Best of the West: Season in Review (2016)

by Doran Libin on April 18, 2016


Taking a look at the 'best' fantasy performances from the Western Conference this past season


Once again as the playoffs begin it is time to look back at the season that was. The criteria remains as it was last year: overall fantasy impact. For skaters that amounts to points as well as peripheral categories whereas for goalies it comes down to wins, shutouts and their contributions to their team’s wins. In order to have the greatest overall impact durability is almost as necessary as sheer production. It is the basis for the argument for Panarin winning the Calder trophy over Connor McDavid. While McDavid put up points at a greater rate than Panarin, he also missed more than 25 games while Panarin player the whole season. Having missed that many games he just did not have the same impact.



Best Forward Candidates







Patrick Kane






Jamie Benn






Joe Thornton






Joe Pavelski







There could be no other choice for the best forward in the West other than Patrick Kane. He was so good that he was almost left off this list just to make it somewhat competitive. The only possible criticism of Kane, apart from his extra-curricular activities, is that his production slowed significantly in the last third of the season. That is truly nitpicking though as he averaged more points per game than Benn averaged over the season. This season marked two big changes for Kane, the first is the arrival of Artemi Panarin, his first really skilled linemate in years. While Kane was the major driver of that line there should be no doubt that Panarin was a significant contributor to Kane’s season. That leads to the second factor, Kane took more shots this season than ever before in his career. Kane is not a typical bulk shooter as he takes three shots per game while also maintaining a very high shooting percentage, usually in the 12-14% range but he has reached 16% twice in the last four years. There was a big shift in where Kane’s points came from this year as he racked up 39 power play points, accounting almost 40% of his points. In all Kane was the engine in Chicago to an extent that he has never been before, consider it recognized.


Behind Kane are two multi-category producers in Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski. These two are very similar in almost every category with Benn coming out ahead at almost every turn. Benn wins in goals, assists, penalty minutes, power play points and hits, with Pavelski winning blocks. Benn has another chip in his favour as again Tyler Seguin missed a sizable chunk of the season, a travail with which Pavelski was not tasked. Missing Seguin did not necessarily improve Benn’s fantasy value but it does make it more impressive. Benn also does not have the benefit of playing with one of the great passers in the game, not that playing with Seguin is a drag on Benn’s game. There is however more of congruency to the passer-shooter relationship between Thornton and Pavelski than there is to the two shoot first talents of Benn and Seguin.


Joe Thornton’s 82-point season is impressive for anyone in this NHL never mind a 36 year-old center. It is the seventh highest point total by a player over the age of 35 in the last decade. Having never been fleet of foot losing a step was never a huge concern for Thornton, he plays a similar game to Jagr in that he uses his size, strength and mind to dominate possession except that Thornton uses his brilliant passing ability to stay as relevant as ever. Thornton’s bona fides are well established in that arena, with Jonathan Cheechoo serving as his Mona Lisa. However he keeps building his CV as this league he led the league’s forwards in assists, finishing 10 assists ahead of fourth place and 20 assists ahead of Ribeiro in 18th place. That kind of dominance can cove up some of the fantasy value Thornton loses in not taking shots or doling out hits. It also helps that his 29 power play points are good for fifth in the league.




Best Defense Candidates







Brent Burns






Roman Josi






Oliver Ekman-Larsson






Dustin Byfuglien







This is the second of three run away winners this year’s as each positional category had a definitive winner. Burns came close to being the first defensemen to hit 30 goals since Mike Green last did so for the Capitals. He did so by firing a prodigious number of shots besting the next defenseman by more than 100 shots, meaning he took a one and a quarter more shots per game than any other defenseman in the league. He finished the year as one of three skaters to fire 300 or more shots finishing second only Alex Ovechkin. There was more than a 100 shot difference between and the skater with the 17th most shots. This was the first time Burns managed to take more than 250 shots in a season, which is amazing given that he has spent full seasons as a forward. He finished just 2 points shy of the top 10 for scoring in the league and were it not for Erik Karlsson’s brilliant 82 point season Burns would be getting more credit for being an offensive marvel. Burns was only one of only four defensemen to score 20 goals and his 27 goals are good for top 40 in the league. Not surprisingly he is the first defenseman to rank in the top 40 goal scorers since Mike Green did so in his 30-goal season. Burns’ massive goal and shot totals mean that he was able to basically a defense corps all on his own this year.


