Fantasy Hockey Geek names the Fantaster Team USA Olympic roster.
Two weeks ago when Fantasy Hockey Geek provided the ideal picks for a Fantasy Hockey Team Sweden, the picks were fairly straightforward and simple. Things take a more interesting turn today as I dig into the optimal Fantasy Hockey Team USA, on the heels of the American team’s actual selections.
Going through the selection process for team USA was fascinating as there were a far greater number of tough decisions than there were with Team Sweden. The actual Team USA selection committee seems to have adopted a similar strategy as I have when crafting the team in that they had a specific role for each line and they assigned players accordingly. I personally believe that this process is the right way to go, but this process also allows for the possibility of some big omissions, like the US leaving Bobby Ryan off of the team. Despite the fact that Team USA and myself had similar strategies to the selection process, the results were actually somewhat different. I love how my Fantasy Team USA panned out and I wish I was able to put this team up against the real world squad. Let’s take a look at how my Team USA shook out:
Team USA overview:
Team USA has a much more diverse skill set to select from while the Swedes were primarily players who were decent puck moving power-play performers. USA boasts some elite scoring talent with the likes of Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel but they also have a fair amount of talented, gritty players such as Ryan Callahan and David Backes, who are extremely valuable in real-life and fantasy hockey alike. Aside from their diversity, the American’s biggest strength is at RW which is one of the more shallow positions in Fantasy Hockey. USA has a good some excellent options for their defensive core, but what I find extremely interesting is that their two best fantasy options at D will be watching from home when the tournament starts.
My first and second lines (as they were with team Sweden) will be made up of high end scoring players who produce on the power-play. As such, to determine who will make up my top 2 lines I created a league in Fantasy Hockey Geek that measures only (G, A, PPP and SOG). Here’s how they shape up.
*All data shown is using 2013-14 data as of Dec 19th
|Player||Pos||G||A||SOG||PPP||FHG Rank||Last Year Rank|
|Player||Pos||G||A||SOG||PPP||FHG Rank||Last Year Rank|
- In Kane and Kessel, the US has two of the top five RW eligible players (using these scoring settings) on their top 2 lines. They also have a third in Byfuglien, but he will be making the team as a defenseman. Kane and Kessel are elite point scorers. Both are in the top 10 of NHL points and SOG over the past two combined seasons.
- - At LW, the shots theme continues as Parise and Pacioretty are 4th and 5th respectively in shots per game over the past two seasons.
- - Going through this process, I can see how the USA selection committee left Bobby Ryan off their roster. They essentially said he is a top 6 player or he doesn’t make the team and with the elite wingers that I have outlined above, I couldn’t squeeze Ryan into my top 6 either. The difference between me and the actual selection committee though, is that I know Ryan still has plenty of value on a lower line.
- - One area that Fantasy Team USA could be perceived as being light is at Centre, where they have a number of very solid options but they lack that big 100 point upside superstar (Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos, Tavares etc). As the 24th and 36th most valuable top line players Pavelski and Kesler are no slouches but they are only the 10th and 14th most valuable at their position under these settings and those aren’t great rankings on a USA team that is supposed to be a contender. Canada by comparison has 9 players who were in the top 10 available centers either this year, last year or both.
The backend is where I differ from the real USA selection committee the most. I used the same scoring criteria for my first defensive pairing as I did for my top 2 scoring lines:
|Player||Pos||G||A||SOG||PPP||FHG Rank||Last Year Rank|
- - You can see from the FHG output above that my TOP TWO defensive selections are players that didn’t even make the team in real life. From a fantasy perspective (using my L1 settings), these two guys have been the 7th and 14th most valuable players in the entire league and both are top five defensemen. It’s probably also worth noting that they are #1 and #2 in scoring by a US born defenseman since the lockout.
- - I will always be a bit biased towards fantasy relevant players and probably over value players who put up points over those who “have intangibles”, but how these two will be at home while Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin are in Sochi is a bit crazy to me. In fantasy hockey if you were able to trade Orpik and Martin to net you Yandle and Byfuglien then the trade would probably be vetoed in an instant.
