Oliver Ekman-Larsson vs. Jake Muzzin

by Rick Roos on February 4, 2015 | (0 Comments)

OliverEkman-Larsson

 

Why Oliver Ekman-Larsson is not as strong a fantasy option as you think...

 

It’s time for our first defenseman battle of 2015, with Jake Muzzin facing Oliver Ekman-Larsson (“OEL”). Does either one having the makings of a true 50-point d-man, and who’ll give your fantasy team a bigger boost this season and beyond? Clear the blue line – Cage Match starts now!

 

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

 

Despite Muzzin being more than two years older (25, vs. 23), he’d played in only half as many NHL games as OEL prior to this season. Much of that had to do with Muzzin (5th rounder in 2007) spending three extra seasons in the OHL after being drafted, then playing 117 AHL games between 2010 and 2012 versus just 11 NHL games. In fact, last season was Muzzin’s first full NHL campaign, and he produced only eight more points in 31 extra games versus 2012-13.

In contrast, OEL was a top draft pick (6th overall in 2009) who logged 48 NHL games in 2010-11 and has been an NHL mainstay ever since. After opening the eyes of poolies with 32 points in 2011-12 (including 13 goals -5th best among defensemen), he reached the 0.5 points per game mark in 2012-13. But he’s still yet to hit 45 points in a season, and is presently just below a 40 point pace for 2014-15.

In 2015-16, Muzzin will begin a five year contract with a $4M AAV, while OEL is currently on year two of a six year deal that counts $5.5M per season against the cap.

 

Ice Time (data in this and other tables reflects games through February 1st)

Muzzin played only 11 NHL games in 2011-12, so we won’t chart his data from that season.

 

Season

Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen

2014-15

23:20 (J.M.) – 2nd

25:11 (OEL) – 1st

3:07 (J.M.) – 2nd

4:08 (OEL) – 2nd

0:46 (J.M.) – 8th

2:54 (OEL) – 2nd

2013-14

19:01 (J.M.) – 4th

25:53 (OEL) – 1st

2:24 (J.M.) – 3rd

4:05 (OEL) – 2nd

0:26 (J.M.) – 7th

2:51 (OEL) – 2nd

2012-13

17:53 (J.M.) – 5th

25:05 (OEL) – 1st

2:15 (J.M.) – 2nd

3:40 (OEL) – 1st

0:02 (J.M.) – 9th

3:00 (OEL) – 1st

2011-12

22:06 (OEL) – 2nd

2:04 (OEL) – 2nd (tied)

1:25 (OEL) – 6th

 

OEL’s Total and PP Ice Time numbers have held fairly consistent since 2012-13, and they’re great. How great? Only three rearguards (him, Ryan Suter, Erik Karlsson) have averaged 25:00+ of Total Ice Time and 3:40+ of PP Ice Time for this season and in each of the past two.

But he’s failed to translate all that Ice Time into more than a 40-45 point scoring pace. And with Arizona having finished 19th in goals in 2012-13 and 2013-14, things can’t be blamed entirely on the team around him. Plus, although Keith Yandle is a scoring blueliner, there’s room for two productive d-men on the same roster, what with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter (when both were on Nashville), Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook being examples of teammates who both posted 45+ points in the same season since 2010-11.

One major issue is OEL being a fixture among the top 35 NHL d-men in SH Ice Time. Looking at 2013-14 for example, OEL’s 44 points was the third highest among the top 35, with only Alex Pietrangelo and Niklas Kronwall also managing to finish above 40 points. If – as expected given his Ice Time trends - OEL continues being pressed into roughly 3:00 of SH duty per game, he’ll find it extremely difficult to hit 50 points, and perhaps be challenged to even surpass 45.

Muzzin’s Ice Time trends are encouraging; however, unlike OEL, it’s far from a lock that they’ll continue. On the one hand, the fact that Muzzin has responded by posting solid numbers (45 point current pace) makes it objectively less likely he’ll see his Ice Time go down; however, this happened while top four rearguard Slava Voynov was unexpectedly sidelined, as opposed to organically. Moreover, the Kings just signed Alec Martinez to a similar long term deal, and he still trails Muzzin by 2:30 in Total Ice Time per game; so if Martinez continues to receive more Ice Time, it could be partially at the expense of Muzzin.

