James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Dose: Beyond 99 Problems

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


So, Sidney Crosby assisted on a Chris Kunitz goal on Tuesday night to become the first player in the NHL to reach 100 points during the 2013-14 season.

 

That’s great news for a guy who’s carving out one heck of a legacy, especially if you correct for the offense-in-quicksand-effect his era has on his numbers (much like, say, Jaromir Jagr in his prime). The bad news is that it appears that no one else will even come particularly close to hitting the century mark this season, barring a truly incredible final few games.

 

(Ryan Getzlaf is the only player who has more than 80 points right now, as he has 83 points in 71 games played. Unfortunately for his milestone purposes, he missed four games and his Anaheim Ducks only have seven games left … so I’m going out on a limb by saying that he might not even hit 90 points, especially if they decide to rest him.)

 

In a vacuum, it’s easy to be thrilled that Crosby reached that plateau for the fifth time in his career. That number would be much higher if he wasn’t limited to 53 games or less in four seasons, although last year doesn’t count … even if he suffered a significant injury then, too. Hopefully most of us have taken the last few years to grow up a bit and agree that Crosby’s blistering on-ice IQ, continually improving game and feisty competitiveness easily makes up for the occasional irritating personality trait.*

 

(Hopefully.)

 

THE CONS

 

Interestingly, Crosby’s approximate 1.32 points-per-game - 100 in 76, to be more specific - is the second-worst mark of his distinguished career, only topping his 1.26 average from his 102-point rookie season.

 

And that’s where the bad part comes in: it shouldn’t take the best player since [fill in the blank with Jagr, Peter Forsberg/Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky depending upon your opinion of where Crosby weighs in] to hit a milestone that should be reasonably attainable for at least a handful of elite NHL scorers.

 

On the bright side, I think this otherwise-disturbing trend could be good news for Daily Dose readers. I’ll explain why soon enough, but let’s provide some worrisome context first.

 

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday's NHL games. It's just $10 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Wednesday at 7pm ET. Here's the FanDuel link.

 

For everything NHL, check out Rotoworld's Player News and follow @Rotoworld_ HK+@cyclelikesedins on Twitter.

 

Throwing out the lockout-shortened season for obvious reasons, the NHL has only had one 100-plus-point scorer for three straight seasons (2010-11, 2011-12 and 2013-14). If you count the lockout-abbreviated year, it’s four. This might lead some to say “What’s the big deal if it’s happened in previous years?”

 

Well, I actually find it more disturbing that the NHL might not even have another 90-point scorer. In 2011-12, Evgeni Malkin towered over all with 109 points (remarkably, in 75 games), yet Steve Stamkos (97 points) and Claude Giroux (93 points) at least flirted with a hundy. In 2010-11, Daniel Sedin didn't really dwarf the pack that badly with 104 points, as he was followed by Martin St. Louis (99), Corey Perry (98), his hermano Henrik Sedin (94) and Stamkos (91).

 

I think that discussing 100-point scorers is a simpler way to express the scoring shortage - I get that decimal points make peoples’ brains bleed/think back to horrible classroom experiences - but if you’re the type to yell “Well, that’s just the elite players” while fried food spews out of your mouth,** the scoring average numbers argue that the NHL is either a) basically right back in the Dead Puck Era or b) close enough that someone, somewhere should probably be worried.

 

IGNORING THE RED FLAG

 

Sadly, the NHL’s priorities seem to revolve around tiny changes instead of big ones.

 

From an executive standpoint, I get it, at least as much as I can stomach such thought processes. The league thinks that a broken system that barely distinguishes a regulation/overtime win from a shootout win (tiebreakers!) helps foster parity, which spreads the wealth. I’d argue that 1) the salary cap breeds parity in itself, as you can see in every sport except maybe the NBA that has a salary cap and 2) that mediocre teams would do better at the box office if they were mediocre and exciting instead of mediocre and boring. Still, that’s just not how these people think, as we’ve clearly seen from their unchanging actions except when the survival of the sport was literally on the line.

 

Anyway, enough venom spewing, but the bottom line is that a perfect storm of sadness is killing scoring: a lack of incentive to be aggressive, the feeling that there aren’t many ways to skin the hockey cat beyond bland/conservative hockey, the year-to-year decline of referees using their freaking whistles, the fact that coaches are more comfortable with killing offense than nurturing it and finally, the mammoth size of goalie pads and the never-changing size of nets.

 

To me, it causes something of a trickle up theory for offense: legends become greats, greats become very good players and good players slip closer to average.

