Fantasy Hockey: The True Value Of Backup Goalies

Martin Jones

I will preface this entire article by saying the value of backup goaltending is directly tied to the type of fantasy hockey league we are talking about. There are quite a few people that play in leagues where one goalie is started, in which case backups aren’t that valuable. Also, there are leagues where there is a strict limit on the number of goalies allowed on a roster. Leagues that allow two (or fewer) goalies on a roster are irrelevant in the context of this article.

The second thing I will mention is that the league settings are important. Points-only leagues that count just wins and shutouts, for example, greatly devalue backup goalies. I will get into where the value is derived, but it’s certainly not from amassing a large amount of wins.

That means this article is directly for those that play in roto leagues that count ratio categories (save percentage and goals against average) where there can be three or more starting goalies.

Where to target

One thing to help mitigate down seasons from starting goaltending is the backup goaltending of elite hockey teams. Think about last season for an example:

The reason for that is because elite possession teams almost always do a good job of suppressing shots against; four of the five teams named were in the top-10 for fewest unblocked shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes of five-on-five time at ScoreClose (within a goal in periods 1 and 2, or tied in period 3). Fewer scoring opportunities should not only drive up save percentages – assuming at least an average NHL goalie – but it keeps the goals against average down. Keeping the goals against average down, in turn, allows a higher chance for a win. This isn’t just conjecture: the five goalies named earlier combined for 71 wins in 103 starts, a 68.9-percent win/start rate. Semyon Varlamov led all goalies last year with 41 wins in 60 starts, or a 68.3-percent win/start rate. That means backup goalies on elite teams won games with more frequency than the winningest goalie in the NHL last year.

So when looking for backup, target teams like Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Jose. Teams like Tampa Bay, Columbus, and Nashville aren’t terrible options, either.

The Impact

The reason to target backup goalies is not only a high expectation of wins, but also to help mitigate damage done by starting goalies on ratios. Last year:

  • There were 61 goalies with at least 20 appearances. The top-three save percentages were all by goalies with fewer than 30 appearances (Talbot, Harding, Stalock) and there were four in the top-10.
  • Of those 61 goalies with 20 appearances, 15 of them had a goals against average of 2.30 or less. Nine of those 15 goalies had fewer than 40 appearances, and seven of those 15 had fewer than 30.

The reason for this is because in a small stretch of games, any goalie can outperform his true talent level:

  • Craig Anderson played 24 games in 2012-2013 and posted a .941 save percentage. In four of his other five previous seasons, all of which had at least 50 games played, he has never been over .917.
  • Jason LaBarbera, a career .907 save-percentage goalie, had seasons of .923 and .928 in the last five campaigns, all of which had fewer than 20 games played.

Hypothetically speaking

Consider this completely realistic hypothetical:

Owner A drafts Carey Price in the second round, and Corey Crawford in the fifth round. Let’s assume each faces 1800 shots and allows 150 goals each (about a .917 save percentage). With 60 starts each at 60 minutes a start, that’s 7200 minutes. They have combined for a .917 and a goals against average of 2.50. Because they play for good teams, we’ll assume a total of 78 wins (65-percent win rate).

If Owner A drafts Steve Mason in the ninth round, it may add 30 wins, but it will also likely come at the cost of a .910 save percentage and 162 goals (2.70 GAA). That lowers the team save percentage from .917 to .914 and raises the team GAA from 2.50 to 2.57.

If Owner A drafts Martin Jones in the 16th round, the opportunity cost is much lower because Mason wasn’t drafted in the ninth, but it will also mean maybe 17 fewer wins. With that said, a .922 save percentage (realistic in a small sample) in 20 starts at 27 shots a start is 540 shots and 42 goals against (2.10 goals against). Jones would raise the team save percentage to ­­­.918 and lower the GAA to 2.44.

The difference in 17 wins in a 10-team roto league is about 3-5 points. The difference between a .914 save percentage and a .918 can vary, but is generally between 2-6 points. The difference between a 2.44 goals against and a 2.57 also varies, but it’s around 2-5 points. The worst-case means the value difference between Mason/Jones is a push, the likely-and-best case scenarios see Jones provide up to double the roto points in value than Mason.

All this is variable, and maybe Mason is a .916 instead of a .910, which would skew things. That also means Jones could be a .931 instead of a .922, as well. Just remember, when including the opportunity cost of a middling starting goalie in the ninth or tenth round instead of a forward with a lot of upside, drafting a backup late from an elite team can provide a ton of value throughout the season in a roto league.

*Thanks to Hockey Analysis, Hockey Reference, and

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');