ThomasVanek

 

Will more than 20 players score a point-per-game this season?

Through February 3rd, more than 50 NHL players have played at least 5 games and were scoring at a point per game pace or better.  Of course no one will pretend that the actual number at the end of the season will be anything near 50; but will it be more than it’s been in recent seasons?  Readers of the DobberHockey Fantasy Guide know that point-per-game scoring is an unlikely feat in today’s NHL.  In fact, not since the 2009-10 season has there been at least 20 players who scored at a point-per-game pace while also playing in 70-plus games.  But will the dazzling rate of early scoring continue throughout the year or will things soon go back to how they’ve been in recent goalie-dominated seasons?  With that, the debate for this week is whether we’ll see more than 20 players who appear in at least 40 games and score at a point per game rate this season.

 

 Welcome to 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 where 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, or send me suggestions via a private message to my forum name - rizzeedizzee.


Yes – Fast starts have given many players a points cushion; a lot of proven point per game guys haven’t hit their stride; and goalies won’t turn things around enough in time

If this was a normal 82-game season, then the fast starts by so many players wouldn’t matter as much, but in a shortened 48 game season they’ll definitely have a lasting impact.  Look at it this way – not only were there over 50 players at a point per game pace through February 3rd, more than 20 were scoring above a 1.25 pace!  With already almost 20% of the season in the rearview mirror, that gives these players a very healthy cushion to help end up at or above a point per game.  To put things in better context, if this was a normal 82-game season and there were this many players scoring at this high of a points pace around the end of November (which is usually when the season is about 20% over), wouldn’t you think it was a lock for at least 20 players to finish at or above a point per game pace?

Plus, even though some of the players who are now among those scoring at or above a point per game will no doubt finish below that, there are also others who are below that pace so far but - based on having reached point-per-game levels at least once in one or more recent seasons - have a very realistic shot of reaching that level by the end of the season.  Just some of these names include:

·         Alexander Ovechkin (in all of his seasons except last year)

·         Jarome Iginla (in four of the past six seasons)

·         Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin (three of the past four seasons

·         Ilya Kovalchuk (last year and in five previous full seasons)

·         Nicklas Backstrom and Brad Richards (two of the past three full seasons)

·         Alexander Semin (in two of the past four seasons),

·         Corey Perry (in 2010-11)

·         Claude Giroux, James Neal and Phil Kessel (last season)

 

While the reality is that not all 12 of these guys will end up at a point per game, it stands to reason that probably at least half should, and that will only help make it more likely that we’ll see at least 20 point per game players when all is said and done.

But perhaps the biggest reason that scoring is already way up and will stay that way long enough to ensure at least 20 point-per-game players this season is that many elite goalies are off their game.  Even netminders who played overseas during the lockout seem to be struggling to find their groove without much hope in sight, and as a result more goals are being (and will be) scored, which of course means more point per game players.  Many of the goalies who are doing poorly now will eventually improve to some degree, but not nearly enough in time to put a meaningful dent in the point per game numbers we’re seeing so far.  After all, look at what happened to the top goalies during the 48-game season of 1994-95:

 

Goalie

GAA and SV% in 1992-93 season

GAA and SV% in 1994-95 season

Dominik Hasek

1.95 and .930

2.11 and .930

John Vanbiesbrouck

2.53 and .924

2.47 and .914

Patrick Roy

2.50 and .918

2.97 and .906

Martin Brodeur

2.40 and .915

2.45 and .902

Curtis Joseph

3.10 and .911

2.79 and .902

In the table above is a list of arguably the top goalies from 1994-95 who played in more than half of their team’s games, with these representing the top five in save percentage for that season.  But if you look at their GAA and SV% from the 84 game 1993-94 season and compare them to the same numbers in the 48 game 1994-95 season, you’ll see that at least one of those stats got worse for all five goalies, and for three of them both stats got worse!  Just as this does not bode well for many elite goalies returning to form this season, it signifies that the early torrid scoring pace will continue long enough to ensure there will be at least 20 point per game players at season’s end.

 

No – The long season will take its toll; goalies will significantly improve; and teams will start to emphasize defense more as the playoff race heats up

As has been said several times in this column, one of the biggest traps that fantasy hockey GMs can fall into is placing too much weight on small segments of the season.  And while it is true that two weeks means more in a shortened season than it usually does when there are 82 games to be played, we have to remember that 80% of the season still remains, leaving plenty of time for goalies to find their rhythm and for point per game scoring to come back to earth.

While it’s possible that some elite goalies won’t end up with stats that are as good as their 2011-12 numbers, the reality is things will vastly improve between now and the end of the year, which means that scoring will inevitably have to go down.  Looking at the chart above, the average increase in GAA for those five goalies in 1994-95 actually was only 0.062, and the average decrease in SV% was only 0.009.  But if we look at the numbers so far for the top five goalies in SV% from 2011-12 who played in more than half their team’s games, we see that not only is GAA up for four out of five of them and SV% down for all five, but the percentage of increase/decrease is significantly higher than would be expected in view of the changes that occurred to their counterparts from 1993-94 to 1994-95:

 

Goalie

GAA and SV% in 2011-12 season

Expected changes based numbers from 1994-95

Actual GAA and SV% in 2012-13 season so far

Mike Smith

2.21 and .930

2.27 and .921

3.06 and .873

Henrik Lundqvist

1.97 and .930

2.03 and .921

2.78 and .904

Jonathan Quick

1.95 and .929

2.01 and .920

2.72 and .897

Jaroslav Halak

1.97 and .926

2.03 and .917

2.10 and .889

Pekka Rinne

2.39 and .923

2.45 and .916

2.16 and .915

Simply put, there is no way the final 2012-13 numbers for these goalies (and the many other goalies struggling in the early going) will be anything close to what they are now.  And while their numbers head back to normal levels, scoring output in the league will of course go down, as will the number of players who score at or above the point per game level.

