This week's Capped discusses a very controversial fantasy asset: Evgeni Malkin.
Happy Thursday to all; you are almost to the end of the week. Meaningful hockey is also on the horizon, and in two more days, we will have real box scores to analyze. One player whose name is worth following in these box scores is Evgeni Malkin. Malkin is a top-10 hockey talent on the planet, when healthy. The health however has been his biggest problem over the last few years.
Going back over the last six seasons, Malkin has missed game totals of 25, 13, 22, 17, 7, and 39. This means he missed an average of 20.5 games per season. That is exactly a quarter of each season. What makes it even tougher to swallow as a fantasy owner is that the games he misses seem to be closer to the end of the season, when his owners are chasing a championship. It is tough to win when your star player isn’t in the lineup at the time that matters most. In salary cap leagues, he is an even tougher pill to swallow, as he comes with a hefty $9.5 Million salary cap hit. I think he has to be the most discussed (controversial?) player this summer on the Dobber forums.
As a fantasy owner, what are we to do with Malkin? Does he make sense to draft as a star player, hoping for a healthy season? Should he be traded by November before he has a chance to get injured? Or does it make more sense just to leave him altogether, and let him be someone else’s problem? Lets look at some numbers.
Sticking with those last 6 seasons, Malkin has produced point totals of 58, 70, 72, 33 (lockout-shortened season), 109, 37. So in his last 335 games, he has put up 379 points, for a sweet 1.131 points per-game average. Over those six seasons, this is topped only by Malkin’s teammate, Sidney Crosby, and his 1.205 points-per-game mark. Only a handful of others across the league even rank over 1.0 PPG. Malkin certainly is an elite player when he is on the ice.
Taking a look at his peripherals, there isn’t anything special to see. Malkin has minimal contributions in the hits/blocks categories. In stars like Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin, you don’t draft these some of these players for anything but their scoring. The 60 or so penalty minutes that Malkin seems to average in a season is a nice little bonus, as is the solid 3.5 shots per game he has averaged over the last six years. Power play points are also a reliable category due to his presence on the number one unit in Pittsburgh. His faceoff wins used to be very valuable from the wing, but with being listed only as a centre this year in Yahoo, he loses that advantage. Lastly, his plus/minus should never hurt your fantasy team, again due to being part of the Pittsburgh Penguins. So all in all the peripherals are nothing special, but it’s what you get from a lot of the top skill players in the league.
Circling back to the injuries, Malkin has had a slew of them: from a dislocated shoulder, ACL/MCL tears, to his most recent elbow problems that almost needed Tommy John surgery. For the elbow problems, he decided to rest and let it heal, instead of having surgery which included the long recovery process, so this could very well be something that pops up again. These injuries all show wear & tear, and can become lingering ones down the line. It’s not like all of his injuries are broken bones and the common cold, these are ones to be concerned about. So yes, it is probably expected that he continues to miss 20 games a year, unless something in his usage changes. It could be that he gets worn down over the course of the season, and needs the Jaromir Jagr (old guy) treatment of being sat for all of the back-to-back games. However you spin it, banking on a healthy season from Malkin now is like hoping you won’t have to pay taxes this coming year.
So what happens with the 20 games that Malkin misses in the year? Well there is replacement value to take into account. When drafting players with the knowledge he will miss time, there has to be a backup plan. If there are very limited moves in your league, or if there is a very weak free agent pool, then you are going to want healthy players on your team. If there is an easy replacement avenue, then the Malkin risk becomes much more palatable. League structure in that way can really dictate a strategy, however it is generally better to own healthy players as injuries can strike when/where you least expect it (and for some reason, usually at the same time). Having a plan, and sticking to it, can make or break your draft, and by extension your season.
Now there are lots of questions to answer with these numbers. Is Malkin worth owning, and at what price tag? There is a point in value, where any player can become a bargain. That being said, Malkin’s average draft pick ranking on Yahoo to this point, is 22.1. IF he is healthy, it’s a bargain. If he continues to produce the 60+ points that he has the last while in the 60 games he plays, then it still isn’t a bad pick, as you know exactly what you are getting. The thing is though, that his salary brings his value way back down. The benchmark of 60 points, you can get for a lot cheaper elsewhere, and with extra peripherals.
In salary cap leagues, the value of the top players is diminished due to the fact that they steal so much flexibility from your ability to fill out the rest of a roster. Malkin has the fourth highest cap hit in the entire NHL, behind only Patrick Kane, Johnathan Toews and Alexander Ovechkin. P.K. Subban rounds out the top 5 players, all with cap hits of $9-million or more. Toews is in a different category, as he is not paid for his offence. Using the other four, Malkin is probably at the bottom of the production list. With Kane, his 106 points almost exactly translated to 10 points per million dollars with his $10.5 Million dollar cap hit. Ovechkin and Subban may not have that same level of point production, however they are monsters in the peripheral categories, such as shots and hits. Malkin, as discussed earlier is nothing special in the peripheral categories, and only scores at a rate of 6-7 points per million dollars he earns.
The points scored ratio with dollars earned is one of the simplest ways to compare players of different salaries. Malkin’s rate is much to low for him to have decent value at all in cap leagues. In just about all leagues actually I would be passing on him to let him be someone else’s headache. For a superstar, playing on one of the best offensive teams in the league, we would think that he would be a shoe-in first round pick. It’s funny how much an injury history can scare us off.
I started this article, wanting to argue that Malkin was currently being undersold in trades, especially in cap leagues. He is a possible first round talent too, and he is not being drafted as such. The thing is, there is just no room for him to exceed expectations. The best thing fantasy owners can look for in drafts is for players that have room to exceed their contracts/expectations. Malkin is now being paid for what he once was.
The original intent of this article was a desire to push in favor of Malkin. I wanted to urge people to buy with his lower value from the previous injuries, and hope that he can play 70+ games this year. I thought he could be one of the steals of drafts in the second round. With all the research done though, I couldn’t find anything that gave me even close to the confidence in Malkin that I have in the other players I can draft in the second round. Next to Toews, he may be one of the biggest anchors in cap leagues. Plus, with his $9.5 Million dollar contract running through the 2021-22 season, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. To the owners of Malkin, hope he can stay healthy for a month, and maybe try and deal him for a slumping star in mid-November.
I would love to hear everyone’s opinion on Malkin in the comments. Thanks to all for checking in again. See you all next Thursday.
*Cap information from Cap Friendly
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