JackJohnson

 

This week's cage match takes a look at two former top draft picks on defense...

 

For at least the next few weeks, I’ll be choosing players for Cage Match who have similar point projections in the DobberHockey 2014 Fantasy Hockey Guide. But the wrinkle is I won’t tell you what those point projections are exactly – for that you’ll need to order the Fantasy Guide, which remains far and away the best fantasy hockey league resource you can find.

 

Our combatants this week are Cam Fowler and Jack Johnson – two players who’ve tasted success but also setbacks in the minds of poolies during their careers. Which is more likely to meet (or even exceed) his projection in the Guide? And who looks like the better long-term own. Time to find out!

 

 

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Johnson and Fowler are former top draft picks (Johnson 3rd overall in 2005, Fowler 12th in 2010) and USA hockey Olympians (Fowler in 2014, Johnson in 2010). Fowler made the jump straight into the NHL, while Johnson didn’t become a full-time NHLer until the 2007-08 season, after two years of college hockey and a brief NHL cameo (five games) during the 2006-07 campaign.

 

Each has a similar career high in points (40 for Fowler, 42 for Johnson), although Fowler’s was posted as a rookie before he even turned 20. Johnson’s was as a 23/24 year old in 2010-11, which also happened to be the only time – at least thus far –he achieved 0.5 points per game or better scoring in a season, although for what it’s worth he averaged 35.5 points in the two subsequent full seasons. As for Fowler, it took him the next two campaigns (119 total games) to duplicate his rookie year 40 point output, although he rebounded to post 36 points in 70 games in 2013-14.

 

Both are signed through 2017-18 and will be UFAs at the end of their respective contracts. Fowler’s deal has a $4M Cap Hit and AAV per season, which is very comparable to Johnson’s $4.375M.

 

Ice Time

It’ll be interesting to compare Fowler’s Ice Time during his two productive seasons (2010-11, 2013-14) both to each other as well as to his subpar other two seasons (2011-12, 2012-13). For Johnson, we’ll get to see data for 2010-11 (his last full campaign in LA and highest scoring season so far) side by side with 2013-14, which, due to the lockout and him being traded during 2011-12, was actually Johnson’s first full season with Columbus.

 

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

2013-14

24:40 (J.J.) – 1st

23:51 (C.F) – 1st

3:12 (J.J.) – 2nd

3:23 (C.F) – 1st

2:58 (J.J.) – 1st

2:41 (C.F) – 2nd

2012-13

25:58 (J.J.) – 1st

20:26 (C.F) – 3rd

3:37 (J.J.) – 1st

2:30 (C.F) – 1st

2:47 (J.J.) – 1st

0:29 (C.F) – 7th

2011-12

27:25 (J.J. - CBJ) – 1st

22:30 (J.J. – LA) – 2nd

23:15 (C.F) – 2nd

4:22 (J.J. - CBJ) – 1st

3:54 (J.J. – LA) – 1st

3:40 (C.F) – 1st

3:18 (J.J. - CBJ) – 1st

1:24 (J.J. – LA) – 5th

0:42 (C.F) – 5th

2010-11

23:11 (J.J.) – 2nd

22:07 (C.F) – 3rd

3:53 (J.J.) – 2nd

3:37 (C.F) – 2nd

0:58 (J.J.) – 6th

0:22 (C.F) – 9th

 

The trends in Johnson’s data aren’t encouraging for poolies, as last season his overall Ice Time and PP Ice Time were both the lowest since coming to Columbus, while his SH Ice Time was the highest of his entire career (even going back beyond these four seasons) except for his initial 21 game stretch with Columbus in 2011-12. In fact, his SH Ice Time per game was the 22nd most among all NHL d-men for 2013-14; and only three other rearguards (Niklas Kronwall, Kimmo Timonen, John Carlson) had more SH Ice Time per game while also averaging above 3:00 per game on the PP, with Kronwall being the only one to top 37 points in 2013-14. Not a good sign.

 

For Fowler, it’s hard to sense any clear trends, as his Ice Time data has been up and down. What’s more, his “best” season in terms of productive Ice Time was 2011-12, when he posted just 29 points in 82 games. And although his SH Ice Time skyrocketed to 2:41 in 2013-14 after never having been above 0:42 previously, the silver linings are that the increase didn’t come at the expense of PP Ice Time (which was up nearly a minute) and his scoring output still was able to rebound to above 0.5 points per game.

