The Better Fantasy Own – James van Riemsdyk vs. Kyle Okposo?

by Rick Roos on December 14, 2016
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  • The Better Fantasy Own – James van Riemsdyk vs. Kyle Okposo?

Cage Match: James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Kyle Okposo of the Buffalo Sabres

 

It’s time to analyze two players who entered 2016-17 with more uncertainty than in past years – James van Riemsdyk and Kyle Okposo. Would there still be a prominent place for van Riemsdyk amid Toronto’s youth movement? Could Okposo succeed on a new team with a huge contract in his back pocket and no John Tavares? Let’s answer these questions, and pick a winner of this match.

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Drafted second overall in 2007, van Riemsdyk (“JVR”), now 27, bucked the trend of top two picks landing directly in the NHL by playing two years in college. Once with the Flyers, JVR was barely a point per every other game player in three seasons before being dished to Toronto, where he posted 93 points in his first 128 games (just six fewer than in 196 games with Philly). Although his numbers didn’t increase in the last two seasons, he managed to maintain production (85 points in 122 games) during Toronto’s full on rebuild. And even though he’s now one of only six Toronto skaters not born in the 1990s, so far in 2016-17 he’s on pace to put up the best single season production of his now nearly 500 game career.

Drafted a year earlier and five spots later than JVR, Okposo, now 28, was in the NHL for good by age 20, settling in nicely with 81 points in 145 games in his first two campaigns. But he stayed in neutral (44 point pace) over his next three seasons, igniting whispers about his talent and attitude. Fortunately for Okposo, and poolies who retained faith in him, he broke out in 2013-14 with 69 points in 71 games and has since maintained a solid pace (115 points in 139 games) even during a “lame duck” UFA-to-be situation last season. For 2016-17, he emerged with 18 points in 26 games despite playing for a new team which has been largely without Jack Eichel.

JVR’s current contract ends after 2017-18 and has a $4.25M annual cap hit, while Okposo’s new deal runs through 2022-23 and dings the cap at $6M per season.

 

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)

2016-17

15:58 (JVR) – 7th

19:37 (K.O.) – 2nd

2:34 (JVR) – 3rd

3:29 (K.O.) – 2nd

0:01 (JVR)

0:08 (K.O.) – 8th

2015-16

17:45 (JVR) – 3rd

18:12 (K.O.) – 2nd

2:46 (JVR) – 3rd

2:58 (K.O.) – 2nd

0:01 (JVR)

0:03 (K.O.) – 8th

2014-15

21:03 (JVR) – 1st

19:33 (K.O.) – 2nd

3:08 (JVR) – 1st (tied)

3:46 (K.O.) – 1st

1:27 (JVR) – 4th

0:01 (K.O.)

2013-14

19:05 (JVR) – 2nd

20:26 (K.O.) – 2nd

3:33 (JVR) – 2nd

3:57 (K.O.) – 3rd

0:38 (JVR) – 10th (tied)

0:10 (K.O.) – 10th (tied)

 

JVR’s Ice Time has cratered – down close to 25% since just two seasons ago, resulting in him being a borderline top six player at even strength for 2016-17. If there’s a silver lining it’s special teams, where although his PP Time is also down he’s still part of PP1 and his unproductive SH Time has dropped from 1:27 per game to essentially nothing.

 

Yet this doesn’t paint a picture of a player who can realistically sustain his current 64 point 2016-17 pace. After all, in the last three years there’ve been 185 instances of forwards who scored 55+ points, yet in doing so only two finished with a lower per game Ice Time average than JVR’s 15:58 and just eight averaged less than 17:00. This is also supported by the fact that among 39 forwards above JVR in scoring for 2016-17 as of December 12th, only one is averaging under 16:00. That other player is J.T. Miller, who, after emerging with 17 points in 17 games, managed only five in his next 13. Sound familiar? It should, since JVR also stood at 17 points in 17 games, before dipping to four in his last ten contests.

