A couple of Ramblings ago, I discussed a few players that were busts in the fantasy game last year, why they were busts, and the lessons that can be learned from those players. As always, it is important to understand what happened in the past to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Understanding that hockey is a reasonably random sport helps in this regard as anything can happen in a single season: David Clarkson scoring 30 goals; Semyon Varlamov posting a .927 save percentage and finishing runner-up for the Vezina Trophy; Justin Schultz cracking 50 points. Predicting such seasons historically non-productive players would have been near-impossible, and it speaks to the randomness of a single campaign.
Sometimes players succeed because of this randomness. In Saturday’s Ramblings, one such player with a career year was covered and his success was the result of such randomness. These types of seasons are not the focus of this Ramblings. Rather, I wanted to look at players that succeeded in the fantasy game in 2016-17, and did so because there were indicators from prior seasons pointing to a solid year.
To avoid duplications, I will not use players I have discussed in my team-by-team reviews this season.
I skipped Arvidsson in my Nashville review because I figured there’d be a better opportunity to discuss his season. It’s one worth remembering, and if there was a season in recent memory that screams “PAY ATTENTION TO THIS TYPE OF PLAYER IN FANTASY HOCKEY,” it’s the season Arvidsson just had.
With just 62 games played, including eight goals, at the NHL level going into an age-23 season can often mean that the player is not going to be very fantasy-relevant. However, Arvidsson was a different type of player. Though he skated in just 56 games in 2015-16, the young Swede showed promise by leading the team in shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five. He finished top-5 among all forwards with at least 500 minutes played in that campaign, and each player ahead of him had at least one 30-goal season to their name, and had Evander Kane stayed healthy, multiple 20-goal seasons.
Now, taking a lot of shots alone doesn’t guarantee a 30-goal, 60-point breakout season. If you look at that list of players linked in the previous paragraph, you see names like Dustin Brown and Nazem Kadri. Kadri would eventually have a huge year in 2016-17, and that did give us an indicator, but taking a lot of shots didn’t give him significant production success in 2015-16. Most of those names, though, did find success.
The other side of the coin is that ice time is necessary. It’s good to be among the league leaders in shot rate, but if you’re stuck on the third line and second power-play unit, a fantasy breakout probably isn’t going to happen. Remember, too, that it took subpar performances from other players for Arvidsson to move up the lineup – the first game of the season had James Neal and Filip Forsberg in the top-six, but also Colin Wilson and Kevin Fiala. Arvidsson was only given 14 minutes of ice time per game in October. Had Fiala found early consistency, and Wilson not floundered at the start of the year, maybe this breakout doesn’t happen.
But that’s the whole point, here. It’s finding guys like Arvidsson who will be lottery tickets at the draft table, and hope they earn the ice time necessary for the breakout. If they don’t, not much is lost. If they do, it can be a draft selection that puts you over the top for a fantasy title.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to bet on lottery tickets with high shot rates.
A 39-point season might not be considered a breakout, but finishing with as many points as Mark Giordano and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and surpassing Tyson Barrie, Justin Faulk, and John Carlson is solid enough, especially given his 2016 ADP. In multi-category leagues, Martinez finished with 15 power-play points, and exceeded 310 combined hits-plus-blocked-shots for the second consecutive season. His minus-17 rating would certainly hurt in such a format, but there aren’t many leagues where he wasn’t fantasy-relevant. That’s a good year for a defenceman outside the top pair on the depth chart of a low-scoring team.
One thing that is always difficult to figure out is goal-scoring defencemen. Sometimes they shoot nine percent, sometimes five percent, sometimes it’s two percent (shout out to Torey Krug’s last four seasons). Martinez, over his first six full campaigns, shot an even eight percent. He also led defencemen with at least 275 games played and under 6000 total minutes of ice time in that span by a significant margin. He led Los Angeles d-men in goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five in 2014-15, and he finished second in 2015-16. His conversion rate is an outlier, but over six seasons, it’s tough to not believe in that outlier.
Curiously enough, it wasn’t an outburst of goals that led to his breakout, it was assists, as he set a career-high with 30, nine better than his previous high. Part of it was additional ice time, part of it was his second assist rate rebounding, and part of it was a bit more of a presence on the power play. Some things went right for him, and he ended up having a career year.
Remember when I spoke earlier about randomness? This is part of that randomness, but this wasn’t a bad offensive player who came out of nowhere. This was a player who, over the course of six years, showed the ability to score from the blue line, and led Kings d-men from 2014 through 2016 in primary points (goals plus primary assists) per minute. His low secondary assist rate from 2015-16 at both five-on-five and on the power-play rebounded last year, and a solid offensive defenceman with a solid offensive season was the reward.
Lesson: Dig deeper for underutilized offensive defencemen, and take a gamble with a late-round pick.
It doesn’t take much to skew the reputation of a goaltender. Going into the 2015-16 season, Bobrovsky was a Vezina Trophy winner and, to that point in his career, was a .918 save percentage goalie in all situations. That’s solid for a goaltender going into his 27-year-old season, and solid in the fantasy game as well.
