Fantasy Hockey: Avoid Goaltender Blow Ups – Western Conference

There was a notion put forth by the ‘Nucks Misconduct blog on SBNation a couple of years ago with regards to goaltending. It was a notion that should be familiar to those who play fantasy baseball, and that’s goaltender blow ups.

A “blow up” is defined as:

A game in which a goalie has an .850 save percentage or lower, or a game in which a goalie allows five goals or more in 40 shots or fewer. Games in which either of those occur, the goaltender’s team stands just a 15-percent chance of winning.

With the notion that goalies who have bad games like this – say, three goals against on the first eight shots – tend to get pulled, the likelihood that the goalies themselves win these games is lower than that number of 15-percent.

This is important for fantasy hockey owners because wins, rightly or wrongly, are a big factor in fantasy leagues. Whether it’s a points-only league, a points league, or a roto league, wins usually factor into at least 10-percent of a fantasy team’s final ranking. When factoring in the accompanying numbers like save percentage and goals against average in these blow ups, the outcome can be grim.

These blow ups are essentially random. Given, a goalie is more likely to blow up against the Pittsburgh Penguins than the Buffalo Sabres, but for the majority of the teams, goal scoring distribution in a game-to-game scenario is random.

In that sense, the only predictive value that blow ups have are which goalies are more likely to blow up. I wrote about this last year with regards to Eastern Conference goalies, Western Conference goalies, and their blow up rates from 2010-2013. Here’s what was found in a nutshell:

  • Martin Brodeur, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Craig Anderson were Eastern goalies who were very prone to blow ups. Note that the first two are unlikely to be regular starters this year, but Craig Anderson is still the man in Ottawa. Those blow ups included Anderson’s stellar (if shortened) 2012-2013 season.
  • Henrik Lundqvist was head-and-shoulders ahead of not only the rest of the Eastern Conference goalies, but the entire NHL. In fact, his blow up rate was 37.3-percent lower than the next best goalie (Roberto Luongo).
  • Upper-tier goalies in the West fared much better than the goalies in the East: five goalies in the West blew up at a rate no worse than once every seven games; that number was three in the East.
  • Elite puck possession teams in the West had goalies blow up at a lower rate than goalies from elite puck possession teams in the East. That should come as no surprise: teams that suppress shots are unlikely to give up more goals. Giving up fewer goals means fewer blow ups. These teams tend to be in the West (at least recently)

Just check those links to see who performed well (or poorly) from 2010-2013. With that in mind, here are the blow up rates for Western Conference goaltenders in the 2013-2014 season (min. 41 starts).

Player Starts 5+ Goal Blow Ups < .850 SV% Blow Ups Starts Per 5+ Goal Blow Up Starts Per < .850 SV% Blow Up Starts/Blow Up Team FenwickFor% (ScoreClose)
Jonathan Quick (LAK) 49 1 7 49 7 6.13 56.7%
Jonas Hiller (ANA) 50 2 9 25 5.55 4.55 50%
Jaroslav Halak (STL/WSH) 38 (STL)12 (WSH) 0 8 N/A 6.25 6.25 53.2%47.5%
Roberto Luongo (VAN/FLA) 42 (VAN)14 (FLA) 0 4 N/A 14 14 52.2%49.4%
Corey Crawford (CHI) 56 2 6 28 9.33 7 55.2%
Ondrej Pavelec (WPG) 57 7 5 8.14 11.4 4.75 49.7%
Semyon Varlamov (COL) 60 4 3 8.57 20 8.57 46.8%
Mike Smith (PHX) 61 3 3 20.33 20.33 10.17 49.8%
Kari Lehtonen (DAL) 64 5 6 12.8 10.67 5.82 51.8%
Antti Niemi (SJS) 64 2 8 32 8 6.4 54.9%

*Sorted by ascending number of starts.

The first thing that stands out is that Jonas Hiller blew up at a more frequent rate than Ondrej Pavelec. Good luck this year, Calgary fans. Other than that, a few notes:

  • Roberto Luongo was the goalie who had the second-lowest frequency of blow ups from 2010-2013. He had the lowest frequency of all Western Conference goalies last year (including his time with Florida). He is a great value as a second goalie in fantasy drafts.
  • By his standards, this was a bad year for Kari Lehtonen. Dallas has a young-ish defense corps that should get better, so I’m optimistic about a rebound this year.
  • Jonathan Quick blew up with a higher frequency than Jaroslav Halak, something that bore out in the 2010-2013 numbers. One is considered by some as one of the best goalies in the NHL, the other was traded twice last year. Perception is not always reality.
  • Semyon Varlamov’s goals against average will be worse this year.

This data should help with those in head-to-head leagues. Avoiding goalies like Quick, Hiller, Pavelec, and Niemi will reduce the likelihood of goaltending blowing up a matchup, and that’s always a good thing.

*Stats taken from Hockey Reference

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