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More on Ryan Malone, the arbitration curse myth; disguised PDO; and “nappers”

 

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I’m back for another Tuesday Ramblings – my first time in the doldrums of August. All these years when Dobber and Angus led off August Ramblings with gripes about no fantasy news being out there I thought they might be exaggerating; but now I’m seeing firsthand there really is a whole lot of nothing fantasy-related happening these days…….

 

And while I’ll still do my best to fill your fantasy plate, keep in mind that even if I fall short there’s no excuse for anyone starving for fantasy-relevant info this time of year – not with the DobberHockey 2014 Fantasy Hockey Guide available now and featuring, among other stellar content, my list of 10 “category killers” (50 total) who will drag down your team in each of Hits, Blocked Shots, Shots, PP points, and Faceoff %.

 

Just try and find a competitive league where somebody won last year despite not buying this Guide. And if you happen to actually locate one, then join it – and win!

 

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One place you can go for content this month is the nhl.com “30 in 30” page, where each of the NHL’s 30 teams is given a preview. Of course this isn’t being done with a fantasy emphasis; but it’s nevertheless a decent item to put on your to do list each day, if for no other reason than to keep yourself well versed on roster changes and to see quotes from management.

 

But at the same time, as if we needed more of a reminder that nhl.com remains behind the times for fantasy, take a look at this article where a team is assembled with the best fantasy seasons of the past decade. Not a single word about Hits or Blocked Shots…..

 

On a somewhat related note, I’m picking January 2016 as the over/under date in terms of when we see nhl.com regularly cover advanced metrics like Corsi, Fenwick, or PDO (more on PDO below).

 

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Lest you think nhl.com is an entirely poor resource, I actually like some content quite a bit. For example, in the player stats area if you click on a player, you’ll see a tab for “Splits,” where you can get breakdowns on how that player performed against certain teams and during certain time periods.

 

Also, there’s great behind the scenes videos, including some that’ve begun to appear from the 2014 offseason. Beyond being a fun way to pass time, checking out clips like these also can illuminate the business of “real” hockey (i.e., drafting, trades) in ways that also translate to fantasy hockey.

 

Here are a few links (sorry - couldn't get embedding to work):

 

Oliers drafting: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=627230&site=oilers

 

Panthers drafting (part one of four): http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=628790&site=panthers

 

Blue Jackets drafting: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=628491&site=bluejackets

 

James Neal / Patrick Hornqvist trade: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=627845&site=predators

 

Ryan Kesler trade: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=628740&site=canucks

 

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Yesterday, word came out that the legal mess involving Ryan Malone has been continued, apparently to allow more time to hammer out a plea.

 

I forget that Malone is already 34 years old, as his NHL debut came six seasons after he was drafted. Could he somehow manage a camp invite, assuming he doesn’t get jail time? Yes. Do I think he could parlay that into an actual deal? Quite possibly, what with the likes of Radek Dvorak, Jeff Halpern, and Ryan Whitney earning contracts in 2013.

 

And guess what – if he lands on a team willing to give him a real shot, then the situation bears watching. My take is the combination of guaranteed money and whatever junk he was putting into his system led to him underperforming and exacerbated his injury woes. But with those things hopefully behind him, maybe – just maybe – he’ll be dedicated enough to put up decent points on the right team.

 

Overall, I’d put the odds of Malone being on an NHL roster by October at just over 50%, in which case the odds of 20+ points would be 60%, with 35+ points being 30%.

 

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Not fantasy-related, but great to see that the LA Kings will retire Rob Blake’s jersey/sweater in January. Many might forget that Blake posted 75 points in his last 143 NHL games at age 39/40. That translates to a 43 point full season pace, which would’ve put him tied for 17th in 2013-14 d-man scoring. Not too shabby at all.

 

This raises the question of who’s the Rob Blake of today’s NHL. For one, it’d have to be a guy who actually gets goals, as Blake lit the lamp to tally 240 of his 777 career points. And it couldn’t be a former blue chipper, as Blake wasn’t drafted until 70th overall. And of course he’d have to be a born leader. Really the only players who come close to fitting all those criteria are Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber; and I’m guessing that neither Blake nor Weber or Chara would be unhappy to hear the comparison.

