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#ZeroG to Victory: An Introduction

Josh Hutchinson (@JustJoshin41)

How’s it going everybody? My name is Josh Hutchinson. You may know me from the Midweek Edition of the Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey Podcast as well as from some appearances with Nate on the weekend edition of the show. If not, I’m an experienced fantasy hockey player that is always looking to challenge myself and evolve my strategy. I will be writing a weekly article here on the website throughout the 2022-23 season and I wanted to give you an introduction on what to expect.

Why #ZeroG?

The #ZeroG strategy, based on the discourse over the last couple of seasons, is not for everyone. There have been debates on Twitter, Reddit and fantasy hockey podcasts that argue whether or not this is a viable way to approach fantasy hockey. Our fearless leader Nate coined the term #ZeroG a couple of years ago and it’s since swept the nation, but fading goalies is not a new strategy in fantasy hockey.

There are a lot of common misconceptions about the #ZeroG strategy itself. First of all, I think some people get too caught up with the term “Zero”. It doesn’t mean don’t draft/roster any goalies and it doesn’t mean punt all your goalie categories. It’s essentially about mitigating risk and maximizing draft capital. Goalies are inherently risky mainly because they are very difficult to predict. The advanced stats community will tell you that it’s the most difficult position to create accurate projections for. There are very few goalies who provide consistent production year after year. Essentially, the way I would describe the implementation of the #ZeroG strategy is lowering your own personal perceived value over replacement of goalies in the draft relative to skaters due to inherent unpredictability.

Nearly every season, multiple top ranked fantasy hockey goaltenders do not come close to achieving the production that would justify the position in which they were drafted. Last year, Robin Lehner was drafted in round 2-3 on average and barely cracked the top 25 in the end of season rankings. In 2020-21, Carter Hart was in the top 3 in the preseason goaltender rankings and he ended up with an .877 save percentage. Sergei Bobrovsky has won two Vezina trophies, but he’s also had multiple seasons in between with a below league average save percentage. Of course, these are the most glaring cases, but there are more subtle situations that happen every single year that illustrate the idea “goaltending is voodoo”. For a more detailed look at this phenomenon, check out Nate’s goalie performance assessment studies from the last two seasons. 

Conversely, every year there are a number of goaltenders who aren’t drafted in most redraft leagues that end up performing better than goalies that are. Ville Husso, Anton Forsberg, James Reimer and Jake Oettinger are all goalies that considerably outperformed their ADP this past season and most, if not all of them, could have been found on the waiver wire in most leagues. These are the goalies that #ZeroG enthusiasts are looking for.

What is “#ZeroG to Victory”?

Finding these “diamonds in the rough” can take a lot of patience and trial and error as they’re often difficult to identify until midseason. This takes a lot of discipline and patience and could potentially leave you wishing you’d just spent on a Vasilevsky or Shesterkin. But never fear!

#ZeroG to Victory is a weekly article where I will highlight goaltenders rostered in less than 50% of fantasy leagues who you should consider giving a look to. These goalies could be involved in team goaltending controversies, they could be getting opportunities due to injury or they could just have advantageous schedules. I’m going to endeavor to do the hard work so you don’t have to. Even if you don’t nail down the “diamonds in the rough”, streaming the right goalies can be incredibly useful week to week regardless of whether or not you used the #ZeroG strategy in your draft, especially if you’re one of the unlucky ones who wasted a 3rd round pick on this year’s Robin Lehner, Carter Hart or Sergei Bobrovsky.

Since the NHL season is still over a week away (other than the two games being played in Czechia) and there isn’t much to go on in terms of schedule, here are 3 goalies that I think are being disrespected in drafts and could return you some value if you draft them late.

Anton Forsberg

Could we really be talking about a back to back #ZeroG gem? As I mentioned before, Anton Forsberg greatly outperformed his ADP last year. He was undrafted on average and he ended up with a .917 save percentage (10th in NHL) and a record of 22-17-4 in 46 games. He even capped the season off by signing a 3 year extension with an AAV of $2.75 million, the richest contract of his career. So why isn’t he getting the respect he deserves? Ottawa made a huge splash this offseason acquiring big name forwards Alex Debrincat and Claude Giroux. They also made a deal with Minnesota to bring in Cam Talbot in exchange for the less experienced Filip Gustavsson. There has been a lot of chatter this summer within the fantasy community about how Cam Talbot was an obvious volume starter but that was silenced when the Senators brass stated on media day that they were going with a tandem. Despite this, Talbot is still being drafted considerably higher than Forsberg on average. Should he be?

It’s important to note that Forsberg had this success with Ottawa last year despite them being a poor defensive team. They were 23rd in the league in xGA and yet Forsberg had +8.5 GSAx which put him 16th in the league.  Minnesota on the other hand was a great defensive team (ranked 2nd in the league in xGA) and Talbot had -5.8 GSAx which put him 87th in the league. While GSAx is not a predictive stat, it still shows that Talbot performed worse than Forsberg in a better defensive system last year. I think this should raise some red flags for people considering drafting Talbot and it makes me wonder if there is potential for Forsberg to take a 1A role by the end of the year. It’s also worth noting that Forsberg should already be comfortable with the team and vice versa and it typically takes newly acquired goaltenders like Talbot a while to get acclimated to a new system and a new team. Forsberg’s ADP is currently 203.16 on Fantrax and 129.0 on Yahoo. If he’s available late in your draft, I would take a flyer on him.

Philipp Grubauer

Grubauer was the worst goaltender in the NHL last year in terms of GSAx with -33.7.  Seattle was surprisingly a great defensive team (6th in xGA) but nobody knew it because their goaltending was so bad across the board. So why should you draft him? His previous career low save percentage in 9 seasons was .916 and then he suddenly plummeted to .889 last year. When I see a dropoff like this, I imagine there’s some kind of nagging injury or personal life situation that’s at play. A player doesn’t suddenly just become bad out of nowhere without other factors so I would expect him to have a bounce back season if he is in fact healthy. He’s going to get volume, he’s going to play in the same underrated defensive system as last year and Seattle has made some significant upgrades on offense which should hopefully give him some more goal support. People seem to be writing him off (175.89 ADP on Fantrax and 160.0 on Yahoo) but their loss can be your gain. I’ve been picking him late and you should too.

Karel Vejmelka

No really, I mean it. I know Arizona is going to be bad. Like, really bad. They’re in full “fail hard for Bedard” mode. However, from a fantasy perspective, in points leagues where the goals against penalty isn’t too aggressive and in a situation where you’re maximizing draft capital by getting higher value position players earlier in the draft by going #ZeroG, Vejmelka isn’t a bad option for two reasons. He’s going to get volume in terms of starts and he’s going to get volume in terms of shots against. For example, using the KKUPFL scoring system for this season and the Fantrax standard projections (take those with a grain of salt), Vejmelka is ranked 16th in terms of projected total fantasy points for goaltenders. Arizona also has games on the second most off nights in the league this year so that can also make your life easier if you’re trying to stream other goalies in to maximize volume stats. His ADP in Fantrax is 210.89 and he doesn’t have a registered ADP in Yahoo. Vejmelka won’t be beneficial in every league setup, but in leagues that value volume goalie stats he’s a viable option. Keep him in mind at the end of your draft or in free agency for a spot starts against weaker opponents.

Thank you for reading! I’m looking forward to this season long quest to find you (and me) those #ZeroG “diamonds in the rough”. Check out the Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey Podcast and catch up with me in the Apples & Ginos Discord Server.

Stats gathered from:

  • moneypuck.com
  • naturalstattrick.com
  • hockey-reference.com
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