Forum Buzz: Has Laine Peaked?

by Rick Roos on February 13, 2019


Welcome to the first edition of “Forum Buzz,” a column where I dissect some of the most popular recent threads from the DobberHockey Forums. Pretty much everything within the forums might be covered here, with the exception of trades (since those get their own separate write-ups on the site and are usually also covered in the next day’s Ramblings) and signings (since those tend to be covered in Alex McClean’s weekly Capped column). With that out of the way, let’s dive right in!


Topic #1 – What to do about William Karlsson?

When Karlsson came out of nowhere to post top tier fantasy numbers last season, most poolies figured he’d have a hard time equaling that success for 2018-19. But by the same token, they likely believed his output wouldn’t drop as much as it has. In the forum thread, the discussion centered on the players for whom Karlsson could be traded; but before turning to that question, we need to be able to determine if the “real” William Karlsson is what we’re seeing this season so far, what we saw last season, something in between, or perhaps something better than the 2017-18 version or worse than the 2018-19 version.


Unfortunately, unlike with most players, we can’t really focus on Karlsson’s outputs from seasons before his breakout 2017-18 campaign, since his role was so different. The exception is IPP or the percentage of points he received on goals scored while he was on the ice since if a player is talented he should have a high IPP regardless of his point total. In Karlsson’s case, his previous full season IPPs were 60.6% and 58.5%, which are not very good for a forward and pale in comparison to his 70.6% from last season. That being said, his IPP this season is still a relatively healthy 67.9%, which at least is one positive sign. But a high percentage of points scored means a lot less if one’s presence on the ice doesn’t lead to goals, and sure enough Karlsson’s 5×5 team shooting percentage last season was a high 10.62%, yet this season it’s a somewhat low 7.37%. Based on this data, I’d probably say the “real” Karlsson might lie closer to what we’re seeing from him for 2018-19.


While past results don’t automatically apply to present circumstances, let’s also look at other forwards who, like Karlsson and since 2000-01, had 43+ goals and 78+ points in a season by age 25. A total of 15 other forwards met these criteria, with none having failed to again score 66+ points in another season, but four (Jonathan Cheechoo, Simon Gagne, Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter) failing to post 78+ points in another. So this is good news for Karlsson owners, yes? Maybe not, as everyone else who was on the list had at least 229 SOG in the season where they met the criteria, versus Karlsson’s 181 last season.


The lowest SOG total from any of the 15 players was Thomas Vanek, whom I think might be the closest comparable to Karlsson, as Vanek was a top-six fixture yet still had a somewhat up and down career and never had 250+ SOG in a season. Some might try to compare Karlsson to Cheechoo, who quickly flamed out; however, that was a case of someone doing well by virtue of playing wing on a line with – and thus riding the coattails of – arguably the top NHL player at the time in Joe Thornton. Karlsson doesn’t fit that bill and seems cut more from the Vanek cloth. The only wrinkle with the comparison is Vanek received more ice time – especially on the PP – than what Karlsson will get, at least as long as Karlsson is playing in a Gerald Gallant system; so whereas Vanek went on to produce 60-70 points most seasons, Karlson might land closer to 60.


Long story short, I’d use 55-65 points per season as a likely output from Karlsson in future campaigns, with a better chance at going above 65 than below 55. Chances are you can buy him for a lower price than that, while if you’re trying to sell good luck since you’ll likely run into doubting Thomases.


Topic #2 – Is it reasonable to question whether we’ve already seen the best from Patrick Laine?

Part of what makes the forums so much fun is that “hot takes” can turn into serious discussions. In this thread, for example, names like Nail Yakupov, Alexander Daigle, and Nikita Filatov – each of whom made a splash but quickly faded – were mentioned as possible comparables to Laine. Before dismissing this as ludicrous, consider how ludicrous it must’ve been to think that those three players (especially Yakupov and Daigle) would see their careers not pan out long term after starting off so strong. Could Laine be at risk of being a fantasy fire that is extinguished after burning so bright to start? Let’s see what the data tells us.


First off, Laine scored 36 goals as an 18-year-old, with Sidney Crosby being the only other player to do so since 1990-91. Moreover, even if Laine doesn’t score another goal this season, he’ll already have more than 100 by age 20. To stress how remarkable that is, since 1990-91 two other players accomplished that same feat – Ilya Kovalchuk (106 goals) and Steven Stamkos (119 goals). Not only that, but both of them did so while playing over 4500 total minutes, whereas Laine will be lucky to break the 4000-minute mark given his deployment.


So that means he’s golden, right? Maybe; or maybe not. If we go back a couple of seasons further than 1990-91, we see the case of Jimmy Carson, who had 186 points (92 goals) as a teen then 100 more points (49 goals) at age 20…………….before never again scoring 74+ points and being out of the NHL by age 27. Can we liken Laine to Carson? It’s hard to say; but Carson’s fate certainly makes for a negative comparison, which is just as relevant as the positive comparisons to the accomplishments of the likes of Kovalchuk, Stamkos and Crosby.


