Hello everyone and welcome in for another article, the long-awaited #ZeroG update based on the 2021-2022 season. Before we jump in, be sure to check out the Apples & Ginos community on Discord and the Apples & Ginos Patreon for even more content; I’ll be providing extras for Patreon members all summer and right now you can get in that group for a mere $1/month. I’m also in the Discord every day and would be more than happy to answer any questions you have about goalie strategy, off-season moves, or dynasty talk.
I don’t know how you found this article if you haven’t already read my thesis statement on the #ZeroG strategy, but if you haven’t already, click that link and read it first. A lot of my statements in this article will refer to that article and compare directly to it, so it’ll be fairly important to have that base to get full value out of this article.
Alright, we’re all on the same page now. Goalie drafting was horrendous in 2020-21, forming the basis for my #ZeroG strategy since it was possible to get the same performance from a late round goalie without paying the piper for a top-rated tender. I performed the same analysis on the 2021-22 season, and it was pretty shocking. I didn’t join a Yahoo standard cats league this year, so I’m comparing KKUPFL data I compiled last year versus this season throughout this article. You’ll have some differences from cats leagues to points leagues to be sure in terms of season-finish rank, but at the very least the comparison from last season to this season will be accurate. If you’re wondering why I chose to draw an arbitrary line after the top 14 goalies, the KKUPFL is a 14-team league so it presents the “G1” from each team vs the “G2”, and I used the same dividing line in last year’s article.
In 2020-21, the top 14 goalies by Yahoo! ADP (average draft position) averaged a KKUPFL season finish rank of 24.9. The next 14 goalies (ADP from 15-28) averaged a rank of 22.3. In 2021-22, the top 14 goalies by Yahoo! ADP averaged a KKUPFL season finish rank of 14.9, and the next 14 goalies averaged a rank of 24.8. Yep, you’re reading that right. Out of the top 14 goalies selected, 8 returned top-14 season finishes, 2 finished rank 15-17, and 4 finished rank 27 or worse. Goalies drafted top-14 generally returned at least similar value.
I’ll be honest: I was stunned when I saw it. 2020-21 had been such a scathing indictment of using high picks on goalies, but here was the same data I had used to prove my point last year telling me that early goalies hadn’t been as bad of a draft day investment as I had been telling everyone they would be.
Well that’s it then, right? #ZeroG is dead? Chalk up the L, learn something, move on.
I’ll admit that this was my first reaction. I stared at my numbers, double-checking to make sure I had performed the analysis the same way. When I was convinced my analysis were correct, I shut off the computer, pushed back from the desk, and stared at the wall.
How was I going to explain this? Was my credibility as a fantasy hockey “analyst” at stake? Would I get laughed at by the very community I had built?
This might make it seem like I agonized over this for weeks. Realistically, it took me less than an hour to come back to the computer. The first thing that clicked for me was that I had just put together my personal best fantasy season across my portfolio of leagues employing this strategy to the absolute extreme across all platforms and league scoring systems. I finished no worse than 3rd in the regular season of any league and scored the 6th most points out of 458 KKUPFL managers in a year when goalie scoring was adjusted to the point that 14 of the top 100 point scorers were goalies and 7 were top 40. How could I marry the fact that I had not only done well but dominated a number of very competitive leagues with the idea that I had put myself behind on draft day avoiding goalies who returned value?
The second thing that clicked was the vast number of discussions that I’ve had with people that I consider to be the best fantasy hockey players on the planet via the Strategy Series on the Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey Podcast. Almost to a person they all declared that they generally agreed with the strategy and many had faded goalies for years in drafts just like me (albeit without the catchy title for the strategy). How could we all be so wrong?
