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STATS 2016 Fantasy Hockey Cheat Sheet

Who are you going to be drafting with your first pick in your fantasy hockey league? Are you hoping that Sidney Crosby is available at the end of the first round? Will the change of scenery help Taylor Hall’s fantasy value for the upcoming season?

As a follow up to STATS’ successful fantasy football cheat sheet, we are releasing a cheat sheet to help you out with your fantasy hockey team!

Below, you will find a link to the printable cheat sheet. We rank players at every position and have also included our STATS Ranking, which allows you to compare players across different positions. Please note that these rankings apply to leagues with standard scoring.

Print this out and bring it with you on draft day to gain an edge on your opponents.

 

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STATS NHL Daily Fantasy Projections: Hockey Night in Canada Targets, February 20

The NBA is back from its break, but with only 4 games tonight, the NBA slate is lame! Play some NHL daily fantasy contests, and use these picks as guidance. As always: Please note that we are only previewing the late contests that begin at 7pm EST. In 50/50 contests, you will want a diverse, uncorrelated lineup, so we will preview players from several different teams – in higher-risk, higher-reward tournaments, you will want a more correlated lineup, so we will also mention some stack possibilities. Please be aware that lineups and starting goalies can change, so be sure to check all news before your lineups lock.

TEAMS TO TARGET

Philadelphia Flyers (vs. Toronto Maple Leafs): For the remainder of the season, you’ll probably want to target teams playing against the Leafs, who are in full-on tank mode. But even for a tanking team, Toronto is particularly depleted right now, with suspended leading scorer Leo Komarov joining James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and Matt Hunwick in the press box. Toronto has given up 4.40 Goals per Game since trading captain Dion Phaneuf, while killing only 33.3% of its penalties. Philadelphia has drawn the 7th most penalties this season, so you may want to target some of its top Power Play guys (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Shayne Gostisbehere).

Edmonton Oilers (vs. Colorado Avalanche): While the Flyers are an obvious stack team tonight, Edmonton players may have lower ownership percentages, despite our projection of 2.95 Goals vs. their season average of 2.48. Colorado is a bottom 10 team in terms of giving up Goals, allowing Shots, and killing Penalties, and they’ve allowed 28 or more Shots on Goal in 12 of their last 14 games. Edmonton is a much better offensive team with Connor McDavid in the lineup, averaging 2.89 Goals per Game since his return from injury (would be a top 5 figure over the whole season). We especially like them to score today as they face backup Goalie Calvin Pickard rather than Semyon Varlamov.

CENTERS TO TARGET

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit: The ageless wonder has a nice matchup against an Ottawa team allowing the most Shots and 2nd most Goals in the NHL. He’s on fire recently, with 6 Goals and 5 Assists in his last 7 Games, skating more with Henrik Zetterberg than he was earlier in the year. We project him for 0.89 real-life Points tonight (4th most among C), and Tyler Seguin is the only C more likely to score a Power Play Goal. He is in our top 7 projected Centers tonight even if Detroit’s #2 Center Dylan Larkin plays – Larkin missed the morning skate with illness, and if he can’t go, there could be even more upside to Datsyuk’s projections.

Bargain Pick: Mark Letestu, Edmonton: This is not a name you associate with offensive production, which is why he is priced at around $3000 on both FanDuel and DraftKings. Edmonton has a nice matchup (as mentioned above), and if you can’t afford Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, et al, feel free to “punt” one of your Center slots with Letestu, who averages 16 minutes of ice-time as Edmonton’s #3 Center and point-man on their top PP unit. Only McDavid is more likely to register a PP Assist for Edmonton, part of the reason we project Letestu for 1.8 FanDuel points (averages 1.1) and 2.1 DraftKings points (averages 1.6).

WINGERS TO TARGET

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis: The Blues also have a nice matchup against the young Arizona Coyotes, who allow the 3rd most Goals in the NHL. You’ll want to own their best bet for production, Tarasenko, who we project for 0.49 Goals and 3.99 Shots tonight, both 3rd among all skaters. At 4.4 FanDuel points (averages 3.9) and 4.5 DraftKings points (averages 4.1), he ranks as our #3 projected Winger on both sites, within shouting distance of Ovie (for about $2000 less). He’s relatively cheap due to scoring only 2 G and 1 A in his last 7 Games, but he registered 2+ Shots in each of those games, and the 13.6% career shooter will surely see some positive regression soon.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa: In a neutral matchup against Detroit, we project him to score right around his typical 3.4 FanDuel and 3.7 DraftKings points. Both scores project to be in the Top 9 among Wingers, which is not reflected at all in his $5700 price tag on both sites. This price is way too low for a guy who is tied for 10th in the NHL with 24 Goals, on sustainable 14.5% shooting (considering he shot 13.6% last year as well). Fire him up, with Detroit missing Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, 2 of its top 4 Defensemen.

Bargain Pick: Matt Read, Philadelphia: We know Philadelphia has a nice matchup against the Leafs, and if you can’t afford any of the obvious top guys, Read could be the next best thing. He is 5th on the team in both Goals and Shots on Goal, and is 5th among active Flyers Forwards in ATOI (15:50). Skating on Philly’s 3rd line and on its 2nd PP unit, we project him for 2.1 FanDuel points (averages 1.6) and 2.4 DraftKings points (averages 2.1), which more than justifies his $3500-3600 price tag.

