Capped: Value the Backups

by Alexander MacLean on October 27, 2016
  • Capped
  • Capped: Value the Backups

This week's Capped discusses how to pull the most value out of a backup goalie, as well as a couple names to look into.

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Two weeks into the season, and we have already seen a lot more of the backup goalies than we were all expecting. Most often, a starting goalie will see the first two or three starts, with the backup then getting one game. Following that, the starter is usually back in for the next handful of games, meaning we don’t see much of the backups early on. So far, there have been a few shutouts and a lot of wins from the backup goaltenders around the league. From Philipp Grubauer’s 18-save shutout, to the disastrous few games out of Jeff Zatkoff and Marek Mazanec, here’s what you need to know for the backup goalies moving forward.

Typically, the 10-points-per-million-dollar benchmark is used as a bar for performance of a skater in a salary cap league. For goalies though, there really isn’t a set ratio like that. Through browsing the Capfriendly players’ section from the last two years, it seems as though an approximate line could be drawn around the five-wins-per-million-dollar mark for a starting goalie, and at 15 wins per million for a backup goalie. The value of the starters based on standard league categories comes from their much larger contribution to winning the Goals-Against-Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (Sv%) stats. These stats require consistency plus a certain amount of volume that just is not there from a backup goalie.

The real value to be found is when a backup goalie is filling in for an injured starter, and thus doubles his expected games played for the season. Examples such as Louis Domingue, Joonas Kopisalo and Tomas Greiss were some of the most valuable last season due to injuries to Mike Smith, Sergei Bobrovsky and Jaroslav Halak respectively. With Jonathan Quick down with the groin injury already, we have seen the first case of a goalie thrust into the full time spotlight this season. Unfortunately, Zatkoff has been unable to shoulder the load, and his groin gave out as well (he is slated to return next week). This paved the way for Peter Budaj to come in with a nice start to his LA Kings career. Budaj however, cannot be trusted long term. Los Angeles is likely looking into trade options, but in the meantime, it is a situation to avoid. Al Montoya filled in admirably for Carey Price, as he was out with the flu, posting two wins and a shutout through three games. The last one up to this point is Domingue, who is filling in for Mike Smith (again!) after he hurt his left leg in a net-front scramble a week and a half ago.

As mentioned above, the backups that can get into more games become the more valuable ones. If they can start anywhere over 30 games, then it puts them close to the starters in terms of having real large value in the GAA and Sv% categories too. So who will get into these games, and who will have the most value as a result? Here are some of the top contenders:

Chad Johnson  –  Calgary Flames

Contract  –  $1,700,000 cap hit

Chad Johnson may have a cap hit slightly above average for a backup goalie, but his numbers over the last few years have been good enough to warrant it. Brought in as half of the changing of the guard in the Calgary net, along with Brian Elliott, expectations for Johnson this season were limited. However, some of the fantasy community has quietly been chanting Johnson’s name all summer because of Elliott’s injury history. Over the last five years, Elliott has played at most 46 games. Say we see another 46 games out of Elliott this season, which leaves 35 for Johnson to show what he can do. Through three appearances to this point, Johnson has had a mix of results. Calgary on the whole seems to need a few games to gel though. By the end of the year, Johnson should be one of the most valuable backups.

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Carter Hutton (G)  –  St. Louis Blues

Contract  –  $1,125,000 cap hit

On the flip side of the Brian Elliott/Jake Allen duo in St. Louis from last season, Allen is now the full-time starter. Carter Hutton was then signed in July to be the steady backup. After a few years of having goalie controversies come playoff time, St. Louis was looking for a steady presence as their backup goalie. Ideally they wanted someone who could fill in when needed, but wouldn’t have the pedigree to get into a controversy over who the number one goalie actually is. Enter Hutton, as he fills the exact need in St. Louis. After backing up Pekka Rinne over the last few years, we know exactly what to expect from Hutton. He filled in well over half a season when Rinne went down with a hip procedure and the subsequent infection. He is a perfect backup goalie for a contending team like St. Louis.

