Bryan Little vs. Derick Brassard

by Rick Roos on February 25, 2015
DerickBrassard

 

Two of the most underrated centermen in fantasy hockey – Bryan Little and Derick Brassard. Who is the better fantasy own?

 

Entering the cage this week are two 27 year olds in Bryan Little and Derick Brassard. Both are on pace for career highs in 2014-15, but key questions remain – can either one step up his production even further, and who’s the better own for the remainder of this season and beyond? The battle starts now!

 

 

Career Path and Contract Status

Both players have followed a remarkably similar career trajectory.

Little is a former 12th overall selection (in 2006) who had already landed with the Atlanta Thrashers (now, of course, the Winnipeg Jets) for 48 games by 2007-08 and opened the eyes of poolies by breaking out with 31 goals and 51 points in 79 contests for 2008-09. But not only would Little fail to post more than 48 points in any of the next three full seasons – it took him 155 games to get his next 31 goals.

Starting two seasons ago however, Little not only righted his ship but actually took things up a few notches. First he scored at a 54 point pace in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, and then he blew away his previous career high last season, to the tune of 64 points. And he’s currently on course to tally 30+ goals and 65+ points in the same season for the first time.

Like Little, Brassard was selected early in the 2006 draft (6th overall) and had his first taste of the NHL in 2007-08. The similarities between the two didn’t end there, as Brassard likewise broke out in 2008-09 with 25 points in an injury-shortened 31 games, only to come back to earth in the next three seasons by scoring only 36, 47, and 41 points.

When Brassard had only 18 points after 34 games in 2012-13, it earned him a ticket out of Columbus to the Rangers in the Marion Gaborik trade. Since coming to the Big Apple, Brassard seems to have found his mojo, posting 56 points in his first 94 games and standing just under a 69 point full season pace with fewer than 25 games remaining this season.

Little’s deal runs through 2017-18 and has a $4.75M cap hit, while Brassard’s lasts to 2018-19 and counts $5M against the cap.

 

Ice Time (this and other tables reflect games through February 23rd)

Brassard’s 2012-13 Ice Time stats are split between Columbus (34 games) and the Rangers (13 games).

 

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)

2014-15

19:55 (B.L.) – 2nd

17:46 (D.B.) – 2nd

3:10 (B.L.) – 3rd

2:54 (D.B.) – 2nd

2:11 (B.L.) – 3rd

0:18 (D.B.) – 10th

2013-14

20:00 (B.L.) – 2nd

15:47 (D.B.) – 7th

2:39 (B.L.) – 2nd

2:31 (D.B.) – 5th

2:14 (B.L.) – 3rd

0:01 (D.B.) – 12th

2012-13

19:47 (B.L.) – 2nd

16:31 (D.B. – CBJ) – 4th (tied)

16:38 (D.B. – NYR) – 8th

2:32 (B.L.) – 3rd

2:46 (D.B. – CBJ) – 2nd

2:50 (D.B. – NYR) – 5th

1:32 (B.L.) – 2nd

0:06 (D.B. – CBJ) – 9th

0:00 (D.B. – NYR)

2011-12

20:13 (B.L.) – 1st

16:20 (D.B.) – 6th

2:45 (B.L.) – 1st

3:03 (D.B.) – 5th

1:30 (B.L.) – 6th

0:07 (D.B.) – 14th

 

If you’re an avid reader of this column, then you’re aware that if a forward gets more than 2:00 of SH Ice Time per game it’s very unlikely he’ll post 50 points. Beyond that, guys with 2:10+ of SH Ice Time almost never tally even 45 points. But as I pointed out two weeks ago, Little seems to be an exception, as last season he had 64 points despite 2:14 of SH Ice Time per game; and he’s producing even better this season despite still getting 2:11. Of course with this comes concern about whether he’s somehow on a two season run of good luck, which we’ll check below.

Otherwise, Little’s Total Ice Time and PP Ice Time had remained remarkably similar over the past few seasons, until his PP Ice Time crept up nicely this season. Brassard’s Ice Time data had been pretty consistent as well, and that was despite him changing teams in 2012-13. His Total Ice Time and PP Ice Time dipped last season; but both are up nicely for 2014-15, albeit with a smattering of SH Ice Time to go along with it.

