We can knock one important RFA off the board as the San Jose Sharks signed winger Kevin Labanc to a one-year contract with a $1M cap hit. The 23-year old is coming off a 56-point season while playing mostly third-line minutes; just his minutes with Joe Thornton and Marcus Sorensen alone ate up over 40 percent of his line combinations and he played with Thornton for about half his five-on-five minutes.
He was used with their stars more in 2017-18 but he still failed to crack 14:30 per game.
With Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi all gone from the roster, there should be more minutes for Labanc in 2019-20. That makes this a bit of a gamble from the Sharks because if he improves his point totals again, as he has every year, even if it’s just due to more minutes, he’ll be worth considerably more than what he’ll earn on this contract.
Boston’s Peter Cehlarik signed a one-year deal with the team.
This is someone poolies were probably hoping to get more from in 2018-19 but he ended up spending most of the season in the AHL. There is a good offensive player here, I think, and the hope is that he can settle on the second line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci. If he can, there might be a worthwhile fantasy option here.
Marcus Johansson discussed possibly playing centre during a conference call on Monday. It’s been a few years since he’s really had any sort of chance at playing centre and he hasn’t played it with regularity since his sophomore season.
This could be a function of the roster composition, given that the Sabres now have Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary, and Jimmy Vesey as viable left wingers. Moving Johansson to the middle, if he can play it, would make a lot of sense. It would, though, kill most of the fantasy value Johansson would have because the team just doesn’t have much for scoring wingers beyond the top line.
One very common practice across all fantasy sports is to label players by production levels we fantasy players deem worthy. Sometimes, it’s baseball and the phrase, ‘he’s a 20-home run guy,’ or it’s hockey and something like, ‘he’s a 20-goal guy.’ Most people use benchmarks such as these to determine who is and isn’t valuable in the fantasy realm. I don’t mean to pick on anyone with this; I do it as well. It’s a bad habit that needs breaking.
The 2018-19 season saw the most goals per game in any season since 2005-06 and the last two years have been the highest-scoring, again, since 05-06. Under a new higher-scoring paradigm, what are some production targets we should be going for in the fantasy game?
To do this is a little tricky for fantasy hockey, obviously. There are 10-team leagues where maybe 100 forwards get rostered, there are 12-team leagues where maybe 150 forwards get rostered, and there are 16-team deep leagues that could have 300 (or more) forwards rostered. Some leagues only count goals and assists, while some have other categories where players can make up value even if they lack point production. There are a lot of permutations for fantasy hockey, which is why things like Fantasy Hockey Geek can be a big help to people who don’t want to spend dozens of hours adjusting and projecting everything for every type of league.
In that vein, these are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Nonetheless, here are some benchmarks to look for production-wise in the fantasy game, assuming relatively constant scoring to the last two years.
All I used for my sample was forwards who played at least 16 minutes a game last year and then broke their production down to a per-game basis. (Most fantasy leagues have a maximum number of games played at different positions, often 82 games. Figuring out what we need per game is important.) That gives us a sample of 160 forwards, or about 10 forwards with a few spares in 12-team leagues. Data from Natural Stat Trick.
(For those needing a math refresher, ‘mean’ is average and ‘median’ is the number in the middle of our sample. So, a data set with the numbers 1-3-6 gives us a mean of 3.33 and a median of 3.)
Goals are king, almost regardless of the league. They are the hardest to come by, necessarily include another category in Shots On Goal, and are generally used as barometers for usefulness.
Out of the 160 forwards in our sample, we have the following (numbers before the comma are based on total output regardless of games played, numbers after are based on per-game stats):
- Median: 23 total goals, and 0.31 goals per game (25.4 per 82)
- Mean: 24 total goals, and 0.32 goals per game (26.6 per 82)
In general, if we’re putting a forward in our lineup in a typical 12-team league every game of the season, we would want to get at least 23 goals out of them. That would be what we should expect from the average forward slot, independent of position (for now). If we can optimize our start/sits with good bench options, maybe we can get 27 out of every spot. That would put us ahead of the curve, so to speak, from our fantasy competition.
This is what the goal production looks like:
This is one of the reasons why we should try to get away from such titles as 20-Goal Scorer in the fantasy game. Fantasy owners in a typical 12-team league getting 20 goals from their forward spots are lagging behind.