DEFENSEMEN TO TARGET

John Carlson, Washington: This pick may look strange, against a New Jersey team allowing the fewest Goals per Game in the NHL. But most of those games feature criminally underrated star Goalie Cory Schneider (.930 Sv%) – with New Jersey and Schneider having played last night, they may very well go with backup Goalie Keith Kinkaid (.918 Sv%). Carlson skates heavy minutes on Washington’s top PP (with a guy named Ovechkin), and should do so again tonight against tired Devils penalty killers (who had to kill 4 penalties last night). This pick is just for DraftKings, where he represents better value as our #3 Defenseman at just $5900. If you see the Devils are indeed resting Schneider, you will want to roster Carlson as your top Defenseman.

Bargain Pick: Morgan Rielly, Toronto: This one is more of a FanDuel pick, where Rielly projects as our #8 Defenseman at the bargain-bin price of $3500. With Dion Phaneuf out of town and Matt Hunwick banged up, Rielly skated 23 minutes last game, and should continue to be in the 22-24 minute range going forward. The skilled young Defenseman is getting his chance on Toronto’s top PP and projects as our 4th most likely Defenseman to register an Assist (behind only Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, and Tyson Barrie). Philadelphia should score some Goals, but they’re no defensive juggernaut, allowing the 2nd most Shots per Game in the NHL, opening the window for Rielly to produce.

GOALIE TO TARGET

Pekka Rinne, Nashville: No, we’re not crazy, picking the Goalie facing the great LA Kings. While Los Angeles very well may win the Stanley Cup (and is this writer’s pick), they do so primarily with Defense (only 11th in Goals per Game). This is more of a GPP than a 50/50 pick, as the Los Angeles has both a high ceiling (9 Goals against Boston on Feb. 9) and low floor (just 2 Goals in the last 3 games). With Anze Kopitar out with injury, we project Rinne as the #6 Goalie on both sites, and he presents good value at depressed prices.

San Jose Sharks' Brent Burns (88) during an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

STATS NHL Daily Fantasy Projections: Hockey Night in Canada Targets, February 13

This weekend is a special one for hockey – with the NFL season now over and the NBA at its All-Star Break, NHL is the only professional game in town! This means extra volume in NHL daily fantasy games, so here are some picks for tonight to help you make the most of it. As always: Please note that we are only previewing the late contests that begin at 7pm EST. In 50/50 contests, you will want a diverse, uncorrelated lineup, so we will preview players from several different teams – in higher-risk, higher-reward tournaments, you will want a more correlated lineup, so we will also mention some stack possibilities. Please be aware that lineups and starting goalies can change, so be sure to check all news before your lineups lock.

TEAMS TO TARGET

San Jose Sharks (vs. Arizona Coyotes): San Jose is 4th in the NHL in Goals per Game and is a well-known offensive force, so it’s not often that they provide hidden value. But tonight they get a below-average Arizona team playing its 2nd leg of a back-to-back, which means they’ll likely face backup Goalie Anders Lindback (3.11 GAA, .894 Sv%). This all adds up to a projected 3.30 Goals, well more than its season average of 2.91 and much more than any other team tonight. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau can all be viewed as superstar options tonight, and Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl present nice value.

Columbus Blue Jackets (vs. Ottawa Senators): Just like last week, we again recommend that you target the team playing against Ottawa. Ottawa allows the most Goals and Shots in the NHL, and newly acquired Dion Phaneuf is by no means a godsend, so we expect Columbus to put up 2.96 Goals as opposed to their usual 2.50. As you’d expect from a bad defensive team, Ottawa struggles on the Penalty Kill, with a league-worst 73.8%, so could value can be found on the Columbus Power Play (Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson).

CENTERS TO TARGET

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver: Toronto is missing many notable forwards (more on that later), but they’re also scrambling defensively after trading their captain Dion Phaneuf. It appears as if Toronto is in full tank mode, presenting a good opportunity for Sedin to post his 4th consecutive game with multiple SOG. We also project him for 0.77 Assists, tops among Forwards tonight. The Shots and Assists add up to 3.4 projected FanDuel points, 5th among Centers, and 3.2 projected DraftKings points (averages only 2.5). Go ahead and plug him in over more expensive superstar Centers like Tyler Seguin and John Tavares.

Bargain Pick: Peter Holland, Toronto: On the other side of the matchup, the Leafs are decimated right now, missing top two Centers Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, and productive wingers James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul. While this is bad news for Toronto in real life, it’s great news for Holland, who should eat up Kadri’s and Bozak’s missing minutes and some of the missing production. $3200 on FanDuel and $3600 on DraftKings is a cheap price to pay for a de facto #1 Center who is 3rd among active Forwards on his team in Points and SOG. We project him for 2.5 FanDuel points (averages 1.9) and 2.9 DraftKings points (averages 2.2).

