It’s only been a month, but we have a lot of moving and shaking within our four goalie tiers. We have backups usurping starters, starters getting injured, and that mysterious 15-day flu. December in fantasy hockey is a great time to reassess your talent – especially that of the blue chip variety. Now is the time that teams begin to know where they stand in the big picture, and decisions are made (i.e.: coins are flipped) when it comes to the goaltending. You have a prime opportunity to take advantage and buy low on goalies that appear to have a future, and sell high on those who may be losing the confidence of the coaching staff, but still retain some name brand significance in trade talks.
The Elite, the best of the best. Top gun. You could always argue for more to be added here, but what sets these chosen few apart? Consistency, plain and simple. We’re not throwing darts here, folks. Though apparently we are mixing metaphors.
Braden Holtby (Philip Grubauer), Capitals – You can’t do better than Holtby right now. He’s been an absolute stud so far and rather than show any signs of slowing down, he’s actually getting better. He’s got a .940 save percentage over the last month, which also includes an 8-game win streak.
Henrik Lundqvist (Aanti Raanta), Rangers – Lundqvist is Exhibit A when it comes to consistency and why it can be worth it to overspend to own one of these guys. Prime example: recently, he had a couple of lousy games, allowing four and five goals two nights apart. Because he’s in this tier, that means when you see those numbers, you can still sleep at night. He’s now back on track with a .948 save percentage in three games since.
Marc-Andre Fleury (Jeff Zatkoff) – Despite losing three of his last four, Fleury’s peripheral stats haven’t changed. He’s still playing in nearly every game, and now that Crosby has remembered how to score, there is a very real chance that the Penguins could literally add a goal per game to their overall scoring. Think about that for a second. Could that help improve a 12-9-1 record by a few wins? If there is one goalie in this tier that may be attainable in trade, I’d say it’s Fleury, but I’d go after him quickly, while he’s in the midst of a mini-losing streak.
Jonathan Quick (Jhonas Enroth), Kings – Quick had a shaky start but is now back on track (and on a 4-game win streak). By putting him in this tier, am I really saying I would rather own him than Crawford, Rinne, Luongo, or the Detroit-goalie-of-the-month? Yes, that’s exactly right. Team offense? Check. Team D? Check. Solid grip on the starting job? Check. Nice little win streak currently? Check. Circumstances have conspired to push him into the 1%, basically. If your league counts shots against, maybe give him a slight downtick, but nothing he shouldn’t be able to offset with wins.
“What’re you guys doing?”
“Puttin’ on the foil!”
“Yeah, you want some?”
Like the Hanson Brothers, it’s pretty simple: You want these guys on your side. They will consistently contribute in all categories and be the foundation of your team. With a couple of these goalies on your roster, you’ll be singing Mmmbop! all the way to the rink.
Mike Condon (Zack Fucale/Dustin Tokarski), Canadiens – Condon is the first casualty from last month’s elite status. Carey Price is the starter here, and when healthy he is elite, you can take that to the bank. Problem is, that leg injury. Yeah, the one that supposedly will keep him out a minimum of six weeks. And yes, that one that supposedly is related to the one that already kept him out of the crease for three weeks in November. Now if I’m a Price owner, am I selling? If I can get 75 cents on the dollar, I’d strongly consider it. They are being a little secretive about the nature of the injury (note all of the ‘supposedly’s above!), which is usually not the best sign to begin with. But ask yourself this: Do goalies need their legs to work properly to play at a high level? Why yes, they do, thank you Mr. Obvious. Oh right – Condon? Meh. The bubble has burst here, folks. He’s still in a good situation and will get most of the starts in the interim, but if you were hoping for Carey Price II, yeah, that’s not happening.
Pekka Rinne (Carter Hutton), Predators – What the bleep is going on with Rinne all of a sudden? For a while now, he’s been the bluest of the blue chips. He’s played 13 of the teams last 15 games, but in the last 7 has a God-awful-ugly .867 save percentage. His team has been lousy in front of him, but this is quite the fall from the Rinne of old. Bottom line here, you cannot sell low here. Unless there is a lingering injury that we haven’t been told about, Rinne should rebound. That is, if he can stop a few rebounds. Sheesh. The way he’s been playing lately, I feel a little dirty for allowing him in this tier at all.