What’s more, even though top goalies did struggle somewhat during the last lockout shortened season of 1994-95, the reality was that the number of point per game scorers still actually went down:

 

Season

Point per game players*

1991-92

30

1992-93

55

1993-94

30

1994-95

23

* - Must have played in 70+ games

So why was there a drop in point per game scoring in the 48 game 1994-95 season compared previous years, and why should we expect a similar drop this season?  For two key reasons – injuries and the long season taking its toll.  Last year there were fewer than ten point per game players who managed to stay healthy enough to finish in the top 30 in scoring, and already two of them (Jason Spezza and Joffrey Lupul) have suffered injuries that will keep them out of the majority of this season.  What’s more, a number of the players who currently are at or above a point per game pace also happen to be notorious band-aid boys, including Henrik Zetterberg, Marion Gaborik, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa to name just a few.  These players have the added task of finding a way to stay healthy, on top of maintaining a point per game scoring pace, which is likely too tall of an order for most of them.

Plus, with teams sometimes playing six games in nine nights, three games in four nights, etc., there is more potential for wear and tear injuries that could often be avoided the usual number of days off.  Instead, minor injuries won’t have a chance to heal, or might get worse without as many off nights.  And even if players manage to somehow stay healthy, the frequency of games is bound to take its toll over time.  There’s only so long until fatigue becomes a real factor and causes a dip in offensive production.

And here’s another small but important point – there are six defenseman among the current point per game players, and the overwhelming likelihood is that all of them will not end up at a point per game, so you can essentially subtract six from the list even now.

Lastly, let’s also keep in mind that as the playoffs approach and teams compete for precious additional home games to add back some of the lost revenue of the 24 home games that were lost to the lockout, we’re bound to see a much bigger focus on defense.  After all, you can’t lose if the other team doesn’t score, but sometimes you can still lose even if you manage to light the lamp a bunch of times.  Team need only look at who made it to the Stanley Cup finals last year – Los Angeles (29th out of 30 team in goals scored, but 2nd overall in goals against) and New Jersey (11th in goals scored, and 8th in goals against) to see that defense is what gets you into the playoffs and what helps you win once you’re there.  And with the increased focus on defense, scoring and point per game production will go down dramatically.

 

The Final Verdict

Fifty point-per-game players at this point might seem like a lot, but think of how many baseball players are hitting .300 in early May versus those at the end of the year.  The truth is that in today’s NHL, about the only sure things are injuries, goaltending excellence, and a “defense win” mentality among teams, and all of these weigh against there being a lot of point per game players at the end of the season.  But even beyond that, the arguments – including those which were based on data from the previous 48 game 1994-95 season – for  “No” in this case outweighed those for “Yes”, so the conclusion must be that we will indeed end up with fewer than 20 point-per-game players at the end of the season.

 

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Comments (5)add comment

RizzeeDizzee said:

RizzeeDizzee
... @ultrawhiteness - definitely an interesting question, and I was curious about that too (does anyone know how to get stats like that a year later?). But I still think that information wouldn't necessarily tell us a lot, since 48 games out of an 82 game season wouldn't even put us at the trade deadline and teams wouldn't yet be gearing up for the playoffs by starting to emphasize defense. In other words, its probably not as much of an apples to apples comparison to this season as much as the scoring data from the 48 game 1994-95 season might be.
February 07, 2013
Votes: +0

ultrawhiteness said:

ultrawhiteness
... how many >PPG'ers were there at the 48 game mark of last season?
February 06, 2013
Votes: +0

RizzeeDizzee said:

RizzeeDizzee
... @newfcollins - very good point about Zetterberg. If he was considered a band-aid boy earlier in his career he's done more than enough to shake that reputation win recent years.

@Hey Robbie - I wrestled with where to draw the line, as point per game scoring is far more meaningful if the player manages to suit up for 70+ games. Sure, with players like Crosby and Backstrom last year they still gave their owners point per game benefits in the 20+ and 40+ games they played, but true point per game impact is felt most if the player is able to be in your line-up every day.
February 06, 2013
Votes: +0

newfcollins said:

newfcollins
... Zetterberg is a band-aid boy? He's played 80 and 82 games the past two years. He's played at least 74 games in each of the last five seasons. That would not qualify him as a band-aid boy.

February 06, 2013
Votes: +0

Hey Robbie said:

Hey Robbie
... I think the answer to the question is hidden inside the article. Note the asterisk in the last table - why is it there? Why don't you count players who played in fewer than 70 games? Because if a player gets 60 points in 60 games it doesn't show the same level of consistently superior performance as scoring 80 in 80. A smaller sample size, and so a greater chance that he just strung together some lucky games.

Likewise with a shorter season; smaller sample size, so more players who wouldn't be expected to consistently put up PPG numbers over 80 games will be lucky enough to have it happen over 48.
February 06, 2013
Votes: +1
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