Since the latest NHL lockout began, many fans and journalists alike have sided with #theplayers, appalled by the notion that the owners – “greedy, stupid billionaires” all – would demand their employees take an immediate pay cut. After all, the NHL made $3.3 BILLION last season. Also, the players have contracts – written agreements, signed by the owners, promising to pay x amount over the life of the deal. Now the owners don’t want to pay the agreed-upon amount? How dare they! To the NHLPA and their supporters I say: get over yourselves. Set aside your histrionics and your talking points and take a cold, hard look at reality. Here’s why the owners are (mostly) right, and you are (mostly) wrong:
The Nature of the Beast
The NHL is a unique industry, in that 30 separate businesses simultaneously work in conjunction to produce a single product (an NHL season) and compete fiercely against one another (to win the Stanley Cup). The battle between teams isn’t confined to the ice, either: GMs compete with each other for scarce resources (NHL-caliber players). The level of competition is such that, were 30 Sidney Crosby clones available, each team would attempt to acquire as many Sidney Crosbys as possible.
To continue that analogy, as a fan, you would be upset if your team made no attempt to acquire at least one Crosby (or at least one more Crosby than your biggest rival). Fans pay good money for tickets, concessions, parking and souvenirs, and as such, they (rightfully) expect, even demand, management/ownership do whatever it takes to ice the best possible team. Fan expectations, which translate directly to revenue, are a significant driver of off-ice competition.
This “Battle of the GMs” is not just driven by fan expectations – it’s also required by law. If they didn’t compete – if the 30 GMs got together and said, “Okay, guys…from now on, nobody offers UFAs more than $2mil/year. Agreed? Agreed!” – that would be collusion, and the NHLPA would sue…and win. Thus, player salaries continue to grow (from an average of $1.4mil in 2005 to $2.4mil today), held in check only by the salary cap and the self-imposed spending limits of individual owners.
Why the Players are Locked Out
Over the life of the now-expired CBA, the players received 57% of Hockey-Related Revenues (HRR). Despite the fact that HRR has grown to record levels, at least half of all NHL franchises lost money last season. Why? Because 43% of HRR is not enough for many franchises to cover their operating expenses.
In truth, the NHL erred back in 2005, when they agreed to give the players 57%. It was intended as “a spoonful of sugar” to make the medicine – a salary cap – go down, but the financial struggles of at least half the league’s franchises have proven the short-sightedness of that deal. Now, for the stability and financial health of the NHL as a whole, a correction must be made.
Why We Wait
If you’re reading this, you know the NHL’s latest offer called for an immediate 50/50 revenue split, with a “make whole” provision for existing player contracts. In short, players would have some of the money due them this season and next deferred to Year 3 or to the end of their current contract, whichever comes first. The NHLPA objects to those “make whole” payments coming out of the players share of HRR, saying it would mean “players paying players”, which they find highly offensive.
At the same time, the NHLPA has called repeatedly for increased revenue sharing to help the struggling franchises. By this, of course, they mean moving money from profitable franchises to unprofitable ones…in other words, they’re all for “owners paying owners”. Though revenue sharing among franchises is a necessity, the NHLPA stance reeks of hypocrisy.
The players made three counter-proposals to the NHL last week, none of which would bring the HRR split down to 50/50 before Year 5. In other words, the NHLPA proposals call for roughly half of all franchises to continue to bleed cash for at least four more years. What will the players sacrifice in return? Well, they’ll get smaller raises each year…but make no mistake, they will get raises.
Truthfully, there’s no guarantee a 50/50 HRR split will put all 30 NHL franchises in the black; in fact, some franchises will still lose money, at least in the short-term. Lowering the players share of HRR will reduce the number of teams in need of revenue sharing $$$, which will increase the stability of the league as a whole…and thinking long-term, at the end of the next CBA, if only three or four clubs are still losing money, it will be exceedingly difficult for the NHL to make a case for a greater share of HRR.
It’s obvious, even to the NHLPA, that the HRR split must come down to 50/50. Now, the players must set aside their personal animosity toward Gary Bettman, their ridiculous indignation at the NHL’s original offer (43% of HRR) and their unrealistic expectation of uninterrupted (though reduced) raises year-over-year, and work with the league to tweak the NHL’s last offer and get a deal done. In the current economic climate, many people in the “real” world are either unemployed or have taken significant pay cuts in order to keep their jobs. A 20% pay cut when you’re making $50k hurts much more than 20% of $525k, believe me. If the rest of us can do it, the NHLPA can, too.
Aggravation! Fandom blasphemy. Pure, unadulterated bulls@#! This NHL Lockout crap is hacking me – and I assume you – off. Nevertheless, we need to stay mindful of a few things:
So what can you do? Simple – draft a team that is ready to go right outta the chute with players who begin growing your stats categories right away. In that regard, your first round pick is crucial because you want to start building up a solid performance from the first puck drop. You also want to be mindful if you have an early 2nd round draft pick, which player is a hot starter off the bench so you can snag them to compliment your first round pick.
To help you along, here at OGA, we’re looking at your fantasy draft 1st Round possibilities as you prepare for your draft. This blog assumes you may be drafting with as many as 20 teams in your league. From that assumption, it looks at the top 20 scorers last season and how they performed in their first 10 games. Follow on blogs will do the same for the top 10 defensemen and top five goalies who may find their way into your 1st and/or 2nd round picks.
