Goldipucks and the Three Skaters: Which player is too hot, which one is too cold…and which player just right?

 

Welcome back to another Goldipucks and the Three Skaters column! This will be the third and final installment for 2016-17, unless I decide to do a playoff edition. But either way, chances are it will return for 2017-18, so be sure to look for it! Today’s three skaters are Keith Yandle, Gustav Nyquist, and Jaden Schwartz. Can you predict which of the three is too hot, too cold, and just right? Lock in your guesses and read on!

For first time readers, or those of you who might need a refresher, here's a link to the initial column for a full explanation of how this works. But briefly, the idea is a play on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, except instead of three bowls of porridge I’m covering three skaters and declaring one too hot (i.e., doing unsustainably better than he should), another too cold (i.e., doing unsustainably worse), and a third “just right” (producing where he should). Each skater will also receive a 1-10 rating to indicate, on a relative scale, how hot (rated 7-10, where 10 is the most unsustainably hot), cold (rated 1-3, where 1 is the most unsustainably cold), or ”just right” (rated 4-6, where 5 is the most “just right”) he is.

 

Player #1 –Keith Yandle

Poolies (not to mention Panthers brass) expected more from Yandle this season. After all, he’s only 30; and from 2010-11 through 2014-15 he had the second most total points among all NHL defensemen. Yet this season he tallied just 41 points, landing him 21st in rearguard scoring. Can he no longer be counted upon for top production? Let’s see what the data tells us.

For 2016-17, Yandle tallied a point on only 37% of goals scored while on the ice at 5×5, which is very low considering only once in the previous seven seasons had he been below 40% and in more than half he was above 46%. Also, he fell victim to particularly bad luck in 5×5 team shooting %, where his rate was a dismal 6.19%, which pales in comparison to his 8%+ rate in four of the past eight seasons and 7.4-7.9% in two of the other four.

Moreover, Yandle’s bread and butter has always been the power play, where this season he was victimized by unsustainably bad luck as well. His 5×4 team shooting % was only 10.29%, or well below the 12.6%+ rate he had in five of his previous nine seasons, plus lower than the 11.1%+ rate in three of his other four prior seasons. And he nabbed a point on just 60% of goals scored while on the ice at 5×4, which is his lowest rate since 2011-12 and far below his 72.8% average over his past four seasons.

Could some of this be due to age? Perhaps. But Yandle’s game relies on skill and finesse, not so much speed or power. As for concerns his fat contract is making him complacent, while we can never rule that out completely we also must remember that before becoming a Panther Yandle had already made over $30M during his career, as opposed to being a player cashing in for the first time.

What was apparently at play with Yandle were several separate instances of what I’d label as somewhat bad luck. On their own, each one of these might’ve cost him only a couple of points; however, when summed together, and coupled with Florida’s team struggles (down 11.6% in goals versus 2015-16), they led to Yandle unsustainably losing many points. That’s why I see his 2016-17 as being TOO COLD; I’m assigning him a rating of 1.25 and see him as a very good bet for 50+ points next season.

 

Player #2 – Gustav Nyquist

After dominating the AHL then exploding for 48 points in 57 games for Detroit in 2013-14, it seemed like everything was in place for Nyquist to be a fantasy force. Yet for 2016-17 Nyquist again finished with 48 points, except this time in 19 more games. Is it time to write him off for good, or might he be a victim of sustained bad luck plus a declining Detroit team? Let get to the bottom of this.

Back in 2013-14, Nyquist tallied a point on 82.9% of the goals scored while on the ice at 5×5; since then, he’s been only in the 68-71% range each season. At this point, we have to look at his 2013-14 rate as the fluke. Also, in 2013-14 Detroit shot 10.46% at 5×5 while Nyquist was on the ice, which is far above the normal 9.0% rate for NHL forwards. The last two seasons he was at 7.3% and 8.0%, but this season he’s back up to 10.19%, yet still isn’t doing well!

Nyquist also has become a worse PP performer with each recent season. In 2013-14 he factored into the scoring on 60% of Detroit’s goals while on the ice at 5×4, then upped that number to 67% during the 2014-15 campaign, on his way to 54 points. But last season his rate dropped to 52.4% and this season it’s down to 42.9%. It’s not an issue with PP Time either, as his PP usage percentage for 2016-17 was higher – albeit not by much – than any previous season, and his overall Ice Time was easily the highest it’s ever been.

Let’s also keep in mind these past three seasons were squarely within Nyquist’s prime, and yet still there was no breakout.  Next season he’ll be 28, and it’s improbable that he’ll suddenly start to do well at that age. Need proof? Looking at the 163 forwards who bested 60 points in any of the past four seasons, all but one had previously scored over 60 at least once before turning 28. The only player who defied the odds? Jiri Hudler, and we see how that subsequently turned out. In other words, with Nyquist yet to already have a 60 point season to his credit, chances are slim he’ll ever pass the threshold.

In sum, despite being a disappointment versus expectations, Nyquist was actually TOO HOT this season, mostly due to his unsustainably high 5×5 team shooting %, declining PP production, and being on the verge of exiting his prime. That being said, he’s not so hot as to expect his scoring to plummet right away next season. Rather, I’ll rate him a 7.0, i.e., the lowest end of too hot. Long story short – Nyquist is a player who once caught lightning in a bottle and has lived off that reputation for too long. He’s most likely a 45ish point player for the near-term future.

 

Player #3 – Jaden Schwartz

Like Nyquist, Schwartz was saddled with major fantasy expectations largely on the basis of one season. In his case, it was his 62 points in 75 games in 2014-15, which put him within the top 20 in points per game rate among all NHL forwards who played 60+ games that season. Yet sandwiched around that season have been campaigns in the mid-50s, leaving poolies to wonder if Schwartz has another fantasy gear. Stop wondering – the answer is no, as all signs point to Schwartz being a classic WYSIWYG player.

Take this season for example – his team shooting % at 5×5 is 8.92%, which is right at what’s considered the “normal” level for an NHL forward. Also, his primary assists rate at 5×5 is 66% for 2016-17, and has been between 60% and 70% in each of the prior three seasons.

In his standout 2014-15 campaign, he received a point on 86.7% of goals scored while on the ice at 5×5, but his percentages in his other three prior seasons were (and I kid you not) each and identical 72.2%. And this season it was down only slightly to 65.4%. Had his rate been 72.2% in 2014-15, his point total would’ve been 55, rather than 62.

It’s a similar story at 5×4, where Schwartz’s share of points in the 2014-15 campaign was 65.2%, yet in no other season has it approached that number. In fact, like Nyquist, it’s been dropping of late – to 45.5% last season then to 42.1% for 2016-17, which is especially concerning since his PP usage % was up considerably this season to 54.9% (versus 44.1% last season and 46.6% in 2014-15).

On the somewhat plus side, after the firing of Ken Hitchcock Schwartz scored at a 59 point pace, which is a bit above his usual rate but still a far cry from 2014-15. Also, Schwartz’s Offensive Zone starting percentage of 57.5% from 2014-15 hasn’t come close to being matched in his other 70+ game seasons; however, he’s still been above 51% in his other campaigns and it doesn’t matter what he did with a 57.5% OZ% rate if his rate never approaches that again.

Overall, Schwartz’s production for 2016-17 was JUST RIGHT. Due to his still young age (24) and not having played a full season under Mike Yeo, I’ll put him on the slightly lower area of the “just right” rating scale at 4.75, which means maybe he can rise back to 60 points; however, it would be unexpected to see him sustainably approach his 68 point scoring pace from 2014-15 rate again.