Distorted Reality And Fantasy Goalies

Josh L.
October 06 2012 05:28PM

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Goalies are obviously important in hockey. They're the last line of defense to an otherwise huge target. They, like catchers in baseball, get unique equipment tailored to the unique job they do . The unique role they play doesn't necessarily make each goalie unique. Over the past few years the idea that there isn't much difference between most of the leagues starting goalies has grown legs. Goalie performance has high variance, and LeafsNation czar Cam Charron's observation about the recent playoff goalies puts the issue in context:

Los Angeles, Florida, Detroit, Washington, Phoenix, all these teams got competent-to-great goaltending for pennies on the dollar and all made the playoffs. Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning spent more on their combination of Dwayne Roloson, Sebastien Caron and Mathieu Garon than any of those teams and never found the right guy.

NHL teams largely participate in a crapshoot to find capable goaltending. Fantasy GMs do too, but they might actually have a more difficult job finding capable goalies given the standard set up of fantasy leagues. Four of the ten standard scoring categories in Yahoo leagues are attributed to netminders. Each of a team's two starting goalies then accounts for 20% of that team's scoring potential in a head to head league. This obviously forces GMs to key in on "elite" goaltending talent earlier than they otherwise would.

The importance placed on goaltending in fantasy hockey may not be absurd (it probably is to a degree), but the team based statistics fantasy systems use to give individual goalies credit sets up a direct conflict with newer evaluative methods. The statistics don't actually relay much anything the goalie himself does, and the inflated significance of goalies forces GMs to largely gamble with premium picks on highly volatile goalies instead of taking more reliable offensive players. There has to be a better way to do things.

When to Take a Goalie

Source: Wikipedia Commons

The problem of deciding when to take a goalie is an issue all GMs face, and one that will make a huge impact on their team one way or the other. The inevitable run on elite goalies early in a draft usually establishes an identifiable plateau. The consensus top puck stoppers go high, and the rest of the goalies are, for the most part, treated like kickers in football.

Treating most of the remaining goalies as relatively interchangeable gels well with what we understand about goaltending at the NHL level now. The problem is for GMs who feel the need to select elite goalies early. The opportunity cost of taking a goalie high in the draft is the chance to draft a high scoring forward. Point scorers are the holy grail of fantasy hockey. Passing on one for a goalie early is a cardinal sin.

Goalie Criteria

Once a GM finally gets around to selecting a goalie, what criteria do they actually use? They have a subjective idea of how "good" a goalie is. Statistics like wins and goals against average usually come next in the pecking order, but they're unreliable from year to year because of how much they depend on the team in front of the goalie. The completely unreliable shutout category causes teeth gnashing every year. The inevitable shutout from a randomly picked up back up goalie is the kryptonite for most blood pressure medicines.

The problem though is that there aren't many reliable goalie stats. Leagues could look to use even strength save percentage or Rob Vollman's Quality Starts to add a slightly more repeatable element to their games. Both stats put up barriers to entry for fantasy GMs though, and leagues are going to shy away from unnecessary barriers.

Given the undesirable nature of advanced stats as the basis for fantasy hockey scoring and the unreliability of mainstream goalie stats most players turn to the type of team a goalie plays for. Does the goalie play for a good defensive team? Are they high in the standings? Does he see a ton of shots on a nightly basis? These questions run through every GMs head at draft time, and they make the process of findind goalies much more complicated than it needs to be.

Solve the Problem and Introduce Team DEF

Football drafts offer the option to draft team defenses in lieu of selecting individual defensive players. The option may be available to shorten football drafting time, but it can be applied practically to hockey very easily. Every one of the measures used to grade fantasy goalies is impacted to a significant degree by the team in front of them. Wins are purely a team stat. Goals against average and save percentage fluctuate wildly from team to team. It makes more sense to just draft a team defense.

Drafting a team defense wouldn't change much about the order in which that position was drafted. The Kings, Predators, and Rangers are still going near the top, but the GM gets the added bonus of not having to deal with goalie starting assignments or injuries. Someone is going to be in net one way or the other.

I'm all for making life easier. Having my hand forced into taking a goalie several rounds before I want to do so drives me insane. Introducing Team DEF removes that issue to a certain degree and helps align fanasy hockey with modern hockey thinking by not attributing wins to goalies or penalizing them for seeing a boatload of shots.

It might be fantasy hockey, but that doesn't mean it needs to be illogical. Offer this Yahoo, please.

