AnzeKopitar

 

Why Anze Kopitar is a better fantasy hockey own than Eric Staal...

 

This week’s match features Anze Kopitar and Eric Staal – two household names who find themselves scoring well below their career averages this season. Who’s the better own at this point, and will either still provide your team with good value in years to come?

 

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Staal was a former second overall draft pick (in 2003) who made his NHL debut the same year and will finish this season with right around 770 games played despite still being only 29 years old and having been impacted by two lockouts. Of course when you think of Staal, you can’t help but immediately recall his 100 point sophomore season; but as I noted in my first ever piece on DobberHockey and I also mentioned in a recent Cage Match article, his next highest full season total is 82, and those were the only two instances where he managed to finish a more than 70 game season with point per game numbers. That being said, this season will also mark the first time other than his rookie campaign where he won’t hit the 70 point mark in a full season.

Kopitar landed in LA only a year after being drafted (11th overall in 2005) and made an immediate impact, tallying 61 points in 71 games. Since then he’s been a model of consistency; in fact, only twice prior to this season has his total number of games played in a season been more than six beyond his total number of points scored in that same season. But remarkably, he’s also never actually ended any season (full or shortened) with point per game numbers.

Given their long term elite production, it’s no surprise that both players make a lot of money, with Staal being tied for fifth among all forwards in cap hit ($8.25M per season) and Kopitar not sitting that far back in seventeenth (at $6.8M/year). Both players’ deals are set to end after the 2015-16 campaign.

 

Ice Time (2013-14 through April 8th)

These are two undisputed #1 centers, so I figured going in that they’d each be tops among their respective team’s forwards in overall and PP Ice Time for each of these four seasons. Because of that, I decided to list how wide of a lead they had over whoever was in second place each year, to get an even better sense of their Ice Time trends.

 

Season

Total Ice Time per game (amount ahead of second highest forward)

PP Ice Time per game (amount ahead of second highest forward)

SH Ice Time (with rank among team’s forwards)

2013-14

20:57 (AK) – 1:54 ahead

20:21 (ES) – 0:22 ahead

3:25 (AK) – 0:06 ahead

3:27 (ES) – 2nd (by 0:02)

2:03 (AK) – 2nd

0:55 (ES) – 6th

2012-13

20:28 (AK) – 0:58 ahead

20:59 (ES) – 0:03 ahead

2:46 (AK) – 2nd (by 0:03)

3:33 (ES) – tied for 1st

1:29 (AK) – 3rd

1:12 (ES) – 4th

2011-12

21:20 (AK) – 1:10 ahead

21:32 (ES) – 2:55 ahead

3:24 (AK) – 0:04 ahead

3:38 (ES) – 0:17 ahead

2:14 (AK) – 1st

1:26 (ES) – 3rd

2010-11

21:35 (AK) – 2:13 ahead

21:56 (ES) – 3:29 ahead

3:37 (AK) – 0:40 ahead

4:27 (ES) – 0:59 ahead

2:03 (AK) – 2nd

1:24 (ES) – 4th (tied)

 

I guess I spoke too soon! Although each has indeed been the undisputed overall Ice Time leader on his respective team for this entire four year stretch, both had one or more season where they were only tied for the lead in PP Ice Time or were merely second among their team’s forwards.

One thing that jumps out is Staal’s overall Ice Time has decreased by 24 to 38 seconds each of the last three seasons. That sounds bad – and make no mistake, it isn’t good – but the end result has been a decrease of only around 7% in overall Ice Time in three years and a drop from the third highest Ice Time among all NHL forwards in 2010-11 to merely being 21st for 2013-14. Still quite respectable. Plus, Staal’s PP Ice Time has stabilized over the last two seasons, following a big drop from 2010-11 to 2011-12. And given how much Staal makes and the fact that he’s the Hurricanes captain, one would tend to figure that he’s already reached or is nearing the point at which his Ice Time will stop falling.

With Kopitar, things have been far more steady and consistent, other than a dip last season from which he’s apparently recovered. The only downside to Kopitar returning to familiar Ice Time numbers this season is his SH Ice Time is back above 2:00 per game, whereas Staal is now playing less than a minute per game on the penalty kill. In fact, Kopitar’s advantage over Staal in overall Ice Time for 2013-14 (Kopitar is tied for seventh among forwards within the entire NHL) is more than wiped out if you subtract non-beneficial SH Ice Time, which leaves Staal ahead at 19:26 versus Kopitar’s 18:54.

 

Secondary Categories (2013-14 through April 8th)

 

Season

PIMs (per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

Face-off % and FOW per game

2013-14

0.30 (AK)

0.98 (ES)

1.11 (AK)

0.78 (ES)

0.55 (AK)

0.36 (ES)

2.48 (AK)

2.82 (ES)

0.29 (AK)

0.16 (ES)

53.4%/9.44 (AK)

52.4%/9.62 (ES)

2012-13

0.34 (AK)

1.12 (ES)

1.49 (AK)

0.73 (ES)

0.53 (AK)

0.50 (ES)

2.08 (AK)

3.16 (ES)

0.34 (AK)

0.19 (ES)

53.3%/10.06 (AK)

52.0%/10.98 (ES)

2011-12

0.24 (AK)

0.58 (ES)

0.88 (AK)

0.58 (ES)

0.64 (AK)

0.42 (ES)

2.80 (AK)

