After a tantalizing and loaded Thursday night of Game 1’s (and a few 2’s), I’m still going to talk goalies today … but luckily, some of the more interesting developments dovetail into points fairly well. (Fairly.)
The No. 1 early season disclaimer to defeat all disclaimers is to take a first evening with a grain of salt. While Tommy Wingels is a very nice depth forward, last season represented his career-high at 16 goals and 38 points. He scored on both of his shots on Wednesday. Don't go crazy here.
This column basically breaks down as such:
Page 1: Goalies I recommend or would at least settle for.
Page 2: Stinkers who should be avoided, even if that stench is often attributed to the team in front of them or the excessive price needed to land them (basically Semyon Varlamov).
Before we start, there are already some injury concerns to watch, with Dan Boyle’s broken hand and Evander Kane’s worrisome knee leading the list. Follow the injury section to keep up to date on what could be a messy first weekend, as the Dose returns on Monday.
Oh yeah, click these links for the other parts of this series if you want to catch up:
OK, let’s get puck-stopping …
THE ELITES AND THE CONSIDERATIONS
Boston’s dominant defensive assets actually make me lean toward Rask in fantasy, but I’m more certain of Lundqvist being truly elite (don’t take this as a slam on the Finnish shapeshifter, his Swedish counterpart just has about a decade of proof); really, it’s probably a matter of preference.
Close to elite - While the “strong team” argument makes Jonathan Quick tempting, his tendency to lay individual stat stink-bombs is getting tougher to deny. I’d like more certainty with a high-end pick. If you’re hurting to get someone early - let’s say 5 of the 10 categories are goalie ones so their value is inflated- I’d honestly prefer Carey Price. He’s in an easier conference on an up-and-coming team and he even has a gold medal to Quick’s two silver Cups.
Ben Bishop’s very much in that “if you REALLY need an early goalie pick” category, as his lingering injury issues and tiny resume worry me. That said, man … Tampa Bay’s one of the deepest teams in the league after a downright beautiful offseason of moves.
I don’t love Sergei Bobrovsky’s situation, although the Blue Jackets’ injury meltdown might force them to clamp down in a way that could really limit scoring chances. He’s also in a contract year, and greed is so very good for goalies. Still … I’d be hesitant with “Bob.”
Speaking of contract years - I’m more optimistic about Antti Niemi and Marc-Andre Fleury than most folks, in some part because they’re playing for their futures. Both put up OK (but not great) individual stats, face the risk of being traded and are frequently better in fantasy than in reality (those wins, those workloads).
Personally, I believe Thomas Greiss is a bigger threat to “MAF” than Alex Stalock is to Niemi, though. I know Stalock put up nice individual stats last season, but the guy has 27 NHL games on his resume at age 27. It’s kind of funny how easily people turn on goalies who are just OK … too bad NHL GMs are usually so willing to commit to them.
/Imagines headlines regarding Fleury’s next ill-advised contract.
A FEW CONSIDERATIONS WHEN MAKING TOUGH CALLS
Stay away from timeshares with your high picks - Jonathan Bernier and Brian Elliott aren’t worth the risk, in my opinion. Elliott’s more tempting, but Jake Allen elicits a solid amount of platoon fear.
Stay away from really bad teams - Could Craig Anderson have another out-of-nowhere awesome season? Stranger things have happened, but why not gamble with better odds?
Ask “How much of a gap is there between this guy and some of the other goalies I’m considering?” - Jimmy Howard isn’t an outright awful pick … but he’s not really a great value either. Ryan Miller’s fine, yet I’m not so sure he’ll move the needle enough (unless he slips quite a bit, which sometimes happens with mid-level goalies).
GUYS I STRONGLY RECOMMEND VALUE-WISE
While Lundqvist and Rask would be worth a high pick in the right format, I generally make the plunge later in hopes of grabbing better values. (Frankly, there are only so many guys with a chance to score 100 points while the goaltending position is remarkably erratic). Judging by rankings and public opinion, my general experience is that these guys are great from a “bang for the buck” standpoint:
Corey Crawford - Crawford could flirt with 40 wins this season. He lost 10 games beyond regulation in 2013-14, so if he can win just a few more of those and start closer to 65 games (after never starting more than 56), he could nudge in that direction. While he's not a superstar in save percentage, he’s quietly been better than most would probably assume. Crawford is the fantasy hockey version of one of Peyton Manning’s favorite receivers; sure, his situation hugely inflates his numbers … but why should you care?
Braden Holtby - I’m not alone in spotting big-time value in Holtby, as you can see from Kevin Brown’s preseason notebook. It shouldn't be difficult to figure out why: Holtby's quietly put up pretty fantastic career numbers (.919 save percentage, some excellent work before 2013-14 in particular) for a guy who's making a pittance at just $1.85 million. He's in a contract year and could be the biggest beneficiary of Barry Trotz's Defensive Genius™ … or if nothing else, he may benefit from a clean slate after Adam Oates kept tampering with him.
(Seriously, Oates is a pretty bright hockey mind, but he was pretty much a disaster.)
