Ramblings: Talking About Luck, Cam Atkinson, Marian Gaborik, Matt Dumba (September 9)

by Michael Clifford on September 8, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Talking About Luck, Cam Atkinson, Marian Gaborik, Matt Dumba (September 9)

Player rebounds, Cam Atkinson post-breakout, buying Marian Gaborik, and talking about Matt Dumba

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One thing that the expansion of stats has taught me over the last half-decade or so is that a fair amount of what some media analysts say with regards to player performance is not very useful. Things like “he didn’t want it bad enough,” or “he won’t go to the dirty areas,” is often just random nonsense spewed into a microphone. Case in point: Remember Rick Nash’s scoring struggles in the 2014 playoffs? Well here is a graphic from Sporting Charts, including Nash’s shot heat map from that season, including distances. On the left is the regular season, on the right is the postseason. There is almost no difference, and certainly not enough of one to account for a 7-percent drop in shooting.

Search “Rick Nash 2014 playoffs slump” and book off an hour. It is of course just one anecdotal example, but similar things have been said about playoff performances from players like Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin. This happens frequently.  

Human history is littered with example after example of ridiculous notions invented to explain what cannot be easily explained. All I can say is don’t let I, or any other hockey analyst, tell you what is or isn’t. Read, research, draw conclusions.

With that diatribe out of the way, here are a few players due for a bit of a luck change next year.

Max Pacioretty

This one is a slam dunk. In the 2014-2015 season, Pacioretty was a monster plus-38 playing in front of Carey Price. In the two years prior, which included the lockout season, he was plus-16 in 117 games, or a plus-11 per 82-games. Last year, Pacioretty was a minus-10, with a five-on-five save percentage behind him of just .905. With Price back, and appearing to be completely healthy, this won’t happen again. Pacioretty is frequently going outside the fourth round, and is one of five players with 30 goals and 60 points in each of the past three seasons. The others (via Hockey Reference’s Play Index)? Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski, Alex Ovechkin. All first round fantasy picks.

Sean Monahan

It’s fair to wonder whether Monahan is a product of playing with Johnny Gaudreau or not, but either way, he will be Gaudreau’s centre for the foreseeable future. Barring some bad luck in the scoring department, he should be around 30 goals and 60 points again.

One area that has hurt Monahan in two of his three seasons in roto leagues is his plus/minus. When he had good (or lucky) goaltending behind him in the 2014-2015 season, he was a plus-8. In the other two seasons he played, he was a combined minus-26. With a new coaching staff, and a huge upgrade in net with Brian Elliott, I wouldn’t expect a sub-.905 five-on-five save percentage behind him again. Even a modest rebound in plus/minus, with similar stats, puts Monahan as a top-75 roto option this year.

Patrick Marleau

A player that is clearly on the downside of his career is always a worry when it comes to fantasy drafting. With that said, San Jose was one of the best teams in the West during the regular season last year, and Marleau was a minus-22.

A lot may depend on how he’s used – third line checking centre, or second line winger, or even first line winger – but I have a hard time believing that Marleau will repeat that kind of minus rating (he was a minus-17 in 2014-2015, by the way). His team is too good, and Marleau isn’t finished yet. He will put up solid power play points and can crack 20 goals again. He’s not a bad gamble in the later rounds.

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Sometimes the fantasy world can be weird. It was a year ago now that it seems everyone – no, not literally everyone – was talking about Cam Atkinson as a “sleeper” pick for the 2015-2016 season. Then he goes out and does this (from Hockey Reference’s Play Index):

Atkinson was one of just 18 forwards with 25 goals, 25 assists, and 225 shots on goal last year. Despite this, across most mocks, Atkinson is still going outside the top-150 players. So, people predict a breakout, the breakout happens, and there’s not much market correction? He was a top-200 pick by the end of the draft season last year, and he’s not that much costlier now. This seems odd.

There was a spike in points per 60 minutes compared to the two previous seasons, but there’s a difference between playing regularly with Boone Jenner, and playing regularly with Matt Calvert – Columbus’s goals and shots per minute went up a fair amount when Atkinson was playing with the former rather than the latter.

Atkinson also saw nearly 50 more seconds of ice time per game compared to 2014-2015. It’s not a massive amount, but with nearly a full season played last year, it led to nearly 120 more minutes of total ice time. That alone can account for four or five points.