 

Okposo had been shedding Ice Time with the Islanders, yet still maintained the second most Total Ice Time each season and remained a fixture on PP1. If anything, the reductions had to do with the team rethinking how it distributed Ice Time, as even John Tavares saw his fall. Plus, the major drop in 2015-16 likely centered around the Islanders realizing he wouldn’t be re-signing and thus trying to lean more on other players while still keeping him in the mix enough to remain competitive as a team.

 

Since coming to Buffalo, Okposo’s Ice Time has rebounded, although not quite to the level of 2013-14 when he was nearly a point per game player. Yet he’s clearly a fixture among the top three Buffalo forwards in Total and PP Ice Time, so the opportunity is there for him to provide solid numbers.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2016-17

0.44 (JVR)

0.30 (K.O.)

1.26 (JVR)

0.80 (K.O.)

0.48(JVR)

0.30 (K.O.)

3.03 (JVR)

2.80 (K.O.)

0.21 (JVR)

0.46 (K.O.)

2015-16

0.15 (JVR)

0.64 (K.O.)

1.30 (JVR)

1.14 (K.O.)

0.17 (JVR)

0.49 (K.O.)

3.22 (JVR)

2.55 (K.O.)

0.22 (JVR)

0.29 (K.O.)

2014-15

0.52 (JVR)

0.20 (K.O.)

1.01 (JVR)

0.88 (K.O.)

0.35 (JVR)

0.38 (K.O.)

3.02 (JVR)

3.25 (K.O.)

0.23 (JVR)

0.30 (K.O.)

2013-14

0.62 (JVR)

0.72 (K.O.)

1.47 (JVR)

0.60 (K.O.)

0.36 (JVR)

0.49 (K.O.)

3.48 (JVR)

2.74 (K.O.)

0.18 (JVR)

0.21 (K.O.)

 

JVR’s secondary stats are among the most consistent of players I’ve covered in Cage Match; and that’s despite his significant drop in Ice Time since 2014-15. In fact, the only areas where he slipped in 2015-16 were PIM and Blocked Shots; however, he’s back near previous levels in PIM and on pace to exceed his prior best in Blocks. Moreover, since 2013-14 JVR has cumulatively averaged 3+ SOG per game and 0.35 Goals per Game, while still also being a Hits machine. In fact, the only forwards who, since 2013-14, met the same 3+ SOG and 0.35 Goals per game criteria while averaging more Hits per game than JVR are Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos. Now that’s some pretty fine company to be in.

 

In contrast, Okposo’s outputs have varied in most categories. Also, thus far his 2016-17 pace for Hits and PIM each represent his second lowest (and Blocks his lowest) among these seasons. So whether it’s due to his big new contract or different expectations being placed upon him in Buffalo, poolies might want to prepare themselves for somewhat lower production in these categories.

 

Of course the “elephant in the room” is Okposo’s 2016-17 PPPt rate, which, let’s face it, has nowhere to go but down. What that means is unless his non-PP production is unsustainably low, he’ll likely see his overall scoring pace drop. But my hunch is he – like other Sabres – has been bit by bad luck at even strength, since although the squad is in the top five for PP efficiency they’re dead last overall in goals scored. But now that Jack Eichel has returned, that of course should significantly improve.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

Team Shooting % (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2016-17

14.6% (JVR)

12.3% (K.O.)

10.55% (JVR)

4.46% (K.O.)

76.2% (JVR)

66.7% (K.O.)

80.0% (JVR)

73.3% (K.O.)

56.4% (JVR)

49.6% (K.O.)

2015-16

10.9% (JVR)

10.9% (K.O.)

7.72% (JVR)

7.83% (K.O.)

69.6% (JVR)

76.8% (K.O.)

90.0% (JVR)

63.3% (K.O.)

63.4% (JVR)

54.1% (K.O.)

2014-15

10.9% (JVR)

9.2% (K.O.)

6.53% (JVR)

7.87% (K.O.)

76.3% (JVR)

79.5% (K.O.)

51.7% (JVR)

53.8% (K.O.)

