Welcome back to another season of Hockey Prospectus' fantasy hockey coverage! You are in the right place if you would like to get a jumpstart on the rest of your league. The emergence of advanced stats is great for the hockey community in general, but it is particularly applicable to fantasy hockey, a game of buying high and selling low, where owners are not handcuffed to actual contracts like in real life.
Advanced stats work very well in telling us two things: player usage, and sustainability of success or failure. These two elements can often tell us all we need to know when deciding who to add, drop, or trade in our fantasy leagues. They particularly work well when deciding who to fill out a fantasy roster with, which is one of my favorite early season activities.
That said, you do not need me to tell you who to take with your first round pick. Time wasted on debating Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin is largely inefficient: either is a good pick, and barring injury, selecting one over the other is not likely to win or lose you your league. Where fantasy leagues are won or lost, in my opinion, is with the later-round upside plays that pan out, and with intelligent in-season moves that respond accurately to the concept of buying high and selling low. With the help of advanced statistics, that is what I will help you do all season long here at Hockey Prospectus.
Thus, one of the first things I like to do each season is figure out who my late-round flyers will be, or who undervalued players are in general. I wrote a similar column last season, and many of the players I identified turned great profits for their acquisition cost, which is the entire basis of the game.
We want to maximize each draft position. As I wrote last year, you do not win your league by drafting a steady veteran like Alex Tanguay, you win it by drafting a breakout star in the same round when everyone else is drafting players like Tanguay.
One last thing: follow me on Twitter (@ryanschwep) or write in the comments below. I like to use real scenarios for analyses. You just may see your question answered in a future column!
With no further delay, here are some of my undervalued sleepers for 2013-14.
Brandon Dubinsky, CBJ
As I wrote in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14, Dubinsky was horribly unlucky last year, to the tune of a 4.0% shooting percentage despite having the best possession season of his career. A large portion of that was because Columbus turned him into a top line, offensive forward, whereas the Rangers used him in a defensive role. As such, he led the Jackets in Passes per 60 minutes by a good margin, and now, he will be potentially setting up Nathan Horton or Marian Gaborik. 40 assists are possible, and if his shooting percentage rebounds, he could be a 25-40-65 type of player on a Columbus team that has more offensive talent than people realize. Plus, he will chip in with penalty minutes and hits for leagues that count those.
Steve Ott, BUF
A yearly favorite of mine, Ott is a perfect example of someone who is far more valuable in fantasy than reality if your league counts PIMs or hits. While not suited for the role, he plays big offensive minutes for Buffalo, and he records PIMs and hits like a grinder. Defensemen who possess this combination (Shea Weber comes to mind) go in the early rounds; you can get Ott in the later ones.
Kyle Palmieri, ANA
I routinely advocated selling Ducks last season on the basis of their low possession/high shooting percentage combination, but it is a fresh slate this year. Palmieri recorded an impressive shot rate last year, and he may be the favorite to skate with Corey Petty and Ryan Getzlaf. Even if he earns a second line role, he is worth rostering at his price. VUKOTA agrees, projecting a bit of a breakout season, with a GVT almost twice that of Teemu Selanne. He could be this year's Jiri Tlusty.
Josh Bailey, NYI
Bailey is the apparent favorite to replace Brad Boyes on the Tavares line, and we all saw what that spot meant for Boyes last season. Like Palmieri, he is still younger than people realize. Young age and a newfound top linemate opportunity are what fueled Jiri Tlusty's breakout last season; Bailey represents another chance to repeat it this year.
Mikhail Grabovski, WSH
Any expectation of Grabovski should completely disregard his ridiculous 2012-13 season, where he was horribly misused. Expected to play second line center on high-octane Washington, 50 points should be a bare minimum expectation if he plays a full slate.
Tomas Hertl, SJS
I cannot pretend to know if Hertl will stick around past his nine-game window at the beginning of the season, but I do know that the Sharks could use some youth. He is a top prospect, he has been skating with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, and I recently drafted him at 396th overall in the HP reader/staff league.
Drew Shore, FLA
Drew Shore and Peter Mueller were two very useful players last year in leagues that counted shots, and with Mueller gone, Shore looks ready to step up on a Florida team that will need scoring. Consider this stat from author Adam Gretz in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14: Shore is one of three forwards since 2000 to appear in at least 40 games, attempt at least 2.2 shots per game, and yet finish with a shooting percentage below 4.0%. He also led Florida in Passes per 60 minutes, another indicator he could start producing points with a little better puck luck. Only 22 years old, he has unheralded upside that you could probably nab with your very last pick.
Bryan Bickell, CHI
I thought Bickell would enter the year overvalued after his playoff run, but his average draft position indicates that maybe people are overthinking his regression. I do not expect him to keep up the playoff pace, but he is playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, he is getting power play time, and he will chip in hits as well. I would not reach for him, but keep him on your late radar. I usually prefer to draft the younger, more exciting player, but I cannot figure out why Brandon Saad is going so much higher given their apparent usage. Of course, be prepared to cut bait if Saad eventually overtakes the first line minutes.
Ryane Clowe, NJD
Travis Zajac, NJD
New Jersey obviously needs offense after the departures of Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, but what is important to remember is how strong of a possession team the Devils were last season. To boot, Kovalchuk was a negative in that department. Clowe and Zajac could combine well on the Devils' top line, and their prices are quite low. At the very least, they should find themselves in positions to succeed with guaranteed minutes.
T.J. Galiardi, CGY
Well, someone has to play offensive minutes for Calgary, and Galiardi might see himself thrust into that role, particularly if the team moves some of their older veterans. Galiardi quietly had a nice season with San Jose, ranking second on the Sharks in Passes/60. He could be a nice late option for very deep leagues.
Justin Faulk, CAR
Faulk disappointed me a little bit last year, if only because he was thrust into more defensive responsibility than I thought he would garner. Now, Joe Corvo, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Joni Pitkanen are all gone. Ron Hainsey and Andrej Sekera are in. To me, that speaks more to using Faulk on the power play, and he is surely a big-minutes defenseman at even strength.
Cory Schneider, NJD
Schneider's average draft position is far too low, likely hampered by a worry that he will not play too many games alongside Martin Brodeur. I firmly believe the Devils acquired Schneider to play him like a number one. VUKOTA loves him, and with New Jersey's combination of high possession/poor luck last season, above-average goaltending could vault them back into the playoffs. Brodeur will steal some starts, but there is no question who the better goaltender at this stage of their careers is.
Ray Emery, PHI
Like with Schneider, I expect Emery to emerge as the clear starter for what should be a much improved Flyers team. I certainly would not expect a repeat of last year's numbers, but if we knew that he would get 65% of the starts, he would probably go higher than he has been going.