Cage Match: Claude Giroux vs. Evgeni Malkin

by Rick Roos on October 10, 2018


For my first match since the puck officially dropped on 2018-19, I decided to go big, with Claude Giroux squaring off against Evgeni Malkin. Both surprised last season – Giroux by recapturing his elite scoring, and Malkin for simply staying healthy. The Fantasy Guide (available for order here and just as useful now) has them only separated by one point in projected 2018-19 scoring, but let’s see what Cage Match tells us!

Career Path and Contract Status

Giroux, 30, was drafted 22nd overall in 2006 but didn’t become a full-time member of the Flyers until 2009-10. After 47 points in his first full season, Giroux started his ascent to elite status, first with 76 points in 2010-11, then a three-season stretch where he posted 227 points in 207 games and looked like he was poised to be a perennial star in real and fantasy hockey. But starting in 2014-15 Giroux shed points with each passing season, first to 73, then 67, and finally all the way down to 58 in 2016-17. With Giroux on the verge of turning 30 and amid such a pronounced downward trend, the same poolies who’d embraced Giroux had essentially written him off as a fantasy force. But last season he shocked the fantasy world by posting a career best 102 points, with the question coming into 2018-19 being whether that was just a one-time blip in the radar or instead a fantasy stardom rebirth.

Malkin, 32, was selected second overall in 2004, and like Giroux didn’t go straight into the NHL. But once Malkin arrived he made an immediate impact, with 85 points in 78 games, for the first of 11 point-per-game or better outputs in his 12 seasons. But he didn’t just settle for point-per-game scoring – he topped the 100-point mark three times in his first six seasons. Where his issues have occurred is games played, as since 2012-13 he’s missed an average of 19 games per season. But much like Giroux, Malkin made poolies smile far wider than expected last season, as he took the ice for 78 games and posted 98 points, marking the first time he suited up for more than 75 games since 2008-09. Of course with Malkin not getting any younger and his track record of injuries, the question is whether this was a one-year fluke or if as he’s getting older his style of game will allow him to be less susceptible to injury while still producing the gaudy offensive numbers poolies have come to expect.

Both players are signed through 2021-22. Giroux’s deal that dings the cap at $8.275M per season, while Malkin’s cap hit it about 15% higher at $9.5M.

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2017-18

20:22 (C.G.) – 2nd

18:59 (E.M.) – 2nd

3:29 (C.G.) – 2nd

3:40 (E.M.) – 2nd

0:48 (C.G.) – 8th

0:04 (E.M.) – 11th

2016-17

19:07 (C.G.) – 1st

18:37 (E.M.) – 2nd

3:45 (C.G.) – 1st (tied)

3:40 (E.M.) – 1st

0:15 (C.G.) – 9th

0:02 (E.M.) – 11th (tied)

2015-16

20:33 (C.G.) – 1st

19:22 (E.M.) – 2nd

3:51 (C.G.) – 1st

3:49 (E.M.) – 1st

1:29 (C.G.) – 5th

0:16 (E.M.) – 11th

2014-15

20:34 (C.G.) – 1st

18:58 (E.M.) – 2nd

3:18 (C.G.) – 1st

3:39 (E.M.) – 1st

0:46 (C.G.) – 8th

0:05 (E.M.) – 14th


There’s very little season-to-season variation in Malkin’s numbers, which proves he’s a 100% legitimate point-per-game player. But on the other hand, his scoring rate increased from just about a point per game in the first two of these four seasons to a 98 point and then 103 point scoring pace in the past two seasons respectively. The good news is he was able to score at a gaudy pace twice, since just once would make it more likely that the season was an outlier. Still, for a player on the other side of 30 to be so much better than he was in two recent seasons despite similar ice times is a head scratcher, so we’ll have to reserve judgment on the sustainability of his jump in scoring until we see more data.

With Giroux there’s also a pattern of mostly similar ice times. It’s reassuring to see his worst season (2016-17) came when he received his lowest ice time overall; but when you subtract his added SH duty in 2017-18 versus 2016-17, not to mention his lower per game PP average, the result is that his 2017-18 and 2016-17 ice times would be expected to yield similar scoring outputs, rather than the more than 40 point difference between them. So which is the outlier? Maybe both are, considering his ice times and scoring outputs in 2015-16 and 2014-15; by that I mean perhaps he was unsustainably lucky in 2017-18 and unsustainably unlucky in 2016-17, such that the true Giroux is somewhere in the middle of his outputs from the past two seasons? As with Malkin, we’ll know more once we crunch additional data.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.24 (C.G.)

1.11 (E.M.)

0.34 (C.G.)

0.61 (E.M.)

0.27 (C.G.)

0.41 (E.M.)

2.31 (C.G.)

3.06 (E.M.)

0.44 (C.G.)

0.48 (E.M.)

2016-17

0.46 (C.G.)

1.24 (E.M.)

0.83 (C.G.)

0.64 (E.M.)

0.34 (C.G.)

0.40 (E.M.)

2.42 (C.G.)

3.08 (E.M.)

0.38 (C.G.)

0.37 (E.M.)

2015-16

0.68 (C.G.)

1.14 (E.M.)

1.06 (C.G.)

0.47 (E.M.)

0.46 (C.G.)

0.33 (E.M.)

3.09 (C.G.)

2.84 (E.M.)

0.34 (C.G.)

0.47 (E.M.)

2014-15

0.44 (C.G.)

0.87 (E.M.)

1.36 (C.G.)

0.34 (E.M.)

0.34 (C.G.)

0.26 (E.M.)

3.44 (C.G.)

