Roos investigates players who will disappoint ... or improve in the West next season
Welcome to Part 2 of my series about non-playoff teams, focusing on two players from each team – one who I think is a good bet to improve next season, and another who I feel will disappoint. In last week’s column I tackled the Eastern Conference, so this week it’s time for the West. For my “Final Verdict”, I’ll again go over some keys to identifying guys like these, plus talk about how this really all boils down to value versus expectations.
Improve - Sven Baertschi
Many might see 2012-13 as a disappointment for Baertschi, after he struggled with injuries and to get ice time, ending up with only ten points in 20 games in 13:24 TOI per contest. But while other “can’t miss” guys like him might have regressed over the course of the season, Baertschi finished strong - with points in each of his final seven games (nine points total) and receiving more than 15:00 TOI in seven of his final ten games. What’s also helpful for next season is many people probably felt burned by Baertschi’s failure to break out in 2012-13, which means he probably won’t be as highly touted this time around and therefore should cost less to draft or acquire. It’s sort of like the situation (described in last week’s column) with Matt Carle, except in this case it’s a highly touted rookie that dipped below expectations but ended on a huge high note, instead of a major free agent signing who disappointed overall but ended the season red hot.
Disappoint = Lee Stempniak
It was hard to single out a Flame who will disappoint, as hopes for the team are so low that pretty much everyone is expecting most Calgary players to do poorly. But in the end I had to pick Stempniak, as even though next season is his last before becoming a UFA (so you’d expect him to do well), he’s never once followed up a productive season with anything close to a similar output. Last season saw Stempniak score at a pace of .68 points per game, which projects to 56 points over a full season. The problem is Stempniak had scored 40 or more points in a season three times in the past, each time following that with a season where he took a very big step back (2006-07 = 52 points, 2007-08 = 38; 2008-09 = 44 points, 2009-10 = 30; 2010-11 = 48 points, 2011-12 = 38). To me, that kind of pattern is a big concern, and gives you more than enough reason to slide Stempniak farther down in your ratings for next season.
Improve = Tyson Barrie
I almost didn’t pick Barrie for this list, since I think he’ll be a popular “sleeper” for next season. But I feel so strongly he’s the real deal that you can justify paying even a somewhat inflated price to draft or trade for him. Although Barrie only played 33 games for the Avs last season, his 21:34 TOI in those games was tops for the entire team. And no Avs defenseman played anything close to his 2:38 per game on the PP. Quite simply, this should be his defense to run as a 22 year old, and after weathering some growing pains this season he should be more than ready to take a big step forward, with a very realistic shot at 40+ points in 2013-14 and more than 50 in at least one of the next three seasons.
Disappoint = John Mitchell
As great as P.A. Parenteau’s success has been to witness, it’s understandably led to fantasy hockey GMs paying extra attention to other former long term AHL players in hopes of landing the next overlooked gem like Parenteau. While that might pay dividends in some cases, it also puts guys like Mitchell on the radar, and although some might grasp onto Mitchell’s 20 points last season as a sign of better things to come, nothing suggests anything like that actually will happen. In truth, Mitchell completely benefitted from Ryan O’Reilly’s absence, and once O’Reilly was back in the mix, Mitchell’s stats plummeted (four points in his final 18 games) despite getting similar overall TOI as before Reilly was signed. Even though he’s going to be a UFA after 2013-14 and literally will be playing for his NHL future this coming season, I still don’t see a realistic chance for Mitchell to put up even 35 points, which makes him (as someone who also doesn’t give you good secondary stats) not worth owning in even the deepest of leagues.
Improve = Cody Eakin
Like Barrie, I’m somewhat concerned that the secret is out for Eakin, who often displayed veteran skill and maturity in compiling 24 points in 48 games last season. What I really liked about Eakin in particular was that he didn’t have any bad stretches during the season, scoring between four and eight points in each month and never going more than five consecutive games without recording a point. Plus, the two times he received less than ten minutes of ice time in a game he responded with at least one point in the next game. You don’t often see that kind of consistency and performance from a 21 year old. And with Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, Brendan Morrow, and Michael Ryder all gone from Dallas, Eakin is a lock for a significant top six role with the Stars in 2013-14. With that, he should have no trouble improving upon his 15:05 of ice time (1:11 of PP time) per game, and, in the process, significantly improving on his point totals as well.
Disappoint = Loui Eriksson
If you’re an Eriksson owner, you have to be somewhat concerned right now. He went from three straight seasons with 71-73 points to an utterly dismal 29 points in 48 games last season, which projects to under a 50 point full season pace. And that happened despite Eriksson receiving more PP time and a greater overall TOI per game in 2012-13 than in 2011-12. There had always been whispers that Eriksson’s production was tied to playing with great centers – first Brad Richards and then Mike Ribeiro - and last season’s disappointment seemed to validate those concerns.
Improve = Magnus Paajarvi
It wasn’t long ago that Paajarvi was mentioned in the same breath as phenoms Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. But the big splash made by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011-12, coupled with Paajarvi’s regression that landed him in the AHL, led to many fantasy teams to basically forget about Paajarvi for the time being. But he quietly rebounded last season, and although his 16 points in 42 games does not look very impressive at first glance, the key is that he put up all but two of those points in his last 27 games, which bodes well for 2013-14. Also encouraging is that although his ice time for the season averaged just over 14 minutes per game, he surpassed that in all but five of those last 27 games. It’s probably unrealistic to forecast Paajarvi for 50 points next season, but 45 could be realistic, with 50+ coming soon.
