Cage Match: Tyler Myers vs. Mattias Ekholm

by Rick Roos on June 20, 2018


One thing I try to hammer home in cage matches featuring defensemen is how a small gap in points can represent a big difference in value. Take last season – if a defenseman tallied 31 points, he’d have tied for 54th in rearguard scoring, while a mere seven more points would’ve landed him at 32nd. Keeping this in mind, our battle is between Tyler Myers (36 points last season) and Mattias Ekholm (who tallied 34). Each will likely be predicted to post 30-40 points in 2017-18. The challenge is determining whether that range is correct for both and, if so, exactly where within it their output will end up. Let’s get some answers – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Myers, 28, was selected 12th overall in 2008 and not only was in the NHL to stay by 2009-10 but posted 48 points, marking only the second time in 25 seasons a teen rearguard tallied 48+. With that came major expectations in real/fantasy hockey, ones which Myers has ultimately been unable to meet. In fact, not only has he failed to even score 40 points in another season, but his 36 in 2017-18 marked his third-highest career output and the first time he bested even 30 points since his sophomore campaign.

Ekholm, also 28, was drafted 109th overall in 2009, and came stateside for a cameo in 2011-12. The next season his 32 points in 59 AHL games was enough to secure a spot for 2013-14 on a Nashville blueline that had lost Ryan Suter as a UFA the previous summer. Ekholm’s first two NHL seasons were not even blips on the fantasy radar, with a collective 27 points in 142 games; however, he rose to 35 points in 2015-16 and poolies took immediate notice. Yet he followed that up by dropping back to 23 points in 2016-17 before rebounding with 34 points for 2017-18.

Myers will earn $5.5M in 2018-19 then becomes a UFA, while Ekholm is inked through 2021-22 on deal counting considerably less against the cap ($3.75M).

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

21:26 (T.M.) – 3rd

23:35 (M.E.) – 3rd

2:04 (T.M.) – 2nd

1:52 (M.E.) – 4th

2:36 (T.M.) – 1st

2:53 (M.E.) – 2nd

2016-17

22:12 (T.M.) – 3rd

23:28 (M.E.) – 4th

1:42 (T.M.) – 2nd

1:26 (M.E.) – 4th

2:57 (T.M.) – 3rd

2:16 (M.E.) – 4rd

2015-16

22:37 (T.M.) – 2nd

20:15 (M.E.) – 4th

2:16 (T.M.) – 2nd

1:08 (M.E.) – 5th

2:08 (T.M.) – 4th

1:43 (M.E.) – 3rd

2014-15

23:49 (T.M.) – 1st

19:01 (M.E.) – 4th

2:55 (T.M.) – 3rd

0:37 (M.E.) – 6th

1:57 (T.M.) – 5th

1:31 (M.E.) – 4th


Myers’ 2014-15 data is solely from his post-trade 24 games with Winnipeg, and he only played 11 total games in 2016-17. Therefore, the most meaningful data for purposes of comparison to this past season is 2015-16, when, despite more overall and power-play time and less shorthanded duty, he managed only 27 points (versus 36 in 2017-18).

While of course unsustainable luck – good in 2017-18 and/or bad in 2015-16 – might have something to do with this discrepancy in production, it also could be as simple as the influence of team scoring. That’s because for 2015-16 Winnipeg tallied 212 goals, versus 273 this past season. As such, Myers registered a point on 12.6% of Winnipeg’s goals in 2015-16 and 13.1% in 2017-18, suggesting he didn’t so much improve in 2017-18 as be buoyed by the team around him. And with Winnipeg poised to be at least as offensively potent in 2018-19 and Myers playing for a new UFA deal, the situation is ripe for him to do just as well – if not better – in 2018-19 than last season. Of course we’ll still examine his luck metrics and other factors below.

For Ekholm, his 35 points in 2015-16 wouldn’t make much sense when compared to 2016-17, since he had far better ice time and even better PP time in the latter, yet managed to tally only two-thirds as many points. But his 2017-18 data was comparable to 2016-17, yet this time his points were back at 2015-16 levels. How though?

Looking at team scoring (ala with Myers), Ekholm tallied a point on 15.6% of Nashville’s goals in 2015-16, 9.6% in 2016-17, and 13.0% in 2017-18, so explanation seemingly doesn’t lie there. Instead, it’s likely opportunity and placement on the depth chart. In 2015-16 PK Subban had yet to arrive and Ryan Ellis had 32 points in 79 games. In 2016-17 Subban landed, Ellis jumped to 38 points in 71 games, and Roman Josi had 49 points. This season Ekholm’s 34 points also look better than they actually were, as only 13 came in 42 games in which Ryan Ellis played upon returning from injury, versus the 21 points in 39 games which Ekholm skated while Ellis was out.

That begs the question – is there room for an NHL blueline with four scorers? Four times since 2000-01 a team has featured four rearguards who each tallied 35+ points. Before citing that to pencil in Ekholm for 35+, let’s not forget he’s yet to demonstrate he can score with three other offensive-minded rearguards also in the mix. Moreover, in those instances of four 35+ point rearguards on the same team, the total points scored by all four was 167, 146, 174, 180; and last season the 82-game scoring pace of just Josi, Subban, and Ellis was 176 points. As such, one must question whether there’d be enough points to go around for Ekholm to get 35+ if the other three each played a full season.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.58 (T.M.)

0.56 (M.E.)

0.83 (T.M.)

0.92 (M.E.)

1.45 (T.M.)

1.44 (M.E.)

1.83 (T.M.)

1.66 (M.E.)

0.20 (T.M.)

0.16 (M.E.)

2016-17

1.18 (T.M.)

0.41 (M.E.)

1.09 (T.M.)

0.74 (M.E.)

