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Fantasy Hockey: Predicting Power Play Points is Not So Easy

Michael Clifford considers if it’s possible to predict a team or player’s power play points and production.

Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

This is part four in an ongoing series that looks at the composition of a fantasy hockey breakout star. The first three parts are as follows:

So far, the most important point is that shots on goal are crucial to a player posting a successful fantasy breakout. I don’t mean a guy going from a top-100 forward to a top-50 forward. I’m talking true, stud breakout; going from a top-100 forward to a top-20 forward, or better. Think of it like this:

Only two of the top-20 skaters had under 200 shots on goal last year, David Backes and David Krejci. Backes had over 100 PIMs and shot a career-high 16.4-percent to get to 27 goals; Krejci was a plus-39 after going plus-4 over the previous two seasons combined. These guys grossly outperformed in other categories to make up for the lack of shots. That is not an ideal situation.

It’s important that a player can pile the shots on the net, but even that’s not enough sometimes.

Power play points is another aspect of fantasy hockey that may be a bit misunderstood. Absolutely, they are a crutch of fantasy hockey dominance. Again, they aren’t everythingPatrice Bergeron was a top-20 skater last year and had 11 power play points – but more often than not, a fantasy hockey breakout star will have to rack up points on the man advantage – 14 of the top-20 fantasy skaters last year had at least 20 power play points.

That said, there are some misunderstandings that need cleared up.

Power Play Points Are Repeatable Yet Volatile

This is going to be a bit counterintuitive. Thinking that players, even the elite, cannot repeat power play performance would go against what most hockey people would assume. Good players put in good situations should be able to consistently succeed, right? A lot of the time, sure. But sometimes…

  • Phil Kessel: 21 power play points in 48 games in 2013; 20 power play points in 82 games last year.
  • Joe Pavelski: 13 power play goals in 130 games from 2011-2013; 16 power play goals in 82 games last year.
  • Alex Ovechkin: 23 power play points in 78 games in 2011-2012; 39 power play points in 78 games last year.
  • Nicklas Backstrom: 37 power play points in 90 games from 2011-2013; 44 power play points in 82 games last year.

There are so many factors that are included when talking about the production of power play goals and points that it’s not accurate to just say “Player A had 20 power play points each of the last two years, he will/won’t do it again.” There is so much involved with regards to new line mates, new coaches, and general blind luck that chasing the golden power play goose can leave fantasy hockey owners chasing their own tail.

What To Look For

Power plays are a fickle thing. One pass an inch too far one way or the other, and it’s not on a tee for a one-timer. One step too quick or too slow, and the breakout pass gets broken up, forcing the team to regroup. It can be frustrating.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to predict. I will point to two excellent posts from the San Jose Sharks blog Fear The Fin and writer Patrick D. The first one is of less consequence to fantasy hockey, and it’s with regards to power play opportunity, score effects, and influence on team points. The second is of great importance, and discusses the predictability of power play success, penalty kill success, and what drives both of them. Here’s a quick summary for the power play:

  • Shooting percentages regress harder to the mean than a Friday night party when the cops get called. For example: only two teams finished in the top-5 in 5-on-4 shooting percentage in 2013 also finished the top-10 in 2014, Carolina and Buffalo. Columbus dropped to 15th, Ottawa to 16th, and Boston to 28th.
  • Predicting which teams will continue to find power play success is hard, and the best way to look for a reliable team is to seek out their FenwickFor/60 minutes on the PP. The top-5 teams in FF/60 at 5-on-4 in the shortened 2013 season were Carolina, Boston, Ottawa, Arizona, and the New York Rangers. Last season, the only team out of those five to not finish in the top-half of the league in power play percentage was Carolina.

Keep in mind that these are predictive measures for a fairly unpredictable situation. For all the work teams do, special teams remain a pretty volatile segment of hockey. Those top-5 teams in FF/60 finished 3rd, 5th, 15th, 16th, and 28th in power play percentage the following year. A 40-percent success rate at predicting a top-third power play isn’t ideal, but it’s ahead of the curve.

In summary, keep in mind that power play points are usually pretty important to fantasy success. The fewest PPP for a top-10 fantasy hockey skater last year was Jamie Benn with 19. Guys relegated to second power play units, or guys that play for low-event power plays like New Jersey and Florida, have very little chance at elite fantasy hockey status.

*As always, thanks to Hockey Analysis, Hockey Reference, and Behind The Net for their resources

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