Welcome to this week’s edition of Holding Court, a column where both sides of a fantasy hockey debate are argued just like in a courtroom, complete with a final verdict. Then you, the DobberHockey readers, can comment on whether justice was properly served! You can also leave ideas in the comments section for other debates to be settled right here in future editions of the column.
Today we focus on the Boston Bruins. Many fantasy hockey GMs have done very well in their pools over the past couple of years by grabbing Bruins forwards, benefitting from the nice combination of points and +/- they provide. But what’s interesting is that despite the team having scored 269 goals last season (good for 2nd in the entire NHL), no Bruins forward had more than 67 points. This is relevant not only to people in points only leagues, but also to those who want to value the Bruins forwards they already own or the ones they’re thinking of drafting or getting in trade.
With these things in mind, the debate for this week’s edition of Holding Court is: will any member of the Boston Bruins score 70 points this next season (or, if there is a shortened season, the question becomes will any Bruin score at a pace that would project to 70 points over an 82 game season)?
No – the team is too deep and ice time for forwards is too spread out
The Bruins had an amazingly deep team last year, with offensive talent spread among a number of forwards. This proved to be a very good formula for offensive success, since as noted above it helped the Bruins end up with a whopping 269 goals in the regular season. But the reality is that because of the incredible depth of the team, the fact that ice time is likely to again be divided very evenly among many forwards, and the similar talent level of all of its top forwards, once again no Bruin will score 70 points next season.
Looking closely at the numbers, the Bruins had five forwards who scored between 55 and 67 points (Tyler Seguin - 67 points, Patrice Bergeron - 64 points, David Krejci - 62 points, Milan Lucic - 61 points, and Brad Marchand - 55 points). The closest comparison was Anaheim, who also had no player get 70+ points but where only four players (one less than the Bruins’ five) finished in the range of 55 to 67 points. And if we look more closely at the Bruins stats, we also notice that they actually had two other players - Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton - who both missed 25 games or more but whose points also would’ve projected to be between 55 and 67 (Peverley’s 42 points in 57 games projected to 60 points in 82 games; Horton’s 32 points in 46 games projected to 57 points in 82 games).
So in truth, they had a jaw-dropping seven forwards who scored (or projected to score at a pace of) 55 to 67 points, which might just be an unprecedented level of balanced scoring from forwards. Seeing what the Bruins did last season, and knowing that Peverley and Horton are coming into this year healthy, the temptation might be to think that the Bruins will score even more points this coming season, and, because of that, to also think that one of the players who finished with (or projected to) at least 55 points will surely be able to get to 70 this year. But the reality that many fantasy GMs forget is there are only so many points to go around…..
Prior to last season, here were the total goals scored by the Bruins as a team in the years under Claude Julien – 246 (2010-11), 206 (2009-10), 274 (2008-09), 212 (2007-08). If you average out these five years you get 241.4 goals per season, making it more likely than not that the Bruins will score fewer goals this coming season. So not only is it quite possible that the Bruins could score roughly 10% fewer goals next season if you go by their five year average (241 average compared to 269 last year – a difference of 28 goals), there’s also the reality that with the return of Peverley and Horton to full time duty in the line-up, there will be more players to contend for those fewer points, which would necessarily translate to point totals decreasing rather than increasing for most if not all of these top seven forwards.
And although some of the added points that Peverley and Horton will get this season might come at the expense of a guy like Chris Kelly, who most feel overachieved in 2011-12, or the now departed Benoit Pouliot and Brian Rolston, the unavoidable fact is that a lot will be points that last year went to the five top guys who actually scored between 55 and 67 points. This should be especially true in terms of the power play, where the Bruins scored 16% of their 269 goals and where Peverley averaged the highest number of power play minutes per game among Bruins forwards and Horton was 2nd. If you were to add together the average per game power play time for Pouliot (1:04 per game), Rolston (1:44 per game) and Kelly (a mere 0:12 per game) it would be exactly three minutes, which is barely above the time that each of Peverley (2:44 per game) and Horton (2:32 per game) alone spent on the ice with the man advantage. So what happens when Peverley and Horton reclaim their power play time? It’s clear that those precious minutes will have to come at the expense of Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Seguin, and Marchand, and will hurt all their overall point outputs in the process.
But beyond just power play time, the Bruins forwards simply do not have enough beneficial ice time to be able to score 70+ points. Last season, the NHL had 20 forwards who scored 70 or more points. Only two of those forwards averaged less than 19 minutes of total ice time per game (Jordan Eberle – 17:35; Ray Whitney – 18:38), whereas the highest ice time among these seven Bruins forwards was for Patrice Bergeron (18:34) and David Krejci (18:25). But if you subtract the tougher shorthanded minutes that Bergeron (1:48 per game) and Krejci (0:43 per game) played from their totals and do the same for Eberle (an average of a mere ten seconds per game) and Whitney (literally almost nothing – his entire season averaged to one shorthanded second per game), you see their even strength plus power play ice time was – Whitney (18:37), Krejci (17:42), Eberle (17:25), Bergeron (16:46).
Only one Bruin scoring forward played more non-shorthanded time (and by only 17 seconds) than just one of the 20 NHL's 70 point scorers last year. And when you look at just the power play ice time of these seven Bruins forwards versus the NHL’s 70 point scorers, there is even more of a disparity. Each of these seven Bruins forwards had an average power play ice time per game between 2:09 and 2:44 (for seven forwards to all average within 35 seconds of each other makes it even more clear how evenly ice time is spread among them). But if you look at the 70 point guys from last season, only one had a power play ice time of less than 3:00 (Loui Eriksson – 2:38) and he still averaged more PP time than each of these Bruins forwards except Peverley.