It’s also good to see that Brassard’s Total Ice Time is so high despite Derek Stepan having been in the Rangers fold for nearly the entire 2014-15 season. Clearly Brassard is now locked in as a member of the top six, and can likely be looked upon as a 1B center to Stepan’s 1A.

And while Brassard owners would like to see him get even more Ice Time, some players don’t need to log major minutes if they can produce well with less. In Brassard’s case, he sits 22nd in points per 60 minutes at 5×5 among the 291 forwards who’ve played 500+ minutes of 5×5 this season, so he’s making the most of his Ice Time. The only caveat is whether his output is being elevated by good luck; but we’ll check that below.

Secondary Categories

In this table (and the one below for luck-based metrics), Brassard’s 2012-13 stats with Columbus and the Rangers have been combined.

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

FOW

(per game)

2014-15

0.29 (B.L.)

0.39 (D.B.)

0.78 (B.L.)

1.46 (D.B.)

0.46 (B.L.)

0.12 (D.B.)

2.00 (B.L.)

2.05 (D.B.)

0.28 (B.L.)

0.26 (D.B.)

10.86 (B.L.)

8.80 (D.B.)

2013-14

0.70 (B.L.)

0.56 (D.B.)

1.02 (B.L.)

1.53 (D.B.)

0.46 (B.L.)

0.23 (D.B.)

2.07 (B.L.)

1.96 (D.B.)

0.18 (B.L.)

0.22 (D.B.)

9.57 (B.L.)

5.79 (D.B.)

2012-13

0.08 (B.L.)

0.34 (D.B.)

0.66 (B.L.)

1.76 (D.B.)

0.39 (B.L.)

0.17 (D.B.)

1.75 (B.L.)

1.87 (D.B.)

0.10 (B.L.)

0.23 (D.B.)

8.98 (B.L.)

4.57 (D.B.)

2011-12

0.35 (B.L.)

0.56 (D.B.)

0.59 (B.L.)

1.85 (D.B.)

0.17 (B.L.)

0.21 (D.B.)

2.19 (B.L.)

1.69 (D.B.)

0.17 (B.L.)

0.20 (D.B.)

9.90 (B.L.)

3.75 (D.B.)

 

Little’s FOW has held fairly steady and is a boon in leagues with that as a category since he qualifies on Yahoo at RW as well as C. Meanwhile, Brassard has morphed from being a major liability in this area (as a center only eligible player) to posting respectable totals.

Little had a fluky PIM output last season, but the data as a whole paints him as a one PIM per three or four games type of player, whereas Brassard is a smidge better. Their Shots totals are very similar of late and, unfortunately, are low enough to all but prevent them from being 75 point players. PP Points has gone from a one-sided benefit for Brassard to basically a wash, although Little’s large jump for 2014-15 has outpaced his increase in PP Ice Time, making it a concern he may be benefitting from unsustainable good luck.

Little also looks to have settled into producing more than double (or more) the number of blocks per game as Brassard, who in turn usually posts twice as many (or more) Hits per game as Little. Brassard’s edge in Hits is arguably more important to poolies, as Blocked Shots is not a category where forwards are looked upon to make significant contributions.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

Note that I’ve now begun referring to PDO also as SPSV in the table, as that’s what nhl.com calls it in its new enhanced stats platform.

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2014-15

18.9% (B.L.)

11.3% (D.B.)

1021 (B.L.)

1016 (D.B.)

82.4% (B.L.)

68.9% (D.B.)

76.2% (B.L.)

72.2% (D.B.)

54.9% (B.L.)

54.4% (D.B.)

2013-14

8.3% (B.L.)

11.3% (D.B.)

1006 (B.L.)

989 (D.B.)

72.7% (B.L.)

59.1% (D.B.)

60.0% (B.L.)

84.2% (D.B.)

49.7% (B.L.)

60.1% (D.B.)

2012-13

13.5% (B.L.)

13.8% (D.B.)

1022 (B.L.)

