I kick off the list with one of the biggest names in the game currently, who also happens to be a former Hart Trophy winner and former Conn Smythe winner. Like I told fellow members in my experts league two years ago when Malkin was at his peak, Malkin is a 90-95 point option with 100-110 point upside, and he will not come anywhere close to the 120+ range people started projecting for him a few years back. When I stated that, I was given flak for it in my experts pool; however, when all was said and done that year, Malkin finished on a 93-point pace. At the time a few people started to second guess their assertions on him, but the majority dismissed his depreciated level of play on shoulder issues. This year I made the same 90-95 point assertion when people again projected him as a 110-120 point bounceback candidate, and he goes on to score at a 68 point pace before going down with a serious knee injury. I’m not going to go into detail just yet about what the specific off-putting factor is about Malkin’s game, or more specifically his skill-set that caused me to peg him as a 90-95 point guy. What I will say, however, is that Malkin now is adding a torn ACL into the equation. Even with successful recoveries from this surgery like in the case of Justin Williams or Erik Johnson, it will in fact limit his ceiling moving beyond this year, particularly as an all-around goal-scoring forward option, which places a higher premium on skating ability.
You commonly hear people state something along the lines of “players typically struggle the first year back after ACL surgery,” which in fact is very true. When stating this they don’t go on to tell you “why” that’s the case – they just see this common trend and make note of it. The reason athletes struggle coming back from ACL surgery is that a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is replaced with a strip of patellar tendon, which is thicker and less pliable than the former ACL. It takes not 6 months, but more like 12-18 months realistically, to get that thicker tendon back to full flexibility/range of motion. In addition, ACLs also have to deal with tenderness, creakiness, additional lateral looseness in the joint (even more likely in the case of Malkin, who also tore his MCL), scar tissue, and occasional swelling in the area from overuse. Couple that with the effect on a mental level from not having full confidence in that knee again and/or the potential for re-injury (see Andrei Markov). It also should be noted this was not the same knee that Malkin was having issues with this same season – this was his “good” knee in which his ACL was torn.
In one-year leagues, I would not recommend anyone touch Malkin next season unless he drops beyond the Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Anze Kopitar, and Ryan Getzlaf level in the draft, as he will in fact struggle with his knee next season (again typical of players returning from ACL surgery). I don’t expect, even on an offensive powerhouse Pittsburgh club, much beyond an assist-heavy 80-85 points from him because of the surgery. In keeper settings, I was not high on Malkin to begin with, particularly in comparison to the general consensus on the guy. Having ACL surgery, even a successful one, means that a player only returns to about 85-90 percent of full capacity. Take that and couple it with poor skating mechanics in his stride, and it does not look bright for him moving forward. He was able to compensate to some degree for his poor skating mechanics with his speed (there is often is a correlation between the two attributes; however, speed and skating mechanics are two separate entities. A player like Malkin possesses the former, but not the latter. Likewise, a player like Arron Asham possesses the latter, but not the former. Players such as Parise, Scottie Upshall, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Kesler possess both, but now after an ACL tear that will unquestionably be impacted.
My advice in keeper leagues for Malkin owners is to find the Steven Stamkos owner and see if you can do Malkin+ for Stamkos. I see Stamkos as a consistent 50-50 guy with 120 point upside and great all-around skill-set. If that offer does not prove fruitful, I would trade Malkin straight-up/Malkin and a 70 point option of the Dustin Brown/Johan Franzen/Martin Havlat variety for two blue-chip 80-85+ point guys of the Getzlaf, Kopitar, Parise, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Matt Duchene, Patrick Kane, Hall, John Tavares variety and cut my losses with Malkin.
A good example of what to expect from Malkin moving forward is Justin Williams. Think Justin Williams in his Carolina days in terms of point upside and skating ability and now think of Justin Williams post-ACL surgery on LA. Williams is still a strong 60-65 point guy and pretty solid skater with decent speed, but his ceiling is 70 points now. He’s lost a good amount of speed, even with relatively strong skating mechanics (which again Malkin does not possess like in the case of Williams), and he will not ever hit that 80-85 range upside he had pre-ACL tear. Erik Johnson is the same story, as he was drafted as a 55-65+ point scoring defenseman, then tore his ACL in a golf cart accident. Johnson is only going to live up to and return to 85-90 percent of his pre-ACL tear capacity to where 45-55 points will be his range, even on an offensively sound Colorado squad. All in all, be sure to sell high on Malkin, as his name value will still fetch you a hefty return, which will not be the case come this time next season.
Heatley is another guy who burned very bright for a few years but may be slowing. Heatley is a goal scoring option who is not a technically sound skater, which makes him heavily dependent upon an elite playmaking centerman to produce. Heatley is another ACL tear recoveree, and his skating ability has never been the same since. He was able to compensate for this through lining up with elite playmaking centers like Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton to create the offense for him coupled with his strong in-close goal scoring and finishing ability. However, this year’s 27-goal, 64-point pace is no fluke, and his fantasy value as a point per game option has run its course, partially due to the decline of his playmaking center Thornton. Heatley should be a big time sell high in keeper leagues, as the emergence of Logan Couture and the more technically sound skill-set of Patrick Marleau makes him at best a #3 winger option and #4 forward option in San Jose moving forward. Sell high on Heatley’s name value in keeper settings, and draft accordingly in one-year settings.
