The ESPN Player Rater does a phenomenal job of showing us how pure statistics relate to fantasy value. There’s no interpretation of the data and no external biases toward the ratings, just pure numbers. This plays out nicely among skaters, as the standard categories don’t include any ratio-bound statistics.
However, there are some struggles with the purity of goaltenders’ ratings because two of the three categories in the calculation are ratios. Therefore, the Player Rater doesn’t account for the fact that Goaltender A has started 10 games and Goaltender B has started one game when it sees the same save percentage and goals-against average. Clearly, fantasy owners know that Goaltender A has much more value in fantasy due to his playing time.
With that in mind, let’s rank goaltenders by tier based purely on the statistics they’ve accumulated so far this season. This is not based on prognostications for their going-forward success. Instead, they will be grouped strictly by the season-to-date numbers they’ve put up in wins, save percentage and GAA. We are also leaving out goaltenders who are ranked high on the Player Rater, but are clearly not their team’s No. 1 — goalies such as St. Louis Blues No. 2 Carter Hutton — or are injured.
Tier 1: Elite options
Jonathan Quick, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Corey Crawford, Connor Hellebuyck, Sergei Bobrovsky and Mike Smith have separated themselves as the top pack through the first month of action. Hellebuyck and Smith are the surprises here. Smith was a major sleeper coming into the season because of a much better situation with the Calgary Flames than his previous posting in the desert with the Arizona Coyotes. It’s a surprise to see him among the top six, but not a complete shock. Hellebuyck, on the other hand, wasn’t even the No. 1 goaltender for the Jets coming into the season and was projected to, at best, work his way into a time-share with Steve Mason. However, Mason fell on his face hard out of the gate, and Hellebuyck hasn’t looked back. One of the biggest candidates for a dip here is Quick, who boasts a .944 save percentage on the penalty kill (four power-play goals against in 67 opportunities). Compare that to his cumulative penalty kill save percentage since the 2015-16 season of .883 and you’ll see some regression potential.
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Tier 2: On the cusp
Jake Allen, Martin Jones and Pekka Rinne are far enough back in value from the top group to form their own section on the Player Rater. It’s not a shock to see any of them here, and their value is arguably precisely in line with what owners expected right from the draft table.
Tier 3: Remaining No. 1s
Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider and Braden Holtby round out the top 12, completing the list of No. 1 fantasy goaltenders for a 12-team league. Howard and Schneider appear to have bounced back into form behind stronger-than-expected teams in front of them. Their underlying numbers look solid, so it may come down to whether they continue to get support in the wins column. It’s also of note that there isn’t anything particular in Holtby’s profile that suggests he has been getting unlucky in any particular category. He’s still a No. 1 fantasy goaltender, but it may take others regressing for him to get closer to his draft-day value.
Tier 4: Best of the No. 2s
Ben Bishop, Matt Murray, John Gibson and Jacob Markstrom form the first grouping of No. 2 goaltenders (ranked 13-16 in value on the Player Rater). Owners were expecting No. 1 value from Murray and Gibson and perhaps even Bishop at the draft table. Gibson should be cut some slack given the array of injuries that the Anaheim Ducks have faced so far. Murray, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of excuses here. His even-strength save percentage sits at .904, 23rd in the league among goaltenders with at least six starts. Markstrom has been a pleasant surprise, and if you can afford the lack of wins, he could finish as a No. 2 goaltender based on his early-season ratios.
Tier 5: Still generating positive value
Semyon Varlamov, Jaroslav Halak, Frederik Andersen and Craig Anderson are the last grouping of workhorse starters who are above a zero rating on the Player Rater. We’re at a point here where you are picking your poison for the categories, as these goaltenders can help a little in some spots but will hurt you in others. Andersen is great for wins, but his ratios are atrocious. Halak has a solid enough goals-against average and kicks in wins, but his save percentage is ugly. Varlamov is the reciprocal to Halak, helping in save percentage, but hurting in GAA. As for Ottawa’s Anderson, his even-strength save percentage is a very ugly .898 and has actually been worse since Nov. 17 when Erik Karlsson returned. Mike Condon may be a factor at some point this season.
Tier 6: Filling out the roster
Devan Dubnyk, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask and Robin Lehner are earning negative value on the Player Rater, but they represent the final No. 2 goaltenders for a 12-team league (ranked 21-24). Dubnyk has been getting murdered on the penalty kill, where opponents have six goals on only 31 shots. Perhaps getting Mikael Granlund, one of their key penalty killers, back to health will help going forward. Rask is only down here because he missed time for injury. Expect him to move up the list. Lehner is also being hurt by the penalty kill and could be in for better numbers if the Sabres can tighten up on defense. He has also been burned by three shorthanded goals while his team was on the man advantage.
Missed out: Marc-Andre Fleury still has no timetable for a return, but would slot in the list somewhere as a No. 1 goaltender if he had stayed healthy to this point. On a pure numbers standpoint, he’s currently grouped in with Tier 5. … The penalty kill is hurting both Cam Talbot and Brian Elliott. They’ve allowed nine and eight power-play goals, respectively. Their even-strength numbers are passable, so it will come down to whether their teams can fix the penalty-kill units. … Scott Darling is not jumping off the page to separate himself from Cam Ward. This could be a time-share soon. … I have no idea what to say to Carey Price owners. His even-strength save percentage is an unbelievable .877, tied with Antti Raanta for the worst in the league among goaltenders with at least four appearances. It’s not even like he’s being bombarded. Among the goaltenders with at least 11 appearances, Price has faced the fewest shots at even strength. Bench him and wait it out, I guess?
