Ramblings: Hudler Signs in Dallas, New Data with Fantasy Implications, Kuznetsov/Panarin (August 25)

by Michael Clifford on August 24, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Hudler Signs in Dallas, New Data with Fantasy Implications, Kuznetsov/Panarin (August 25)

Hudler Signs in Dallas, Implications of New Data, Kuznetsov/Panarin, and More

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There had been rumours for a couple days, but the Dallas Stars have indeed signed unrestricted free agent forward Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2-million contract. The report of the signing came from Sonny Sachdeva of Today’s Slapshot. The confirmation came from Mike Heika:

Considering his production over the last few years, and his landing spot, this could be one of the best signings of the summer. You can read Dobber’s take on the signing here.

I enjoy these tweets from Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath). The graphic encapsulates many of the important numbers surrounding a player’s performance. This is the one for Hudler from 2013-2016:

Two big notes about this. First, he drives on-ice shooting percentage, which will only help this juggernaut offence of the Dallas Stars. Second, as Mr. McCurdy noted, he’s very good at drawing penalties, which will only further help the offensive production of the team. This is a player who can drive goals, shots, and draw penalties. For the cost of his contract, this is excellent for Dallas.

Moreover, this gives Dallas something they haven’t necessarily had over the last few years, and that’s good depth at the right wing position. With Valeri Nichushkin not having reached his potential yet, and Ales Hemsky not quite working out as planned (though he’s been better than he gets credit for), this now gives the Stars a reliable first line right winger, and allows Nichushkin, Hemsky, and others, to face less top-tier talent. General manager Jim Nill said almost as much when the signing was announced, saying Hudler would at least be in the top-six.

For fantasy, there probably isn’t a better landing spot in the NHL. Supposing that Hudler lines up to the right of Tyler Seguin, with Jamie Benn on the left, how can it get any better? This is a guy who put up over 70 points playing with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. They’re an excellent top pairing in their own right, but they’re not Seguin/Benn.

One concern for potential Hudler owners would be power play time. Assuming that Seguin, Benn, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg are the automatics for the top power play unit, that leaves one spot, with a few players that can realistically be in that spot. There’s no telling if it’ll be Patrick Sharp, Hemsky, maybe a second defenceman?

Keep in mind that Hudler isn’t a particularly top-end roto player. He doesn’t shoot a lot, he doesn’t take many penalties, and plus/minus could be a concern with that Dallas goaltending. In points-only leagues though, assuming Hudler plays the majority of the time on the top line and top power play unit, there’s no reason to think he can’t crack 50 points, and 60 points is well within reach.  

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As mentioned in a Ramblings earlier this month, there is a wealth of new information that is being done by bloggers that could have serious fantasy implications. Notably, one important project is that of Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp), and his team of game trackers.

The project of Mr. Stimson, which is called the Passing Project, and covers exactly what it sounds like it does, has yielded more work from himself, and other writers. The Passing Project has led to work like this from Hockey-Graphs and Mr. Stimson, which uses passing data to improve neutral zone decision-making.

While that type of work is important – it discusses the nature of zone entries and how that affects shot production – this Ramblings is about something else. This is about an article over at NHLNumbers which discusses how the area of the pass – where it’s coming from, and where the recipient is – affects goal scoring and shooting percentages. One of the articles referenced in that NHLNumbers article discusses work done by Mr. Stimson, and how low-to-high passes (passing back to the point in the offensive zone), and can be read here. In itself, the NHLNumbers article discusses four specific offensive scoring chance types: low-to-high pass/shot, playing from behind the net, playing across the “Royal Road” (which is a line splitting the offensive zone down the middle from goal line to the top of the circle), and off a faceoff. All other shots/scoring chances are classified as “other.”

The following graphic was taken from that NHLNumbers article. Each dot is a shot, each blue dot is a non-scoring chance, while each yellow dot is a scoring chace. It’s at this point that the importance of playing behind the net, and making those cross-ice “royal road” passes is evident:

To further the utility of these scoring chances, these are the shooting percentages for the types of shot/scoring chances generated:

                                                     

The implications for fantasy hockey should be obvious.