 

It’s awful news if you enjoy watching more than just your favorite team play hockey … but again, it could be a good thing for regular Dose readers.

 

THE INCREASING NEED FOR DEPTH AND PERKS OF PERIPHERALS

 

There’s a goldmine of fantasy articles at Rotoworld (and other sites, I guess) that can help you get the best of the best in fantasy drafts, but the Dose is designed to help you navigate waiver wires and make educated guesses about the impacts of injuries.

 

I tend to go for sure things, and in many cases, “peripheral” stats are simply more reliable than scoring stats. After all, it’s much easier to throw your body around, take a decent amount of shots on goal and travel to the penalty box, even on nights when the other team’s goalie is standing on his head.

 

I'd venture, then, that this column will help you unearth more diamonds in the rough, even if watching the actual games may feel akin to testing the luster of cubic zirconiums.

 

(Translation: you’re Rome’s emperor … when it’s burning. Better than being a peasant, though, right? *laughs nervously*)

 

IN YOUR DEPTH

 

My growing theory is that depth is becoming the distinguishing characteristic of successful teams … or at least successful teams that didn’t luck into Crosby and Malkin. Here is an abridged take:

 

-- The Ducks aren’t the most balanced team out there overall, yet even they are more than just Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Beyond Perry (39 goals) and Getzlaf (31), they have two players with 20+ goals (Andrew Cogliano [21] and Nick Bonino [20]) and one who could reach that mark (Mathieu Perreault, who was limited to 62 games but still has 18). Oh yeah, they also traded Dustin Penner, who had 13 goals in 49 games.

 

-- The Boston Bruins have two players with 60+ points, two with 50+ points and three more with 45+ points. That group includes Jarome Iginla (30 goals), Patrice Bergeron (27), Brad Marchand (22 despite a rocky start), Milan Lucic (21) and five other players flirting with 20 goals.

 

-- Not surprisingly, the Chicago Blackhawks fit this description. Patrick Sharp has 31 goals, three more have 27 or more, two are a goal away from 19 goals and they've dealt with injuries. They also are known for being a team that boasts traits like "fourth-liners who could probably play on your team's third line."

 

-- Colorado justifiably receives criticism from the analytics community, but Jamie McGinn is two goals away from giving them six 20+ goal scorers. The St. Louis Blues almost seem like they deserve an honorary degree in this category being that they traded away Chris Stewart (15 goals in 58 games) and also have Patrik Berglund (14) and Brenden Morrow (12) within a reasonable distance of 20. (Morrow's a stretch, yet he's been surprisingly semi-competent with more opportunities.)

 

WHAT IT ALL MEANS

 

To me, this says that you can overcome bad drafts by continually adding versatile players to your roster during the season, especially if you’re in a league with stats beyond the obvious goals/assists/power-play point categories.

 

Shooting percentage variance and team quality can warp a lot of things, but the “effort” (and, in the case of PIM, sometimes “misguided effort”) categories strike me as less fluid. Granted, PIM can be weird because one fight can equal 5 to 15 depending on potential misconduct penalties/etc., yet over the long haul, you can assure yourself that you will win that category more often than not if you invest properly.*** And that goes doubly for more reliable (in my opinion) stats like hits and SOG.

 

The premium draft picks should still go toward high-level scorers, which I recommend as mostly being forwards and a few being defensemen. (More on that in the final few regular season Doses.)

 

Yet, my advice would be to try to gamble on “Swiss Army Knife” players when appropriate. Really, would you rather have a weak peripheral guy with talent who might or might not pan out or a reliable mid-level power forward who will deliver if healthy?

 

If offensive risk wasn’t tantamount to sacrilege in the NHL, I’d say go with the talent end. Honestly, it burns inside to say you shouldn’t. Let’s face it, though; scoring will either plateau or get worse in this rigid, imagination-devoid league next season … so you might as well make the best of it.

 

Oh yeah, and you should probably just select Sidney Crosby if you can. Maybe that’s the real lesson of this existential exercise.

 

* - Crosby is treated a lot like other golden boys who draw a lot of weird heat, most closely LeBron James. I cannot help but assume that people are going to realize how boring their favorite sports can be without these hype-justifying talents whenever they retire … although maybe they’ll be around long enough for the next unnecessarily divisive superstar to come along.

 

** - Not judging, screaming things with a mouthful of food is underrated fun.

 

*** - Or, if the league is low on “grit” stats, you should probably punt PIM altogether.



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



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