Cage Match Tournament: The New Normal – Underachievers

by Rick Roos on December 26, 2018

Vladimir Tarasenko – USA Today Sports Images

After your votes proclaimed Jonathan Huberdeau and Mika Zibanejad (tie) to be the players over the age of 25+ most likely to continue producing at their “new normal,” for our final winter Cage Match tournament of 2018 we shift away from successful players to instead focus on underachievers. But the question is the same as it’s been the past two weeks – is what we’re seeing from these players just a temporary blip in the radar, or instead their “new normal.” Or to put it differently, this week’s players are ones you drafted with an expectation of what they’d produce for your fantasy squads, and they’ve fallen short, tasking us to determine whether their best days just might be behind them or if they’ll get back to prior levels of production either this season or down the road.


Excluded Players

Once again goalies are not included; and no forwards are on the list unless they scored 60+ points in a season (or a 60+ point scoring pace) at least once since 2013-14 and, likewise, no defensemen are voting choices unless they’ve scored 40+ points (or a 40+ point scoring pace) within the same time frame, with the idea being players who don’t fit that criteria have likely already been written off as fantasy factors. Moreover, no players who were age 31+ as of the beginning of the 2018-19 season are included, since given their age a decline in production, even if not predicted, is still not all that surprising. Lastly, I didn’t include anyone who was a voting choice in last year’s poll, since I figured best to focus on entirely new players this time around. This explains why certain players arguably still deserving of inclusion (i.e., Jamie Benn, Max Pacioretty, Ondrej Palat, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Kyle Okposo, and Justin Faulk) are not among the voting choices.


How Voting Will Work

Each player has been put into a “never again?” point category. If, for whatever reason, you think he won’t reach that number ever again in a season, then vote for him. Let me emphasize – we’re not just talking about just 2018-19; you have to think the player won’t produce at or above his “never again?” number this season or any future season. For some players their “never again?” number is a good bit less than their highest ever point output or best 82 game scoring pace (listed in parentheses) because it’s already clear they won’t reach that career-best number/rate again, but less apparent as to what their exact ceiling might be going forward.


As with the prior two tournaments, the voting poll will allow for multiple selections, which means you should vote for any and all players you think won’t reach their “never again?” number in 2017-18 or any future season. So vote for one player, a couple of players, a bunch of players, or even all of them if you think each and everyone won’t reach his ”never again?” number going forward. This time the “none of the above” choice is there if you believe all players will indeed reach their “never again?” number.


And remember, fellow readers will be looking to the poll results for guidance, so try to be objective. In other words, don’t decide your vote(s) based on personal views or who might be hurting your fantasy team. Consider each player based on the totality of his present – and likely future – circumstances to hone in on the best objective choice(s). I’ll put a direct link to this week’s poll at the end of the column. But without further ado, here are your voting choices, separated into their respective “never again?” point total ranges.



Steven Stamkos (Career High = 97 points/pace)

After two campaigns (2014-15, 2015-16) of producing below an 80 point scoring pace, Stamkos entered this season having posted 106 points in his last 95 games, for a full season scoring pace of 91 points. But for most of 2017-18, he was below the point per game mark, after a blistering 35 points in his first 20 games. This season he started slow but has pulled himself above the point per game mark. One key, however, is he’s no generally longer stapled to Nikita Kucherov at even strength, having apparently been pushed aside by Brayden Point. Stamkos still is a PP1 staple and an elite producer, yet he turns 29 in February, has suffered two major injuries in his career, and even with scoring being up leaguewide might not be able to muster 90+ points again.



Jakub Voracek (Career High = 85 points)

Talk about feast or famine – Voracek has twice topped the 80 point mark; however, in all his other full seasons he’s never scored at better than a 62 point scoring pace. If he was still a youngster we could figure him for yet another bounce back to 80+; however, he’ll turn 30 before the 2019-20 season begins and the Flyers are in turmoil, two recipes that might make it difficult for Voracek to cook up another 80+ point season. Then again, with his scoring based primarily on playmaking/assists and PPPts, age might be less of a factor and, in turn, at least one more 80+ point season might be in the cards.



Jonathan Marchessault (Career High = 80 points/pace)

A year ago Marchessault was firing on all cylinders, with talk among many of him being Martin St. Louis 2.0 and seemingly on the verge of bigger and better things. This season, however, some of the magic in the desert seems to be gone, as although Marchessault is producing good numbers he’s well below his pace from 2017-18. With top forwards not getting a lot of ice time in Vegas, and Marchessault turning 28 this week, he might have to settle for point totals in the low 70s – if even that – going forward.


