The season is never too young to talk about fantasy hockey starting goalies, whether the early returns have been positive or negative. While it’s probably a titch premature to take drastic action if a reputable figure is stumbling a bit out of the gates – no, you’re not going to drop Ilya Sorokin just because he’s strung together two not-great outings – discussing the fantasy goalie scene at large? Totally worthwhile. If only to get a leg up on monitoring those substandard, or surprisingly impressive, performances across the league.
So, let’s take a gander at a sampling of both varieties – goaltenders who are surpassing anticipated standards and those falling short. And whether we should start thinking about taking fantasy action in the foreseeable future. (Or maybe right now, if you’re truly desperate already.)
For extra fun, I’m including each individual netminder’s Goals Saved Above Average figure, compliments of Evolving-Hockey. Yes, yes, it’s super early, again, we’re just talking here.
For the latest on who’s starting where, and who’s backing up whom, give our updated Goalie Chart a look.
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes (5.02 GSAA): No question, the 27-year-old is off to a solid start, backstopping a competitive – at least early on – Coyotes squad, while boasting a .942 SV% and 1.85 GAA. Two concerns though: One is that Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Kings is more indicative of where this still-evolving team is at, and the second is coach André Tourigny’s enduring commitment to split starts evenly with Arizona’s other goalie, Connor Ingram.
Vejmelka’s managers would undoubtedly prefer to see their guy earn more opportunities, especially against weaker offenses, like Ingram successfully faced in St. Louis last week. But while we wait to see the extent Tourigny sticks to his fair timeshare philosophy and/or how long the Coyotes keep up with the league’s better clubs, Vejmelka is certainly worth riding for now.
Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs (5.06 GSAA): Don’t look now, but the 25-year-old AHL regular is making a strong case to play more often than the more-experienced and higher-paid Ilya Samsonov (owner of a league-worst .588 GSAA). Subsequent wins over the Lightning and Capitals – through which Woll surrendered one single goal- is certainly offering coach Sheldon Keefe plenty to think about.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (5.29 GSAA): The Blues’ No. 1 is looking largely superb to launch 2023-24, resembling the dark-horse fantasy asset we came to love back in 2018-19. Now St. Louis’s skaters need to start scoring with consistency. If they can figure that bit out, Binnington could serve as one of fantasy hockey’s more precious rebound commodities.
If not, it’s going to be tough sledding for the 30-year-old – available in more than a third of ESPN.com leagues – no matter how well he performs as an individual.
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens (2.59 GSAA): First, transcript of a very recent conversation, verbatim, with a friend who not only brazenly supports Montreal, but unabashedly stocks their fantasy team with too great a number of Canadiens:
Them: “Allen has looked great this year, hasn’t he?”
Me: “He sure has.”
“It’s not going last, is it?”
“Most probably not.”
Montreal’s defense, now without David Savard (broken hand) for several weeks, remains too much of a work in progress. As does the rest of the club. Also, know that Allen sparkled versus the Sabres (who were looking too forward to a match the following day with Ottawa) and Washington. Not Boston, Colorado, or Vegas.
Not meeting expectations
Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes (-2.92 GSAA): Let’s all take a breath here in acknowledging the Hurricanes are a good hockey team off to a bizzarro start. They’re too talented, and coached too well, to continue stumbling for long. Plus, Sebastien Aho is back after suffering an early-season upper-body injury and fellow prominent forward and Andrei Svechnikov appears on the verge of making his 2023-24 debut.
Andersen himself seems set to start again soon after taking a puck to the face on Oct. 17. The loss of defender Brett Pesce for up to four weeks is unfortunate, but Carolina can still manage. Keep clear of the fantasy panic button for now and give this quality club, and their No. 1 netminder, a minute.
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (-0.84 GSAA): As discussed in this week’s Stock Watch, Markstrom is more victim of his team’s inability to score than orchestrator of his own inferior record thus far. If the Flames start putting the puck in the net to their potential, their No. 1 will fare just fine.
There’s also much to be said for allowing everyone a little extra time to figure matters out under the tutelage of a new coach. Let’s see how Calgary manages against St. Louis on Thursday, and the Oilers Sunday, before considering any drastic fantasy action.
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins (-1.15 GSAA): As discussed in Wednesday’s Stock Watch, while Jarry’s early analytical numbers aren’t strong enough, he also isn’t getting sufficient support from those out front. Again, think about benching the Penguins top banana against the Avalanche and Senators, before looking ahead to when they play the Sharks and Ducks (twice). Then reevaluate, depending on how Jarry manages against those perceived weaker squads.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (-0.5 GSAA): If recent seasons provide any insight – and I believe they do – Bobrovsky is going to put up some big fantasy numbers on some nights, and dive into the negative on others. It’s up to you to make peace with that projection, or not. But if willing to ride it out a bit with Florida’s mercurial netminder, at least wait until forward Sam Bennett returns (soon), along with defenders Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour (December). The team as a whole is better with those three in the nightly lineup.
Interesting (or irritating) timeshares
Buffalo Sabres: Devon Levi remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Eric Comrie is coming off a loss to the Canadiens, but looked pretty good in beating the Islanders earlier. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is 1-0 after doing enough to earn the ‘W’ is his season debut in Ottawa. There’s far too much going on between the pipes in Buffalo to suit most fantasy managers. At least until the dust clears and (if) one figure rises above the rest.
Detroit Red Wings: Oh, that James Reimer (2.75 GSAA) looks pretty solid so far, doesn’t he? Sure, the Blue Jackets and Flames don’t exactly measure up as NHL elite, but shutting out Columbus and holding Calgary to only two goals on 31 shots remains impressive nonetheless. I know Derek LaLonde named Ville Husso his go-to ahead of the campaign, but the No. 1 himself has characterized his personal body of work as only being “okay”.
Reimer projects to start against the visiting Jets Thursday. Another stand-up performance by the backup and Lalonde may start to reconsider his anti-tandem tune.
Edmonton Oilers: I’m not going anywhere near Stuart Skinner or Jack Campbell as fantasy starters until this team figures out how to play proper defense, particularly in front of the net. Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to Minnesota was ridiculous in that respect. The Oilers’ lack of scoring depth is another pressing issue. The only good news in Edmonton is that we’re only six games in. But Jay Woodcroft’s charges need to turn matters around drastically, and in a hard hurry.
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