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The case for Steven Stamkos at the top of your fantasy draft

We begin with a seemingly harmless piece on NHL.com in the days leading up to the beginning of fantasy hockey season. Matt Cubeta, a staff writer for NHL.com, centered his “Fantasy Faceoff” piece on centers around which forward should be selected 1st overall in fantasy drafts this fall — Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, or Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos.

While much of the article lays out the pros and cons of each player nicely enough, it’s the conclusion that had me raising my eyebrows a bit (emphasis added):

When all is said and done and you’re faced with choosing between Crosby and Stamkos as your No. 1 fantasy center, there really isn’t much of a debate. Nothing against Stamkos, but if you’re not taking the Penguins captain first overall in every single draft, then you probably shouldn’t be playing fantasy hockey. The only viable knock on Crosby is the health factor, but clearly, his potential outweighs that risk, and quite significantly too.

Now, I am by no means an expert when it comes to fantasy hockey, but I’ve played in multiple leagues for the past few seasons, so I know a bit about general strategies and trends in the game of fake puck over the past few years. To imply that someone would look at Stamkos’ and Crosby’s recent fantasy production and not at least consider Stamkos with the first overall pick “shouldn’t be playing fantasy hockey” seems awfully reductive and frankly, insulting.

Let me be perfectly clear in that I agree with Cubeta’s general assertion that, on a per-game basis, Crosby is unmatched. He is a generational talent capable of scoring points in obscene amounts, and, when healthy, seems immune to cold streaks, which is incredibly valuable in fantasy.

But at what point does doubt creep in to make you — even for just a moment — consider the safer, admittedly “lower ceiling” player in Stamkos?

Cubeta’s own piece points out the tremendous risk associated with selecting Crosby at all, let alone first overall, and provides a stark comparison with Stamkos’ recent history regarding health:

Crosby has missed 113 of the last 212 games (53 percent of his team’s games) and hasn’t played a full season since 2009-10 (81 games) […] Stamkos hasn’t missed a single game in the past four seasons and during that time, no one comes close to his 185 total goals.

I don’t see how a piece that states those facts can come to the conclusion in bold above. I’m well aware of the randomness and chance involved with injuries in professional sports — Raw Charge reader MyOldManTaughtMe reminded us all recently of the “gambler’s fallacy” in the comments section of John Fontana’s piece about Crosby, Stamkos, Ovechkin and health. From Wikipedia:

The gambler’s fallacy is the mistaken belief that if something happens more frequently than normal during some period, then it will happen less frequently in the future (presumably as a means of balancing nature). In situations where what is being observed is truly random (i.e. independent trials of a random process), this belief, though appealing to the human mind, is false.

Take flipping a coin, for example. If you flip a coin ten times in a row and it lands heads all ten times, that is an extremely unlikely occurrence, and flipping a coin and it landing heads eleven times is even more improbable than it doing so ten times. However, that doesn’t make that eleventh flip anything other than a 50-50 chance to come up heads. The universe is not controlling things, and each event is not related to the one that came before it.

Thus, assuming Sidney Crosby’s injury-riddled past will carry on in the future (or that Stamkos’ record of never missing a game will do the same) isn’t really accurate. It’s almost entirely up to chance.

But can you really blame someone for feeling more comfortable selecting Stamkos instead of Crosby based on how the two have performed in recent seasons? While Crosby’s most recent time missed due to injury was unrelated to any previous injury, there is concern specific to him and his history of concussions that is, at the very least, a bit worrisome, and it should give you some pause if you hold the 1st overall pick in your upcoming draft.

Furthermore, over the past three years, if you picked Sidney Crosby ahead of Steven Stamkos for your fantasy team, you were sorely disappointed with your year-end totals. In Yahoo! standard leagues, Crosby hasn’t outscored Stamkos in total fantasy points for the season since 2009-2010, and even then, it wasn’t by such an astronomical amount that if you had picked Stamkos instead you’d have torpedoed your season.

If you play with categories rather than head-to-head (as is often played in fantasy football), Stamkos can pretty much guarantee you a weekly win in the ‘goals’ category almost single-handedly, freeing other roster spots for you to pursue specialists in other categories like assists or penalty minutes.

There’s also at least a decent chance that Stamkos — still just 23 years old — hasn’t even peaked in the NHL yet. His biggest flaw in the fake game is his +/- rating, and while a complete overhaul of the goaltending and coaching staff isn’t guaranteed to provide a boost there, an improved rating is certainly a real possibility. While Sidney Crosby is unquestionably “in his prime”, Stamkos is still young enough that many players his age are still referred to as “prospects”.

All of this traces back to an unfortunate truth regarding the mainstream hockey media today — many are much too quick to worship at the altar of Sidney Crosby, even when there is evidence to suggest he may not be worthy of the ridiculous amount of praise heaped upon him on an almost daily basis. He is a supremely talented player, but to hyperbolize his value to the point of denigrating anyone would even mull over the thought of choosing Stamkos over him is going a little bit too far.

While Crosby still deservedly holds the title of “best player in the world”, the gap between the two isn’t so big that you’d be foolish to pick Steven Stamkos 1st overall in your fantasy draft this fall, and you certainly shouldn’t “quit playing fantasy” just for considering it.

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