Cage Match: Jonathan Huberdeau vs. Filip Forsberg

by Rick Roos on November 29, 2017

A pair of left wingers face off in this week's Cage Match.

With each passing week of the 2017-18 season, we see more and more hot starters move back toward expected scoring rates. This week’s battle is between Jonathan Huberdeau and Filip Forsberg, who so far have kept their scoring paces above career best numbers. Is what we’re seeing merely an extended stretch of unsustainable higher scoring, or have either or both officially entered new fantasy territory? Cage Match is here to find out!

Career Path and Contract Status

Huberdeau, 24, was selected third overall in 2011 and somewhat surprisingly returned to play in two more seasons of junior hockey. He then jumped directly to the NHL in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, finishing with 31 points to tie for the league lead in rookie scoring. Amazingly, next season he managed two fewer points in 21 more games, for a huge step back. From there, however, he’s seen his 82-game scoring pace increase with each season, from 56 points in 2014-15, to 63 in 2015-16, to 68 last season despite missing more than half the campaign while recovering from a major injury he suffered in the preseason.

Forsberg, 23, was selected 11th overall in 2012. Despite his draft pedigree and solid subsequent play in Sweden, Forsberg was flipped by Washington to Nashville in a 2013 deadline trade that brought the Capitals Martin Erat and Michael Latta. The lopsidedness of the deal wasn’t immediately apparent, as during Forsberg’s first two seasons of limited NHL action he posted a mere six points in 18 games. But after Forsberg had 34 points in only 47 AHL games in 2013-14, he was firmly in Nashville’s plans for 2014-15, during which he exploded for 63 points. Between that season and the last two, he’s finished with 26-33 goals and 27-37 assists in three straight seasons; but he’s done so with extended hot and cold streaks that have frustrated poolies and made some question whether he has the consistency to be a productive player from Game 1 through Game 82.

Huberdeau is inked through 2022-23 on a deal that carries an $5.9M annual cap hit, while Forsberg’s cap number is nearly identical ($6M per campaign) but slated to end a season earlier.

Ice Time

Now that we’re more than 25% into 2017-18, starting this week I’m including data for 2017-18 (in this case, current through 11/26) and removing 2013-14 stats.

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

20:13 (J.H.) – 3rd

18:09 (F.F.) – 3rd

3:55 (J.H.) – 3rd

3:29 (F.F.) – 2nd

0:03 (J.H.) – 9th

0:51 (F.F.) – 7th

2016-17

17:55 (J.H.) – 4th

18:31 (F.F.) – 2nd

2:32 (J.H.) – 5th

2:37 (F.F.) – 3rd

0:05 (J.H.) – 8th (tied)

1:27 (F.F.) – 4th

2015-16

18:08 (J.H.) – 4th

19:03 (F.F.) – 2nd

2:42 (J.H.) – 3rd

2:38 (F.F.) – 4th

0:31 (J.H.) – 8th

1:46 (F.F.) – 4th (tied)

2014-15

16:44 (J.H.) – 3rd

17:19 (F.F.) – 4th

2:20 (J.H.) – 2nd

2:49 (F.F.) – 3rd

0:07 (J.H.) – 10th

0:01 (F.F.) – 11th (tied)


Yet again we see how much influence a coach has on a player’s ice time, and, as such, his production. Under Gerald Gallant, the Panthers had a more balanced ice time philosophy, as shown in Huberdeau’s numbers from 2014-15 and 2015-16. This season – the first under new coach Bob Boughner – its stars are being leaned on more heavily, resulting in Huberdeau’s non-shorthanded minutes spiking.

In contrast, Forsberg is playing in Peter Laviolette’s system, where ice time is spread more evenly among scoring forwards. To show just how much this matters fantasy-wise, since 2006-07 (i.e., the last ten full campaigns), there were a total of 261 instances of NHL forwards scoring 70+ points, with all but 32 averaging more ice time per game in their 70+ point season(s) than Forsberg’s 18:31 from last season. And with Forsberg thus far on target to see even fewer minutes this season, it makes it more difficult to envision him reaching 70 points in 2017-18 or, for that matter, perhaps any season with Laviolette still at the helm. Based on his newfound icetime gains and new coaching system in place in Florida, Huberdeau’s path to 70+ is seemingly made much easier.

