Fantasy Hockey Cage Match – Zuccarello vs. Marchand

by Rick Roos on December 2, 2015

Five reasons to prefer Mats Zuccarello over Brad Marchand in fantasy hockey…

This week’s battle is between Original Six fantasy surprises Mats Zuccarello and Brad Marchand. Both are on pace to exceed expectations; but does the “story behind the story” check out, or can we expect one or both to come back to earth before all is said and done with 2015-16? Let’s find out – Cage Match starts now!


Career Path and Contract Status

Zuccarello was undrafted, which isn’t too surprising for someone 5-7 and from Norway. But after two point-per-game seasons in the SEL, the Rangers signed Zuccarello to a two-year ELC in 2010. Although he produced fairly well for New York (26 points in 52 total games), he opted to play in the KHL after 2011-12, only to be back in the NHL by the tail end of the 2012-13 campaign. Once Zuccarello, now 28, became a full time Ranger in 2013-14 his scoring jumped considerably, to the tune of a 57 point full season pace over the past two campaigns.

Marchand, who’ll turn 28 later this season, was drafted 71st overall in 2006. After more than 100 AHL games Marchand got a taste of the NHL in 2009-10, only to respond with one measly point in 20 games. Nevertheless, Marchand was able to stick with the Bs for 2010-11, tallying 41 points in 77 games. He posted 53-55 points in each of the next two full campaigns, sandwiched around a 65 point full season pace in lockout-shortened 2012-13. But last season saw Marchand take a step back, managing only 42 points in 77 games, which was barely better than his first full season with Boston.

According to Cap Friendly, and in what I believe is a first for Cage Match since I took over the column in 2013, both players count exactly the same ($4.5M) against the cap, although Zuccarello’s deal runs through 2018-19 while Marchand’s will be done after next season.


Ice Time



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)


17:55 (M.Z.) – 1st

18:19 (B.M.) – 4th

2:28 (M.Z.) – 1st

1:19 (B.M.) – 6th

0:07 (M.Z.) – 9th

1:58 (B.M.) – 4th


17:15 (M.Z.) – 5th

16:54 (B.M.) – 4th

1:57 (M.Z.) – 5th

0:59 (B.M.) – 10th

0:22 (M.Z.) – 8th

1:23 (B.M.) – 5th


17:08 (M.Z.) – 5th

15:56 (B.M.) – 6th

2:36 (M.Z.) – 4th

0:29 (B.M.) – 9th

0:33 (M.Z.) – 10th

1:33 (B.M.) – 4th


16:25 (M.Z.) – 9th

16:57 (B.M.) – 5th

2:24 (M.Z.) – 7th

1:44 (B.M.) – 8th

0:00 (M.Z.)

1:16 (B.M.) – 6th


Zuccarello’s overall Ice Time has increased with each passing season, which is always a good sign. Even better is the fact that he’s responded to his career high in Total Ice Time for 2015-16 by scoring above a 70 point pace so far, making it all the less likely he’d shed Ice Time in the future. Although Zuccarello’s Total IceTime is not far below what it was in 2013-14 and his PP Ice Time is nearly identical, he’s now #1 among Ranger forwards in both areas (versus 5th and 4th in 2013-14), meaning he’s finally a key focal point, which in turn can be the difference between posting 60 points and 70+.

Marchand also is enjoying his highest Total Ice Time among these four seasons, with the gap between this season and his second highest campaign being even larger than with Zuccarello. Also, his PP Ice Time not only is trending back upwards, but he’s finally ranked among the top six Bs forwards, meaning he’s getting a regular shift on one of the team’s PP units for the first time in these four seasons. Yet unlike Zuccarello, Marchand still is in his familiar 4th to 6th spot for Total Ice Time among Bs forwards, which in turn suggests that Marchand’s 65 point current scoring pace could be tougher to sustain over the course of a full season.