Disappoint = Justin Schultz
Most were prepared for Schultz to breeze to 30+ points in 2012-13, especially after he posted 48 points in 34 AHL games during the lockout. And although his 27 points was a very solid effort, there were some trouble spots. For starters, his -17 was one of only two double-digit minus ratings on the Oilers, and his 50 combined Hits and Blocked Shots were very low, even for a more offensively focused (i.e., less physical) defenseman. And with the recent trend of high profile offensive defensemen having sophomore slumps, I have serious concerns about Schultz coming close to expectations for 2013-14. Plus, with a player who caused the kind of drama that Schultz did before even coming to the NHL, you have to worry in the back of your mind about how he might react to adversity that might come in the future. To me, there are better options out there for the price that Schultz will command.
Improve = Shea Weber
Weber had a solid year, with 28 points in 48 games, good enough to tie for ninth in defensemen scoring. But the key to remember is Weber had only one point in his first 13 games, under the weight of his huge contract and the pressure of Ryan Suter’s departure. To say that Weber turned it around would be a vast understatement, as he proceeded to get 27 points in his final 35 games. What’s key is he still managed to finish in the top 30 for both Hits and Blocked Shots, making him – along with P.K. Subban - arguably the most valuable all around defensemen in the league. Be sure to value Weber well above his .58 point per game full season pace, and hope the others in your league aren’t smart enough to do the same.
Disappoint = Roman Josi
Josi was a popular sleeper choice going into 2012-13, after finishing 2011-12 on a high note and with Ryan Suter’s minutes (and points) heading out of Nashville in the offseason. But Josi didn’t take a big step forward last season, again finishing below a 0.4 point per game pace despite seeing his PP time per game double and his overall ice time rise by over five minutes per game. I think Josi is a quality player who will continue to improve, but he should already be better than he is given his TOI, and I fear the cost to draft/acquire him will still be far higher than would justify getting him.
Improve = Radim Vrbata
I was really surprised to realize that Vrbata’s points per game average was actually higher (.82 versus .80) this past season than it was in his 62 point 2011-12 campaign when everyone was talking about him. So where was the Vrbata hype last season? He literally scored the quietest 28 points in 34 games you could imagine. But in doing so he definitely made it clear that he can be counted on for 60+ points in 2013-14, and I expect that you’ll be able to once again steal him in drafts since people just can’t believe that he’s for real on a team like the Coyotes and at age 31.
Disappoint = Keith Yandle
Which Yandle should we expect in 2013-14? It’s tough to say, as his point per game average over the past three seasons has been .72 (2010-11), .52 (2011-12), and .62 (2012-13). By rebounding last season, Yandle has put to rest the talk of him being a pure one year wonder like Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. But at the same time I fear that people will now start to see Yandle, who’s still only 26, as being capable of returning to 59 points again in 2013-14. The reality is that won’t happen, what with the emergence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who’s already getting (and will continue to get) points that Yandle previously would’ve earned. If you already own Yandle, then you’ll probably be in for a very good year. But I’d avoid drafting or trading for him, as I think you’re likely to have to contend with expectations that will be unrealistically high.
Winnipeg Jets (Joining the Western Conference in 2013-14)
Improve = Olii Jokinen
Some of you reading this probably will say it’s not fair to pick Jokinen, since it would be almost impossible for him not to improve upon his horrible 2012-13 campaign, which saw him finish with 14 points in 45 games and made it look like the game had passed him by at age 34. But guess what – Jokinen will be playing for his NHL career in 2013-14, as he’ll be a UFA next summer. And as we saw with his 61 point season with the Flames in 2011-12, Jokinen can perform when he’s earning a new contract. Certainly he won’t get 60 points again this season, as at best he’ll be at best a second liner with second unit PP time; but don’t be afraid to take a very late round gamble on him in you’re looking for an outside shot at 50 points. Or keep him in mind as a free agent pick-up during the season if he gets hot.
Disappoint = Tobias Enstrom
Enstrom followed two straight 50 point seasons with a mediocre 2011-12 campaign, and a productive but injury-plagued 2013-14. Until he manages to both stay healthy and produce, I’d stay away. In fact, I fear he might be turning into the next Joni Pitkanen (who I covered last week), who was a guy that had been healthy and productive, then became not healthy but still productive when he did play, and now can’t be counted on for either productivity or good health. What’s also problematic with Enstrom is that for all his minutes, he’s not going to give you much in secondary categories. With these concerns, Enstrom might not make sense to draft or trade for, especially if he ends up being overvalued by your fellow GMs who remember that he started last season with 15 points in 15 games.
As I said in last week’s Final Verdict, to identify players like these you’ll want to look at minutes played, focus on guys whose numbers – good or bad – don’t tell the real story, and rate players based on actual accomplishments versus name recognition or hype.
Overall, this boils down to value versus expectations. In fact, I should point out that when I talk about guys who will improve or disappoint, it’s in relation to expectations and it factors in what it would actually cost you to draft or trade for them. For example, in some cases a guy (like Vrbata) who I say will improve might actually have stats that are similar to, if not a bit below, what he did last season, but the key is he’ll do better than people expect and thus will be a good bargain to draft or trade for. The exact opposite is true for some of the guys (like Enstrom) who I identify as ones who will disappoint.
In the end, you want to always avoid “double whammy” guys who will perform worse than their high expectations, since you end up suffering not only from their bad stats but also by the inflated price you had to pay to get them. At the same time, you want to be sure to get “win-win” guys who not only will perform well, but won’t cost you much to get them.
Previous Holding Court articles:
|Players to Watch - East Non-Playoff Teams|
|Time to Downgrade - Part 2|
|Time to Downgrade|