Fantasy Forecaster: Nov. 6-12
NHL action ramps up a bit this week, with nine teams posting a four-game schedule. Remember that the more teams that enjoy an extra game, the more the fantasy advantage of rostering players from those teams is undercut.
The Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild have the juiciest of the four-game schedules on the Forecaster, with the Arizona Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals filling out the list of teams with an extra game.
The Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers only have two games. Colorado and Ottawa only play each other next week, and the games are back-to-back. Varlamov and Anderson owners have been warned.
Note: For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense) and “D” (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.
TEAM GAMES RATINGS MON
3 13 OFF
27 OFF OFF
3 26 OFF
110 OFF OFF
2 24 OFF
36 OFF OFF OFF
3 27 OFF
56 OFF OFF
3 37 OFF OFF OFF
2 83 OFF OFF OFF OFF
43 OFF OFF
44 OFF OFF OFF
54 OFF OFF
47 OFF OFF
4 55 OFF
3 84 OFF
66 OFF OFF
3 96 OFF
94 OFF OFF
3 66 OFF
2 54 OFF
87 OFF OFF OFF
4 106 OFF
3 95 OFF
107 OFF OFF
54 OFF OFF
2 51 OFF OFF OFF OFF
2 35 OFF OFF OFF
3 57 OFF
79 OFF OFF
3 64 OFF OFF
44 OFF OFF
3 86 OFF
3 76 OFF OFF
62 OFF OFF
95 OFF OFF
73 OFF OFF
110 OFF OFF
76 OFF OFF OFF
In the notes — team, goalie and player — below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Rostering below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I’ll try to include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
After placing goaltenders into tiers above, it’s easy to figure out why the Bruins are rated well for a four-game schedule that includes the Wild, New York Rangers and two dates with the Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, injuries are making it difficult to go beyond the top line for the Bruins with any confidence. One name to consider would be Danton Heinen, who is playing on the second line and getting time on the power play with the top line. For what it’s worth, he has six points in seven games with very limited ice time.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils’ offense has two tougher matchups with the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks bookending some easier matchups with the Leafs and Florida Panthers next week. With Kyle Palmieri now on injured reserve and no clear return date set, Drew Stafford should continue seeing top looks with Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall through next week. He has five points in seven games since ascending the depth chart.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Like the Bruins, the Leafs boast a positive four-game schedule that includes a date with Minnesota, in addition to a game against the fourth-string goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights and the back-to-back set against Boston. Connor Brown is where I’m looking for value, as the often-overshadowed sophomore winger is drawing in next to Patrick Marleau and James van Riemsdyk and has scored goals in two straight games.
Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks (rostered in 19.1 percent of ESPN leagues)
Markstrom probably won’t get all four starts for the Canucks next week, as backup Anders Nilsson has been equally as strong in the crease. That said, the games look good on the Forecaster for defensive ratings, and Markstrom has allowed two or fewer goals in five consecutive outings.
Robin Lehner, G, Buffalo Sabres (25.6 percent)
I keep coming back to Lehner in this space because, at least on paper, his numbers should be better. Three shorthanded goals against (which should not be an ongoing problem for any goaltender and has more to do with bad luck) have taken his decent ratios and made them look bad. Just for fun, when you remove the shorties against him, his goals-against average stands at 2.55 and his save percentage bumps to .918. Sounds a lot better than his current 2.94 GAA and .905 save percentage, right? I know that’s cherry picking stats, but Lehner’s even-strength save percentage is 13th-best in the NHL right now among starters.
Other notes: Raanta is back between the pipes for the Coyotes and should have stretches of value this season, but this is not a good week to consider him. The Coyotes play the Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Blues and Winnipeg Jets. … Double-check you aren’t among the 34.8 percent of ESPN leagues in which Hellebuyck is still available. Seriously. Stop reading, open up another tab and go check if you can pick him up. … For the truly deep-league player who just needs a warm body: the Blue Jackets play two separate sets of back-to-back games next week. If Joonas Korpisalo is ever going to have a two-start week, it’s next week. … James Reimer has been a train wreck during his chance to steal more starts from Roberto Luongo. Luongo could be back in time for next week. You don’t want either. The Panthers are the worst road team in the league, and they play all three games away from Florida.
Anders Lee, C/LW, and Josh Bailey, LW/RW, New York Islanders (rostered in 77.8 percent and 52.0 percent of ESPN leagues)
It brings a small tear to my eye for Jordan Eberle, but in the past three games since he was moved off the top line for Bailey, the trio of Bailey, Lee and John Tavares has gone bonkers. They have 20 points in the past three games combined. Get them into lineups.
Josh Anderson, LW/RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (9.5 percent)
I promise this is the last time. I will shut up about Anderson after this. His current hot streak on a line with Artemi Panarin and Nick Foligno started before Cam Atkinson was out of the lineup. That’s a good indication that it will continue after Atkinson returns, since Atkinson was playing with Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner before getting hurt. Anderson moved to the top line partway through a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 25. He has five points in five games since then.
To the bench: Still lacking Ryan Getzlaf and with dates to face Quick and Andrei Vasilevskiy next week, it’s probably OK not to go any deeper than you have to with your Anaheim players. … The Flames play both of their games next week prior to Thursday. If your league has midweek waivers, stack some Flames at the start and ditch them for other reinforcements next weekend. I’m looking at Micheal Ferland, in particular.