Hedman, Matthews and the most consistent fantasy hockey scorers

The elite consistency of Victor Hedman (L) and Auston Matthews (R) make them first-round picks in H2H points leagues. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you play in rotisserie or a season-long points league, the consistency of a player is less relevant to your fantasy performance.

But in a head-to-head league, consistency can make or break your season.

In an extreme, impossible example, let's say Nathan MacKinnon collects every single projected fantasy point he was expected to get in the very first game of the season and doesn't score again in the remaining 81 contests.

Yep, in this surreal example, the Colorado Avalanche have a wild first game and MacKinnon collects 205 fantasy points in a game for the ages. Having achieved such a feat, he coasts for the rest of the campaign and doesn't collect another point.

In this absurd extreme, fantasy managers in rotisserie or season-long points formats got what they paid for at the draft table. His 205 points still count toward the final total in one game as much as they would spread out over all 82.

But managers playing in head-to-head contests would be a little less enthused. Sure, Week 1 is a surefire win, but the rest of the season becomes a little more difficult to manage with their first-round pick collecting zero points from Week 2 forward.

This is where standard deviation in fantasy points per 60 minutes (FPP60) and a player's coefficient of variation comes in.

The standard deviation (SD) is a measure of how much variance there is in a set of data. In this case, we have 43 weeks of fantasy data from the 2020-21 and 2021-22 season with each player's FPP60. (I save a snapshot of league data every Friday, so this data is a Friday-to-Friday look at the weeks. There are some exceptions, such as longer weeks for all-star breaks, byes and the beginning and end of seasons.)

But the standard deviation alone isn't enough to give us a comparable piece of datum with other players. Tyson Jost's 2.06 SD is more consistent than Jakub Voracek's 2.13 SD, but that figure doesn't account for the fact that Jost's FPP60 for the past two seasons is 3.67 and Voracek's is 5.01. So while Jost has less variability in his output, part of that is because his overall fantasy output is so much lower.

That's where the coefficient of variation (CV) comes into play. By looking at how the standard deviation compares to the mean of the data set it's being derived from, we get a figure that's comparable to other data sets. Jost's SD and FPP60 totals gives us a CV of 56.2%, while Voracek's is 42.6%. A lower coefficient of variation tells us Voracek is actually less volatile with his output than Jost, even though the standard deviation immediately suggests otherwise.

Coefficient of variation, in other words, gives us an apples to apples comparison of the volatility of a players output over time versus other players.

Some notable asterisks for this data. I do not have access to the weekly output of players who changed teams midseason during the past two years. So I don't have calculations for players like Patrik Laine, Tyler Toffoli or other in-season traded players. If a player didn't produce any fantasy points in at least 20 of the 43 weeks being analyzed, they were also excluded. And of course, as always, this is all using the default scoring system from ESPN to assess fantasy points.

Consistency kings

Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: He doesn't own the lowest CV over the past two seasons, but he's close. That, in combination with some other factors, is arguably enough to declare Hedman as the most consistent fantasy player. His 40.2% CV trails only four other players, but his 6.00 FPP60 during those two seasons trumps all four of them. Additionally, the only time he notched a zero for one of the 43 scoring periods included in this data is when he skipped the last game of the 2020-21 season. And only one other time during those 43 weeks did he produce fewer than 3.00 FPP60. No other player in the league had only two weeks or fewer of missing that 3.00 threshold.

It doesn't make him the first overall pick in head-to-head leagues by any means. But it does make him arguably the top defenseman for those formats and certainly should allow for some consideration among the first half-dozen picks. There's something to be said for reliability at the top of your draft.

Alex DeBrincat and Brady Tkachuk, F, Ottawa Senators: These new teammates finished No. 1 and No. 2 among forwards for CV percent. DeBrincat, playing the past two seasons with the Blackhawks, was the top forward for coefficient of variation at 40.6%, earning one week with zero points and only three total weeks with fewer than 3.00 FPP60. Tkachuk, meantime, finished right behind him at 41.2% CV, one week with zero points and, like DeBrincat, only three total weeks with fewer than 3.00 FPP60.

And now the most consistent fantasy forwards in the NHL for the past two seasons are on the same team.

We'll have to wait and see if the Sens decide to use them on a line together (which is no guarantee given how many solid combinations there are with the top six). But DeBrincat and Tkachuk are most assuredly going to combine their talents on the Sens top power play.

Adam Larsson, D, Seattle Kraken: So this is where we need to take the analysis a little further than standard deviation and coefficient of variation. Larsson had the lowest CV among all NHLers last season at 35.0%. He was, bar none, the most consistent fantasy producer. But again, there is some relativity here that needs a deeper look.

Just because a player is consistent, doesn't mean they automatically meet the threshold required to be a fantasy asset. Larsson is on the bubble for shallow leagues. If you are playing int a 10-team league with shallow rosters, he just made the cut for fantasy relevance last season. Larsson finished 37th among all defenders in 2021-22 with the Kraken. The year prior, with the Oilers, he did better and finished 23rd. Heading into 2022-23, the Kraken will be a better team, but will it be enough to make the most consistent player a fantasy regular?

