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Fantasy Pool Look: Slumping NHL stars teach lessons

Darryl Dobbs
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Author: The Hockey News

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Fantasy Pool Look: Slumping NHL stars teach lessons

Darryl Dobbs
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How can you tell a slumping star from one beginning a career decline? Fantasy expert Darryl Dobbs gives you four indicators to keep an eye on.

We saw it a year ago with Alex Ovechkin. And did we learn? For many of us, the answer is no, because we’re seeing the same thing in 2013-14 with Philadelphia superstar Claude Giroux.

While Ovechkin is a different class of superstar, on a level with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Giroux is just one tier down and deserves almost the same kind of blind faith. With what we've seen from the two of them over recent history, we should now have the background we need to fully learn and accept a valuable lesson.

In the case of Ovechkin, we witnessed the guy top 100 points in four of five seasons. In my books, he can slump for five years and I'd still consider him a highly coveted commodity and a buy-low fantasy candidate. But what we saw were two "bad" years (by his standards) and a weak start to a third campaign. Owners were diving off the bandwagon in droves. Me? I was climbing onto it.

Ovechkin had 85 points in 2010-11 and 65 points in 2011-12. Then he started last season with 10 points in 16 games and it was right about then when I acquired him in one of my keeper leagues. In all, Ovechkin managed 160 points in 173 contests - a star by most standards, but a mere mortal by his own.

I continued to keep Ovechkin in the top three in my monthly keeper league player rankings and by this point I was getting questioned and, at times, ridiculed by some readers. But I've been in fantasy hockey for 25 years and writing about it for 12. I know proven stars of this caliber deserve a lot of rope and plenty of blind faith. Yes, there's a chance of failure, but trust me when I say the chance of success is much greater. And this success rate only increases when you consider Ovechkin's age at the time, as well as his durability. It would be another matter entirely had he been 36 and seeing a similar decline. Or if he suffered the same fate as Peter Forsberg where injuries eroded his production.

Ovechkin has 58 goals and 89 points in 72 games since that slump. For anyone who’s joined the ranks of fantasy hockey in the past several years, that's as valuable a lesson as it gets.

Now we see a similar situation with Claude Giroux, though not quite as extreme. He's not the star that Ovechkin is and his slump wasn't nearly as long. But it took him six games to get his first point and 16 to bulge the twine for the first time. With seven assists in 15 games and a new coach who stressed defense, the situation in November was mighty bleak.

But this is Claude Giroux who, at 25, is still barely entering his prime. And he’s proving to be quite durable having missed just five games in four years. You look at his durability, his age and his track record and ignore the background noise of the current situation. At worst, under a defense-first coach in Craig Berube, Giroux will get 65 or 70 points in 2013-14 and bounce back in 2014-15. But at best, he will find his magic this year and get back up over the 80-point mark right away. Zero chance he's a 40-, 50-, or even 60-point player.

If you took advantage of his numbers in October, you're enjoying your rise up your fantasy league standings even as you read this. Giroux, who turns 26 next week, has 29 points in his past 27 games.

How to tell if a slumping star will bounce back
1. Age. Is he younger than 27? If he is, there’s a very good chance he’ll bounce back. Is he under the age of 32? Still a very strong chance. Obviously, the odds decrease with each year after.

2. Health. Did he play an acceptable amount of games almost every season for the past five years? If so, it's another good sign he'll come around.

3. Track Record. Has he been top three at his position (in terms of production) in any one of the past five seasons? Is he pretty consistent at being in the top 10 at his position year in and year out?

4. Contract. Is the slumping star signed for another gazillion years? Well, rest assured the team will not be eating that contract. No, instead the team will play the heck out of the superstar and do everything possible to shake him from his doldrums.

If you are satisfied with the four criteria above, then feel safe in acquiring this underachieving player. It's no guarantee he’ll come around immediately, or even in the season you acquire him. But he's fairly safe when it comes to the long-term picture.

Players who fall neatly into the above criteria and are slumping don't come around very often. You may have one each season. Right now there is one other player who fits neatly into these criteria: New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Although he's pushing it with the age part (he turns 32 in late January), he just signed a massive contract. Think the Rangers will eat that one anytime soon? Me either. He may not come around this year, but he'll rebound eventually and take back his crown as the King of fantasy goaltenders.

And there is one more, albeit less extreme buy-low star to keep an eye on, and perhaps make a pitch for, if he slumps any further: Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings. Kopitar is 26 and on pace for 65 points. That isn't bad, but he's been money in the bank for 75 to 80 points. He's still pretty close to his usual window, but if his pace falls off any further, seize the opportunity. Don't hesitate for a second and make the deal with full confidence that he will rebound to that 75- to 80-point guy.

Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.

Want more fantasy insider information or to contact The Dobber? Check out dobberhockey.com or follow him on Twitter at @DobberHockey.

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Fantasy Pool Look: Slumping NHL stars teach lessons