The answer, predictably, fell somewhere in the middle. While it was true that goalies were generally more predictable and returned more value relative to ADP in 2021-22 than 2020-21, there was a key portion of the puzzle missing from my original analysis. This is where I was wrong about #ZeroG as a strategy: the intrinsic value and power of the strategy was always less about the unpredictability of the goalie position (although that is certainly a contributing factor) and more importantly predicated on ease of replacement. This is most easily explained when looking at fantasy points per game ranks at the position rather than end of season finish:
Folks, we are playing a game in which Ville Husso emerges as a top-4 goalie midseason. That’s upside that you simply cannot find at the forward or defense positions based solely on opportunity. Out of the top 25 skaters in KKUPFL fantasy points/game, only three (Filip Forsberg, Timo Meier, and Nazem Kadri) were outside the first five rounds in pre-season Yahoo ADP. Let me put it another way: Andrei Vasilevskiy, widely considered a “sure thing” at G and commonly drafted in the first round, finished 12th in fantasy points/game while only two other players with a first round ADP finished 12th or lower in fantasy points/game at their position (Brad Marchand and Artemi Panarin). In fact, if you include the next 12 players by ADP only Brayden Point and Robin Lehner (another goalie!) finished lower in fantasy points/game at their respective positions than Vasilevskiy. That kind of potential variance is something you don’t want to stomach coming from any of your early draft picks, much less your first rounder.
So where does this leave us? Full steam ahead with #ZeroG for 2022-23? Some adjustments required? I think this year’s data makes me much more amenable to a modified #ZeroG strategy for next year, especially for managers who aren’t monitoring goalie starts 24/7 like the rest of us degenerates. If you ask me what I think is truly optimal, I will still say that full #ZeroG and not touching G until double-digit rounds is my preferred strategy. I trust myself to identify and acquire the Hussos and Forsbergs of 2022-23 as I did this year. 28 of 31 skaters drafted in the first three rounds returned at least top 50 finish in KKUPFL fantasy points per game. When you devote your top picks to forwards and defensemen you’re acquiring a very bankable and more importantly irreplaceable asset.
When forwards and defensemen take over the top line and/or top PP role on their teams it rarely turns into a tremendous fantasy points per game season, OR that possibility has already been baked into their ADP and therefore the cost to acquire is much higher than a Husso or Forsberg who quite literally came out of nowhere this year to have dominant fantasy seasons at the goalie position. So the most likely scenario to build a championship winning roster is still to fade goaltending until the late rounds and spend the regular season mining the waiver wire for these league winning netminders to pair with what should be an top-notch group of skaters (since you allocated all of your top draft picks to them). If someone had data on the most common players rostered by championship-winning teams, I would have to imagine that Husso and Forsberg would have to be high on the list: they cost their managers nothing to acquire but provided immense value over replacement. At the very least, fantasy managers need to give themselves the roster space to acquire these kind of league-winners.
As I alluded to before, I’m not opposed to managers taking a shot on a clear workhorse goaltender in say the 8th round or later. That’s where Thatcher Demko, Jacob Markstrom, and Tristan Jarry came from this past season. The upside there of getting a workhorse stud goaltender is probably worth the opportunity cost versus the available options at the skater positions. I personally am unlikely to take that plunge since I was pulling guys like Sam Bennett and Teuvo Teravainen in that range quite reliably and I’m perfectly comfortable with the waiver wire game for goalies. But for the manager with less time to devote to fantasy hockey (or a less obsessive personality), I think this year’s data has convinced me that grabbing one of the last guys in the clear workhorse tier is certainly a viable strategy.
So the results are in and the conclusion is much the same, but I was still wrong about some aspects of goaltending and I definitely learned something new. The 2021 data was so bad that I thought fading goalies was the only strategy that could outperform your leaguemates; the 2021-22 data has made me think that at the very least goalie volume is somewhat predictable and therefore mitigating risk by targeting goalies at the back end of the workhorse tier is a viable alternative. But the Hussos and Forsbergs who won me (and many other managers) my championships this year, combined with the Reimers, Quicks, and Bobrovskys who got me there are enough to convince me that #ZeroG is alive and well for 2022-23 and beyond.
That’s all for this one folks, I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it! Make sure you follow Apples & Ginos on Twitter and join the Apples & Ginos Discord server for more content and to ask any fantasy hockey questions you may have.
Thanks for reading, you are appreciated!
Soundtrack to my writing: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar & Harry’s House – Harry Styles
Advanced stats credit: Natural Stat Trick