Hello everyone and welcome in for another article. In this one I’m going to break down the #ZeroG draft strategy a little further from my original article back in June. Before I do that, I want to take a second to invite you to join the Apples & Ginos Discord server and the Apples & Ginos Patreon where I would be more than happy to answer any questions you have about Cal Petersen’s 2021/22 fantasy outlook, Henrik Lundqvist’s hair, or anything else that I get oddly excited about.
For those that haven’t read my original article on the #ZeroG draft strategy or need a quick refresher, here’s the gist of it: Back in June, I performed a study on where goalies finished relative to their averaged draft position (ADP) in the 2021 season, and found that there is very little difference on average drafting a goalie in the top 15 versus the next 15 goalies in terms of actual fantasy performance. Essentially the takeaway is that drafting a goalie in the early or even middle rounds of your drafts is a bad value play based on historical data. Goalies are simply too volatile to be trusted with early draft capital. I am convinced that drafting “zero Gs” in the early rounds and waiting until the 8th or 9th round at the earliest to pick your first goalie is the optimal strategy in almost every circumstance.
Another benefit to avoiding high or mid round goalies is that you won’t continue to hold and play them if they are playing poorly and hurting your fantasy team. When you commit to streaming the position, the leash is short and you’re always combing the waiver wire for the next hot goalie. And goalies are notoriously streaky. Even Andrei Vasilevskiy goes through extended periods of average-at-best goaltender play during each and every season. It’s the nature of a position that relies on a lot of external factors as well as a keen mental edge to maintain top form. The issue with goalie streakiness is that often you won’t know if it’s just a cold spell or the sign of doom like it was with Frederik Andersen and Carter Hart last year, and so you’ll likely keep starting them long after they’ve stopped producing anything of value for your fantasy squad. Using a streaming approach to the position helps you be mentally prepared to drop any goalie at any time for a player who is performing better or just in a better situation. Jack Campbell led several of my teams to the fantasy playoff finals last year because I was always looking for the next goalie to get hot on my teams. Similarly, I picked up Kevin Lankinen early in the year but dropped him when he fell off later because I had no real attachment or draft capital invested in him.
But I Have To Pick Somebody, Right?
Okay, you might be saying, I’ll try the #ZeroG draft strategy. But I still have to draft a couple of goalies or I miss out on a starting position that could be collecting me points in my H2H points league. So how do I pick from all these terrible options left at the end of my draft? This answer is easy: you draft high-upside goaltenders from great teams. You might scoff and think there won’t be any left late in the draft, but that is simply untrue. Pavel Francouz showed flashes of brilliance in 2019/20 for the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche and is only held back by the oft-injured Darcy Kuemper. Spencer Knight was widely considered one of the top 3 goalies outside of the NHL last season before he got his audition and immediately looked terrific. There’s a real chance he unseats Sergei Bobrovsky for at least a 1A role by midseason. I’ll take a shot on whichever of the Toronto goaltenders falls further between Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek. Ilya Sorokin could have a huge year if anything were to happen to the Islanders’ 1A Semyon Varlamov. If Los Angeles takes a step this year, Cal Petersen could easily be this year’s Juuse Saros.
Another interesting factoid: 14 of 31 NHL starters or 1As last year missed significant time due to injury in 2021. And that was a shortened season! You may need to churn the waiver wire a little bit at the start of the year looking for a more consistent goalie to ride with, but they will definitely be available. Lankinen, Nedeljkovic, Campbell, Swayman, Fleury, Demko, Smith… the list of goalies who emerged off the waiver wire to be fantasy stars (even if only for a short period of time) goes on and on. The key is to avoid getting emotionally attached to goalies and simply ride the hot hands as they come. There will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road and bad weeks, but you will likely outperform half of your league in goalie cats just by avoiding the early round goalie pitfalls, and even more importantly you should have one of the deepest skater groups in the league based on drafting more of them in the earlier rounds than your competition.
