Cage Match Tournament, Week 2: Which of these slumping players is least likely to bounce back?
What better way to help celebrate the official arrival of 2017 than by another winter cage match tournament! After your votes last week crowned Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers as the players with the most sustainable 2016-17 breakout scoring rates, we’re turning to the other side of the coin – deciding which currently slumping players are least likely to go back to being their old selves. The results of this week’s voting should help you decide whether to be patient with an underperforming player versus cutting bait now, plus give you an idea of who might still have reasonable trade value (i.e., those who get fewer votes) versus who to maybe drop outright (i.e., those who get the most).
Before we get to your voting choices, here are a few important explanations and ground rules. Don’t skip right to the players; it’s very important that everyone be on the same page when casting their votes.
How to Decide Your Vote(s)
Next to each player I’ve indicated his (1) “expected production,” which corresponds to roughly what he was expected to score in 2016-17, and (2) “actual scoring pace,” which is how many points he’d score in a full 82 game season at his current pace (through 1/1/17). For a player to earn your vote, you should believe not only won’t he achieve his expected production (or that production rate if he misses games) when all is said and done for 2016-17, but he’ll also fail to reach it again in any future season. In other words, don’t vote for someone you think is having an off year and will return to his “normal” production next season or down the road. Vote only for someone who’s truly gone downhill, never to return.
Like last week, some of these players might change teams or lines, so you can take those, and other factors (such as age, contract status, Ice Time, depth chart on their teams), into account when deciding your choices. Of course if you want to vote based solely on a “sniff test,” that’s your prerogative.
How Voting Will Work
Also like last week, I’m setting the poll to allow for multiple selections, which means you can vote for any and all players who you think will never again reach their 2016-17 expected production. So feel free to vote for just one player, a couple of players, a bunch of players, or all of them if in fact you think their expected production is truly a thing of the past. All players are listed in alphabetical order.
Although I said to feel free to use the sniff test to decide your vote(s), try to be objective. Don’t just vote for players you dislike or not for players you like. And try to really consider each player based on the totality of his present and likely future circumstances in order to hone in on the best choice(s).
Players Who Aren’t Among the Choices
All voting choices are ages 25-30. I decided not to include players under 25 (no Gabriel Landeskog, Brendan Gallagher, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) since it’s not unusual for them to bounce up and down before settling into a reliable scoring pattern; and I also didn’t include players 31 or older (no Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, Mark Giordano, Jussi Jokinen, Mikko Koivu, Andrew Ladd, Alex Ovechkin, Zach Parise, Carl Soderberg, or Alex Steen), since although there are ageless wonders out there it’s expected for over 30 players to be declining or at risk of doing so.
And you won’t see Mikkel Boedker or Marc-Edouard Vlasic among the choices even though they’re not age disqualified. The reason is simple –they likely would’ve run away with the voting and I wanted to keep things a bit more interesting.
Without further ado, here are your 20 choices.
Tyson Barrie (Expected Production = 52 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 43 points)
Supporters of Barrie can rightfully place some of the blame for his struggles on the Avs as a whole; but maybe he’s just not a genuine 50+ point defenseman? Yes, he scored at a 50+ pace in each of the past two seasons; however, he was also the only d-man with any semblance of offensive leanings on those Colorado teams, so that certainly didn’t hurt his ability to produce. It’s tough to write off someone as young as him and who scored at a 50+ pace more than once, yet maybe he just peaked early?
Derick Brassard (Expected Production = 56 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 38 points)
Remember when Brassard was supposed to come to Ottawa and center Bobby Ryan (spoiler alert – he’s on the list too) back to stardom? So much for that plan I guess. Instead, Brassard has gone from 55-60 point scorer in his last two seasons with the Rangers to an enigma in Ottawa. And Brassard is 29 years old, so it’s not like he’ll “grow out of it.” One possible consolation is Brassard tends to play somewhat better in the second half, so if he catches fire he could still salvage his season. But then the question becomes where he goes from here.
T.J. Brodie (Expected Production = 46 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 29 points)
Brodie produced at a 46 point pace (86 points in 152 games) over the past two seasons despite the blueline logjam in Calgary and never getting even 41% of his team’s PP minutes. Expectations were for more of the same, if not better production; however, it’s been a letdown instead. What makes his slump more concerning is his PP Time and OZ% are actually up consderably. One possible saving grace is his IPPs are way down, so it might just be a case of unsustainably bad puck luck.