- - I do understand what the selection committee was thinking by bringing Orpik and Martin and while I don’t necessarily argue with the logic that got them there, I think that they came to the wrong conclusion (more on that later).
For my third line, I want players who can go against the other teams’ top lines, kill penalties, win faceoffs and block shots. Of course we want scoring for all lines so goals and assists matter but for L3 I am looking more at even strength points as most of the PP time will be going to L1 and L2. In order to find the optimal players for such a line, I entered the following categories into my league in FHG (Goals, Assists, Short Handed Points, Even Strength Points, Blocked Shots, Takeaways, Faceoffs won). Here are the players I selected from the FHG output:
|Player||Pos||G||A||SHP||ESP||BKS||TKA||FOW||FHG Rank||Last Year Rank|
- - Unlike the actual team USA, I was able to get Bobby Ryan on my team as a third liner. Team USA’s standpoint of “He was going to make it as a top 6 forward or not make it” is faulty logic to me as it relies on the untrue premise that Ryan can’t provide value as a third liner. Ryan doesn’t make it as a top 6 on my team either, but he has plenty of value on L3 as evidenced by his FHG calculated value of 30th overall. With 26 of his 32 points coming at even strength, Ryan clearly does not need the top 6 PP time in order to perform. He is 8th in the entire league in even strength points and second among Americans to P Kane. - - He is also 13th in the entire league in takeaways making him an ideal third line player for my team and his possession (corsi) numbers would indicate that he is not a liability defensively. The assumption that Ryan needed to be a top 6 scorer to add value was a really bad assumption and I think Team USA will regret that decision.
- - Stepan made my team based largely on the high upside he displayed last season, being the fifth most valuable player using my L3 criteria and he was also helped by the fact that the US isn’t exceptionally deep at C. Stepan’s numbers this season are underwhelming but he was a stud last season, excelling particularly well in the L3 settings above as you can tell by his rank of 5th overall.
- - Brandon Dubinsky is another former Geek of the Week who continues to show that he can add value in various league formats. His ranking of 32nd overall using L3 criteria is very strong, especially when you consider that he has put up that value while playing 5-7 fewer games than most other players. He adds to FOW from the LW position which is very valuable in fantasy and he is always a threat to score while his team kills penalties. SHP is a very rare stat to get in fantasy hockey so when a player contributes like Dubi does, it is worth a lot. As the 32nd most valuable player using L3 settings, Fantasy Team USA is getting great value with Dubinsky.
For my second defensive unit, I used the same criteria as I did for my line 3 scorers:
|Player||Pos||G||A||SHP||ESP||BKS||TKA||FOW||FHG Rank||Last Year Rank|
- - With Suter and Carlson, the US has a couple of guys that are very well suited to my second defensive pairing. Both have shown an ability to put up FHG values in the 30s using my L3 settings with their ability to do a number of different things (block shots, score at even strength etc).
- - Suter’s value of 39 overall was calculated before he even scored his first goal, so his value is understated. Carlson has also shown an ability to provide more value than his current rank of 56th; just looking at last season he was the 31st most valuable player in a league
- with L3 settings.
On my ideal fourth line, I want some bangers who can put the puck in the net but also do some damage to opposing players. The best categories I thought of that best represent this desire is (Goals, Assists, Even Strength Points, Hits and Blocked Shots). Here is who best fit the bill for Team USA:
|Player||Pos||G||A||ESP||Hits||BKs||FHG Value||Last Year Value|
|John van Riemsdyk||LW||14||12||17||69||12||47||111|
- - I love my fantasy team USA’s fourth line. The US has some great options of players who add some grit but can also put the puck in the net and play against the world’s elite talent. L4 is a big area of strength for Fantasy Team USA.
