- Category: The Wild West
10 unexpected performances that force us to re-evaluate.
Over the course of any season we’re undeniably bound to come face to face with a number of statistical outliers which may force us to re-adjust our thoughts on a given player’s or team’s short- or occasionally long-term ceiling. Anomalies in the numbers from unlikely sources can only be ignored or taken with a grain of salt for so long before it becomes fact and not merely ‘pretender’ status.
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Jiri may have been a two-time 20-goal scorer during his half-decade stint with the Detroit Red Wings, but his fabulous start to the 2013-14 campaign has raised some eyebrows. With five markers in his first 11 contests, Hudler’s on pace to net 37 goals, along with an astounding 60 helpers, for 97 points. His 13 total points through the first four weeks of the season have him still in the top 10 scorers. However, his 14.0% career shooting percentage is practically being doubled by his current rate of 27.8%. It simply isn’t rational to expect him to suddenly be able to produce at 200% of his career level of output for much more than the extreme short term. Although the opportunity afforded to him in Calgary this year (after the departures of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and the first three weeks without Mike Cammalleri) may justify a career year, expect a heavy regression the rest of the way.
The owners of the number one overall draft pick should never be counted on to be the top team in hockey the subsequent season. But just shy of four weeks into the year that’s exactly what the Avs have pulled off. Excellent goaltending has been the backbone of this team’s success, as the duo of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Semyon Varlamov have been unbelievable. The tandem has rendered a league low 16 goals against over their first 11 contests, allowing a mere 1.45 goals per game. A new coaching scheme has certainly provided an element of mystery for each opponent’s coaching staff attempting to create a game plan. However, there is likely to be a market correction here as they are in a three-way tie for sixth place in goal scoring amongst their Western Conference foes. That is hardly a recipe for a first-place squad. In the grand scheme I don’t think they will rank Top 6 in the West in the standings.
The Canucks thus far have been mediocre at best on home ice, with an even 2-2-0 record, while holding the third best record in the conference on the road (6-2-1). Based on a slightly above .500 record on the road last year, you’ve got to think that getting 13 of a possible 16 points every eight games away from home will be too tall of a task to keep up. Therefore, the Nucks’ better pick up the intensity at home if they wish to keep themselves in the thick of things in the West, as their away record has been propping them up quite a bit. However, I do believe their home record will improve, helping to offset the probable road winning percentage decrease.
Three years ago, the now captain of the Calgary Flames collected 193 blocked shots on the season, good for third-best in the NHL. He followed that up with an injury-filled 2011-12 campaign where his propensity to jump in front of blasts were mitigated by the erring on the side of caution mid-season between several bouts out of the lineup. However, last year his blocks per game crept back up to 1.98—his best since the 2.35 blocks per game amassed in his top year. Now this season, with the added responsibility of the title of captain, it appears the 193 was not an anomaly as his willingness to jump back in front of the puck and wear his heart on his sleeve has resurfaced. He’s currently back to the 2.25 blocks per game rate of 2010-11, so fantasy GMs with blocked shots as a category have a gem here. (Consider stashing him now as he is on the IR retroactive to October 21st, and slated to be reactivated next week.)
Former Maple Leaf Alex Steen through 11 contests remains the highest goal-per game producer (1.11 GPG) in the NHL. Yes, ahead of Alexander Ovechkin (1.00 GPG), Steen is on pace to fall just one goal shy of Wayne Gretzky’s 92-goal record. Fairly reasonable and rational projection to uphold, no? Now, while Steen possesses a decent offensive skill set in his own right, we’re talking about a guy, almost 30, who’s only once cracked 50 points (51) in a career that spans back to 2005. Absolutely expect Steen’s 0.57 points per game career clip to be shattered at this point, but sooner rather than later we should see Steen fall back to the pack and possibly in rather significant fashion. He is scoring at an absolutely unsustainable, league-leading 38.5% shooting percentage; an absolutely ballistic rate for any player, but especially one who only connected at a rate of 6.2% last season.