John Carlson (Expected Production = 56 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 42 points)
Pop quiz – how many 40+ point seasons does Carlson have? Would you believe just one? Yes, he had 39 points in only 56 games last season (57 points full season pace) after 55 in 2014-15; but could it be that his true value is dwarfed at least somewhat by hype and/or wishful thinking? He’s only 26, so it’s hard to bet against him being able to hit 56 points in a future season, especially on the Capitals. Then again, if you’d bet against Carlson all along, you’d probably be lifetime ahead as of now.
Logan Couture (Expected Production = 65 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 51 points)
Even the biggest Couture fans were wise enough to realize his incredible 2016 playoff performance was a run of great production, not a reason to set far higher points expectations for him. Yet here we are at the end of December and Couture sits at his lowest scoring pace in years despite still getting ample top six and PP1 minutes. If there’s one thing his playoff scoring boost showed us, it’s that he can put together an amazing run of points; and if he does so in the coming months, he could still achieve his Expected Production before all is said and done for 2016-17.
Jordan Eberle (Expected Production = 68 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 56 points)
Much of the debate this offseason wasn’t whether Eberle would once again best his previous best single season total of 76 points, but rather when and by how much. After all, he was supposedly locked into a coveted winger spot alongside Connor McDavid. Funny how things don’t always work out though, as nearly halfway through this season Eberle has bounced on and off McDavid’s line and is currently on pace to finish with less than 60 points in a full season for what would be the first time in his career.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Expected Production = 57 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 42 points)
No one doubts that OEL is a superb defenseman; however, the relevant question is whether he’ll hit his lofty Expected Production. Despite him being only 25 years old and on a supposedly up and coming team, he’s looked nothing like even a 50 point d-man through the first nearly half of this season. Also, let’s not forget that 57 points is a huge number for d-men. In fact, since 1990-91 there’ve been many fantasy defensemen who achieved a 55+ point campaign by their age 28 season then ultimately never did so again, including Dustin Byfuglien, Kimmo Timonen, Keith Yandle, Brian Campbell, Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, Roman Hamrlik, and Drew Doughty. Also, Doughty, Phaneuf, Yandle, and Hamrlik all were OEL’s age or younger when they reached the 55+ point threshold. As strange as it might seem to think we’ve seen the best from OEL, that might just be the case.
Tyler Johnson (Expected Production = 61 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 45 points)
It was easier to look past last season’s disaster for Johnson once it was revealed that when he managed to play he was far from 100%. Plus, he was so dynamic in his 72 point 2014-15 campaign, and should be just entering his prime at age 26. Yet once again he’s disappointing; and that’s despite career best Total and PP Ice Time this season due to the Steven Stamkos injury. At this point we have to wonder if maybe it was 2014-15 that was the fluke year for Johnson, rather than last season.
Roman Josi (Expected Production = 57 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 43 points)
Astute readers of this column will recall that among my fearless forecasts for 2016-17 I predicted that both Josi and Shea Weber would struggle without each other; and sure enough that’s happened. With an OZ% higher than ever and still all the minutes and PP usage he can handle, it might just be that Josi’s new ceiling is closer to 50 points, or even less.
Anze Kopitar (Expected Production = 71 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 41 points)
The usual response to the suggestion that Kopitar might be on a career downswing is “he’s just a much better second half player.” But is he? In 2013-14 he stood at 34 points in 41 games, and finished with 70. In 2014-15 he had 26 points in 34 games, and ended with 64 points. Then last season he had 28 in 37 games, and ultimately finished with 74. At age 29, and playing for a franchise that won’t be confused with an offensive juggernaut, maybe he really is starting to fade? Or perhaps he’ll be a Joe Thornton type who can produce into his 30s? We’d know a lot more if voting occurred in March, but it’s up to you to make the decision now.
David Krejci (Expected Production = 62 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 50 points)
Most everyone expected Krejci to once again put up his patented quiet but consistent 60+ points for the Bruins; but that was before he was stuck centering mainly the aging David Backes and a revolving door of largely unheralded Bruins rookies, which isn’t a recipe for success for anyone. Krejci has improved of late and has found himself with seemingly better linemates due to the recent injury to David Backes; but there’s legitimate concern that Krejci’s age (30) and string of recent injuries might signify his best days are behind him.
Jake Muzzin (Expected Production = 41 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 18 points)
Many – including me – thought this would be a big year for Muzzin, on the heels of 40+ points in each of the two past seasons (including 40 in his last 75 contests in 2015-16) and being in his prime at age 27. But 2016-17 has been an unmitigated disaster thus far, which has led to all Muzzin’s key metrics (Ice Time, PP Time, SOG rate) being down from both his 40+ point campaigns. Of course he can’t be this bad; but maybe he was never a true 40+ point player, especially for the goal-challenged Kings?