3.07 (E.M.)

0.47 (C.G.)

0.37 (E.M.)


Amazingly, not only has Malkin’s scoring rate risen the past two seasons, so too have his hits and blocks, as his numbers in those categories for 2016-17 and 2017-18 represent his best among these seasons, with his PIM being best and third best. But when it comes to production-affecting metrics like SOG and PPPts, his rates are in keeping with his prior two seasons. We’d of course expect higher SOG and PPPts versus the prior two to explain a 20% jump in scoring into the rarified air of 100-point scoring pace territory; so does that mean we can write off his scoring binge as two seasons worth of good luck?

In a word, not, because where the answer seemingly lies is team scoring, as although Mike Sullivan was coach prior to 2015-16, his system didn’t pay full dividends until the past two seasons, as the Pens’ goal total over the past four seasons has been – in order – 217, 241, 278 and 270. So the average in the first two of these four seasons was 229 versus 274 these past two seasons, for a difference of 43 goals and a gain of nearly 19%, which is right around the points increase for Malkin over the same period.

Before looking at Giroux’s offensive-affecting metrics, I’d be remiss not to mention how his hits have dropped like a stone, down by one per game from where he was in 2014-15. His blocks and penalty minutes for 2017-18 also were his lowest among these seasons. Of course if this is a tradeoff for 100+ point scoring then poolies would gladly pay that price; but the key is even if his future scoring drops he’s unlikely to revert all the way back to his formerly solid multi-cat contributions.

Looking at Giroux’s PPPts and SOG, we see a drop every season in SOG but a PPPt output that has very little season-to-season variation. As such, one would expect Giroux would’ve shed points in 2017-18 rather than seen his scoring explode, so warning bells are definitely sounding. Luck metrics, which we’ll examine next, will likely help finally connect the dots.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

17.9% (C.G.)

17.6% (E.M.)

11.4% (C.G.)

8.24% (E.M.)

72.1% (C.G.)

72.6% (E.M.)

44.6% (C.G.)

65.3% (E.M.)

33.4 (C.G.)

26.3 (E.M.)

51% (C.G.)

43% (E.M.)

2016-17

7.0% (C.G.)

17.3% (E.M.)

6.13% (C.G.)

10.32% (E.M.)

60.4% (C.G.)

70.8% (E.M.)

56.4% (C.G.)

70.4% (E.M.)

39.7 (C.G.)

24.9 (E.M.)

47% (C.G.)

33% (E.M.)

2015-16

9.1% (C.G.)

16.7% (E.M.)

6.80% (C.G.)

7.11% (E.M.)

73.6% (C.G.)

68.9% (E.M.)

51.4% (C.G.)

65.3% (E.M.)

41.1 (C.G.)

25.3 (E.M.)

44% (C.G.)

32% (E.M.)

2014-15

9.0% (C.G.)

13.2% (E.M.)

7.01% (C.G.)

8.87% (E.M.)

70.2% (C.G.)

67.5% (E.M.)

52.5% (C.G.)

56.5% (E.M.)

38.9 (C.G.)

25.8 (E.M.)

58% (C.G.)

50%(E.M.)


These numbers finally piece together the Giroux scoring puzzle of the past two seasons. With him playing center, his 5×5 team shooting percentage dropped with each passing season, as did his points. Then last season that metric nearly doubled; however, it came when Giroux played wing, marking a seismic change the likes of which could have led to a much higher team shooting percentage. Still though, the question is how legitimate – for lack of a better word – was Giroux’s 102 point 2017-18 season and should we expect anything close to that from him for 2018-19?

Giroux’s 2017-18 IPP was rock solid, and his secondary assists percentage was right near his average; however, his OZ% was low for a player to score that many points. If it stays that low again, chances are he’ll shed at least a few points.

Also, although Giroux’s 17.6% personal shooting percentage from last season was indeed high, his average shot distance dropped by nearly 20% from his average over the prior three seasons. And if we look back at Giroux’s most successful seasons of 2011-12 and 2013-14, his average shot distance in those was 28.6 and 34.7, so it might be something as simple as more selective shooting that made the difference for Giroux. This also would explain him taking fewer shots overall and make that metric less concerning. Taken together, and factoring in ice time and PPPts and SOG, Giroux might be a longshot to post 100+ points again, but 85+ and even 90+ seemingly could happen.

As for Malkin, here too we see him akin to a fine wine improving with age, with his IPP and personal shooting percentage rising with each passing season. One other important key is under coach Sullivan Malkin is getting far more starts in the offensive zone than he’d previously received, which serves to validate his scoring rate going up these past two seasons. Malkin’s secondary assists percentage and shot distance were higher than his norms over the past two seasons, but not by much, signifying that perhaps he’s not a 100-point player but more along the lines of 90-95.

Who Wins?

Those expecting Giroux’s point total to crater in 2018-19 might be in for a surprise, since as discussed at length above he looks like a reinvented top scoring winger – one who’s become more selective about when he shoots and from where, yet still possessing keen skill with the man advantage and as a passer. A scoring drop will likely occur, but not by much – perhaps only to 90 points. As for Malkin, one would think he’d start to slow and decline with each year beyond age 30; however, a benefit of all the games he’s missed over the years is he has younger legs than others his age. Plus, his unique combination of size and skill should allow his scoring to stay at an elite level for at least the near future.

I’m giving the match to Malkin because his ceiling and floor are both higher than Giroux’s and their average draft positions (11th overall in Yahoo league for Malkin, versus 21st for Giroux) were close enough such that cost vs. value doesn’t cause the scales to tilt in either direction.

 

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