The Backup Battles

Justin Goldman

2011-08-15

Emery

 

In last week's School of Block, I discussed different elements that make up a steady and reliable backup. Then I gave hints on which of those perfect backups would have the best fantasy value for one-year leagues. And when I looked out across the NHL goalie battlefield this morning, I saw three key fights ready to ignite when training camps begin in just one more month.

 

In St. Louis, Brian Elliott and Ben Bishop will clash to see who plays behind Jaroslav Halak. In Chicago, it's a full-blown boxing match between Ray Emery and Alex Salak. Finally, and maybe of most importance to fantasy managers, there's chaos to contemplate in terms of who backs up Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly.

 

Before I get started on breaking down the battles, however, I wanted to introduce you to a very exciting project I published today called the Periodic Table of Goaltending Elements. This infographic is a visual representation of how I scout and evaluate a goaltender during a game. I am revealing 2-3 elements each day as a way to celebrate the return of hockey, so feel free to follow along!

 

ELLIOTT VS. BISHOP

 

Let's start with the battle between two Blues goalies in Bishop and Elliott. I feel that Elliott has the experience and skills needed to win the job. More important to the battle, however, is the fact that his back has been against the wall many times before at the NHL level. It's a far cry from the zero times Bishop has been in this type of situation, so I think overall NHL experience is a major tipping point.

 

Not only that, but both goalies are at totally different stages of development. Elliott is, at the very least, a legit backup. But Bishop is still at a stage where he's taking his skills to the next level and improving in areas such as rebound control, reading plays and tracking pucks through traffic. Elliott could stand to improve a bit in those areas as well, but he has already proved he can play extremely well.

 

But Elliott is coming off an abysmal season, one that saw him go 13-19-8 with a 3.19 goals-against average and .894 save percentage in Ottawa, then 2-8-1 with a 3.83 GAA and .891 SP% in Colorado. Even though those stats don't even come close to reflecting what Elliott is truly capable of doing, I still don't see him having much fantasy value behind Halak. So by playing sporadically behind a much more reliable and consistent Halak this season, Elliott will probably post a GAA just below 2.90 and right around a .905 SP%.

 

Overall, I feel Elliott will raise his game high enough in camp to win the job, whereas the odds are lower that Bishop plays beyond expectations and the Blues keep him in St. Louis. But regardless of who wins, neither one's fantasy value will really be worth owning.

 

SALAK VS. EMERY

 

Everyone knows I'm a big fan of Salak's skills, but even I can't go against Emery in this matchup. The Blackhawks, knowing they lack an experienced backup, clearly invited Emery to try out for a reason; they want a "for sure" thing, not a "most likely" thing. In wise fashion, not signing Emery until he proves he can play like he did in Anaheim forces both goalies to truly earn and win the backup role.

 

This battle is significant because Corey Crawford, for as good as he was last season, still has to prove he can handle the pressure of being a starter all season long. Many goalies ultimately struggle under this weight, so odds are good that whoever backs him up will have a significant fantasy impact. It doesn't help th