Marchand’s big jump in Total Ice Time for 2015-16 is also key due to it more than offsetting his increase in SH Ice Time. Plus, it’s all the more important because – as we’ll see below – he’s missing nearly two minutes per game in the sin bin.


Secondary Categories




(per game)


(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)


(per game)

PP Points

(per game)


0.48 (M.Z.)

1.95 (B.M.)

1.24 (M.Z.)

0.80 (B.M.)

0.48 (M.Z.)

0.40 (B.M.)

1.80 (M.Z.)

3.15 (B.M.)

0.20 (M.Z.)

0.20 (B.M.)


0.57 (M.Z.)

1.23 (B.M.)

1.52 (M.Z.)

0.93 (B.M.)

0.53 (M.Z.)

0.36 (B.M.)

1.97 (M.Z.)

2.33 (B.M.)

0.07 (M.Z.)

0.02 (B.M.)


0.41 (M.Z.)

0.78 (B.M.)

1.50 (M.Z.)

0.89 (B.M.)

0.53 (M.Z.)

0.28 (B.M.)

2.20 (M.Z.)

1.81 (B.M.)

0.22 (M.Z.)

0.02 (B.M.)


0.52 (M.Z.)

0.60 (B.M.)

1.80 (M.Z.)

0.84 (B.M.)

1.00 (M.Z.)

0.44 (B.M.)

1.80 (M.Z.)

2.02 (B.M.)

0.06 (M.Z.)

0.09 (B.M.)


Both players have some consistent trends; for Zuccarello, they’re in the wrong direction (Hits and Blocked Shots have dropped over the past three seasons, and SOG in each of the last two) while for Marchand, he’s seen his PIM increase year-to-year and SOG in each of the past two seasons. Otherwise, Zuccarello’s Shots and PIM have been consistent during this time frame, as have Marchand’s Hits and Blocked Shots.


Marchand’s Shots are up considerably this season, as are his PPP. If he isn’t especially lucky – we’ll check on that below – then that would be consistent with sustainable increased production in view of his Ice Time increases. On the other hand, Zuccarello’s SOG per game are 15-20% lower thus far than they were in his 59 point 77 game 2013-14 campaign, suggesting unsustainable good luck might be occurring.


Incidentally, if Marchand was to maintain even a semblance of his current scoring and PIM pace (65 points and 159 PIM), he’d be in rare fantasy territory, as the last time a forward scored even 55+ points while also receiving more than just 125 PIM was way back in 2005-06 (Brendan Morrow). Of course even if he could keep up these paces, with the decreasing number of leagues which count PIM the benefit might not be beneficially felt by many poolies.


Luck-Based Metrics


Both players have at least one “N/A” entry for 5×4 IPP because in such season(s) they didn’t meet (or, in the case of Marchand for 2015-16, has yet to meet) the 50 minute minimum for it to be charted.



Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)


24.4% (M.Z.)

15.9% (B.M.)

1047 (M.Z.)

1016 (B.M.)

75.0% (M.Z.)

72.7% (B.M.)

66.7% (M.Z.)

N/A (B.M.)

61.1% (M.Z.)

44.7% (B.M.)


9.7% (M.Z.)

13.3% (B.M.)

1012 (M.Z.)

978 (B.M.)

69.5% (M.Z.)

69.8% (B.M.)

38.5% (M.Z.)

20.0% (B.M.)

56.3% (M.Z.)

50.1% (B.M.)


11.2% (M.Z.)

16.8% (B.M.)

1012 (M.Z.)

1031 (B.M.)

83.7% (M.Z.)

74.5% (B.M.)

69.6% (M.Z.)

N/A (B.M.)

58.5% (M.Z.)

55.1% (B.M.)


11.1% (M.Z.)

19.8% (B.M.)

1049 (M.Z.)

1034 (B.M.)

42.9% (M.Z.)

83.9% (B.M.)

N/A (M.Z.)

50.0% (B.M.)

64.2% (M.Z.)

51.6% (B.M.)


