If you’ve read my fantasy hockey pieces before, you know I am a supporter of frequent player movement, particularly for the bottom 10-15% of your roster. In leagues that allow this type of activity, astute owners can get a jump on the competition by actively and accurately responding to trends.
The advanced statistics that we frequently advocate on this site are perfectly usable for this purpose. In fact, they might actually be more applicable to fantasy hockey, since we do not have to sign players to long-term deals. We can take more chances on players with less repercussions should we be wrong (hence, the frequent roster movement I talked about earlier).
One of the staples I referred to in my columns last season was comparing shooting percentage to possession. In my opinion, this is the strongest way to quickly and easily tell if a team’s (or player’s) current run of form is sustainable. It is naturally intuitive: if a team generates a below-average number shots, but has scored on an above-average percentage of them, they are due for a crash, and vice versa. Conversely, a high shooting percentage (which does not always mean “insta-sell”) might be (somewhat) sustainable if it comes from a team that frequently dominates its opponents.
Last season, Pittsburgh was a great example of a team that shot to a high percentage that I deemed sustainable, whereas I advocated selling Tampa Bay and Anaheim players early on. I advocated buying Kings and Oilers players as well. I also utilized this principle on an individual basis quite often, as sometimes we can observe a set of statistics for a particular player that replicate the discrepancies described above.
With that in mind, here is a very early snapshot showing each team’s 5v5 shooting percentage and Fenwick close on one handy graph:
I stress that it is still rather early in the season to make immediate judgments, but as a point of reference, tracking this data over time will be both useful and interesting. In the meantime, we can observe the following:
The best example of a team that appears to be driving play well but getting unlucky is Los Angeles. The Kings are seemingly on the “high possession, low shooting percentage” list every season, which could be for a lot of reasons, among them, the timeless shot quality debate. Nevertheless, the numbers indicate that teams like Los Angeles are due for an even strength spike. One reason why you might not be able to buy low in the traditional sense on the Kings: their power play has been above average, so owners might not be sensing the scoring slump that the 5v5 numbers indicate.
The real power of this chart, however, is the quick visualization that comes from the other end: the Islanders currently have the league’s highest 5v5 shooting percentage, and its worst possession rate. Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen, and Josh Bailey are the poster childs for this: all shooting 23% or above with negative possession rates.
On another, less significant note, we can see how poor the Sabres and Rangers have really been to start the season.
As we accumulate more data, we will see what trends even out, and that can help our decision making moving forward. For now, keep in mind the relationship between the two when evaluating a team or a player. With that said, some other quick notes and observations around the league:
Sami Vatanen is playing some pretty big power play minutes for the Ducks, but he has yet to factor into scoring too much despite his on-ice shooting percentage being over 10.0. An oddity, for sure, and another example of early data skewing reality, but he appears to be a 20 minute per game defenseman with power play time, and those do not grow on trees.
Look into buying Boston’s bigger name players if you can. Eriksson, Chara, and Marchand in particular are sporting individualized combinations of high possession/low on-ice shooting percentage.
Jordan Staal is fourth on his team in possession despite being second to last in zone starts. That’s ridiculous, but I’m still not sure it translates well to fantasy.
The Sharks were off to a similarly hot start last season, when they had a strong run of home games to open the year. I openly speculated in this space how they would fare once they had to go on the road without the benefit of the last change, and while they did not fall off the map, they definitely cooled a little. Of course, you could make the (correct) argument that their shooting percentage is due for a regression anyway, but keeping in mind it was mostly achieved on home ice with the matchups they wanted only serves to further temper expectations.
With Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier on the shelf, Tye McGinn and Michael Raffl are going to get opportunities to play on the top two lines in Philadelphia. Furthermore, Matt Read has been a shots on goal gem, with zero points to show for it. Like Jake Voracek last season, someone will eventually emerge here, but it might take some time to figure that out.
If Mark Arcobello keeps playing with Jordan Eberle, he is another example of cheap top-six talent that could continue to provide points. His possession numbers are absurd, and he is playing a sheltered role, which does not matter in fantasy as long as the scoring continues.
Alex Steen’s hot start is clouded once you realize that he is being used defensively for the Blues. His linemates are good (Oshie and Backes), but his 14.8% on-ice shooting percentage cannot last. The Blues tend to roll their top three lines pretty evenly, so he is a hold for now, but this is definitely a situation to monitor.
Ryan Schwepfinger is managing editor of Hockey Prospectus and he was co-editor of the Hockey Prospectus 2013-14 annual. He is Media Relations Coordinator of the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryanschwep.