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Fantasy top 30 goalies: Don't give up on elite starters

by Evan Sporer / NHL.com

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

UPDATED TOP 30 GOALIE RANKINGS

We're in a new information era in hockey (at least new in a sense of public attention), with an increased emphasis on number crunching and statistics. There's a prevailing thought that, much like counting cards or playing the lottery, a finite equation can be used to predict future results. But some statistics and statistical concepts we use aren't as complicated as predicting what card will be drawn next from out of deck.

One thing to keep in mind when evaluating fantasy hockey goalies is regression.

Simply put, every player has an average stat line he produces. If a player is performing above or below that line, it's expected he eventually will produce more or less to achieve his average.

For example, during his career Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has scored on 12.3 percent of his shots. So if out of the first 100 shots Ovechkin takes in a season six (or six percent) go in, we would expect that number gradually to rise as he continues playing.

FANTASY HOCKEY ANALYSIS

The 2014-15 NHL season is in full swing, so NHL.com has you covered with weekly fantasy hockey positional rankings, real-time spin updates and waiver wire advice.

The same concept can be applied for goalies. The Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask carried a career save percentage above .928 into this season, well above the League average. But Rask, for a number of reasons, has seen his save percentage drop to .912 through 21 games this season. The last time Rask had a save percentage below .920 for an entire season was 2010-11 when he was backing up Tim Thomas.

There have been a number of factors hurting Rask's save percentage. Chief among them might be missing the services of captain Zdeno Chara, a top-flight defenseman who drives possession and is matched against the other team's top line but who has missed 19 games this season with a knee injury.

Fantasy owners who used a high draft pick to select Rask might be frustrated and considering trading him to salvage whatever value he might still hold. But in reality Rask probably is due to see his numbers begin to rise to levels of old. Rask ranks 34th among Yahoo fantasy goaltenders right now, which shouldn't last for much longer.

Chara will come back; he's already missed nearly seven weeks after being projected originally to be out 4-6 weeks, and is expected to return Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks. And then we get to the simple law of numbers, which tells us that, barring the Bruins getting significantly worse on a team level, Rask should be expected to post a save percentage somewhere in the .920 range. His goals-against average (2.56) also falls well short of what Rask has proven to be capable of year-in and year-out (2.15 GAA for his career before this season).

Another goalie likely set to soon take off is Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Currently with a .906 save percentage (the last time Lundqvist finished with a sub-.920 save percentage was 2008-09), Lundqvist and the Rangers have played significant stretches without defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle. Lundqvist also was victimized by a few lopsided box scores, four times allowing five goals or more this season (he did that only three times all of last season).

Regression isn't the only way to explain a goaltender who isn't performing up to his own standards. It's entirely possible that, on a team level, the Bruins and Rangers just aren't as good this season, which inevitably affects the numbers of their respective goalies. But to see these players rank outside of the top 20 in save percentage is not something anyone should expect to hold up. According to HockeyReference.com, since 2009 Rask and Lundqvist rank first and third in save percentage, respectively, among goaltenders to play at least 100 games.

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick
STATS PRIOR TO DEC. 11 GAMES
RECORD: 11-7-4
GAA: 2.09 | SVP: .931
This is a concept that works both ways. There are some over-performing goaltenders (at least by their own career standards) that are due to see their numbers dip. A name that might come as a surprise to some is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. While in no way am I advocating that fantasy owners should trading Quick, the idea isn't as crazy as it sounds. Through 22 games this season Quick is third in the league in save percentage (.931), and fifth in goals against average (2.09). In 2011-12, Quick posted similar numbers to the ones he has now. But outside of that season Quick never has been a goalie to produce flashy stats. Eliminate that 2011-12 season and Quick's career save percentage sits at .911, a full 20 points below where he's at now. His goals-against average during those seasons is a 2.37.

There's an inherit amount of randomness to hockey. A puck could take a bounce or be deflected and end up in the back of the net. When things aren't going as well for a goalie, like in the cases of Rask and Lundqvist, those bounces generally have a way of sorting themselves out. And for those who exercise patience and allow the elite to perform at elite levels again, they'll probably be rewarded.


TRENDING UP

Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky
STATS PRIOR TO DEC. 11 GAMES
RECORD: 9-8-1
GAA: 2.72 | SVP: .917
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets -- His team is starting to get healthier and Bobrovsky has strung together four straight wins in which he's stopped 128 of the 135 shots he's faced (.948 save percentage). That includes a 52-save, 4-3 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers. Columbus is a team bound to post better results as it gets healthier, which could be happening now.

TRENDING DOWN

Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames -- Hiller has been a spectator in four of the past five games, with Karri Ramo getting the majority of the starts. Hiller has lost his past three games, allowing nine goals for an .885 save percentage. For now the Flames likely will go with Ramo until Hiller can straighten out his game.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche -- With Semyon Varlamov re-injuring his groin at practice Monday, Pickard was recalled from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League. Pickard responded by stopping 33 of the 34 shots he faced against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday in a losing effort. Avalanche coach Patrick Roy announced on Tuesday that Varlamov will be out two weeks, meaning if Pickard is available (as he is in 94 percent of Yahoo leagues), he's now a starting goaltender worth adding.


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 Pekka Rinne, NSH (SAME) 16 Roberto Luongo, FLA (-1)
2 Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (SAME) 17 Frederik Andersen, ANA (SAME)
3 Ben Bishop, TBL (+1) 18 Kari Lehtonen, DAL (SAME)
4 Tuukka Rask, BOS (+1) 19 Darcy Kuemper, MIN (SAME)
5 Jonathan Quick, LAK (-2) 20 Braden Holtby, WSH (+1)
6 Carey Price, MTL (SAME) 21 Antti Raanta, CHI (NEW)
7 Jaroslav Halak, NYI (SAME) 22 Jake Allen, STL (-2)
8 Jimmy Howard, DET (SAME) 23 Jonas Hiller, CGY (SAME)
9 Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (+1) 24 Karri Ramo, CGY (+2)
10 Ryan Miller, VAN (+1) 25 Martin Brodeur, STL (NEW)
11 Antti Niemi, SJS (+2) 26 Robin Lehner, OTT (-2)
12 Craig Anderson, OTT (-3) 27 Ondrej Pavelec, WPG (-2)
13 Cory Schneider, NJD (-1) 28 Jhonas Enroth (+2)
14 Jonathan Bernier, TOR (SAME) 29 Cam Ward, CAR (-2)
15 Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (+1) 30 Michael Hutchinson, WPG (-2)

Dropped out: Devan Dubnyk

Key injuries: Corey Crawford, Brian Elliott, Semyon Varlamov, John Gibson, Jonas Gustavsson, Jason LaBarbera

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