WINGERS TO TARGET

Taylor Hall, Edmonton: He’s our #6 ranked SKATER on both FanDuel and DraftKings tonight, projected for almost as much production as Ovie and Kane at much cheaper prices. He has a nice matchup against a Winnipeg team allowing 2.91 Goals per Game (6th most in NHL); the story with Winnipeg is their lack of discipline, as they take the most penalties in the NHL and fail to kill them effectively (3rd worst PK%). Hall leads Edmonton in Power Play time (2:49 per game), a big factor in our projection of 4.3 FanDuel points (averages 3.8) and 4.5 DraftKings points (averages 4.3).

Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg: While Edmonton may put up some goals, they’ll also struggle to prevent them, with starting Goalie Cam Talbot  out (ill) and backup Laurent Brossoit making his season debut. Winnipeg’s captain has been dropped from the top line, but he has still been skating over 18 minutes nearly every game, and the production has still been there (3 Goals in 5 February games). We project him 3rd among Winnipeg’s Forwards in Goals, Shots, and Penalty Minutes – this versatility in a favorable matchup means an overall projection of 2.9 FanDuel points (averages 2.3) and 3.1 DraftKings points (averages 2.8).

Bargain Pick: Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville: The youngster comes dirt cheap on both sites, at $3400 on FanDuel and $2900 on DraftKings, in part due to his limited ice-time and matchup against Florida/Luongo. But Florida is on the 2nd leg of a back-to-back, and while they don’t allow many goals, they do allow quite a few shots (30.0 per game, 14th most in NHL). Skating on a line with talented players Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson, Arvidsson has the 4th most Shots on Goal for Nashville in February, only 2 off Filip Forsberg’s team lead. Arvidsson is a great bet to put up at least 1 Shot on Goal for his 14th consecutive game, and he doesn’t need to do much more than that in order to justify owning him at his cheap price.

DEFENSEMEN TO TARGET

Brent Burns, San Jose: Burns is our 4th highest projected SKATER (not just Defenseman) on FanDuel and our TOP skater on DraftKings. For a Defenseman, he puts up some shocking Shots totals – only Ovie has more Shots on Goal this season, and Burns’ 13.9% of his team’s Shots dwarfs the next highest Defenseman (Oliver Ekman-Larsson 11.5%). We’ve already discussed San Jose’s nice matchup against Arizona, a reason you should roster Burns over Erik Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien, and other top Defensemen.

Bargain Pick: Jack Johnson, Columbus: He’s had a very tough season offensively, which is why he’s priced under $4000 on both sites. This presents value opportunity in a nice matchup against the worst defensive team in the NHL, as Johnson should be on the ice for his usual 20+ overall minutes and 2+ Power Play minutes. Despite zero Power Play Assists since January 8, we project him as the 10th most likely Defenseman to register a Power Play Assist tonight. Overall, we project him for 1.8 FanDuel points (averages 1.1) and 2.5 DraftKings points (averages 2.3).

GOALIE TO TARGET

Ryan Miller, Vancouver: Toronto is missing 4 of its 6 double-digit goal-scorers, so it’s tough to imagine where their goals will come from (other than from our value pick Peter Holland, of course!). Even better, while Toronto lacks firepower, they do prioritize possession, meaning they’re likely to take a lot of low percentage shots. We project Miller for the 2nd most Saves (28.5), the fewest Goals Against (2.37), and the 2nd highest win probability (61%), and he is our top rated Goalie tonight on both sites. He’s only the 5th most expensive Goalie on FanDuel tonight and 8th on DraftKings, and the nice matchup against Toronto is fairly obvious, so he’ll be highly owned, but you don’t want to be on the other side of the equation. If you do decide to fade him in tournaments, Jaroslav Halak and Martin Jones are nice options.

Photo By: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

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STATS NHL Fantasy Projections: Hockey Night In Canada Targets, February 6

This article will focus on some targets and sleepers for NHL daily fantasy contests during Hockey Night In Canada. Please note that we are only previewing the late contests that begin at 7pm EST. In 50/50 contests, you will want a diverse, uncorrelated lineup, so we will preview players from several different teams – in higher-risk, higher-reward tournaments, you will want a more correlated lineup, so we will also mention some stack possibilities. Please be aware that lineups and starting goalies can change, so be sure to check all news before your lineups lock.

TEAMS TO TARGET

Colorado Avalanche (vs. Winnipeg Jets): Winnipeg allows the 6th most Goals per Game in the league (2.90), so we project Colorado to score 3.02 Goals as opposed to their usual 2.70. Value can be found on the Colorado Power Play units, as Winnipeg has taken the 2nd most Penalties in the league while killing them at the 4th lowest rate. Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, and Gabriel Landeskog are the more expensive staples of the Avs’ Power Play, and you can roster Blake Comeau and Jarome Iginla at cheaper prices.

Vancouver Canucks (vs. Calgary Flames): Calgary has allowed the 4th most Goals per Game (2.94), and, even better, they played a game last night. Vancouver gets to play a tired team at home, and they may face Calgary backup Goalie Jonas Hiller, who has uncharacteristically struggled to the tune of a .882 Sv% and 3.16 GAA this season. We project Vancouver to score 2.92 Goals, way more than their season average of 2.33. In the following sections, we’ll mention a couple of specific Vancouver players to target.

