PHT Decade in Review: Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, fantasy highlights, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.
Welcome to our weekly fantasy hockey column where we usually recommend players you should consider adding and dropping. This time we’re going to do something a little different though. With the decade almost over, we’re going to take this opportunity to highlight the best fantasy players of the 2010s.
To make things interesting, we’ll look at this from two different angles. First we’ll highlight the best fantasy player from each season from 2010-11 through 2018-19 and then we’ll highlight the best overall fantasy players of the 2010s.
2010-11: Only one player reached the 100-point milestone and that was the Canucks’ Daniel Sedin, who scored 41 goals and 104 points. He won the Art Ross Trophy just a year after his twin brother, Henrik claimed it. However, unlike Henrik Sedin, Daniel didn’t collect the Hart Trophy along with the Art Ross. Instead the Hart went to the Ducks’ Corey Perry, who had 50 goals and 98 points. Tim Thomas claimed the Vezina Trophy with a 35-11-9 record, 2.00 GAA, and .938 save percentage in 57 contests in 57 games while Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy for the seventh and final time. Lidstrom had 16 goals and 62 points in 75 contests. However, none of them would be my pick for the best fantasy player of the year.
Carey Price, Canadiens – In terms of GAA and save percentage, Price lagged behind Thomas with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, but the advantage of Price was how much the Canadiens leaned on him. Price played in 72 games and being able to use your top goaltender that often is incredibly helpful in fantasy leagues. Those extra starts also led to Price topping Thomas in wins and shutouts with 38 and eight respectively. This is one of those cases where I’d argue Thomas was the better goaltender that season, but Price is the one I would have rather owned in fantasy leagues.
2011-12: Just like last season, there was only one player who reached the century mark. This time it was the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, who had 50 goals and 109 points in 75 games. He cleanly won the Art Ross by 12 points, but Tampa’s Steven Stamkos decisively won the Richard Trophy with an incredible 60 goals while Malkin finished second in that regard. Stamkos finished second in the overall scoring race. Between those two offensive stars, Malkin was picked as the Hart winner. The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina with a 39-18-5 record, 1.97 GAA, and .930 save percentage in 62 starts. The Norris was claimed by the Senators’ Erik Karlsson, who had 19 goals and 78 points in 81 contests. Those are plenty of amazing players to choose from, but I think Malkin has the edge here.
Evgeni Malkin, Penguins – I was honestly initially leaning towards Stamkos given how rare it is to have a player score 60 goals in this era, but Malkin had the edge in every other major category that fantasy leagues care about at the time. Obviously, Malkin had more points, but he also had a solid edge in plus/minus (plus-18 to plus-7), power-play points (34 to 25), and SOG (339 to 303). Malkin also had few more penalty minutes (70 to 66), which was a pretty standard fantasy category at the time. None of those category leads alone made Malkin the better fantasy option that season, but put together Malkin is the clear choice.
2012-13: This was the lockout shortened season that was limited to 48 games. Tampa’s Martin St. Louis won the Art Ross with 17 goals and 60 points, but the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin won the Hart with 32 goals and 56 points. The Vezina was claimed by Sergei Bobrovsky, who posted a 21-11-6 record, 2.00 GAA, and .932 save percentage in 38 games. Montreal’s P.K. Subban was the Norris winner with 11 goals and 38 points in 42 contests. This time around, there is a decisive winner in my mind and that’s Ovechkin.
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – As noted above, Ovechkin had nearly double St. Louis’ goal total while only falling four points shy, so in that regard, Ovechkin is clearly the better fantasy option. Ovechkin also bested him in other big fantasy categories too including plus/minus (plus-two to neutral), penalty minutes (36 to 14), power-play points (27 to 20), and shots (220 to 112). So there really isn’t much wiggle room to say that you would have been better off having St. Louis that season. In fact, I’d argue that Stamkos was also better than St. Louis that season from a fantasy perspective. Stamkos had 29 goals, 57 points, 157 shots, and 32 penalty minutes, but did lag behind both St. Louis and Ovechkin in plus/minus (minus-four) and power-play points (18).
