Cage Match: Cam Atkinson vs. Reilly Smith

by Rick Roos on May 11, 2016

Great Cage Match this week – Cam Atkinson vs. Reilly Smith. Who is the better fantasy own both short and long term?

 

This week we focus on two players who both made the leap from exactly 40 points in 2014-15 to 50+ this past season – Reilly Smith and Cam Atkinson. Were their jumps for real, and might this be just the beginning of even better things to come? Let’s find out – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Smith was drafted 69th overall in 2009 by Dallas, then posted excellent numbers in college (122 points in 121 games). After splitting time between the AHL (35 points in 45 games) and NHL (nine points in 40 games) Smith was dealt to Boston as a non-marquee part of the Tyler Seguin trade. To the surprise of most everyone, Smith tallied 51 points in his first campaign for the Bs; but a dip next season to just 40 points not only left poolies wondering if he’d been propped up by better linemates, but also earned him an offseason ticket to Florida via another trade. With the Panthers in 2015-16, despite taking the ice for his third team in four seasons, Smith again impressed, as his point total climbed back to 50.

Drafted a year earlier but nearly 100 picks later (157th) than Smith, Atkinson also played college hockey, where he essentially matched Smith’s production (124 points in 116 games). But unlike Smith, Atkinson didn’t struggle in his first taste of the NHL, with 14 points in 27 games. Nevertheless, it took nearly 100 AHL games before Atkinson was with Columbus to stay. Then after back-to-back 40 point seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15, poolies wondered if Atkinson had another gear. Yet sure enough – in 2015-16 Atkinson became one of the lone bright spots to a disappointing Columbus season, as he topped 25 goals and 25 assists, each for the first time, on his way to 53 points.

Smith has one year remaining on a $3.425M per year contract, while Atkinson will earn a similar $3.5M per season, but through 2017-18. Notably, Smith will emerge from his current deal as an RFA, whereas Atkinson will be a UFA.

 

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)

2015-16

18:36 (R.S.) – 2nd

17:47 (C.A.) – 2nd

2:34 (R.S.) – 7th

2:15 (C.A.) – 3rd

2:17 (R.S.) – 2nd

1:52 (C.A.) – 4th

2014-15

15:24 (R.S.) – 7th

16:59 (C.A.) – 6th

1:47 (R.S.) – 7th

2:18 (C.A.) – 4th

0:01 (R.S.) – 16th (tied)

0:58 (C.A.) – 10th

2013-14

14:42 (R.S.) – 7th

15:47 (C.A.) – 8th

1:38 (R.S.) – 8th

2:13 (C.A.) – 4th

0:00 (R.S.)

0:10 (C.A.) – 10th

2012-13

10:55 (R.S.) – 13th

15:35 (C.A.) – 11th

1:01 (R.S.) – 10th

1:19 (C.A.) – 9th

0:23 (R.S.) 10th

0:41 (C.A.) – 8th

 

Smith’s Ice Time gain in Florida is a mixed blessing, as just under one-third was added PP Ice Time but more than two-thirds was unfavorable SH Ice Time. Also, although Smith amassed a healthy looking 2:34 per game with the man advantage this past season and the top Florida forward (Aleksander Barkov) averaged only sixteen more seconds per game, Smith stood 7th among team forwards.

 

This suggests Smith is somewhat of a low man on the PP totem pole, which is essentially confirmed by his most frequent PP linemates being Brandon Pirri, Vincent Trocheck, Jussi Jokinen, and Teddy Purcell, i.e., not exactly Florida’s biggest guns. And with Jaromir Jagr re-upping last week, all six who finished ahead of him in PP Time per game are under contract for 2016-17, so it’s not safe to assume things will improve. Some might think making a big deal about this is splitting hairs, since we’re talking about only 16 seconds; but it underscores that all PP Ice Time isn’t created equal. And this kind of thing can mean the difference between a player maxing out at 50-55 points versus entering 55-60+ territory.

