DAILY PRIME- JULY 3, 2014: NOT MAKING A CASE FOR NISKANEN
As we enter the third day of free agency, most of the coveted UFA's have been signed and whisked away by the highest bidder, including defenseman Matt Niskanen. He was signed by Washington to the tune of a 7-year/$40.25M deal. However, I need to issue a word of caution to all fantasy owners who think that such a financially lucrative signing automatically signals Niskanen's ascent to the upper echelon of fantasy d-men. While it does appear he is entering a very fantasy-friendly situation with Alex Ovechkin's Capitals, there are clears signs to make fantasy pundits pause.
As I was glancing through Niskanen's career stats, I did notice that the 27-year old clearly had his breakout campaign last season with Pittsburgh. His 46 points ranked 12th in the NHL, with a huge assist to Kris Letang who missed a bunch of games due to several ailments. Prior to his prolific campaign, Niskanen had only surpassed 30 points once and 20 points three times in six full seasons. Not much of a past scoring pedigree to draw upon, but maybe, just maybe his monster season is a sign of things to come. Well, I decided to look at the career stats of the 11 defensemen that ranked ahead of him in points last season, and noticed something very interesting. Here is the list of each defenseman and in which full season (over 40 games) in their career did they collect 40+ pts. For example, it took the great Alex Pietrangelo his first full year on the job to surpass the 40-point mark. In comparison, Niskanen accomplished the feat for the first time in his seventh season. Let's see how the rest of the top 11 fared:
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa 2nd yr.
Duncan Keith, Chicago 4th yr.
Shea Weber, Nashville 2nd yr.
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg 4th yr.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay 5th yr.
PK Subban, Montreal 4th yr.
Keith Yandle, Phoenix 3rd yr.
James Wisniewski, Columbus 5th yr.
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 3rd yr.
Mark Giordano, Calgary 4th yr.
With the exception of Hedman and Wisniewski, the rest of the d-men had their classic breakout season within four years of the start of their NHL career. The fact that Niskanen had his "coming out" party in Year 7 raises a red flag for myself. Also, he had been a member of the Penguins for three years prior, so obviously something just clicked last season. Maybe the dreaded contract year which brings the best out of so many chronic underachievers. I was also alarmed by the fact that he collected only 15 power-play points last season, giving him a grand total of 55 over his seven-year career. While the Washington Capitals could be a very dynamic offense despite the notion that new coach Barry Trotz will reign them in, you still have PP quarterback Mike Green to contend with. While there is much speculation that he will be traded, any chances of Niskanen replicating his "dream" season would require Green to be gone. Hey, I am not telling you guys not to draft Niskanen. Just tread with caution, because past history is not on his side.