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Fantasy Hockey – Trying, in Vain, to Properly Value Goalies

Every position in fantasy hockey seems to exist in a sort of perpetual cycle. A group of players will emerge, be dominant for anywhere between five and seven years, before being supplanted by the next wave. It’s science. Sort of.

It’s like a tidy ‘cycle of life’ documentary you would see weekdays on the Discovery channel.

Except it’s not quite working out that way for goalies. We’re in the midst of a weird, quasi-changing of the guard when it comes to tenders. There is the old guard; Luongo, Lundqvist, Rinne, and Miller, all of whom have been early-round selections the last half decade. Then there’s the next generation; Rask, Quick, and Price. And, surprisingly, there is a third group – the young guys - who we don’t know a tonne about – yet – but who could completely shake up our pre-conceived rankings; Schneider, Bishop, and Bobrovsky.

There are a lot of names I left off the list above. You could make an argument that Niemi, Fleury, or Howard, for example, deserve more consideration. But for the sake of this discussion I want to look at tenders that best exemplify each of the three groups.

With the aging, long-time stalwarts, there are some issues that are becoming difficult to ignore. Luongo, while still a fantastic option in most formats, is now on a Florida team that finished 29th in goals for and against. To put it mildly – they weren’t very good.

He’ll still see oodles of shots, will post a decent save percentage (career average of .919%), but he’s 35 years old. This isn’t the same player who was the consensus number one goaltender five years ago, as a member of the Canucks.

Rinne and Miller have red flags as well, although both are very different. Nashville’s starter is coming off of serious hip surgery and a subsequent infection that limited him to 24 games in 2013-14. There’s the added mystery of a new coach – can anyone employ a defensive strategy as unbreakable as Trotz?

Conversely, Miller’s value has less to do with injury concerns, and is focused more on his declining play. Despite being lauded as one of the game’s best, he’s only posted a save percentage above .920 on one occasion (Vezina winning 2009-10). In 19 games to end last season with a powerhouse St.Louis team he had a lowly .903%. Sure, that handful of games could be ripe with sample size errors. But he’s 34 years old now. He may not be the lightening quick, uber athletic Ryan Miller that became narrative unto himself at the 2010 Olympics.

Lundqvist is a bit of a tweener when it comes to this discussion. He’s not THAT young, but he isn’t exactly old either (turns 33 in March). He’s put together a near perfect run of nine fantasy seasons. There were some concerns last year that new rules around smaller equipment might hinder him moving forward, but those were quashed by his season totals of 2.36 and .920. Followed by springtime run to the Cup finals. There aren’t any good reasons to worry about ‘The King’, other than his date of birth.

The wave of tenders expected to surpass this group are a who’s who of top options. In fantasy leagues, these three tend to be the most coveted of all. Offering that rare mix of near-guaranteed production today, and the promise of continued success in the future.

Rask and Quick are locked into long-term deals with two of the best teams in the NHL. Rask, in particular, has been able to post the type of elite, consistent numbers that have him put him in a class above all others: three consecutive seasons with a save percentage above .929 and goals against below 2.05. Incredible.

The back of Carey Price’s hockey card doesn’t have the same presence as the other two, but that may be more to-do with his team than his talent. Montreal showed last year that they are a vastly improving group. And the signing of P.K Subban to a massive eight year contract guarantees Price will have a top defencemen in front of him.

And lastly, there is the group of semi-unknowns that are muddying the waters of our tiers. I use the term “unknown” a bit loosely here – everyone KNOWS who Cory Schneider, Ben Bishop, and Sergei Bobrovsky are. Their talent is not disputed, what is, is how high they’ll be able to climb the ladder.

Schneider is still only 28 years old, and playing for a New Jersey team that was better than the standings indicated. A combination of better puck luck and the departure of Martin Brodeur should mean more starts, and better totals for Cory.

Bobrovsky and Bishop are similar in that two of them have posted otherworldly seasons so early in their careers. Sergei won a Vezina in 2012-13, and Bishop ended last year with an incredible line of 2.23 and .924. Both in their mid-twenties, it’s conceivable that they are the beginning of what will be a five year run of their own.

So what does this all mean?

Well, for starters, it means that there is a lot of homework to be down over the coming month. The emergence of these three different groupings (not to mention the goalies that weren’t included in this post) has made ranking goalies the most difficult position this off-season.  Trying to value them properly is going to depend a lot on your league settings and personal appetite for risk.

In one year leagues, where the focus is squarely on the here and now. Perhaps you slide names like Luongo, Miller, Lundqvist, and Rinne further up your draft board, hoping that they’re more easily projectable over a single year. Or, maybe you’re in a dynasty pool, where you need to take a chance on Bobrovsky, Schneider, or Bishop in the mid-rounds, hoping to land a lottery ticket that is a cornerstone of your group through to 2020.

Whatever strategy you decide to use, there will be risk abound. This isn’t a natural changing of the guard, like we’ve witnessed in the past, this feels different. If only the Discovery Channel actually ran hockey documentaries – I could use their help right now.

Darren Kennedy (@fantasyhockeydk) is a contributor for McKeen’s and Dobber Hockey. He’ll talk about anything and everything. Except Kovalchuk. Never, ever, Kovalchuk.