Corey Crawford (Scott Darling), Black Hawks – Always reaching for that next tier, Crawford right now is playing great in two out of every three games basically. That’s not enough for elite, but it should be good enough to win your weekly fantasy match up.
Roberto Luongo (Al Montoya), Panthers – No change here. I’d rather have Luongo than have to deal with that Detroit tandem. Yeah, he puts up the occasional stinker, but that’s mostly because of the inconsistent team in front of him.
Cory Schneider (Keith Kinkaid), Devils – The only caveat here is the Devils ability to put up goals on offense. Otherwise, Schneider has been one of the biggest surprises this young season.
Martin Jones (Alex Stalock), Sharks – Jones is in a good situation. He gets nearly all the starts for a strong, balanced team. Keep rolling him, obvs.
Ben Bishop (Andrei Vasilevsky), Lightning – I suspect the best is still yet to come for Bishop. He’s been one of the more consistent goalies around this season. Unfortunately, he’s playing for one of the most inconsistent teams.
Tuukka Rask (Jonas Gustavsson) – Rask is on fire right now, and it’s no coincidence that the Bruins have tightened their defensive play lately as well. Your buy low window has probably closed, but he might be worth an inquiry in case his current owner thinks the recent streak is only temporary.
Sergei Bobrovsky (Curtis McIlhenney), Blue Jackets – The wins should come eventually for Bobrovsky, as he’s improved his play a bunch lately (not hard to do, mind you, if you look at how bad his season start was).
Sure, there might be a decent grab in here, depending on the stats your league uses, or if they’re on a particular roll. Most of the guys in this tier have graduated from the Grant Fuhr School of Hard Knocks Goaltending. That is: They’re good enough to shut the door in a close game and maybe get you the win. It’s just too bad the score is already 7-7. Other goalies in this category fit into the secret, invisible ‘Better Than You’d Think’ category, but their situation is “complicated” and currently holds them back.
Jake Allen (Brian Elliot) Blues – You might as well call them Jekkyl and Hyde. No wait, that’s just Allen on his own. Last month I said that if Allen kept playing the way he was, that a case could be made for him in the elite tier. This month, I’m saying, don’t list to Last-Month-Me! I mean, technically, my prediction is bang on, since the other side of the coin rings true as well. But really, who knows what to make of these two on any given night.
Connor Hellebuyck–Michael Hutchinson, Jets – Hellebuyck? Hell, yeah! Now wait, let’s not go too crazy just yet, it’s only been three games. At the very least, before assessing his recent play (which has been stellar, btw) shouldn’t we question that ‘Y’ in his last name? How are you supposed to pronounce that? Is it a silent ‘Y’? Or is pronounced like the car? Yes, clearly the goaltending situation in Winnipeg has gotten more complicated. Here it is in brief: Pavelec (The Starter) is out “until January or February” (see above for snarky comments about Carey Price injury timeline); Hutchinson (The Heir Apparent) has been playing like crap lately; Enter Connor Hellebuyck (The Future) and his three wins and .965 save percentage over three games. Could he keep that up? In a word, yes. And he’ll get the opportunity. But like I said, don’t get crazy here. Before doing something you’ll regret, like drop an established goalie for him, do yourself a favour and Google Brian Boucher, or even Michal Neuvirth. Any big league goalie can have a great streak. In a dynasty league, Hellebuyck might be worth a little extra, however, as he is legitimately seen as the Jets goalie of the future.
Petr Mrazek-Jimmy Howard, Red Wings – This is shaping up to be about a 60-40 split, with the slight edge going to Mrazek for starts. He’s been shaky of late, however, so that ratio could even out very quickly. Meanwhile, Howard’s overall numbers haven’t been better, but he’s got four wins in row. How’s that for complicated?
Jaroslav Halak–Thomas Greiss, Islanders – Halak is still considered the ‘starter’ but let’s look at this for what it is, a true 50-50 split. Greiss could be a sneaky pickup if available in your league. His peripherals are great – basically, you can have Halak’s numbers (or slightly better!) at half the price.
