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.
Let’s face it - many fantasy hockey debates center around making predictions, often about whether highly touted but underperforming players will ever live up to their potential. With that in mind, today’s column focuses on Erik Johnson and Victor Hedman - two defensemen who have played their entire young careers with the weight of their high draft positions (Johnson 1st overall in 2006, Hedman 2nd overall in 2009) on their shoulders but so far have fallen short of lofty expectations. This debate centers on a simple question, but one that has strong arguments for both sides - who will score more points next season, Johnson or Hedman?
Hedman will outpoint Johnson next season
Victor Hedman has spent his first three seasons patiently maturing and getting accustomed to the NHL game. The Lightning have made sure not to rush Hedman along, and one of the consequences is that so far his offensive output isn’t where it could’ve been for someone with his talent and skills. Despite Hedman hearing lots of whispers and second guessing from fans and the media, his work ethic and attitude have never been questioned and he’s been the consummate teammate.
Even though Hedman scored 23 total points to Johnson’s 26 in 2011-12, it was in 12 fewer games played (73 for Johnson, 61 for Hedman) and with Hedman taking the ice for roughly 110 fewer total minutes than Johnson during the season (1,521 for Johnson, 1,409 for Hedman). Hedman also averaged less than half as much power play time per game as Johnson (2:19 for Johnson, 1:08 for Hedman) but had to play nearly twice as many tough shorthanded minutes (2:54 per game average for Hedman, 1:34 for Johnson). If Hedman had received all the ice time and power play opportunities as Johnson but without the burden of nearly three minutes of shorthanded duty per game, then there wouldn’t even be this debate, as Hedman would’ve already outpointed Johnson and everyone would of course predict more of the same going forward.
It’s also important to remember that next season will be Hedman’s fourth, which DobberHockey readers know is prime time for an offensive breakout. But even beyond that, there are many signs that Hedman is poised to well exceed his career high of 26 points in the upcoming campaign. For one, he had eight points in the final nine games of last season, and his power play time was finally cracking the three minute mark for several of those games.
This clearly showed that if Hedman was put in an offensive role he could seize upon it and produce, and made it clear that an offensive breakout is all but inevitable. Let’s also not forget another 6’6’’ defensemen who was also was selected 2nd overall in the draft and who, like Hedman, played in the NHL as a teenager – just a future hall of famer named Chris Pronger. Aside from their heights and draft selection spot being the same, Pronger’s 69 points in his first three seasons is actually IDENTICAL to Hedman’s point output from his first three campaigns. And we all know where Pronger went from there……
But as much as this debate is about Hedman’s clear upward trajectory, it’s also about Johnson’s downward spiral. If you’ve seen Johnson play since coming to Colorado, you’d never guess he somehow managed to score over 30 points (33 and 39) in each of his first two seasons. Many fans and writers actually wondered what St. Louis was thinking in 2011 giving up on a former “can’t miss” #1 overall pick who was just about to turn only 23, especially in what they felt was a lopsided trade favoring the Avs (Johnson, Jay McClement and a conditional 1st rounder for Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional 2nd rounder). But they certainly are wondering no more, what with Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo looking like they might end up being the Brian Rafalski and Niklas Lidstrom of this decade and with Johnson’s stats clearly in decline. And if you think there’s hope for Johnson to turn it around, just remember this is the same guy who missed an entire season after recklessly injuring himself on a golf cart during a team outing. Plus, with Stefan Elliott (only one of the most highly touted offensive defenseman prospects) ready to play a much larger role next season, that will no doubt cut into a lot of Johnson’s prime minutes. Face it – Johnson is well on his way to ending up such a bust that his owners won’t just be wishing they had Hedman instead, they might even settle for the likes of perennial punch line Jay Bouwmeester!
Johnson will outpoint Hedman next season
So let’s get this straight, we’re supposed to just write off Erik Johnson - a former #1 overall draft pick - at age 24?! That in and of itself is laughable, but even more so when comparing him to Hedman, who has spent his NHL career so far either being overmatched or just plain invisible while on the ice. Painting Hedman as a patient and admirable player while highlighting a fluke injury that happened to Johnson just shows how weak the arguments are in favor of Hedman. But if it is a question about character, keep in mind that Johnson showed leadership beyond his young age while playing for the Avs last season, setting an example that helped Gabriel Landeskog put up his impressive rookie numbers and, in the process, become not just the new Avs captain but the youngest captain in NHL history.