Beyond those factors, the Kings might add another top d-man at this year’s deadline, perhaps even one who wouldn’t be a brief rental before leaving as a UFA over the summer. In short, there are as many – if not more – realistic scenarios where Muzzin’s Ice Time could drop in 2015-16 as there are that it would hold steady or rise further.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2014-15

0.28 (J.M.)

0.48 (OEL)

2.79 (J.M.)

1.90 (OEL)

1.49 (J.M.)

1.00 (OEL)

2.46 (J.M.)

3.34 (OEL)

0.21 (J.M.)

0.24 (OEL)

2013-14

0.76 (J.M.)

0.62 (OEL)

2.22 (J.M.)

1.67 (OEL)

1.08 (J.M.)

1.00 (OEL)

2.30 (J.M.)

2.48 (OEL)

0.06 (J.M.)

0.27 (OEL)

2012-13

0.77 (J.M.)

0.54 (OEL)

1.55 (J.M.)

1.52 (OEL)

0.64 (J.M.)

0.83 (OEL)

1.71 (J.M.)

2.10 (OEL)

0.15 (J.M.)

0.16 (OEL)

2011-12

0.39 (OEL)

1.70 (OEL)

1.12 (OEL)

1.79 (OEL)

0.09 (OEL)

 

Muzzin’s Hits, Blocked Shots, and Shots have impressively climbed each year. Oddly, his PIM are down a lot in 2014-15 and his PP Points have gone up and down, but are trending back up. The dip in his PP Points – and points overall – in 2013-14 seems like more of an outlier, especially since his Shots total was up quite a bit. We’ll see if bad luck might’ve been a culprit.

OEL’s data is somewhat surprising, as despite his points being stuck in neutral his Shots have jumped each season and his PP Points this season and last. Although SH Ice Time is a negative influence, perhaps part of the answer lies in luck-based metrics? We’ll check below.

And while Muzzin is a Hits and Blocked Shots machine (Cody Franson is the only defensemen scoring at a 0.5 points pace for 2014-15 with both more Hits and more Blocked Shots), OEL is no slouch either. And unlike Muzzin, OEL’s PIM seem to be holding steady. The secondary category production and stability offered by OEL is nice to rely upon, since although Muzzin has better output in Hits and Blocked Shots it’s not clear he’ll be able to continue his pace or whether, instead, they might fall, ala his PIM.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

PDO (5x5)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

IPP (5x5)

IPP (5x4)

2014-15

951 (J.M.)

972 (OEL)

56.7% (J.M.)

46.0% (OEL)

56.0% (J.M.)

34.5% (OEL)

57.1% (J.M.)

47.8% (OEL)

2013-14

994 (J.M.)

998 (OEL)

58.0% (J.M.)

48.7% (OEL)

39.0% (J.M.)

44.2% (OEL)

38.5% (J.M.)

51.2% (OEL)

2012-13

1018 (J.M.)

1022 (OEL)

61.0% (J.M.)

45.8% (OEL)

28.1% (J.M.)

42.4% (OEL)

63.6% (J.M.)

44.4% (OEL)

2011-12

1008 (OEL)

48.5% (OEL)

41.5% (OEL)

41.2% (OEL)

 

The number that immediately jumps out is Muzzin’s 951 PDO for 2014-15, which puts him 117th among 119 NHL defenseman who’ve played 40+ games. But before we rush to assume that makes him due for a big points jump, we also can see his 2014-15 IPP numbers are both above 55%, meaning the good luck he’s getting in that area at least somewhat offsets the PDO bad luck.

Otherwise, Muzzin’s PDO has fallen within the 970-1030 normal range and his 5x4 plus 5x5 IPP numbers have been in the generally normal range of 80% to 100%. The exception was last season, where each IPP was below 40%. But even if both had been 45% instead it would’ve meant a total of only three more points, taking him to 27 in 76 games rather than only 24.

We can also see Muzzin’s Offensive Zone Starting % is extremely high for a defenseman; in fact, he’s been in the top fifteen overall among defensemen each year. Although his scoring has increased despite that percentage dropping from 61.0% in 2012-13 (second highest among NHL defensemen who played 40+ games) to 56.7% this season (12th highest), the real concern is if/when it gets closer to or even below 50%, that could curtail his production or at least function to effectively put a ceiling on it.