CENTERS TO TARGET

Nazem Kadri, Toronto: The Leafs’ #1 Center has a juicy matchup against an Ottawa team that ranks last in the league in Shots Against (33.2) and Goals Against (3.15). Kadri leads Toronto forwards in ice-time (18:18) and SOG (187) – in fact, his 12.0% of his team’s SOG ranks 6th in the NHL. Player who takes a lot of shots against team that gives up a lot of shots – this is a recipe for our #3 ranked Center on both FanDuel and DraftKings. We project him for 3.8 FanDuel points (averages 3.1) and 4.1 DraftKings points (averages 3.5), so go ahead and roster him at a price much cheaper than the superstars.

Bargain Pick: Bo Horvat, Vancouver: We already mentioned that Vancouver has a nice matchup, and here is a cheap way to take advantage of that. The 20-year old breakout Center is 4th on Vancouver in Points (23) and 4th among Vancouver Forwards in TOI (17:02). He’s also learning the NHL game before our eyes, as evidenced by his 7 Goals since January 1. With his nice matchup, we project him for 2.3 FanDuel points (averages 1.4) and 2.6 DraftKings points (averages 2.2).

WINGERS TO TARGET

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver: Another Vancouver Forward with a nice matchup – he’s our #1 LW on FanDuel (4.4 points vs. his average of 4.1) and our #2 Winger on DraftKings (4.3 vs. his average of 4.1). He’s only the 3rd most expensive LW on FanDuel and 10th most expensive Winger on DraftKings, so he’s a good choice to anchor your lineup. Daniel and his fantasy owners should be especially happy that brother Henrik is back in the lineup – in the 4 games Henrik missed, Daniel averaged only 3.0 SOG per Game, below his season average of 3.5.

Jarome Iginla, Colorado: The aging legend still ranks 3rd among Colorado Forwards in PP TOI (2:52) and comes much cheaper than the two who rank above him (Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene). He had been slumping with a 6-game point drought, but broke it with an Assist in his last game – perhaps a sign of reversion to the mean. We project him for 2.8 points on Fanduel (averages 2.0) and 2.9 points on DraftKings (averages 2.5), so he’s a nice value today.

Bargain Pick: Patrick Eaves, Dallas: He was recently moved to the Stars’ top line and top Power Play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn – a great place to be. While he only averages 11:40 of ice-time this Season, that number was up to 15:56 over his last two games. Even in a tough matchup against Chicago, with the more fantasy-friendly assignment, we project him to put up 1.7 FanDuel points (averages 1.1) and 2.0 DraftKings points (averages 1.2).

DEFENSEMEN TO TARGET

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa: He is our highest projected player in terms of ice-time (28:30), with this heavy ice-time coming against a Toronto team that gives up 31.5 SOG per Game (4th most in NHL). As a result, we project the superstar Karlsson to get 3.1 SOG, above his average of 2.9. We also project him for 0.87 Assists – the highest today among all players, not just Defensemen. He is worth his high price today as our clear #1 ranked Defenseman.

Bargain Pick: Zach Trotman, Boston: Most people don’t know the name of Zdeno Chara’s usual partner, but he averages over 19 minutes per game and ranks 3rd among Boston Defensemen in SOG per Game (1.8). His defensive assignments won’t be overly difficult against a Buffalo team averaging the 3rd fewest Goals in the league, which should allow him to exert himself on the other end, where Buffalo allows the 10th most SOG per Game.

GOALIE TO TARGET

Craig Anderson, Ottawa: He is the Goalie to own today, as he represents the best value AND bargain-bin status. Toronto scores the 4th fewest Goals in the NHL (2.32), despite taking the 6th most shots (31.1). Said another way: they lack star power and take a lot of low-percentage shots, leading to tons of Saves for opposing Goalies. As a result, we project Anderson for 29.7 Saves tonight – tops among our Goalie projections. He’s our #4 Goalie on both sites tonight, but you can get him for much cheaper than you can get Luongo, Rask, or Varlamov.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Peter Holland (24) shoots the puck past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) during the shootout of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C. Toronto won the game 2-1. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

STATS NHL Fantasy Projections: Hockey Night In Canada Targets

This week begins a new series of articles, highlighting some our top picks and bargain finds in daily fantasy for Hockey Night In Canada. Please note that some teams haven’t publicized their active lineups at the time of the writing of this article, so make sure to pay attention to any news and announcements.

Here are some our projections and picks for tonight’s exciting  8-game slate.

Team Picks

Boston Bruins (vs. Columbus Blue Jackets): Tied with Dallas as our highest projected scoring team tonight (3.26 Goals), but they present better value, as they typically possess an offense much closer to league-average. This matchup against Columbus puts their #2 Power Play against the team that has committed the 3rd most Minor Penalties. Look to play Patrice Bergeron (our #3 projected skater), and potentially stack David Krejci and Loui Eriksson, who should skate together in both 5v5 play and on the top PP unit.

Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. Montreal Canadiens): They are reeling right now, going 1-5-1 in their last 7, with only 1.1 Goals per Game over that span. But tonight they play another team in free-fall-mode – the Habs are also 1-5-1 in their last 7, with 3.3 Goals Allowed per Game. Playing at home, we project Toronto to score 2.65 Goals, well above their season average of 2.38. Minimum-priced Michael Grabner should skate on the top line with Nazem Kadri (most SOG on team) and Leo Komarov (most Pts on team), giving you an opportunity to stack a cheap top line.