When do you finally pull the trigger and make that first goalie pick? For me there are often skater upside picks that I’m much more confident in late in my drafts and I anticipate that I will end a lot of drafts this year taking goalies with only my last two picks. However, I am not opposed on taking goalies who have extreme upside if things break their way earlier than that if I’m not in love with the skaters available at my spot, or think my guy will slide another round. I’ll get into some of those picks later on in this article.
Valuing Goalies in Cats vs Points or Leagues that Highly Value Goalies
Valuing goalies in cats versus points leagues is an interesting proposition. Goalies may not be heavily weighted in a points league and only high volume starters like Vasilevskiy and Hellebuyck will crack the upper echelon of total points scored on the season compared to skaters. Conversely, in a standard Yahoo cats league, goalies account for 4/10 or 40% of the categories. This can obviously lead to goalie performance having a disproportionate effect on your team’s weekly results. In this case, should we trend away from the #ZeroG strategy and let ourselves grab those mid round goalies? The answer is a resounding no.
Higher positional value at position with an extreme amount of variance should push us away from mid round picks, not towards them. Think of it this way: if your 6th round goalie has a 50% chance of flopping (which is what the data suggest is roughly the case), that flop will hurt you much more than his performance exceeding his draft position will gain for you. Players like Kris Letang and Mark Stone got drafted in my sixth rounds last year, while goalies like Carter Hart and Tristan Jarry went ahead of them. The higher the draft pick, the less variance you want. If you spend a high draft pick or two on a goalie and they bomb their season, your season is over. If you don’t, you can likely get at the very least league average play from late round and waiver wire goalies and it only takes one “hit” to put you in the upper echelon of goaltending play in your league. The floor for every goalie in the league except maybe Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, and Robin Lehner is “actively hurts your fantasy team”.
I’ve had people say to me that they can’t employ this strategy in their 32-team league where every starting or 1A goalie scores 2x the points of any skater. My only response to this is why would you want to play in a league where the winner is whoever chose two top 10 finishing goalies in the draft (i.e., whoever rocked the Philipp Grubauer/Marc-Andre Fleury tandem last year)? Don’t play in coinflip leagues where your skill is rendered irrelevant, or at least for heavens sakes please do not put real money on the line in them.
Goalie Rankings & Tiers for 2021/22
Tier 1: Studs
This tier is reserved for the best of the best, the guys who we feel like we know aren’t going to disappoint as long as they’re healthy. However, they are still going to be the riskiest investments you can make where they will go in drafts. Vasilevskiy is a first round pick, even top 5 in some leagues. Hellebuyck is likely to be a second rounder again, and Lehner will probably get reached for in the third in a lot of places. In those early rounds I am focused on getting true stud position players including maintaining a positional advantage at D; these players have to form the backbone of my team all year long and even stud goalies carry significant injury risk. It’s a near statistical certainty that one of these three will miss significant time in 2021/22 – do you know for sure which one?
Tier 2: Starters in Good Spots
This is the tier that I think gets people into trouble the most often. People will go into this season thinking they’re safe with Darcy Kuemper or Igor Shesterkin or Semyon Varlamov and they will simply get outproduced by goalies drafted 100 picks later or even plucked off of waivers after the season has already started. Investing high draft capital into Carter Hart or Jacob Markstrom last year was a huge problem because you likely didn’t cut them loose for the majority of the season despite them actively hurting your team relative to league average play. And that’s not even factoring in the missed opportunity cost of taking that goalie instead of taking a season-long contributing piece at forward or defense! One more thing that works against taking starters in this tier: goalie performance varies wildly throughout the season and the best way to react to that variance is to ride it rather than pull against it.
