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Fantasy Hockey: Time to Touch up the Blue Paint

Goalies are arguably the most important players in hockey, and the last thing they should be doing is hurting your fantasy team. Fix the problem now.
Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck is fantasy hockey gold. He should be, at least. Over the past two seasons, he’s started seven more games than any other goaltender. No one has faced or stopped more shots. Only one goalie has more shutouts, and only one has more victories.

And yet…he became an anchor that dragged down a top contender in my fantasy league last season. How did that happen?

Blame it on the streamers. A few seasons ago, NHL teams started shifting to time-shares in net, with top starters playing less than ever and backups earning bigger chunks of the pie. The trend was exacerbated by COVID-19, which forced the NHL into condensed schedules with far more back-to-backs, but the league’s creases were headed that way before the

pandemic. With the position more physically demanding than ever, goalies don’t start consecutive games anymore. Just 10 years ago, 25 netminders started at least 60 percent of their teams’ games in the regular season. Five years ago, that number shrank to 20. By 2020-21? Just 15 goalies, representing less than half the league. On the flip side, thanks to platoons, a whopping 63 goalies started at least 20 percent of their teams’ games last season. Ten years ago, 53 did.

So if workhorse goaltenders are so rare today, shouldn’t guys like Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy be more valuable than ever in fantasy drafts right now? Shouldn’t they be surefire top-10 picks? Yes, but, in some formats, the streaming game has created the opposite effect. 

Let’s revisit the poor GM in my league whose season got “hurt” by having Hellebuyck. In our head-to-head format, his playoff opponent wasn’t burdened by having a great goaltender whom he could never drop. He was free to cast his fishing line in the bountiful river of quality backup goaltenders starting every night. With so many NHL teams using platoons and so many different goalies getting starts every week under the league’s new philosophy, fantasy GMs last spring could go with Jake Oettinger one night, Cal Petersen the next, then Robin Lehner, then Ilya Sorokin, and so on, dominating volume categories against teams with goalies too good to drop. 

So, in the end, the teams with the best goaltenders were punished. When a real-life stud becomes a hindrance in your pool, the game is seriously broken. Goalies have essentially lost their value if the waiver wire helps you more than Vezina Trophy winners do.

So if your league has the streamer GMs greasing their way to glory, how do you adjust your scoring system to correct the problem? Consider these ideas:

1. Cap your weekly goalie starts
If you place a maximum on the number of games your goalies can play per week, a team can’t gain an advantage by streaming backup after backup. If all things are equal from a volume perspective, the Hellebuycks and Vasilevskiys of the world become the elite fantasy stoppers they should be.

2. Add more stat categories
This is essentially a 1B idea to pair with capping goalie starts. Adding more categories in conjunction will increase the superstar starters’ values even more.

3. Draft teams, not goalies
We saved my fantasy football league by using this rule for quarterbacks: instead of drafting the player, you draft all his team’s players at that position. A Semyon Varlamov owner, then, gets the rights to Sorokin as well. That way, if the New York Islanders play back-to-backs, the GM gets both starts no matter what, and they aren’t screwed by a slippery streamer. In my own fantasy semifinal last season, I lost because I was a Tuukka Rask owner and my shrewd streamer opponent grabbed Jeremy Swayman, essentially swinging two starts. Under the draft-a-team format, I’d be the proud owner of the entire Boston Bruins battery.

4. Eliminate goalies altogether
Hey, it’s a philosophy many fantasy football GMs support when it comes to kickers, because their value year to year is so fickle and it’s frustrating when they decide matches. If the nature of the real sport has made goaltender values feel too random, we can take the random out of the fantasy game by starting a no-goalie league.

But that’s a last resort. The game wouldn’t feel as fun without honoring hockey heroes like Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy, so find a way to have your fantasy league do the same. 



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