Goldipucks and the Three Skaters: Breaking Down Panarin, Keith, and Kopitar
Goldipucks and the Three Skaters: Which player is too hot, which one is too cold…and which player just right?
After a longer than intended hiatus, it’s time for the return of Goldipucks and the Three Skaters, which debuted just under a year ago and became a popular departure from my normal Cage Match column during last season.
For first time readers, or those needing a refresher, it’s 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” (i.e., producing where he should). Each skater also receives a 1-10 rating, indicating, 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.
Our three skaters this week are Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, and Anze Kopitar. Can you guess which one is too hot, which is too cold, and which is just right? Take a stab and see if you’re right after you read on.
Much of the speculation this offseason centered not around whether, but rather by how much Panarin’s fantasy value would fall due to no longer having Patrick Kane tethered to his side. But astute poolies weren’t scared off, as Chicago’s 2016-17 goals per 60 minutes rate when Kane was on the ice without Panarin was lower (2.60) than when Panarin was without Kane (2.79). In other words, Panarin was a top player in his own right, instead of just a fantasy coattail rider.
Despite Columbus’ tough first half, Panarin stayed at or near a 65-70 point scoring pace. That stands to increase as the team finds its offensive game, as evidenced by Panarin’s tiny 6.21% team shooting percentage. Also, his higher IPP is a function of him having to do more himself, as is the fact that his primary assists outnumber his secondary assists by over two to one (18 vs. 8). Plus, he’s firing shots at a higher rate than in Chicago and his average shot distance is up by 10%, which means he’s being forced to take more – and worse quality – shots in an effort to try and get things going for the team. All these factors portend a nice jump in Panarin’s scoring once Columbus gets a bit more on track.
The other key is Panarin’s deployment in Columbus is a fantasy dream, as not only is he tenth overall in average total ice time per game among all NHL forwards, but not a second of it is SH time, whereas all but one of the nine ahead of him average 0:55+ of PK duty per game. Thus, he has the luxury of being in a scoring situation every second he’s out there. As the season unfolds, he won’t have wear and tear that comes with having to regularly kill penalties.
Lastly, although 2016-17 saw Panarin have a less productive second half (32 points in 38 games), it was the opposite in 2015-16, when he bested the point per game rate (41 points in 39 games). All told, that works out to a collectively 75 point second half scoring pace, which, granted, was on Chicago. But given what Panarin has been able to do thus far despite Columbus’ offensive struggles, bigger numbers seem within reach before 2017-18 is all said and done.
Therefore, Panarin is TOO COLD, but not by a huge margin since we can’t count on major turnaround for Columbus. He gets a too cold rating of 2.25, suggesting a 70-75 point pace between now and game 82.
For years the fantasy dilemma with Keith was whether he’d explode for one of his periodic 60+ point seasons, or just be merely very good. Plus, he’d produced at a collective 51 point scoring rate over the past three seasons after turning 30, suggesting he could become the next Rob Blake, skilled defensively yet also still able to keep producing offensively into (and even beyond) his mid-30s.
But now with the 2017-18 campaign past the midway point, Keith has a scoring rate which would mark his lowest in a decade. Temporary lull, or new normal? Unfortunately for Keith owners, the signs are not good. Of his 22 points, not only were none goals, but only five were primary assists! That suggests a player who either isn’t prioritizing offense or isn’t capable of producing it like he once was. Plus, while his overall ice time is down by nearly a minute, and some of that is the form of shed SH duty, he’s also taking the ice for only 56% of the team’s PP minutes, after being in the range of 59-66% in each of the past four seasons.
Admittedly his team shooting percentage is low at 5.86%; however, it was 7.15% or lower in two of his past three seasons which were more productive. Beyond that, his offensive zone starting percentage is 62.7%, after having not been higher than 56% since 2010-11. And his IPP is 46.8%, marking a higher rate than five of his past seven campaigns. In short, if anything his luck metrics point toward him having scored unsustainably more than he should for this season thus far.
