Looking at the biggest Cage Match 'misses' over the past year. Duchene vs Turris, Richards vs. Pavelski and more


Several DobberHockey writers have already looked back at their columns from the 2013-14 season to see how accurate their predictions were. Although in many cases my predicted Cage Match winner was indeed the actual winner for 2013-14, I also had my fair share of misses.

And since I think that in general there’s more to be learned from mistakes, I’m going to highlight (lowlight?) a few of my 2013 Cage Match columns where my conclusions proved to be off the mark. In doing so, I’ll also emphasize some important fantasy lessons and takeaways that can be learned.


Context and Your Comments/Feedback

I’m only going to draw from Cage Match columns between August (when I took over from Steve Laidlaw) and December 2013. I set the cut off in December since otherwise there wouldn’t have been enough elapsed time to really look back and see what went wrong in the misses.

At the end of the article, I’ll talk about my approaches to researching and writing Cage Match, and you can use the comments to give me your feedback. It’s always good to seize upon opportunities like these to get some food for thought.


General Takeaways

If there’s one thing to emphasize in general, it’s that the way to evaluate players is by doing your homework and spotting things that other GMs might miss. At the same time, you have to be careful not to outthink yourself; in other words, although it’s fine to take chances and speculate to some degree, you should trust the numbers and resist the urge to think too far outside the box.


Biggest Misses from 2013 (and Lessons Learned from Them)

Mike Richards vs. Joe Pavelski (October 2, 2013)

There’s no way to avoid starting my list of misses within anything other than this October match, which included a now cringeworthy sentence: “I’m taking Richards over Pavelski in nearly every one year league format, as I just don’t see any way Pavelski outperforms Richards this season.” But hey - in my defense, Richards and Pavelski did both finish tied with 41 for the season. Oh wait – that was the POINTS total for Richards, and JUST THE GOALS total for Pavelski! D’oh!!

Not that I can summon any realistic excuses for my woefully incorrect conclusion, but for what it’s worth Pavelski did have a statistically lucky season. He finished with an 80.0% IPP at 5x5; and not only was that tops among all Sharks forwards, but only Thomas Hertl (76.9%) and Joe Thornton (75.8%) were above 73.1%. Also, Pavelski’s PDO was 1024, which is technically within the “normal” range of 970-1030 but also was highest among Sharks forwards, with Thornton and Patrick Marleau both finishing below 1000 and only the likes of Hertl (1017) and Logan Couture (1018) finishing close to Pavelski. Meanwhile, Richards’ PDO (974) was by far the lowest among Kings forwards, who had only Trevor Lewis (989) also below 990.

This means Pavelski is likely in line for a drop off in production next year, while things are poised to improve (at least somewhat) for Richards in 2014-15. But like I said, I can’t make excuses – this was clearly my biggest swing and miss to date.

Key Lessons Learned: One player’s success with another linemate (i.e., Richards with Jeff Carter) can come to an end quickly. Also, when focusing on two veterans who look similar on paper, it’s best to go with the one who at least has a chance of not having peaked yet, versus the one where the best you can likely hope for is lack of further decline.


Matt Duchene vs. Kyle Turris (November 13, 2013)

I also couldn’t avoid rehashing perhaps my most controversial decision (picking Turris over Duchene), which has since been proven incorrect. But before I fall on my sword, a lot of what I said in picking Turris was based on the all-important cost vs. value equation. At that time – and even now – Turris gives you a great deal of value for a lot less cost as compared to Duchene, whose value is amazing but whose cost is quite high.

But make no mistake - Duchene should’ve been the winner. Simply put, I fell into the trap of scrutinizing Duchene too much while also stretching to prop up Turris. In today’s NHL, a nearly point per game player (particularly one who’s only 23 like Duchene) is simply too valuable to be held on par with an up and coming player who might be somewhat undervalued but still has yet to actually break out big.

