James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Dose: Goalies Drop Like Flies

Friday, October 25, 2013


The nature of the Daily Dose dictates that I write just about every word after all the games are over, but I’ll admit that it seemed like today’s edition would be a little different.

 

You see, I wanted to make this my opus about how NHL teams are wildly undervaluing backup goalies - and competition in general - after seeing Pekka Rinne go out for a month with a hip infection (yeesh), giving way to green newcomers Carter Hutton and Magnus Hellberg. So somewhere in the Google Drive universe, there’s a 1.0 version of this column that will never see the light of day.

 

(Oh, the parenthetical asides that you’ll never read. Tragic, I know.)

 

That situation is still going to be one of my primary focuses tonight, but so many bad things happened to goalies that a sweeping statement seemed poorly timed. That being said, I think my message for general managers should apply to reeling fantasy owners of Pekka Rinne, Cam Ward and Josh Harding:

 

Embrace competition and greed; acknowledge the undeniable instability of the goaltending position while others become irrelevant and stagnant. Chew on this truth from 2013:

 

All four goalies in the Stanley Cup Final - Corey Crawford, Tuukka Rask, Ray Emery and Anton Khudobin - were fighting for new contracts and solidified roles. The 2013 Vezina winner (Sergei Bobrovsky) was also in a contract year last season, plus he was traded from a team that’s been desperate for goaltending for decades. That represents the most extreme example of such motivation driving goalies, but generally speaking, guys with a lot to gain have gone deeper in the playoffs that workhorses who knew they’d retain big contracts and starting jobs whether they won or lost.

 

Actually, if you want more food for thought on that, click here.

 

Let all of that soak in when you think that you either a) have all the “sure-things” in net or b) feel hopeless. The most important position in hockey also tends to be the least predictable, so be flexible.

 

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Friday). It's just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7pm ET. Here's the link.

 

Also don’t forget, for everything NHL, check out Rotoworld's Player News and follow @Rotoworld_ HK+@cyclelikesedins on Twitter.

 

Oh, and there’s still plenty of time to join a Yahoo! Hockey Pool, so get on that.

 

PREDS’ PRESSING QUESTION

 

You never know when a team will do a 180, but it sounds like the Predators are going to stick “in-organization” with their Rinne replacement, which opens up quite the head-scratcher between two relative unknowns in Carter Hutton and Magnus Hellberg. Here’s a quick rundown of both goalies’ merits and questions.

 

Hutton (17 percent owned) - Wow, I guess Yahoo owners are already stocking up on Rinne replacements like an apocalypse prepper stocks up on water in weird ways. I know 17 percent isn’t THAT much, but when you consider how desirable-yet-ignored a gem like Marcus Johansson is (only 19 percent owned … seriously, wake up), my confidence in how proactive fantasy owners tend to be is a bit low.

 

Anyway, coming into Thursday night, the impression I got from Predators bloggers/onlookers on Twitter was that Magnus Hellberg might be the guy to get over the long haul of the month, but Hutton’s doing some amazing things with his chances. So maybe it’s a tossup.

 

In some mop-up duty in a loss to the St. Louis Blues plus two wins against the Winnipeg Jets, the 27-year-old has stopped 93 out of 97 shots, giving him a 2-0-0 record with a .959 save percentage and 1.37 GAA. His sample size is profoundly small, yet he’s at least nailing his audition so far.

 

You’d have to think that Hutton has the edge on Hellberg in the short-term.

 

Hellberg (1 percent) - The reason people are excited about Hellberg - aside from the fact that he boasts a name that could work for a James Bond villain - is that he’s excelled at other levels so far:

 

2010-11 (Almtuna IS): .935 save percentage in 31 games

2011-12 (Forlunda HC): .904 in 17 games

2012-13 (Milwaukee, AHL): .924 in 39 games

 

That’s pretty good stuff, but the organization originally determined that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL in 2013-14. He’s enough of an unknown quantity that I definitely wouldn’t add him right now - while Hutton is worth at least a temporary spot behind that fantastic Predators defense and that hot start - but he could be interesting to watch.

 

HARROWING TRIP

 

I’d wager that both goalies will face some ups and downs because of a schedule that will ramp up in difficulty in a big way soon. The Predators host the challenging St. Louis Blues in Nashville on Saturday and then go through a seven-game road trip and nine of 10 games away from home through Nov. 21.

 

My guess is Pekka Rinne would even struggle in that span - I like the big Finn, but he hasn’t played like a $7 million goalie since getting paid that way - so imagine two guys who’ve barely faced NHL shooters at this point in their careers facing such a run? Trial by living-from-a-suitcase fire.

 

Overall, I’d circle back to Hutton being a good short-term add, but make no mistake about it: the Predators approach a stretch as uncertain as they can probably remember.

 

CURSED CAROLINA?

 

If I were the Carolina Hurricanes, I’d either spend double on my training staff or hire an exorcist.

 

This team keeps getting ravaged by injuries, and the goaltending position is no exception; Cam Ward either re-injured his knee or suffered a different lower-body injury, but he’s now out three-to-four weeks. That’s a pretty brutal break since strong backup Anton Khudobin’s been banged up for a while now and isn’t expected to be back until late October/early November.

 

Khudobin (7-percent owned) is listed as on the IR right now, so if you have an open spot, I’d recommend stashing him. Khudobin's slender NHL resume is no-doubt bolstered by playing for the Minnesota Wild and behind Zdeno Chara, but he had a nice start in Carolina and has a .932 career save percentage. Time will probably flatten that mark out, but why not see if he's the real deal for a couple weeks before Ward comes back? I'm not saying you should sacrifice a different player if you have someone else on the IR, but if you're lucky to be free there, go for it.

 

As far as Carolina’s other two options - Justin Peters and Mike Murphy - I don’t see much potential in either as a short-term add. The Hurricanes are a middle-of-the-pack team, so it’s tougher to encourage you to bring a guy in just for filler. Why not get better filler?

 

(Granted, the lesson of this column is that you never really know with goalies - Steve Mason has a .930 save percentage,* for goodness sakes - so don’t ignore them, either.)

 

HARDING TO DENY BACKSTROM’S BACK

 

How cruel is it that Josh Harding suffered a mystery lower-body injury on the same night that the Minnesota Wild were promoting his charity? Harding’s been an absolute gem - a great sight considering his seemingly lost potential due to MS - and now his health is a question mark again.

 

The Wild have been pretty dominant when it comes to puck possession, though they haven’t exactly put the puck in other teams’ nets another to provide much margin of error, so the Harding/Niklas Backstrom situation can move the needle quite a bit.

 

This development cracks the door open that little bit more for Backstrom to reestablish himself as the true No. 1, rather than a threatened starter/platoon mate. The Wild’s next injury update is a big deal.

 

After the jump: quick hits and injury bits.

 

* - Why not see if Steve Mason can keep up his diamond in the rough act in Philly if you’re goalie-needy? He’s only owned in 37 percent of leagues. Remember, you can mock the Flyers for putting their eggs in a hole-filled basket goalie-wise while adding Mason because the bar for “third fantasy goalie” is dramatically lower than it is for “No. 1 goalie who is a Hail Mary attempt to save a fledgling general manager’s job.”

 


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than two years. Follow him on Twitter.
Email :James O'Brien



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