James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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The Pluses of Plus/minus

Monday, September 30, 2013

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for opening night (Oct. 1). It's just $5 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Tuesday at 7pm ET. Here's the link.


Well, the offseason is basically over now, and depending upon your level of obsession with hockey and exhaustion from following your favorite team(s) battle it out, it either seems like The NHL is returning with lightning speed or like the summer was endless.


(Is it a cop-out to say that, personally, it feels like both?)


Regardless, the season is back, and for most of you, that means you already drafted a team. Still, many of you are getting in last-minute drafts, which is actually the ideal way to go from an “avoiding grueling offseason golfing injuries” standpoint.


So, for those of you who still have drafts to complete - and for those who are the types who are always looking for ways to make next year’s league better/more fun - I present the initial installment of a two-part series to kick off the season.


Note: as far as dominating the draft with cheat sheets and other handy assets, Rotoworld’s other resources are the best bet. This is more about squeezing the most fun out of the activity. May I recommend the Draft Guide?


For today, the first Daily Dose of 2013-14, I thought I’d weigh the strengths of fantasy hockey stat categories that are often a judgment call for each respective commissioner.


Before I roll this out, a word of caution: I view fantasy as a strategic endeavor that often supplements (and sometimes, delightfully corrupts) the hockey-watching experience. Sometimes that means that my idea of what a “good stat in real life” is often differs from what I consider a valid/fun stat category in fantasy.


(Seriously, please note that last paragraph, because I want to earn my angry e-mails.)


Also, if a stat isn’t mentioned it either 1) is in EVERY league like goals and assists, 2) is a stat that’s too obscure or 3) I forgot about it/find it boring.


Anyway, let’s get to some of the stats you should and shouldn’t deploy.




While it’s a slight exaggeration, there are few things as aggravating as having a stat you dislike “matter as much as” a key stat like goals (G), assists (A) or power-play points (PPP).


Frankly, scoring is the most important thing a skater can do, so I recommend that you throw points (P) in there with those other stats. Sure, a G/A can bleed into other categories like PPP, plus/minus and so on, but why not make certain that scoring is given its well-deserved top-billing?


Really, kids, it’s downright imprudent not to.




If there’s one thing that truly separates fantasy hockey from its brethren, it’s the fact that a generally negative event - going to the penalty box - can have random people pumping their fists. That goes even further when the guy you started that night specifically for PIMs ends up getting a game misconduct. Oh, what a happy day that can be.


Many people deride PIMs, and with good reason, particularly since the guys who warm up the seats in the penalty box run a higher risk of suffering from the sort of post-career mental issues that make many of us wonder if it’s morally justifiable to support such a violent sport.


But here’s why I like the stat: it provides a different layer of strategy and rewards a very different “skillset.”* Do you grab a guy like Scott Hartnell (30-goal potential, 100 PIMs most years) fairly early or select Chris Neil/Steve Downie/etc. later to try to fill up one of the more predictable categories? Or would you rather “punt” the category altogether to focus on skills that tend to bleed into a higher set of categories (you can’t pile up SOG in the box, after all)?


Those questions add a valuable wrinkle when your BAC is rising and the difference between skaters keeps diminishing.




For a person who respects “fancy stats,” I’m generally on board - fantasy wise - with more weak-in-reality stats than I’d guess most of my “peers” are. There’s no defending shorthanded goals/points, though; they simply occur too rarely and too randomly to be anything but infuriating.




SHP doesn’t get my blood boiling the most, however. I still have horrific flashbacks*** of a league that used shooting percentage instead of shots on goal. It’s really difficult to crystallize how much this enraged me when far too much of my self-worth was connected to Team Pants.




Fantasy hockey rewards the kind of numbers that impress the old guard - GAA and wins - but save percentage is the stat that experts generally believe is the most indicative of a quality goaltender.


Still, there’s something to be said for a netminder who can fight through the grind of playing, say, 70 games and absorbing a ton of shots.** With that in mind, I recommend adding saves to the mix of W, GAA and save percentage.


The best thing about having both saves and wins is that it adds value to workhorse goalies who might see their individual stats go down a bit. Overall, saves are a nice check-and-balance for goalie stats.




If it comes down to saves or shutouts, saves win hands down. Still, I can at least tolerate SO’s. Keeping a balanced ratio of stats should be the tiebreaker for if you use shutouts; I’d generally recommend two skaters stats for every one goaltending one, so it’s probably easier to go 8 skater and 4 goalie than 10 skater and 5 goalie (and so on).


In other words, SO nets a “push.”




Ah, plus/minus. If you’re under, say, 40 and spend hours debating about hockey on the Internet, you’re basically required to loathe plus/minus … and rightfully so. It’s a bad “reality” stat.


Personally, I don’t hate it as much as other weaker stats in fantasy, at least since more useful-yet-weirdly-divisive measurements like Corsi are years (if not decades) away from being instituted in most fantasy leagues.


Much like PIMs, plus/minus add an extra consideration to the mix: do I take a guy who’s arguably a little less important on a strong team or a better player on a bad squad? League-wide parity has softened the extreme edges of those choices, but still, it at least has a potential for added intrigue. (And, like PIMs, you can punt it or at least ignore the category when drafting without much damage.)




Game-winning goals are in the “shutout” category: expendable, but to me, not that irritating.


While they are rare, often random and not always equal (it’s not as impressive to get a GWG when you scored the 5-1 goal in a game that finished 5-4), it’s still theoretically the most important moment of a game. It’s the goal that won it, after all.


I’d put GWGs behind a wide array of so-so stats such as plus/minus, shutouts, and even average time on ice (which, I gotta admit, is super-boring to think about), but if you’re going with a ton of categories, I think GWGs are kind of fun.




While both hits and blocked shots are stats that people frequently (and usually incorrectly) flock to when trying to explain strong defense - generating each basically requires you to not possess the puck, which is kind of the whole point - I like hits but don’t think much of blocked shots.


Hits happen more often, are more fun to watch and seem like they’re less a matter of passivity. They’re not a must-have, but they add some value to “gritty” players as well as versatile guys who don’t always get as much fantasy love as they should, such as Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown.


So, long story medium, I have some quirky preferences for fantasy stat categories. My two favorite combos would probably be something along the lines of:


G, A, P, +/-, PPP, PIM, SOG, HITS, W, S, SV% and GAA

or G, A, P, +/-, PPP, PIM, SOG, HITS, GWG, ATOI, W, S, SV%, SO and GAA


Feel free to drop me a line via e-mail or Twitter if you feel like this is all important enough to argue about, though.


After the jump: a few quick sleepers and some injury notes.


* - OK, as someone who’s not a big fight fan, writing that made me feel a little icky.


** - /pours one out for Miikka Kiprusoff.


*** - Go ahead, say it. My life is pretty easy.


continue story »
James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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