2013-14: The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby claimed both the Art Ross and the Hart with 36 goals and 104 points in 80 games. No other player even came close to him in the scoring race. The Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf taking second place with 31 goals and 87 points in 77 contests. Chicago’s Duncan Keith was the Norris winner with six goals and 61 points in 79 games and the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask won the Vezina with a 36-15-6 record, 2.04 GAA, and .930 save percentage in 58 starts. A season I chose Ovechkin as the best fantasy player, I’d give the edge to his main rival of the era, Crosby.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – All-in-all, this was a pretty meh season when it came to fantasy standouts. Just one player with even 90 points, one player with at least 50 goals (Ovechkin), and not a single goaltender started in at least 65 games. Under these conditions, Crosby won almost by default. It’s worth adding that in addition to his decisive win in the scoring race, Crosby also contributed a plus-18 rating, 46 penalty minutes, 38 power-play points and 259 shots to fantasy owners. He was the leader in any of those categories, but the fact that he was able to help in all of them certainly helped his case. That contrasted Ovechkin, who did lead the league in goals (51) and edged out Crosby in power-play points (39), but was a major burden in terms of plus/minus (minus-35) and fell well behind in points (79).
2014-15: We’ve reached the campaign where Price pulled off the rare feat of winning both the Hart and Vezina. That’s quite the accomplishment, but it was due in part to the lack of competition from forwards. Dallas’ Jamie Benn won the scoring race with 35 goals and 87 points in 82 games and he was one of just five players to even record 80 points. Ovechkin did score 53 goals, but he managed an underwhelming 28 assists. So there wasn’t really a forward who seemed terribly deserving of the Hart. Defenseman Erik Karlsson did have a strong campaign with 21 goals and 66 points in 82 contests en route to winning the Norris, but he wasn’t a serious contender for the Hart either. That’s not to say Price didn’t have a fantastic season though. He certainly stood out from the crowd with a 44-16-6 record, 1.96 GAA, and .933 save percentage in 66 starts, which is why I’m also comfortable saying he was that season’s top fantasy option.
Carey Price, Canadiens – This is the second time in the span of five seasons I’m listing Price as my top fantasy choice. With the relatively weak state of forwards in 2014-15, Price’s main competition was other goaltenders. The Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby would have been my second choice. He had a 41-20-10 record, 2.22 GAA, and .923 save percentage in 72 starts. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had as many wins and a slightly better GAA (2.18) compared to Holtby, but Holtby appeared in nine more games and also clearly led Rinne in terms of shutouts (nine to four), which is a big help from a fantasy perspective.
2015-16: Only one player managed to breach the 90-point milestone this season and that was the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, who finished with 46 goals and 106 points. His efforts led to him winning both the Art Ross and Hart. The Vezina was claimed by Braden Holtby who posted a 48-9-7 record, 2.20 GAA, and .922 save percentage in 66 starts. In terms of blueliners, Drew Doughty won the Norris with 14 goals and 51 points in 82 contests, but he arguably wasn’t even in the top-five in terms of best fantasy defensemen. For me the top blueliner from a fantasy perspective was the Sharks’ Brent Burns, who had 27 goals and 75 points in 82 contests. Karlsson did have the edge in points with 82, but it’s not often you can find a defenseman who will provide you with even close to 30 goals. At the end of the day though, I feel Holtby was the best fantasy option.
Braden Holtby, Capitals – It’s rare for a defenseman to get 27 goals and certainly Kane was a clear winner in the scoring race, but Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s NHL record with his 48 wins. No other goaltender gave you even close to that win total in 2015-16 with LA’s Jonathan Quick being the next best option at 40 victories. Holtby was also a strong contributor in GAA and save percentage too while finishing in a tie for second in starts, so he was far more than a goaltender who contributed in one category.