Center

Tyler Seguin, Dallas: He’s struggling right now, with only 3 points in 10 January games – instead of this scaring us off, we see opportunity here, as his price has dropped below star linemate Jamie Benn on both Fanduel and Draftkings.  Against a tired Colorado team (shootout victory over St. Louis last night) that allows the 6th most SOG and 9th most Goals in the NHL, there’s no better time for him to get back on track than tonight, as reflected by our 5.0  projected Fanduel points (#1 overall skater tonight).

Bargain Pick: Peter Holland, Toronto: While teammate Kadri is a bit pricey, you can roster Peter Holland at a minimum price. On 5v5 play he skates with solid offensive winger Joffrey Lupul, and he also centers Toronto’s second PP line, next to Komarov. There’s some opportunity here – we project 2.0 Fanduel points, higher than his usual 1.8.

Left Wing

Filip Forsberg, Nashville: We project a clear top tier of 5 LW tonight, and Forsberg comes cheaper than the other 4 (Benn, Taylor Hall, Max Paciorretty, Brad Marchand). Nashville plays against an Edmonton team that allows 2.94 Goals per Game (5th most in NHL), including 9 Goals the last 2, without top 2-way player Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Bargain Pick: Kevin Fiala, Nashville: If you can’t afford Forsberg, look to his minimum-priced teammate. Fiala skates on Nashville’s top line with Ryan Johansen and James Neal, and has averaged 2.3 SOG per Game since getting called up to the NHL (would rank 6th on Nashville over the entire season).

Right Wing

 Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles: Unlike at LW, there is no clear top tier at RW tonight, so look to our #8 projected RW (3.4 proj. Fanduel points), who you can roster for under $6k on FanDuel. It’s always nice playing on the Kings’ top line and top PP unit with Anze Kopitar, especially going against an Arizona team possessing the 3rd worst PK (76.1%) in the NHL.

Bargain Pick: Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg: Winnipeg has a solid matchup at home against a New Jersey team missing 2 Defensemen (John Moore and Jon Merrill). He has a mini hot-streak going, with 3 Goals in his last 5 games, and comes much cheaper than Winnipeg’s other main offensive threats. With him skating on Winnipeg’s 2nd line and on the PP, we have him projected for 2.5 Fanduel points, more than his average of 2.0.

Defensemen

Torey Krug, Boston: He presents a good way to take advantage of Boston’s great PP and Columbus’ over-aggressiveness –  he is the lone Bruin averaging over 3 minutes a night on the PP, and he is tied for 6thamong NHL defensemen with 11 PP Assists. He is our #3 Defenseman (2.7 proj. Fanduel points), but only the 8th most expensive on Fanduel.

Bargain Pick: Alec Martinez, Los Angeles: A cheap way to take advantage of Arizona’s horrible PK – Martinez should get time on the second PP unit, and he has as many PP Assists on the year as his more famous and more expensive teammate, Drew Doughty.

Goalie

Tuukka Rask, Boston: We project him to allow only 2.34 Goals, the 4th fewest tonight, while his 66% win probability is tops. Unlike, say, Jonathan Quick, the team in front of him doesn’t totally stifle opponents’ offenses, meaning he should see more Shots Against and therefore more Save Opportunities. He is our #1 Goalie by a wide margin today, despite coming cheaper on Fanduel than Quick, Ben Bishop, Roberto Luongo, and Cory Schnedier.

Bargain Pick: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg: He comes at a bargain bin price, in a nice matchup against a New Jersey team averaging the 4th fewest Goals per Game in the NHL. We project him for 2.25 Goals Against (2nd fewest tonight), with a 56% Win Probability (2nd highest tonight).

Written By: Corey Schwartz

Photo By: AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

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Bright Stars Skating to Success in Big D

One of the surprises in the 2015-16 NHL season thus far has been the resurgence of the Dallas Stars. Lindy Ruff’s squad has jumped to the top of the standings in the Western Conference with an impressive 19-5-0 record. How have the Stars, playing in a strong Central Division with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, separated themselves from the pack?

It comes from the top of their roster. Captain Jamie Benn is an early candidate for the Hart Trophy, leading the league in goals (18) while ranking second in points (35). Benn, last season’s Art Ross Trophy winner, could very well notch his third consecutive 30-goal season before the All-Star break, which would make him the first Star to hit 30 in three straight since Mike Modano did it four times from 1999-2002.

Benn isn’t doing it by himself. His linemate, center Tyler Seguin, is right on his trail. Seguin, who is in his third season in Dallas after coming over from Boston, is also seeking his third consecutive 30-goal season. Seguin’s scoring line of 13 goals, 21 assists and 34 points puts him in the top five in the league in all three categories. Seguin has tied for the sixth-most goals in the league since the 2011-12 season with 132, putting him in the company of Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Joe Pavelski.

Not all of the Stars’ offense is coming from up front. Second in the league in assists is defenseman John Klingberg, a 23-year-old Swede in his second full season in the NHL. Klingberg’s 22 assists have him on pace to shatter the franchise record by a defenseman, held by Craig Hartsburg (60 in 1981-82). If Klingberg can hold off some of the league’s most prolific passers, he might have a chance to be the first defenseman to lead the NHL in assists since Bobby Orr tied for the league lead with 89 in 1974-75.

