Part II of my two part series on fantasy hockey and the "new" NHL. Here we’ll complete our list, starting with key insights on the offensive upside of the penalty kill.
In Part I, we looked at the importance of special teams scoring, the role for fighters, the larger emphasis on rookies, how team scoring is more spread out, and how good goalies stayed good, but average goalies took a hit. Here we’ll complete our list, starting with key insights on the offensive upside of the penalty kill.
The Penalty Killers
Shorthanded Goals (SHG) were up over 22% last season, which makes sense if you think about the increase in the number of power plays. And while on the whole it still averages out to less than 10 SHG per team, it does mean that there are extra SHGs to be had. Most teams employ the same PK unit on a regular basis. Put a premium on the top scorers who penalty kill (e.g. Marian Hossa, Pavol Demitra, Daniel Alfredsson) as their short-handed chances have increased significantly. Likewise, the scorers who don’t kill penalties (e.g. Naslund) may wind up with less ice time overall, and thus fewer scoring opportunities.
The Demise of the Shutout?
Last season only 6 goalies had 5 or more shutouts. This is in sharp contrast to the 03/04 season, when 14 managed the same feat. Now you may say to yourself, “Well with increased scoring that makes sense.” But what about this little tidbit: the top 3 goalies last year had 10, 7, and 7 shutouts whereas in 03/04 the top 3 had 11, 10 and 9. This just reinforces for us that top goalies will still put up great numbers, but the lesser backstops won’t be able to hide behind the clutching and grabbing of their d-men any longer. This lesson alone should force you to pick your goalies early.
Are Penalty Minutes Still a Valuable Fantasy Category?
Many fantasy leagues use Penalty Minutes (PIMs) as a category to add value to otherwise “fantasy-challenged” players. In the “New” NHL, the PIMs category seems to be more irrelevant. In 05/06, 15 of the top 25 scorers had 50 or more PIMs; in 03/04 only 8 reached that same mark. To put it another way, 249 players had at least 60 PIMs last season compared to only 208 in 03/04: that’s almost a 20% increase. But, while there were six 200+ PIM guys in 03/04 there were only three in 05/06. So what does this all mean? With all the obstruction penalties being called, the PIM category is becoming “watered down”. The point all along was to reward people for picking up non-stars or to add value to power forwards, but when guys like Sidney Crosby are picking up 110 PIMs, are you really achieving your objective?
Fifty-seven players in 05/06 were a +15 or better compared to sixty-nine in 03/04. But interestingly 21 players in 05/06 were a +25 or greater; only 10 had those totals in 03/04. So again, we see that the change in the rules has created some real separation and thus some real worth. Put another way, the good +/- guys got better, but the average ones got worse. When drafting for this category, make sure you target the few who are really good.
The Schedule Matters
Many would argue that this has always been the case, that teams in the East have an advantage because of their shorter road trips and proximity to home. But that is mostly a playoff issue. With the Divisional and Conference focus of the new schedule, it is rare for a team to really be up against it due to the schedule maker. However, the intra-divisional aspect of the schedule is a HUGE factor. Each team plays each divisional opponent 8 times; that’s almost half a team’s games in their own division. So if you are Detroit, and you play a total of 24 games against Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis, it isn’t surprising that you come away with 44 of a possible 48 points. If your league counts goalie wins and losses you can see the immediately increased value for a goalie on a good team in a bad division, and vice-versa. In very balanced divisions, goalies stats may suffer accordingly too, as there is a far greater likelihood of several split season series. Keep this in mind when drafting goalies (and to a lesser extent, for plus/minus).
So there you have it, my advice for fantasy hockey drafting. In the meantime, remember it’s never too early to prepare for your draft. Someone in your pool has already printed out ten spreadsheet pages and is pulling out the highlighter pens!