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In the Cage: The fantasy goalie slop factor

by Justin Goldman

Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, the Director of Goalie Scouting for McKeen's Hockey and founder of The Goalie Guild, will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in's weekly segment: "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.

Whether your goalies have been struggling or succeeding in the first five days of this messy season, due to an abbreviated training camp and zero preseason games, there's no escaping the slop factor.

The experts preach patience, and while that virtue is even more important with goalies right now, it doesn't make life any easier. We all strive to simplify our decisions on who to start each night (or each week for roto leagues), but knowing that backups will eat away at the workload of many top-flight starters this season, there's simply no room for error with your selections. Time is not on your side.


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Now more than ever, your team's success will depend on the success of your third and fourth goalies.

To make matters worse, avoiding goalies with performance pitfalls -- sloppy positioning, rusty rebound control, ill-timed passes (Niklas Backstrom), or minor injuries (Mike Smith) -- is unavoidable. Washing away the slop is a slow-moving process for some, while it could be a reoccurring process for others.

So if you think your goalies have "broken through" these barriers by their second or third game, don't be shocked if they experience sloppy play down the line. This schedule is unforgiving and unrelenting.

We broke down the stats, and there's simply no correlation between fantasy value and what goalies did during the lockout. Whether they played in Europe or they rested, the biggest difference between success and failure right now is varying team dynamics, and more importantly, the mental game.

Nobody expected Martin Brodeur to start the season 2-0 with 42 saves on 43 shots and a shutout, but there he stands, one of the top fantasy performers so far. Then there's Ryan Miller, who also didn't play during the lockout, but looks excellent so far, stopping 61 of 64 shots in wins over the Flyers and Maple Leafs.

That being said, our main advice is to lean on experienced goalies. In many instances, the more a goalie has played, the more likely he is to trudge through the slop with success. That's an important X-factor in all this, as the goalies that are "comfortable being uncomfortable" will find ways to play relaxed and pressure-free during this chaotic time.

But even then, there's simply no way to avoid the early-season slop, so we suggest a conservative mindset right now. Don't be afraid to bench goalies if you're feeling unsure about a matchup, because less is more, and solid save percentages are at a premium.


These initial rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, and GAA and SP%. 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. Ryan Miller, Sabres
  • 2. Tuukka Rask, Bruins
  • 3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
  • 4. Jaroslav Halak, Blues
  • 5. Pekka Rinne, Predators
  • 6. Jonathan Quick, Kings
  • 7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins
  • 8. Carey Price, Montreal
  • 9. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas
  • 10. Craig Anderson, Ottawa
  • 11. Jonas Hiller, Ducks
  • 12. Antti Niemi, Sharks
  • 13. Cam Ward, Hurricanes
  • 14. Cory Schneider, Canucks
  • 15. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche
  • 16. Niklas Backstrom, Wild
  • 17. Mike Smith, Coyotes
  • 18. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings
  • 19. Ilya Bryzgalov, Flyers
  • 20. Martin Brodeur, Devils
  • 21. Brian Elliott, Blues
  • 22. Roberto Luongo, Canucks
  • 23. Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames
  • 24. Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders
  • 25. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
  • 26. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks
  • 27. Anders Lindback, Lightning
  • 28. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets
  • 29. Braden Holtby, Capitals
  • 30. Devan Dubnyk, Oilers


1. Craig Anderson -- With an average draft pick of 85.3 in Yahoo! Fantasy leagues, Anderson has played well above his fantasy value so far. He was focused and aggressive in his win over Winnipeg, and he followed that up with a 31-save shutout against his former team (Florida). He has not allowed an even-strength goal yet, and the shutout he earned in a sloppy opening week was a juicy point for poolies.

2. Corey Crawford -- Even less valuable than Anderson in Yahoo! Fantasy leagues was Crawford, who had an average draft pick of 145.2, just a shade below Ondrej Pavelec (141.3). Chicago entered the season labeled as one of the weakest teams in goal, but Crawford surprised poolies with solid wins over Los Angeles and St. Louis. He has stopped 51 of 55 shots and has allowed just one PP goal on nine shots.

3. Martin Brodeur -- How many poolies in rotisserie leagues benched Brodeur for the first week of the season so he could shake off the expected rust? With the extensive layoff during the lockout and the loss of Zach Parise, Brodeur's fantasy outlook was foreboding. But the ageless wonder has leaned on his experience to help him go 2-0 to begin the season, including a 24-save shutout over the rival Flyers.


1. Henrik Lundqvist -- Of all the struggling goalies right now, Lundqvist disturbs poolies the most. His draft pick average was the highest for goalies at 6.3, but his Week 1 value was obliterated when he allowed four goals on 18 shots and was pulled just 29:11 into the 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh. He earned a win last night against the Bruins, but posted just a .897 save percentage. He has stopped just 71 of 81 shots, a .887 save percentage.

2. Jonathan Quick -- The Stanley Cup winner was plucked by nearly every Yahoo! Fantasy league in the first round, yet he currently sits 43rd out of 46 goalies in save percentage (.849). Clearly this is another case of the slop factor, but there's no knowing how long it will take him to turn things around. The loss of Matt Greene doesn't help his case, nor does the potential lack of pristine conditioning due to his back rehab.

3. Cam Ward -- With the additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, most poolies projected Ward to be at least a top-15 goalie this season, drafting him 14th overall (on average) for goalies. But Cam has allowed four goals in each of his first two games, stopping just 30 of 38 total shots. Nobody expected him to have early struggles two seasons in a row, so the pressure is on for him to respond.


Cristopher Nilstorp -- Not many poolies are familiar with this 28-year-old Dallas rookie, but that's what makes him a potential hidden gem. He was one of the best goalies in the Elitserien over the past few seasons, and with a 6-foot-4 frame, he not only fills the net nicely, he still moves very well. He had an excellent showing in his NHL debut against the Wild last Saturday, stopping 30 of 31 shots in the 1-0 loss, so there's a chance he could stick with the Stars for a few more weeks.

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