 

At first, the Ice Time data seems promising for Atkinson, who’s gained roughly one minute of Total Ice Time in each of the past two seasons. Yet if we examine things more closely, nearly all added Ice Time came in the form of undesirable SH Ice Time, while his PP Time remained stuck in neutral. And although 17:47 per game only translated to Atkinson tying for 88th in Total Ice Time average among NHL forwards who played 40+ games in 2015-16, it put him second among team forwards, so he might be unable to make further gains in this area.

 

Also, we have to keep in mind Atkinson gained more Total Ice Time and less SH Time from 2013-14 to 2014-15 (1:12 total, 0:48 SH) versus from 2014-15 to 2015-16 (0:48 total, 0:54 SH). Yet from 2013-14 to 2014-15, his scoring was unchanged while from 2014-15 to 2015-16 he gained 13 points. We can see from his profile page there wasn’t a major improvement in his linemates, so perhaps good luck may have smiled a little too widely upon him in 2015-16, suggesting his points gains aren’t sustainable. We’ll check below.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2015-16

0.38 (R.S.)

0.27 (C.A.)

1.03 (R.S.)

0.58 (C.A.)

0.47 (R.S.)

0.49 (C.A.)

2.11 (R.S.)

2.79 (C.A.)

0.13 (R.S.)

0.12 (C.A.)

2014-15

0.24 (R.S.)

0.28 (C.A.)

0.91 (R.S.)

0.70 (C.A.)

0.48 (R.S.)

0.66 (C.A.)

1.76 (R.S.)

2.71 (C.A.)

0.13 (R.S.)

0.13 (C.A.)

2013-14

0.17 (R.S.)

0.22 (C.A.)

0.77 (R.S.)

0.69 (C.A.)

0.17 (R.S.)

0.48 (C.A.)

1.78 (R.S.)

2.73 (C.A.)

0.17 (R.S.)

0.11 (C.A.)

2012-13

0.21 (R.S.)

0.11 (C.A.)

0.48 (R.S.)

0.68 (C.A.)

0.16 (R.S.)

0.45 (C.A.)

0.92 (R.S.)

2.60 (C.A.)

0.00 (R.S.)

0.05 (C.A.)

 

Sure enough, despite his added PP Ice Time, Smith failed to produce more PPP per game than in his disappointing 40 point 2014-15 campaign. And although he shot the puck more in 2015-16 than any previous season, that actually cuts against him being able to make further gains, since it gives him less room to further improve. In other words, based on his SOG and PPP data (plus his PP Time relative to his teammates), it’s harder to envision Smith being able to take things to another level beyond the 50-55 point range that he’s now reached twice.

 

For Atkinson, the news is likewise not encouraging, albeit for a slightly different reason. In his case, his SOG and PPP have held steady since 2013-14, which would be great if his points had steadily climbed. Yet instead, he had consistent output from 2013-14 to 2014-15 then a major spike in points last season. Something seems like it isn’t adding up, and I suspect it could be in the form of unsustainable good luck in 2015-16.

 

On a positive note, Smith’s Blocked Shots have held steady at a respectable one per every two games on each of his three teams, and his Hits have increased with each passing season. His PIM are nothing to write home about, but they too have crept upward of late. Meanwhile, like his outputs in SOG and PPP, Atkinson’s production in PIM, Hits, and Blocks also have been fairly uniform year to year. While that means less chance of unpleasant future surprises, it’s also not ideal since he’s not particularly strong in any of the categories.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

No 5×4 IPP for 2012-13 is included for Smith or Atkinson, because neither player had the required 50+ minutes of 5×4 Ice Time for it to be charted.

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

14.5% (R.S.)

11.9% (C.A.)

1031 (R.S.)

987 (C.A.)

68.8% (R.S.)

75.0% (C.A.)

45.0% (R.S.)

43.8% (C.A.)

47.0% (R.S.)

47.7% (C.A.)

2014-15

9.1% (R.S.)

10.4% (C.A.)