Another strategy that Lindy Ruff and Stars general manager Jim Nill have used to great success is not naming a primary goaltender, instead utilizing both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in situational starts. Neither man has had more than four consecutive starts in net, with the typical run of two to three for each. The Finnish netminders are both welcoming the challenge.

Lehtonen has been the incumbent in net each of the past five seasons for the Stars, and is in the fourth year of a five-year contract that pays him an annual average of nearly $6 million. His save percentage dipped to a career-low .903 last season, which necessitated some competition in the form of Niemi, a former Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks. Niemi was acquired in a draft day trade with San Jose for a 7th-round pick, and subsequently signed a three-year contract with the Stars paying an annual average of $4.5 million. Lehtonen has had the better stat line of the two, with a 9-1 record, a 2.41 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Niemi has done a commendable job with a 10-4 record including two shutouts, a 2.60 GAA and a .908 save percentage.

Nearly earning a playoff berth last season, the Stars needed to bolster their roster with experienced players to get them out of their postseason rut. The Stars have made just one playoff appearance in the last seven seasons since getting knocked out by Detroit in the 2008 West finals.

The Stars added left wing Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya from the defending champion Blackhawks, and Sharp in particular has thrived. The 34-year-old has eight goals and 12 assists, leading a formidable second line alongside fellow veterans Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Oduya strengthens the second defensive pairing with Jordie Benn, behind the lead duo of Klingberg and Alex Goligoski. Oduya was on the last two Blackhawks championship teams and has brought the same level of consistency he had with the Original Six franchise over to Dallas.

Time will tell if the Stars will keep this level of play going deep into the season, but for the first two months, they’re shining as bright as any team in the NHL. They’ve done well to get out in front in the Central Division, but with the Blackhawks, Blues and fellow playoff-savvy teams in the Wild and Predators chasing them, it should make for an exciting race all the way to April.

All stats and records are through games played by November 29, 2015.

Photo By: AP Photo/Tim Sharp

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A Dynasty in Chicago!

You’ll be seeing and reading a lot about whether or not what the Chicago Blackhawks have accomplished over the last six seasons is a dynasty. Winning the Stanley Cup three times and making four appearances in the conference final, including trips to the last three, all while under the restrictions of a salary cap over those last six seasons is at the crux of that discussion of being a dynasty.

Hockey fans in Chicago won’t bother with that debate. They were excited to see the Stanley Cup awarded on home ice for the first time since 1938 at the old Chicago Stadium. In fact, it was the first time a Chicago team won a championship at home since Michael Jordan and the Bulls won the fifth of their six NBA championships in 1997. And, it was the third title won at the 20-year old United Center, the new “Madhouse on Madison”.

As for the team itself, they have a remarkable leader on the bench in the form of Joel Quenneville. The man passionately known as “Coach Q” in the Windy City has permanently etched his name among the echelon of Chicago sports leaders. He is just the third coach of a major professional sports team in Chicago to lead a team to three or more league championships, joining “Papa Bear” George Halas and Phil Jackson.

Captain Jonathan Toews leads a core of seven players that have been there since the beginning of the run. Toews, along with Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Conn Smythe Award winner Duncan Keith are the only members of the Blackhawks to be on the three Cup-winning teams since 2010. While the roster may see changes in the offseason in order to stay under the salary cap, possibly including members of that core, the Blackhawks’ current run of contending for the Stanley Cup doesn’t appear to be coming to a close.

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Hawks vs. Ducks Preview

It seems like every spring the weather warms, flowers bloom, the Blackhawks dazzle and the Ducks disappoint. Commentators and analysts (present company included) expected more of the same this year, as almost all picked the Blackhawks to prevail over the Ducks in the Western Conference Final.

And at least at face value the prognostication seems well-founded. During the regular season, Chicago had the upper hand over Anaheim in almost every meaningful stat.  For example, The Hawks’ score adjusted shot attempt differential of 54.4% was good for second overall, versus the Ducks’ 15th place (51.1%). The margin in scoring chances was closer, but still tipped in Chicago’s favor at 52.5% versus 52.2%. And the Hawks’ 83.4% penalty kill bested the Ducks’ 81.0%.

True, Anaheim led the Western Conference this season with 109 points compared with fourth place Chicago’s 102.  But as we’ve explained in the past, regular season point totals don’t tell the whole story; in fact, they can be downright misleading.  In this instance there are two reasons in particular to believe that the point differential should be given little or no weight.  First, Chicago is a proven perennial Cup favorite year after year; whereas, the Ducks have been consummate playoff underperformers.  And second, the Ducks’ impressive regular season record is attributable in large part to their record-setting 33-1-7 record in one-goal games. Historically a team’s record in one-goal games is mostly luck, which suggests that Anaheim’s final record should be viewed with considerable skepticism. Maybe not the kind of skepticism that would make you conclude they’re the second coming of the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche (who dominated in one-goal games last season before fizzling in the playoffs and cratering this year), but those 7 extra points probably don’t mean as much as some might think.