1013 (D.B.)

59.5% (B.L.)

66.7% (D.B.)

50.0% (B.L.)

68.8% (D.B.)

44.7% (B.L.)

47.5% (D.B.)

2011-12

14.8% (B.L.)

11.2% (D.B.)

980 (B.L.)

983 (D.B.)

62.2% (B.L.)

73.5% (D.B.)

70.0% (B.L.)

70.0% (D.B.)

53.6% (B.L.)

50.7% (D.B.)

 

One thing is for sure – if Little was having an initial breakout this season, then we’d have to view it with a great deal of skepticism. For one, not only does his 5×5 IPP put him in the top ten for all NHL forwards who’ve played more than 750 minutes at 5×5, but his 5×4 IPP lands him within the top 20 for forwards who’ve logged at least 100 minutes of 5×4. To underscore how lucky that it, consider that no forward is ahead of him in both IPPs. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, his Offensive Zones Starting % is the highest among all four seasons and his personal shooting % is well above his career average of 13.1%, whereby he’d have a whopping seven fewer goals (and, with that, be on pace for only 56 points) had he shot at 13.1% thus far this season instead.

What’s more, since 2012-13 Little’s combined IPP and Offensive Zone Starting % have increased each season; and lo and behold, his scoring pace has as well. Overall, with his high SH Ice Time and likely unsustainable metrics, chances are he’ll revert to more of a 60 point pace for the remainder of 2014-15, and accordingly you shouldn’t count on him posting 65 in future seasons.

In Brassard’s case, his metrics this season alleviate concern that his past instances of production were influenced by unsustainable good luck. For example, until this season the only instances where Brassard scored above a 52 point pace were in his 31 game 2008-09 season, when his personal shooting % was a 17.0%, and the 13 game portion of his 2012-13 season spent with the Rangers after being traded, when it was 20.0%. Considering that his career personal shooting % is only 10.8%, it’s very reassuring to see his 69 point scoring pace from this season features an 11.3% percentage.

Ownership, Value and Remaining Schedule

Little is C and RW eligible and was selected on average as the 38th C-eligible player in Yahoo drafts, whereas Brassard is only C-eligible and was selected 53rd. Fast forward to now, and Little is owned in 84% of Yahoo leagues and ranked as the 20th best center, compared to only 51% ownership but 23rd ranking for Brassard.

Although he’s only C eligible and doesn’t have a track record of proven scoring, the fact that Brassard is owned in barely 50% of Yahoo leagues is a stunner. Among those eligible only as a center and still more widely owned than Brassard are Paul Stastny, Kyle Turris, Tomas Plekanec, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with only Plekanec (41) having more than 40 points. Given this, Brassard likely has among the biggest gaps between his actual value and his perceived value of anyone I’ve profiled in Cage Match.

We’ve also reached the point in the season where, especially for those in one-year leagues, the number of games remaining for a player actually can matter quite a bit. And in this case, as of February 23rd the Rangers had played three fewer games (58) than the Jets (61), which means Brassard will play 10% more games over the rest of the season than Little. At this junction, that’s quite a big difference.

Who Wins?

After removing Little’s increasing luck from the equation, it’s basically a clean sweep for Brassard, as he’s likely to be as productive – if not more so – than Little, is far and away the bigger bargain in terms of what he’d cost to obtain in draft or trade, and contributes more overall in secondary categories, particularly Hits. The only positive I see for Little is he’s essentially locked into top line minutes, whereas Brassard is more of a 1B center. But in the end actual output is what matters, and if Brassard can get that with less Ice Time and on a 1B line, so be it. The clear winner of this match is Brassard.

If you own Little, you might want to try and sell high either now or over the summer, although you can’t be faulted for keeping him, as he’s a pretty nice bet for 60 points and his 84% ownership signifies that you might not be able to get top value for him in return. As for Brassard, the time to grab him is now, as he figures to end this season with more than 60 points for the first time in his career, and that will quickly and convincingly open the eyes of the nearly 50% of poolies who somehow still don’t own him, making him a lot more costly to acquire in drafts or via trade going forward.

 

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