Only two more weekends and then the NHL season arrives! If you haven’t had your draft already, it’s coming soon, and time to brush up on everything you need to know for the season is running out. Get to the Dobber Shop to get your copy of the 2018-19 Dobber Hockey fantasy guide now!
For those with Max Domi drafted already or in their dynasty leagues: he was suspended for the preseason for his sucker-punch on Aaron Ekblad. No regular season games. The punishment is hilarious, but fantasy-wise, it means nothing. Moving on.
After signing his contract two days ago, Sam Reinhart returned to Sabres practice yesterday. He did not, however, line up with Jack Eichel. That spot was left to Jason Pominville, while Reinhart was skating alongside Patrik Berglund. The plot thickens.
Interesting Leafs note to pass along:
Mike Babcock says the original plan was for Auston Matthews to move to net-front on the power play this season. But in recruitment process, John Tavares was asked where he’d like to play on and he replied net-front. That’s the look the Leafs plan to start with.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 20, 2018
The problem for some Leafs players over the last couple years has been PP production; the Marner unit was great, the Matthews unit was not.
Reading between the lines here, once their exhibition rosters resemble someone we might see opening night, could the Leafs move to a heavily-used top PP unit, rather than splitting units we’ve seen under Babcock? If all the Leafs top offensive players were on one PP quintet, rather than two, it would significantly change the fantasy outlook for a few of them, namely Auston Matthews and William Nylander (once he signs). It would also hurt whichever defenceman is not on that unit.
We’ll have to wait and see.
Let’s talk goalies for a second.
Fantasy hockey owners are a pretty savvy bunch of hockey fans but the ability to project goaltenders is still an issue for all of us. It’s still an issue for NHL teams, too.
Let’s take a look at different sources around the industry for goaltender rankings prior to the 2017-18 season:
- theScore: 1) Sergei Bobrovsky, 2) Braden Holtby, 3) Devan Dubnyk, 4) Matt Murray, 5) Carey Price, 6) Cam Talbot
- ESPN: 1) Braden Holtby, 2) Carey Price, 3) Matt Murray, 4) Sergei Bobrovsky, 5) Cam Talbot, 6) Martin Jones
- The Hockey News: 1) Braden Holtby, 2) Carey Price, 3) Matt Murray, 4) Sergei Bobrovsky, 5) Cam Talbot, 6) John Gibson
From those three sources, eight unique goaltenders were ranked among the top-6 goalies. How many of these eight unique goalies finished as a top-6 goaltender in a standard Yahoo! league? Precisely one: Bobrovsky. Gibson and Dubnyk were both top-10 goaltenders, the only others of the bunch to finish in the top-15.
In fairness to us here at Dobber, our draft list had just one goalie ranked in the top-6 to finish as a top-6 goalie (Bobrovsky), but also had Rask and Dubnyk at least finish among the top-12 at the position.
This is just a single-season sample, but the turnover at the top is persistent. Among top-6 goalies in 2016-17, only one also finished as a top-6 goalie in 2017-18 (Bobrovsky).
Goaltender is a very difficult position to forecast. There is a lot of randomness, even when facing 2000 shots, and this randomness can hurt: Brian Elliott had a .926 save percentage at even strength last year, the same as Jonathan Quick and Devan Dubnyk. He had an .812 save percentage on the PK however, which murdered his overall save percentage. Elliott hadn’t had a PKSV% that low in nearly a decade, had been at least .873 every year since the lockout, and his previous three seasons were .873, .907, and .881.
There’s a whole other argument about a goaltender’s ability to make saves on the PK that I’m not qualified to debate. All the same, had Elliott’s PKSV% been anywhere near his last three or four years, we’re having a different conversation about his fantasy ranking today.
That’s why I’m very wary of any goaltending drafting ‘strategy.’
“Just draft goaltenders off good teams.”
Ok, we did that last year. Some people thought Edmonton would be good, but sorry about those Talbot shares. Even when the team is good (Washington won the Stanley Cup!), it’s no guarantee of goalie performance.
“Draft goalies with a reliable history.”
“Grab those shares of young goalies on the rise!”
Matt Murray in 2017-18, Connor Hellebuyck in 2016-17, Petr Mrazek for both those seasons. Maybe you get John Gibson but with Anaheim’s aging and injured core, how good do you really feel about him this year?