What all this shows is that even if some of these seven Bruins scoring forwards might indeed possess the talent to be able to put up 70 points, they simply do not get the amount and quality of ice time to be able to have an actual chance to reach the 70 point mark.
Yes – Other teams have done it recently and Seguin is too good not to get 70+
All the numbers above paint a very selective picture of reality. They also focus on past information that completely ignores equally relevant data from other teams in recent seasons. And most importantly, these numbers don’t factor in the all but certain upward trajectory of future superstar Tyler Seguin, who should be able to get 70 points next year in his sleep.
First of all, let’s remember that two of these seven Bruins forwards have already scored 70+ points in their careers -- Bergeron has done it twice and Krejci once, with Krejci’s coming during the Claude Julien era. And we know that history has a way of repeating itself, what with all but four of the 20 NHL forwards who got to 70+ points last season having already reached the 70 point level in at least one previous season. Also, the return of Nathan Horton cannot be overlooked. His last full season with the Bruins occurred when Seguin was a rookie, Marchand and Lucic were not nearly the players they are now, and Peverley was with the team for only the last third of the campaign (23 games). With all of the now very talented Bruins forwards set to finally play a full season together while healthy, the number of Bruins goals should exceed even the 274 they scored in 2008-09 under Julien, especially since a condensed season could very well lead to more offense due to goalies having less rest overall and/or more games being played against less skilled back-up goalies. And let’s not forget that when the Bruins scored those 274 goals, they had two players with over 70 points (Krejci and Marc Savard) so if they score at least a similar number of goals this season then history is bound to repeat itself in seeing the team have a 70+ point player.
Also, we don’t need to look long and far for examples of teams where there was scoring balance and yet players still managed to score 70+ points. In the 2010-11 season, Anaheim had five players with 68+ points, including four who topped 70. And they did that even though they only scored 239 goals as a team, which is less than the 241.4 average of the Bruins in the Claude Julien era. Plus, Teemu Selanne got his 80 points that year with only 17:56 ice time per game, which is right around where most of the Bruins forwards project to be. Similarly, the 2010-11 San Jose Sharks totaled 248 goals as a team and had six players get 56 points or more, with two reaching 70+ points. And although the 2010-11 Dallas Stars only scored 227 total goals, they had five players with 55 points or more, with three exceeding 70. The important takeaway is there is such a thing as a team featuring balanced scoring yet also having one or more players get 70+ points, and Boston is set up to be exactly the kind of team to have it happen to them this coming year.
But clearly the strongest argument that at least one Bruin will score 70+ points next season is Tyler Seguin, the Bruins’ future superstar. In his second full season, Seguin exploded to 67 points in 81 games, a huge jump of 45 points from his rookie output of just 22 points. To suggest that somehow Seguin won’t improve by just three points this coming season is borderline ridiculous. Yes, his ice time is likely to be less than most (or maybe even all) of the forwards who were in the top 20 in scoring last year, but it should be comparable to Jordan Eberle’s 17:35 last year and Teemu Selanne’s 17:56 in 2010-11, when they both topped 70 points. Plus, even if Seguin gets less ice time than either of them, can anyone still actually doubt for a moment that he’ll get to 70 points? If you look at NHLers who were in the top 20 in scoring last season and whose point output from their rookie season to their sophomore campaign jumped by 10 or more points, several also saw a further increase in their third season:
Evgeni Malkin: 85 points (2006-07), 106 points (2007-08), 113 points (2008-09)
Claude Giroux: 24 points (2008-09), 47 points (2009-10), 76 points (2010-11)
Ilya Kovalchuk: 51 points (2001-02), 67 points (2002-03), 87 points (2003-04)
Joe Thornton: 7 points (1997-98), 41 points (1998-99), 60 points (1999-2000)
Patrik Elias: 37 points (1997-98), 50 points (1998-99), 72 points (1999-2000)
Loui Eriksson: 19 points (2006-07), 31 points (2007-08), 63 points (2008-09)
Jason Spezza: 21 points (2002-03), 55 points (2003-04), no NHL season in 2004-05, 90 points (2005-06)
And if you look at Seguin’s 45 point jump, it’s higher than what anyone on this list had form their rookie to sophomore season, which only serves to show how implausible it is that he won’t somehow find a way to score a measly three more points to reach 70 next season. Put it this way – betting against Tyler Seguin scoring 70+ points next season would be like betting on Tim Thomas voting for Barack Obama.
The Final Verdict
Let’s face it, there really is almost no plausible way - barring injury - to imagine Tyler Seguin falling short of 70 points this season (or a 70+ point pace if there isn’t a full 82 game season) given that he almost did it last year and is likely not even close to his point ceiling. For that reason alone, the final verdict is that at least one Bruin should indeed top 70 points next season. And although there were compelling arguments about ice time presented against a Bruins scoring 70+, the examples of other teams from 2010-11 countered those pretty well.
This decision was not a difficult one, but this debate still has one very important takeaway, namely that it is risky for fantasy hockey GMs to predict that any of these seven Bruins forwards will score at a higher pace this year than they did last season. And even though Seguin is likely to eclipse 70 points, he won’t have anything close to as big of a points jump as he did last season and might even have a hard time cracking 80 points with ice time as it is in Boston. For the others besides Seguin, the outcome could very well be another year of finishing in the 55 to 65 points range.
So if you own one of these Bruins forwards, you might consider using this extended offseason to try to trade him for a player that you see as a safe bet for at least the 55-65 point range, but with perhaps a more realistic chance at maybe hitting 75 or even 80 points, or packaging him in a deal to give your team an upgrade on defense or in net. Just some food for thought…….
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