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Josh writes for DefendingBigD, WFAA.com, and tracks both scoring chances and zone entries for Dallas Stars games. He can be found on Twitter at @JoshL1220 where he may or may not continue to speak in third person. Please follow his meagerly followed account so he can get a boost of self esteem one follower at a time.
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#1 goalies
October 06 2012, 05:55PM
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Teams are allocating more $$ to goaltending than ever before. I'm fairly certain the only way teams have below $4M allocated to goaltending in the future will be if a goalie is on an ELC.

In 08/09, 3 teams had $7+M allocated to goaltending. Next season, 11 teams will have that amount. That's a significant increase in 4 years. In 12/13, there will be approx 15+ teams with $7+M allocated to goaltending. Why? Cause GMs are placing more importance on it, therefore placing more $$ on it. We saw in the last 2 summers that teams have to give goalies big contracts to retain them.

"Los Angeles, Florida, Detroit, Washington, Phoenix, all these teams got competent-to-great goaltending for pennies on the dollar and all made the playoffs". The majority of those teams have goalies with expiring contracts next summer. They will all be in for a big raise.

LA - Quick just re-upped for a massive contract. He will have a $5.8M cap hit next yr (and for the next 10 yrs). Detroit- Howard is a UFA next summer. He'll get between $4-6M next yr. Phx- Smith is also a UFA next summer. He'll also get between $4-6M next yr. Washington - Both goalies are on ELC and are RFA's net summer.

There were 9 teams who allocated less than $4M to goaltending for 12/13 season (Det, Chi, Phx,Wash, Ott, LA, Fla, TBL, Tor). Unsurprisingly, 5 of those 9 teams were in the top 10 teams of the league with most goals against.

There's a new trend in the NHl w/ regards to goaltending. You'll see it in full effect in the 12/13 season when there might be 3 teams w/ less than $4M allcoated to goaltending, and 15+ teams with $7+M. You have to pay for goaltending.

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#2 Shaun
October 06 2012, 07:36PM
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The problem is that standard Yahoo leagues have 6 skater stat categories and 4 goalie stat categories. This means that 40% of what is tabulated comes from two, maybe three players, as opposed to the 60% from the dozen-plus players who have the misfortune of playing outside of a crease.

This is particularly troublesome for rotisserie leagues. The best option is usually for commissioners to customize the stats so that there's a more complementary skew...8:3 or 10:4 seems to work well.

In other words, lessen the impact of choosing mediocre goaltending, and suddenly you have a more balanced draft and a more competitive (and fair) league.

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#3 Ralph
October 06 2012, 10:58PM
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@goalies

I wonder if it's because GMs are trying to apply the same logic to goalies as they do to skaters.

We've heard people around the league talk about the death of the "bridge" contract (I want to cite Brian Burke as one of them, but not sure). Players are getting paid with term on their second contracts, instead of having a 1-2 year cheap deal after their ELC. (By the way, Michal Neuvirth is on that cheap second contract, not an ELC.)

Apply that logic to goalies and pay for potential, well, the issue is that goalie performance can be pretty unpredictable. If you try to snag the young goalie with one good season, he may not be that good. If you want for four or five years, then he's established enough to command a pretty penny.

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#5 Shaun
October 07 2012, 08:31PM
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@Josh L.

@Josh L: True enough, though just to play devil's advocate... +/- is another common fantasy stat that is largely dependent upon team success. Don't get me wrong -- some players are consistent "plus" players while some are consistent "minor" players, no matter what team they're on...but the same can be said of the extremes for goalies as well (i.e.: Hasek's stats were incredible wherever he played, just as Gary Smith was pretty horrible wherever his suitcase landed...). A player can be hanging out, chatting with his own goaltender while a goal is scored at the other end, and he'll still get a + for it. There's a reason why the best even strength teams have a *bunch* of guys with great +/- ratings (just take a look at Boston and Vancouver last year...). It's really a team stat, and I'd go so far as to say it has less individual bearing than any of the goalie stats (okay, save for wins I suppose). By that same token, PIMs is usually a positive stat in fantasy hockey. Why in the world should a player be *valued* for taking a dumb cross-checking penalty and putting his team on the PK for two minutes?

Ultimately, I see what you mean with goalie stats, but in the realm of fantasy statistics, sometimes it's more about having relatively predictable statistical numbers rather than having those numbers tied directly to positional impact.

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