Vladimir Tarasenko (Career High = 78 points/pace)

Although Tarasenko’s career high is only 78 points, he produced 75+ points or at a 75+ point pace for three straight seasons before dipping to 66 in 80 games for 2016-17. This season he’s poised to do even worse, despite being smack dab in the middle of what should be his prime at age 27. It’s difficult to write off a player with his sheer talent and prior track record; however, with him never actually having hit even 80 points in a single season despite lots of minutes and SOG, and with St. Louis poised to enter a rebuild, Tarasenko might have a tough time even climbing back to his past scoring levels. Then again, if he gets dealt to another team as part of a rebuild, that could light a fire under him and/or put him in a better spot, which in turn could help see his production explode to uncharted levels.



Erik Karlsson (Career High = 82 points/pace)

Having bested the 70+ point mark four times in the past six seasons in which he played 70+ games and being only 28 years old, one would think Karlsson would be a shoo-in for 70+ again. But he’s looked a bit lost since leaving Ottawa, and his inability to score in droves for San Jose might be a preview of what’s to come once he signs as a UFA this summer. That being said, if he signs with a different team, chances are he won’t have a 1A/1B d-man situation there like he does this season with Brent Burns, letting him yet again be the alpha dog for his squad and, accordingly, seeing a return to his past scoring form.


William Karlsson (Career High = 78 points/pace)

All Karlsson did in 2017-18 was post 29 more points than he had in 183 previous career games and nearly triple his career goal total. Yet this campaign he’s emerged slowly, leading many to believe last season was a case of lightning in a bottle, rather than the establishment of a new normal for the Swede. Still, at age 25 and as impressive as he looked last season, it’s difficult to write off his chances at 70+ again, especially with him remaining a top line stalwart at both even strength and on the power play.



Victor Hedman (Career High = 75 points/pace)

After a two-season stretch that saw him post 135 points in 154 games, this season Hedman has looked like not quite the same player. He’s still producing strong PPPt numbers, but his even-strength scoring is comparable to a second or even third pairing d-man. It might be that with Ryan McDonagh playing very strong hockey and Mikhail Sergachev ready to blossom, Hedman’s top dog status isn’t quite what it was in past seasons. On the other hand, he’s still only 28 and Tampa Bay’s offence should remain among the league’s best for seasons to come, so betting against him hitting 65+ points again might not be wise.


Brayden Schenn (Career High = 70 points/pace)

After years in Philly as a fixture on the team’s PP1, but shuffling between the top nine at ES, Schenn had not even one 60 point season to his credit. Then in his first campaign with the Blues he tallied 70 points, leading many to believe he was set to fulfill the promise dating back to when he was picked fifth overall in the NHL entry draft. But he started with 26 points in his first 21 games as a Blue, meaning that since then he’s not even scored at a 60 point pace, and thus far this season is playing primarily apart from Vladimir Tarasenko. It might just be that Schenn is a “one and done” member of the 65+ point club.


Reilly Smith (Career High = 73 points/pace)

In his first season with Vegas Smith blew away his previous career high in points, causing poolies to think maybe – just maybe – he might be coming into his own, instead of just being a player who makes a big splash with his team in his first year but then fades. Fast forward to now, and Smith ‘s scoring is down, leading to concern we’ve seen his only 65+ point season, especially with him turning 28 this spring.



David Perron (Career High = 77 points/pace)

Yet another forward who had a successful 2017-18 in Vegas, in Perron’s case he’d only once scored at a 60 point scoring pace in a season, back in 2013-14. And Perron 77 point pace last season came on the cusp of being a UFA and turning 30. With a fresh contract in his pocket, Perron is back to his customary 40-50 point scoring pace. Did he up his effort level to get a big payday? No one can be certain; however, given his past scoring history and age, it might be a tall order for Perron to taste 60+ points again.


Kyle Turris (Career High = 64 points/pace)

After a tumultuous beginning to his career following his third overall selection in the 2007 entry draft, then a bumpy start to his tenure in Ottawa, Turris looked to be rounding into form as a player, with 58 and 64 points in consecutive seasons. Since landing in Nashville though, it’s been another rocky road, as while he’s getting many offensive starts and regular PP time, he hasn’t been able to buoy the team’s second line and, now at age 29, might be too old for us to expect a jump back into 60 point territory.



Drew Doughty (Career High = 60 points/pace)

Like the defenseman version of Voracek, Doughty has two huge seasons of production but otherwise has finished with a 43-51 point scoring pace four separate times. Last season, like fellow long-tenured King Anze Kopitar, Doughty set a career-high; however, this season Doughty is on pace to yet again finish in his familiar 43-51 point range. Doughty might only be 29, but there’s a lot more mileage on his legs than most his age, what with all the minutes he plays and how many deep playoff runs he’s been part of. It just might be that he doesn’t have another 55+ point season in him.


