Cage Match: Jeff Carter vs. Jason Spezza

by Rick Roos on June 29, 2016

Who is the better #fantasyhockey second-line center – Jeff Carter or Jason Spezza?

 

This week’s battle features two of the NHL’s best second line centers – Jeff Carter and Jason Spezza, who each posted 62+ points in both of the past two campaigns. Will we see more of the same (or even better) from them for 2016-17 and beyond, or a drop in production instead? Cage Match is on the case!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Carter, 31, was drafted 11th overall in 2003 and in the NHL for good following the 2004-05 lockout. After modestly improving his rookie production (42 point pace) in his second (48 point pace) and third (53 point pace) seasons, right on cue – per Dobber’s 4th year break-out meter – he skyrocketed to 84 points. He then showed he wasn’t a one year wonder, with a 67 point pace in both seasons five and six. Nevertheless, in June 2011, the Flyers flipped him to Columbus, who traded him eight months later to the Kings. In LA, Carter produced below expectations at first; but he’s now posted back to back 62 point seasons – one of 21 NHL forwards to hit that threshold in each of the past two campaigns.

Spezza, 33, was selected 2nd overall in 2001, yet wasn’t in the NHL for good until 2003-04. He exploded with 90 points in only 68 games in 2005-06 and 87 in 68 in 2006-07, making him one of only three NHLers (Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin) who, by their age 22 season, averaged 1.3 points per game in a single campaign within the past ten years and one of only four (Crosby, Ovechkin, Joe Thornton) to average 1.3 points per game in two straight seasons.

But Spezza wasn’t done – he tallied 92 points in 76 games for 2007-08, followed by 271 in 284 games in his next four seasons, unfortunately missing 20+ games twice. By 2014 – less than a year after being named Ottawa’s captain – Spezza was granted a trade, landing in Dallas, where, despite not being a true #1 center for arguably the first time in his hockey career, he’s posted 125 points in 157 games.

The 2016-17 campaign marks the midpoint of Carter’s 11 year deal, which runs through 2021-22 and counts $5.27M per season against the cap. Spezza’s contract is pricier at $7.5M per season, but lasts only through 2018-19.

 

Ice Time

 

For this and the other tables, 2012-13 data for Spezza isn’t included due to him only playing five games that season.

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

18:23 (J.C.) – 2nd

16:31 (J.S.) – 4th

2:17 (J.C.) – 2nd

3:07 (J.S.) – 3rd

1:39 (J.C.) – 2nd

0:06 (J.S.) – 11th (tied)

2014-15

17:58 (J.C.) – 2nd

17:13 (J.S.) – 3rd

2:46 (J.C.) – 2nd

3:39 (J.S.) – 2nd

1:24 (J.C.) – 4th

0:03 (J.S.) – 11th (tied)

2013-14

18:57 (J.C.) – 2nd

18:12 (J.S.) – 2nd

3:16 (J.C.) – 2nd

3:03 (J.S.) – 1st

1:30 (J.C.) – 5th

0:47 (J.S.) – 9th

2012-13

17:34 (J.C.) – 3rd

2:40 (J.C.) – 3rd

1:12 (J.C.) – 6th

 

It’s somewhat concerning to see that as Spezza’s production jumped in Dallas (from 62 points in 2014-15 to a 67 point full season pace in 2015-16), his Total Ice Time dropped by 0:42, the bulk of which was lost PP Time. But the fact remains, he posted 62+ points in two straight seasons in Dallas despite very low Ice Time in both campaigns. In other words, two seasons of 62+ scoring under these Ice Time circumstances is far more reassuring than just one.

 

Also, to underscore Spezza’s scoring prowess, consider that no other NHLer scored 60+ points this season without averaging at least 33 more seconds of Total Ice Time than Spezza, while last season only three (Nikita Kucherov, Mark Stone, Radim Vrbata) outpointed Spezza’s 62 despite lower Ice Time than he received. Moreover, Spezza finished 26th in points per 60 minutes at 5×5 among forwards who skated 750+ minutes for 2015-16, with the only older players who ranked higher being Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, and Jussi Jokinen.