The Columbus forward group is largely unchanged from last year, which means there’s no reason to think that Atkinson sees any decrease in ice time. I suppose it’s possible to end up in John Tortorella’s doghouse – remember, he scratched both Ryan Johansen and Brandon Saad at times last year, taking Saad off the power play at times as well – but should everything proceed normally, there shouldn’t be much change.

Atkinson doesn’t really have to be much better to return his draft day value. He was roughly a top-100 forward last year in roto leagues, with one big issue being his plus/minus. I suspect he won’t get .900 goaltending behind him this year like last year, so that should rebound itself as long as his offence doesn’t crater. There isn’t much risk at taking Atkinson where he’s going right now, and of course, he could have an even better year than last year. There is little reason to let him slide past much further than the 12th round.

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Buying low on Marian Gaborik? Before yelling at me, hear me out.

Yes, Gaborik has a lengthy injury history, and yes, Gaborik will undoubtedly miss time this year. He has fallen completely out of the good graces of fantasy hockey owners, frequently being drafted outside the top-200 fantasy options in mocks so far this year. And rightly so.

I will say, though, that when Gaborik has been on the ice with Anze Kopitar, they’ve been really good together (as most players do with Kopitar, but I digress). This is from Puckalytics:

Yes, Kopitar is elite with or without Gaborik. But Gaborik is very, very good with Kopitar, and that’s important here. In Gaborik’s Los Angeles Kings tenure so far, he’s averaged 28 goals per 82 games. Using an 82-game pace here is probably useless, but even a 65-game pace is 22 goals. That’s not bad.

One concern is that Tyler Toffoli becomes Kopitar’s new running mate now that Milan Lucic is in Edmonton (I know they play different wings, it’s an expectation of giving Kopitar an offensive option). That would push Gaborik down the roster. This is a valid concern which won’t be addressed until we see some preseason games. All the same, I think Gaborik stays in the top-six regardless.

The reason for buying on Gaborik is his draft price, not the anticipation of some miraculous season. Supposing that he does play on the top line for the bulk of 65 games, it’s not a stretch to think he can post 20 goals and 40 points. On top of that, he may get power play priority with Lucic gone, and he’s just one season removed from posting 18 power play points in 69 games.

Gaborik can probably be selected as a final draft pick in non-deep leagues, and even just 20 goals and 40 points is a good return. Add in whatever stats a waiver wire fill-in can provide in the 15-20 games that Gaborik will miss, and getting a 20-goal, 45-point roster slot that includes double-digit power play points is a fine return on investment. I certainly won’t be reaching for Gaborik, but letting him go undrafted is a mistake except in shallow leagues.

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Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba has the same points per 60 minutes over the last two seasons as Columbus defenceman Seth Jones. Dumba’s mark of 0.69 points per 60 puts him mid-pack in the NHL among regular defencemen over the last two years. Not bad for a 20- and 21-year old defenceman, really.

If the Wild want to contend this year, they’re going to need to rely on the younger defencemen. Ryan Suter is the only regular that will be over the age of 27 for this season, which means it’s going to be up to a fairly young core, including the 22-year old Dumba, to pick up the slack left over from Suter.

This movement started in earnest to some degree last year for Dumba. While he played under 17 minutes a game last year, Dumba was second among Wild defencemen in power play ice time per game, being their only defenceman not named Suter with at least two minutes a game on the man advantage. While Suter will undoubtedly be their top option on the PP, I think there’s debate who will skate with him. The Wild frequently ran a one-defenceman power play, with Suter as that defenceman. It’s worth noting that Dumba was the next-most used defenceman with Suter, ahead of Jared Spurgeon. I will note that Spurgeon was used almost exclusively with Suter in the playoffs, so what the new coaching staff decides to do here is uncertain. It is worth noting that over the last three months as well, Dumba played over 18 minutes a game. That wasn’t under Bruce Boudreau, but at least John Torchetti had faith in him.

It is worth giving a look to Dumba late in drafts, though, particularly in deeper leagues. There is already evidence that Dumba is a second pair defenceman, and doing so at a young age with his limited experience is impressive. He is a right shot on the point that the Wild can use, and is improving. He’s nothing more than a bench option in most fantasy leagues at this point, so don’t draft him as a starter unless it’s a deep league. If he slides, though, he’s a bench option with upside. 

*Stats from Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, and Puckalytics. Heat Map from Sporting Charts