The Fantasy Hockey Geek looks at three fantasy underachievers and how they project over the balance of the season.
Last week, I profiled three players who have been overachieving this year and provided some insight as to whether or not we can expect their production to continue. Today I will take a look at the flip side of the coin with some players who have fallen well below expectations thus far and try to determine whether it is time to cut bait on them, or if they make a great buy-low candidate.
To perform my analysis, I used the exact same method as I did last week. I ran two simple reports in Fantasy Hockey Geek: first, I ran a league ranking based on the Dobber preseason predictions, then I ran a league ranking based on the actual season to date numbers. I compared the two rankings and look for players who have large differences. I found at least 20 relevant players when I did this, but today I will detail three of them for you:
(Today’s numbers calculated using a Yahoo! 12 team league measuring G, A, +/-, SOG, PPP, Hits)
|Player||Projected Rank||Actual Rank (to date)||Change|
The above chart lists three NHL veterans with a large amount of history to base preseason projections on, but in every case you can see that they are falling considerably short of their projected ranks. Let’s take a deeper look inside each player to see how they are doing this:
(For my preseason prediction numbers, I prorated the output down to match the number of games played this season)
To understand how Dustin Brown could drop so low, we have to first understand why he was so valuable in the first place because people often underestimate just how valuable Brown can be when he is at his best.
As a player who is always near the top of the league in hits, they are clearly Brown’s bread and butter. What makes (made) Brown really special though is his contributions to other categories. I often see GMs roster a player like Matt Martin to get their hits up and they claim they don’t need a player like Brown. There is a huge hole in this approach because a player like Martin gives up about 45 points, 18PPP and 100SOG to Brown and he costs you an entire extra roster spot which is incredibly draining on your fantasy hockey team. There are only a few guys out there like Brown who are elite multi category guys (Ovechkin, E Kane) that can provide you with some points and that’s exactly why they are so valuable.
With a projected 58 points, Brown would have fallen under a lot of GMs radar, but when you consider his high shot total and performance on the powerplay as well as his aforementioned beastly hit total, the point total he loses to (for example) a Jason Pomminville is easy to swallow.
The problem with Brown is that none of it is materializing this season. While Brown is still contributing the hits, the rest of his numbers are down and it’s not pretty. The main reason for the decline was his removal from the Kopitar line as well as the top powerplay unit. Brown’s contributions with the man advantage in previous years were one of the main reasons his value was always so high, but this season he is seeing far fewer opportunities and it is reflected in his PPP pace of 4. To make matters worse, his changing role has affected all of his other numbers (shots, goals and assists).
LA is a stacked team with plenty of young talent and Brown is having a tough time getting the offensive opportunities. He isn’t a different player, he’s just in a different role and while I would say that he can improve his current output in the role he has been given, there is no way his value will return to the preseason predictions unless he is being given the time of a top line winger.
Brown is a great example of how a players’ value can change drastically when a couple categories start to decline. The FHG math really shows you the difference between a hitter who can score and somebody who is a hitter – and the difference is big. As long as Brown continues to be deployed in his current role, his value will remain considerably lower than it would be if he was a top line RW.
My recommendation on Brown in one year leagues is to avoid him unless you can get him dirt cheap. In a keeper league, I would target Brown (again, assuming that he is greatly discounted) because he is still young and the skill set is still there. I think it’s entirely possible that he could be traded and if he goes somewhere where he is given top line minutes, he will once again be a top fantasy own. Until then though, he is only a slight upgrade on our friend Matt Martin.
Eric Staal has long been a fantasy hockey favorite of mine and the FHG math has always backed that up. He is perceived just outside the level of the elite centers that everybody targets, but his high shot and goal totals combined with his ability to play in almost every game make him a player who is actually pretty close to some of those guys in terms of value. Based on Staal’s history (8 straight seasons of over 70 points and seven seasons of over a 30G pace), his preseason prediction numbers above all seemed very attainable. 54 games in though, Stall is falling considerably short. Let’s look at what’s driving the decline.
Looking at the Assist and Hit totals (predicted vs. actual), Staal is right on track so he isn’t being hurt there.
The major reason for Staal’s decline in value is that he is tanking in the areas that he usually excels in. Centers who shoot and score are very rare in fantasy hockey and Staal has historically been one of the best. He is currently on a pace to post his lowest number since his rookie season in both of these categories. His 222 shot pace is of particular concern to me as I use SOG as one of my most predictive measures in a player. Generally speaking a player who isn’t producing but is still shooting is far more likely to bounce back than a player whose shots have dried up.