- - David Backes is my view of the absolute perfect fit for this line and that is supported by the FHG math as he is the 6th most valuable player in the L4 format. His hit total alone is higher than my entire Sweden L4 and his blocked shots are close as well.
- Ryan Callahan has had a miserable time this season, barely being able to suit up for games but he is another elite L4 talent. FHG calculates him as the 15th most valuable player in this format last season when he played in 45 games. His hit and blocked shot totals make him a fantasy stud in any league that measures these two statistics.
- - I was surprised to see JVR sneak onto my 4th line as I fully expected the math to support a Callahan-Backes-Brown 4th line. Apparently I haven’t been paying enough attention to LA though, because I was very surprised to learn that Brown only has 12 points so far this season. His 127 hits are great, but that isn’t enough to overcome the advantage that JVR has in points and when you consider that JVR has been dishing out 2 hits per game himself, it is easy to see why the math works in JVR’s favor on this line.
- - Ryan McDonagh is another American player that slots in perfectly for the fantasy hockey role I have assigned him. I love Team USA for this fact and it’s why I like Fantasy Team USA far more than I do Sweden. They have players that excel at different areas but do so at elite levels, which is great on a real life hockey team but also very applicable to fantasy hockey. McDonagh would be the 60th most valuable player under L1 criteria, but he is the 38th under L4 criteria, which is just another example of how a player’s value can vary by a fair margin depending on your league settings. The disparity on Callahan is even greater as he was the 136th most valuable L1 player last season but the 15th best L4 player. The FHG math really shows us which leagues (or lines) that each player is best suited for. Sorry for the tangent there, but the bottom line is this: much like the rest of his US brethren, McDonagh is a good fantasy hockey player, but he is a really good fantasy hockey player when assigned to the specific roles that I have created.
- - The FHG math will also show you that Kevin Shattenkirk is a great own in almost any league format. Under the L1 criteria, his value is actually higher (18th overall), but with two studs already on my D1, I was able to move Shatty down to D3 where his hit and blocked shots totals allow him to continue to provide great value with some offensive flare.
- As I mentioned, the defense is where I differ from the actual selections the most. It looks like Team USA plans on using Suter and Shattenkirk as their D1 slots and both of these players are great D1 options. Using FHG though, I was able to move these two fantasy studs down a couple of lines where they can still be fully utilized and that allowed me to release the firepower of a Byfuglien - Yandle combo on my topline. Team USA is bringing guys like Orpik and Faulk to fill a role and I totally understand their thinking there, but for me – I am completely happy allowing guys like McDonagh and Suter to capably fill that role (and do so with more skill).
There are a number of omissions from my Fantasy Team USA that are worthy of noting. I will start with the players that made the actual team and add a few others that were snubbed by myself as well as the Olympic selection committee:
- Dustin Brown: As I mentioned above, I was surprised to leave Brown out. He is a great all-around player in real life and in Fantasy, but the way I entered the settings for my Olympic lines, he just doesn’t make the elite on any of the line designs. This again shows why using FHG is so important: my gut said that Brown was the man, but the numbers proved otherwise.
- Blake Wheeler: If I were using last seasons’ numbers, Wheeler was actually the 18th most valuable player using L4 settings so I see why Team USA wanted this guy. His value isn’t as high this season though and the US is stacked at RW. Ryan is a better option at L3 and Callahan is an elite player under my L4 design, so Wheeler is left out. Wheeler would be my first reserve though and if Callahan is hurt then Wheeler can step in nicely.
- TJ Oshie: This was another really tough cut and he would be my second reserve. He could slot in on either of the bottom two lines, providing value of 49th (L3) and 60th (L4).
- Paul Stastny is a pretty terrible fantasy player who wouldn’t make it anywhere near my Team USA. He plays C for a country that is shallow at C, but he isn’t particularly good at anything in fantasy. On lines 1, 2 or 4, his value would be worse than 200 and his value only creeps up to 117 on L3 because of the inclusion of FW. Players like Paul Stastny are perfect examples of players that FHG can save you from: he has decent but not elite point production and pretty much does nothing else. The points make you want to take him, but the numbers show that he is a really, really bad own.
