Ramblings: The Increased Worth of the Backup Goalie (June 1)

by Ian Gooding on June 1, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: The Increased Worth of the Backup Goalie (June 1)

The Fantasy Prospects Report will be ready in a matter of hours… or maybe by the time you read this! According to Dobber himself, it’ll be ready at 3 pm ET (or noon if you’re like me and you live on the best coast). Get yours here.


Stanley Cup Final news: Patrice Bergeron was absent from Friday’s practice, but he is still expected to play in Game 3 on Saturday. Bergeron has been held without a point in both Games 1 and 2 while being held to just over 16 minutes in Game 2. That lack of production could mean that Bergeron is battling more than a minor injury here, with that information much more likely to surface after the final is complete. Getting production from the top line is critical for the Bruins, and so far the B’s top line has been held to just a Brad Marchand empty-net goal in Game 1 and a David Pastrnak assist in Game 2.

John Moore is expected to replace the injured Matt Grzelcyk in the Bruins’ lineup for Game 3. Moore is expected to be on the third defense pairing alongside Connor Clifton.

Zach Sanford is expected to replace the suspended Oskar Sundqvist in the Blues’ lineup for Game 3. Sanford skated on the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen during Friday’s practice.


The Washington Capitals, NHL, and Evgeny Kuznetsov addressed the video that recently surfaced on social media. You can read their statements and more about the situation at the Washington Post.


Injury news from Long Island: Cal Clutterbuck underwent back surgery, while Andrew Ladd underwent knee surgery. Clutterbuck, who had a stress fracture, two slipped disks, and two rotated vertebrae, is expected to be ready to start training camp. Ladd’s status is more uncertain.


One day after news surfaced that Nikita Zaitsev has requested a trade, yet another story from Toronto has appeared. According to Pierre LeBrun, the Leafs and Kings have discussed a trade involving Patrick Marleau. LA might be a fit because of Marleau’s experience with Todd McLellan, though I don’t know why they would bring in a near-40-year-old in the twilight of his career if a rebuild is in order. Regardless, it appears that the two sides aren’t close to making a deal.

Marleau has one year left at $6.25 million with a full no-move clause, so this would be a great contract for Kyle Dubas to get off the books. Marleau’s production dipped from 27 goals in 2017-18 (his first season with the Leafs) to just 16 goals in 2018-19. He will also turn 40 on September 14.   


Listen to Dobber's own Cam Robinson on Sportsnet 650's latest Prospect Central episode. Cam's story at the beginning about getting media credentials for the draft is particularly interesting, as I was in on the email chain that he describes. I've mentioned this on Twitter before, but I can tell you firsthand that obtaining either media credentials or tickets at an inexpensive price for this draft in Vancouver has been extremely difficult.

This year’s draft is an extremely in-demand event, much more so than the last time the draft was in Vancouver, which was 2006. To give you an idea, I think my friend and I didn't have any problem paying about $10 for a ticket. With more people wanting to go than available seats in Rogers Arena, why couldn't they have held the draft at the usually half-empty (at least for Lions and Whitecaps games) BC Place? Now, it’s a seemingly closed-off event that isn’t even coming close to feeding the appetite for the many hockey fans in Vancouver.


Pierre LeBrun has published a follow-up piece on goalie pitch count (or load management, if you prefer), which can be found over at The Athletic. Since Stanley Cup champions over the past four seasons (including whoever this year’s champion is) have started goalies that played in fewer than 55 games, look for more teams to copy this model. In fact, this trend has already begun.


Goalies with

<= 60 GP








Over the past three seasons, only one goalie has played in over 70 games. That was Cam Talbot, who played 73 games in 2016-17. So consider 70 to no longer be a number that teams are pushing their starters toward.  

There are definitely fantasy implications, so if you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic, here are some goalies mentioned.

Both starting goalies playing in the Stanley Cup Final have played in 50 games. As I mentioned in my Sunday Ramblings, Tuukka Rask played in 46 regular-season games, just six more than Jaroslav Halak. Jordan Binnington, meanwhile, played in a combined 48 games (16 AHL games and 32 NHL games).

Frederik Andersen played in 60 games, down from the 66 he played over the previous two seasons. According to LeBrun, the belief is that the organization’s sport science people would prefer that number to be somewhere in the 50s. Garret Sparks is signed for one more season, but would Mike Babcock trust him enough to play around 25-30 games? Or do the Leafs look elsewhere? There will be a ton of pressure for the Leafs to make it past the first round next season, which is a feat that they haven’t accomplished with Andersen between the pipes.

Carey Price played in 66 games, which was only one less than league-leader Devan Dubnyk. Much of that had to do with the Canadiens’ playoff push later in the season, when starting Antti Niemi was simply not a viable option (Niemi started only three games after February 1 and did not play at all after March 7). The Habs would also like Price to play around 55 games next season, which is why they should be in the market for a dependable free agent backup goalie this offseason. 

With more starts, the backup goalie will play more of a role in a team’s success. If Anders Nilsson’s recent extension (two years, $2.6 million per season) is any indication, teams will be willing to pay backup goalies decent money. Sure, that's only $100K per season more than what he signed for two seasons ago with the Canucks, but that contract also came off a much better season (.923 SV% with Buffalo in 2016-17). Former starters that you think are on the decline (eg. Mike Smith, Semyon Varlamov, Talbot) are going to get paid, regardless of whether they are considered the starter or the backup. Just watch.

This matters in fantasy because with more starts, so-called “backup goalies” could have more of an impact. It might be wise to reserve an extra spot for a goalie, or have at least one roster spot for goalies that you can stream. (Better yet, maybe you can talk your commissioner into adding one more bench spot.) Because of this, maybe the top goalies fall down the rankings a bit. However, as long as I’ve been making that prediction, fantasy owners are still picking goalies early in drafts because they don’t want to be left high and dry at a position in which there have traditionally been a finite number of starters, and even fewer reliable starters. As I work on the Top 100 Roto Rankings that I hope to have ready soon, one of my toughest decisions is where I should rank goalies relative to skaters. 

Managing goalies in fantasy hockey is a lot like managing running backs in football or managing closers in fantasy baseball. The one “guy” in that role on each team is a must-own. In recent years, however, football and baseball teams have been trending toward using committees for that role, which is frustrating for fantasy owners. We might not be at that point yet in fantasy hockey, but we can at least say the fantasy value of the average backup goalie is on the rise.

In his first article on this topic at The Athletic, LeBrun even suggested that teams employ a third goalie, particularly for back-to-back games involving travel. He mentioned that the CBA would need to be rewritten in order to better accommodate goalie callups (ie. don’t need to pass through waivers).

As for the question that Dobber answered in his most recent Ramblings about which goalie to choose on the Rangers and Blackhawks, this type of question might become increasingly difficult to answer. Or as he said, the starts will be heavily dependent on injuries. That could take the control right out of the team’s hands (unless the #3 goalie is nearly as reliable an option as the #2 goalie).


For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.