Fredrik Andersen (John Gibson/Anton Khudobin) Ducks – This is as complicated as it gets. Andersen right now is the starter in name, and has recently been out with the “flu” (quotes are mine; it’s been two weeks, i.e.: Yeah, right, eh?). Meanwhile, John Gibson, whom the team made very clear last year that they wanted him to take the reins, is back in town and just rattled off three wins in four games, including two shutouts. I’m a big fan of Gibson, but temper your expectations overall, as Anaheim is still having a lot of trouble scoring goals on the opposing goalie. I also wouldn’t advise dropping Andersen just yet. This looks like a classic rewind to last year, in which Andersen ultimately proved to be more consistent.
Antti Niemi–Kari Lehtonen, Stars – I like the idea of owning the Dallas goalies, I really do. But in practice, you can get much better all around numbers from so many others that it’s best to pass on these two. First, the timeshare is uncertain – though Niemi is in the driver’s seat right now, he’s not playing much better than Lehtonen. And second, despite all that offense, the Stars defense really isn’t all that great.
Devan Dubnyk (Darcy Kuemper/Niklas Backstrom) – In his past eight, Dubnyk (currently day-to-day with a groin strain) has three shutouts, and four sub-.900 save percentage games. You could flip a coin and put him in the tier above.
Craig Anderson (Chris Driedger), Senators – With Andrew Hammond riding the post-concussion roller coaster, Anderson continues to get almost all the starts. That’s worth something. He makes a great fantasy backup, but you still can’t fully trust him to anchor your team.
Garret Sparks (Antoine Bibeau), Leafs – Sparks is worth streaming. Reimer (out for a few more days) was in the zone before his injury, so you can’t drop him just yet, and Bernier is working his way back to relevance. Reimer over the last month has given hope that the Leafs goalies can rise above this tier, but currently this situation is just to fluid to value as anything more than a speculative play.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t save” (said no one, ever.)
These are some bad dudes, you don’t want to touch them. And I don’t mean ‘bad’ in a good way. I mean, ‘baaad’. Now that just sounds like a sheep when you read it out loud, doesn’t it? And who wants a sheep for a goaltender?
Ryan Miller (Jacob Markstrom), Canucks – How the mighty have fallen. Nothing is going well in Vancouver these days. Plus, it’s rainy season. Doesn’t get worse than that, folks.
Cam Ward (Eddie Lack), Hurricanes – He plays often, and the ‘Canes have won a few lately, so he could fill out the bottom your roster, sure. But you could – and should – do better. Do yourself a favour also, and keep an eye out for Eddie Lack. If he suddenly gets a few starts, he’s a great spec grab in dynasty leagues.
Mike Smith (Anders Lindback), Coyotes – Smith is just barely treading water at this point. The team’s hot start notwithstanding — which makes his stats look almost good! — Smith is not someone who can help you right now.
Chad Johnson–Linus Ullmark, Sabres – Johnson and Ullmark keep flip-flopping the Alpha role, and truth is, both will probably lose it to when he eventually returns. Move along folks, nothing to see here, nothin’ to see…
Karri Ramo-Jonas Hiller, Flames – Hiller is back… but not in a good way. He should still get back the starter role, but may be eased in slowly.
Semyon Varlamov (Reto Berra), Avalanche – Varlamov so far has been a disappointment. His last two games, however, have been spectacular. Keep an eye on him in case he’s building on something.
Anders Nilsson (Cam Talbot), Oilers – I’d love to move Nilsson up a tier, since he’s really been playing great and seems to have a reasonable grip on the starter role – but the Oilers need to prove they can win a few more first.
Steve Mason (Michal Neuvirth), Flyers – You simply cannot count on either of these two to post consistent results
So what have we learned? Goalie situations are fluid. Leg injuries can keep a goalie out for a long while. Rookies can get hot. And rookies can come back down to Earth.
If you’re hurting at goalie, don’t be afraid to take a risk. I’d say, ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do’, but then you still might end up with a tattoo in an inappropriate place after celebrating your fantasy wins a bit too hard.
Good luck with your goalies this coming month. Feel free to share your thoughts below. As always – thanks for reading!