Who would you rather own in fantasy hockey leagues – Torey Krug or Seth Jones?
Continuing my recent trend, I’ve again chosen players for Cage Match who have similar (in this case, identical) point projections in the DobberHockey 2014 Fantasy Hockey Guide. But here too I won’t tell you what their point projection is exactly – for that you’ll need to go and get the Fantasy Guide, which remains far and away the best fantasy hockey league resource you can find.
Our combatants this week are Torey Krug and Seth Jones. And although – as we’ll see below – they followed quite different paths to get to where they are today, they’ve both already become coveted fantasy rearguards. But which one should you grab in your league? Cage Match is here to point you to the right choice.
Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications
Krug was an undrafted USHL product who ended up attending Michigan State, where his star – and point totals – rose each season, culminating in him signing as a free agent with the Bruins in 2012. Krug famously emerged with a goal scoring barrage (four in his first five playoff games) in 2013, carrying the momentum into 2013-14 by posting 40 points, which was easily tops among all first year blueliners and actually placed him tied for 23rd in defensemen scoring within the entire NHL.
Jones – who turns 20 on October 3rd – is the son of former NBAer Popeye Jones and was an elite prospect through his teens. In fact, many prognosticators had him pegged as a possible first overall selection for the 2013-14 draft, although he ultimately slipped to 4th overall. Jones hit the ground running as a rookie, posting 21 points in his first 56 games before slowing down to finish with 25 points in 77 games.
Krug just inked a one year $1.4M deal, whereas for the next two seasons Jones is set to make $925,000 in base salary with up to an additional $2.3M in performance bonuses.
Although both players have only one full season to analyze, we can still see where each stood in relation to the other and the various defensemen on his respective team.
Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)
PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)
SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen
17:30 (T.K.) – 7th
19:37 (S.J.) – 3rd
2:30 (T.K.) – 1st
1:58 (S.J.) – 3rd
0:15 (T.K.) – 9th
1:39 (S.J.) – 4th
At first glance, Ice Time appears to favor Jones, who averaged 2:07 more per game than Krug. But if we look more closely, Krug had a 0:32 advantage on the PP and was saddled with 1:24 less shorthanded Ice Time per game. Thus, their productive Ice Time was very comparable.
What’s more, Krug was the top PP rearguard option for Boston, whereas Jones saw second unit duty behind Shea Weber and Roman Josi, each of whom averaged more than 3:00 per game with the man advantage. Thus, even though Jones received only 20% less PP Ice Time than Krug I’d expect his PP output (which we’ll chart below) to reflect a difference of greater than 20%.
The big question is what this Ice Time data means for 2014-15 and beyond. For both players, it seems reasonable to assume there’s nowhere to go but up – that is, each should see his Ice Time increase. But I’m not so sure that more Ice Time would indeed translate to a boost in production for either player.
Krug still isn’t someone the Bs can reliably deploy while shorthanded; and the team tends to evenly distribute its PP Ice Time. What this means is Krug’s added Ice Time in 2014-15 would likely come at even strength. And the rub there is last season saw Krug post a 66.2% offensive zone starting % at 5×5, which was tops in the entire NHL among defenseman who played 60+ games. With more even strength Ice Time he’ll end up with a lower offensive zone %, meaning the added Ice Time might not translate to improved production.
Meanwhile, Jones would be more likely to see his minutes increase across the board, albeit perhaps not by a lot. Plus, it’d be hard to imagine him unseating either Weber or Josi from Nashville’s PP1, especially since the team’s 2013-14 PP conversion % put them 12th in the NHL despite having only the 19th ranked goals per game average. And Jones’ 5×5 offensive zone starting % was 50.6% in 2013-14, which was actually 59th among the 147 NHL defensemen who played 60+ games, so given his all-around talent it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’d see his percentage (and, with that, his production) rise even if he receives more 5×5 Ice Time.
Blocked Shots (per game)
This data isn’t too surprising, as it reflects Krug’s offensive prowess and Jones’ well-rounded role. But what really stands out is Jones’ 1.30 Shots per game (100 total), which, when broken down, represented the 10th worst total number of Shots at 5×4 among the 85 defenseman who played more than 100 minutes at 5×4 and only the 80th most shots at 5×5 among the 121 defensemen who played at least 1000 minutes of 5×5. In general, with Shots come points, so Jones will need to fire the puck more if he wants to see his point total increase in 2014-15 and beyond.