The youngster has only three assists to his name thus far, well below the average rate he’s produced in his career. However, we know that a large percentage of his assists over the years have come from rebounds due to his very aggressive shooting. Thus, as long as he somewhat maintains his career-high shots per game level of 5.17 per game (third place in the NHL behind Alexander the Great and Zach Parise) that his assists as a biproduct of his shot attempts should really rack up over the long haul. His career high is 287 shots on target for the season, whereas he’s on pace to easily crack 400 this year. There will certainly be rebounds galore for his linemates to pick up and convert as we move forward.
When a team rids itself of its half dozen best assets (i.e. Iginla, Kiprusoff, Bouwmesster, Tanguay and is missing its best player for majority of time- Cammalleri), the last thing that should be expected is a great start to the season. As currently constructed, this Flames squad is very young, inexperienced and flat out void of game-breaking skill. It’s only a matter of time before this group completes a rapid descent to the NHL basement, scoring fewer goals than they allow on a fairly regular basis. With a negative-five goal differential, its clear they’ve managed to stay in the middle to upper portion of the by eking out tight wins and getting bombarded on the losses. Eventually they’ll need to score more, but the lack of talent on the roster should prevent that. In fact, despite still owning an above .500 record and remaining undefeated at home in regulation, the Flames have already shown signs they cannot keep this early season start up much longer, having allowed 19 goals in their past five outings.
Parise’s career average shots-per-game average of 3.43 heading into this season was enough to make him one of the most feared scorers in the game today. Rivaling only a few in the goal-scoring department, Zach has actually taken his aggressive shot taking to a new level this year, compiling a rate of 5.25. Despite amassing six goals already, the rate with which he’s shooting has yielded less than expected results. In fact, in his best season, 2008-2009, he potted 45 goals over 364 shots. He’s currently projected to take 431 blasts on target. Therefore, even if he resumes at his career average shooting percentage of 9.5 percent, he is lining himself up for a new career high, a shade under 50! So we can expect a further surge up the goal-scoring charts for him.
The success thus far of Josh Harding has been extremely inspiring; surely the best feel good story brimming this year so far. With a 1.00 GAA and .953% save percentage, he has been the best in the NHL. These are pretty impressive peripherals for a netminder who’s health has been a serious question mark for the past couple seasons, dealing with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. However, as much as I’d love to see him return from his current day-to-day injury and produce the same stellar numbers he has all season so far, its more likely those numbers will come down to Earth. Perhaps they will remain better than his current career single-season highs of a 2.21 GAA and a .929% save percentage, but to suggest that he can maintain the gaudy numbers he possesses right now through nine appearances so far is downright silly. If you managed to pick him up late in your draft or even off waivers, give your self a good square pat on the back. Although, be prepared to selectively start him soon as his sole game allowing more than one goal (two) is a tally that will definitely rise.
Aarguably the top pugilist in the league over the past decade is sitting out of the top four in the NHL PIM leaders for the first time since he became an NHL regular half a decade ago. After leading the league twice in time spent in the sin bin and placing third another, Zenon now sits in a three-way tie for eight spot in the league. Last season he was a healthy scratch a dozen games, hampering his PIM count. However, this season, it seems his level of play has risen enough that Minnesota’s other resident enforcer, Mike Rupp, has been chosen as the one to receive the odd healthy scratch. So with his participation in every game for the foreseeable future, expect Konopka to rack up those PIMs once more the way we know he can. He’s also a decent faceoff man so if your pool counts faceoff wins, keep that secondary skillset in mind if you also need penalty minutes (even if this stat category is slowly going the way of the dodo bird).
Recent Wild West columns:
|Top 6 Sophomores vs Top 6 Rookies in the West|
|5 Unsustainable Early-Season Trends in the West|
|West Coast Waiver Gems: Value Vets|