3.19 (ES)

0.32 (AK)

0.28 (ES)

53.8%/9.30 (AK)

52.5%/10.75 (ES)

2010-11

0.26 (AK)

0.89 (ES)

1.22 (AK)

1.00 (ES)

0.60 (AK)

0.38 (ES)

3.10 (AK)

3.65 (ES)

0.24 (AK)

0.36 (ES)

49.9%/7.74 (AK)

48.0%/10.37 (ES)

 

Different stats, more downward trends for Staal, as his PP points per game average has dropped each season despite his PP Ice Time having held steady for the past three. That’s very troubling, and equally so is his Shots per game total having shrunk each season as well. On the small plus side, Staal’s feistiness has been on an upswing, as his PIMs have been essentially at or above one per game this season and last. But at the same time, his Hits per game have decreased by a comparable amount. Meanwhile, his Blocked Shots and Face-off averages have both held fairly steady.

Kopitar is mainly a “steady eddie” in these areas, with most everything but his Shots staying pretty consistent in all four seasons. His Hits spiked up last season; and although they’ve come back down to earth a bit in 2013-14, they’re still impressive for a skilled points producing center, much like Staal’s PIMs. And just as with Staal, we can see a correlation between reduced Shots and reduced output (in Kopitar’s case, for this season and last).

Overall, there are definitely more troublesome signs here for Staal than Kopitar. And one key takeaway is that both have added value in certain pools, with Staal giving your team a boost in leagues that count PIMs and Kopitar in leagues that factor in Hits. Also, both are in the top 15 overall for Face-off wins.

 

Luck-Based Metrics (2013-14 through March 30th)

In case you missed last week’s column, I’m now factoring in IPP, which stands for “Individual Points Percentage” and which measures how often a player earned a point when a goal was scored while he was on the ice. For example, if there were 100 goals scored at 5X5 while a particular player was on the ice and that player has 22 goals and 45 assists for the season at 5X5, then his IPP for 5x5 would be 67%. The higher the percentage – especially compared to his teammates – the luckier he is/was.

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

Team Shooting Percentage

PDO

IPP

2013-14

12.8% (AK)

9.0% (ES)

7.82% (AK)

9.47% (ES)

1019 (AK)

1004 (ES)

66.0% (AK)

76.6% (ES)

2012-13

10.2% (AK)

11.8% (ES)

8.56% (AK)

12.78% (ES)

1006 (AK)

1032 (ES)

68.6% (AK)

87.0% (ES)

2011-12

10.9% (AK)

9.2% (ES)

8.49% (AK)

8.35% (ES)

994 (AK)

980 (ES)

77.4% (AK)

76.5% (ES)

2010-11

10.7% (AK)

11.1% (ES)

10.90% (AK)

8.89% (ES)

1037 (AK)

995 (ES)

82.0% (AK)

62.7% (ES)

 

The bad news keeps piling up for Staal, as his very productive 2012-13 season – when he finished ninth in the entire league with 1.10 points per game - seems to have been almost freakishly lucky in view of his 1032 PDO (970-1030 is considered normal) but even more so because he registered a point on an astounding 87.0% of 5x5 goals scored while he was on the ice! And in terms of more icing on the luckiness cake, his 2012-13 Shooting Percentages were the highest of all four of these seasons as well. And while his IPP and personal shooting percentage numbers for this season are each the lowest or second lowest of these four years, his team shooting percentage and PDO are the second highest, which suggests his poor stats this season are not really being too influenced by bad luck.

In contrast, Kopitar’s lower production this season and last seem to correlate to a sizeable drop in IPP. Consider if his IPP was even just 75% this season, then that would’ve meant an additional five or six points, placing him a lot closer to his usual output. Plus, his team shooting % for 2013-14 is the lowest among all four of these seasons despite his personal shooting percentage being the highest of all four campaigns. So although his PDO for 2013-14 was actually toward the high end of normal, there’s still enough data here to suggest that – overall - Kopitar has been unsustainably unlucky during 2013-14.

 

Who Wins?

Two words – not Staal. When the best you can say about a player is that things probably won’t get much worse, then you know it isn’t a good situation. And really, there’s not even a silver lining amidst all the bad news, as all signs point to Staal having truly settled into a 70-75 point – at best – player at this stage in his career. Of course this could change if Carolina surrounds him with some top notch talent; but that seems unlikely to occur before Staal’s production would naturally start to diminish due to his age and career games played.

What’s also concerning about Staal is he’s playing this poorly when his team so clearly needs him to step up and produce. Plus, he’s got his brother in the fold, yet still seems to be unmotivated. And while other high profile guys like Claude Giroux and Tyler Seguin upped their game after being omitted from the Canadian Olympic hockey team, Staal played worse – with a mere 12 points in 21 games during February and March. Just more and more bad news everywhere you turn, and from all angles……

With Kopitar, the bad news is there are no signs that, despite his age (remember, he’s still only 26), he’s likely to morph into a true point per game player, especially given the defensive focus on LA. But the good news is that his downtick in production so far this season seems to be due to an unsustainable stretch of bad luck, so he should be counted on to once again return to being a 75-80 point player in the years to come.

What should you do if you own either player (both of whom are owned in 97% or more of Yahoo leagues) right now? And where should each player be drafted next season in a one year league?

 

I’ll add my two cents in the comments, and I encourage you to voice your opinions there as well.

 

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