagues.
Nash’s rating is TOO HOT, since even his disappointing stats are unsustainably too good. On the too hot scale, I put Nash at a 9. Even worse is unlike past seasons during which he disappointed, Nash’s name value – once among the highest in fantasy – has eroded to an extent you’ll have a difficult time finding a taker for him in any league. My advice is drop him in favor of a player who’s a lock for 50+ point scoring pace, since even that might be a stretch for Nash going forward.
The key lessons from this week are (1) just because a player is doing better than expected, it doesn’t automatically mean he’s too hot, (2) players who are disappointing relative to expectations might have just been overvalued in the first place, and (3) PP1 duty is so, so crucial. Come back next week for a regular Cage Match – but before that, post a comment below to let me know what you think of this week’s column and whether you think it should become a regular feature.