Fantasy Hockey: Do Not Draft Mike Smith or Ondrej Pavelec

Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec
Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec
Apr 23 2013 Washington DC USA Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec 31 reacts while standing on the ice against the Washington Capitals in the second period at Verizon Center The Capitals won 5 3 and clinched the Southeast Division championship Geoff Burke USA TODAY Sports

Every year, I have a personal list of players I will generally completely avoid. This could be for a myriad of reasons: anticipated decline, trade to a lesser team, maybe a Stanley Cup finalist (between the late finish last year, a short off-season and the Olympics in February, it will be a jam-packed 430-ish days from the start of the 2013 season to the end of the 2014 season). Sometimes these backfire (I stayed away from Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis last year) and sometimes they payoff (I stayed away from Ryan Kesler and Ilya Bryzgalov). In general, it’s completely tied to value, so a lot of times the guys you will find on these lists of mine are because I’m not comfortable drafting them at their average draft position.

However, sometimes there are players I will just not draft because I cannot stomach having them on my team. Fantasy sports are about maximizing value and minimizing volatility. This is no more apparent than with goaltenders.

If you take part in a fantasy hockey roto league, a standard set-up will have six categories for skaters and four categories for goaltenders. If you start nine forwards, five defenseman, a utility, two goalies and five bench spots, that’s 22 roster spots. Most teams will run with three goaltenders. This means that 40 percent of your final stats in a roto league will come from 13.6 percent of your roster. Also, this position isn’t like most in other sports. It’s very infrequent that you will pick up a goalie on the waiver wire who becomes a stud like Russell Wilson and Alfred Morris in 2012 Fantasy Football or Jean Segura and Patrick Corbin in 2013 Fantasy Baseball. So you have to draft smart with your goaltenders and avoid volatility and risk as much as possible. Put simply, if you screw up with drafting your goalies, your fantasy hockey season is probably over.

With that said, these are two goalies that I will be completely avoiding at all costs, mainly by drafting better goalies ahead of them.

*note: it’s easy to pick out goalie timeshares like in Toronto or New Jersey, but I will omit those (I would still avoid those too).

Ondrej Pavelec – Winnipeg Jets

After the 2010-2011 season, when it was known that the Atlanta Thrashers franchise would be relocating to Winnipeg, I had hopes that the team could be instantly successful. There was a solid defensive corps, a good mix of young talent up front and a 23-year old goalie that was coming off a .914 save percentage season – not great, but not terrible considering the team he played for had a healthy mix of bad possession numbers and a bad penalty kill.

Since that season, however, Ondrej Pavelec has found himself in the company of some of the worst goaltenders in the NHL over the last two years and overall has been one of the worst goaltenders since he became a regular in the NHL back in 2009-2010.

Again, there are reasons for this than Pavelec is not very good at the NHL level – Winnipeg is a better possession team but still middle-of-the-road, their penalty kill has been bottom-third each of the last two years and if you’re a believer in off-ice distractions, he’s got those too.

But all this disguises the fact that he might not be very good at what he does. The league average for a goalie’s even-strength save percentage (includes only 5 on 5 ice time) is ~ .921. That’s just average – no Stanley Cup-winning goalie over the last three years has had a regular season even-strength save percentage under .933 (the last to do so was Antti Niemi in 2010). With that in mind, here are Pavelec’s two two-year splits and his average from those four years:

  • 2009-2011 – 2259 saves/2458 shots against = .919
  • 2011-2013 – 2482 saves/2710 shots against = .916
  • 2009-2013 – 4741 saves/5168 shots against = .917

So not only has he performed below-average in each two-year split, but he’s gotten worse as his team is getting better.

He’s still just going to be 26-years-old this season so there is hope of improvement yet, but there’s too much evidence for me to ever think about relying on him in any way this season.

Mike Smith – Phoenix Coyotes

This one seems a little less obvious. Smith is just one season removed from leading his Coyotes to a Western Conference Final – that they would lose to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Kings – and finished ahead of all three Vezina Trophy Finalists that year in overall save percentage – his .930 compared to Henrik Lundqvist’s .930 (he faced more shots than The King), Jonathan Quick’s .929 and Pekka Rinne’s .923.

So here’s the thing, when I wrote about goaltending evaluations I mentioned how one season isn’t a large enough of a sample size to evaluate goaltenders (or any player, for that matter). One good season is what led the Toronto Maple Leafs to trade then-prospect goalie Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft.

With that in mind, these are Smith’s career save percentage with and without his 2011-2012 season:

  • With the 2011-2012 season included – .913
  • Without the 2011-2012 season included – .907

It’s cherry-picking, I know. The point was to show what an outlier that season was for Smith compared to the rest of his career – before that .930 season, his previous career-high for a single season was .916 (five seasons), this season it was .910.

So again, let’s take a look at his even-strength save percentages (with the context that .921 would be considered average):

  • 2006-2007 – 345 saves/374 shots = .922
  • 2007-2008 – 613 saves/680 shots = .902
  • 2008-2009 – 895 saves/961 shots = .931
  • 2009-2010 – 846 saves/934 shots = .906
  • 2010-2011 – 395 saves/439 shots = .900
  • 2011-2012 – 1613 saves/1724 shots = .936
  • 2013 – 714 saves/774 shots = .924
  • Career – 5421 saves/5885 shots = .921

That’s right. Through Mike Smith’s career, he’s been exactly average.

One of my main tenets in any fantasy sport is that you can’t preclude someone from improving. It seems as if there was a group of people I would put money on to improve at their craft, elite professional athletes are a good bet. There are merits to the “I haven’t seen it before” strategy, it avoids over-paying for hype. It also does not include the possibility for a player to improve.

All that said, Smith’s career numbers are average and while they got markedly better when he got to Phoenix, there was a pretty big drop-off from 2011-2012 and 2013. That 1.2% drop in EVSV% took him from the highest ranked goaltender in the NHL (min. 60 appearances) last year to 14th this year (min. 30 appearances). Combine the fact that he blows up at a higher rate than any regular starter in the Western Conference with a slightly-above average possession team that has finished in the bottom-third in penalty killing two of the last three seasons, and there are just too many “what ifs” for me to feel safe drafting Smith as my first goalie (which is what you will have to draft him as if you want to get him).

The word here is value. If Smith drops in ADP to around the 20th goalie, I will draft him, but he won’t. If Pavelec is still on the board and I can stash him late on my bench as my fourth goalie, I will draft him, but he won’t. There are too few starting goalies to get incredibly picky, but on the flipside, these two have too many question marks to gamble my season on them.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');