- Cam Fowler: As a player whose fantasy game is best suited to a D1 slot where the USA is pretty stacked, Fowler just missed making my team. He would be a D reserve though, as he has solid value in D2 (52) and D3 (54) as well.
- Brooks Orpik and his elite hit and blocked shot totals make him a decent D3 option (61st most valuable). As I mentioned – I completely understand why the actual Team USA selected him and I would keep him as my second D reserve.
- Paul Martin: I feel similar about Martin as I do about Stastny (I don’t have much use for either). In fact, I would say that Martin is just the third best fantasy-US defenseman on the Penguins (Orpik and Niskanen ahead of him). He is most valuable using the L1 settings where his value is 171st overall, which is 164 slots worse than Byfuglien. His career high in points was only 37 and that happened eight years ago, he barely shoots once per game, only throws in the odd hit or blocked shot and is somehow -1 playing on a great Pittsburgh team.
- Justin Faulk failed to make my squad and should proceed to the department of better in real life than in fantasy hockey. His best shot was on D3, where he would have been 80th most valuable which is still well back of many other US options.
- Jason Pominville probably wasn’t selected to the actual team due to his low point totals at a position that the US is deep at. He wasn’t selected to my team for the same reason as well as the fact that he doesn’t contribute to many of the other measured categories either. He is the exact type of player that I never want on my fantasy hockey team and the FHG match backs that up as his ranking is over 100 across all of the line settings used here.
- Brandon Saad isn’t getting a ton of attention as a snub, but he came seriously close to making the FHG team on L3. His value (33rd overall) was just one slot worse than the other Brandon (Dubinsky). On all other lines, Saad’s value was in the 100’s so this is another key learning about understanding your league. In the unlikely event that you are in a league with similar settings to my L3, FHG shows just how valuable a guy like Saad can be.
- Kyle Okposo has really been coming on lately and he has fantasy value across all line formats, but he too falls victim of a USA talent pool that is very deep on RW. His low shot and PP output leaves him a class below the high end US wingers on lines 1 & 2 and players like Callahan and Ryan simply fit better into lines 3 & 4. Okposo would be another great reserve player, as he could step into any of the 3 lines without giving up too much in terms of value (he provides top 100 value across all formats).
- Jack Johnson and James Wisneiwski are two guys who are often short changed in fantasy hockey due to their inconsistency, injuries and possibly their team. When playing, both can be very useful fantasy pieces but they just aren’t up to the level of the other US defensemen the way I have laid out the lines.
The United States has become a source of fantasy hockey gold, with their depth at key positions as well as the diverse playing styles that are emerging. Any country that can boast the skill of a Patrick Kane with the brawn of a David Backes is going to be in very good shape. The way that I have laid out the criteria for my lines in these olympic selections is very much in synch with what the US has to offer and for that reason I would give Fantasy Team USA a grade of A. Their wingers are elite and versatile, they have plenty of grit and they have a solid defense core to fit the various line criteria I have set up. The only thing stopping them from being an A+ is that elusive top 5 superstar down the middle.
Creating Fantasy Team USA was a ton of fun with some incredibly close selection decisions and it was even more fun having put this together after the team was announced. It’s incredibly interesting to see such huge variances in some of the players they selected (Martin, Stastny etc) and some they omitted (Byfuglien, Yandle, Ryan) who were no-brainer inclusions for me based on the FHG math.
The difference between Team USA’s selections and mine really outlines the value of FHG in that there are obviously a wide range of opinions out there on which players are better and who is most valuable. Using the math behind FHG, you can definitively determine how much value each player has been providing for a certain group of scoring settings. I had zero doubt that FHG would be able to help me identify who the more valuable fantasy assets were, but what’s even more intriguing to me is that when I select the names based solely on the numbers, I actually think I like the names on the FHG team better than the real life US team.