The Top 20
We did this very simply. We took the top 20 scorers from last year and only looked at their goals, assists, points and +/- in their first 10 games. Yes, the circumstances that produced their first 10 games’ stats may be vastly different this season. Some will be better, and some not so much. But it is as good a reference as any other to determine about where these players can be as the season kicks off.
One big note here. Players you know to have had surgeries and would have been starting the season late, such as a Gaborik (on this list), Kesler or Roy? That late date may wind up being the season opener anyway. And of course, maybe it won’t. But your odds after 15 September with a Lockout in effect are just as good to draft them as not.
Without further ado, here is how the top 20 scorers finished the season:
What can we gather from the top performers? Over the course of the year:
They averaged 80 games played
One 60-, one 50-, and two 40-goal scorers are in the Top 20 (So as your draft trails off to 30-goal scorers, don’t get too upset)
Two 60- and eight 50-assist scorers are in the Top 20 (So 40-to-50 assist scorers are what you are looking for in this category)
Only three players scored over 90 points (You need to weigh your options of trading up in draft order – if you can – or using a large percentage of your Auction Draft budget to secure one of these three players)
Only two players had more than a +20, and another five were better than a +15 (So above +10 is not that bad, here)
For comparative analysis, and understanding that players become more tired, injured and otherwise worn down as the season progresses, in each 10 games played the Top 20 averaged:
Eight games played
Three goals, five assists, and eight points scored
And were almost a +1
And for their per-game average over 80 games, these players were at:
.4 goals, .6 assists, 1.015 points scored
And a +.1
Over the long haul of the season, all of these players were worth keeping despite any temporary slumps they may have suffered because, as a whole, they made up for it.
But our question here is all about the strong start. It is about setting a tone in your fantasy league that you are a force to be reckoned with no matter when the season begins. So right out of the box, how were these Top 20 in their first 10 games last year?
The Opening 10
There is an interesting difference in reviewing Games 1 – 10 for these players. In that regard, we provide you this chart:
A few points about this chart. Firstly, in each category, a dark green box indicates the leading statistic for the group. A light green box indicates numbers above the opening 10-game average. A dark red box indicates the lowest statistic in that category. And on the far right, you will see our recommendations for what number in the draft to contemplate taking that player. (A ‘5’A or ‘5B’ means they are about equal in the fifth slot, so pick your favorite based on personal intangibles.)
In contrast to the season-long, 10-game average, you can see that these players display a bit of a difference as listed below:
+.03 in +/-
In other words, earlier on, they scored more, but their +/- was virtually a wash from the end-of-season 10-game average. It is form the scoring that you can expect an early bump in your fantasy league standings from this group.
By the time you get to the end of the season, the per-game averages between the opening 10 games to the finish are very similar. Here are the differences:
+0.056 goals per game
-0.054 assists per game
+0.003 points per game
-0.042 +/- per game
Why, none of those numbers are significantly different. Exactly. That is why drafting good players who remain healthy is the most sure thing you can count on throughout the season – don’t trade or drop them in a short slump or you will regret it!
Some Opening 10 Individuality
Toronto’s Phil Kessel was the hottest October 2011 commodity to fantasy teams by more than double the average number of goals scored. We noted the team lost when he did not register a point. And that would be a general rule as the season progressed, too.
Buffalo’s Jason Pominville and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar joined Kessel as the only three players who either led or were above average in all four stats categories we analyzed here.
Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin slid from No.1 overall to No. 4 in this comparison, and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos dropped from No.2 (with 60 goals) overall to No.10. Both of these players are going to be drafted in your first round, and by Yahoo!NHL’s draft tracking, they will go by the second pick. For the long haul, that is likely a good solution. Just know that they will not potentially start out as hot a commodity as a Kessel, Pominville and/or Kopitar might.
Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson in the only defenseman in this Top 20 group. While we will provide you analysis later on the Top 10 defensemen in their first 10 games, his nearly-a-point-per-game scoring average and +16 make him a likely pick no later than the end of Round 2. If you are the kind of fantasy manager that isn’t going to shoot for a goalie in Round 2 and you see Karlsson still up on the boards with none of these other Top 20 left, he is an intelligent snag.
Pittsburgh’s James Neal tends to draft anywhere from the Top 5 to just into the 2nd round depending on the character of your League. Yahoo!NHL ranks him at No.15, and he drops from No.7 in scoring at season’s end to our recommended 19th pick in your draft. If hot off the bench is your goal, his eight goals in 10 games to open the season was outstanding. You likely don’t appreciate his Top 20-worst single assist. But remember the team was without Crosby, and even lost Malkin for a game early on, so Neal was relied upon early to pop the twine. Any way you slice it, he is a good late 1st round acquisition.
And New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk started slow, the reason he is our recommended tail-gunner pick. While he began with less than half the points Kessel did and a Top 20-worst –9, that +/- was his lowest final total, and he finished the season with one more point in five less games than the Toronto star. He ranks at No.13 in the Yahoo!NHL order. Our 20th pick recommendation for the opening 10 games means if we continued to carry out our analysis, other players would have potentially had a better opening stats pack. But as a bottom line, he is a good late 1st round pick.
So there you have an analysis of the Top 20 scorers from the 2011-12 season in the first 10 games they played last year. There is a difference to how fast they start off from the first puck drop, a fact we thought you should see in order to determine how you draft in your opening fantasy league round. But remember their overall, per-game averages are not significantly different from game 10 to season’s end.
Later, we will bring you the Top 10 defensemen and Top 5 goalies which should help you round out your 1st and 2nd draft rounds…