November 14 2012 09:04AM
Before the start of the 2011-12 season, I talked about a group of players that I called "the one-percenters", a group of players whose cap numbers were less than one percent of the salary cap. In order for a player like this to cover his bet, all he needs to do is competently fill a spot in the lineup on a regular basis. But some of these players can do more than that, which makes them extremely valuable. Before the season, I mentioned a few candidates that I thought might provide that kind of value: Niclas Bergfors, Bryan Bickell, Evgeni Nabokov, and Frans Nielsen. A couple of those players did, a couple of others didn't, and a few more bargain surprises emerged. So which one-percenter helped his team most in 2011-12?
Let's take a look at my top five candidates:
Brian Elliott (St. Louis Blues)
He may not have earned himself a nomination for the Vezina trophy, but he did lead the league in save percentage with a sterling .940. Given his history, one might expect a huge run on the PK to be what's boosting his numbers, and his .912 save percentage on the PK certainly was among the league leaders. But that .945 at even strength isn't too bad either. In fact, it was good enough to lead the NHL. The only thing possibly holding him back from being a slam dunk is that he only started 36 games.
Mark Fayne (New Jersey Devils)
Fayne ended up slightly underwater (-4 during five-on-five play) because of a poor PDO (99.2), but he broke even on the possession stats, which is a nice result when you're being counted on to play against the best opposition the other team has to offer. Add to that the fact that Fayne was a regular on the PK and took just 13 minor penalties over 82 games during the regular season and then just 3 minors in 24 playoff games, and you get a sense of just how effective this young man was for the Stanley Cup finalists.
Andrew MacDonald (New York Islanders)
He played over twenty-three minutes per game for the Islanders in 2011-12, clearly making him one of the team's top three defenders (alongside Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic). Of those three, MacDonald also had the most difficult zone-start percentage, taking 52% of his end-zone draws in the defensive zone. If his raw Corsi (-7/60) is eye-popping, it's in the wrong direction, so that's a bit of a black mark on the resume, but he makes up for that with some very fine work on the PK, logging the second-most minutes on the team.
Frans Nielsen (New York Islanders)
Nielsen is probably the obvious forward pick in this category. He led the Islander forwards in time on ice on the PK, and took the team's toughest assignments at even strength, both in terms of quality of competition and in terms of where he began his shifts (56% of his end-zone draws were in the defensive zone). Despite this, he nearly broke even in terms of raw Corsi (-2/60), finishing as the fourth-best forward on the team in that category. Furthermore, unlike most players with the checking role, Nielsen was able to contribute offensively: he finished fifth on the team in even strength scoring with 32 points. That might not sound all that impressive, but it does put him among the top 150 forwards in the NHL.
Nikita Nikitin (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Nikitin was traded to the Blue Jackets after just a few games, and it looks to be a deal that the St. Louis Blues will come to regret. After coming over from St. Louis, Nikitin scored 32 points in 54 games from the back end and played over twenty-three minutes per game. The most impressive part of that point total is the fact that 22 of his points came at even strength, good enough to land among the NHL's top thirty defenders. And he did that in pretty difficult circumstances. Like most of the BJ's, Nikitin was often starting deep in his own zone (56% of his end-zone draws were in the defensive zone), but unlike most of the BJ's Nikitin finished more of his shifts in the opposition's zone, which complements his positive Corsi rating nicely.
And my pick? I don't see how you avoid going with Brian Elliott if we're strictly looking back to 2011-12, but if I had to pick one of these players to be on my team for the 2013 half-season, I'd go with the player who has the longest track record of success: Frans Nielsen.