Cage Match: Bo Horvat vs. Nick Schmaltz

by Rick Roos on September 19, 2018


This week’s battle is between Bo Horvat and Nick Schmaltz, where we can focus not just on the players themselves but also the age-old question of whether it’s better to own the arguably best player on a poor team (i.e., Horvat) or someone who’s perhaps a lesser talented player but lucky enough to be tethered to a superstar (Schmaltz and Patrick Kane). Cage Match is on the case and starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Horvat, 23, was drafted ninth overall in 2013 and returned to the OHL for his age 18 season, posting 74 points in 54 games. Between that and the struggles of the Canucks as a team (missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade), Horvat was in the NHL for nearly all of 2014-15, posting 25 points in 68 games. Although the team has largely continued to fare poorly in subsequent years, it hasn’t stopped Horvat’s development, as he’s seen his scoring rate increase with each passing season, from 30 as a rookie, to 40 in 2015-16, to 52 in 2016-17, to 56 last season. Where concern lies, however, is that in two of his four seasons he missed 14 and 18 games, so he might be on his way to Band-Aid Boy status.

Schmaltz, 22, was selected 20th overall in 2014 and opted to play two seasons of college hockey, seeing his scoring jump from 26 points in 38 games in his age 18 season to 46 in 37 contests as a sophomore while helping lead his team to a national championship. Schmaltz spent the bulk of 2016-17 with Chicago, posting 28 points in 61 games. Amid the return of Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp for 2017-18 expectations for Schmaltz weren’t high going into the season; however, he found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and when the dust settled had scored 52 points in 78 games.

Horvat is signed through 2023 on a deal that counts $5.5M annually versus the cap and will leave him a UFA at its completion, while 2018-19 will mark the last season on Schmaltz’s ELC that dings the cap at a mere $0.925M.

Ice Time

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

19:21 (B.H.) – 1st

18:14 (N.S.) – 3rd

2:42 (B.H.) – 4th

2:40 (N.S.) – 4th

1:35 (B.H.) – 8th (tied)

1:19 (N.S.) – 6th

2016-17

18:02 (B.H.) – 5th

13:16 (N.S.) – 9th

1:56 (B.H.) – 5th (tied)

1:03 (N.S.) – 7th

1:50 (B.H.) – 2nd

0:01 (N.S.) – 12th

2015-16

17:08 (B.H.) – 4th

1:48 (B.H.) – 7th

2:16 (B.H.) – 1st

2015-16

12:16 (B.H.) – 13th (tied)

0:16 (B.H.) – 11th

0:43 (B.H.) – 9th


Just as occurred a few weeks ago with Rickard Rakell, Horvat’s season-to-season points increase mirrors his year-to-year increases in overall and PP ice times. Beyond that, Horvat has seen his SH ice time drop with each passing season. And there’s still room for further growth, not only because Horvat’s overall and PP ice times were 36th and 75th respectively among forwards who played 60+ games last season, but also because the Sedins have now retired. That means Horvat will be leaned upon more, especially on the PP, which is where the Sedins still commanded most of their recent ice time. Long story short, Horvat is seemingly poised to see further ice time – and thus points – gains.

As for Schmaltz, things look to be progressing well, as he made huge strides from his rookie season to 2017-18 and commanded nearly as much time on the PP as Horvat. But Schmaltz’s jump in PP time was nearly equaled by unproductive added SH duty. Moreover, although Schmaltz’s most frequent linemate at both even strength and on the PP was indeed Kane, Schmaltz saw his per game ice time drop from 19:16 in the second quarter, to 18:18 in the third quarter, to 17:17 in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the fourth quarter was his only one where Kane was not his most frequent linemate. The good news for Schmaltz owners is that Kane produced at his yearly average in that fourth quarter (rather than better), and thus it’s likely – especially given the lack of other better options – that the two will be reunited come the start of 2018-19, with early reports from training camp suggesting that’s indeed the case.

Like Horvat, Schmaltz ranked 4th among team forwards in PP Time per game; however, there also he was most frequently skating alongside Kane and the team was using a 4F, 1D unit on PP1, so Schmaltz was already commanding top PP minutes. But unlike Horvat, the three forwards ahead of him all will be returning, so he shouldn’t expect to see PP ice time gains ala Horvat, nor can we be sure he’ll take the ice for more even strength minutes given his downward minute trend as 2017-18 wore on. Then again. that could have been due to the fading fortunes of the team and/or Schmaltz being rested a bit more in what still was technically his first full season. Poolies probably would be best to expect Schmaltz to see similar ES and PP ice times this coming season, with a chance at – but no guarantee of – gains.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.15 (B.H.)

0.23 (N.S.)

0.54 (B.H.)

0.17 (N.S.)

0.45 (B.H.)

0.49 (N.S.)

2.47 (B.H.)

1.53 (N.S.)

0.20 (B.H.)

0.17 (N.S.)

2016-17

0.33 (B.H.)

0.10 (N.S.)

0.80 (B.H.)

0.32 (N.S.)

0.50 (B.H.)

0.44 (N.S.)

1.95 (B.H.)

1.08 (N.S.)

0.13 (B.H.)

0.03 (N.S.)

2015-16

0.22 (B.H.)

0.84 (B.H.)

0.64 (B.H.)

1.89 (B.H.)

0.14 (B.H.)

2014-15

0.23 (B.H.)

1.03 (B.H.)

0.69 (B.H.)

1.36 (B.H.)

