Since Oct. 24, 2011, I’ve been the only highly caffeinated human writing Rotoworld’s Hockey Dose columns. Beginning on Thursday, the gang will fill the pun-and-meandering-aside chasm for about a month as I help out with some Olympic coverage.
Yup, that’s going to be weird (but at least it’s weird-good instead of weird-bad).
Now, I’m not sure if this column will transition from a daily one to a weekly one (or something like that) once the Olympics kick in, but I’d imagine that things will be a little different for a while. You should absolutely stick with Rotoworld for all your fantasy hockey needs as the high-level hockey takes place on a larger piece of hockey rink real estate.
Anyhoo, with this being my last column until late February/early March, it only seems fitting to wrap up this partial season in review concept with the most dramatically weird and tumultuous position of goalie. You can also enjoy the forward-thinking piece here and read about some of the fantasy defensemen stories of note in this column.
This retrospective focus prompts me to recommend Rotoworld’s suite of hockey columns even more so than usual. (Hopefully you’ve been taking part in Wednesday chats, stocking up with the Week Ahead, absorbing Waiver Wired and chewing on Fantasy Nuggets - among others - in the first place.)
With all that aside, I think it’s now time to take a look at a very odd few months for the most important position in the sport.
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EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW WAS WRONG PART 1: RISERS
Steve Mason - Look, I know Steve Mason had been struggling before last night’s 33-save shutout. He may very well be the poster child for the dangers of signing goalies based on contract years (and in his case, less than a year).
But that’s the Flyers’ long-term problem, not yours, unless you’re planning on retaining him in a keeper league.
You really have to tip your cap to what he's done for fantasy owners before 2014 rolled around. In October, poor goal support limited him to a bad record of 3-6-0, yet he had a dazzling .928 save percentage. November required thanks-giving as he really dominated with a 6-2-2 record and a .938 average. He was then the reverse of October in December, putting up mediocre individual stats (.899) but enjoying a 7-1-2 record.
Whether it’s fair-yet-harsh to call him Sieve Mason or just plain old effective Steve, this run alone makes you wonder how safe any assumption really can be about netminders.
Marc-Andre Fleury: Before Tomas Vokoun’s career and life-threatening blood clot issues cropped up, many wondered if Marc-Andre Fleury would even be the Penguins' starter. Instead, he's been a winning machine with solid individual numbers, especially if you factor in the Penguins' upheaval from injuries.
Josh Harding: His health issues prompted many to dismiss him entirely, yet he's already exceeded the win totals anyone reasonably might have had about him this entire season, let alone before February.
Ben Bishop and Semyon Varlamov: Despite these two boasting some significant differences, I lump them together because I've liked their games for a decent time now ... but I didn't expect such brilliance so soon.
Varlamov seems the volatile genius, a guy who can blow up and have a terrible game or debilitating injury or just as easily carry his team on his back. Ben Bishop hasn't played long enough to be considered elite yet, but he's enjoying an absolutely phenomenal season that would get my imaginary Vezina vote right now.
EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW WAS WRONG PART 2: SLIPPING GRIPS
Chew on this rather mind-numbing bit of information: so far this season, Jonas Gustavsson (.910 save percentage) has remarkably comparable success/failures compared to Henrik Lundqvist (.915) and Tim Thomas (.912).
(Those save percentages were even closer before Tuesday’s shellackings for Gustavsson and Thomas, by the way.)
Now look at these records and guess which one has which record … a) for Gustavsson, b) for Lundqvist and c) for Thomas.
3. 13-4-3 (Red Wings game on Monday at Flyers)
OK class, put your pencils down. The answers were 1 - B, Lundqvist; 2 - C, Thomas and 3 - A, Gustavsson.
Comparing the year “The Monster” is having versus Jimmy Howard’s struggles ranks as one of the best microcosms for this strange season. Gustavsson has an inferior save percentage yet he’s won in more games despite receiving fewer appearances. It’s just the sort of baffling realization that makes everything seem daffy.
Pekka Rinne - Be honest, if you went into a coma today and then had to draft a 2014-15 roster the moment you regained consciousness in the late summer/early spring, you wouldn’t be comfortable drafting Pekka Rinne early on, would you? When would you be? And do you think that you’ll feel THAT much more confident with him when you’re actually able to follow his progress?
Since Rinne's $7 million contract kicked in, he put up respectable but no longer dominant save percentage stats (.930 and .923 in 2010-11 and 11-12 versus .910 in 12-13 and .917 in the small sliver of time that was the nine games he played this season). Worse yet, he's not even .500, as Rinne is 19-20-9 in the post-Ryan Suter era.
How confident should we be that he's worth a high pick, especially if the Predators just pull the plug on his 2013-14 season.*
Then again, I'd be more comfortable getting Rinne than, say, Cam Ward. I think. Maybe.
Craig Anderson - What a weird season he's having. After going 12-8-2 with an outstanding .941 save percentage in 24 games last season, Anderson seems to be experiencing the opposite fate, with a 16-10-7 record despite a mediocre .906 mark. I've liked him for a long time, yet now I must admit that I just have no clue what to expect from the guy.
MORE AMMO TO BUY LOW
With each season, I warm up more to the stats-leaning person’s view that it’s best to stock up on high-end skaters and leave goaltending for the bargain bin. Still, 2013-14 has given that idea the kind of boost Eric Staal saw between his season before the second most recent lockout and his breakout 2005-06 campaign.**
Now, every league is different, so the message is merely not just to panic and over-pay for goalies just because everyone else is doing it. Instead, seek bargains and get them if you hit spans of a draft in which there’s little difference between someone you’d draft in round 7 versus 9.
Sure, you’re going to want to stock up on goalies if their categories make up a disproportionate amount of your league’s stats, but under normal circumstances, you’re rarely going to enjoy much stability in many goalie stats like save percentage, GAA and especially shutouts on a week-to-week basis.
You can take all kinds of strategies in mind. Maybe you want one bedrock guy - although, good luck with that, as even Lundqvist looks human this season - and then play musical chairs with other flavors of the month. Maybe you want to stock up on more dart throws toward the end of a draft.
Either way, if this season hasn’t made you at least ponder changing your habits of spending high picks on goalies, I’m not sure what else will.
This column covered a lot of ground, but there were still plenty of other interesting developments among goalies this season. And there are likely to be more in the next few months. Feel free to float your own theories in the comments.
Oh, and I’ll miss you guys, but this is “See you later” not “Goodbye.” (Forces an awkward group hug.)
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* - Which I honestly believe would be the prudent move.
** - He went from 31 points in 2003-04 to 100 in 05-06.