 

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Who among you thought everything that needed to be said about 2014 arbitration already had been? Okay, everyone put their hands down.

 

Don’t worry – this won’t be another diatribe about how the process (which once upon a time not only resulted in actual hearings, but decided important contracts) has essentially morphed into a looming threat that almost never materializes.

 

What I want to focus on is the arguably more fantasy-impacting question of whether arbitration has a negative effect on a player’s performance (hi Tommy Salo!). Remember that even if a settlement is reached, a player still gets to see his team’s brief unless agreement occurs more than 48 hours before the actual hearing. And it’s in those briefs where a team presents sometimes brutally one sided support for the case it intends to present at the hearing.

 

So I decided to examine the players who went at least as far as having hearings scheduled in 2013, 2012, and 2011 to see if anyone’s stats suffered despite settling in advance of a hearing. And guess what – as a whole, most seemed no worse for wear; and some have already gone on to establish new career highs.

 

Take Blake Wheeler, who posted 64 points in 2011 and 69 in 2013, each time after settling. And in 2013 Mats Zuccarello and Bryan Little both settled and then posted career highs in points. Sure – the 2013 settlers also included disappointments like Sam Gagner and Zach Bogosian, although neither of them had been doing much better in previous seasons.

 

For 2012, there were settlers like T.J. Oshie, Anton Stralman, David Perron and Nick Bonino, who’ve all since gone on to do quite well, and no one (other than perhaps Nikolai Kulemin) who’s regressed significantly in terms of fantasy relevance. And looking back at 2011 there were some big names who’ve since stumbled (Zach Parise, Ryan Callahan), but also others who’ve clearly elevated their game (Andrej Sekera, Alex Martinez, Teddy Purcell, Brandon Dubinsky, Andrew Cogliano).

 

Of course to some degree better subsequent performance has to do with arbitration often occurring when a player is young enough to be on the cusp of a breakout. But still, the overall takeaway is if you own a player who filed for arbitration in 2014 and then settled (even after briefs were exchanged), you shouldn’t worry about lingering hard feelings likely hurting his play. And he just might emerge from the process ready to produce much better going forward.

 

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Time for another edition of my Tuesday Ramblings trademark: examining advanced metrics and showing how they can help you. This time I’ll tackle PDO, which equals shooting percentage plus save percentage for a team as a whole, or for player in terms of only while he’s on the ice.

 

In 2013-14, 5x5 PDOs for teams ranged from 1025 (Boston) to 980 (Florida), although if you remove the top five and bottom five, the gap is smaller (Columbus was 6th at 1008, Nashville 25th at 989). On a player level, at 5x5 there’s a somewhat wider gap between the highest and lowest PDOs versus team PDOs, although the vast majority of NHLers fall in the range of 970-1030. In fact, looking at the 523 skaters who played 50+ games during 2013-14, roughly 85% had a PDO in the 970-1030 range.

 

In my research, I decided to focus on which of these 85% had what I’d consider an abnormal PDO despite it not falling outside of the 970-1030 range. These are players who put up either a comparatively much higher or much lower PDO than their team PDO and, therefore, in my mind are just as likely to see their stats normalize (for better or worse) as those with purely high (>1030) or low (<970) player PDOs.

 

Here are the ten players who each had a 5x5 player PDO within the 970 to 1030 range and finished among the top three scorers on their particular team in 2013-14, yet whose 5x5 player PDO also was at least 20 greater than his team’s 5x5 PDO:

 

Craig Smith (his PDO was 28 greater than his team’s PDO); Chris Kunitz (28 greater); Anze Kopitar (27 greater); Joe Pavelski (26 greater); Jamie Benn (24 greater); Joel Ward (24 greater), Jaromir Jagr (23 greater), David Desharnais (23 greater), Scott Upshall (21 greater); John Tavares (20 greater)

 

And here are the seven players who each had a 5x5 player PDO within the 970 to 1030 range and finished among the top three scorers on their particular team in 2013-14, yet whose 5x5 player PDO also was at least 15 lower than his team’s 5x5 PDO:

 

Mikko Koivu (his PDO was 39 less than his team’s PDO); Ryan Kesler (21 less); Ryan O’Reilly (20 less); Nicklas Backstrom (20 less); Jason Spezza (19 less); Alex Steen (17 less); Brad Richards (15 less)

 

As far as takeaways from the lists, owners of Smith, Ward, and Upshall should be especially concerned with points regression given their track records. It’s not good to see a guy like Jagr on the 20+ list, as when fortysomethings come back to earth it’s usually with a crashing thud.