Some of the others at the top of the consistency list need similar assessment. Radko Gudas (D, Florida Panthers) finished 47th last season among fantasy defensemen and 51st in 2020-21, but was very consistent while doing so. His 38.7% CV is third overall. Cody Ceci (D, Edmonton Oilers) ranks between Larsson and Gudas with a 38.0% CV, but finished well outside the top-50 scoring defensemen the past two seasons.

Auston Matthews, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: There is a real argument that Matthews should be the top pick in head-to-head fantasy leagues even if you think Connor McDavid will edge him out in the overall fantasy points race. With a CV of 42.7%, Matthews was slightly more consistent than McDavid's 44.2 percent. It's not a big margin, to be sure, but it's also not a big margin between the two players as the no-brainer No. 1 and No. 2 fantasy skaters. If you are torn between the two of them with the first-overall pick, Matthews might be the play if yu are in a head-to-head format, while McDavid remains the choice in season-long formats.

Other top defensemen for consistency: Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg Jets (40.1% CV); Alex Pietrangelo, D, Vegas Golden Knights (40.3% CV); Rasmus Andersson, D, Calgary Flames (40.4% CV); Esa Lindell, D, Dallas Stars (40.5% CV); Brent Burns, D, Carolina Hurricanes (40.7% CV).

Other top forwards for consistency: Jakub Voracek, F, Columbus Blue Jackets (42.6% CV); Travis Konecny, F, Philadelphia Flyers (43.5% CV); Kyle Connor, F, Winnipeg Jets (44.4% CV); Ryan Strome, F, Anaheim Ducks (45.1% CV); Taylor Hall, F, Boston Bruins (45.6% CV); Aleksander Barkov, F, Florida Panthers (45.6% CV); Tomas Hertl, F, San Jose Sharks (46.0% CV); John Tavares, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (46.1% CV).

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Consistently inconsistent

Another pitfall of using this methodology to evaluate the consistency of players is the inherent aberrations that some of the small sample sizes can produce. Trying to poke holes in 43 weeks of data from 1,000 players would be pretty time consuming, but as I seek to find the player to take the crown as most inconsistent, I am going to dig a little deeper.

Robert Thomas, F, St. Louis Blues: With a CV of 147.4%, Thomas initially appears to be incredibly inconsistent. But he's not. On Feb. 6, 2021, Thomas scored a goal and fired three shots in three minutes of action against the Arizona Coyotes before he was injured and missed the next several weeks. But, because of how the weeks are divided up, those three minutes were captured as part of an entire week of data, giving him a ridiculous 46.00 FPP60. If you take that week out, his CV percent is in the 80 percent range. Not great, but not the worst. He doesn't take the inconsistent crown.

J.T. Compher, F, Colorado Avalanche: The next candidate appears to be Compher, with a CV of 111.4%. But this forces us to ask the question: Is a player used as a depth chart yo-yo to fill in for injuries inconsistent or doing exactly what he should be? When Compher was tasked with playing in the Avs top six during the past two seasons due to injuries, he stepped up and produced. When he was buried back on the third or fourth line, he didn't. Should he be labelled as inconsistent when he was just doing his job? I don't think so.

Drake Batherson, F, Ottawa Senators: Once again, bad timing of an injury can be blamed for an inconsistent CV. Batherson clocks in at 86.4% CV, but like Thomas, he had some bad timing. He missed a few games in late November last season, but not after finishing one game in the Week 5 scoring period with 8.8 fantasy points in only 18 minutes of action. It's largely responsible for pushing his CV percentage up. That said, with his teammates DeBrincat and Tkachuk leading the league in consistency, perhaps we can expect more from Batherson this coming season. But he doesn't deserve the inconsistent crown.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, F, Carolina Hurricanes: We might have something here. He's not super fantasy-relevant, having finished in the 280s among skaters last season and No. 199 in the season prior, but Kotkaniemi hasn't missed much time, played a consistent role and still has a mercurial CV percentage. At 82.3%, his CV is the lowest I can find that doesn't have some kind of strange, injury-related asterisk to apply to it. So I guess Kotkaniemi gets an unenthusiastic vote as the most inconsistent skater.

Other forwards with inconsistency: Mike Hoffman, F, Montreal Canadiens (81.4% CV); Anders Lee, F, New York Islanders (80.3% CV); Teuvo Teravainen, F, Carolina Hurricanes (79.6% CV); Dylan Larkin, F, Detroit Red Wings (77.9% CV); Anthony Beauvillier, F, New York Islanders (73.3% CV); Mathew Barzal, F, New York Islanders (72.5% CV); Jesper Bratt, F, New Jersey Devils (71.6% CV); Phil Kessel, F, Vegas Golden Knights (71.1% CV).

Defensemen with inconsistency: Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes (74.3% CV); Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators (67.4% CV); Noah Hanifin, D, Calgary Flames (67.0% CV); Dougie Hamilton, D, New Jersey Devils (65.8% CV); Evan Bouchard, D, Edmonton Oilers (64.6% CV).

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