Now that the NHL postseason, draft, and the thick of free agency have all come and gone, are you looking for something to fill the hockey void? You don’t have to wait any longer. The 15th annual Fantasy Hockey Guide is now available! Tons of articles as well as projections, both team-by-team and on a spreadsheet, all aimed toward making your upcoming fantasy season a successful one. To get yours, order it here.
As I did last season, I wrote the Penalty Minutes Producers (now also including hits) and the Goalies to Watch articles. The latter article isn't a list of the top 10 goalies in fantasy hockey, because many of those names will be obvious. Instead, this article is about goalies that could perform surprisingly better than last season, or prospect goalies that could be ready to step in with an injury to the starter. In other words, I'm hoping these are the savvy picks that could make a difference in your fantasy league, or will at least have someone in your league's draft chat saying "nice pick" or "dammit, I had him as my next pick!"
I'll take this opportunity to reflect on five of my picks from last season's article, one year later. This isn't necessarily me tooting my own horn and showing off my best picks. It's just an honest assessment of what I said and where these goalies stand a year later.
From the top, in alphabetical order:
You received volume out of Blackwood if you drafted him, as he started nearly three times as many games (47) as the Devils' next-busiest goalie (Louis Domingue, 16 GP). Even though the Devils were a defensive tire fire overall (3.25 team GAA), Blackwood's 2.77 GAA was around the middle of the pack and his .915 SV% was slightly above average among 57 goalies that played at least 20 games. With a positive goals-saved above average of 7.29, Blackwood made the Devils a better team when he was between the pipes. He wasn't carrying your fantasy team, but he was at least playable when the Devils weren't competitive.
Blackwood doesn't stand to be quite as busy in 2020-21 with Corey Crawford now in the fold. He can likely be drafted at a bargain-basement price, but he could provide solid ratios now that he won't be pressured to start as often.
I cited both Philipp Grubauer's lack of track record as a starter and Francouz's run as a starter in Europe as reasons to consider him. As it turned out, Francouz started nearly as many games (34) as Grubauer (36), but that had a lot to do with the multiple injuries that sidelined Grubauer during the season. In the end, Francouz finished the season with the stronger numbers (2.41 GAA, .923 SV%) than Grubauer (2.63 GAA, .916 SV%). The postseason was a completely different animal, though, as Grubauer was lights-out (7 GP, 1.87 GAA, .922 SV%) before another injury sidelined him. Then Francouz took over, and the results were less than impressive (3.23 GAA, .892 SV%).
Grubauer should enter the season as the starter. Since the Avalanche are on a shortlist of Stanley Cup favorites, Francouz is one of the better backups to own if you need wins. Francouz was eventually sidelined himself with an injury during the Avalanche's second-round series with Dallas, which may have something to do with his poor playoff showing (remember when Michael Hutchinson was starting Game 7?) Despite what I said in the tweet back in August, don't let that sour you on Francouz.
Hart may have been brought up too quickly because of the Flyers' volatile goalie situation in 2018-19 (eight goalies used!) However, in 2019-20 he proved he was ready for prime time, posting a 2.42 GAA and .914 SV%. Hart was even better in the postseason, posting a 2.23 GAA and a .926 SV% for a Flyers team that was able to stick around in the playoffs in spite of some scoring droughts. Hart had already been owned in many dynasty leagues at the time of his callup, since he was one of the league's top goalie prospects.
With Brian Elliott returning in what should likely be a pure backup role, Hart should be penciled in as a top-10 goalie in games played and wins. Keeper leaguers who have been patient with Hart all this time should be able to reap the rewards. This may have been too obvious a choice on my part, but not all of these picks need to be deep digs.
Khudobin will be remembered most for his outstanding performance in the 2019-20 return to play, leading the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final. So it may surprise you that Khudobin was actually better during the regular season. Among 57 goalies that played at least 20 games, Khudobin's .930 SV% was the best in the entire league, while his 2.22 GAA was third. Yet he would have been ignored in many fantasy leagues because Ben Bishop was considered the starter in Dallas.
Khudobin isn't a secret anymore, which means you won't be able to add him in the final rounds of your draft or on the waiver wire as Bishop insurance. Bishop may still be the de facto starter and may still earn the larger paycheck ($4.9 million to $3.3 million), but this could very easily be a 50-50 split. Not just because Khudobin has earned it, but also to reduce the probability of another Bishop injury.
Even though he came off a so-so season in Colorado in 2018-19 (2.87 GAA, .909 SV%), I recommended Varlamov here because he was entering the super-goalie-friendly system of Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn. Although Varlamov didn't finish with Vezina-caliber numbers and split starts with Thomas Greiss for much of the season, he improved on his numbers (2.62 GAA, .914 SV%). He also guided the Islanders to a conference final with a 2.14 GAA and .921 SV%, a sign that things could be even better.
Even though Greiss has signed with Detroit, Varlamov will have even more competition with prospect Ilya Sorokin coming to North American and Cory Schneider looking to keep his career afloat. If Sorokin starts the season in the AHL (he is waivers exempt), then Varlamov should hold the lion's share of starts again. That should make him a reliable G2 option with upside in 12-team leagues.
Call Michael Hutchinson a recycled Leaf. Toronto has signed the veteran goalie to a two-year, two-way deal with $1.45 million. Leafs fans no doubt remember Hutchinson's time with the Leafs last season, and not for the right reasons. Hutchinson struggled with a 4-9-1 record with a .886 save percentage and 3.66 goals-against average in 15 appearances while Frederik Andersen was sidelined with a neck injury. The Leafs have now stockpiled goalies with NHL experience, as former Sharks backup Aaron Dell was also added this offseason. Andersen and Jack Campbell also remain in the fold.
One day after the Arizona Coyotes relinquished the rights of 2020 draft pick Mitchell Miller, the University of North Dakota decided that he would no longer be a member of their hockey program. The university is not abandoning him completely, allowing him to remain a student. If you think he deserves a second chance, maybe it's better that the second chance comes in the form of an opportunity to rehabilitate as a student/citizen before he can return to competitive hockey.
As for the university's hockey program, they're much like the Coyotes, or any organization these days that is trying to distance themselves from the negative PR that results from associating with someone with a deplorable track record. Public image is enormously critical in marketing nowadays, and UND was going to take a ton of heat if they allowed him to continue playing. It may seem unforgiving, but in 2020 and a social media-driven world, it's a lot more difficult to sweep something like this under the carpet.
I shared more of my thoughts about the Miller situation in yesterday's Ramblings.
Call this another outcome of the current state of the world. The Hockey Hall of Fame will not name a new class for 2021, instead honoring the 2020 class during the 2021 induction celebration. Hopefully things will be more back to normal by then.
The Ontario government has decided not to allow the OHL to have bodychecking. I don't think many hockey fans will agree with the decision, and I'd include myself in that group. With all of the other situations in a game where there will be close contact, I can't see it having a significant impact on COVID cases relative to other player "interactions" (see the thread from the Bobfather). Wouldn't the full face shield be a better alternative? No bodychecking also seems to be an unprecedented change, not to mention an area that government usually doesn't oversee. That all being said, for development purposes it seems better for these boys to play hockey without body contact than not play hockey at all.
Happy Halloween – hopefully it wasn't too compromised by COVID. For more fantasy hockey discussion, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.