Best in the West (2016)

by Doran Libin on July 25, 2016

The Best in the West – who are the best fantasy goalies in the Western Conference?

 

‘Best in the West ‘returns for a second year starting with the best goalies in the Western Conference. Goalies cannot be judged strictly on individual talent, because even though that is very important a very good goalie on a bad team can quickly become a mediocre fantasy goalie. That could happen for two reasons: first, because of the role that wins play in fantasy scoring for goalies, and second, because bad defensive teams allow more shots in general and more shots from high danger areas. Elite goalies, such as Roberto Luongo during his first stint in Florida, can make it work by replacing wins with saves, and keep their value but for the most part goalies in these situations struggle. Conversely goalies on good teams can have sub par seasons and still rank amongst the top fantasy goalies. For example Jonathan Quick was 22nd in the league in save percentage amongst goalies who played 30 or more games but was still a top fantasy goalie because he plays on a very good defensive team.  

 

Top 5

5. Martin Jones

Jones went from being the back-up to Quick in Los Angeles to his own starting job in San Jose and ended up taking his team to the Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks allowed the second lowest rate of shots per 60 minutes last year as Pete de Boer got the team back on track after the 2014/15 season in which they allowed nearly 30 shots per 60 minutes. Jones and the Sharks have had a very similar last three seasons book-ending a bad 2014/15 season with good seasons in 2013/14 and 2015/16. For the Sharks last season marked a turn around as their play had been slipping as they tried to find an answer to winning in the playoffs. For Quick his turn around season was not that of an elite starting goalie. He started the season well but finished with a slightly above league average season. He only managed to turn in a quality start in 55% of his games last season and had a pedestrian .918 save percentage. Jones’ only needs to maintain this level of goaltending be a high-end fantasy starter as long as the Sharks maintain their stellar defensive play. The possible kink here is that Pete de Boer traditionally has his best year in his first year as team’s coach, however unless the Sharks fall off a cliff  they will still be good next year, especially if they get a full year of Logan Couture.

 

4. Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Quick is the original Martin Jones. Over the last three seasons the Kings have routinely been amongst the best shot-suppression teams in the leagues. They have the second, fourth and 1tth best shot-suppression seasons over the last three year.  That alone makes Quick a high-end fantasy goalie, especially in leagues where wins are paramount. Many of the top starting goalies post save percentages over 920 while many in the conversation for the Vezina trophy are up around .930. Quick however has only been slightly above an average goalie posting a .918%, a mark he has hovered around in each of the last three seasons. Quick also has a low quality start% percentage as he has not been above 56% in the last four years, whereas most top starting goalies are over 60%. If Quick were not on the Kings, a perennial top team, he would not feature on this list. As an example Mike Smith posted a .916 save percentage but faced four more shots per game and only won half his games whereas Quick won two-thirds of his games. Quick is no Mike Smith but it is something to consider about how a team’s defensive system a fantasy goalie’s value.

 

3. Devan Dubnyk

This is a bet on Bruce Boudreau. Last year Dubnyk appeared atop this list based on the Wild’s history of being one of the best defenses in the league. The Wild have not always been the best shot suppression team in the league but they have a history limiting the number of high danger shots they give up. That trend continued last year as they continued their stellar defensive ways allowing under two goals per 60 minutes. The difference last year was that the Wild went back to being a team that could not score, making their scoring touch during the 2014/15 season look like a fluke. Bring in Bruce Boudreau, a coach with a knack for getting the most offensively out of his team and you have a recipe for a big season for the Wild as a whole. In Anaheim Boudreau was able to raise the Ducks’ offensive game without sacrificing their defensive game, hence they were seventh in the league in shots against per 60 minutes over the last three seasons. Expecting Dubnyk to at least match his numbers from last season while seeing his wins increase significantly is well within reason. After last season it is safe to say that the 2103/14 season, a debacle for Dubnyk, was the outlier not the rest of his career. For the most part Dubnyk has been a league average goalie, whereas last year he was right in the Martin/Quick neighbourhood.