Think of goalie performance as a set of rapids everyone is canoeing through. Some will overreact in every direction, paddling strenuously but ultimately hitting every rock along the way until they sink. Some will close their eyes and pray. And then others will cautiously but confidently ride through the rapids, keeping a sharp eye out for where the current changes and where submerged rocks may be looming just below the surface. Winning at the goalie position is avoiding the massive rocks that doom you from the start. The only way to confidently do that is to avoid taking goalies in the early-to-mid portions of your draft, allowing you the flexibility to change course mid-stream and miss those catastrophic failures. In a way, the #ZeroG approach removes all of the biggest obstacles from the rapids. With those gone, you may bump and scrape a few rocks here or there, but you have the peace of mind that these rapids will never sink you.
Tier 3: Starters in Questionable Spots and Duos in Good Spots
This is the first tier that I may finally pull the trigger in. I’m very ambivalent about the ordering of this tier, as I am with most of my tiers. These guys are very interchangeable for me and I’m not going to take a goalie a round early because I feel some way about them. This is the beauty of tier-based drafting at work: remove the emotion and take the player that falls the furthest but has a similar range of outcomes as all the ones taken previously. You will notice that Thatcher Demko is relatively low in these rankings relative to many. That’s because it’s a tremendously small sample size from Demko and we haven’t seen him bounce back from an extended cold stretch really yet. Tristan Jarry is on a better team and was viewed similarly to Demko prior to the 2020/21 preseason, and he did not perform well to the point where now he’s viewed purely as a volume play.
The point is, young goalies are particularly unpredictable and I’m not going to elevate a young goalie on a poor defensive team into a tier he hasn’t proven himself in yet. The other goalie that may seem out of place to some in this tier is Spencer Knight. I went back and forth on which tier to place Knight in but ultimately decided this was the place. I believe that Bobrovsky and Knight will form a 1A/1B situation for the Panthers, but that Knight is the better goalie at this stage in both of their careers. The Panthers already used Chris Driedger as the 1A last year in multiple places so the precedent is set for riding a hot hand, and the Panthers are absolutely loaded up front, ready to provide their goaltenders with a tremendous amount of goal support. Knight has league-winning upside that I don’t think anyone in the tiers below him has.
Tier 4: Starters in Bad Spots, Wild Cards, and Upside Shots
This is the perfect place to go shopping for #ZeroG goalies. I love the shots on Kahkonen, Sorokin, and Petersen in this tier. The first two there benefit from good defensive teams in front of them while Petersen should be moving into more of an unquestioned starter’s role this season on an improved Kings squad. But again, these are players that I am perfectly fine with having to drop after a couple of lackluster weeks in order to pick up whoever is hot. That kind of flexibility is what makes this strategy really work. As I’ve said alread in this article, being unable to move on from a high-variance asset like a goalie is an unquestionable detriment to your team, and the best way to psychologically help yourself take the step of dropping an underperforming netminder is to not invest much (if any) draft capital into them.
Tier 5: Guys You Don’t Want
Here we’re solidly into backups and other goalies with lots of question marks on talent (Bobrovsky) or situation (Reimer, Hill). I’m not super interested in these guys, but in a standard 12-team league you’re probably not scraping the bottom of the barrel for these guys anyways. In leagues that reward volume I’m obviously leaning toward Bobrovsky, Reimer, and Hill, while in leagues that reward better rate stats I’m more interested in Raanta and Driedger.
Tier 6: Guys You Really Don’t Want
This is a rough crowd, the kind that hangs outside your local dive bar at 1 AM on a Wednesday. But history suggests that at least one of these guys will be fantasy relevant for an extended period. Brossoit could be that guy if Lehner were to go down to injury again given how strong Vegas looks this year, or Husso could take a step and snatch 1A duties from Binnington. DeSmith and Holtby could be a cheap source of streaming wins since they’ll play behind strong teams.
Tier 7: Gag Me With a Spoon
I’m not entirely sure where I gathered this idiom from but it very accurately describes this tier for me. I am not interested in anything going on here and would rather run with a single goalie than roster one of these guys until they show me something or their situation changes dramatically.
That’s all for this one folks! Make sure you follow Apples & Ginos on Twitter, on TikTok, or join the Apples & Ginos Discord server for more content and to ask any fantasy hockey questions you may have.
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