The season is almost over now which makes for a good time to look back on what has happened as well as look forward to what should happen.
The two thoughts are related because how well a player plays changes our perception of them going forward. There’s certainly puck luck and bounces that toy with these opinions on both sides, but the only way to really project the future is looking at trends from the past while trying to look past the noise.
We have a statistical player model based on Game Score that we use to estimate team strength to generate playoff chances that can roughly determine how good each player in the league is. It looks at their previous numbers over the past three years in each individual stat and regresses appropriately to determine what their future output should look like. With it, we can check in and see which guys are improving or declining throughout the year.
We highlighted these two extremes at the end of the first quarter, and again at the end of the second quarter and now it’s time to do it one last time at the end of the third quarter (a little late because of the trade deadline madness last week). Guys who see their stock rise and fall is typical hockey lexicon, but rarely do you see it quantified, mostly because it’s generally difficult to quantify a player’s total value.
It’s especially tricky because 20 games shouldn’t be enough to completely change minds, especially if it’s just a hot or cold streak, but it is enough to move the needle and warrant a reassessment of the player going forward. Based on Game Score, here are three players who have seen a big stock rise over the third quarter of the season, and three players who have seen their stock drop.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Q2 Value: 1.23 wins
Current Value: 2.08 wins
With all the stories of elite kids tearing up the league, it’s amazing that Eichel gets lost in the shuffle. Our own Ryan Kennedy wrote something earlier this week, but as he mentions himself it’s mostly been quiet for the budding superstar. Starting off the season with a big injury doesn’t help things, but he’s been really good since and has really turned it up a notch lately. Over the last quarter he was above point-per-game with 31 points in 28 games and his 119 shots was well north of four per game. That’s crazy. Only Patrick Kane, the other Kane in Buffalo and Tyler Seguin were more prolific at firing pucks on net. The knock on Eichel, though, is usually around his two-way game. The offensive side was never in question, but being a negative relative Corsi player on a team as bad as Buffalo was troubling. He was at -2.5 until the start of 2017, but since then he’s at +3.1. That’s a great sign for his development toward becoming one of the league’s best centers. If he plays the way he has over the last 25 games, he might already be closer than you think.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
Q2 Value: 1.13 wins
Current Value: 1.89 wins
For the past few years we’ve all been waiting very patiently for Granlund’s breakout. He had a big second season hitting 41 points in 63 games, but his points-per-game dropped every season since and it felt like he was always going to be just another 50 point player. Enter Bruce Boudreau and suddenly Granlund is looking exactly like the star we thought he could be, registering 31 points in his first 39 games, a 65 point pace, a bonafide first liner, and the best pace of his career. Then something funny happened. He got even better rattling off 29 points in his next 25 to be among the league leaders in points for 2017. The run he’s been on has been absolutely crazy – he was a top 10 player by Game Score over the third quarter. Like Eichel, his puck possession game has improved this season and it’s been steadily getting better every year, going from -0.5 to +1.2 to +2.0 to +3.5 this season. Outside of Devan Dubnyk and maybe Mikko Koivu, Granlund might be the Wild’s most important player right now.
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Q2 Value: 2.23 wins
Current Value: 2.72 wins
Anders Lee, New York Islanders
Q2 Value: 1.37 wins
Current Value: 1.70 wins
Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
Q2 Value: 0.33 wins
Current Value: 0.93 wins
Other than the Bruins godly first line, the Isles top line might’ve been the league’s best in 2017, and they may have been the most important, too. Their average shot attempt plus-minus per game is nearly plus-four per game while nearly every other forward line for New York is in the negatives or just barely above zero. They’re the straw that stirs the drink in Long Island and it’s no coincidence that the Isles started winning a lot more once this line was put together, running roughshod over the best the league has to offer. Tavares is obviously the main catalyst here and he has been arguably one of the league’s best players in 2017 (he’s third by Game Score). Lee and Bailey are nothing to sneeze at either and they’re solidifying themselves as great players in their own right (especially Lee), but he’s turning them into stars on his wing. The Isles are in a playoff spot now, and you can thank these three (and Thomas Greiss, too) for being the ones dragging them there.
Honourable Mentions: Patrik Laine, Jets; Josh Morrissey, Jets; Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Q2 Value: 2.26 wins
Current Value: 1.89 wins
All season the numbers crowd took their pot shots at Jonathan Toews for his poor season only for him to turn it on over the last month and become a super-human force. But for some reason no one really mentions that Kopitar has had an even more disappointing season. He’s on an 82 game pace of 11 goals and 52 points, both of which would be full-season career lows. What’s interesting is my model is seeing this big drop despite him scoring at his usual pace over the third quarter with 20 points in 24 games. The reason? It’s not just points where Kopitar has been lacking, his possession game – usually his biggest strength – has really tumbled lately. Over the stretch he was just plus-24 in Corsi (51.7 percent), one of the worst marks on LA and good for a -3.6 relative Corsi. That number has dropped every season for the last five years to just plus-one percent this year. At age 29, I’d start to be worried about where Kopitar’s play is headed because puck possession is a staple of his game and he simply hasn’t looked himself this season.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Q2 Value: 2.08 wins
Current Value: 1.71 wins
Much like Kopitar it’s time to start questioning Giroux’s decline away from the league’s elite centers. The two are the same age and Giroux is seeing the same performance decline in his underlying metrics. What’s perhaps more concerning though is his scoring decline. He’s gone from a point-per-game player, to just above 70, to just under 70 and now he’s on pace for just 58 points. I don’t doubt he’ll turn it on going down the stretch to maybe get above 60, but it’s still an extremely low point total driven by this terrible 2017 he’s having. What’s perhaps more alarming is what’s happening to Giroux at 5-on-5 where he has just 18 of his 46 points. That’s a bad ratio for an “elite” scorer and while we all know he’s unreal on the power play, he’s clearly not there anymore at evens. His points-per-60 of 0.85 ranks 354th out of all forwards who’ve played 200 minutes this season. That’s not a typo. That’s in the same neighbourhood as guys like Derek MacKenzie, Luke Glendening and Steve Ott. It’s a big drop from last year and it’s probably a little bit of bad luck, but still not a great look for a guy who should be a No. 1 center.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
Q2 Value: 1.15 wins
Current Value: 0.79 wins
Remember when Larkin was going to be the Red Wings saviour? Well… things haven’t been so great for him this year. He’s got just 22 points in 63 games this year, a far cry from his 45 point rookie season. It’s a big fall from grace, but what’s interesting is that this isn’t a sophomore slump – this started last year after the all star break. He started the year with 33 points in 48 games, but limped to the finish with 12 in his final 32. Over 63 games that’s a… 24 point pace. So what do you know, over the last 95 games, Larkin has been a 29 point player. The big red flag though recently is his shot rate, just 30 in his last 23 games. Perhaps he’s unsure of himself and is picking his spots, but it’s a big drop from the 221 shots he took last year. None of these numbers are good enough for the player the Wings expect him to be and are certainly not worth the hype that surrounded him to start last season. Of course, the kid is just 20 – he’ll figure it out eventually. But he’s not there yet and it’s a lesson to wait for a bigger body of work before judging a young player.
Honourable Mentions: Joe Thornton, Sharks; Carl Soderberg, Avs; Milan Lucic, Oilers