I’m not agnostic about goaltending. Some goalies are more talented than others and these goalies become regular starters while others fight for jobs. All I’m saying is that when you’re trying to predict how 50(ish) goalies will perform in the course of a single season, it is very hard to do so with any sort of confidence. If I draft Patrick Kane in the second round, I can feel pretty confident in the fact that he won’t completely bust. If he’s healthy, Kane will almost certainly give you 25 goals, 70 points, three shots a game, and 20+ PPPs. If I draft Braden Holtby, Frederik Andersen, or Pekka Rinne in the second round, can I have the same sort of confidence? Not a chance.
I do target starters from teams I think will be playoff teams. I just won’t spend a top pick on them. I won’t have many teams with Andrei Vasilevskiy or Connor Hellebuyck, but I will have a lot of teams with Tuukka Rask, John Gibson, and Martin Jones.
One type of league that I will say my attitude differs is in leagues that count totals rather than ratios. That is to say, for example, leagues that count total saves rather than save percentage. Frederik Andersen may not post an elite save percentage, but he’ll play a lot of minutes for a high-scoring team that should play at a high pace. That means a lot of shots, which in turn means a lot of saves. A .918 save percentage might not stand out, but 2000 saves will.
Anyway, I’d like to hear thoughts from the Dobber community on this. What are your approaches for drafting goaltenders?
Real-time stats like hits and blocked shots are very important to fantasy value. Hits are now part of Yahoo! standard leagues and hits/blocks are becoming more and more prevalent. I wanted to provide a handful of defencemen to target late in drafts. Once the top-40 or top-50 defencemen are off the board, pickings get slim, and guys that can help in these categories can help fill the void left by more offensive defencemen that might leave a void in one or both. Someone like Erik Karlsson doesn’t provide a lot of hits while Oliver Ekman-Larsson doesn’t provide a lot of blocks. Filling these stats later is paramount to a balanced fantasy roster.
Robert Hagg (Philadelphia)
While we just have a one-year sample to work with here, Hagg’s real-time stats were incredible for just 70 games at 18 minutes a night. He managed 100 blocked shots and a massive 238 hits. He finished top-10 in the league in hits, just 40 back of Nikita Zadorov despite playing over 220 fewer minutes than the Other Big Z. A full season at 19-20 minutes a night should only help not only replicate but improve those numbers.
Jakob Chychrun (Arizona)
He may be a popular pick among some people but the fact remains by ADP across the major sites, he’s not being drafted with any regularity even in 15-team leagues with six defencemen on the roster. For his career (118 games), Chychrun is averaging 119 hits and 127 blocked shots every 82 games. The concern about knee issues and his readiness for the season are legitimate questions, but he’s not a guy who will really have any cost on draft day. In 12-team leagues, you can literally get him with your last pick. If things don’t look rosy after the first few weeks, you can cut bait and hit the waiver wire. But if things go right, he can put up 30 points with triple digits in both real-time stat categories.
Neal Pionk (NY Rangers)
Unless some streak of incredibly good luck hits Manhattan, the Rangers are going to be bad this year. They’ll have a good top line, good top PP unit, a couple exciting young players, but they’ll likely be bad. The upside to playing for a bad team is lots of opportunities for hits and blocked shots. Those to things only occur when you don’t have the puck and the Rangers figure not to have the puck a lot this year. Pionk had over 40 hits and over 40 blocks in just 28 games last year, not to mention 14 points and nearly two shots a game. The plus/minus is an issue but even 25 points with stout peripherals should help deeper fantasy rosters.
He just needs to make the team.
Alec Martinez (Los Angeles)
It wasn’t long ago this guy was considered a top-40 defenceman in fantasy leagues. Even after the addition of Dion Phaneuf around Valentine’s Day, Martinez still managed over 22 minutes a game for 26 games, totalling 34 hits and 52 blocked shots. He will likely surpass triple digits in both categories again this year and can do so while posting 25-30 points. His declining shot total is a concern but with a healthy Jeff Carter and addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, hopefully this team is a bit deeper offensively, which should help Martinez generate more offence.
Stephen Johns (Dallas)
I’ve written about Johns a couple times this year, but I wanted to note him again because I’m cooling off a little on him right now. Dallas’s game a couple days ago against St. Louis had Miro Heiskanen skating with John Klingberg and then a defence pair of Esa Lindell and Julius Honka. That could conceivably be the top two pairs for Dallas, which means less ice time for Johns. He’s still cheap in drafts so it’s not a season-killer if he doesn’t pan out. We’ll see how the defence pairs slot here soon.