Fantasy Hockey: Finding Value In Unlucky Defensemen

Cam Fowler
Cam Fowler
May 6 2013 Detroit MI USA Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler 4 skates with the puck against the Detroit Red Wings in game four of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Joe Louis Arena Rick Osentoski USA TODAY Sports

Finding value in fantasy hockey isn’t so easy. You won’t get many guys coming out of nowhere to put up huge seasons like you’ll see in other sports. Keep this in mind: Since the 2004-2005 lockout, there have been eight rookies to come into the league and average at least 0.73 points/game (which would be a 60-point pace in a full season) and played at least 70 games. These names are Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny, Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Skinner and Anze Kopitar. When you are talking about the last five seasons alone, that list of eight is cut down to Skinner alone.

When talking about defensemen, it’s even more precarious. There have only been nine rookie defensemen ages 18-20 since that same lockout to average 0.37 points/game (a 30 point pace in an 82-game season) and play at least 60 games. When you look at this list, you see more than half of those names are now reliable fantasy defensemen.

So when you are looking for value in fantasy drafts, one piece of advice would be to avoid the hype of rookies. Obviously, keeper/dynasty leagues are different, but anyone in a re-draft (one-year league) would do well to let your league-mates hype up the rookies while you sneak in and steal the values. The likelihood of a rookie returning value in a re-draft league (of course, depending on the draft position) isn’t very good.

The best way to look for value is to try to find players who have been good producers in the past but may have been genuinely unlucky in recent years. There are two names that immediately came to mind for me.

Cam Fowler – Anaheim Ducks

In the entire history of the NHL, there have been eight rookie defensemen that put up at least 40 points in a season while a teenager and Fowler is one of them.

This was a guy I was hyping before the lockout-shortened season and I ended up paying for it. Looking through his numbers, this guy has fallen on some hard luck:

  • In 2010-2011, Fowler ranked 110/112 among defensemen who played at least 70 games in on-ice SH% (how his team shot as a group while he was on the ice) at 5.88%. Even though his goals against/20 minutes of even-strength time was lower than teammates like Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne, because of elevated ice-time and inability of line-mates to score, his plus/minus was killed (-25).
  • In 2011-2012, Fowler ranked dead last among 98 defensemen who played at least 70 games in on-ice SV% (the save percentage of his goalies when he was on the ice) at .888 (it was .917 the previous year). So even though his personal possession numbers went up 10% over this time frame and he was on the ice for more goals, because his goals against/20 went up from the year before (again with elevated ice-time), his plus-minus was killed again (-28).
  • In 2013, things normalized a bit. He was ranked 45/173 defensemen that played at least 30 games in terms of On-Ice SV% at .929. He was also ranked 112/173 defensemen that played at least 30 games in terms of On-Ice SH% at 7.66%. He was a (-4) in 37 games, or roughly a -10 in a full 82 game schedule.

It seems that once Fowler isn’t at the wrong end of the distribution curve in On-Ice SV% or On-Ice SH%, he stands a good chance of not repeating for a third time what no other defensemen has repeated for a second time since the 2004-2005 lockout.

My main concern with Fowler is power-play time. He averaged 3.62 minutes of 5v4 time per 60 total minutes in 2010-2011, 3.58 in 2011-2012 but fell off to 2.41 last year as the addition of Sheldon Souray ate into his ice-time.

Fowler is not a defenseman that shoots a lot, takes many penalties and as we’ve seen, has had his problems with plus/minus. In that sense, if he can’t rack up the power-play points, this is not going to be a great value pick (and with old man Souray still around, who knows what the ice-time splits will be). However, with the trouble he’s had over the last couple of seasons, his value going into drafts should be exceedingly low, probably outside the top-50 defensemen. If you hold off and can draft him as your fifth defenseman or (even better) as a bench player, this is the type of value pick that can hit huge.

Tyler Myers – Buffalo Sabres

It’s been quite the career arc for Tyler Myers since coming into the league.

The 22-year old Texas native won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year in 2009-2010, when he put up 48 points as a 19-year old rookie defenseman (yes, he’s one of those eight defensemen along with Fowler that have put up 40 points as a teenage rookie defenseman). Since that 0.59 points/game rookie season, Myers has put up 0.46, 0.42 and 0.21, or essentially three years of decline.

When I look through Myers’ numbers, it’s almost as if the Sabres don’t really know how to use him:

If you believe in patterns, then you should look at Myers’ PDO patterns per season since he came into the NHL: 1016, 988, 1031, 981. Over these seasons, he’s maintained a relatively consistent On-Ice SH% (although the 7.14% this year is a bit of an outlier, and likely due to getting worse teammates to play with than Weber) but his On-Ice SV% has varied wildly (which is to be expected). Assuming he gets a bit more lucky this year and that PDO gets to 1000 or above, his floor should be a pro-rated 2011-2012 season, or about 10-12 goals, 35-ish points and keep your fingers crossed for an even rating.

Because of his injury-plagued 2011-2012 season and big down year in 2013, he should provide good value at the draft table. You will probably have to reach a bit higher for Myers than Fowler, but if you grab Myers as your fourth (even better would be fifth) defenseman, it’s another one of those picks that should at least return value draft value, with a reasonable chance of improving on it.

Both of these guys are inherently risky; Fowler could go (-20) or worse again, Myers could put up 25 points. Those are certainly in the range of outcomes. However, based on the luck involved in parts of their past performance and the assumption that this run of bad luck shouldn’t continue (and that their coaches realize that they either need to play with good players or need more power-play time), I am going to take the risk on both of them at the right price.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');