Nevertheless, two games into the series the Ducks are proving to be a much tougher opponent than the stats suggested.  Maybe that’s because of one aspect of this matchup most commentators seem to have overlooked: although the Ducks’ win rate remained roughly the same, analytics tell us that over the last two months of the season Anaheim was a tremendously improved team.

For example, from the start of the season through February 14, the Ducks were 13th overall in scoring chance percentage, at 51.5%, meaning on average they got only slightly more scoring chances than their opponents.  But for the period from February 15 through the end of the season, the Ducks jumped to fourth overall, with a scoring chance percentage of 53.9%, (stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com)

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, were almost a mirror image.  From the start of the season through February 14 Chicago was fifth overall in scoring chance percentage at 53.7%, and then dropped to 19th overall, at 49.9% for the last two months of the season (though in fairness much of this is surely due to the loss of Patrick Kane).

Interestingly Anaheim’s improvement came exclusively at the defensive end of the ice. In fact, despite the improvement in scoring chance differential, Anaheim’s scoring chances for per 60 minutes actually dropped from 25.9 to 25.0.  But the team more than made up for it by cutting chances against from 24.4 per 60 to a league best 21.4.

Whether this improvement was the result of swapping in Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy, the gradual maturation of talented young defencemen Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler, some “aha!” moment for the team’s much lauded forecheck, or a fundamental change in the Ducks’ system is a bit of a guessing game. But what is clear is that the Ducks rolled into the playoffs playing much better hockey, and – so far at least – have continued to do so.

For the full season, the Blackhawks were second overall in goals against average at 2.27, while the Ducks were 20th, at 2.70, which leads most commentators to give the defensive edge to Chicago. But looking at only the most recent body of work, the numbers tell us that Anaheim has stiffened its defense considerably.

The first two games bear this out.  The Blackhawks’ elite forwards (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, etc.) are having much more of a challenge than most people expected. It looks like the Ducks’ dramatically improved defense is going to help deliver a competitive, hard-fought Western Conference Final.

We’re still giving the edge to Chicago, but with the way they’re playing right now and an opponent that’s essentially down to four defencemen, Anaheim’s odds of advancing are better than many expected.

The Department of Hockey Analytics employs advanced statistical methods and innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey. Its three founders are Ian Cooper, a lawyer, former player agent and Wharton Business School graduate; Dr. Phil Curry, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo; and IJay Palansky, a litigator at the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale, former high-stakes professional poker player, and Harvard Law School graduate. Please visit us online at www.depthockeyanalytics.com

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The Lucky Ducks

In their series opener against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, the Anaheim Ducks did something they’ve rarely done in the regular season or the playoffs: they won in a convincing fashion.

That’s a pretty unusual thing to say about a team that’s undefeated in the playoffs, but then that’s the mystery of the Ducks.

As we wrote a couple of months ago, the Ducks finished the regular season with an absurd .805 win percentage in games decided by one goal.

Now one might be tempted to say this signifies a team that knows how to win tight games, and of course, what could be tighter than two Goliaths battling things out deep in the playoffs. So this bodes well for the Ducks the deeper they go, right?

There’s only one problem with this logic: in games decided by two or more goals, the team had a record that was well below .500.

Now before you start imagining that coach Bruce Boudreau was gambling – perhaps by pulling his goalie early, giving up lots of empty net goals and turning what would have otherwise been one goal losses into two or more goal losses, the Ducks only gave up 8 empty net goals during the regular season, which tied them for 10th fewest overall.

On the other side of the ledger, the Ducks scored 12 empty net goals during the regular season, suggesting that their weak record in games that were decided by more than one goal might actually have been overstated.

This is a team that happened to win a lot of games that could have gone either way and lost more often than not when a game was decided decisively.

We were curious to see if there was anything to this whole one-goal game thing, and as it turns out, there is. Specifically, we created something we call the DOHA Team Luck Score, which takes a team’s win percentage in one-goal games and then deducts the average of its win percentage in two and three plus goal games.

So, for example, Anaheim’s .805 win percentage in one goal games, .417 win percentage in 2 goal games and .448 win percentage in games decided by three or more goals would give them a DOHA Team Luck Score of 0.3725, which was by far the highest among all playoff teams.

When we looked back at the 105 playoff series played between 2008 and 2014, the team with the lower DOHA Team Luck Score won 68.1% of the time. That is, the team that was less lucky during the regular season was more likely to win in the playoffs, theoretically because the more lucky team wasn’t as good as its regular season record suggested. As a result, we predicted the Jets to defeat the Ducks in 6 games.

We were wrong, and that happens – according to our model more than 30% of the time.

Rather remarkably, the Ducks managed to enter the third period of each of the first three games against Winnipeg playing from behind and still won in each instance. Not until game 4, in which they completed the sweep, did they manage a convincing win.

To be sure, the Ducks benefited from horrendous goaltending from Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec, who posted a grotesque save percentage of .891 overall and .902 during 5-on-5 play.

Pavelec came into the playoffs with three consecutive shutouts, and he played pretty well in the first two games before going back to being Ondrej Pavelec in the last two. Meanwhile, youngster Michael Hutchinson, who might actually be good, sat on the bench.

The fact that Jets coach Paul Maurice “went with the hot hand” rather than recognizing that the hot hand must inevitably go back to being either lukewarm or in the case of a talent like Pavelec, stone cold, is something he’ll have to mull over on the golf course in the coming weeks.