One caveat for both players– their power-play times for 2017-18 aren’t as vastly increased as they seem at first glance; rather, it’s a function of their teams drawing more penalties thus far. While Huberdeau’s power-play minutes are up by more than 50% versus last year, he’s taking the ice for 65% of Florida’s overall power-play time as a team, up less dramatically from 50% last season. It’s a similar situation with Forsberg, whose power-play minutes are up by a third versus last season, but whose power-play usage percentage is 58% thus far this season, up only slightly from 50% last season.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.36 (J.H.)

0.52 (F.F.)

0.32 (J.H.)

0.95 (F.F.)

0.27 (J.H.)

0.65 (F.F.)

3.04 (J.H.)

2.61 (F.F.)

0.27 (J.H.)

0.52 (F.F.)

2016-17

0.42 (J.H.)

0.39 (F.F.)

0.58 (J.H.)

1.18 (F.F.)

0.22 (J.H.)

0.31 (F.F.)

2.67 (J.H.)

2.85 (F.F.)

0.22 (J.H.)

0.11 (F.F.)

2015-16

0.56 (J.H.)

0.57 (F.F.)

0.69 (J.H.)

1.39 (F.F.)

0.47 (J.H.)

0.50 (F.F.)

2.29 (J.H.)

3.01 (F.F.)

0.17 (J.H.)

0.28 (F.F.)

2014-15

0.48 (J.H.)

0.29 (F.F.)

0.86 (J.H.)

1.31 (F.F.)

0.30 (J.H.)

0.34 (F.F.)

2.14 (J.H.)

2.89 (F.F.)

0.15 (J.H.)

0.23 (F.F.)


You know the expression “the story checks out”? Well that’s what came to mind when looking at the data for Huberdeau. His points scoring pace has risen in each of the past two seasons, and lo and behold so did his shot rate and power-play scoring. And although returns are still early for 2017-18, his scoring is again up, as are his SOG and PP production rates. Thus, if his luck metrics aren’t skewed, what we’re seeing is the portrait of a player who has slowly but surely been getting better over time, which in turn would make it less likely he’d lose gains he’s made. Unfortunately, a casualty of his scoring gains has been his hits output; however, I think most poolies would gladly take that as a tradeoff.

With Forsberg, I’m drawn to his 2015-16 data, as it looks like he was close to maxed out in terms of shots on goal and power-play scoring, especially under a Laviolette system. Then last season he had similar production despite a drop in shot rate and a huge dip in power-play production. So who ‘s the real Forsberg? Probably we’ll know more once we look at luck metrics for those seasons.

As for Forsberg, unlike with Huberdeau there’s data which immediately and unmistakably suggests that his current scoring pace is unsustainable, namely his stratospheric power-play scoring rate. In fact, it took until only game 16 of the 2017-18 campaign for Forsberg to equal his entire power-play point output for 2017-18. If he was having a typical power-play output, that would mean six fewer points thus far, and voila he’d be back well under a 70-point scoring pace. Forsberg does have something in common with Huberdeau however, namely diminishing hits totals, albeit not as much of a decline and one that still makes him very viable for multi-cat leagues.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5x5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

10.4% (J.H.)

18.3% (F.F.)

8.85% (J.H.)

8.44% (F.F.)

75.9% (J.H.)

75.0% (F.F.)

44.1% (J.H.)

52.9% (F.F.)

24.9 (J.H.)

27.2 (F.F.)

40% (J.H.)

23% (F.F.)

2016-17

12.0% (J.H.)

13.2% (F.F.)

7.98% (J.H.)

8.44% (F.F.)

72.2% (J.H.)

67.4% (F.F.)

59.5% (J.H.)

