The quarter mark of the NHL season calls for some special analysis, and we don't want to disappoint you this season. Stay with us through this explanation and you will be rewarded with some very good, statistics-based tidbits to take back to your team(s).
The ESPN Player Rater is one of the best tools available to you when assessing fantasy value. There are few better metrics than the actual statistical fantasy comparisons. The numbers are an averaging formula applied to the Player Rater through a complicated calculation that the techno-ninjas behind the ESPN.com game curtain put together. It is automated, and that means that it has its limitations.
What we've cobbled together this week is based on the premise of the Player Rater, while taking things to the extreme in a way that only a human manipulated formula can be. The following numbers are all based on games played through Monday, Nov. 18.
We have taken every single forward in the NHL and separated his statistics from the defensemen. Next, we found an average for the entire forwards universe for each of the seven standard categories in the ESPN game: goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, average time on ice, shots on goal and power-play points. We then compare a player's personal achievements in each category to the average for a sum total. That is what the Player Rater does, but we have already deviated by separating forwards and defensemen for comparison of the player universe. But we aren't done veering into new territory yet.
A quick glance at the top-rated forwards after these steps reveals some new information. By comparing players this way, we are seeing what their specific contribution is in each fantasy category as a part of all of the statistics generated by the NHL. But one drawback of the way the Player Rater operates is that it is comparing what the player does in each category to the entirety of the NHL. Unless you play in a 30-team, 23-man roster fantasy league, all 494 forwards who have played a game in the NHL this season won't be accruing statistics in your league. Depending on your teams and roster sizes, your league likely has between 125 and 200 forwards rostered. So let's double down on this calculation.
By taking only the top 200 forwards and running all the formulas through from scratch again, we get a new Player Rater value that is tied specifically to the stats generated by the top 200 forwards. Instead of comparing what a player does in each category to the entirety of the NHL, we are comparing his stats to what other likely active fantasy forwards are producing.
A few quick, interesting numbers to give you an idea of what cutting to the top 200 forwards means: The top 200 represents all forwards owned in 2.4 percent or more of ESPN leagues. Even though it is only 40 percent of the entire forwards in the league, the top 200 is responsible for precisely 76 percent of all goals scored and 76 percent of all assists generated by forwards. However, the top 200 forwards only represent 55 percent of the PIMs and 23 percent of the shots on goal taken by forwards. Perhaps most interesting is that the top 200 forwards account for 91 percent of all power-play points by forwards this season. All 494 forwards in the NHL have a collective plus/minus rating of minus-70, but the top 200 have a rating of plus-259.
When the top 200 forwards are then put through a Player Rater-esque calculation based only on the statistics the top 200 generate, we get a new picture of value. And that is what we are going to look at for a few specific players.
(As I have done with these over-the-top spreadsheets in the past, just contact me on Twitter for a copy of the sheet to look at all the numbers yourself. I only have room to discuss the highlights here).
Brandon Dubinsky, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: Ranked 29th among forwards on the regular Player Rater, 27th on our first pass without defensemen in the calculations and 21st following the top 200-only comparison, Dubinsky's value as a player who gets the right stats really shines through. Guess how many players have at least 15 points, spend at least 19:30 on the ice per game, have more than 35 PIM, have earned at least four power-play points, have taken 45 shots on goal and have a plus/minus in the positives? Just one has done it all, and it's Dubinsky. Now, the absence of Marian Gaborik for the foreseeable future should have a negative impact on Dubinsky and the Blue Jackets, but Dubinsky has survived without top talent on his line before, and he can do it again. A foot injury has been nagging him this week, but he should be over it soon enough. At the end of the day, Dubinsky only bows to the one true current king of contributing across the board, David Backes, when it comes to multicategorical forwards. Backes, by the way, is fifth overall in our doubled up version of the Player Rater.
Martin Hanzal, F, Phoenix Coyotes: On the regular Player Rater, Hanzal is well down the list as the 44th forward. But he jumps to 27th after we apply these extra calculations. What makes Hanzal's contributions even more impressive this season is that he has already missed three games this season and his best linemate, Radim Vrbata, has missed two and change. The Coyotes have depth on offense this season, and Hanzal is coming into his own as a powerful, puck-controlling center. His fantasy contributions, much like Dubinsky, stretch across multiple categories. Bigger than your average center, Hanzal has the rare combination of size and skill that should make him a darling fantasy asset for seasons to come.
Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis Blues: All the way down as the 94th forward on the regular Player Rater, the rarity of penalty minutes among the elite is backed up by Stewart's rise to 51st on the list. We touched on Stewart in Open Ice on Nov. 5, and the suggestion has been backed up by Stewart's recent play. On a third line that is as talented as many teams' second lines with Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow, Stewart is finding a nice home for his abilities. He has been largely overlooked this season, but offers a great mix of stats for fantasy.