Another former 40-goal, 85-point star who burned bright for a couple seasons only to fizzle out once he lost his elite playmaking center. Vanek’s fantasy value decreased when Danny Briere left Buffalo a few years ago, and it took yet another step back when Derek Roy couldn’t follow up his back-to-back 70+ campaigns. Vanek doesn’t have the necessary skating ability like a Parise, Eric Staal, Kopitar, or Ilya Kovalchuk to produce his own offense consistently. Like Heatley, Vanek is heavily reliant upon an elite playmaker to generate offense for him so he can consistently produce at a strong rate. Buffalo also has some up-and-comers like Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford who will hit their prime soon. In addition, Zack Kassian, Nathan Gerbe, and Luke Adam are coming up the ranks. Vanek was already a sell high a few years back, so he should be avoided in all keeper formats, as he will be hard pressed to crack much beyond 30-30 moving forward. He should be valued accordingly in both keeper and one-year settings.
Lecavalier is another player who burned as bright as they come with 40-goal/90-point seasons. Just like the three players mentioned above, Lecavalier also has poor skating mechanics. The difference now is that he can no longer compensate for that and remain a high end producer, especially since he has been moved away from his elite playmaking winger in Martin St. Louis. Do not be fooled into thinking a healthy Lecavalier will regain 80-point form. Expect him to fall right in the 30-goal, 60-70 point range.
The four players I have mentioned so far are glaring enough examples in recent years as to why you always need to place a high premium when assessing skill-sets/point projections on the skating mechanics of an individual who is a goal scoring option. If a player is a poor skater, he will not be able to consistently generate his own strong offensive production (like the Parises, Duchenes, Kopitars, and E.Staals of the world) and instead will be heavily dependent on lining up with a high-end playmaker to generate the offense for them and produce at a high end pace. This is a common oversight many GMs make in fantasy hockey and is one of the most significant components to assessing long term values of players who are of the goal scorer variety. Playmakers, due to the nature of their style of play, have less of a premium on skating ability. While obviously an asset to have and a major contributor to a player like Matt Duchene, it is not of as vital importance in the case of a player like Ryan Getzlaf.
Richards, unlike the players mentioned above, is on the list for two reasons. The first reason is the overwhelming amount of depth in Philadelphia up front. Between Richards, Giroux, Carter, Briere, and soon-to-be top-6 forward James van Riemsdyk, I don’t see the numbers there for him long term beyond 70 points. Richards’ name value is typically inflated above that in most one year leagues. Should Philadelphia win a cup this season, his name value will only get higher. For that reason, I wouldn’t look to target him even in a one year setting next year because he’ll need to be drafted earlier than his actual value warrants.
The second reason is that Richards’ style of play coupled with his diminutive frame is a lightning rod for injury issues (especially already having shoulder issues in the past). His style of play will limit his longevity as a high-end forward option to the point where I’d sell on him now while his value is at its peak before the bottom falls out with him due to injury. His frame may not be able to hold up to his style of play long term, and he will fetch you a high end return. Many GMs will not have that foresight to move him with confidence for a young 75-point option with point-per-game upside in keeper settings.
Green, while getting a ton of street credit in my book for managing to drive an Orange Vespa with a straight face (see Pens-Caps 24/7), is a classic case of a 55-point defenseman having his value inflated by the offensive unit in front of him. When Alexander Semin struggles and Alex Ovechkin produces at “earthly” 90-point pace range, Green has seen his production cut in half overnight this season. His teammate Nicklas Backstrom, a legitimate 80-85 point talent, lines up with Ovechkin and instantly has his value inflated to 100+ range by riding shotgun, only to fall back down to 70-point pace this season. Green carries the highest name value out of any defenseman despite his off year this season and is a legitimate 55-point talent, but he has both John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov looking over his shoulder for power-play minutes. If you’re not familiar with Orlov, he just came over from KHL to the AHL this week after a strong World Junior Championship. He is a year ahead of schedule, which when coupled with the fact that Green’s contract is up two seasons from now and Washington has two younger future elite defense options poised to take over the reins, the writing could on the wall for Green.
Now is the right time to sell on Green to an owner equating his underwhelming performance this year due to injury while thinking about his long term future in Washington. Sell high in a package deal on someone thinking of him as a 70-75 point producer, and you can target Shea Weber, who is similar as a replacement, along with a 70-80 point forward for Green and your 65-70 point forward. His value won’t be higher than it is now moving forward. If Washington struggles again next season and if Carlson takes a “Alex Pietrangelo-nian” step forward next season or Orlov makes the Caps next fall and asserts himself offensively, Green could be on his way out of there even earlier than that two-year expected time frame.
Briere (age/depth of Philly forwards), Marian Hossa (depth of CHI forwards/injuries/loss of competitive fire after post-cup victory), Marc Savard (career likely over via concussion issues).
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