As we approach the season’s halfway point, we’re going to take a slight departure from the regular Goalie Report format and instead take a closer look at a few goaltenders in particular. Not the ones in the middle of the pack, but the ones who have surprised us, in good and bad ways. And we’ll ask the question of their second half chances: Pay or Stay Away? Yes, because it rhymes.
The Elite, the best of the best. Top gun. Except, SURPRISE, these Top Guns have come closer to Goose’s fate than Maverick’s.
Carey Price (Canadiens) – So you think NHL goalies are over-rated, just a product of a good or bad defensive system? To help convince you otherwise, I’d present to you the NHL’s reigning MVP and Vezina winning goaltender, who remains out with a leg injury but has put up elite numbers when he has played. Meanwhile, the Habs are still above .500, but take away Price’s 10-2 pre-injury record and they’re in trouble; it would be an understatement to say they have had a rough go of it without him, including dropping 7 of the last 10 games. So what do we know about the timetable for Price’s return? The team has been saying mid-January for a while now, but just a week ago, Head Coach Michel Therrien was quoted as saying that he was “not ready to get back on the ice just yet” and it has recently been reported that now he won’t return until after the All-Star break at the end of the month. What’s a fantasy owner to do? It’s important to remember that this is a recurring injury, one that he tried to come back from in November, but quickly found he wasn’t ready. And not insignificantly, an injury that may be traced back as far as the 2014 Olympics. The second thing to consider: it’s a knee injury. Do goalies need the full use of their knee? I’m gonna skip the suspense here and tell you: Yes. Yes, they do need their knees to flop around the ice and back up again quickly. And finally: what is his likely return? If all goes as currently planned, we’re talking February. Presuming your fantasy playoffs start in late March, that’s a solid two months you’d be getting out of him if you’re in contention. Bottom line here will come down to your situation. Carey Price has gone from being a blue chip player to a high risk/high reward player, albeit very high reward. The Canadiens desperately need him back, but thus far have not managed his injury well, allowing him on the ice back in November, before he had healed. I would only go after him as a desperation move, if my team was on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now, with nothing to lose. He could put you over the top, so that’s tempting, but given even his recent history – coming back for two games before re-injuring himself – Price and the Canadiens are not exactly giving us reasons to be confident. Price is a risk you don’t need.
VERDICT: Stay Away!
Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers) – Lundqvist has had a Jekkyl and Hyde season, starting hot out of the gates as expected, before crashing down to Earth – er, ice – hard. He’s been alternating wins lately, and just came off of a dominant start against the Bruins, who have been scoring in bunches this year. His recent play is just boggling. There has been no talk of an injury, though conceivably he could be hiding one. But in the absence of proof to the contrary, you have to believe in his track record and hope this slump won’t last. Not including the recent victory, his past 17 game stretch (dating back to Nov 25th, when he let in five goals against the Canadiens) is atrocious. In that time, Lundqvist is 6-8-2, with an .884 save percentage. That’s run-for-the-hills numbers, folks. Or what I call, time to point that out to his owners and add him on your team just before he rebounds.
Pekka Rinne (Predators) – Rinne is a perennial all-star and Vezina candidate, but what has happened to him this year is quite perplexing. He is 16-13-6, with a 2.48 GAA and .906 save percentage, which is not horrible, but also not what you paid for when you drafted him early. The problem has been inconsistency. He will string a few decent games together, but has yet to have a stretch in which he is truly dominant. As with Lundqvist, his pedigree shows that he’s better than this; unlike The King (who, can we all agree already, should be called The Ranger instead?), Rinne has been consistently inconsistent from the start and is showing no signs of changing that pattern. What you have here, folks, is a starting goalie. The only guarantee here is that Rinne won’t lose the starting gig. But his on again-off again play has been simply maddening for his owners. Ugh.
VERDICT: Stay Away!
The Hindsight Gang
You just knew these guys were going to be great this year… right?
Roberto Luongo (Panthers) – Luongo has carried this young team on his back at times, leading them to their current perch atop the Atlantic division. The pessimist would say that he’s playing above his head and should regress slightly, coming down from his current .930 save percentage to his career average of .920. The pessimist would also point out that he’s got a lot of mileage on the engine and could tire down the stretch. The optimist, which I happen to be, would point out that goalies tend to age more gracefully than position players, and that he’s playing for a young team on the rise, so why shouldn’t he keep this up? He’s just off of a nine game winning streak (but lost to his former team, the Canucks, last night) and should keep on rolling. His value has never been higher, but I wouldn’t sell. Even if he were to regress a bit, he’d still be a bargain with a .910 to .920 save percentage over the rest of the year.