Gustav Nyquist (Expected Production = 53 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 39 points)
Knock knock? Who’s there? For poolies, the answer yet again is “not 2013-14 Gustav Nyquist.” For the third season in a row, and despite no metrics pointing to unsustainable bad luck, he’s on pace to score fewer points in 82 games than he did in just 57 contests during that fateful 2013-14 campaign. Yet 53 points isn’t a very high threshold; that, plus Nyqvist not even being 30 when his current deal with the Red Wings expires, might give hope that he can somehow connect the dots enough to achieve the 53 point mark at least once in his career.
Ondrej Palat (Expected Production = 57 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 42 points)
The fall from fantasy grace for Palat has been precipitous. After 63 points in only 75 games in 2014-15, Palat likely won’t even have tallied 63 points in his next 100 games – and that’s despite finishing with 20 points in his last 19 games to end 2015-16! Although Palat’s OZ% is down since his 2014-15 heydey, a deeper look shows his 5×5 team shooting percentage was an unsustainably high 11.35% that season. For now, Palat continues to be slotted alongside the most talented forwards in the Tampa top six. But can he play well enough to keep that coveted role? If not, he might’ve sniffed 55+ points for the last time, even at age 25.
Bobby Ryan (Expected Production = 53 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 36 points)
As mentioned above, the Brassard to Ryan magic touted in the offseason simply hasn’t materialized. Although Ryan has put together enough short term hot streaks to produce in the 55 point range in each of his last two seasons with Ottawa, not only does he turn 30 in March, but he’s also taking the ice for less than 50% of the team’s PP time (a first since he came to Ottawa) and is on track for by far his lowest Total Ice Time and OZ% of his Senators tenure. This season might mark a turning point for Ryan – and not the good kind.
Reilly Smith (Expected production = 54 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 36 points)
All the ingredients were seemingly in place for Smith to see his scoring jump this season, being only 25 and entering his prime after having scored 50-51 points in two of the past three seasons. Plus, the Panthers – a team thought to be on the rise – showed their commitment to him in the form of $25M for five years (starting next year). Yet this season Smith has been a non-factor despite more minutes than ever. In his defense, his 5×5 team shooting % is quite low; however, poolies can’t help but wonder if as his wallet has grown larger his effort level has dropped and if he might not ultimately improve from what we’ve already seen.
Tomas Tatar (Expected Production = 50 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 37 points)
If things continue, Tatar could see his production drop for a second straight season; and although that’s never an ideal situation, it’s even worse considering it had only topped at 56 points in 2014-15. This is a definite head scratcher, due to Tatar getting more Total and PP Ice Time this season than ever, although like last season his SOG rate is down from where it was in 2014-15. Plus, he’s an RFA after this season, so if hopes of cashing in can’t bring him to excel, maybe he’s just not as good as we thought?
John Tavares (Expected Production = 79 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 61.5 points)
Of all the players on this list, poolies might have to feel most sorry for Tavares. Yes – former first overall draft picks are supposed to be able to create magic on their own; however, the mismanaged Islanders have surrounded him with no talent even close to his level. As a result, he seems to be less engaged, with lower stats to show for it. Tavares is set to be a UFA in 2018, so he’ll have the option to be able to find success elsewhere and, one would think, should still be young and talented enough to be able to hit the 80+ point level again.
Jonathan Toews (Expected Production = 61 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 49 points)
Recent thinking has been that Toews isn’t producing because he isn’t making scoring a top priority; and seemingly that makes sense, what with his much higher scoring in the playoffs and for Team Canada in international tournaments. The question is whether Toews will ultimately decide to return his focus to scoring again, and, if so, whether he’ll still have the ability to put up very good numbers once that time comes.
Blake Wheeler (Expected Production = 71 points; Actual Scoring Pace = 61 points)
I don’t think anyone was realistically expecting another 78 point output from Wheeler, especially with his “the guy” status on the team being challenged by Mark Scheifele. However, seemingly he was still positioned to hit 71+ points again, especially with more surrounding talent to help generate offense. This season he’s receiving similar PP Ice Time and slightly higher Total Ice Time and OZ% as compared to previous campaigns, yet presently sits at barely a 60 point pace even though he’s been red hot since mid-December. With Wheeler being signed through 2018-19, he’d be 33 years old before he could move onto another team, so he just might’ve been a “one and done” member of the 71+ point club.
Link to Cast Your Vote(s)
To vote in the Tournament, click here. Remember – you can vote for as many players as you want. While you’re there voting, please post a comment on which player(s) you voted for a why, since just like last week my hope is this Tournament will be as useful for fantasy purposes as it is enjoyable. Next week I’ll return with a normal cage match, so make sure to come back for that and all the others for 2018!
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