2016-17: And now, we enter the era of Connor McDavid. The Oilers forward actually made his debut in 2015-16, but he was limited to 45 games due to injury. This time around he played the full 82 games, contributing 30 goals and a league-best 100 points. With no other player reaching even the 90-point milestone and the Oilers making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, McDavid won the Hart. Bobrovsky won the Vezina for the second time with a 41-17-5 record, 2.06 GAA, and .931 save percentage in 63 starts. Burns was picked for the Norris with 29 goals and 76 points in 82 contests and it’s Burns I’ll ultimately select as my top fantasy choice for this season.
Brent Burns, Sharks – As I mentioned above, Burns was close to being my top choice in 2015-16, but Holtby’s record-tying wins total edged him out. This time around, no player had a similarly historic season and Burns was just as good. He finished just a single goal behind McDavid and 23 points, which is amazing numbers to get out a defenseman. Burns also led the league with 320 shots, had a strong plus-19 rating, and his 25 power-play points put him just three shy of McDavid. I also want to give an honorable mention to Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot, who posted a 42-22-8 record, 2.39 GAA, and .919 save percentage over a staggering 73 starts. McDavid got the Hart, but I’d argue that Talbot was the single biggest factor in the Oilers’ making the playoffs. He gave them the stability in goal they desperately needed and when he faltered in 2017-18 and beyond, the Oilers fell with him.
2017-18: The Devils’ Taylor Hall won the Hart with 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, but he wasn’t the league’s best fantasy forward. In fact there were several forwards I would have rather had over him, including the man I’ll pick as the 2017-18 campaign’s top fantasy option. Before I get to that though, I want to highlight Rinne, who won the Vezina with a 42-13-4 record, 2.31 GAA, and .927 save percentage and defenseman Victor Hedman, who won the Norris with 17 goals and 63 points in 77 contests.
Connor McDavid, Oilers – The primary reason why McDavid missed out on the Hart is because the Oilers missed the playoffs, but that’s not a factor in fantasy leagues. Instead, the factors are McDavid’s 41 goals, 108 points, plus-20 rating, 20 power-play points, and 274 shots in 82 games. Of those categories, the only one Hall was clearly the better player was power-play points, where he had 37. Hall also enjoyed the slightest of edges in shots (278 to 274). Neither of those makes up for McDavid’s lead in the other categories though, especially McDavid’s clear edge in points. In fact, I’d argue that McDavid’s closer competition was Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov, who had 39 goals, 100 points, a plus-15 rating, 36 power-play points, and 279 shots. Between Kucherov and McDavid, the gap is actually razor thin.
2018-19: I mentioned a few times above that just one player reached the 90-point milestone that season. In the case of 2018-19, 14 different players got at least that many points. The leader among them was Kucherov, who finished with 41 goals and 128 points in 82 games en route to winning the Hart. His Lightning teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina with a 39-10-4 record, 2.40 GAA, and .925 save percentage in 53 starts. The Norris went to the Flames’ Mark Giordano, who scored 17 goals and 74 points in 78 games.
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – With scoring on the rise in 2018-19, Kucherov had arguably the best fantasy season of any player over the decade. His 128 points gave him the clear edge over the second place McDavid (116 points). Kucherov also bested McDavid in plus/minus (plus-24 to plus-three), power-play points (48 to 33), and shots (246 to 240). Obviously the SOG totals were pretty close and they both finished with 41 goals, but Kucherov’s clear lead in the other major fantasy categories makes him the easy pick. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl deserves an honorable mention though, for finishing with 50 goals, 105 points, a plus-two rating, 29 power-play points, and 231 shots.