1.91 (T.M.)

1.31 (M.E.)

1.45 (T.M.)

1.46 (M.E.)

0.00 (T.M.)

0.03 (M.E.)

2015-16

0.98 (T.M.)

0.53 (M.E.)

0.74 (T.M.)

0.81 (M.E.)

1.30 (T.M.)

1.29 (M.E.)

1.91 (T.M.)

1.39 (M.E.)

0.02 (T.M.)

0.06 (M.E.)

2014-15

1.08 (T.M.)

0.65 (M.E.)

0.91 (T.M.)

0.71 (M.E.)

1.86 (T.M.)

1.27 (M.E.)

1.74 (T.M.)

1.07 (M.E.)

0.08 (T.M.)

0.02 (M.E.)


What sticks out for both is their power-play scoring for 2017-18, as both tallied well more power-play points in just this past campaign alone than in their prior three combined. In the case of Ekholm, we can again point to this being a function of Ryan Ellis’ injury, as only three of Ekholm’s 13 power-play points came in 42 games Ellis was active. Digging deeper, the situation is even worse since Ekholm took the ice for less than 10% of his team’s available power-play time in ten of the team’s last 15 games, seeing not even a second of power-play time in seven of the ten.

Also, we can’t point to Ekholm’s shots on goal rate having increased each season as a sign of him being more offensively involved, since the increases have by and large coincided with his increasing ice time. The same holds true for his upticks in hits and blocks.

What about Myers and his power-play-point spike? Winnipeg usually uses Dustin Byfuglien as the lone defenseman on PP1; yet in 13 games Buff missed in 2017-18 Myers tallied three of his 17 power-play ponts, which was roughly in line with his season’s power-play point rate. Thus, he didn’t get the same kind of unsustainable boost as Ekholm in terms of power-play scoring. And unlike Ekholm, Myers’ trends in terms of power-play time were encouraging. For the season Myers took the ice for 39.2% of Winnipeg’s available power-play minutes, and he bested that percentage in 12 of his last 16 games, which were ones during which Byfuglien was playing. And with Winnipeg being among the NHL’s best teams in terms of power-play conversion, here too it’s a case of Myers’ power-play scoring likely being mostly sustainable due to the team around him and the ice time he’ll receive. It’s also a good sign that Myers has had a stable shots on goal rate through the years.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

8.04% (T.M.)

8.15% (M.E.)

40.9% (T.M.)

32.4% (M.E.)

49.5% (T.M.)

48.1% (M.E.)

40% (T.M.)

33% (M.E.)

2016-17

10.84% (T.M.)

7.20% (M.E.)

45.5% (T.M.)

32.4% (M.E.)

51.3% (T.M.)

46.5% (M.E.)

100% (T.M.)

70% (M.E.)

2015-16

7.06% (T.M.)

8.96% (M.E.)

41.5% (T.M.)

43.8% (M.E.)

51.6% (T.M.)

48.7% (M.E.)

61% (T.M.)

55% (M.E.)

2014-15

9.45% (T.M.)

8.86% (M.E.)

38.4% (T.M.)

27.7% (M.E.)

40.9% (T.M.)

54.8% (M.E.)

33% (T.M.)

72% (M.E.)


The data for Myers is consistent with a player who likely did just as well in 2015-16 as he did in 2017-18, but was propped up this past season by team scoring. After all, his IPP in both seasons was almost identical; and although his team shooting percentage in 2015-16 was lower than 2017-18 his secondary assists percentage was offsettingly higher. As noted, data for 2014-15 should likely be disregarded since it was primarily based on his pre-trade games with Buffalo, and 2016-17 is based on a mere 11 games. So in all, Myers is seemingly what we thought he was – a likely 30ish point d-man who is capable of scoring more due to his usage/minutes and the team around him scoring in droves.

Meanwhile, if we had only 2015-16 and 2016-17 to go on for Ekholm, the conclusion would be to consider 2015-16 a good luck outlier, what with a very high IPP and nearly twice as high secondary assists percentage plus a career high 5×5 team shooting percentage. But factoring 2017-18 into the equation, it looks like he was a victim of some unsustainable bad luck. That’s because although his IPP was consistent with 2016-17, his secondary assists percentage was quite low. But before we use this as a basis for saying there remains a chance he could stay a 30-35+ point d-man, let’s not forget that having Eliis, Josi and Subban healthy for an entire season would override whatever good luck Ekholm might have and prevent him from being any more than a 30 point scorer, if even that.

Who Wins?

Myers wins, pretty convincingly. Is Ekholm talented enough to score 35+ points again? Yes. But there are too many chefs in the Nashville blueline kitchen; and as we saw over the second half of last season, when Josi, Subban and Ellis are healthy they get favorable deployment and Ekholm’s offense sputters. And although there are examples of teams on which four d-men each managed 35+ points in a season, in those cases the other three weren’t all high scorers. Ekholm truly is a victim of circumstance, but we as poolies can’t feel sorry for his situation. The cold reality is in order to win your leagues you need to avoid Ekholm, since chances are his cost would factor in his nearly impossible chance at 30-35+ points when his true value is that of a 25-30 point d-man unless somehow one or more of these other three misses a chunk of games or is dealt.

This isn’t to say Myers is a great fantasy asset; but he’s consistent and on a team that scores a lot, resulting in a rising tide lifting his fantasy boat. Add to that him playing for a UFA deal this season, and you have a recipe for him to at least replicate 36 points and perhaps push for 40+. How he does after this season will depend on where he signs, what his role will be, and the team around him. However, with him nearing age 30 there’s a good chance this season might be his best fantasy output of his remaining career. So in a keeper you might want to sell either during this season or once he inks a deal with a new team in order to seize upon accompanying hype.