 

2. Jake Allen

With Brian Elliott being traded to Calgary that opens up the St Louis net to Allen once and for all. St Louis is another team that plays outstanding defense by limiting shots and thus limiting goals against. The Blues were a top 10 in shots against, goals and expected goals per 60 minutes over the last three years. There are question marks though as Elliott has been the star in the St Louis nets for the majority of the last three years with Allen only having one above average season in the last years.  Allen has only played only played more than 30 games in two of those seasons, so the sample size is very small. The good news is that Allen is trending in the right direction as in 2015/16 he posted his best save percentage and highest percentage of quality starts. With a save percentage of .920 and nearly 60% quality starts Allen was in the neighbourhood of the upper tier starters in the league. With the Blues replacing Elliott with Carter Hutton there is no longer a second option who can carry even a platoon starter role meaning that the Blues will have no choice but to stick with Allen as long as he is healthy. This means that there is finally a chance that a St Louis goalie plays 60 games in a season and that Allen, as that goalie, could win between 35 and 40 games.

 

1. Corey Crawford

Crawford has posted a save percentage in the neighbourhood of .925 in three of the last four seasons, and in the other season he was still above average at .917.  There used to be a lot of talk about the Crawford being the weak link on Chicago but there can be no longer be any doubters. The Blackhawks defense has been getting progressively worse over the last three seasons and Crawford has stepped up to counter that trend. The Blackhawks look to have recognized that a big part of their problem is their depleted defense corps and made a big move to address that this offseason with the acquisition of Brian Campbell. Campbell gives the Blackhawks four legitimate top four defensemen and an option to pair with either Hjalmarsson or Seabrook. This was the recipe that led to the Blackhawks being a perennial even strength powerhouse and should stabilize the defense. If Crawford can continue to provide stellar goaltending while the Blackhawks get back to allowing close to 27 shots per game again, as opposed to the nearly 30 shots per game they allowed last season, Crawford could turn in a Vezina season as long as the offense holds. He already won more than 70% of his starts on 69% quality starts, which was good for the highest percentage of quality starts amongst goalies who played more than 20 games. With all the developments in Chicago this could be the year Crawford wins 40 games, assuming he finally plays 60 games.

 

Honourable Mentions

John Gibson

Gibson was considered for this list because his numbers are very impressive having been at least league average in all three of the seasons of which he has seen a portion. Were Bruce Boodreau still the coach of the Ducks Gibson probably makes the list ahead of Quick and Jones, however Randy Carlyle just does not have the same track record. Sure he won a cup with the Ducks but as good as the Ducks’ defense corps is they do not have two defensemen of the same ilk as Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. The Ducks are also rumoured to be losing one of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm or Cam Fowler, they can thank Kevin Bieksa’s contract for that, and as such the defense corps as a whole will no doubt be weaker even with the arrival of Shea Theodore. Between skepticism of Randy Carlyle as a coach and the weakening of the defense corps due to poor cap management the Ducks just do not look to be as good defensively as they were in past seasons.

 

Brian Elliott

Calgary’s defense seemed worse than it actually was last season because their goaltending was absolutely atrocious. The Flames allowed one more shot per 60 minutes than the Blues which and their expected goals against was 0.2 expected goals worse per 60 minutes than the Blues. That is not a proportionate rise, which means that the Flames give up more dangerous scoring chances than do the Blues.  That will make it hard for Elliott to repeat his performance from last year but there are lots of question marks in Calgary with the coaching change this summer. Bob Hartley’s system did not utilize the Flames’ best attributes well. Hartley took the puck out of the hands of the Flames’ very talented defense and had them firing homerun passes that got routinely wound up being the equivalent of dump outs. If Glen Gulutzan finds a way to better get the defense involved in sparking the offense through transition it should allow the Flames to better tilt the ice away from their end. Doing would lessen the weight that Elliott is required to carry and enable him to at least finish in the nieghbourhood of last season, otherwise Elliott could look more like a league average goalie.  A league average goalie could make the Flames a playoff team and that in itself would help Elliott retain a good portion of his fantasy value.