As for Laine’s metrics, both his 5×5 team shooting percentage and IPP dropped last season as compared to his rookie campaign and are on pace to drop again this season. While to some degree that means bad luck could be hurting his output, it also does concerningly call into question his effort level. On a positive note, his SOG rate is higher than in any past season, which cuts against him not trying as hard. And despite recently being removed from PP1 perhaps to send him a message, his share of PP minutes is still at 69.2%, so clearly the team values him with the man advantage.


If I’m a Laine owner, I’m worried. As much as the Stamkos, Kovalchuk and Crosby comparisons are a relief, the Carson comparison is off-putting. Winnipeg is winning despite Laine’s struggles, so the team doesn’t need to bend over backwards to appease him, especially with another young talent like Nicolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic putting forth the effort – and stats – expected of them. My advice would be if you own Laine you should hold and hope, but I wouldn’t trade for him if his owner expects to get elite value in return – the risk is too great.


Topic #3 – In a trade, what’s a fair return for Erik Karlsson now?

When you have a player who’s a UFA to be, it’s never easy to place a present value on him since in most cases he could see his value rise or fall depending on where he signs. With Karlsson, however, I think we’ve seen from this season he can be counted on for elite production no matter where he lands, as after a bit of a shaky first couple of months in San Jose he’s turned his season around and played at his usual elite level. In fact, he’s done so well that the question becomes whether that’s occurring now because he’s on a team with another top fantasy d-man in Brent Burns, or whether he’d likely do better going back to being a team’s true #1 rearguard. Let’s look at the numbers.


For 2018-19, Karlsson’s share of PP minutes is right around the average of what it was the last two seasons in Ottawa, but his overall ice time is down by roughly two minutes from his average over the previous five seasons despite seeing the second highest percentage of minutes on the PK of his career. Despite this, his SOG rate is on pace to be the second highest of his career and his PPPt rate the highest. The result of all this is Karlsson sitting at his usual 70+ point production rate, which I think is the big key to focus upon – to wit, Karlsson is a player who finds a way to produce at his customary rate no matter how he’s used. And at age 28, he’s poised to still stay at an elite level for years to come.


Given this, what do I think a fair return for Karlsson would be? The forum thread focused on draft picks in a 16 team dynasty league, and I tend to agree with respondents from the thread that getting picks for Karlsson is a bad idea. He’s simply too good and too far above what is considered very, very good for a fantasy d-man for any package of picks to be worthwhile. In fact, short of receiving a top-five netminder or a guaranteed 90+ point younger forward in return, plus perhaps another pick or player as a kicker, Karlsson likely should never be packaged as part of a trade.


Topic #4 – Is Juuse Saros worth trading for Martin Jones, to try and win now?

In keeper leagues, there are always factors in evaluating trades beyond just how skilled players are. Of these, perhaps the most important is whether you’re in win-now mode or rebuilding, plus how the player's involved figure to factor into their teams’ plans in the near to not so near future. With these things in mind, many Saros owners have been waiting patiently for him to become the #1 goalie on a Nashville team seemingly poised to succeed for many years to come. Prior to this summer, Saros inked a deal for $1.5M per season through 2020-21, while Pekka Rinne, coming off one of his best seasons in 2017-18, was extended – also through the 2020-21 campaign – at $5M per season.


Going purely by the numbers, this shows Nashville expects Saros to be the back-up. That being said, Rinne will be 37 years old next season, and no age 37+ netminder has played 40+ games since 2013-14. Moreover, since 2010-11, there are a mere two instances of age 37+ goalies who won 30+ games. As such, despite his fatter contract, Rinne might end up ceding the net to Saros prior to 2020-21.


As for Jones, he just turned 29 and is signed to a contract, which, in terms of amount ($5.75M per season) and duration (through 2023-24) demonstrate the team considers him their top guy, yet also not so high as to exert significant pressure on those who own him in cap keeper leagues. Moreover, in view of his contract, stats, and the lack of near term elite goalie prospects for the Sharks, Jones’ starting job is likely among the most secure in all of the NHL, which in today’s fantasy hockey landscape is far, far less common than it used to be. In terms of how the Sharks compare versus Nashville, on paper they’re an older team which could have trouble playing at the same level in another season or two.


My take on the situation is I’m parting with Saros to get Jones. For one, even if Rinne fades, he’s still signed for two more years and likely will factor into the picture enough for Saros to put up worse overall stats than Jones for those two years. We also can’t be sure that Saros will be a great goalie once he’s “the guy”, as for all the netminders (like Jones) who were back-ups and then seized the reins once they were given a chance to be a starter, there are far more who faltered. With Jones, you know what you’re getting, which is a solid tier 2 netminder with a stranglehold on his starting gig; and that’s worth moving Saros for not just to win now but also to reap the benefits of Jones for years to come.



Questions needed for Mailbag column

As a reminder, I’m always seeking questions for my monthly mailbag column, where I answer your fantasy hockey questions. Please continue to send me your questions either by private messaging them to me (rizzeedizzee) via the DobberHockey Forums or by sending an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line. My inaugural mailbag column will run two weeks from today, after next week’s tournament/poll.