We’re into the month of December now and one of the season’s bigger surprises so far is that Sidney Crosby is leading the pack in terms of goals scored. Obviously Crosby is an elite player, so that part isn’t surprising, but he’s accomplished that despite missing the beginning of the campaign due to a concussion. He’s only played in 17 games so far, but has 15 goals despite that.
Crosby’s accomplished that nearly goal-per-game rate by posting a shooting percentage of 25, which is leagues above his usual 14.7%, so it stands to reason that he’ll see a decline as the campaign goes on. That being said, his 60 shots in 17 contests is also a bit more aggressive than he’s traditionally been, so even if his shooting percentage fades, he might still end up with a higher goals per game average than we’re used to from him.
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Of course, it is also nice to throw analysis out the window and just wonder if he could defy the odds and maintain something around that goal scoring pace. We haven’t seen him reach the 50-goal mark since 2009-10. Could this be the year he gets to that milestone again?
Speaking of top-tier players, All-Star captain voting is under way. If you were wondering if they would limit voters options after all the drama that ensued with John Scott being voted into last year’s game, the answer is no. When you go to the ballot they do provide you with a limited list of players to select from in the three-on-three tournament, but the option to write players in exists, so we could potentially see another case like Scott’s this time around. That being said, I have no problem with that.
I’m of the mindset that All-Star Games at their core should be ‘what-if’ teams that play for the enjoyment of fans and if the fans want to push for players other than the elites to be represented, that’s fine. Besides, John Scott ended up having an amazing showing in the All-Star Game and it was a terrific story. It added some life to an exhibition contest that, while still popular, doesn’t always live up to its potential.
Moving past that to a far more general, and fantasy hockey-relevant subject, I wanted to briefly touch on valuing a player based on what line he’s on. I see this come up a lot when I get questions and usually it’s in regards to a middle-of-the-range player, at least from an offensive standpoint, being paired up with a star and the expected boost that will come with that. It’s not a bad idea to watch line combinations for those kind of opportunities, but sometimes I feel like owners put too much emphasis on line combinations when attempting to determine a player’s worth for an entire season. The big issue there is that line combination are a fluid thing.
Take Patrick Maroon as an example. He saw some time with Connor McDavid and for a brief period that coincided with a big spike in production for him. If you picked Maroon up hoping the ride that hot streak then you were rewarded, but if you continued to hold onto him then you’ve endured a stretch where he’s recorded no goals and an assist in his last nine games. The fact that McDavid and Maroon have been split up isn’t the sole cause of that, but it certainly doesn’t help when you’re taken off the line that had arguably the league’s best forward. The moral is that if you’re planning on scooping up players in the bargain bin because they’ve been moved to a favorable line, that might be a strategy that pays off for you, but only if you’re willing to be active with your adds/drops so that you can move onto the next player with a big opportunities when/if your original pickup gets moved.
By the same token, if you see a great player dropped to a less than ideal line, it’s not necessarily the time to panic yet because that demotion could be rather short-term. If it’s been weeks though, then that’s another story. For example, I’m very pessimistic about Andrew Ladd at this point. If he was reunited with John Tavares for any sustained period of time then I might reconsider, but it’s been a while now since the idea of Tavares-Ladd being an effective duo was really tested and Ladd has been seeing his role decline substantially, to the point where he’s logged less than 15 minutes in two of his last four games. With that in mind, even the fact that he picked up an assist on Wednesday, ending a seven-game slump, doesn’t fill me with much hope.
By contrast, an example of a player I’m still holding out hope for is Evgeny Kuznetsov. His nine points in 21 games is a steep decline from his 77 points in 82 contests as a sophomore, but he’s still been getting some ice time with Alex Ovechkin, he’s very talented in his own right, and his ice time so far this season hasn’t declined significantly compared to 2015-16. Additionally, while Ladd has been a very good player for a number of years, I regard Kuznetsov as someone that has more upside than Ladd ever had, so to that extent it’s easier to get optimistic about him. Incidentally the Islanders and Capitals are playing against each other tonight, so we’ll see if one or both of them can step up.