Fantasy Hockey: First-Time Full-Time Goalies

Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby
May 4 2013 Washington DC USA Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby 70 makes a save against the New York Rangers in the second period in game two of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Verizon Center Geoff Burke USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, I wrote about two goalies that I will be avoiding at all costs this year. The biggest reason is I don’t think they are very good, but the secondary reason being that I just don’t trust them. With goaltending being such an integral part of your fantasy hockey success, you don’t want to be rolling the dice with unreliability. There’s a reason Henrik Lundqvist is one of the top two or three goalies chosen in most leagues for a few years now: It’s not necessarily that he will be the #1 goalie at the end of the fantasy season, but he almost certainly won’t fall out of the Top-5. That level of reliability helps you sleep at night.

There are several teams this year that will be relying on young goalies to carry them and it will be the first time in their careers that these goalies have had to carry the load. This is a precarious situation: These guys can provide value if you nab them later in drafts but the chance that they breakout is slim. Since the last lockout (2004-2005), there are only a handful of first-or-second year goalies that managed to play half of their team’s games and put up a reasonable .915 SV%: Lundqvist (both of his first two years), Steve Mason (2008-2009), Niklas Backstrom (both his first two years), Jonas Hiller (2008-2009), Dan Ellis (2007-2008), Carey Price (2007-2008). Even a .915 SV% isn’t very strong, it’s a fringe Top-20 mark at the position. When you look at first-or-second year goalies playing at least half the games and putting up a .920 SV%, which is fringe Top-10 at the position, there’s been three goalies in the last seven full seasons to do so (four in eight years if you count Viktor Fasth last year, although he only had 23 starts): Lundqvist (2005-2006), Ellis (2007-2008) and Backstrom (2006-2007). So if you’re expecting a breakout performance from a goaltender this year, you may be disappointed.

However, if you draft not expecting a breakout and fall into one anyway, then that’s just gravy. There are three goalies that should see the bulk of their team’s starts that I would look at as possibly my second goalie and without question my third goaltender.

Braden Holtby – Washington Capitals

Holtby’s career so far has spanned parts of three seasons, included two great playoff performances (.931 SV% in 21 career playoff games) and been rife with goaltender battles: Semyon Varlamov three seasons ago and Michal Neuvirth/Tomas Vokoun a couple of years ago and Neuvirth alone last year. After the success Holtby had last year it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the starter for the Caps at the beginning of the 2013 season.

In short, Holtby has been exceptional in his limited time between the pipes for the Capitals. His performance over the last few seasons compares favorably to some of the best in the business and while it is a small sample size – about 40 games short of where I’d feel more comfortable making projections – once you include his playoff games, we’re looking at a .925 SV% over a 78 game stretch, and that’s elite. If you want to take it one step further, Holtby has a career .931 SV% at even-strength, which is a better evaluation of what the talent level for a goalie is. For a reference point, .931 would have ranked 8th in EVSV% in 2012-2013 among goalies playing at least half their team’s games (in fact, Holtby was 8th at .931 this year) and 5th in the 2011-2012. In other words, Holtby’s career numbers stand up against anyone’s (again, keep the sample size in consideration).

My one concern actually is not with Holtby, but with the Capitals’ penalty kill. Two years running they have been in the bottom-third in the NHL in PK efficiency. The quickest way to kill a goalie’s SV% and GAA is with goals against while short-handed and that may be a problem this year. The newly-signed Mikhail Grabovski should help in this department, but to what degree is up in the air.

I’m a big Holtby fan and I think Washington stands a good chance at making playoffs (meaning they will be good this year). I wouldn’t want him as my first goalie, but if I had the chance to grab him outside the first five rounds to solidify my goaltending tandem, I would be fine with it.

Ben Bishop – Tampa Bay Lightning

Make no mistake, I don’t see a goaltending controversy in Tampa Bay this year, at least to start the season. After being given the reigns to start the season last campaign, Anders Lindback faltered pretty hard and ended up being one of the worst regular starters of the 2012-2013 season.

Ben Bishop was acquired part of the way through the season in exchange for Cory Conacher and played well for both Ottawa and Tampa Bay last year, posting a .920 SV% in 22 games last year, giving him a .913 SV% in 45 career games.

Bishop has one thing going for him right off the hop in that he stands 6’7” tall. Those few extra inches enables a goalie to make saves like this.

Again, there’s a sample size problem. He’s played less than 50 games in the NHL and even those games haven’t been that great. But there is one thing I am drawing from his time so far in the NHL: Improvement.

Here’s a quick run-down of Bishop’s save percentages in each season he’s played:


Overall Save Percentage

Even-Strength Save Percentage

2008-2009 (112 Shots Against)



2010-2011 (168 SA)



2011-2012 (243 SA)



2012-2013 (701 SA)



Every season he’s been in the NHL, he’s grown in workload and improved in save percentage. He even managed a .917 overall SV% in limited action for the Lightning last year after the trade.

I worry about Tampa Bay because their penalty kill, like Washington’s, hasn’t been good for a couple of years now. Even a decent season from Bishop could be ruined with a bad penalty kill. Because of this and his small sample over several years, I would be hesitant to draft him as my second goalie. However, if you get to double-digit rounds and he’s still around and you’re either desperate for a second goalie or are hoping to hit a home run with your third, then you could do worse. He also has another edge over the other two goalies in this article in that he turns 27 years old in November, or just hitting his prime as a goalie. Keep that in mind.

Jacob Markstrom – Florida Panthers

I really, really like Markstrom as a goaltending prospect. Not only does he have the size that everyone loves to see in a goalie, but he also has good goaltending instincts. While I’m not one for normally being huge on intangibles in fantasy sports, knowing where to look for a puck and how to react to it is crucial for the success of a goaltender. In this clip, you see Markstrom make a solid initial stop and as soon as he realizes he doesn’t have the rebound, his eyes dart out to the slot. He finds the puck and sprawls across the crease to make a very nice diving save.

Saves like these are a bit lucky, but you have to be athletic and have good instincts to even be in a position to make a lucky save, and you see that Markstrom has both.

The thing is, the Florida Panthers are not a very good defensive team. Over the last three years, they rank in the bottom-half of the league in Corsi Against (in other words, they are bottom-half in shot attempts towards their net). Combined with so-so goaltending, this puts Florda in the bottom-third of goals allowed at even-strength. Not only that, the Panthers had the worst penalty kill in the league last year and were sixth-worst the year before that. So when you put together the combination of an at-best middle-of-the-road defensive team and bottom-third penalty kill, the prospects of a solid fantasy season from the goaltender is minimal.

All this being said, every starting goalie needs to be rostered in most fantasy hockey leagues (I’ve seen one goalie leagues where he shouldn’t be a consideration). I would be comfortable with throwing a dart at Markstrom as my third goalie and maybe he lucks out or he can get hot for a couple stretches to help boost your team’s stats, as he certainly has that ability. However, as a season-long relied-upon goalie, I wouldn’t want him as one of my top two. Not because I don’t believe in him, but because a middle-of-the-road-at-best team is now in a division with Boston, Detroit and to a lesser extent Montréal and Ottawa.

The order of these goalies are displayed on purpose, in order I would want them on my team and I would start with Holtby in the sixth round (or thereabouts) and add about 3 rounds of ADP per goalie after that. Put simply, though, the recent history of unproven goaltenders suddenly getting a huge workload isn’t favorable, so relying on any of them as a crutch for your season is a recipe for sleepless nights.

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author avatar
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');