NiklasKronwall

 

Which stud defenseman would you rather own in fantasy hockey - Ryan Suter or Niklas Kronwall?

By popular demand - and on the heels of last week’s column (which saw Patrick Kane pitted against Phil Kessel) - I’ll once again be focusing on two high profile players. This time it’s Ryan Suter against Niklas Kronwall in a battle of two franchise defensemen. But which one suits your team better? Leave it to your trusty Cage Match to declare a winner.

 

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

As happens from time to time here in Cage Match, we have a much older player (Kronwall turns 34 in January, when Suter will turn 30) who has actually played in fewer career games than the younger player (672 for Suter, versus just 594 for Kronwall). In this case, the games played discrepancy resulted from Kronwall (who was drafted 29th overall in 2000) not coming to North America until 2003, and then appearing in only 47 total games before becoming an NHL regular in 2006-07, versus Suter arriving in the NHL full time in 2005-06, a mere two years after being picked 7th overall in 2003.

Kronwall waited in the Wings – pun intended – for much of his early career as Nicklas Lidstrom and others (from Mathieu Schneider to Brian Rafalski) commanded top minutes both at even strength and on the PP. But once Kronwall became “the man” after Lidstrom’s retirement following the 2011-12 season, he’s responded with 78 points in 127 games over the past two seasons, for a 50 point full season scoring pace that’s better than his individual output from all but one of his Lidstrom era campaigns (he scored 51 points in 2008-09).

Suter had a couple of rough seasons getting acclimated to the NHL; but since 2008-09 he’s never scored fewer than 37 points in a full season. However, on the flip side he’s also never surpassed 46 points, and he followed up his very encouraging 32 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign (just under a 55 point full season pace) with only 43 points in 82 games this past season.

Suter’s contract is likely one that most poolies – and certainly all who are in cap leagues – know quite well, as his 13 year, $98M deal (through 2024-25, when Suter will be 40 years old) brings with it a $7.538M yearly cap hit, which, according to Capgeek, is second highest among all NHL defensemen. Meanwhile, Kronwall’s $4.75M yearly cap hit (via a seven year, $33.25M deal through 2018-19) is a bargain by comparison, so much so that it’s hard to imagine Suter being the better option in any cap league no matter what the data below might indicate.

 

Ice Time

For the first time since I took over Cage Match in 2013 I’m not going to do a year-by-year tabular breakdown of Ice Time as part of my analysis. The reasoning is these guys have been proven workhorses for their respective teams over the past few seasons, and no one should expect that situation to change any time soon.

That having been said, it bears mentioning that Suter was tops in the entire NHL for 2013-14 with a whopping 29:24 per game of overall Ice Time. To put that in perspective, the next closest per game average (Erik Karlsson – 27:04) was 2:20 less, and Kronwall averaged a full five minutes less per game (24:18) despite nevertheless being in the overall top 25 among NHL defensemen for Ice Time.

Even still, and as crazy as it sounds, I think Suter’s added Ice Time puts him at a disadvantage compared to Kronwall, and that’s despite - for 2013-14 - Suter actually having less SH Ice Time per game than Kronwall (2:21 vs. 3:03) as well as more PP Ice Time (3:46 vs. 3:22). The key is five minutes more per game means that literally every fifth contest each of them plays, Suter’s is being subjected to the wear and tear of an entire added game above and beyond Kronwall (five minutes per game multiplied by five games equals 25 minutes, which is right around the per game average for Kronwall).

And over time that clearly takes its toll. Need proof? Just compare Suter’s 2013-14 point total from February onward (10 points in 26 games, for a 31 point full season pace) versus his output through January (33 points in 56 games, for a 48 point full season pace). This is also consistent with 2012-13, which saw Suter post 32 points in the abbreviated 48 game season. And even if you go back to 2011-12 (Suter’s final year with Nashville, when he posted his career high of 46 points), he ended that season with a mere five points in his final 15 games, which means he had tallied 41 points through 64 games (that would’ve been good for a 52 point full season pace).

This shows how although Ice Time is of vital importance to fantasy production, maybe there really can be too much of a good thing. Of course extra Ice Time could still benefit Suter’s fantasy owners if it translates to added output in Secondary Categories, and we’ll look at that next.

 

Secondary Categories


Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2013-14

0.41 (R.S.)

0.55 (N.K.)

0.88 (R.S.)

1.18 (N.K.)

1.61 (R.S.)

1.95 (N.K.)

1.83 (R.S.)

1.39 (N.K.)

0.21 (R.S.)

0.31 (N.K.)

2012-13

0.50 (R.S.)

0.91 (N.K.)

0.69 (R.S.)

0.87 (N.K.)

1.54 (R.S.)

1.73 (N.K.)

1.89 (R.S.)

1.39 (N.K.)

0.31 (R.S.)

0.23 (N.K.)

2011-12

0.38 (R.S.)

0.46 (N.K.)

0.58 (R.S.)

1.62 (N.K.)

1.47 (R.S.)

2.16 (N.K.)

1.69 (R.S.)

1.72 (N.K.)

0.31 (R.S.)

0.17 (N.K.)

2010-11

0.77 (R.S.)

0.47 (N.K.)

0.91 (R.S.)

1.47 (N.K.)

1.20 (R.S.)

1.67 (N.K.)

1.64 (R.S.)

1.70 (N.K.)

0.24 (R.S.)

0.17 (N.K.)