Now, I should mention that their sample is still fairly limited (the highest rate of games tracked is about half a season for a single team, I believe). In that sense, definitive conclusions should not yet be reached by those looking to use this data.

It is very exciting though, especially for daily fantasy players. Once the data gets advanced enough, for example, we may find out that the New York Rangers allows 6-percent more shots generated from behind the net play than the average team, and Pittsburgh employs that strategy the majority of the time. That favourable matchup for a single day would be very useful information for daily fantasy players. It’s just an example, but this is where it appears to be headed for DFS players.

I encourage readers to go read the articles for themselves, as their thousands of words more thoroughly explains the work, and results, than my 500. If this turns out to be a breakthrough, it’ll be one of the biggest for fantasy owners in recent memory.

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Over the last few days, I’ve been talking on Twitter with fellow fantasy hockey writers (both daily and season-long) with one topic of conversation, “Which player is more likely to disappoint next year: Evgeny Kuznetsov or Artemi Panarin?”

For further reading on these two players, here is Dobber Hockey’s Cam Robinson on Panarin, and on Kuznetsov. I also wrote a bit on the narrative surrounding Panarin’s production. I should also mention that I stated last year that Kuznetsov was being over-drafted for the 2015-2016 season, and, well, that backfired worse than when Happy Gilmore challenged Virginia Venit to an accuracy shooting contest. 

The reason for wondering about busting is that both players relatively came out of nowhere – Kuznetsov less so, but no one saw that level of performance coming at that point – and as a result, both players will probably be drafted inside the first three rounds this year. When players have such unexpectedly productive seasons, it’s worth asking the question as to the possibility of a repeat performance, improvement, or decline.

The discussion with the fantasy writers, and the knocks against them, were as follows:

  • Kuznetsov – Stuck on the second line; not playing with Ovechkin; probably not locked on the top power play unit.
  • Panarin – Worry about spreading the offence around, so moving to the first or third line for chunks at a time; Patrick Kane’s regression affecting him.

So I want to ask the readers, if you had to pick one of these two players to take sizeable step back in fantasy performance next year, would it be Panarin, or would it be Kuznetsov? Which player would you feel most comfortable with drafting in the third round?

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A lot of fantasy hockey writing, and off-season work, revolves around numbers. I mean, rightfully so, this is literally a game where whoever has the best numbers, wins. It would be foolish not to delve into what has happened (statistically), and try to project what will happen (statistically). It’s kind of the point of this whole thing.

With that out of the way, I do think strategy can get left behind. There are a lot of aspects when discussing draft strategies, but one I want to talk about specifically is mock drafting.

Naturally, mock drafts have more relevance for those playing in one-year leagues than keeper/dynasty leagues. Trying to practice drafting for a keeper league where 80 players will be missing from the player pool is kind of pointless.

For those that are playing in one-year leagues, though, I recommend doing several mock drafts. There are a few reasons why:

  • Suppose a fantasy owner wants to test a strategy, like punting goaltending. Doing a half-dozen mock drafts while doing so will give an owner an idea of what a team will look like doing so.
  • Doing a dozen mock drafts will give owners an idea of when the runs start. When do players start racking in defencemen? Goaltending? Just looking at ADPs doesn’t help a lot. Going through mock drafts makes this a lot clearer.
  • Mock drafts help provide a realistic range of drafting. While places like Fantasy Pros show the highest and lowest draft position, they’re not really all too helpful. I mean, there will be some drafts where someone like Nathan MacKinnon is a fourth-round pick. I would wager that won’t be the case in the majority of drafts, so seeing how often he goes in the fifth or sixth gives a more realistic range of when to expect a player to go off the board.

Practice makes perfect, and most people need a little practice, don’t you agree? I do. Take advantage of mock drafts, and be ready for any situation that can pop up during a real draft.

*Stats from Hockey Reference. Passing information from Hockey-Graphs and NHLNumbers.