 

Note that I’m not ignoring the elephant in the room, namely Spezza’s band-aid boy status. Yet since turning 30, Spezza has played 75+ games in three straight seasons, a feat he only managed four times total in his previous eight full campaigns. Maybe as he’s aging he’s playing a different style, or has been helped by taking on a #2 center role? Time will tell; but with each passing season of good health, the specter of his band-aid boy status looms less large. Plus, Carter’s a band-aid boy too…..

 

Carter’s Total Ice Time has bounced up and down since 2012-13, with it being slightly above his four year average in 2015-16. However, his 2015-16 PP Time was the lowest, and SH Time the highest, of all four seasons. The result was in 2015-16 no other 62+ point forward had both less PP Time and more SH Time than Carter. While that shows Carter is unquestionably talented, it also hammers home how one can only produce so much when not receiving enough PP Time and being saddled with too much SH Time. And it suggests Carter may have benefitted from unsustainable luck during 2015-16; we’ll look into that below.

 

Additionally, we have to address whether there’s a realistic opportunity for Carter to see his PP Time rebound and/or his SH Time fall. Eight LA forwards averaged 1:00+ per game of SH Time for 2015-16, and with Trevor Lewis re-signing all are under contract for 2016-17. Thus, although Carter should avoid seeing more SH duty, it’s unlikely he’ll have much less (if even less) of a role.

 

As for PP Time, although Carter only saw 2:17 per game for 2016-17, that was second most among all Kings forwards. One wrinkle is LA finished with the fourth fewest PP opportunities last season, down from 15th most in 2014-15 and 5th most in 2013-14. If LA can resume receiving more power plays, Carter stands a great chance of seeing his PP Time return to past levels. The question, of course, is whether 2015-16 was the “new normal” for LA in this area, or if in fact they can rebound. Time will tell, but the uncertainty should concern Carter’s fantasy owners.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

FOW

(per game)

2015-16

0.26 (J.C.)

0.29 (J.S.)

1.15 (J.C.)

0.12 (J.S.)

0.50 (J.C.)

0.26 (J.S.)

3.14 (J.C.)

2.69 (J.S.)

0.15 (J.C.)

0.32 (J.S.)

7.76(J.C.)

7.17 (J.S.)

2014-15

0.34 (J.C.)

0.34 (J.S.)

0.92 (J.C.)

0.19 (J.S.)

0.40 (J.C.)

0.31 (J.S.)

2.66 (J.C.)

2.48 (J.S.)

0.18 (J.C.)

0.31 (J.S.)

7.64 (J.C.)

8.31 (J.S.)

2013-14

0.61 (J.C.)

0.61 (J.S.)

0.94 (J.C.)

0.22 (J.S.)

0.40 (J.C.)

0.34 (J.S.)

3.55 (J.C.)

2.97 (J.S.)

0.19 (J.C.)

0.29 (J.S.)

4.66 (J.C.)

10.33 (J.S.)

2012-13

0.33 (J.C.)

0.52 (J.C.)

0.48 (J.C.)

2.77 (J.C.)

0.21 (J.C.)

4.21 (J.C.)

 

Spezza is a legitimate category killer in Hits. He’s gone from just plain lousy to truly horrible over the past three seasons, culminating in him posting only nine Hits this past season and making him one of only two forwards (Phil Kessel) with under ten Hits in 75+ games, with no 75+ game forward other than them finishing with fewer than 20! At the same time, Spezza’s already meager Blocks have shrunk since he came to Dallas, as have his PIM and FOW. Not good for those in multi-cat leagues.

 

Yet Spezza’s two outputs which most directly affect his production – SOG and PPP – haven’t suffered a similar fate. In fact, since coming to Dallas his PPP have risen and his SOG have stabilized right around 2.5 per game. In short, this is still more evidence that Spezza should enjoy continued 60-65+ production in Dallas.