Cory Schneider (Devils) – Should we really be surprised that the two former Canucks goalies, Luongo and Schneider, are having career years, one year removed from that strange situation? If you missed it, then briefly: The Canucks had a nice problem on their hands, with two excellent goalies. Everyone thought they’d trade Luongo and his large contract, while keeping the young’n, Schneider, as the Future of the franchise. But instead, they fooled everyone and dealt them both! How’s that looking now, Vancouver? But I digress. Schneider and the Devils are an interesting match. On one hand, they’ve been playing great defensive hockey and Schneider has stood on his head. On the other, they are scoring like the ’74-’75 Capitals. Schneider has quietly gone 18-13-5 with a sparkling 2.09 GAA. He typically isn’t heavily tested in the shots department, and if your league happens to counts Saves, then that’s his only weak spot. There is no reason he shouldn’t keep this up, though his wins are hard to predict and very well could come down a little in the second half due to lack of offense on this team. Whether to buy/sell likely depends on your situation. If he’s on your team, you probably lucked into him as your second goalie. If you’ve got two studs as a result, first pat yourself on the back, and second, I’d consider selling him while the price is high. Either way, you want him on your team.
Upstarts ‘R’ Us
You really wished you’d picked these guys up when they showed up unannounced, don’t you? The jury is still out – still worth an add, or sell ‘em while they’re hot?
Connor Hellebuyck (Jets) – Hellebuyck is this year’s upstart poster boy. He’s been on fire since he got called up and replaced injured starter Ondrej Pavelec. If you ignored my lousy advice and picked him after the first couple of starts, you’re probably sitting pretty in the goaltending dept. right about now. If you’re in a keeper league, this one is a no-brainer. In a redraft league, his value is less certain. He will likely lose some starts to Pavelec upon his return, even if he continues to play well, which should be the main concern. I like him, I really do. But I’m just not convinced that he relegates Pavelec to a backup role. The most likely situation is a committee. And: Poof! Half his value, gone.
VERDICT: Stay Away!
John Gibson (Ducks) – Bad offense or not (but, um, yes in this case), Gibson should continue to excel. One season ago, the Ducks management had high hopes for him, but he just couldn’t sieze the brass ring. Or any ring, for that matter. I don’t know why the brass one is so important in the first place. Maybe someday I’ll Google it. For now, back to Gibson, who if you’re paying attention, should be on your team now. In a small sample size, he’s got an unreal 1.84 GAA and .926 save percentage. He’s the starter going forward. In a keeper league especially, he’s a great second half goalie to target.
Louis Domingue (Coyotes) – Is Domingue another Hellebuyck in our midst? It sure looks like it. He is 6-0-2 since taking over for the injured Mike Smith. I could conceivably see him starting for the rest of the year, but his peripheral stats seem unsustainable. He’s a great spec add, especially if he’s still available on the wire, but take a wait and see approach. Enjoy him if you’ve got him, but don’t overpay to get him.
VERDICT: Pay (but not too much!)
Take a Chance on Me
Don’t look now, but these once promising goaltenders are once again promising!
Cam Talbot (Oilers) – Don’t look now but Talbot is finally fulfilling the promise he had at the beginning of the season. Worth an add if he’s on your waiver wire to see if he continues to improve.
Jonathan Bernier / James Reimer (Leafs) – Don’t look now, but we may have our goaltending controversy back in full form in Toronto. Bernier has been lights out lately – except, oops! – he was also the goalie in the recent 7-0 blowout to the Sharks. Meanwhile Reimer had staked his claim to the starter role before going down to injury. Now that he’s back, expect the Leafs to ride the hot hand, whichever goalie that may be.
Robin Lehner (Sabres) – Don’t look now, but Lehner is close to returning to the Sabres. If you recall, he went down with an ankle injury in the first game of the season. The starter role will be all his, if he plays well. This is purely a spec grab for now, but chances are he’s been forgotten, so why not be the one to pick him up!
We’ll be back after the All-Star break with the full Goalie Report as usual. Please post any questions or comments below. As always, thanks for reading and good luck!