Labels are commonplace in fantasy hockey. Bobby Ryan is a proven 30-goal scorer. John Tavares has developed into a point-per-game player. Dustin Byfuglien is a guaranteed 50-point defenseman.
Fantasy owners place these labels on players as a way to indicate value and classify expectations for on-ice performance. However, the thought process behind developing and using these labels can be flawed. Owners fixate on what has happened in the recent past and use that data to inform their decisions about the future. But as any economically-inclined person will tell you, past performance isn't necessarily indicative of future return.
So has Tavares really evolved into a point-per-game player? Or is he simply someone who scored at a point-per-game pace last season? A lot of factors determine which scenario is true, some of which are more measurable than others. Has Tavares matured as a player and a person? Maybe. Has he made certain lifestyle changes that led to an increase in productivity? Perhaps. But even if those aforementioned factors played a role in his ascension to elite status in 2011-12, fantasy owners cannot accurately quantify them and use them to predict future statistical production. A subjective decision is required to make that assessment.
However, some factors can be measured with a fair amount of accuracy. One of the most reliable of these is "luck". Advanced statistical research suggests that shooting percentage and save percentage are primarily driven by luck over the long term. Add them together and you have a stat that accurately reflects a player's luck while he is on the ice. Generally speaking, the stat is designed to regress toward 1.000. The stat is called PDO.
Without a doubt, PDO is one of the most useful advanced hockey stats for fantasy owners looking to gain an edge in their pools. It is the ultimate buy-low/sell-high tool. If a player is driving his team's possession and generating shots for himself and his teammates, his fantasy-relevant numbers should eventually reflect it.
Now let's take a look at two players who have benefitted from more than their fair share of good fortune early on this season.
Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh (PDO: 1.059)
Just about everything is going right for this 33-year-old veteran winger. Coming off two straight seasons of 20-plus goals, Kunitz is currently scoring at a point-per-game pace while seeing ice time on the same line as Sidney Crosby. Sounds like a recipe for a career-best campaign, right? It's possible. However, Kunitz is shooting a completely unsustainable 26.1% on the young season and is on pace to post a plus/minus of +24. While he is a key cog for one of the best squads in the league and is fortunate to see a ton of action beside one of the game's offensive players, Kunitz owners would be wise to maximize his trade value after his hot start.
Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose (PDO: 1.013)
The Sharks' top line of Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau combined for a whopping 36 points over the course of the season's first five games. Since then, however, San Jose's forwards have season their production drop off a bit. Like Kunitz, Pavelski is a solid all-around player who benefits from playing alongside high-end offensive options. Like Kunitz, he is not a point-per-game player. The 28-year-old forward's season shooting percentage of 18.2% is 82 points higher than his career mark, and he is shooting less than he has in years past. Pavelski is averaging 2.54 shots per game, down from 3.28 a year ago and 3.81 in 2010-11. San Jose's season is only 13 games old, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. Simply stated, it is difficult to imagine Pavelski maintaining his current rate of production for the long haul.
Now let's take a look at three players who have suffered through some significant bad luck in the early going this winter:
Mike Richards, F, Los Angeles (PDO: .848)
It hasn't been easy to be Mike Richards lately. The former Philadelphia Flyers star hasn't put up huge fantasy numbers in some time. He is a member of a Los Angeles Kings squad that also employs two other proven top-six centers, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. To make matters worse, Richards has seen his shooting percentage drop in each of the past four seasons since 2008-09, which was his last of two point-per-game seasons in the NHL. The one-time fantasy star currently "boasts" a -5 plus/minus and has just one goal in 11 games this season. Richards also sports a 5.6% shooting percentage, which is 5.6% below his career mark. Despite all this, there is hope for the beleaguered Los Angeles centerman. His possession numbers are fantastic, he is still seeing time on the Los Angeles power play, and there is no way Los Angeles goalies will continue to save pucks at a .810 clip at even strength while Richards is on the ice. There is significant rebound potential here for Richards. Furthermore, his fantasy value has pretty much bottomed out after last season's underwhelming regular season, his inaugural campaign with the Kings. Remember, this is a player who scored 15 points in 20 games for Los Angeles during its Cup run last spring.
Jarome Iginla, F, Calgary (PDO: .951)
There's no denying this future Hall-of-Famer is a player in decline, but there is good reason to believe the longtime Flames star has more to offer fantasy owners yetespecially if he finds his way onto another NHL team before the trade deadline. The 35-year-old winger is still getting his shots44 in 11 gamesbut he is shooting a paltry 2.3% on the season. Despite his advanced age, his shot volume suggests he should have more than one goal in 2013. Iginla owners should exercise patience with him, while owners looking to buy low on a player who can still be an effective scoring option at even strength and on the power play. He's not quite done yet.
Drew Stafford, F, Buffalo (PDO: .965)
This season has not been kind to Buffalo's 27-year-old winger. He has failed to score a single goal (on 36 shots on goal) and has registered just five points in 14 games thus far in 2013. To make matters worse, he is currently sitting at -6 plus/minus. Fantasy owners were right to expect more from a player who managed at least 50 points in each of the past two seasons and notched a combined 51 goals in 142 games between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns. Stafford is being paid $4 million per year to produce like a top-six forward, and should be due for a rebound. The Sabres are scoring on a mere 5.49% of their shots at even strength while Stafford is on the ice, and he is still waiting for just one of his shots to make its way past an opposing goaltender. Stafford is a great buy-low in deeper leagues, especially if he can grab hold of a consistent, prominent role for the remainder of the season.
It is no secret that fantasy owners need to rely on a wide variety of information when making roster decisions about their respective squads. Understanding PDO and its ability to suggest if luck has had an effect on a player's performance can significantly help with individual player evaluation. It is just one of many factors fantasy hockey enthusiasts need to consider, but few statistics are more reliable and easily applicable.