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Fantasy top 30 goalies: AHL transitions unpredictable

by Evan Sporer / NHL.com

Every Thursday during the season, NHL.com's Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top-30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.

UPDATED TOP 30 GOALIE RANKINGS

Logic will tell you that if a player is performing at a certain level against the same level of competition consistently, should the competition get stiffer the expectation should not be for said player's performance to get better.

Goaltending though can be rather fickle, as we've learned this NHL season.

Rare are there 50-goal scorers in the American Hockey League, late-bloomers who suddenly light the world on fire when they get called up to the NHL. Yet for goaltending, though it's uncommon to see a major jump in numbers when getting promoted, it's not as uncommon, and it's something we've witnessed in a few instances recently.

The principle case is Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators. Circumstance, not Hammond's play for the Binghamton Senators, forced him into their NHL lineup. In fact, if anything, Hammond's numbers in the AHL were reason enough to think he may never see a call-up, at least in the Senators organization.

Hammond played four years of college hockey at Bowling Green University and signed with the Senators as an undrafted free agent following his senior year. In 73 appearances in the AHL, Hammond was 32-42-5 with a .906 save percentage, and a 3.04 goals-against average.

Those numbers don't portend an NHL goalie with a 15-1-1 record, a .938 save percentage and a 1.85 goals-against average, but here we are, and that's exactly what Hammond has been. What's more bizarre is Hammond was trending in the wrong direction prior to his call-up: in his final 25 AHL starts he was 7-13-2 with an .898 save percentage and a 3.51 goals-against average.

And yet Hammond was recently one of three AHL-turned-NHL goaltenders who, despite not producing eye-popping numbers with their franchise's minor-league affiliate were performing at high levels in the NHL. The following chart shows the difference in AHL versus NHL performance for Hammond, Petr Mrazek and Cam Talbot.

GOALIE AHL STATS NHL STATS
GAMES RECORD SV% GAMES RECORD SV%
Cam Talbot, NYR
116 54-52-5 0.914 56 32-15-5 0.932
Petr Mrazek, DET
87 54-27-4 0.920 37 18-12-2 0.917
Andrew Hammond, OTT
73 32-42-5 0.906 19 15-1-1 0.940

Though Mrazek's save percentage has actually dropped three points, sustaining a .917 save percentage in the NHL is still very good, and Mrazek has been good enough recently to keep incumbent starter Jimmy Howard on the bench. (In fact, Mrazek's past six starts have boosted his save percentage three percentage points.)

Petr Mrazek
STATS PRIOR TO APRIL 2 GAMES
RECORD: 15-7-2
GAA: 2.47 | SVP: .915
It's entirely possible these players are the exceptions, and not the rule, but there have been other recent instances of goalies playing appreciable samples in the AHL before graduating to the NHL and seeing their numbers increase. Even if it's not at Hammond-levels, it's not unheard of for goalies to perform better in the NHL than the AHL from a numbers standpoint.

There is precedent or at least logic to defend a jump in numbers even against better competition. NHL games tend to be more structured. Play can be more easily read by goalies. The interchangeable parts of the AHL may make analyzing the play of a goalie a bit more arduous.

GOALIE AHL STATS NHL STATS
GAMES RECORD SV% GAMES RECORD SV%
Corey Crawford, CHI
225 135-98-13 0.908 264 146-76-34 0.916
Braden Holtby, WSH
132 74-45-7 0.918 173 98-50-17 0.921
Ben Bishop, TBL
175 91-68-10 0.913 166 92-44-15 0.917

Obviously these goalies were handpicked because they fit the specific profile of seeing their numbers get better. This is no absolute rule. But the fact that they exist should be reason enough not to completely dismiss what Hammond, Talbot, or Mrazek are doing. No one is (or should be) saying the former two will sustain a save percentage over .930, because that's historically proven to be impossible. To say that this trio might be better suited in the NHL than the AHL, though, might not be as much of a stretch.


TRENDING UP

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

The cause for concern upon Lundqvist's return lasted about all of one start (if that). After the Rangers had a poor team effort in a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in Lundqvist's first start since Feb. 2, he turned in a performance fitting of the King, making 32 saves in a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Antti Niemi
STATS PRIOR TO APRIL 2 GAMES
RECORD: 29-22-7
GAA: 2.62 | SVP: .914
TRENDING DOWN

Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks

The Sharks may be all but mathematically eliminated from a spot in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Alex Stalock has started three consecutive games. Interesting fact about Niemi: His save percentage this season (.914) is actually better than last season (.913) when he won a career-high 39 games. It's been a strange season in San Jose.

KEEP AN EYE ON

The Detroit Red Wings

Mrazek is earning starts right now in the mind of coach Mike Babcock and, with the Red Wings fighting for playoff footing, those are valuable starts. The fantasy season is all but over so if you're an owner of either Mrazek or Howard, it's worth paying close attention to see who is in and who is out.


TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES

These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our ranks are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team's strong defense and offense.

1 Carey Price, MTL (SAME) 16 Ben Bishop, TBL (-1)
2 Cory Schneider, NJD (SAME) 17 Eddie Lack, VAN (+2)
3 Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (SAME) 18 Semyon Varlamov, COL (+2)
4 Braden Holtby, WSH (+1) 19 Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (+4)
5 Pekka Rinne, NSH (-1) 20 Frederik Andersen, ANA (+5)
6 Devan Dubnyk, MIN (+2) 21 Ondrej Pavelec, WPG (+1)
7 Tuukka Rask, BOS (SAME) 22 Jimmy Howard, DET (-5)
8 Corey Crawford, CHI (-2) 23 John Gibson, ANA (-7)
9 Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (+1) 24 Cam Ward, CAR (NR - IR)
10 Roberto Luongo, FLA (-1) 25 Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (-4)
11 Brian Elliott, STL (+1) 26 Cam Talbot, NYR (-2)
12 Jonathan Quick, LAK (-1) 27 Michael Hutchinson, WPG (-1)
13 Jaroslav Halak, NYI (SAME) 28 Alex Stalock, SJS (NEW)
14 Andrew Hammond, OTT (SAME) 29 Jake Allen, STL (SAME)
15 Steve Mason, PHI (+3) 30 Scott Darling, CHI (NEW)

Dropped out: Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen, Anton Khudobin

Key injuries: Ryan Miller, Robin Lehner

NR - IR: Not ranked last week because of injury

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