As for OEL, his IPP numbers are low for 2014-15, but no lower than Muzzin’s were for 2013-14. What really sticks out is OEL’s consistently low Offensive Zone Starting %. That, like his SH Ice Time, is a source of serious concern, since it also acts as a points ceiling. Let’s safely assume OEL stays below 47.0% this season; in that case, he’ll face a further uphill battle to top his career best of 44 points, as among the 53 blueliners who played in 60+ games during 2013-14 and had an offensive zone starting % of 47.0% or lower, only two (Shea Weber and Mark Giordano) posted more than 44 points.

 

Actual vs. Perceived Value

In Yahoo leagues, OEL was selected in 100% of all drafts as, on average, the 9th defenseman, while Muzzin was the 45th blueliner taken on average and was drafted in 90% of all leagues. Fast forward to now, and OEL is still owned in 95% of Yahoo leagues but rated as only the 21st best defenseman, while Muzzin is down to only 51% ownership but still rated 44th.

Thus, despite Muzzin’s pace in points and some secondary categories not only marking a personal best but also being better than OEL’s current projections, his perceived value trails OEL’s by a wide margin, with OEL still being treated by poolies as a top d-man even though his numbers arguably don’t support that valuation.

 

Who Wins?

OEL is among the most “steady eddie” players out there. On the plus side, that brings with it consistently high Ice Time and excellent output in some secondary categories. Unfortunately, it also means he’s stuck producing at a 40-45 point level due to his excessive SH duty and his low offensive zone starting %. And we have to keep in mind that just having one of the SH duty or offensive zone starting percentage problems alone would make it difficult for OEL to tally 45 points; but unlike any other 45+ point d-man from 2013-14, he actually has both factors working against him!

What makes the situation even worse is his standing in the eyes of poolies remains very high despite these negative factors, such that his actual value now trails his perceived value quite considerably. And although many think OEL’s production should skyrocket if/when Keith Yandle leaves town, the issue is Yandle’s presence most likely has little to no bearing on OEL’s SH Ice Time or offensive zone starting %. Plus, Yandle would be leaving just as Brandon Gormley (rated second among 35 blueliners in January’s Top 215 prospects) and Connor Murphy (17th) should be poised to swallow a big chunk of Yandle’s beneficial minutes, leaving OEL likely to continue in a similarly unfavorable role.

One key question is whether things would change if, as apparently could happen, OEL is traded. The answer is we don’t know, although it’s hard to imagine things would be worse (Edmonton?), as most likely he’d go to a team with better offense. But if he’s deployed in a similar role on a new team, as might be dictated by his contract and/or his “real hockey” value, then it could be déjà vu all over again.

The bottom line is OEL’s perceived value is much too high, resulting in him being treated more like a 50+ point d-man in one-year leagues, and perhaps even upwards of that in keepers. But those numbers just don’t seem achievable given how OEL is deployed and his importance in terms of “real hockey.” Put it this way – I think he’s on the fast track toward becoming the next Ryan Suter, whose huge minutes and name recognition prompt poolies to pay a premium for him even though he’s never topped the 46 point mark in his now ten year career.

As for Muzzin, it’s not clear if he’ll be able to retain the 23:00+ per game of Ice Time he’s receiving this season, at least a portion of which dropped into his lap. And not only is it possible the Kings will acquire a top four d-man to replace Voynov (or somehow that Voynov would return), there’s also the issue of Alec Martinez being ready to get more Ice Time. Even still, Muzzin is a multi-cat machine (better than OEL, who, admittedly, is no slouch), who’s producing without the benefit of unsustainable good luck. As a result, his perceived value is either on a par with his actual value, or perhaps still a bit below it, making him the winner of this Cage Match.

Given what the data revealed, I’ll go so far as to say that OEL owners should at least passively shop him, and look for a replacement who isn’t saddled with points-inhibiting responsibilities. Those who have Muzzin should hold, while those looking to acquire him might wait and hope the Kings add another top four d-man or Voynov somehow returns, since in either case you might be able to get Muzzin for a lot less despite him likely still being able to continue producing at or near his current 45 point level.

 

Chris Kreider vs. Jonathan Huberdeau      
Jonathan Toews vs. Logan Couture      
Vladimir Tarasenko vs. Jakub Voracek      

 

 

 

Comments are closed.