49.1% (JVR)

66.1% (K.O.)

2013-14

10.8% (JVR)

13.8% (K.O.)

9.67% (JVR)

10.24% (K.O.)

63.5% (JVR)

79.7% (K.O.)

62.5% (JVR)

40.7% (K.O.)

45.2% (JVR)

60.8% (K.O.)

 

Okposo’s 5×5 IPP was above 76% for each of the last three seasons, which is a far more significant accomplishment than it might sound. For starters, no forward who skated for 750+ minutes in each of the past three seasons had a higher IPP than Okposo in each season. In fact, only one other forward had a 5×5 IPP of greater than even 75.0% in each of the past three seasons while playing 750+ minutes of 5×5 in each campaign – some guy by the name of Sidney Crosby!

 

What’s also interesting is Okposo’s 5×4 IPP has risen each of the past two seasons and is on pace to increase yet again for 2016-17, which in turn makes it possible he’ll see less of a drop in his 2016-17 PP scoring rate than I’d suspected. Plus, his 5×5 team shooting % is less than half the leaguewide average of 9.00%. Part of that is attributable to Buffalo’s scoring struggles, but it’s also just plain bad luck, as even though Okposo has been below 8.00% each of the past two seasons, that still means he has room to see individual improvement alongside improvement from the team itself. In the end, I think it’s fair to say that whatever 5×4 scoring he stands to lose he should be able to more than compensate for via added 5×5 production.

 

Perhaps the only area of concern for Okposo is OZ%, since he had his greatest success when it was well over 60%. Plus there’s the reality that, only seven of 40 forwards who posted 60+ points last season did so with an OZ% less than 50% (Nicklas Backstrom, Jussi Jokinen, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaromir Jagr, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron)

 

Meanwhile, JVR does appear to be benefitting from unsustainable good luck, as expected given his Ice Time being too low to justify his current scoring level. In particular his personal shooting % is roughly a third higher than the 10.8-10.9% rate he finished with in each of the past three seasons, while his team shooting % is the farthest above the league average of 9.00% that it’s been not only over these seasons but during any season of his NHL career. And with no offsetting bad luck for 2016-17 thus far, one can only envision his stats doing what we figured when we saw his Ice Times, which is going down – far enough down to put him below 55 points once the dust settles on 2016-17.

 

Who Wins?

 

The winner is Okposo, for both keepers and one-year leagues. Simply put – although JVR checks several important multi-cat boxes, the Ice Time production barriers he faces are extremely concerning, as is the fact he’s also benefitted from some seemingly unsustainable good luck thus far this season. Plus, even when JVR had better Ice Time and was more of an offensive focal point for Philly and Toronto, the failed to show he was a legitimate threat for more than 60 point production. And at age 27, it’s unlikely he’ll get better from here.

 

Okposo, on the other hand, has stable Ice Time and proven reliability to factor into scoring, as shown by unparalleled (except by Sidney Crosby) 5×5 IPP plus continued gains in 5×4 IPP. Just as importantly, unlike some guys he doesn’t seem to be resting on his laurels despite a newly signed big contract.

 

The other important factor is for whatever reason Okposo seems to be underappreciated in fantasy. Despite the attention Okposo received as a high profile UFA, on average he was barely drafted among the top 100 in Yahoo, behind the likes of T.J. Oshie, Brandon Saad, and Patrick Sharp. Plus, care to guess where Okposo sat among RWs in cumulative points per game from 2013-14 to 2015-16? Amazingly, he was second, behind only Patrick Kane and ahead of Vladimir Tarasenko, Corey Perry, Phil Kessel, and Blake Wheeler, each of whom was drafted, on average, within the top 50 in Yahoo.

 

Long story short – Okposo is an undervalued player, and shrewd poolies should take advantage of that to consider grabbing him for what would likely be a price that’s lower than it should be. If you own JVR, it’s probably best to hold onto him until he’s moved by Toronto or signs a UFA deal, to capitalize on the associated hype.