In their current series against the Flames, the Ducks have the good fortune of facing Jonas Hiller, who they know all too well from his days in Anaheim and who you can be fairly certain isn’t going to suddenly morph into a superstar at the ripe old age of 33.

If having the chance to fire pucks at a guy who they willingly cast off in favour of middling talent Frederik Andersen wasn’t enough, the Ducks have also drawn a Flames team whose horrid regular season Corsi For Percentage of 44.4% was significantly worse than even that of the lowly Leafs and good for 28th overall. Many analysts (ourselves included) were predicting a Calgary collapse, and pretty much any playoff team other than the lightweight Canucks the Flames defeated in the first round is probably up to the task.

On the surface, Anaheim is looking like a playoff juggernaut, but don’t be fooled. Thursday night was just one game, and even if they do take 3 more from the Flames, they then move on to face either the Blackhawks or the Wild (our money’s on the Hawks), and at that point, we’re betting their luck runs out.

The Department of Hockey Analytics employs advanced statistical methods and innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey. Its three founders are Ian Cooper, a lawyer, former player agent and Wharton Business School graduate; Dr. Phil Curry, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo; and IJay Palansky, a litigator at the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale, former high-stakes professional poker player, and Harvard Law School graduate. Please visit us online at www.depthockeyanalytics.com

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Home Ice Disadvantage

This is the time of year that really matters. The regular season is the prelude in which teams try to win as many games as possible for the right to keep playing now, and also to gain as high a seed as possible. The reason teams want a high seed is two-fold. First, they get to play against easier opponents (at least in the first round), and second, they get home ice advantage (if their seed is high enough).

Or so we’re told…

As it turns out, since the 2004-05 lockout, higher seeds have won only 75 of 135 playoff series, or 56%. This isn’t a particularly big reward for being the higher seed.

Because the previous playoff format (until last season) gave division winners the top three seeds within a conference, occasionally there were teams that had home ice advantage despite having fewer points than their opponents. This was a relatively common occurrence in the perennially weak Southeast division, and it conveniently allows us to separate out the benefit of facing an easier opponent from the benefit of having home ice.

Another factor was at work as well though.  Teams that won divisions with relatively few points also generally faced weaker competition than the other playoff teams. As such, there may be reason to discount their point totals. One way of adjusting for this effect is the handy Simple Rating System developed by hockeyreference.com. This tells us whether a team accumulated its points by playing a relatively soft schedule, or a relatively hard one, as well as whether they won by virtue of one-goal games and shootouts (which tend to involve some luck) vs. decisive wins.

We can thus look at a team’s probability of winning a playoff series as a function of the regular season point difference between it and its opponent, whether it had a tougher or easier schedule, and whether the team had home ice. More importantly, we can actually quantify the importance of these three variables.

If we look at only playoff series since the lockout (but not including this year), what we find is that only strength of schedule matters. As we’ve noted before, the current NHL has a very high level of parity, especially among playoff teams. The difference in the standings between the President’s Trophy winner and the lowest wild card is relatively small, with only 16 points separating them this year. Throw in the fact that the extra point for winning a shootout or getting a lucky bounce in a 4-on-4 overtime turns what should generally be a tie into a two-point win, and it’s no wonder that the regular season standings offer little help in predicting who will win a playoff matchup, where 4-on-4 play doesn’t happen often and shootouts don’t exist.

What is perhaps more surprising, however, is that home ice does not appear to help at all. If anything, the effect is slightly negative. That is, when two teams with similar records met in the playoffs, and they faced similarly difficult schedules in the regular season, then the higher seed (i.e. the one that had home ice advantage) was actually slightly more likely to lose. Since the lockout, teams within 3 points of each other have played 32 times (for the lockout year, we considered teams that were within three points of each other when their points were prorated out to 82 games). The team with home ice advantage has won only 13 of those series.

If this seems rather odd to you, don’t worry – there’s good reason. This appears to be a new phenomenon. If we look at the playoffs leading up to the lockout, from 1998 to 2004, we see a completely different story.

In those years, the strength of schedule had no statistically significant effect, and to the extent there was an effect, it was negative. In other words, all things being equal, the team with the easier regular season schedule won more often than not. The effect of having more points than one’s opponent had greater statistical significance, but still not a huge amount. In terms of its magnitude, each additional point a team had over its opponent increased its probability of winning the series by three-quarters of a percentage point. Home ice, however, appears to have been quite important. When two equal teams met in the playoffs, the team with home ice advantage was 20 percentage points more likely to win.

There is something quite different about the playoffs, post-lockout. Now, more than ever, regular season success seems to have little to do with playoff success. Upsets are becoming more and more common, having the home town crowd behind you doesn’t help much, and defending Stanley Cup champions find it difficult to even make it to the post-season with almost the identical roster. Welcome to the new NHL.

The Department of Hockey Analytics employs advanced statistical methods and innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey. Its three founders are Ian Cooper, a lawyer, former player agent and Wharton Business School graduate; Dr. Phil Curry, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo; and IJay Palansky, a litigator at the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale, former high-stakes professional poker player, and Harvard Law School graduate. Please visit us online at www.depthockeyanalytics.com