All this having been said, Jason Spezza is either going to be moved this summer or play out the final year of his deal in 2014-15, after which there can be little doubt that Turris will be the #1 center in Ottawa. Turris’ failure to truly explode this season might be a blessing in disguise for those of you who want to get him on your team before the cost does indeed become too high. Just be sure not to trade Matt Duchene to land him!

Key Lessons Learned: Although value vs. cost is an important factor in judging the relative benefit of players, be careful not to let it blind sound judgment. Also, it’s more logical to project a small increase for an already productive player than it is to forecast a much larger increase for a player who hasn’t had a big season as yet, no matter how plausible the large jump might seem on paper.


Daniel Alfredsson vs. Ray Whitney (October 8, 2013)

Although neither of these guys ended up finding the fountain of youth in 2013-14, clearly Alfredsson’s 49 points in 68 games was far and away better than Whitney’s 32 in 69. So where did I go wrong in picking Whitney?

I focused too much on past results (Whitney’s 106 points in 114 games from 2011-12 and 2012-13) and ignored the signs – there already were some within the first few games of the season when I wrote the article – of Whitney having lost a step and the Stars focusing elsewhere for their offense. Plus, with Alfredsson on a one year deal and drawing added motivation from playing with many of his fellow countrymen in hopes of perhaps once last Stanley Cup run, he was well positioned to step up both in general and as compared to Whitney.

What’s worse is I can’t even blame this miss on player luck (or lack thereof). Although Alfredsson had an unfathomable 5x5 IPP of 84.4%, Whitney’s was pretty high as well (81.0%); and Whitney’s 996 PDO was not that far below Alfredsson’s 1009.

Key Lesson Learned: Although things like value vs. cost and past results should still be factors in deciding between two much older players, be careful not to let that blind your judgment to an extent that you ignore “real world” situations and motivations.


Nazem Kadri vs. Jeff Skinner (October 29, 2013)

Another do over I’d like to have was my selection of Kadri here. While Skinner only outpointed Kadri by four in 2013-14, he did so in seven fewer games and while tallying 33 goals, which was tied for 11th in the league and equated to a 38 goal full season pace that would’ve put Skinner fifth in the entire NHL.JeffSkinner

In my defense, just as I was writing this article Kadri was getting a try out centering Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. But my error was getting too blinded by Skinner’s band-aid boy status. Of course it’s better to own a player who finds a way to stay healthy; but being a band-aid boy is just one factor out of many, and an elite band-aid boy is better than a healthy player who’s merely decent.

Looking back at how luck affected both players, Skinner did have a 77.5% IPP at 5x5, which was considerably higher than Kadri’s 68.9%; however, it’s interesting to note that Kadri’s IPP was higher than Tyler Bozak’s 67.9% and far above JVR’s 63.5%, both of whom were far more productive in 2013-14. And Skinner had a pretty low 983 PDO, especially as compared to Kadri’s 1110.

Key Lesson Learned: As frustrating as it might be to own aninjured-prone player, if that player is elite when healthy then chances are he’s better for your team than someone who’s okay but not great.


My Approach to Cage Match (and Your Feedback/Comments)

I’ve written Cage Match for about nine months. Along the way, I’ve honed and fine-tuned my approach in order to add things (luck-based metrics) and subtract others (windexiness, relative value of points) as needed or in response to feedback.

I try to cover a wide range of match-ups, from star vs. star, to youngster vs. youngster, to veteran vs. veteran. Do you like the mix of players, and feel like the match-ups have been well-selected?

You’ll also notice that I pull together a lot of data in tables for side-by-side comparisons. Of course that makes the articles a bit longer, but it also lets you quickly see everything that I’ve used to reach my conclusions. Do you want to see more or less data, or other data that I don’t already include?

I also ran one Cage Match tournament, and figured I’d do another in the offseason. Would you like to see more, or perhaps fewer? When I do run a tournament, do you prefer having it last a month (like I did in late 2013), or perhaps be shorter (like two or three weeks)?

Is there any other feedback you have? Use the comments to let me know. I can’t promise I’ll change things in response to each comment, but I will take into account whatever is said.


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