If you can grab Holtby in a value spot, you’ll have a good laugh and put yourself in a great position to reap some nice rewards. I don’t think Washington should be a juggernaut, but Holtby’s a guy I’ve grabbed in more than one draft … though he usually goes fast in “expert” ones.
(Again, because he’s a great value.)
In many formats, Holtby’s one of my favorite overall steals and a very nice No. 2 goalie.
Roberto Luongo - Despite all the drama (and funny Tweets), he's still building a Hall of Fame resume. Florida could be OK or bad as usual, but in the weak East, a goalie as steady as Luongo should churn out solid stats. Besides, all the negative press and lack of buzz around the Panthers means he can drop into the 90s/100s. Easier to deal with warts there, if you ask me.
Jaroslav Halak - That said, Halak is ranked criminally low and is absolutely worth adding to your queue and grabbing way early. He's essentially been as steady as Ryan Miller save percentage-wise and is on what I believe to be a suddenly quite good Islanders team. He should deliver outstanding value in that Luongo range, and I’d honestly take Halak first.
Again, I acknowledge that Halak has his issues - injuries among the leading ones - yet I’d rather load up on star skaters and only slightly lower my odds of getting good goalies.
To review, here are my strongest recommendations
The True Elites - Lundqvist and Rask.
Highly Worthwhile Second-Tier - Price, Bishop and Crawford
Watch to see if they drop - Pekka Rinne, Fleury and Niemi
Glorious Sleepers - Holtby, Luongo, Halak
Nice Third Goalies Super-late John Gibson/Frederik Andersen (not both, I’d lean toward Gibson) and Darcy Kuemper. Logic: It’s one thing to gamble on a timeshare or shaky situation with a high pick. But potential No. 1 goalies on good teams? OK, I can justify dropping an 11th-round pick on that.
Sweet setup: Really, if you could get Crawford, Holtby and Halak/Gibson/Kuemper while loading up on premium skaters, I think you’d be in great shape.
Sweetest setup: If you end up with that goalie group, a competitive set of forwards and favored defensemen Erik Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Burns, Radko Gudas and Dion Phaneuf, you might just get a sweaty hug.
Jump to the next page for doom and gloom.
VARLY AND THE OTHER BLOWOUT VICTIMS
Of all the confidence-shakers from the past two nights, I’d peg the Colorado Avalanche throwing Semyon Varlamov to the wolves (er, the Minnesota Wild) as the most troubling. After reading some defiant quotes from Patrick Roy that seemed to more or less scream “Varly can handle it,” Minnesota outshot Colorado by a ridiculous 48-16 last night, including 17-5 in the first period and 21-8 in the second. The Wild only went on the power play twice, so it's not as if lopsided special teams explain this.
Again, there’s ZERO chance that the Avalanche will get obliterated to that degree every night, but Colorado is unlikely to sustain last season's success living on the same luck (they allowed the sixth-worst shots against per game with 32.7 per night while only producing 29.5 of their own ... the Florida Panthers were better in that regard but lacked basically any of the Avs' luck). While players have made more sober comments about improving defense, Roy’s focus seems to be on “compete level” tripe instead of, you know, not allowing his goalie to get buried under a hail of shots. This isn’t exactly the start his defenders were hoping for.
Varlamov's O-Rank is 29 and he's highly ranked in various areas. I actually really like his talent, but goaltending numbers are impacted ENORMOUSLY by situation, and I just don't see Varly reproducing his astounding work from last season. Even in saves leagues he's not worth a pick where you could instead grab a guy like Zach Parise or James Neal.
This isn’t me hitting the panic button. This is me saying “don’t bother.”
Quicker bits on the other victims
-- When Mike Smith was fighting for an NHL job, I thought he could be pretty good … but he’s basically being asked to produce elite work in Arizona (still weird not to say Phoenix, right?). Simply put, I don’t think Smith has what it takes to shoulder the Coyotes’ burden. Not only does his injury history and erratic play worry me, but the Coyotes boast one of (if not the) most impotent offensive units in the NHL. Seriously, the Buffalo Sabres are in their ballpark and they’re trying to be bad.
The “Dave Tippett’s system will help him grind out OK stats” argument is fine enough, but I’d rather go with someone with more upside, especially in formats where he’s given a pretty high ranking.
-- The good news for the Edmonton Oilers and Coyotes is that they could probably lay a good amount of blame for their struggles on their goalies. The Coyotes probably need to chalk up some of their slight shot win to score effects and the Oilers were playing against a bad Calgary Flames team coming off a Wednesday loss to Vancouver, but … hey, at least things didn’t look as bad as they did for the Avalanche. Either way, I wouldn’t bother with a Ben Scrivens - Viktor Fasth timeshare, even if I think there’s a chance that one of them might emerge as merely “close to league average.”
(Granted, I thought there was a chance that Devan Dubnyk might redeem himself last season, so … just stay away from Edmonton.)
-- Stay away from Steve Mason. Please. For your own mental health. I could see Philly outscoring its problems here and there, yet I doubt he’ll come out of that situation with pretty numbers.