Cage Match: Band-Aid Boys – Embrace or Avoid?

by Rick Roos on May 25, 2016

Should we be avoiding injury-prone players, or taking advantage of others' aversion to them?

 

After I finished my winter 2015 Cage Match Tournaments on Band-Aid Boys, I made a note to do a future column where, instead of matching two players against each other, the battle (or I guess we’d call it a debate) would be about how to approach Band-Aid Boys. The stakes are potentially high, so let’s start this special Cage Match.

 

What is a Band-Aid Boy?

A Band-Aid Boy (or “BAB”) is a player who, due to his past injury history, is seemingly at higher risk of getting hurt at any given time as compared to a non-BAB. A player can be a BAB even if he doesn’t get injured every year, although most BABs do. Essentially, what BAB status signifies is an NHLer’s track record of injuries raising concerns about more injuries to come.

Some BABs are bumps and bruises types who get frequent but minor injuries, while others might not get hurt as often but tend to miss more games when they do. The end result with both types of BABs is usually the same – most have missed an average of 10+ games per season over several years (if not their entire careers). Also, nearly all BABs are on the fantasy radar, which is by design since it generally won’t matter to poolies whether a fantasy-unworthy player is a BAB.

Now that you’ve had a BAB (re)introduction, I’ll argue both sides of the BAB debate before deciding whether BABs are a pill worth swallowing for poolies.

 

Arguments in favor of embracing BABs

If a BAB gets hurt, in most cases he can be replaced without a significant drop-off in production

Most poolies dwell on the idea that players missing games due to injury is among the worst things that can happen to their fantasy team. But unless your league has no bench or waiver wire, it’s not like an injured BAB can’t be replaced if (and remember, the key word is if) he gets hurt. And usually the drop off, if any, in production is nominal.

Let’s take Evgeni Malkin as an example. Malkin, a BAB, posted 58 points in 57 games (i.e., 25 games missed) for 2015-16, as one of just five players to average more than a point per game in 50+ games. Yet in all but the deepest leagues, you should’ve been able to swap in one or more forwards to replace Malkin and still get 70-75 points from his roster spot when all is said and done. And although that’s less than you figured to receive, it’s more than enough to risk owning a player like Malkin, who, if healthy, is one of a precious few who could produce a 90+ point season.

It’s normal for all players to miss games, especially defensemen

Since 2010-11, each NHL team has played 458 games. Care to guess how many skaters played in 430+, i.e. missing up to an average of nearly five games per season? Only 70 (52 forwards, 18 defensemen), underscoring how BABs aren’t much different than the norm in terms of games missed.

Also, among those 70 are fantasy-unworthy players, as only 34 of the forwards averaged 0.5+ points per game and a third of d-men didn’t average above 0.33. And if we look at pure scoring, the results show BAB defensemen fare quite well despite missing games, as among the 44 rearguards who tallied 150+ points since 2010-11, 18 (i.e., more than 40%) played in fewer than 400 games.

Do we really want “ wounded warriors” who play hurt?

Although having your players dress for all 82 games is held up as an ideal in fantasy hockey, it might not be that much better – if better at all – than having a BAB on your squad. The reason is the “wounded warrior” effect, which is when players (and thus poolies who own them) see their production negatively impacted by them gutting through everything from bumps and bruises, to illnesses, to what would qualify to most as full-fledged injuries.

Hockey is a physical sport. Even the best conditioned players are bound to feel less than 100% for parts of the season, during which they’re less likely to produce in line with how they’d perform if fully healthy. And let’s not kid ourselves – there are many fantasy-worthy NHLers who, due to pride, selfishness, commitment to their team, and/or contract milestones, will choose to play in games when less than 100%, perhaps even hiding the fact they’re injured at all. That leaves poolies thinking these players are their usual selves, so we keep them in our fantasy line-ups, to our detriment.

Meanwhile, we can say what they want about BABs and question their toughness or commitment; but what would a poolie rather have – a player who misses 20 games in a season but is 100% healthy when he plays, or one who misses no games but routinely plays at less than 100%? Not such an easy choice…..

BABs make line-up decisions easier

Including BABs on your fantasy team leaves you with fewer tough decisions with respect to your line-up. If the BABs are healthy, you’re pretty much always going to start them; and if they unfortunately get hurt, then you just go ahead and bench or drop them. Nice and simple.

Compare that to non-BABs, where more consistent good health can actually complicate matters. You find yourself wondering if they have good match-ups for a particular week or might be slumping, to name just a few quandaries. The point is, a healthy player could actually provide more line-up headaches than a BAB.