There are two multi-category studs on this list in Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) and Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien does it all with more than 200 hits, 100 penalty minutes and 100 blocks. He also chipped in 17 power play points and 19 goals. He has been entrenched in multi-category stud list for a number of years now and is not showing many signs of slowing down despite being a big-bodied defenseman in thirties.  OEL contributes less as a multi-category stud but his usage got shifted this year into an ultra-offensive role. OEL brought out his mean streak this year as he maintained his hit rate but racked up nearly 100 penalty minutes while missing seven games. OEL actually saw his total ice time this year reduced by thirty seconds per game while his power play time per game went up by nearly a minute and a half. As a result even as the Coyotes’ power play took a step back this year OEL had more power play points than ever. This greater focus on putting OEL out in offensive situations helped him crack 50 points for the first time.


The last defenseman on this list Roman Josi and lest there were any doubt it is time to rank Josi ahead of his Predator teammate Shea Weber. With 61 points he was one of four defensemen this year to finish with more than 60 points, which has recently become the exclusive domain of the elite offensive defenseman. Since 2013/14 the only defensemen to reach points in a single season at least once are: Erik Karlsson thrice, Brent Burns twice and Roman Josi, PK Subban, Duncan Keith and Kris LEtang once each. That is a level of offensive production that is getting harder to find now amongst forwards. Josi’s elite offensive status is enough to place him above Weber on this list despite Weber’s significantly better hit and penalty minute totals.



Best Goalie Candidates







Hi-Danger SV%

Corey Crawford







Brian Elliott







Martin Jones







Jonathan Quick








This is the perfect example of quantity being the deciding factor between goalies with similar numbers. Elliott and Crawford were clearly the best goalie in the Western Conference this year as Pekka Rinne struggled to start the season, Devan Dubnyk went back to being a slightly above average goalie as the Wild struggled as a team, and almost no one stood out in the West unlike the East. As such despite only playing 40 games Elliott makes this list because he stands out in a weak year for goalies in the West but he never really had a shot at taking down best in the west against Crawford’s starring performance. Elliott posted some of the best numbers in the league with all-situation save percentage at a Vezina level of .930. He also posted the best high danger save percentage of 87.7%. This does look like a lot like a typical Ken Hitchcock aided goalie season but if St Louis gets by Chicago in the first round there will likely be more of those until Jake Allen fully claims the starting role. Elliott and Crawford have basically the same numbers with both posting 70% quality starts, which is especially impressive compared to the next tier well below 60%. Between playing for Chicago and his strong hold on the starting job Crawford was the lone elite starting goalie in the West this year. This is the second consecutive year in which Crawford has posted high-end numbers and this year he did it behind a fairly weak Chicago team at even-strength. As the only goalie posting elite numbers while playing nearly 75% of the games he is the clear-cut winner of the best goalie in the West.


The other two contenders this year are Quick and Jones neither of whom posted outstanding numbers. Neither hit a .920 save percentage or even 60% quality starts, both of which are levels at which a goalie can start to be considered elite. With very similar .918 save percentages they are each just above being an average goalie. Their numbers are almost identical across the board with the difference coming in wins, which is notoriously more of a team stat than an individual goalie stat. That is very appropriate given that San Jose and Los Angeles are very similar style and their overall team numbers. Quick’s numbers have hovered around this level for a few years now and should be considered the new normal. Jones is a different story as this his first chance at a regular starting job. His numbers this year were better than Niemi’s last year in San Jose so he has been an improvement playing behind a better team than Niemi played behind. The question is will San Jose experience the second year decline that Florida and New Jersey experienced under de Boer, if not Jones should be higher up on this list next year.