The data for 2015-16 is concerning for both players. The big issue for Marchand is his 44.7% OZ%, since as I’ve noted in previous columns it’s very difficult to post even 60 points with an OZ% below 48%. In fact, the lowest OZ% from any 60 point scorer last season was Tomas Plekanec, and he was at 45.3%; and the next lowest OZ% among 60+ scorers was Sean Monahan, at 47.1%. And Marchand’s current 65 point pace is above the 60 that Plekanec posted and the 62 from Monahan. So although Marchand isn’t getting unusually lucky overall in terms of percentage of points (his 5×5 IPP average over the past three seasons is 76.0%) or shooting the puck (his career average is 15.2%), if his low OZ% continues it will likely pull down his scoring as the season progresses.


Meanwhile, although Zuccarello’s OZ% is higher than normal, isn’t too far above his 59.6% average over the past three seasons. Also, Zuccarello’s 5×5 IPP is in line with his average since he became a regular in the Rangers lineup in 2013-14. Where we do see evidence of unsustainable luck, however, is in his shooting metrics, as a 24.4% shooting % is more than double his career average of 11.6%, and a 1047 PDO/SPSV is a quite high. In other words, if anyone had serious thoughts that Zuccarello had morphed into a 75-80+ point player overnight as his first 20 games of this season might’ve suggested, it’s time to come back to reality. However, even if we account for lucky bounces he’s received, we’re still seeing signs of a likely 65-70+ point player.


The Winner Is………..Mats Zuccarello!


While Marchand could end up exceeding his career high in points this season, Zuccarello nevertheless gets the victory in this match. In short, although both have already begun to come back to earth after red hot starts, Zuccarello should finish with better production than Marchand, who has more red flags and other downsides. Here are the five reasons why Zuccarello wins/Marchand loses:


1) Although he’s already 28 and first debuted in 2010-11, it’s realistic that Zuccarello might only be breaking out now


Zuccarello’s total NHL games played (222) coming into this season was roughly equal to what a player entering his fourth season would have, which makes it all the more conceivable that he can step his production up a notch despite 28 year old players generally not making that kind of a leap. Meanwhile, Marchand had already seen action in 375 games prior to this season, so even not considering luck and other factors it’s difficult to envision him suddenly now being able to achieve a 65 point season.


2) Marchand’s “Real Hockey” versatility hurts his fantasy hockey value


Marchand has never been in the top three among Bs forwards in Total or PP Ice Time, and that’s a safe bet to continue because he plays such a sound all-around game. Although that makes him a valuable teammate it does not help his fantasy owners, who’d rather see Marchand get top minutes at even strength and with the man advantage, which, as it so happens, is what’s now happening to Zuccarello.


3) Marchand’s strengths are in PIM and SHP, which are not among the most universal categories in multi-cat leagues


If your league has PIM and/or SHG or SHP as categories, then Marchand offers your team significant value. But in this day and age, how many leagues does that represent? Realistically, although Marchand still gives poolies benefits across the board, his top tier values are in more niche categories.


4) Marchand’s OZ% is too low – and SH Ice Time and PIM too high – for sustainable top production


Although Zuccarello’s 2015-16 output this far has come with some luck-based warning signs, they pale in comparison to Marchand’s low OZ%, which, if it continues, puts a realistic cap of 55-60 points on his full season scoring pace. In a similar vein, it’s been ten seasons since anyone posted 60+ points while also accumulating 125+ PIM, and Marchand is on pace for 65 points and 150+ PIM as of now. Lastly, when a player spends a combined nearly 4:00 per game in the penalty box and shorthanded, it's unlikely for that player to have the time and energy to produce at a top rate.


5) It is difficult to count on Marchand’s PP Ice Time and production continuing


Marchand has never been a solid PPP producer; and prior to this season, was a Category Killer. Right now PPP accounts for 25% of Marchand’s scoring, so if (when?) that drops, so too will his overall output. Meanwhile Zuccarello’s current PPP production is in line with what he posted in 2013-14 when receiving similar PP Ice Time per game.