It should also help to point out just how hard it is to score goals in the NHL. There were only 76 forwards last year with at least 25 goals, or fewer than seven per team in a 12-team league. There were only 45 forwards with at least 30 goals, or fewer than four per team in a 12-team league.
Goals are king, as mentioned earlier, but it’s for that exact reason that something as simple as assists can get overlooked. Just anecdotally on my part, it seems I’m often chasing goals in drafts and then chasing assists in-season. Maybe it’s a flaw in my fantasy game, but I’ve found it easier to trade goal scorers for assist machines during the season than the other way around.
Anyway, assists are a tricky thing. For example, secondary assists at five-on-five are random and power-play helpers can make good seasons great, as Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler have demonstrated in recent campaigns.
They’re also reliant on teammates not having a poor shooting season. Just look at Gustav Nyquist’s assist total in 2017-18 (19) compared to every other season in which he’s played at least 70 games (no fewer than 26). The 2017-18 campaign saw his teammates shoot at a career-low rate with him on the ice, and his assist total reflected that.
In our sample, this is what we have:
- Median: 31 total assists per player, 0.43 assists per game (35.3 per 82 games)
- Mean: 33.6 total assists per player, 0.45 assists per game (37.2 per 82 games)
If we would like to optimize our assists per game per forward slot in our league, we should aim for 37 assists. That is a lofty goal which is pretty much unattainable, but it does provide an upper limit to reach for. At the least, we should be targeting 31 helpers.
This is what the distribution looks like:
Just in goals and assists alone, the average fantasy forward should bring at least 23 goals and 31 assists. That would bring a fantasy forward to the median in our 160-forward sample in both categories. If fantasy owners try and maximize each forward spot, we should reach for 27 goals and 37 assists.
For a frame of reference on how hard it is to reach those marks, just 41 forwards reached both 27 goals and 37 assists in the 2018-19 season.
Finally, shots on goal. It’s something that daily fantasy owners chase – shots lead to goals – and is generally used as an indicator for offensive prowess. It’s certainly not an end-all, be-all by any stretch, but it is a helpful guide.
In our 160-player sample, we got the following:
- Median: 190.5 shots per forward, 2.5 shots per game (205 shots per 82 games)
- Mean: 187.1 shots per forward, 2.53 shots per 82 games (207.5 shots per 82 games)
Let’s not get too caught up in decimal places and say that we’re looking for 2.5 shots per game from each of our forwards. It’s a neat and tidy number, and the difference of .03 shots per game from nine different roster spots, assuming optimization, is about 22 shots per season.
This is what the distribution looks like:
If 2.5 shots per game is our benchmark, how many productive players actually got there? Well, if we use our lower goal and assist limits, this is the number of players with 23 goals, 31 assists, and an average of 2.5 shots per game last season: 43. If we get to our upper limit of 27 goals and 37 assists with an average of 2.5 shots per game, we’re down to 32. That’s 32 forwards in the entire league to satisfy all three of our conditions, or fewer than three per team in a 12-team league.
Last offseason, I did the same exercise as here following the 2017-18 season but with a bit of a different methodology: the sample was decided by the highest totals rather than by ice time. In last year’s exercise, for example, using only the 156 highest-scoring goal scorers, we got an average of 24.9 goals per roster spot. Consider that earlier we found if we’re looking to maximize each spot, we’re at 26.6 goals. In fact, those 24.9 goals is even lower than the median per-game mark for our 160-forward sample outlined above. Just two years ago, that number was 22.8. The recent rise in goal scoring across the league means we should be looking for, at least about 10 percent more goals than we were just two years ago.
As stated in the introduction, there is a lot more that goes into fantasy performance than goals, assists, and shots. Fantasy owners will have forwards rostered even though they might not reach 25 points, let alone 25 goals, because that player can provide 200 hits. The same goes for players who might not reach 35 points, let alone 35 assists, because they can provide 120 penalty minutes. This trade-off is the balancing act fantasy owners must go through all season, every season, in every league. It also means that the outline above is imperfect because we’re not just outlining the 160 most valuable fantasy forwards from 2018-19, and we’re also not dividing by position.
All that said, this should help give an indication on what to look for in the fantasy game from now on. For those in standard 12-team leagues, asking if a player brings enough to the table to be worth it in the fantasy game is very important. A centre bringing 20 goals and 35 assists but not much in peripherals just really isn’t bringing much to the table, and certainly isn’t bringing as much as they were a couple seasons prior.
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