And sure enough, beyond averaging one more Shot per game than Jones, Krug doubled Jones’ PP output despite only receiving 20% more PP Ice Time per game. This is a reminder that all PP Ice Time is not created equal; and Jones will likely continue to find it hard to produce with the man advantage unless Nashville opts to spread its newly obtained, offensive-minded forwards (James Neal, Mike Ribeiro) across both PP units, as opposed to stacking PP1, on which Shea Weber and Roman Josi are fixtures.
Immediately we’re drawn to Jones’ 954 5×5 PDO, which was the second lowest of any 60+ game defenseman in 2013-14. And at the same time, his 5×4 IPP was 41.3%, which ranked 73rd in 2013-14 among the 85 defensemen who played 100+ minutes of 5×4 (Krug’s 75.0% was 13th).
Normally this would suggest Jones is due to see his points increase while Krug might expect to see his fall. But here I’m inclined to think the luck each player experienced will stretch into next season – that is, what we’re looking at isn’t a case of unsustainable bad luck for Jones or good luck for Krug.
The key word in that last sentence is unsustainable. Someone might well remain lucky or unlucky if the circumstances that led to the good or bad luck are likely to continue; and I believe the 2014-15 season will see things unfold similarly for both players. That, in turn, should lead to similar outcomes for their luck-based metrics and, with that, quite possibly their production.
Comparisons to the Past
One thing we need to remember is Jones’ status as a fourth overall pick doesn’t automatically mean he’ll end up producing well. In fact, of the 19 defensemen who were taken with a top ten overall pick from the 2004 draft to the 2011 draft, only four have topped 40 points in any NHL season to date.
So although his draft status will give Jones an edge for now over other younger players in terms of his opportunities and reputation, there might come a point where – if he doesn’t succeed – his draft position and the expectations that come with it will haunt him more than help him. Just ask the likes of Cam Barker (selected 3rd overall), Thomas Hickey (4th), Brian Lee and Ladislav Smid (9th), and Keaton Ellerby (10th), each of whom now probably regrets the pressures that accompanied his top ten draft slot. And in Jones’ case, there’s arguably even a larger spotlight shining on him, what with also being the son of a former NBA player.
But at the same time, if you examine the list of the ten (yes, only ten) other defensemen since 1991-92 who posted 40+ points in their first full season, the only ones who went on to top 40 points in five or more seasons are Nicklas Lidstrom and Dion Phaneuf, while several (Janne Niinimaa, Alexei Zhitnik, Vladimir Malakov) ended up falling well short of early expectations. So superstardom is far from a lock for Krug either.
All things considered, picking a winner here ultimately centers a lot on the team that surrounds each player. In the case of Krug, he’s part of a defensively sound Bruins team where it just so happens that Zdeno Chara needs to step back at least somewhat in terms of offense production in order to focus on doing what he does best, which is to shut down the other team. In other words, Krug’s offensively-focused role and his spot on PP1 seem secure enough that even though he signed his new deal so late it’s hard to imagine him not being able to post 35-45 points in 2014-15, with more of a chance of hitting 50 than falling back to 30.
Meanwhile, although Jones is a blue chipper he’s stuck behind Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Had Jones come to Nashville even a year earlier – before Josi’s breakout – it might’ve been a different story. But now he’s in a spot resembling that of Niklas Kronwall in Detroit during the latter part of the last decade, where Weber is playing the role of Nicklas Lidstrom and Josi is Mattieu Schneider or Brian Rafalski.
During that time (i.e. from 2006-07 to 2010-11) Kronwall finished third in Red Wing blueliner scoring each season and only posted more than 37 points once. Of course once Kronwall became “the guy” he responded with a 50 point scoring pace over his past two seasons; but for his owners, that was a long time coming.
Unfortunately, with Weber signed through infinity and Josi through 2019-20 (plus Ryan Ellis now inked through 2018-19), Jones might need to wait in the wings (pun intended) like Kronwall did before he can be placed in position to fulfill the lofty expectations that come with being a fourth overall draft pick. And by then the whispers about him not living up to his promise might’ve taken a toll, as they did on many of the others I mentioned above.
The winner of this Cage Match is Torey Krug, both for points-only and non-dynasty keeper leagues. Jones only becomes viable in leagues which place a large premium on Hits and Blocked Shots, or ones where you can afford to patiently hold onto him for perhaps three to five (or even more) years, as in the interim he should be a good bet for only 25-35 points per season.
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