 

Something else that bears mentioning is that both players face very real threats to their productive Ice Time. Already last season Johnson’s PP Ice Time fell behind that of James Wisniewski; and although Nikita Nikitin is now gone, as Ryan Murray matures he could put a bigger dent in Johnson’s PP Ice Time. Similarly, Fowler has to contend with upstarts Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen (who combined to receive 4:29 on the PP per game in 2013-14), which could create a PP Ice Time logjam even with the offseason departure of Stephane Robidas and the possible exit of veteran Francois Beauchemin once his contract ends after 2014-15.

 

Lastly, I mentioned Kronwall above as a rare example of a productive defenseman who’s saddled with 3:00+ of SH Ice Time per game. And although a big reason for Kronwall’s production stems from receiving 3:00 of PP Ice Time on top of his significant SH duty, the other just as important part is not having to contend with anyone eroding his productive Ice Time. But as noted just above, the same can’t be said for Johnson or Fowler, who do face that threat.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2013-14

0.58 (J.J.)

0.20 (C.F)

2.22 (J.J.)

0.65 (C.F)

1.56 (J.J.)

1.74 (C.F)

1.79 (J.J.)

1.43 (C.F)

0.22 (J.J.)

0.21 (C.F)

2012-13

0.27 (J.J.)

0.11 (C.F)

1.50 (J.J.)

0.51 (C.F)

2.04 (J.J.)

1.11 (C.F)

2.18 (J.J.)

1.35 (C.F)

0.18 (J.J.)

0.16 (C.F)

2011-12

0.47 (J.J.)

0.22 (C.F)

1.30 (J.J.)

0.52 (C.F)

1.57 (J.J.)

1.14 (C.F)

2.16 (J.J.)

1.50 (C.F)

0.20 (J.J)

0.13 (C.F)

2010-11

0.53 (J.J.)

0.26 (C.F)

1.02 (J.J.)

0.59 (C.F)

1.62 (J.J.)

1.22 (C.F)

1.86 (J.J.)

1.62 (C.F)

0.34 (J.J.)

0.30 (C.F)

 

Fowler’s numbers in several of these categories have been consistently poor, particularly PIM and Hits. It’s a better situation with Blocked Shots, which weren’t too bad to begin with and took a nice jump last season, perhaps in keeping with Fowler further embracing a “team first” veteran maturity.

 

Fowler’s Shots totals are weak; in fact, in 2013-14 no other defenseman scored more than 28 points while taking 100 or fewer Shots. And like PIM and Hits, his Shots total has been consistently bad for a long enough time that it’s unlikely to significantly improve. And although his PP points output has varied, the last two seasons it settled at 0.16 and -0.21 per game, which also happens to be around the average for his career, suggesting that improvement also is unlikely.

 

Johnson has a clear advantage overall, having finished ahead of Fowler in every single category each and every year, with the lone exception of Blocked Shots this past season, where Fowler enjoyed a narrow edge. And Johnson’s advantage over Fowler is considerable in PIM (at least twice Fowler’s average every season) and even more so in Hits (two to three+ times Fowler’s per game rate every season).

 

But just as Johnson’s Ice Time data for 2013-14 wasn’t encouraging, his Shots and Blocked Shots average last season were the lowest of any of these four years. On the plus side, that was offset somewhat by his highest ever – by far – Hits per game average (which has climbed each of the past three seasons), and a PP points average that crept back above one point per five games for the first time since 2010-11.

 

What’s also nice about Johnson’s Hits and Blocked Shots numbers is that although they’re very good (15th in Hits among defensemen in 2013-14, 51st in Blocked Shots), they’re not “off the charts great” and he doesn’t have a long track record of big time multi-cat production. In turn, that means it’s possible poolies won’t have to pay a huge premium to get Johnson in leagues which count Hits and/or Blocked Shots. This is key, since if Johnson’s advantage over Fowler in these categories would bring with it a much higher price, then that advantage would be offset at least in part if not entirely.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

PDO (5x5)

PDO (5x4)

IPP (5x5)

IPP (5x4)

2013-14

1004 (J.J.)