 

And while Kunitz, Benn and Kopitar are proven commodities whose owners shouldn’t be concerned about a big drop in production this season, the same can’t be said for Pavelski, who could see his total dip back into the 60s. Tavares’ PDO might be skewed by small sample size, while Desharnais probably will be fine to count on producing comparable numbers, especially when his overall 2013-14 total was weighed down by his dreadful first 20 or so games.

 

The inclusion of Spezza and Backstrom on the second list is a bit misleading, since each had great success on the PP in 2013-14; so in the end a slightly lower PP production and a slightly higher 5x5 production based on a higher PDO could end up being a wash. And a guy like O’Reilly probably isn’t in line for a big increase despite his much lower personal PDO, due to Colorado’s depth at forward and evenly spread ice time.

 

Meanwhile, Kesler and Koivu look like good bets to really bounce back given their talent and situation. As far as Richards, I’ll make this one Ramblings where I don’t rip him to shreds…………..psych!

 

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I wanted to again thank those who voted in the recent Cage Match Tournament to crown fantasy hockey’s most frustrating player. What started with 32 players (eight in four brackets – goalies, band-aid boys, “what have you done for me lately guys”, and the rest of the worst) ended up with the “winner” being Mike Green, who defeated Cam Ward in the final.

 

Some of you who followed the tourney might’ve chuckled at my notion that the voting results actually were fantasy-relevant. But the reality is both the duration and severity of an owner’s frustration with a player on his roster can influence that player’s value in addition to “by the numbers” data.

 

Interestingly, we should resist the temptation to assume that the more frustrating a player is and/or the longer period of time he’s been frustrating automatically means the price to obtain that player from his owner might be artificially low. In fact, it might be just the opposite.

 

For one, some players are frustrating in large part because their owner traded for or drafted them at the peak of their value, which has since gone down. There, the price to get them might be artificially high, since the owner (sub)consciously wants to try to salvage a reasonable return on investment.

 

Plus, what’s the only thing arguably more frustrating about a player than the frustration he causes you when you own him? That would be trading him, only to then see him do great or bounce back. And whether they realize it or not, many owners have that fear at least in the back of their mind, and thus the price to get one of their “frustrating” players often ends up being artificially high.

 

The question is whether any of the 32 players from the tournament might be in a frustration sweet spot, where an owner is frustrated enough to undervalue them yet without being so frustrated as to create an artificially high price to get them in trade? I say yes, and it’d be mostly the players who finished in the middle of the pack in their brackets during the round one voting: Steve Mason, Cory Schneider, Jimmy Howard, Jeff Skinner, Jason Spezza, Nathan Horton, Alex Semin, Dion Phaneuf, Daniel Sedin, Patrick Berglund, Ryan Suter, Steve Downie.

 

Some of those guys (like Schneider, Spezza, Downie) will be hard to pry away, since on paper their situation looks to be significantly improved going into this season. But the others likely have been frustrating enough, and for long enough, to perhaps get at a discount if you think they’re going to do better going forward. Of course buyer beware – these guys got votes for a reason…….

 

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One great thing about the DobberHockey Fantasy Guide is it gives a sleeper percentage, since with some players – especially younger ones – the stars could align and they could break out and blow away what were reasonable scoring predictions going into the season. I like this concept a lot, and it’s one I definitely focus on.

 

But I also make sure not to get overly obsessed with a player’s breakout potential, since in reality there end up being maybe just a couple of legitimate breakouts per season (last year I’d say it was Kyle Okposo, Gustav Nyqvist, and Ben Bishop) despite several dozen players being pegged during pre-season as likely breakout candidates. And look at Okposo and Nyquist – both of them had been tabbed as breakout candidates in at least one previous season, which shows even when a breakout occurs, it could be after a player had fallen short of a similar past prediction.

