All hail the King, the Mal-king!
Evgeni Malkin has conquered them all and is now the inaugural Cage Match Tournament Champion and the #1 player in fantasy hockey. How did he get here? Let’s take a look:
#1 Evgeni Malkin over #1 Steven Stamkos – 124 votes to 43 votes.
This was inevitable really. The Evgenerator is the current scoring leader and a lock for to win his second career Art Ross Trophy. He also possesses a career 1.23 point per game scoring average which is the best rate in the NHL of any current player who hasn’t spent the better part of the past year with the blinds shuttered and the lights off. As good and as consistent as Stamkos has been he could never really stack up against Malkin. That’s because in a keeper league you can stomach a little volatility if you know that any year there is a chance your star player can blow the rest out of the water. Malkin is like Lucky Charms – highly rewarding every once in a while. Stamkos is All-Bran – always consistent but never explosive.
If you can’t agree that Malkin has way more upside than Stamkos then this whole argument is a waste of time. I am not advocating chasing the sugarplum fairy tale that is a 140-point season. One can only imagine the size of the horseshoe and the amount of lube necessary to drive Malkin to those heights. What I am saying is that Malkin has proven that when performing at his best he is on a whole other level than Stamkos and perhaps everyone else in the league. So a healthy Malkin is clearly the better bet but for most, if not all people choosing Stamkos, it is Malkin’s health that is the issue.
Anyone taking Stamkos wants to make the safe play. They want the guaranteed points. The problem with this sort of argument is that no players come with guarantees so at a certain point you aren’t really debating about two players but rather your own personal preferences with regard to risk taking and risk assessment. This makes Malkin vs. Stamkos less a discussion of actual player value and more a discussion of pure fantasy strategy.
So let’s talk strategy. For me, there is a huge difference in the amount of risk I am willing to take in a keeper league vs. in a one-year league. Back in September I argued that Corey Perry was a top five pick in one year fantasy pools because there were no other reasonable alternatives. You could roll the dice with a Crosby or a Malkin and maybe you’d hit a homerun but maybe you would strike out. Without exploring it much further, suffice to say I believe pushing all your chips in on your first pick is much too dangerous a strategy in a one-year league. There are better opportunities for risk taking later in the draft that won’t cost you your entire season.
In a keeper league, on the other hand, I am much less risk averse early on. In fact, I want to take risks early on. This is because in a keeper league star players retain their value. If my best player gets hurt he can still be my best player next year so not all is lost. So when I am picking early on, risk is less of an issue. I need to be more concerned with separating myself from the pack. This is because there is nothing worse than being an also-ran in a keeper league – year after year failing to get over the hump. Maybe your league rewards second place but in my leagues we play Ricky Bobby rules so if you’re not first, you’re last. If I can’t win it all I might as well go down in a blaze of glory because losing in a keeper league leads to a better draft pick which can actually improve my odds of winning next year.
So with a really high pick in a keeper league I need to make damn sure I am picking someone with the extra juice that can separate me from the pack. I need a guy who can get me 10+ points more than anyone else in the field. This is because in say a 12-team league by the time I get to my second pick all I have left is 60-70 point guys and there are like 20 of those to pick from. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of teams with two 75-85 point players giving them a range of 150-170 right off the hop. Stamkos plus a 60-70 point guy gets me a 150-170 point range. I gain no advantage. A healthy Malkin plus a 60-70 point guy gives me a 160-185 point range. Suddenly I have an edge on the competition. If Malkin goes down and plays like 30 games, so be it. I can rally back and contend the next year because Malkin still has plenty of big years up his sleeve. I’ll risk losing a season if I know that the next season can be the one Malkin leads the league.
Now this isn’t to say that you can’t build a winner around a guy like Stamkos, I just don’t think you can do it as easily with the first pick as you can with Malkin so again this is all about strategy and context. If you are too risk averse for Malkin then trade down but realize that trading down is not trading Malkin for Stamkos straight up.
This is, of course, entirely hypothetical. No draft strategy is perfect so this is a fairly crude way of going about the comparison. We all know one player does not make a team. That’s not how hockey is played, fantasy or otherwise, but one player can define your team’s direction. In a one-year league Stamkos’ All-Bran consistency is a welcome sight as he allows me to make dangerous sleeper picks later on that won’t cost me because the waiver wire is always more fruitful in a one-year league. In a keeper league though, I need to go for the throat early on because risking my season on sleepers later on cannot be fixed via the waiver wire.
Consider the case of Ales Hemsky. He is an intriguing pick in a one-year league because if he hits you have a star and if he misses you toss him away like the used condom that he is and you move on with your life. Try taking him in a keeper league though. He’s tougher to get rid of than herpes. If he gets hurt no one will go near him with a ten-foot-pole. So taking gambles later on in a keeper league has much more downside. Gamble on Malkin at the top and if he gets hurt you will always have a buyer or you just throw the team into a quick reload for the next season.
Remember that context is everything and personal philosophy is definitely a major factor. I see no value in pushing all-in early on in a one-year league there are too many fluctuations year-to-year that I can take my risks later and just dump that risk for the flavour of the week on the waiver wire. In a keeper league you have to manage long term needs so bailing out on upside is much more difficult, that places an emphasis on taking your risks closer to the top and playing it safe later on. So league type is a factor.
There is also the importance of understanding the size of your league. The smaller the league the less value there is in taking risks at the top. In say an eight-team league you could take Stamkos first and then still grab an 80-point guy on the way back around. Taking Malkin early still gives you a leg up but that can be marginalized because in smaller leagues there is greater waiver wire depth, which decreases the value of earlier risk taking and increases the value of later risk taking.
I won’t pretend to know where exactly the line is between the risk associated with Malkin and the comfort associated with Stamkos but I do know that there is a significant difference between taking that risk in a one-year league than in a keeper league. These risks will vary depending on your draft position and the depth of your league. The key is remaining open to the possibility that you can be wrong. There is no absolute answer. That’s why for as great and as enlightening as this Cage Match Tournament has been, the system was not perfect. The criteria for voting was pick who you would prefer to own in a points only keeper league but no further context was provided. Each voter was left to assume whether in each matchup you were picking a side in either a one-for-one trade or that you were deciding who you would rather draft first. Or maybe they just assumed this was a complete vacuum situation without context.
So I admit that the question was not entirely fair, or at least not specific enough but there was really no way to encapsulate all the specifics of everyone’s individual leagues and still be able to pull off a tournament of this nature. I hope you all can appreciate that. The masses prefer Malkin in a vacuum and I certainly agree with them but I hope the take away is that this was not unanimous and that there are certainly situations where Malkin is the wrong choice.
Ultimately, whether right or wrong, the people have spoken so bow to your King, the Malking. He is the inaugural Cage Match Tournament Champion and the consensus #1 player in fantasy hockey. Thanks for voting.