Eastern Edge: Bubble Keeper Week with Colin White and Jake Gardiner
It's Bubble Keeper Week here at Dobber Hockey! Across the website, you'll be treated to articles discussing players who you may be on the fence about keeping in your fantasy league. I decided to focus on two low-profile players this week, but make sure to check out other articles across the site for thoughts on other bubble keepers! In this week's Eastern Edge, we'll take a look at how injuries indirectly affected Jake Gardiner last year and how they directly affected Colin White over his career.
This upcoming season is an extremely important one for Colin White. He should get a chance to center one of Ottawa's top two lines given the team's lack of center depth – what he does with that opportunity could have a huge impact on his future in the NHL.
After he was selected 21st overall in the 2015 draft, White registered six points in his first 21 NHL games during the 2017-2018 campaign. He followed that up with an impressive rookie season, tallying 41 points in 71 games – which translates to 47 points over 82 games. Unfortunately, he couldn't carry that momentum into the 2019-2020 campaign, where he managed just 23 points through 61 games, a 31-point pace. You'll notice that despite playing through three NHL seasons, he hasn't played very many games. The reason for this? Injuries.
In 2017, White was on track to crack Ottawa's opening night roster. A few regulars were injured, which created an opening for him in the lineup. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist during a preseason clash with the Maple Leafs. When he recovered, he found himself in the AHL and had to wait a few more weeks before making his NHL debut. He moved back and forth between the AHL and NHL frequently during the 2017-2018 campaign. He found himself in and out of Ottawa's lineup, playing limited minutes and never really getting a chance to find his footing. The next season, White finished 10th in rookie scoring – mirroring Nick Suzuki's stat line and outscoring big names like Andrei Svechnikov and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Despite his offensive success, it wasn't all smooth sailing. He missed one game with an undisclosed injury, five games with a shoulder injury and five games with a neck injury. The trend continued last year as White missed seven games with a groin/hip flexor injury. Based on all this information, it's tempting to write him off as an injury-prone player. However, I'm still not convinced that his play-style puts him at risk to get injured more than the average player. That first injury – the broken wrist – was a product of blocking a shot. The shoulder injury happened after he was leveled by Jake Muzzin – with his shoulder at an awkward angle when contact was made.
I wasn't able to find the origin of that neck injury, but he tweaked his groin after going over the boards and taking a couple of hard strides immediately after. As I look through these injuries, I don't see a significant pattern. Rather, I see a player who suffered a number of 'unlucky' injuries as he fell victim to the random, fast-paced nature of hockey. I'm not ready to write him off as injury prone just yet – but perhaps I'm too conservative when it comes to the 'Band-Aid Boy' label. In any case, I think White will be placed in a position to succeed during the 2020-2021 campaign – with plenty of ice time at both even strength and on the power play. A combination of injury woes, scoring struggles last year, and poor public perception of the Senators have resulted in White being undervalued in fantasy formats. I think we've reached a point where his perceived value has dropped below his actual value. Maybe he doesn't need to be one of your keepers, but I think you'll benefit from incorporating him into your roster in some way.
Between 2016 and 2019 – his last three seasons with the Maples Leafs – Gardiner paced for 43, 51 and 40 points. He wasn't able to find that same offensive success during his first year with the Hurricanes, scoring at a 29-point pace during the 2019-2020 campaign. Gardiner's fantasy value took a huge hit as he went from averaging over 20 minutes a night in Toronto, to less than 17 minutes per game in Carolina. His point total last year looks especially concerning because he got off to a slow start, tallying just nine points in his first 42 games with the team. His offensive game did improve down the stretch, as he put up 15 points in his final 26 appearances of the year – a 47-point pace! So, I guess Gardiner just needed some time to adjust to his new surroundings in Carolina, right? Well, possibly – but there's another factor we have to consider.
Recall that Dougie Hamiltonfractured his left fibula last year, which kept him sidelined for the latter portion of the regular season. Hamilton was having a career year prior to the injury and his absence created new opportunity for other defensemen on the roster. With Hamilton in the lineup, Gardiner managed 13 points in 47 games, skating roughly 16 minutes a night and seeing 34-percent of the team's total power-play time. Without Hamilton in the lineup, Gardiner tallied 11 points in 21 games, skating 17 and a half minutes each night while seeing 42.5 percent of the team's total power-play time. So, it would seem that Hamilton's absence also contributed to Gardiner's improved production down the stretch last year.
In my opinion, Gardiner's scoring pattern is better explained by a gradual adjustment to new surroundings than a change in opportunity due to Hamilton's injury. The way I see it, there wasn't a significant enough difference between Gardiner's role before and after Hamilton's injury to justify that being the primary cause of his improved production. To support my thinking here, I think it's useful to look at Jaccob Slavin – someone who saw a more significant increase in opportunity as a result of Hamilton's injury. Slavin saw his ice time jump from 22:36 to 25:13. In addition, Slavin went from seeing virtually no power-play time (a total of just six minutes through 47 games) to 56-percent of the team's total PP time – which worked out to over two and a half minutes per game. With significantly more minutes at both even strength and on the power play, Slavin went from scoring at a 38-point pace to a 54-point pace.
In summary, I think Gardiner's disappointing production last year was primarily a product of adjusting to new surroundings in Carolina. With that being said, his role with the Hurricanes is much smaller than his role with the Maple Leafs. Unless the situation changes drastically, I don't think we can rely on him to produce 40-point pace anymore.