 

Why do I raise this? Because it helps illustrate why – especially in one year leagues – it’s a better to focus on guys who won’t have a big breakout, but who could end up giving you a bit more value than you expected while……..most importantly…..offering you as close to zero downside as you can get in fantasy hockey these days. And the beauty is you can often get these guys for a very reasonable cost, since they’re not “sexy” picks.

 

Be sure to keep the following five guys – let’s call them “nappers” rather than “sleepers” - in mind on draft day, or to acquire in trade.

 

Matt Read – Poolies will focus on Michael Raffl or Jason Akeson as breakout candidates. But if they don’t break out, then they’ll likely finish with fewer than 25 points. Meanwhile, Read has already shown steady production and is entering his magical fourth year just when Scott Hartnell’s vacated top six spot is up for grabs. Read should be able to sleepwalk to 45 points but actually might finally climb into the 50s or even hit 60.

 

Nazem Kadri – Many will be turned off by his drop to 50 points last season (including only eight in his final 21 games and down from a 75 point pace in 2012-13). But that might allow him to be drafted or traded for with a 45-50 point value; and he should be able to coast to that output, with a very realistic shot at climbing to 60.

 

Clarke MacArthur – if your league is like mine, MacArthur is one of those guys who no one trusts enough to draft for 50 point value despite the fact that he’s posted an average of 53 points in his past three full seasons. Remember his name once everyone in your league starts reaching for long shots, and then sit back and enjoy his automatic 45-50 points, with a shot at returning to 60+.

 

Nathan Horton – With all the fanfare in Columbus surrounding Hartnell’s arrival, Brandon Dubinsky’s megadeal, and what will happen with RFA Ryan Johansen, Horton feels like an afterthought. But guess what – he scored at a 60+ point pace in his third season in Florida and in his second with the Bruins, so he has a track record of producing once he gets his feet wet. And his 2014-15 cap hit is the highest of any Blue Jacket forward, which means he’s locked into prime ice time at even strength and on the PP.

 

Travis Zajac – Last season Zajac had perhaps the quietest 48 points (more than Brandon Saad, Derick Brassard, or Cody Hodgson by the way) in the NHL. And sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s still only 29. The keys to remember are he’s a center (where the Devils have poor depth) and makes in excess of $40M between now and 2021. Together, that means he’ll get plenty of ice time this season, making it very easy to predict at least another 45+ points, with a decent shot at 55+.

 

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Lastly, I want to use this space to pay small tribute to the late Robin Williams. His comedy wasn’t always my cup of tea; but there’s no denying he was a genius who – at one point or another - touched the lives of probably everyone reading this. I’m actually a big fan of his dramatic role in One Hour Photo. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it:

 

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Comments  

#7 RizzeeDizzee 2014-08-12 16:30
@Shenanigans - thanks; glad to hear you enjoyed it.

@keytolife - I really liked all those videos. The Panthers ones (all four parts) were more in depth than the others, but I also marvel at watching Jarmo Kekalainen of Columbus. With him at the helm, Columbus has a bright future. I also stick by what I say about the Guide. Anyone who's not getting it is putting him or herself in a poor position in relation to those in his/her league who do, since the Guide is so detailed and has so much in it that's vastly different - yet still valuable - compared to the more "cookie cutter" content of other Guides.
#6 keytolife 2014-08-12 14:57
Awesome ramblings man. Special thank you for the behind the scenes Panthers stuff.

But with that intro i need to pin you to the wall and invite you the moment a spot opens up in my favorite league and see how you do against several guys that didn´t buy the guide:)
#5 Shenanigans 2014-08-12 13:45
For a mid-summer ramblings.. you knocked that outta the park ! Nice job, Mr.Roos.
#4 RizzeeDizzee 2014-08-12 12:41
@RememberRobita ille, donpaulo, and gfunkb7 - I really appreciate the kind words, and am glad to see that different parts of the Ramblings resonated with you.
#3 gfunkb7 2014-08-12 12:35
I appreciated your thoughts on arbitration and will likely put an asterix next to several RFA-given contracts players.
#2 donpaulo 2014-08-12 12:16
WOW fantastic stuff ! Thanks Rick
#1 RememberRobitaille 2014-08-12 04:40
Very impressive ramblings for this "slow" time of year, Rick. Particularly like the section on the nappers.

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