Staal’s declining powerplay production isn’t helping either. 18 PPP isn’t a bad number, but it isn’t a number that is going to make you a top 10 fantasy hockey own as was projected at the outset of the season. Carolina’s PP has never been amongst the league’s elite, but Staal has always been a big part of it, so his PPP have remained solid. This season though (as well as last), Staal’s PP production has started to decrease.
One other contribution to Staal’s decline is his horrible pace of -14. Staal is a career minus player, so in retrospect the preseason projection was probably aggressive.
Looking through the numbers, it is clear to see why Staal’s value has taken such a hit this season. The question is – will he bounce back? He has been great for eight straight years, he is still young and he is still the go to guy in Carolina so my gut says that Staal will return to form coming out of the Olympic break. I always like to substantiate things a little better than “my gut” though, so I looked back to a season that started like this one for Staal: 2011-12. I remember this season vividly because I was in a fantasy points league (included +/-) and Staal was outright dropped because of his poor performance. I scooped him up and ended up riding him all the way to a championship. Let’s take a look at that season:
You can see above, that Staal had a drastically improved performance after the ASB. He only had 11 goals in 51 games before the break and had 13 in just 31 games after! He was over a point per game in the second half and he almost matched his first half powerplay output in 20 fewer games, while transforming from one of the worst minus players in the league, to a respectable +3. What this shows me is that Staal indeed has the ability to turn things around mid season. The one difference in the 2011-12 season is that even in the first part of the season when he wasn’t scoring, Staal was shooting. His turnaround in 2011-12 was largely based on a normalization of his shooting % whereas this season, the shots aren’t there – his goal total is about right for the number of shots he has taken.
When I set out to write this article, I was fully expecting to be very bullish on Staal for the remainder of the season but after drilling into the shot totals am tempering my expectations slightly. Given that he has had high end output for eight seasons and has also proven to be a strong second half performer in the past, I would still try to buy low on Eric Staal for your stretch run. I think that the Olympic break might be exactly what he needs to reset himself and return to form. Staal should be a buy-low in one year and keeper leagues alike. Keep an eye on his shot totals though, if they don’t climb back up to at least a 250 pace, then you may want to avoid Staal in future years.
Jack Johnson is a player that is often undervalued in fantasy hockey even when he is putting up numbers to the best of his ability so now that he is having an off season, he will certainly be undervalued. He shoots and scores at a strong clip while adding a solid hit total and he is great on the powerplay – all of which are extremely valuable coming from the D position. Johnson’s career high in points is actually only 42 though and playing in Columbus he doesn’t get the most attention in the media so he flies under the radar in fantasy hockey circles.
At the beginning of the season, you can see that Dobber’s projections called for a 46 point season for Johnson, which is quite a bit higher than his current 31 point pace. Based on this alone, you might think that Johnson has been a complete bust this year, but I like a lot of what I see in Johnson.
He’s on pace for over 150 shots, and it’s great to see that Johnson is still getting the puck on the net. I know I always harp on this, but not only is SOG a category on its own, it is also strongly correlated to success in other categories.
JJ’s hits are through the roof, currently on pace for 177. Even if Johnson doesn’t improve from his current 31 point pace, his shots and hits alone make him a very valuable own. (I have Johnson listed as an underachiever, but I would bet that many GMs out there would be surprised to learn that he is the 94th most valuable player in this down season). Jack Johnson and his 21 points is more valuable to fantasy hockey teams than Brian Campbell and his 25 points.
Where Johnson’s value is taking a hit this season is with PPP and points (goals and assists). This can all be directly attributed to his reduction of powerplay time (from 3:37 per game last season to 2:51 this season). A quick look at the Jacket’s recent line combos will show you that this trend is changing though and JJ is once again receiving top minutes on the Columbus powerplay.
Looking at more recent game data, Johnson has 10 points in 18 contests since the calendar turned to 2014. If you’re curious, that’s a 46 point pace which is the exact number that Dobber originally projected for him. Not coincidentally, seven of his powerplay points have come over those 18 games after only netting three PPPs in his first 39 games. He has also been shooting at a 200+ pace in the more recent timeframe.
Looking over Jack Johnson’s numbers, he is a very strong buy low for me. There is a clear reason why he was falling below expectations, the reason was removed and now he performing exactly to expectations. Since his total points on the season are still pretty low, you can likely get Johnson extremely cheap and count on him to be about the 50th – 60th most valuable player (15th-25th best defenseman) over the remainder of the season.
Taking a step back and identifying underachievers (and overachievers) in your fantasy hockey league is a great thing to do during the Olympic break. Fantasy Hockey Geek provides some great tools to allow you to quickly and easily compare how players are contributing this season compared to how we thought they would at the beginning of the seasons. Running these numbers are a great way to identify some players who may be driving their current owner nuts, but who may also be primed for a big bounce back – hopefully on YOUR squad.