Keith has a benefit in that there are no youngsters likely to threaten his ice time; however, what looks to be happening to him seems eerily familiar to the trajectory of Zdeno Chara, who in his early 30s was a safe bet for 45-50+ points but then once he hit his mid-30s it was mainly downhill from there. What Keith and Chara also have in common is being older than their actual age. By that I mean older in terms added mileage due to playing for successful teams and frequently having been selected as members of international squads. In fact, Keith has a staggering 126 playoff games to his credit, not to mention 30 games of international experience. That’s nearly two full regular seasons worth of games! Couple that with Keith having missed an average of fewer than three games per season over his career, and it adds up not just in terms of mileage, but also lack of downtime during the offseason and otherwise; and it looks to be talking a toll.
Also, let’s not forget that the two semi-decent seasons Chara had at age 36 and 38 were, respectively, after the lockout in 2012 and after playing in 63 games (and no playoff contests). In other words, the wear and tear of being a Chara and Keith type d-man for years and years looks to have a negative effect on offensive production starting a few years into one’s 30s, which is where Keith is now.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Keith’s scoring rate in the second half of each of the past two seasons has been lower – by 9.3% last season and 25% in 2015-16. Therefore, I’m labelling the struggling Keith as TOO HOT, and giving him a rating of 8.0 because I think he will be hard pressed to even get 40 points this season and then might not hit that number again on a regular basis in future campaigns.
It’s hard to believe, but if Kopitar continues his current scoring pace this would mark his first point-per-game season………..ever! Given his age – 30- and the fact that his two worst scoring outputs since his rookie season came in the past three campaigns, poolies are rightful to be skeptical about Kopitar’s continued success this season. Yet when the dust settles on 2017-18, the numbers suggest that indeed Kopitar will finally become a member of the point-per-game club.
One key is Kopitar being a notoriously slow starter but strong second half contributor, with him having 25% increases in production in the second half in each of the past two seasons. Although it might be difficult to foresee that kind of jump this season because he didn’t have his usual slow start, it would be unlike him to worsen as the campaign wears on. There’s also the fact that under new coach John Stevens, LA is on pace to tally 230+ goals for 2017-18 after having averaged 205 over the past five full seasons. There seems no reason to suspect their scoring will drop as the campaign rolls on, and thus Kopitar should be able to continue to benefit due to a rising tide lifting all LA King boats.
As for Kopitar’s metrics, they scream sustainable. His team shooting percentage is 8.94%, which is a hair below the 9% number normally seen from scorers. His IPP – at 76% – is higher than it has been since 2014-15, yet going back to 2010-11 it has only been below 70% once and in three of the past seven seasons it was 75%+. Moreover, his shot rate, which had been below two per game in both of those subpar recent campaigns, sits comfortably above two per contest for 2017-18.
His offensive zone starting percentage, at 47%, would mark the first time since at least 2010-11 for it to be under 52%. And although a rate that low is not normally associated with 80+ point scorers, he’s managed to produce well for this much of the season despite it, and it stands a better chance of going up over the rest of the season than dropping further.
His average ice time per game also is higher than it has been in any season of his entire career, with the added time beneficially coming without a jump in his percentage of shorthanded minutes but with a percentage of PP time above 60% for the first time since at least 2013-14. Moreover, his previous high in average ice time per game just happened to be when he tallied 81 points in 82 games back in 2009-10, which also bodes well for his point-per-game chances this season.
Given all this, what do I say to poolies who own Kopitar and are concerned about a second half decline? Worry not! His production rate is JUST RIGHT, and I’m shading it a tad toward the too cold side of just right, at 4.5, to account for his proven propensity to have a stronger second half and the likelihood of his OZ% to improve.
I hope you enjoyed the return of the Goldipucks feature. Look for it to appear again a few more times before the season is done. Next week though, it’s back to your regularly scheduled Cage Match column.
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