 

Well, so much for the idea that Suter’s extra five minutes per game would result in better Secondary Category statistics! In fact, he’s been worse – although in some cases not by too much - than Kronwall in PIMs, Hits, and Blocked Shots. When looking at these four years collectively, Suter does hold an advantage in Shots and PP Points, although at least in the latter Kronwall is trending higher since he became the true #1 defenseman in Detroit. But somehow his Shots are down, which seems strange.

Beyond a reduced Shots total, Kronwall’s Hits also dropped significantly in 2012-13 before creeping back up a bit last season. But interestingly, as that has occurred his PIMs have risen slightly, which seems a bit counterintuitive. As for Suter, his stats haven’t been affected much by his 2012-13 move to Minnesota, and the Ice Time increase that came with it. His Blocked Shots are up slightly, as are his Shots; but that’s really it.

Overall, both players are decent for PP Points, and Kronwall remains a solid Blocked Shots contributor (tied for 21st in 2013-14). But otherwise they don’t produce particularly well in Secondary Categories in general, and especially considering their significant Ice Time. In particular, we’re still left wondering if Suter’s extra Ice Time is more of a curse than a blessing in terms of fantasy impact.

 

Luck-Based Metrics


Season

PDO (5x5)

PDO (5x4)

IPP (5x5)

IPP (5x4)

2013-14

1025 (R.S.)

1003 (N.K.)

981 (R.S.)

1020 (N.K.)

34.4% (R.S.)

31.0% (N.K.)

46.9% (R.S.)

60.0% (N.K.)

2012-13

1003 (R.S.)

995 (N.K.)

1047 (R.S.)

1024 (N.K.)

36.4% (R.S.)

31.0% (N.K.)

68.4% (R.S.)

62.5% (N.K.)

2011-12

1019 (R.S.)

996 (N.K.)

1080 (R.S.)

929 (N.K.)

28.1% (R.S.)

33.9% (N.K.)

51.4% (R.S.)

54.5% (N.K.)

2010-11

1021 (R.S.)

993 (N.K.)

1131 (R.S.)

1016 (N.K.)

33.3% (R.S.)

40.4% (N.K.)

52.0% (R.S.)

40.7% (N.K.)

 

Here we finally see a bit of good news for Suter in that his 2012-13 season (where he tallied 32 points in only 48 games) does not appear to have been the by-product of exceptionally good luck. Although his 5x5 and 5x4 IPP for 2012-13 were the highest of all four of these seasons, the increase for each would not have caused such a huge spike in points. What’s more, his 5x5 PDO for 2012-13 was the lowest by quite a bit.

But this is an example of seemingly good news maybe not actually being all that good, as even if Suter’s 2012-13 output wasn’t influenced by good luck it still doesn’t change the fact that he’s never strung together an entire season that comes close to the 55 point pace of 2012-13. And as I noted above, he began 2013-14 with a 48 point pace through the first two thirds of the season before hitting a wall and dropping to just 43 points by season’s end, and followed a similar pattern of starting strong (41 points in 64 games) then finishing flat (five points in 15 games) during his 2011-12 campaign with Nashville.

For Kronwall, his 5x5 PDO has been virtually constant all four seasons, and his 5x4 PDO was far lower than Suter’s for all seasons other than 2013-14. Where we see signs of the “post-Lidstrom” effect is in his IPP, as his 5x5 IPP has gone down (due to more Ice Time overall) but his 5x4 IPP has increased (by being on PP1, instead of PP2). Seeing all this, I wouldn’t look for much change in his production in the coming seasons, which is good news in that he’s doing very well of late(50 point full season scoring pace from 2012-13 and 2013-14), but not great news in that he probably has hit his realistic points ceiling.

 

Who Wins?

I’m sensing a pattern in some of my recent defenseman-focused Cage Matches. First it was John Carlson, then Jacob Trouba; and now it’s Ryan Suter.

What it boils down to is real world NHL value can indeed hurt a player’s fantasy value, particularly for defensemen. With Carlson and Trouba, it was a case of, most notably, shorthanded Ice Time cutting into their offensive production. For Suter, it’s that he plays nearly half of every game; and based on what we’ve seen in the past three seasons, that’s either creating (or making worse) his problem of significantly decreased production after the roughly 50 game mark in a season.

Beyond that, the added Ice Time isn’t even boosting Suter’s Secondary Category production. Not only is Suter’s output in categories like Hits, Blocked Shots, and PIMs barely mediocre for a #1 defenseman, for the most part it’s worse than Kronwall’s despite the extra five minutes of Ice Time per game that Suter receives to “pad” those stats.

As for Kronwall, the data revealed that his roughly 50 point production over the past two seasons was not a fluke, although it’s not likely to improve, especially since Kronwall is now a few years into his 30s and has posted such a consistent PDO at 5x5. But despite his age Kronwall has less than 600 NHL games on his resume, so he doesn’t appear to be a candidate for longevity-related decreased production, at least not in the near term.

In the end, the outcome of this match is crystal clear – Kronwall wins; not in a landslide, but a clear victory nevertheless.

But what should you do if you own Suter? In a keeper league, you might seriously consider trying to trade him around the 50 game mark if – yet again – he starts this season red hot, as you might be able to get a player with more upside and/or less front-loaded production. And although I don’t recommend drafting Suter in a one-year league due to what would likely be too high a cost to justify his selection, if you do land him somehow then I’d definitely try to shop him right after the all-star break, before what seems to have become his patented late season precipitous drop in production.

 

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