56.9% (F.F.)

26.6 (J.H.)

30.5 (F.F.)

43% (J.H.)

37% (F.F.)

2015-16

11.5% (J.H.)

13.4% (F.F.)

10.50% (J.H.)

8.72% (F.F.)

65.6% (J.H.)

68.1% (F.F.)

42.4% (J.H.)

76.8% (F.F.)

23.8 (J.H.)

28.6 (F.F.)

46% (J.H.)

55% (F.F.)

2014-15

8.9% (J.H.)

11.0% (F.F.)

9.16% (J.H.)

9.44% (F.F.)

73.0% (J.H.)

70.0% (F.F.)

52.6% (J.H.)

68.6% (F.F.)

27.6 (J.H.)

29.6 (F.F.)

30% (J.H.)

46% (F.F.)


Looking at the past three seasons, nothing really sticks out, other than perhaps Forsberg being above the key 70% IPP threshold just once, although in his other two seasons he was barely below it. In contrast, Huberdeau was above it twice. It’s also reassuring to see that once Forsberg’s OZ% dropped to more reasonable levels last season he was still able to score at his usual level. Moreover, the fact that Huberdeau had a team shooting percentage above 9.0% twice makes it less concerning and, perhaps if anything, reinforces that he’s a player who leads to scoring occurring when he’s on the ice, although Forsberg is no slouch either.

In terms of 2017-18 numbers, for Huberdeau we see an entirely reasonable team shooting percentage and only a slightly higher IPP than he’s achieved in the past. His personal shooting percentage is down versus last season, after having climbed with each passing campaign. Also, he’s managed to score all these points despite an OZ% that’s lower than two of his past three seasons. Forsberg’s personal shooting % is unsustainably high, yet not his team shooting %, which means his goal pace might drop but perhaps not his points pace. His IPP is high for him, but that is balanced by lack of secondary assists that should increase. In short, nothing here paints a picture of either player being unsustainably lucky overall.

Who Wins?

I’m giving this match to Huberdeau. It mainly boils down to Forsberg’s atypically higher scoring rate for 2017-18 being tied to unsustainable power-play production, which, if not present, would put Forsberg back into 60-65 point scoring pace territory.

But even beyond that, Forsberg has been and will continue to be limited in a Peter Laviolette system. As evidence, we can point to ice times for past 70+ scorers but also Forsberg’s own 2015-16 campaign, where he was essentially maxed out with respect to shots on goal and power-play points yet still only managed 64 points. How much better can Forsberg really be than he was in 2015-16?

Also, it’s not like Nashville struggled as a team in 2015-16– they tied for 12th overall in goals scored. And Laviolette’s system likely won’t be changing any time soon, after having led the Preds to the Cup finals last season. In sum, Forsberg isn’t consistent, plays for Laviolette, and doesn’t have a proven history of a high IPP. To me, that suggests he is and will continue to be the player we’ve already seen – one who falls within the 60 to 70-point range.

In contrast, we’ve seen Huberdeau slowly up not just his scoring output, but also his shots on goal and power-play points to go along with the points increases. That screams legitimacy, as do his 2017-18 metrics. Plus he plays for a coach who’s more than happy to lavish heaps of ice time upon his stars. All told, this should provide poolies with confidence that Huberdeau’s scoring pace for 2017-18 is for real, and, accordingly, to pencil him in for 75 points this season and 75-80+ per season going forward.

If you can still land Huberdeau for a reasonable price this season, I’d try to do so, maybe even now as he’s coming off a recent stretch of pointless games. That may cause an owner to perhaps panic that he might come back to earth when we’ve seen here that he won’t. As for Forsberg, he’s a valuable player given his balance of goals and assists, plus multi-cat contribution. If you’re comfortable with him giving you fewer than 70 points per season, then by all means keep him. If, however, you think you can trade him now, while he’s putting up unsustainable point per game scoring and get that kind of value for him in return, then by all means explore trying to find a deal to improve your team by moving him.

 

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