999 (R.S.)

998 (C.A.)

58.7% (R.S.)

70.6% (C.A.)

73.3% (R.S.)

55.6% (C.A.)

52.4% (R.S.)

50.1% (C.A.)

2013-14

13.7% (R.S.)

9.7% (C.A.)

1034 (R.S.)

994 (C.A.)

60.0% (R.S.)

77.1% (C.A.)

63.6% (R.S.)

47.1% (C.A.)

52.2% (R.S.)

49.8% (C.A.)

2012-13

8.8% (R.S.)

9.9% (C.A.)

1004 (R.S.)

1030 (C.A.)

90.0% (R.S.)

71.4% (C.A.)

N/A (R.S.)

N/A (C.A.)

57.1% (R.S.)

52.0% (C.A.)

 

Atkinson’s 2015-16 production looks a lot more legitimate after seeing this data, which reveals no signs of unsustainable good luck. Yes – his Shooting % increased to an extent that had he shot his previous career average (10.1%) he’d have scored four fewer goals; but that still would’ve put him at 49 points on the season. And that was despite his OZ% being the lowest of his career and the Blue Jackets scoring only 213 goals in 2015-16, down from 227 in 2014-15 and 226 in 2013-14.

 

Moreover, Atkinson posted a 70%+ 5×5 IPP for the fourth season in a row. Avid readers of this column know, players who accomplish that feat have the capability to see their production continue to increase because they’re the ones driving offense for their teams. Beyond that – Atkinson’s career high in points came when his 5×4 IPP was the lowest of his three full seasons. All in all, this data not only legitimizes Atkinson’s 53 points from this past season, but also suggests he still has more room to grow – not only to the 55-60 point range, but perhaps even beyond 60 points.

 

The news for Smith isn’t bad – it just doesn’t give poolies reason for optimism. For one, in order to even hit 50 points Smith apparently needs a Shooting % near or above 14%. It’s hard to imagine him being able to shoot any better than that, if he can even reach such a level on a consistent basis. Thus, that’s one strike against him becoming more than a 50-55 point player.

 

And unfortunately, the strikes don’t end there. Smith’s PDO/SPSV has topped 1030 (considered the high end of normal) twice, which, like his Shooting %, makes it easier to see him being able to do it again yet also provides further reason for concern that things can’t realistically improve from where they already are now.

 

Sure enough, there’s a third strike in the form of his OZ% settling at 47% this past season. Although that seems low, it was actually higher than Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, or Aleksander Barkov, with other Panther scorers Vincent Trocheck, Jaromir Jagr, and Jussie Jokinen ending up below 49% as well. Thus, it’s hard to foresee Smith’s OZ% rising above 50% in the near future, which could inhibit him from having added opportunities to produce more.

 

Lastly, in the neither good news nor bad news category, Smith’s IPPs have added up to 123-132 in each of the past three seasons. Accordingly, he doesn’t stand to see a boost (or drop) due to that metric in future seasons.

 

Who Wins?

 

Atkinson wins the match for both one-year leagues and keepers. It’s simply too difficult to envision Smith becoming a 55+ point player, what with him only having hit 50 points if his Shooting % was quite high, and in view of his failings as a PPP producer and him not likely to see his SOG totals or OZ% rise by much, if at all. On the other hand, Atkinson’s 2015-16 story checks out. Despite flat SOG and PPP totals, Atkinson’s 13 point jump in production wasn’t the result of unsustainable good luck. What’s more, his 70%+ 5×5 IPP in each of his four seasons is a strong indicator he’s well suited to continue to improve.

 

If you have Smith in a keeper, this summer might be a great time to sell, especially in light of his strong playoff performance. It also might be the last time to get Atkinson for a low price, unless you want to risk waiting until the start of the season to see if he slumps briefly, in which case maybe you could grab him for even less. But all things considered, now might be the best time to buy Atkinson from a GM who can’t get past his two 40 point seasons and mistakenly thinks that selling now is cashing in.