Numbers Game: Looking Up

            Fantasy Hockey is all about numbers, and which players can put up the most of them. Those of us who have a knack for identifying players (or at least doing enough reading) may do better than our opponents in the leagues. Some people go by gut-instinct, and they're good at it, but I have a dirty little secret: there are numbers out there in the hockey community that can explain why, for example, Clarke MacArthur broke out last season. I am by no means an expert, but I am also not an applied statistician, so if you're willing these numbers aren't that hard to understand.

            Some of you may remember me from last fall, when I wrote two articles. First was the NYR edition of the blogger's breakout (to return this fall), and the other was when I thought I had time to write weekly on the site, and explained some simple advanced numbers at the same time. I'm going to try and write a little more often now that I'm more settled. Point is if you're completely new to the advanced numbers game; visit this page here, which is the 10-Part FAQ from Arctic Ice Hockey (the Jets SB Nation site, formerly Behind the Net). You'll be confused, but it's where I got my start and with a little reading and context you can honestly be far ahead of your peers when it comes to fantasy hockey.

            The key to these numbers is use them in a contextual manner. Few tabbed Alex Tanguay to have a comeback year with the Flames last season, and although I didn't write about it I thought he could. Same with Andrew Ladd (kicked myself for not picking him up) and MacArthur, and the common theme here is this: they all had solid particular advanced numbers, and they all moved to teams where they were going to get top-six minutes (or at least a shot at them). The result? Huge fantasy hockey years for those lucky enough to nab them. What follows is a stab at that for the coming year (remember, we're still in July), and although I can't guarantee success, most of these are from my personal notes and I've made moves on them in my dynasty keeper league.

Looking Up:

With Eric Belanger gone, Martin Hanzal is arguably the Coyotes number 1 center. With only 26 points (16+10) over 61 games in a year where he missed the rest with lower body injuries, Hanzal is a young breakout candidate that should come relatively cheap if you're in a league with salaries as well. Players typically peak in the PPG category somewhere between 25 and 27, and Hanzal turns 25 this February. Furthermore, his relative corsi numbers (a possession stat that explains where the puck is when a player is on/off the ice) have been solid (aka positive/near 1.0) all while having a below average shooting percentage and starting in the defensive zone more than the offensive zone (yet each season he would finish in the offensive zone more often than his own zone - a sign that the play is going towards the opposition when Hanzal is skating).

If Hanzal is available in the later rounds of a one-year league or you can swing for him in a more long-term league, pick him up. If he breaks out, he should be good for 50 points-ish.

Antoine Vermette had quite the 2009-2010 season as the Blue Jackets #1 Center between Huselius and Nash. He hit a career high of 65 points in 82 games all-while playing tough competition and predominantly starting in his own zone. So why did he slip up last season? He was the "third wheel," if you will, on that top line. Nash and Huselius drove the play forward for the most part, and Vermette went along for the ride. Last season, as Voracek and Brassard developed, they were given more of a shot, and Vermette dropped down in the depth chart. Figure in now that Jeff Carter will be the top pivot-man in Columbus, and things are looking bleak for Vermette, right?

Not so fast. As much as Vermette will be either a first line wing (which would probably bring him on a ride up again), or second line center/wing, what is key about his drop down the depth chart is that he is playing lesser competition, driving the play more (Corsi Rel Quality of Teamate), and shooting more as well. I honestly don't see why he couldn't return near the 60 point plateau or above, especially as he should still get decent (or significant, if he gels with Carter/Nash) PP time.

All of these guys have similar numbers as the two above, but the situation they're all in isn't as favorable (hence: context). Nielsen is an Islander, so god bless his little soul. Bergfors has the talent, but has to fight for a spot in Nashville (but keep your eye on him, seriously). Stoll and Richardson may be on the same line, but both have done well the past two seasons according to their numbers. Stoll will be interesting because he dominated middle-six line competition, and with Gagne/Richards coming into the Kings fold that's what he should be looking at. I'm not sure what Pacioretty's status is with his injury, but if he returns to the form he showed last season he could do some damage in Montreal.

Please ask away for any more explanation in the comments, and look for part two (Either Friday or early next week) where I'll point out some guys who may be Looking Down next season; along with some under the radar prospects who are knocking on the NHL doors.

Note: All advanced stats can be located at the always great behindthenet.ca

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