High-Paid Defenceman: Fantasy Stud or Waste of a Draft Pick?

Updated: January 13, 2011 at 9:43 am by Ryan Campbell

I was browsing the free agent list on one of my fantasy leagues the other day and could not believe the number of high-paid defenceman available.  Now just because a player (especially defenceman)  doesn’t produce good fantasy hockey numbers doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable player, but I think there should at least be a little bit of a relationship between how much a player makes and the numbers he puts up.

Before you read any further, I should let it be known that this was more for fun than anything, the results are not statistically significant, and there is some serious sample bias.

First, I needed to decide how I would evaluate each player’s fantasy values.  I decided to keep it simple, and just go with their in-season Yahoo! Ranking.  I know it is far from perfect, and weights PIMS way too heavily, but it is good enough to get the point across.  Some would argue that in the real NHL, PIMS actually hurt a player’s value.  I respond with the fact that Mike Komisarek makes $4.5M a year and the only time he gets on the scoresheet is when he is in the box.  For monetary value I went with cap hit (courtesy of capgeek.com) rather than salary.

First, I decided to look at every defenceman with a cap hit greater than $4M, which gave me a sample of the 39 highest paid players at the position.  Only seven of these players ranked in Yahoo!’s top 100 fantasy players.  The best of these seven was Niklas Lidstrom at #27, and the worst was Mike Green at #96.  However, this is not what caught my eye.  Three of the five highest paid defencemen in the league are Brian Campbell, Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf.  They rank 416, 341, and 449 respectively.  Granted, Phaneuf missed time with an injury, but even when he has played he has been terrible.  There are a few other standouts, but for my money, Ron Hainsey takes the cake.  He makes $4.5M and has rewarded the Thrashers with 6 points in 45 games.

My opposing sample was the top 39 ranked players who make under $4M.  Obviously this sample is biased in many ways.  First, the fact that they are ranked high likely means they have been healthy and receiving plenty of playing time, something which the other sample is not protected from.  There are three guys in the other sample who have not even played an NHL game this year.   Second, some of these players are on entry-level contracts, which isn’t really a fair comparison.  But, this is just for fun so I am going to do it anyways.

The top five defencemen in this sample are Dustin Byfuglien (8), Kris Letang (13), Tobias Enstrom (45), Keith Yandle (51), and Jack Johnson (63), who combined only make $12.875M.

Enough of the writing, let’s take a look at some graphs.  The pink squares are players making under $4M and the blue diamonds are players making more than $4M.  As you can see from the not statistically significant in any way trendlines, the lower-paid players are on average ranked much higher.

Even if we remove guys like Souray, Redden and Streit who drag down the high-paid players, we get similar results.

Interestingly enough, if we lump all the players into one data series, we can even see the fantasy ranking and salary are inversely related.  The more a player gets paid, the worse you would expect his performance to be.  Of course, we know that this is not completely true as I have only included the best low-paid players, and there are plenty of guys making a million bucks who are terrible.  But it just goes to show you that you can find value out there, both in the NHL and in fantasy hockey.

First, as an NHL GM I would think twice about handing out a high-value long-term contract to a defenceman.  As I covered last year, team’s that spent big on their top six defecemen did not fare very well.  I guess we can see why.  Let’s revisit our list of the top 5 highest paid players again.  Well, what do you know, two of those contracts were signed by Darryl Sutter, the recently resigned Flames GM who has basically ran the franchise into the ground with terrible free agent signings.

Second, as a fantasy GM, we often associate popularity and wealth with performance.  Well, these numbers show that there are a lot of highly-paid players who perform very poorly, and low-paid players who perform very well. Don’t get sucked in to drafting a big name early.  Sure, you can always count on Niklas Lidstrom, but even Mike Green and Duncan Keith are having awful offensive seasons, and guys like Hainsey go from 40 points one season to 20 the next.  There is just too much risk and variation.  This year, my strategy was to mix and match.  In my main league (5 keepers), I drafted Pronger, Phaneuf, Enstrom and Yandle.  My two best players have been the low-paid and late drafted Enstrom and Yandle.  You could say I just got lucky, and maybe I did, but Phaneuf was just as big of a risk as those two, but they didn’t cost me a high pick.  Next year, my strategy will be different.  There are many more sure things on forward, so I will be taking them early, and taking some flyers on defecemen later in the draft.

Again, one last reminder that this should all be taken with a grain of salt, and hopefully no statisticians get their panties in a knot.