Evgeni Malkin, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: Running the Player Rater this way makes Malkin's somewhat slow start seem a bit better. While Malkin is behind 27 other forwards on the regular Player Rater, he is only behind 19 in the top-200 version. Still not taking as many shots as he usually does, it doesn't matter so much when Malkin is collecting more assists than games played; and yes, he has 16 helpers in his past 15 games. While his overall statistics don't look great at first glance, know that Malkin is holding his value while going through a bit of a goal drought. Remember that he was without his best linemate, James Neal, until recently. If there is any top forward in the league to target as a buy-low candidate, it is Malkin. He has a chance to quickly skyrocket to the top of the rankings.
Who is not among the top 200 forwards who were included in these calculations? Well, after running through the Player Rater calculations without the defensemen included, the following forwards did not make the cut to have their names or stats in the top 200: Patrik Elias, Teemu Selanne, Max Pacioretty (although his hat trick Tuesday would put him in), Alex Burrows and David Clarkson, just to name a few. While they have all missed some games, Brent Burns' production in just eight games was good enough to make the cut. Just sayin'.
Looking for offense
Pittsburgh Penguins: Owned in only 2.1 percent of ESPN leagues, look no further than Beau Bennett to exploit a favorable Penguins schedule this coming week. He's fast, he has scoring ability, but most importantly, he is playing with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz as the Pens try to light a fire under Sid with a new linemate. Bennett finally tallied on Tuesday. His ice time still remains low, as he doesn't sniff special teams, but there are definitely worse depth-chart positions to occupy.
Another Penguin who may or may not be in your lineup, but is universally owned in fantasy, is Paul Martin. Get him into your lineup for the four-game week ahead, especially the final two games in Florida against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.
Edmonton Oilers: Some important things are happening with the Oilers' offense, and there are some opportunities to take advantage of just in time for a big week on the schedule. The Oilers have a four-gamer on tap with games against the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars. Nail Yakupov is back in the Oilers' top six at the moment, and he has responded with a four-game point streak. Available in 75 percent of ESPN leagues, he is your first target. He isn't your only target, as Yakupov is playing at even strength with Sam Gagner (available in 58 percent) and Ales Hemsky (available in 97 percent). But the buck probably stops there. The Oilers are wisely using a five-forward power-play lately that includes Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron and Yakupov, which makes defenseman targets less attractive for fantasy.
Nashville Predators: Matt Cullen, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson were the stars of the contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, thanks to coach Barry Trotz's continued excellence with setting up a power play. The Preds have a soft-ish schedule for opposing goaltending with the Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers on the docket for the week ahead. Thursday's game was the second in three contests that the duo of Cullen and Smith erupted for multiple points. Ride them while they are hot.
Looking for defense
Eric Gelinas, D, New Jersey Devils: This rookie defenseman has upside beyond just a single week of use. Gelinas has been a scoring leader for the team's AHL affiliate for the past two seasons, and is already earning himself power-play opportunities now with 13 games in the NHL this season. He has seven points, and is paired with fellow young blueliner Adam Larsson, who also isn't a slouch for offense. It wouldn't be a shock to see Gelinas slowly take over as the primary power-play quarterback from Marek Zidlicky before too long. The Devils happen to have four games next week, so now is a great time to act.
Looking for goaltending
Marek Mazanec, G, Nashville Predators: With four very winnable games on the docket and a goaltender who has won three straight games, Mazanec is worthy of a shot for next week. There is no chance of Carter Hutton taking over in goal again, given his terrible numbers since Pekka Rinne's injury, and that leaves Mazanec to tend goal most games. He could be in for a three-win week ahead as we continue in this, the Year of the Backup Goalie.
Each week the Fantasy Forecaster will also include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary cap game that allows you free reign over your fantasy hockey decisions within a starting budget of $100 million in fantasy money. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
Four-game teams: Plenty of four-game weeks to choose from in net, including the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. That leaves you Tuukka Rask ($12.4M), Josh Harding ($10.9M), Henrik Lundqvist ($12.1M), Marc-Andre Fleury ($11.9M) and Roberto Luongo ($12.3M); all are solid options.
Streaking players with four games: Few players are hotter and cheaper than Matt Cullen ($3.9M) and Craig Smith ($6.1M). The Preds have a four-game schedule and the duo are lighting up on the man advantage. Mikko Koivu ($7.7M) has been on fire and has four games next week, but if you want to save some coin, look at Charlie Coyle ($4.5M), who never leaves Koivu's side.
My roster for next week:
Tuukka Rask, G, BOS - $12.3M ($12.4M on market)
Josh Harding, G, MIN - $10.9M
Kris Letang, D, PIT - $7.5M ($7.4M on market)
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT - $7.5M ($8.7M on market)
P.K. Subban, D, MTL - $7.8M ($8.1M on market)
Shea Weber, D, NSH - $7.7M
Matt Cullen, F, NSH - $3.9M
Charlie Coyle, F, MIN - $4.5M
Nail Yakupov, F, EDM - $9.1M
Taylor Hall, F, EDM - $8.5M
Evgeni Malkin, F, PIT - $9.2
Sidney Crosby, F, PIT - $9.4M