0.01 (B.H.)


Although Horvat has shed hits and blocks in each of his last three seasons, he’s also seen – as noted above – his ice time and scoring increase and, shown here, his SOG rate rise as well. Plus 2017-18 marked his highest PP scoring rate, yet one which could stand to increase as he’s leaned on more in the post-Sedin era and due to 0.20 being a rate that also can be realistically upped by the team around him getting better. What’s more, although Horvat has seen his totals in hits and blocks drop, they’re still not terrible, provided of course that they stabilize, since if that doesn’t happen then he could eventually become a multi-cat liability.

Speaking of multi-cat liabilities, although he’s not even played 150 NHL games to date Schmaltz is on his way to being a category killer in hits and shots on goal. The former is unfortunate, but the latter is especially concerning since it could put a ceiling of sorts on his production. Then again, Horvat’s second-year rate wasn’t that much higher than Schmaltz’s, although Horvat’s came in one minute less total ice time.

Digging deeper, Schmaltz’s SOG rate was by far his lowest in the fourth quarter of last season, with only 23 in 18 games. As noted above, that was the lone quarter when his most frequent linemate wasn’t Kane. A glass half full poolie would see that and figure once Schmaltz is back with Kane all will be well, whereas pessimistic poolies would grow concerned about how Schmaltz could produce if separated from Kane for any extended period of time. My take is Schmaltz is still young and there aren’t many better options for a linemate to Kane than Schmaltz, so there’s no reason to push the panic button – at least not yet. Also, Schmaltz’s PP scoring was decent but not great. Normally that’d be something to point towards as providing room for organic scoring improvement; however, Schmaltz needs to produce well enough to keep his “spot” on the top PP unit, so this too bears watching.

Overall the data strongly favors Horvat based on trends plus already established milestones. That being said, Schmaltz has less experience and could see upward trends in important areas like SOG and PPPts, although most likely only if he continues to share the ice with Kane on a regular basis.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

13.9% (B.H.)

17.8% (N.S.)

10.29% (B.H.)

8.44% (N.S.)

57.0% (B.H.)

70.3% (N.S.)

48.4% (B.H.)

64.3% (N.S.)

22.7 (B.H.)

26.3 (N.S.)

27% (B.H.)

51% (N.S.)

2016-17

12.7% (B.H.)

9.1% (N.S.)

8.76% (B.H.)

8.79% (N.S.)

77.6% (B.H.)

71.8% (N.S.)

46.4% (B.H.)

57.4% (N.S.)

23.4 (B.H.)

31.8 (N.S.)

31% (B.H.)

27% (N.S.)

2015-16

10.3% (B.H.)

7.54% (B.H.)

71.4% (B.H.)

42.2% (B.H.)

21.5 (B.H.)

46% (B.H.)

2014-15

14.0% (B.H.)

8.21% (B.H.)

75.8% (B.H.)

47.3% (B.H.)

19.5 (B.H.)

41% (B.H.)


At first the high 5×5 team shooting percentage for Horvat in 2017-18 might seem concerning; but his overall metrics not only aren’t worrisome but are in fact reassuring. His IPP was uncharacteristically low for a player whose previous low was 71.8%. And although him sharing the ice with a player of the talent like Brock Boeser would cause him to get a smaller share of points on goals scored, a drop all the way down to 57% is too much. Plus, even if his IPP wasn’t able to rebound back above 70%, there still should be more total goals scored thanks to Boeser, for a net wash or even a gain in points for Horvat. Beyond that, as Horvat’s SOG rate has increased his shot distance has dropped as has his secondary assists rate, which together suggest he has room for organic points gains. This shows why it’s important not to look at one number which sticks out and automatically assume it tells the entire story.

For Schmaltz, we only have half the data as Horvat, but he too has had an IPP over 70% in each season which is normally something I see from talented players who have what it takes to be stars. What also makes his 2017-18 IPP all the more impressive is he shared the ice most often with Kane, who’s a points magnet and whose lowest IPP since 2012-13 was a whopping 76%. Also, Schmaltz saw his shooting distance shrink even as his shots rose. Of some concern is his secondary assist rate nearly doubling; however, 51% is not very high, especially for someone who plays with Kane.

This shows why, as with Horvat, it’s important not to dwell on one glaring number with Schmaltz, which in this case was his 17.8% personal shooting percentage. Not only were his overall luck metrics solid, but his team shooting percentage was actually a bit low at 8.44%, suggesting perhaps Schmaltz lucked into a few more goals, but his points total was not unsustainably high.

Who Wins?

I’m giving this match to Horvat not so much because Schmaltz loses but rather because Horvat’s data is both reassuring in terms of the strides he’s made but also encouraging with respect to him still having realistic room to see further gains, particularly as the team around him gets better. As for Schmaltz, he’s not as beholden to Kane as one might’ve expected, as shown in particular by Schmaltz’s 70%+ IPP in both his seasons. The issue is that he’s not a lock to continue to play with Kane and even if he does the Blackhawks aren’t the team they once were; as such, Schmaltz’s output might be stuck in the 50s for a few more seasons if not longer.

If you own either player, I’d hold unless you get an offer that fills a key need on your team or that values either player at far more than he’s worth. In one year Yahoo leagues both players are being drafted in the 160 to 170 range, which is likely low for what they’re actually worth, so don’t hesitate to target either one in your leagues, but avoid reaching to early since from this data they apparently can be had later in drafts that you might otherwise think.