So with all that done, how do we pick the best player of the decade? The first question is if we’re looking for quantity or quality? From the start of 2010-11 to present (including this season), Patrick Kane leads the league with 754 points in 696 games, but I didn’t tap Kane as the fantasy leader in any single season. What Kane brought to the table was relative health and consistency. With the obvious exceptions of the lockout shortened 2013 campaign and the still in progress 2019-20 season, he recorded at least 64 points in every campaign. Meanwhile, Crosby averaged more points per game, but injuries resulted in him appearing in 107 fewer contests.
Kane also had the benefit of being in his prime entering the decade. What about those who entered the league during it? They’re at an obvious disadvantage if what we’re looking at are the totals. For example, there’s McDavid, who has only appeared in 326 games in the 2010s for obvious reasons, but he’s the clear decade leader in terms of points-per-game (min. 200 games played). In that category, the top-five are McDavid (1.33 PTS/G), Crosby (1.23), Malkin (1.15), Kane (1.08), and Stamkos (1.06).
This is just looking at skaters. There’s even more of a headache when evaluating goaltenders. When a forward declines for example, that just means that they’ll produce fewer points, but a goaltender has a GAA and save percentage that will be dragged down. Take Price, who is the only person I selected as the best fantasy option in two separate seasons. However, he also had a disastrous 2017-18 campaign where he posted a 3.11 GAA and .900 save percentage in 49 games and he’s been a mixed bag this season as well. That gives him a somewhat less impressive 2.42 GAA and .919 save percentage over the decade, though even then he’s still one of the best goaltenders over this 10-year period.
There’s no ideal way to pick a player, but ultimately the point of this is to make a choice and so I will:
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – If you participated in a fantasy draft over the last decade, there was one thing that was almost always true: Crosby was a clear top-five pick and sometimes the clear top pick overall. You can’t really say that for any other player over the last decade. The closest comparable to that over the same time frame is Ovechkin, but even Ovechkin had a brief period of time where it looked like his shine had worn off back in 2016-17 when he scored 33 goals and 69 points in 82 games and that came after a series of campaigns where he was still scoring goals, but posting underwhelming numbers in other categories. Crosby had disappointing seasons too, but when he disappointed, it was always due to injury and consequently, you knew that if he was healthy, he would be one of the league’s top players if not the very best. Even with the rise of McDavid and Kucherov, Crosby has managed to stay near the top of the pack, scoring 35 goals and 100 points in 79 contests last season.
There are plenty of others that deserve honorable mentions though. Beyond Kane, Ovechkin, McDavid, and Price, who were all already mentioned, Phil Kessel deserves to be highlighted for being consistently near the top of the league even if he never was quite at the heights of those others. He has 269 goals and 663 points in 742 contests this decade. Stamkos and Malkin were other major standouts who were slowed somewhat by injuries. Stamkos has 332 goals and 655 points in 616 games while Malkin has 257 goals and 652 point in 566 contests. Meanwhile, there is one player you might not expect to find in the top-10 of this decade’s scoring leaders and that’s Blake Wheeler. Health and consistency have led to him scoring 213 goals and 643 points in 733 games, which is good for ninth place on the points list.
When it comes to defensemen, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns were the top two scorers with 564 and 537 points respectively. Keith Yandle might surprise you a bit in third place with 77 goals and 473 points in 741 contests.
In goal it’s hard to pick a standout for the entire decade, but I think Rask is the closest to it. Though he started the decade as Tim Thomas’ understudy, which means he has less overall games played than the likes of Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Price, but Rask has averaged out to be the best of them. He has a 253-151-57 record, 2.31 GAA, and .920 save percentage in 467 contests over that span. Bobrovsky isn’t quite the best goaltender of the decade, but he is the most interesting. He won the Vezina twice, but he also had some pretty underwhelming campaigns sprinkled in there. Taken as a whole, he has a 268-162-41 record, 2.50 GAA, and .918 save percentage in 485 games.
Next week we’ll be back to looking forward, but in the meantime I hope you enjoyed this look down memory lane.
If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.
Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.