NHL returned in 2005/06 weighed down by a many questions. Here are my conclusions to these questions from last season in order to assist you with your fantasy hockey.
The “New” NHL returned in 2005/06 weighed down by a considerable amount of question marks: Would the fans bounce back? Would the salary cap have the right affect on small-market teams and bolster their competitiveness? Would the league’s clamp down on obstruction be persistent? And the biggest question of all, would Keith Tkachuk super size his order at McDonald’s? Here are my conclusions to these questions from last seasons NHL.
Scoring Is Up
Well of course it is! This is the most obvious observation for sure. Scoring drastically increased last season as compared to previous seasons of late. Here are a few scoring stats I’ve found that might surprise you: Even Strength (ES) scoring only increased about 5%, while Power Play (PP) scoring increased almost 28% and Short Handed Goals (SHG) was up almost 22%. So what does this mean to you, as a fantasy hockey player? Pay attention to guys that play on special teams (Power Plays and Penalty Kills). These players should get a lot more ice time and therefore, more chances to score, as long as the league continues its “no tolerance policy”.
The Death of the Gladiators
This is a particularly sad point for me. Teams will not pay the big bucks for these guys anymore. Instead, teams want snipers. Fighters have to be able to score or add points to a team nowadays, in other words, they need to be able to contribute in other ways and not must with their fists. If you’re looking solely for Penalty Minutes (PIMs), look to the super pests (such as Jarkko Ruutu and especially Sean Avery) or tough but talented guys (like Chris Neil and Todd Fedoruk).
Rookies Rule the Day
This may not have been said a few years ago, but last season more than 100 rookies played in more than 25 games in the NHL compared with only 70 in the 03/04 season. Some will argue that the lock-out year created a pent up demand and opportunity for rookies, and there may be some truth to that. But consider that the same amount of on-ice positions were available throughout the league as in previous years. More likely, the increasing amount of rookies can be attributed to the fact that in the “New” NHL it makes more sense to bring up a rookie on a two-way contract than commit to an older, marginal veteran on a one-way deal. I suspect this trend will continue this season as more teams find the cap limit looming over their heads with roster spots that still need to be filled. Picking the right rookie is key though, and sometimes they may not show their stuff right away so be on the alert.
Goal Scoring is More Distributed
Accounting for the 15% scoring inflation after the “New” NHL was introduced last season, 80 players had 25 goals or more. Only 65 of those reached a comparable level to the 03/04 season. It may not sound like much, but it averages out to nearly 3 players per team that scored at least 25 goals. One more than during the 03/04 season. Dig deep in the late rounds of the draft for secondary top scorers.
The Goalie Gap is Increasing
Last season, the range of Save Percentage (SV%) among the top 20 goalies was enormous compared to previous seasons. In 03/04 the parameters were much closer for the top goalies. Most of the good goalies stayed good, but you can’t just wait to pick your goalies at the end of the draft anymore. There can be a sizable difference between the good and the average ones.
So there you have the first of a two part series for fantasy hockey players for the “New” NHL. In the second series, I’ll examine the impact of the imbalanced schedule, mourn the death of the shutout, question whether PIMs should stay as a fantasy category, consider the role of penalty killers, and more.
Feel free to browse around my new "official" hockey blog, The SinBin.