Context Clues: Finding Gems

Josh L.
October 13 2012 08:32AM

 Image via Wikipedia Commons

NHLNumbers is a site dedicated to pushing hockey thinking further up Bloom's Taxonomy from the lower understanding stages to higher levels of cognitive thought. The best research is always going to be supported by data, or numbers, which is why we do what we do. The work being done lately doesn't have a direct one to one application to fantasy hockey so one of the challenges we face as the site continues to grow is finding unique ways to provide interesting but helpful content to empower fantasy players to make better decisions when building their rosters. 

One approach to this problem is focusing on the context in which an individual player operates. No one is going to be able to pin down how well a player will perform perfectly, but with a holistic approach we can establish reasonable expectations for player performance based on the situations (context) in which they will operate.

Defining Context

When we refer to context or situations we are attempting to quantify the stress factor of an individual player's minutes. We want to know who he played with, who he was matched against, where his shifts began, and how much possession he drove. The general methodology is no different for fantasy hockey versus real hockey, but the application of the results is different.

Hockey stat nerds love guys who succeed when playing the "toughs". The guys that really get their hands dirty yet still drive possession can make a name for themselves quickly among interested observers (see Daniel Winnik, and Dave Moss). We want almost the exact opposite in fantasy.  We want our fantasy players to have the easiest minutes (and as much power play time) possible to give them the best odds of scoring possible.

Get 'Em While They're Hot

Two young stars in particular look like big breakout candidates for next season based on the assumption that they will be playing more favorable minutes compared to the 2012 season. Jordan Staal and Jamie Benn are screaming "draft me high".

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby deservedly receive a lot of press in Pittsburgh, but Jordan Staal deserves a lot of credit for what the Penguins were able to do the past few years. His defensive ability allowed the Penguins to put Crosby and Malkin on the ice for easier minutes. Of Penguins who played in at least 40 games Staal had by far the highest Corsi Relative Quality of Competition. Despite the difficult minutes Staal has still produced .58 points per game in his career. If his load lightens up slightly in Carolina fantasy players could see a drastic improvement in his production.

Jamie Benn's situation isn't very similar to Jordan Staal's, but he's also primed and ready for a breakout. I touched on his situation here, but the main thrust of the argument is that with Mike Ribeiro now in Washington Benn is free to move into easier minutes with more powerplay time. He should see a drastic increase in production given easier minutes, better linemates, and more powerplay time.

Looking Forward

Critically analyzing the fantasy potential of NHLers through contextual evidence can provide a significant edge to fantasy players everywhere. Over the course of the year (assuming it happens...) we will be bringing you copious amounts of analysis aimed at helping you find hidden gems to put you over the edge in your leagues. Stay tuned every Saturday for the latest fantasy update from NHLNumbers.

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Josh writes for DefendingBigD, WFAA.com, and tracks both scoring chances and zone entries for Dallas Stars games. He can be found on Twitter at @JoshL1220 where he may or may not continue to speak in third person. Please follow his meagerly followed account so he can get a boost of self esteem one follower at a time.
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