The 2015-16 season was a disaster for him. Not only did injuries limit his appearances, but the performance when he was on the ice was abysmal: his .908 save percentage in all situations was outside the top-30 qualified goalies, and lower than Cam Ward and Karri Ramo. By measures such as high-danger save percentage and adjusted goals against average, he was well below average. The team missed the playoffs, he was bad, and missed time due to injury. It was inevitable he’d be overlooked come drafts in September of 2016.
He was, however, outstanding in 2016-17.
That one year in 2015-16 was absolutely horrific, except by those other measures I mentioned above, he was still average over the three seasons from 2013-16. Think about that: he performed poorly for one season (albeit it was just 37 starts), and yet was league-average over a span of three seasons including 2013-14 and 2014-15. To visualize this, here are two graphics from Ian Fleming’s site Dispelling Voodoo. The first graphic is from his 2015-16 season, the second is his three-year average from 2013-16.
If he was bad for one year, and average over three years, that tells us he was above-average in the two other seasons. It was also a sample of 37 started compared to 106. All signs pointed to Bobrovsky being a good goaltender, but the victim of one bad year where everything went wrong.
Everything went right last year.
There will be regression of course, and he may not live up to the ADP this year (he’s probably going to go in the first round of a 12-team league, right?) This is the problem with overvaluing one year. Recency bias means people will weight the events freshest in their memory, and people even do that when weighting statistical models, but years of good performance shouldn’t be wiped out by one year of bad performance.
Lesson: Don’t put too much stock into the most recent seasons, particularly among goalies. Let other people do that, and reap the value at the draft table.
As with the bust list I did a few days ago, I thought it worthwhile to name a few players I’ll be targeting that could be primed for a breakout.
One guess as to who led the league in individual shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five last year among all forwards with at least 800 minutes played. It should be easy to guess, considering the titular player here. Those weren’t just wasted shots, either, as Gallagher finished 12th among forwards in high-danger shot attempts (HDCF) per 60 minutes as well, via Natural Stattrick. Out of the top-15 forwards in HDCF, Gallagher had the lowest shooting percentage at 5.59 percent, the next-closest was Patric Hornqvist at 6.36 percent, and no one else was below 8.25 percent.
This bears out, by the way, in his 5v5 shot map from HockeyViz:
With Alex Radulov gone from the team, Gallagher should be the top-line right winger. That means more ice time, and hopefully prime power-play minutes. He was drafted outside the top-100 last year in most leagues, and will probably fall this year because of his 2016-17. Buy in.
My hope is that people will just look at the raw totals (33 points) and don’t think he’s worth drafting. Maybe they’re worried about Dustin Byfuglien eating into productive ice time. Keep this in mind: he was fifth among all d-men last year in points per 60 minutes at five-on-five (minimum of 1000 minutes played). Typically, that could mean a heap of secondary assists, but his primary points per 60 minutes (0.78) was in line with guys like Victor Hedman (0.81), Roman Josi (0.73), and Byfuglien himself (0.7).
That 1.30 points per 60 minutes is an aberration, as he’s typically been around 0.6 over the previous two yeas. That number from 2016-17 will undoubtedly decline. However, he was given a significant jump in ice time, and an additional 20 games (remember he played just 60 last year) could mitigate a lot of that regression.
Trouba was also among the league leaders in shot attempts per minute at five-on-five last season.
Too many cooks can be a problem, but we’ve seen teams have solid fantasy seasons from multiple defencemen (Calgary, Los Angeles, Nashville to name a few). Without those prime PP minutes, a full-fledged breakout isn’t coming, but I don’t think he gets the credit for being the talented offensive player he is because of how good he is defensively. He differs from Martinez in that sense, but he’ll be cheap come draft day regardless, and has 40-point potential in 2017-18.
Everything written earlier about not overvaluing one bad season from a goalie? That fits Schneider to a tee.
Again, going back to Mr. Fleming’s Dispelling Voodoo, from 2013-16, Schneider’s HDSV% and adjGSAA were similar to another elite goalie over that stretch: Henrik Lundqvist. That all came crashing down in 2016-17 when Schneider posted a .908 save percentage in 59 starts. Keep in mind that over his 249 starts from 2010 through 2016, he posted a .926 save percentage.
Perhaps it was the adjustment to a somewhat new roster. Perhaps he was fighting injury. Perhaps he just had one bad season. But there is a lot of data supporting the fact that Schneider was an elite goalie who had one bad year. He is 31 years old now, and decline is somewhat of a concern, but he shouldn’t fall off a cliff like this in one year. Wins will be hard to come by playing for New Jersey, but he should post very solid peripherals, and I’ll be thrilled if I can grab him as my second goalie on fantasy rosters this year.
- Top 100 Keeper League Goaltenders - September 2017
- Ramblings: Training Camp Notes; Power Play Increase - September 21
- Ramblings: Preseason Check Ins, Colin White and more (Sept.20)
- Dobber's Offseason Fantasy Grades: Vancouver Canucks
- Dobber's Offseason Fantasy Grades: Vegas Golden Knights
- Capped: Thoughts on Contract Situations Around the League
- Cage Match: Jaccob Slavin vs. Nikita Zaitsev
- Ramblings: Torey Krug's out, and more preseason analysis (Sept. 22)