Jordan Eberle (Career High = 76 points/pace)

Saddled with high expectations after posting 76 points at age 21, Eberle was looked upon as a failure even when posting 63+ points twice more for the Oilers. After being shipped to the Islanders, Eberle rose back to 59 points despite mostly second line minutes, leading some to believe a change of scenery had ignited him. Now just one season later though, Eberle hasn’t managed to stay even at the point per every other game mark. Set to turn 29 this spring, Eberle might struggle to hit 50 points again, let alone 55, although what he does have going for him is the lack of other better top six options for the Isles.


Shayne Gostisbehere (Career High = 68 points/pace)

Last season Ghost was virtually unstoppable, with his name all over the scoresheet. This was especially the case on the PP, where over 50% of his scoring occurred. For 2018-19 while the Flyers as a team have struggled, most of its players haven’t slumped to the same degree as Ghost. Was last season simply a perfect storm, or does Ghost have it in him to start scoring in droves again? At age 25 one would think he’s got at least another season of 55+ in him even if Philly enters a rebuilding phase. Or does he?



Alex Pietrangelo (Career High = 57 points/pace)

After posting 51 points in 81 games in two of his first four seasons, it wasn’t until last season that he once again crossed the 50 point threshold, this time rising all the way to 57 points. Still only 28, and with 46+ points in all but a single full season since 2013-14, one would think Pietrangelo has it in him to hit that 50 point mark again. Yet with Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn always looming as a threat to eat away his PP minutes and the Blues perhaps entering a rebuild, it might be too tall of an order for see him best the 50 point mark again.



Kevin Shattenkirk (Career High = 64 points/pace)

A notoriously fast starter, the problem with Shattenkirk used to be he’d hit a second-half wall or get hurt. Even still, he managed to score at a 60+ point pace twice and had 56 points in 80 games as recently as two seasons ago. But in 2017 he signed a UFA deal with the Rangers and since then it’s been a bumpy ride to say the least, with Shattenkirk likely to not play even 50 games for the second straight season and his scoring in New York collectively sitting below the point per every other game level. Whether due to injuries or effort level (or both), it could just be that Shattenkirk never again flirts with the 45 point level which used to be automatic for him in past seasons.



Nick Leddy (Career High = 46 points/pace)

For a while, it looked like Leddy was morphing into a Ryan Suter type, namely a true #1 defenseman who plays in all situations and posts solid point totals. But after seeing his production rise three seasons in a row (31 to 37 to 40 to 46), he slipped a bit to 42 points last season despite still being the unquestioned #1 d-man for the Isles. This season the concern was Leddy would lose points because of the emergence of Ryan Pulock, yet Pulock has struggled and nevertheless Leddy is on pace for by far his worst season as an Isle. It might just be that Leddy was never really a true 40 point scorer but posted those numbers due in large part to the talent/scoring of the team around him. And now as he’s exiting his peak (he turns 28 in March) his production could be dropping with little hope of a bounce back, particularly given that the Isles seemingly aren’t the same team they were when John Tavares was still in town.


T. J. Brodie (Career High = 52 points/pace)

After the departure of Dougie Hamilton, we’ve seen how Mark Giordano has thrived. So surely Brodie must be reaping the benefits as well? Not even close. Granted, after two straight seasons where his scoring dropped he is poised to do a bit better this season; however, what it boils down to is he only had two campaigns of 40+ point production/pace, and those are now three and four seasons ago. Brodie probably has tasted 40+ points for the last time, especially since he’s already 28 years old.


Jake Muzzin (Career High = 46 points/pace)

After posting 40+ points two seasons in a row, Muzzin’s production sunk to 28 points in 2016-17 before he rebounded to post a career-best 46 point scoring pace last season. For 2018-19 though, he’s shown no signs of the offensive flair that ballooned his point total in 2017-18. What’s more, he turns 30 in just a couple of months and plays a physical style that likely has taken its toll. Between those factors and the Kings looking to have returned to their goal-challenged former selves, Muzzin’s path to 40+ again might be a longshot at best.


Link to Cast Your Vote(s) and No Column Next Week

To vote in the Tournament, click here. Remember – you can vote for as many players as you want. While you’re voting, be sure to post a comment on which player(s) you voted for a why, since my hope is this Tournament will be as useful for fantasy purposes as it is enjoyable.

Have a happy and safe holiday season, as Cage Match will be taking next week off. But look for a return right after the new year with the long-awaited return of Goldipucks and the Three Skaters.