Speaking of the Avs, Johnson amassed 26 points in his first full season with Colorado, which is quite respectable considering the high scorer for his team managed only 55 total points, which was the 2nd worst team leading point total in the entire NHL for last season. To put it in even better perspective, Johnson’s 26 points was just outside the top 50 for NHL defensemen scoring, but 55 points was tied for 69th among all NHL forwards. If anything, that proves the Avs are bringing down Johnson, not the other way around. Yet the same cannot be said for Hedman, who managed only 23 points despite playing with the Lightning, an offensive juggernaut which scored 235 regular season goals versus the 208 for Colorado (a significant difference of almost 13% more goals). If Johnson had the luxury of playing for Tampa, he could’ve easily been at or even above 40 points, but if Hedman had to suffer for a season with the lowly Avs offense, he likely would’ve been lucky to even end up with a point total in the teens. And Hedman’s added PP time toward the end of last season was not so much earned as it was by default, since Tampa basically had no other options. But with Sami Salo and Matt Carle now in the fold for Tampa, Hedman’s PP time will come back to earth with a thud and his points won’t be artificially benefitted like they were at the end of last season. And as good as Stefan Elliott might be on paper, he still figures to continue to be eased into the Avs line-up, so Johnson’s minutes won’t suffer. Plus, in many cases (like when Rafalski joined Lidstrom on Detroit), the addition of a second offensive-minded defenseman actually ends up helping, not hurting, the stats of both D-men.
Oh, and the comparison of Chris Pronger to Hedman leaves out one vital detail – as great as Pronger was, he didn’t top 40 points until his 6th season, so even if by some miracle Hedman eventually manages to find his offensive game, it probably won’t be for at least a couple of more years. For Johnson, however, there are a couple of very good comparisons among defensemen drafted in the top two overall, namely Wade Redden and Ed Jovanovski. Neither of them got to the 40 point mark until after they had played more than 300 NHL games (Redden put up 47 points in his 5th season, after playing in 315 regular season games and a previous career high of 36 points; Jovanovski scored 47 points in his 7th season, after playing in 359 games and a previous career high of 26 points), and that’s right around where Erik Johnson is now after having played 298 regular season games so far and with a previous career high of 39 points. Both Redden and Jovanovski posted a total of four 40+ point seasons, a number that Johnson figures to at least duplicate if not surpass. So if you’re a Johnson owner, sit back and enjoy the big breakout you’ll see this season as well as the future dividends, both of which are a lot more than you’ll get from Hedman.
The Final Verdict
Let me say this right from the start - personally, I’m not a fan of Erik Johnson. I think he was overrated from the start, and still is even now. But this is the perfect example of why fantasy hockey (and this column) needs to be about objective information and data, not subjective viewpoints. This debate also highlights the temptation for fantasy hockey GMs to be enticed by player potential and trends or by “what ifs” and hunches, often at the expense of what’s most likely to actually occur based on real data and circumstances.
The fact is that Johnson has already scored more than 30 points twice in a season, but Hedman hasn’t reached that mark even once. Johnson’s career high in points (39) is 50% higher than Hedman’s (26), and that is a really big gap. Johnson’s ability to amass 26 points last year despite the anemic Avs offense makes it hard to predict him doing any worse next season. Yet Hedman only exceeded 20 points last year thanks to a late season surge of eight points in his final nine games. It is true that Hedman missed about a quarter of last season, so he may in fact have ended up with more points than Johnson had they played the same number of games. But in terms of this season, with offensively capable Sami Salo and Matt Carle now on the Lightning, Hedman will likely struggle to get meaningful PP time yet still projects to be counted on to play tough shorthanded minutes, making it hard to envision him building upon his late season surge to lead to an increased point output. So as far as this debate, the final verdict is that Johnson will outpoint Hedman next season.
But who knows – maybe this question will be worth revisiting in a couple of years once the full impact of Elliott is felt in Colorado. Time will tell…..
Previous columns from Roos: