Grand Theft Roto: Strong/weak finishers
NHL players have their ups and downs. Some come roaring out of the gates putting up points left and right, while others take some time to get things rolling. In a perfect world, you could draft all the "out of the gate" guys and trade them for the "take some time" guys right as they are about to see their points-per-game charts intersect. That "perfect world" example is where I started with the calculations I am going to give you here.
I took the top-30 or so forwards and calculated their points per game for the last three seasons before January 1 every year, and after January 1 every year. What we are looking for is guys who tend to step up their games after the calendar switches or guys who tend to cool off after the new year.
Rather than just listing all the numbers, I'll discuss players individually because there are always extenuating circumstances and to consider.
(Editor's Note: For the purposes of this exercise, pre-January 1 and post-January 1 will be considered the first and second halves, respectively.)
Jonathan Cheechoo, RW, Sharks: With just nine points in 31 games, Cheechoo has never started this slow before, but he has always been a second-half player. In 2005-06 his points-per-game average through December was 0.87, and it jumped to 1.34 from January on. Part of that may be the consistent presence of Joe Thornton, as he came over two months into that season. But look at last year. He averaged 0.71 points per game before January and 1.07 after. That is with a consistent presence from Thornton throughout. Cheechoo is back from his groin pull and skating regularly with Thornton. If he can't turn things around, this has to be one of the bigger falls from grace for this season. His ownership in ESPN leagues rests at 79 percent, so some of you can pick him up for free, and others should swing a trade. At least he should cost you only a No. 5 or 6 defenseman and maybe a No. 3 or 4 winger.
Joe Thornton, C, Sharks: While we are on the topic of Sharks, let's look at Captain Joe. Only three players showed an increase in their points-per-game average after January for each of the three seasons I examined. Cheechoo was one, and Thornton was another. We can stop and have a chicken-or-egg debate right here, but I'd rather concentrate on the fact that Thornton is a great trade target right now. Last year, he jumped from 1.15 points per game to 1.62 after the holidays. Right now he is pretty much on the same pace, at 1.16 points per game this season. Going back two seasons, Thornton was actually scoring exactly a point-and-a-half per game through December and still had an increase after January to 1.58. Let me put it this way: No one has scored more points than Thornton after January 1, for the last two seasons running.
Olli Jokinen, C, Panthers: Meet the third player who showed an increase in his output post-December in each of the last three seasons. Jokinen went from 0.98 to 1.24 last season, a modest increase from 1.05 to 1.12 two seasons ago, and before the lockout in his sub-point-per-game days he went from 0.60 to 0.81. He has pretty consistently dialed up his game in January the last three seasons. If you are targeting a No. 1 center for your team, Jokinen should be at the top of the pile.
Henrik Zetterberg, LW and Pavel Datsyuk, C, Red Wings: This is just a quick note to point out that both Datsyuk and Zetterberg actually had higher points-per-game averages from January to the end of last season than they do so far this season. It's disgusting to think that both players could not only maintain their lofty pace, but may actually have better second halves.
Scott Gomez, C, Rangers: Gomez actually had a drop-off in his output in the second half of last season, but I am blatantly ignoring that because he also had two of the biggest post-December surges in the two seasons prior to last. In both 2005-06 and 2003-04, Gomez was mired well below a point per game through December. But January through April of both those seasons saw Gomez come alive and score more than a point per game. Looking at this season and his slow start, it's no wonder Gomez was able to break out of his October funk and come alive for the last two months. I fully expect an easy point-per game pace out of the Alaskan native for the rest of this season.
Alexander Frolov, LW, Kings: Frolov is my unofficial poster boy for second-half drop-offs. He has fallen off significantly in each of the past two seasons. After opening last year with 43 points in 41 games, Frolov scored only 28 in the next 41. The year prior he opened the season with 38 points in 41 games, and then scored only 16 points in 28 games and missed time with an injury. What Frolov has done this season is nothing to write home about (23 points in 28 games), but there are still people who believe in him and will give you something in trade.
Marc Savard, C, Bruins: Don't get me wrong, Savard will still be good for a point per game, or close to it, for the rest of this season. But he has a pretty serious dip to his numbers after the New Year rolls around. In fact, the last two seasons Savard had 1.30 points per game until the end of December, and both years he fell to 1.07 points per game from January on. That kind of drop means we are only talking about 10 points, but it also means Savard's value won't be much higher than it is now.
Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Thrashers: Fantasy owners who may have looked to Kovalchuk for a second-half surge last season know all to well that he slumped. But did you know that he slumped for the second half of the previous season, as well? Last year, Kovalchuk went from 1.05 points per game before January to 0.81 points per game. The previous year, which actually better reflects his current 1.33 points-per-game pace, Kovalchuk averaged 1.40 points per game before New Year's and 1.14 after. Not that I would be looking to get rid of Kovalchuk for whatever I could get, but if I had a team near the bottom of the standings and was looking to make a move, Kovalchuk would be my prime trade bait.
Evgeni Malkin was the only player to put together a season that consisted of two equal "halves" in terms of points per game. He averaged 1.09 points per game in both halves. ... Daniel Sedin is the brother more likely to have a better season from here on out. ... Alexander Ovechkin has three eerily similar first halves under his belt. All three feature a 1.2 points-per-game pace. His first season saw a second-half surge, and last season saw a drop-off to fewer than a point per game. I'll leave it up to you to decide what that means about this season. ... Brian Rolston has seen a drop-off for the last three seasons, but he also usually has about 10 more points than he does now by the time January rolls around. ... Mats Sundin actually looks like a safe investment. Of the three years he has two with a negligible change and one with a significant post-December surge. ... Jaromir Jagr has also seen a second-half decline in each of the past three seasons. But he should be OK this season; it's hard to have a decline when there isn't much to begin with.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.