Commentary

Open Ice: Much more than your Average Joe

Updated: January 26, 2009, 1:10 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Whatever the reason behind their decisions, the Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom opted to get some extra rest over the All-Star break. By skipping the festivities in Montreal (and leaving the defending champions with no representation for the weekend beyond coach Mike Babcock), the two stars have stirred up quite a controversy. Apparently, the NHL has a rule which states anyone who skips the All-Star Game but doesn't miss the game immediately preceding the festivities, gets a pseudo-suspension. It's not a true suspension as they won't be docked pay, but it appears Datsyuk and Lidstrom will get a few extra days off as they are forced to sit Tuesday at Columbus.

I can't really blame them for wanting to step away from hockey for a weekend. The All-Star break means it's time for fantasy owners to take stock of how their team is faring without worrying about daily lineup management. To assist you in doing that, we will be going through quite the exercise in this column. I'll try to take things a step at a time, and explain the process that leads to my …

… Open Ice Player Rater

The concept here was to come up with a formula for determining a player's value in an ESPN standard league (and here's the key part), when compared to only other roster-worthy players in the league. I wanted to do this now for two reasons: First, the All-Star break allows for a few days when the season stats don't change; and second, I wanted a system that could help fantasy owners in ESPN's standard leagues (that include average ice time and shots) evaluate trades.

After a few trial and error attempts at pulling this together, here is how the formula ended up working:

1. I made a few assumptions about ESPN standard league rosters. Each league has 10 teams, and each team has nine forwards, five defensemen, one utility, two goalies and five bench spots. That's a total of 22 players on each roster and 220 players rostered overall. I assumed an average of three goalies per team and then removed them from the rest of the calculations because we are focusing strictly on skaters this week.

2. Going with a fair assumption of 12.5 forwards and 6.5 defenseman per team, I analyzed the stats from the top 125 forwards and top 65 defensemen.

3. This is where a little human intervention came in. Sorting by points was the easiest way to get 125 forwards and 65 defensemen, but I then made some adjustments to the final player pool to account for guys like Shane O'Brien, Dustin Penner, Milan Lucic and others who I know are used in many fantasy leagues despite not scoring many points. This isn't the purest methodology ever invented, but it was better than leaving penalty-minute producers out of the equation.

4. With an pool of "roster-worthy" players determined, there are now endless statistics to explore. What I chose was to add up all their stats in the seven standard categories (goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, power-play goals, shots on goal and average time on ice) and then find the "average" roster-worthy standard player. "Average Joe" looks like this: 44 games played, 15 goals, 21 assists, plus-4, 30 penalty minutes, four power-play goals, 119 shots and an average of 18:20 of ice time per game.

4a. Sidebar Step: I put this average theory to the test by multiplying Average Joe's totals by 11 for the forwards and six for the defensemen (slightly higher than the nine and five roster spots, to account for some activity by owners -- moving players off of the bench, etc.) and adding them together for what should be an average cumulative total for an average team in your league. Go check your standings and you should see these totals as ballpark averages: 198 goals, 338 assists, plus-53, 535 penalty minutes, 70 power-play goals, 1,808 shots on goal and 19:48 average ice time.

5. Now, stepping back to Average Joe's season totals, we subtract those numbers from each "roster-worthy" player's total numbers for the season to gauge how much each player is better or worse than the average. So since Average Joe had 15 goals, Alexander Ovechkin's 31 goals become 16 and since the average is 30 penalty minutes, Ovechkin's PIM total becomes 28 instead of 58.

6. Finally, to get one number by which to judge each player, we add up the total for each category now that the average has been subtracted. Goals, plus assists, plus plus/minus, plus penalty minutes, plus power-play goals, plus shots, plus ice time. That is represented in the two charts below. (Time on ice per game is represented in decimal points, so 1.50 minutes is the equivalent of 1:30).

Forwards versus Average Joe

7. Lather, rinse and repeat the procedure for just defensemen. An "Average Joe" defenseman has played 45 games with five goals, 18 assists, plus-2, 35 penalty minutes, three power-play goals, 83 shots on goal, and 22:43 of ice time a game.

Defensemen versus Average Joe

What should we glean from my bizarre methodology? Well, in a quick snapshot you can easily see all the fantasy players who contribute positively to your team, and in which categories they help the most. You can see where players might be hurting your production overall. It gives each player a loose value as far as their overall contribution to your team.

Some problems with this formula that I haven't worked out: I didn't weigh each category, instead taking each number for what it was. Although on the surface it looks harsh to dock Brian Campbell with 25 points because he doesn't take penalties, I'm still comfortable with where he ranks out among defensemen. Also, obviously, this does not take into consideration which direction a player's production is trending, nor does it account for how many games they've played.

Discussion

David Backes, RW, Blues: Seeing Backes in the top 25 through this rating method validates his recent popularity. Call him this year's Sean Avery or Daniel Carcillo, it doesn't matter. What does matter is he is available in 75 percent of ESPN leagues.

David Booth, LW, Panthers: This Open Ice Player Rater is a cumulative stat. A player with more games played will have a higher rating simply because he's had more time to get stats. That makes Alexander Semin's top-50 showing with just 30 games played impressive, but don't forget that Booth has missed seven contests. He shows up as the 44th most valuable player in this system and has done that while missing significant time. Booth is on the wire in just under 50 percent of leagues.

Jason Spezza, C, Senators: I was very surprised to see Ottawa's top centerman do so well. Spezza finished 41st overall and is contributing negatively in only assists (bizarre) and plus/minus. While he is obviously not a top fantasy performer, I'm betting his stock has fallen enough that he can still be had on the cheap.

Fedor Tyutin, D, Blue Jackets: Easily the biggest surprise of the bunch for me, Tyutin ranks 17th among defensemen. He shoots the puck a lot more than you might think and that has allowed him to be close to the average in most categories while exceeding the mean in shots and penalty minutes. He'll be available in a lot of leagues (84 percent) and you might be pleasantly surprised with his quiet contributions.

Dion Phaneuf, D, Flames: His subpar performance is all in our heads. He ranks third in this method thanks to his high penalty minutes, time on ice and propensity to shoot the puck. So his plus/minus is a bit of a drag -- who cares? Phaneuf is valuable everywhere else.

Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Capitals: You might point at Ovechkin's commanding lead over everyone else as a problem with this formula. I don't think it's a problem. I think it's actually quite indicative of just how good he has been this season.

At the end of the day, this formula could definitely use some tweaks, but it should serve its purpose today. I wanted to provide an All-Star break evaluation that was a little different than most, and I think this accomplishes that. Use it as you wish.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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