 

Carter has seen stability in some numbers (PIM, Blocks), plus has rewarded poolies with increasing Hits and FOW totals. Unfortunately, Carter’s PPP rate has shrunk for three straight seasons despite his PP Ice Time yo-yoing. His SOG per game has been 3+ when he gets over 18:00 in Ice Time, but below three when his Ice Time is in the 17:00-17:59 range. It can’t be as simple as that, however, since the variation in SOG is wider than the variation in Ice Time.

 

The key is the trends in this data make it less likely that Carter, in future seasons, would post 65+ points versus dropping below 60. Of course there’s also a counterpoint that if he’s been able to post 62 points in each of the past two seasons despite these factors, maybe he could jump back to a higher level. To get a better handle on that, we have to look at his luck metrics, which we’ll shift to now.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

9.9% (J.C.)

16.3% (J.S.)

1005 (J.C.)

1006 (J.S.)

80.5% (J.C.)

76.7% (J.S.)

42.3% (J.C.)

59.5% (J.S.)

58.6% (J.C.)

56.7% (J.S.)

2014-15

12.8% (J.C.)

8.3% (J.S.)

995 (J.C.)

987 (J.S.)

82.4% (J.C.)

60.0% (J.S.)

52.2% (J.C.)

63.9% (J.S.)

56.0% (J.C.)

59.8% (J.S.)

2013-14

10.5% (J.C.)

10.3% (J.S.)

995 (J.C.)

978 (J.S.)

72.5% (J.C.)

77.1% (J.S.)

61.9% (J.C.)

84.0% (J.S.)

54.9% (J.C.)

55.1% (J.S.)

2012-13

19.5% (J.C.)

979 (J.C.)

73.1% (J.C.)

50.0% (J.C.)

57.4% (J.C.)

 

As noted above, the big key here is Carter’s 2015-16 data. Overall, it’s seemingly a mixed message of him having some good luck (5×5 IPP, OZ%, PDO/SPSV) plus some bad (Shooting %, 5×4 IPP). But what was the actual net effect on his production? His 2015-16 IPPs (as compared to his past three seasons) and his Shooting % (versus his career mark) suggest that had those numbers been more in line with his past data, his point total for 2015-16 should’ve been 67 rather than 62. Yet couple that with a higher than usual OZ% and PDO/SPSV, and it collectively suggests his 62 point output actually was – on the whole – not likely a by-product of either good or bad luck which would influence his future totals.

 

Spezza’s Shooting % jumps off the page, until we remember his career rate was 13.9% before coming to Dallas. Thus, he was more below that rate last season than above it for 2015-16; and had he shot 13.9% during both his Dallas seasons, he’d have potted 56 goals instead of his actual 50. And although his IPPs were up as compared to his first Dallas season, they were a good bit below his 2013-14 IPPs; in fact, if you add and average his 2014-15 and 2013-14 total IPPs you get 142.5, which is higher than his 136.2 for 2015-16. Collectively, these luck metrics underscore that Spezza’s 2015-16 production is capable of being replicated, if not improved upon, in coming seasons.

 

Who Wins?

 

This match ended up lacking major revelations or reasons to significantly elevate or discount either player’s value. As such, there’s a good chance they both end up scoring within roughly five points of each other this coming season as well as in others to come.

 

Given the team Spezza plays for (the high-powered Stars, who’ve averaged 45.5 more goals than the Kings since Spezza’s arrival), the fact that Spezza does more with less (i.e., produces better that Carter despite lower Total Ice Time), and because Spezza figures to have a better cost vs. value proposition (both put up 62 points this past season and Spezza was drafted – on average – 16 spots below Carter in 2015-16 Yahoo leagues), I’m giving this match to Spezza.

 

One important note – Carter entered 2014-15 with Yahoo eligibility at C, RW and LW, but as of now has shed his LW eligibility. Although that’s still better than Spezza’s center-only eligibility, it marks less of an advantage in this area and might have been overlooked by some poolies along the way. Speaking of center-only players, for the next Cage Match I’m doing a special column focusing on their fantasy value.