Now the other thing about the goalie controversies in St. Louis from years prior, is that any time one of Allen or Elliott would heat up, they would get hurt, and the other would take over. So Allen has in the past lost the title of the starting goalie due to injury on multiple occasions. Is it guaranteed that Allen gets hurt again? No. However, there is a higher chance for Hutton to see 30+ games, than there would be with a lot of other teams and their healthy goalies. Whenever Allen is healthy though, the crease is his, without question. But in the odd spot start, Carter Hutton will be getting the easier matchups, behind one of the best teams in the league. There is some real value to be found here.

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Calvin Pickard (G)  –  Colorado Avalanche

Contract  –  $894,167 Cap hit

It seems as though everyone is talking about the goaltending situations in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, but one of the more interesting ones to monitor could be in Colorado. Calvin Pickard has looked great over the last few years in his limited action, and could be in a position to take over the starting job soon. Incumbent starter Semyon Varlamov has had his share of ups and downs, as well as having a history with groin injuries. Sergei Bobrovsky and Jonathan Quick are two other starting goalies that have had groin injuries, and based on their example, those kind of issues never seem to go away. With some solid play, and a little bit of luck, Calvin Pickard could see upwards of 30 starts for a Colorado team that seems to have an extra jump after former (controversial) head coach Patrick Roy stepped down.

The other thing hanging over this goaltending pairing for Colorado is that if both are kept, one will likely be selected by the new Las Vegas team in the expansion draft. Therefore, we could see a trade coming. From Colorado’s point of view, moving forward with the young and cheap Pickard as the starter may make more sense. Either way though, if there is a deal to be made where either Varlamov or Pickard are shipped out of town, then Pickard will be in line for more starts as the season rolls on.

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Linus Ullmark (G)  –  Buffalo Sabres (AHL)

Contract  –  $775,833 Cap hit

As a bonus for those of you in deeper leagues, I will share a personal hunch of mine (maybe a bit of a longshot). By the end of the season, we will see Linus Ullmark having appeared in over 30 games for the Buffalo Sabres. Current starter Robin Lehner just cannot stay healthy, and the backup Anders Nilsson cannot seem to hold down the fort well enough to keep a gig (though he did have a solid game Tuesday night with Lehner out with the flu). This would cue Linus Ullmark, the first goalie on Buffalo’s speed dial as soon as something goes wrong; and for good reason. Ullmark may just be the most talented goalie Buffalo has at the moment. In 20 games for Buffalo last season, Ullmark won eight games, while putting up a GAA of 2.60 and a Sv% of 0.913%. These are generally fairly average numbers, but with the atrocious defensive game that Buffalo displayed last year, Ullmark’s numbers look a lot more impressive. It may be a bit of a reach, but in some cases Ullmark could be the big jump that some teams need come mid-season.

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Moving back to some other general notes, there are a couple other situations worth monitoring in the goalie world. Obviously the Los Angeles Kings are in the market for a starter after their top two goalies both went down with groin injuries. Who do they target though? Ondrej Pavelec, Reto Berra and Jonathan Bernier (who left Tuesday night’s game with an injury) are the names being tossed around the most. As a few of the other writers have stated in the ramblings over the last few days, Berra seems to make the most sense in terms of the salary, and with what it would likely cost to acquire him. The have signed Anders Lindback to a tryout contract. This will only fill the organizational void at the lower levels until Zatkoff is healthy again next week. Move along, nothing to see here.

Over in Winnipeg, even with the demotion of Ondrej Pavelec, the goalie situation doesn’t seem to be getting much clearer, with Michael Hutchinson splitting time with the young star Connor Hellebuyck (who is still on his entry level deal). For those who drafted or were fortunate enough to pick up Hellebuyck, stay patient. He is the future in net, and the more talented of the two. Pavelec is being shopped in the meantime, but it seems as though he is not being sold cheap. He makes a nice backup option for Winnipeg should injuries occur.

The most recent Stanley Cup winning goaltender, Matt Murray, is back at practice with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and should start seeing game action again soon. With that, Mike Condon would be sent back down to the AHL. Once that comes to pass, the situations of the two-headed monsters in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay will be worth monitoring closely. With Las Vegas and the expansion draft looming, a trade is very possible of one of the top goalies on those two teams, thus bringing some fantasy relevance to Condon and Kristers Gudlevskis (the third stringer in Tampa).