 

Arguments against BABs

BABs provide poor draft value in view of their cost

It would be one thing if BABs had somewhat lowered values which take into account their propensity to get injured; but that’s not the case. Looking at 2015-16 Yahoo leagues, Evgeni Malkin was drafted, on average, sixth overall among centers, ahead of Joe Pavelski, Ryan Getzlaf, and Anze Kopitar to name just a few. It’s a similar story with defensemen, where BAB Mark Giordano was drafted, on average, fourth overall and BAB Executive Kris Letang was selected 11th.

And this isn’t just the case with elite BABs. In truth, most BABs – elite or not – are being drafted with a value at or near what they’d have if they weren’t BABs, based on poolies – and we all do this – talking themselves into thinking this will be the year they somehow stay healthy. As a result, if you draft a BAB, at best you get what you pay for, while more often than not you end up with less value when they inevitably miss games due to injury. In fantasy, the goal is to avoid players who pose a risk of having a lower value than cost, and drafting BABs turns that risk into an almost guaranteed reality.

BABs are not easy to replace, in more ways than one

Most leagues allow for injured players to be put on IR and replaced by someone else already on your roster or even a waiver wire pick-up. But doing so is not as easy as was portrayed above.

Let’s say a player misses 20 games in a season. Often that’s not just one injury – maybe it’s a few games here, then a few games there. If it’s a very good player, sometimes you might hesitate to reserve him, out of fear he might return quickly. Or how many times does “day-to-day” turn into a few weeks, while you’ve waited to reserve the player in hopes of an imminent return? And that’s even assuming you can reserve him, which in many leagues isn’t possible until the player actually lands on the “real life” injured reserve list.

And even if a player happens to miss 20 games because of a single injury, sometimes the severity of that injury isn’t clear at the outset. As a result, yet again you might not replace that player right away.

Long story short, if indeed a BAB gets hurt during the season, it’s unrealistic to think poolies will get anything close to 82 game production from his roster spot. In turn, that makes the already subpar cost vs. value proposition of BABs even worse.

When BABs return from injury, they can be rusty

One of the points in favor of BABs above was that some non-BABs who suit up for 80+ games are likely hobbling through at least minor injuries, thus negatively affecting their production and, in turn, your fantasy team. While that might be true to some degree, BABs have a unique problem which is at least as bad if not worse.

When BABs return from missed games, they can be rusty and/or are eased into the line-up in ways that inhibit them from producing at their usual output. Even if the injury necessitated offseason surgery, they might suffer in the early part of the season due to being in poor shape or missing camp.

Basically, there are more variables and red flags for BABs returning from injury than there are in healthy players who might not be at quite 100% in each and every game they play. And when this drawback is added to the problem of BABs missing games in the first place, it turns into a double whammy that poolies should want no part of.

BABs can be nightmares in certain leagues

In H2H leagues, leagues with little to no bench, leagues with limited waiver wire transactions, and leagues with IR requirements, BABs are ticking time bombs which, if they go off, can wreak havoc on a fantasy team. And leagues of these types don’t represent just a small fraction of all leagues either, nor do leagues with regular season playoffs, where BABs can derail an otherwise excellent team. In short, BABs bring more uncertainty and potential devastation to teams in certain leagues, further calling into question their value vs. their cost.

BABs are difficult to trade

Although BABs still somehow command a high price when drafted, have you ever tried trading one, even when they’re healthy? It’s one thing for a fantasy hockey GM to roll the dice when drafting a BAB, since that’s just deciding how to use a pick; but when trying to trade away a BAB, it’s nearly impossible to get anything close to decent value in return. Instead, more often than not a fellow GM will use a player’s BAB status as a way to drive that player’s price down. Or they might just flat out refuse to entertain the trade, saying they don’t want the various headaches that come with owning a BAB.

BABs are in more danger of losing their “spot”

When a BAB is injured, he’s generally not in his team’s line-up. If he’s a top six forward or a top four defenseman, that means a lower tier player gets a chance to step up and show the team his stuff. While more often than not a BAB won’t get passed on the depth chart due to injury, it’s not unheard of. Just ask former 27+goal scoring BABs like David Booth, Rene Bourque, and Chris Higgins.

 

Who Wins – are BABs worth owning, or should they be avoided entirely?

Considering the arguments on both sides, I do think BABs are a net negative whom poolies should be wary of owning in general. That being said, BABs should not be ignored entirely, in particular not BAB defensemen, who, as data above showed, are among the best fantasy producers in today’s NHL even when factoring in the games they’ve missed.

But BAB forwards are less enticing, since there’s more depth at that position; plus, among the top 70 forward point producers since 2010-11, only ten played in fewer than 400 games, confirming that the risk/reward balance likely doesn’t justify owning them given that they won’t come at a discounted price. And lastly, a BAB at any position who’s a borderline own in your league likely should indeed be ignored, except as a possible short term waiver wire grab.