1018 (C.F)

909 (J.J.)

977 (C.F)

22.4% (J.J.)

34.0% (C.F)

57.7% (J.J.)

54.5% (C.F)

2012-13

1010 (J.J.)

1006 (C.F)

978 (J.J.)

999 (C.F)

41.7% (J.J.)

26.3% (C.F)

61.5% (J.J.)

54.5% (C.F)

2011-12

1000 (J.J.)

962 (C.F)

1030 (J.J)

994 (C.F)

41.9% (J.J)

30.0% (C.F)

36.8% (J.J)

37.0% (C.F)

2010-11

988 (J.J.)

976 (C.F)

973 (J.J.)

1040 (C.F)

26.1% (J.J.)

37.5% (C.F)

82.1% (J.J.)

57.5% (C.F)

 

The only piece of data I see as 100% conclusive is Johnson’s 2010-11 5x4 IPP, which indicates he tallied a point on 82.1% of the goals scored at 5 on 4 while he was on the ice (tops in the entire NHL among d-men who played 200+ minutes at 5x4 that season). Of course that number proved unsustainable, and has settled at 57-61% over the past two seasons, which is still high for a defenseman. That, plus what I noted above in the Ice Time and Secondary Categories sections, makes it very hard to foresee Johnson improving from more than one PP point per between four and five games going forward.

 

In contrast, Johnson’s 5x5 PDO has been very consistent. But taken overall there’s nothing that suggests Johnson has been held back in any season by unsustainably bad luck, which further suggests he’s not likely to push far past his career high of 42 points any time soon.

 

Fowler’s IPP has been fairly consistent both at 5x5 and 5x4, other than a low – for him – 37.0% for 5x4 in 2011-12, which might help somewhat justify his inferior performance that season. Also, his two poor production seasons happened to be the only ones where neither his 5x5 PDO nor his 5x4 PDO were above 1006. But given his consistent IPP and inconclusive PDO, Fowler also doesn’t seem to be on a clear track for having a big points breakout.

 

Who Wins?

First things first – if you own either of these players and are expecting a 50 point season any time soon, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Simply put - their Ice Time data and Luck-Based Metrics, plus the competition (particularly for PP Ice Time) both of them face now and/or on the horizon, don’t suggest a big jump in points.

 

That having been said, Fowler still is only 22, and 2014-15 represents his “magical” fourth full season (which also happened to have been when Johnson posted his career best). But Johnson has been more consistent over his career, whereas Fowler’s production has been up and down. As such, Fowler might represent more of a “risk/reward” option, versus the more “steady eddie” consistency of Johnson.

 

With the two having comparable salaries, I think the winner of the Cage Match will depend on your league set up. In a points-only league, I’d opt for Fowler, as his glaring secondary category weaknesses are meaningless and he might even cost you less than Johnson. But in a multi-cat league, the choice is Johnson since he gives you so much more output, yet isn’t universally regarded – at least not yet - as a multi-cat stud to an extent that he’d cost so much beyond Fowler as to erase the added benefit.

 

Be sure to come back next week, when two more players with similar points projections in the DobberHockey 2014 Fantasy Hockey Guide will face off.

 

 

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Comments  

#3 RizzeeDizzee 2014-08-13 23:07
@Steffen - thanks, and I'm glad this was a timely and informative column for you. The beauty of Cage Match is many people own one or even both players, and even if they don't there's still useful information about how to go about analyzing similar players that you might actually own.

@Bogus - keep in mind that Fowler was big time minus his first two seasons, and some (including me) think his turnaround in that area is mostly due to him being "dragged up" by the improved team surrounding him. And maybe Fowler does go ahead and break out in his fourth "full" season, although I really have a tough time seeing it given all the data I dissected in putting together this column.
#2 Bogus 2014-08-13 16:02
The only other "negative", pun intended, I have with Johnson is his consistently negative +/- ratings for Multi Cat leagues that count. He has only had 1 year with a positive +/- and was a negative his whole time with LA...

I'm also hoping Fowler does have a breakout year and realizes his full offensive potential.
#1 Steffen 2014-08-13 05:46
Excellent analysis, and for me, especially timely. Thank you.

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