Similar to the early season mumps epidemic that plagued NHL teams throughout the first half of the season, there has been an eerie outbreak of injuries to starting goalies over the last few weeks. Five NHL teams currently find their No. 1 goaltender on injured reserve, which means a staggering 17 percent of all starters league wide are presently on the shelf. With less than six weeks remaining in the Fantasy regular season, the margin of error for owners attempting to secure a playoff berth is minimal and attempting to battle through an injury to a key player can be devastating. While there is enough depth on the free agent market in most leagues to survive an injury to a forward or defenseman, the meager ranks at goalie make it a difficult task to overcome. In a 12-team league, if every team owns three goaltenders that immediately accounts for all 30 starting goaltenders, plus the best six back-ups across the league. With so many injuries occurring at the same time, it can be difficult to swing a trade for goalie. A good portion of any league will have too thin a corps to be comfortable trading away any assets, while those secure at the position will understand the value of their goalies and demand a king’s ransom for anyone worth owning.
With supply so low, and demand so high, acquiring a quality goaltender will likely cost an owner a package of two of his top position players, which is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. This leaves the near depleted stock of free agents as the most logical place to search for a bandage to cover up your roster’s deficiency, while waiting for your premier net minder to heal and return to action. Last week, Ottawa Senators G Robin Lehner was discussed as a valuable replacement for the team’s incumbent starter Craig Anderson, and he has continued to perform well in relief. Thankfully, if we take an in-depth look at the 30 NHL teams’ depth charts, there begins to emerge several more short-term alternatives to starters on the mend. Below I have highlighted five goaltenders available in over 50 percent of standard Yahoo! leagues who can serve as more than adequate substitutes for any of the high profile starters currently on IR.
Cam Talbot, New York Rangers (Ownership – 42 percent): With Fantasy superstar Henrik Lundqvist sidelined for the next three weeks after taking a puck to the throat on January 31, backup Cam Talbot will get the bulk of the starts for an excellent New York Rangers club. A vascular injury is not to be taken lightly, and Lundqvist’s public remarks displaying concern over possibly suffering a stroke if he were to play in his condition does not exude confidence in a quick return. While a major setback for King Henrik and his owners, this is a golden opportunity for young Cam Talbot to prove that he is more than just a backup goaltender. In his two NHL seasons, Talbot has started 32 games and recorded terrific ratios with a 1.95 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. Talbot is an excellent short-term solution for any owner dealing with a depleted goaltending corps.
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks (Ownership – 40 percent): Although it was backup Ilya Bryzgalov who got the first start after incumbent Frederik Andersen went on the IR with an apparent concussion, AHL call-up John Gibson stands to receive the majority of starts moving forward. Gibson is one of the top goaltending prospects in the league, and has been heralded as the future of American goaltending at the Olympics and other international events. With two shutouts in his seven career starts, as well as a stellar 2.12 GAA and .930 SV percentage, it is not hard to see the tremendous potential he has as a future Fantasy standout. Unfortunately for Frederik Andersen owners, Gibson’s future has been bumped up to the present, as he now has an opportunity to run with the starting job on one of the NHL’s best teams for the foreseeable future. The good news for Andersen owners, and others in need of help between the pipes, is that Gibson is still available in most leagues.
Curtis McElhinney, Columbus Blue Jackets (Ownership – 20 percent): Sergei Bobrovsky is another in the long line of elite goaltenders who are scheduled to miss a significant portion of the season’s remaining games. Slated to miss a minimum of two additional weeks, Bobrovsky is recovering from his second groin injury of the season, which makes his return’s timetable seem overly optimistic. The former Vezina trophy winner’s absence has opened the door for veteran journeyman Curtis McElhinney to take over the reins for a Blue Jackets team known for delivering maximum effort on a nightly basis. Despite their No. 1 goalie’s absence, the Blue Jackets are as healthy on forward and defense as they have been all season. The team’s high compete level combined with a reinforced group of skaters should translate to an improved winning percentage as the season concludes with McElhinney, and any owners able to add him to their rosters standing to be the chief beneficiaries.
Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers (Ownership – 19 percent): Things aren’t so sunny in Philadelphia these days, as the team is on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention, and their starting goaltender Steve Mason has just undergone knee surgery. That leaves veteran Ray Emery as the team’s interim starter, and his string of recent play suggests that he could be a valuable addition for rosters thin in the goaltending department. Allowing two or fewer goals in each of his last three starts, Emery is doing his part to keep his team in the hunt for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. The Flyers are too talented to go down without a fight, and the quantity of starts Emery will receive over the home stretch makes him a worthy gamble for any owners getting desperate.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Ownership – 13 percent): The only member of these recommendations still serving as his team’s backup, Vasilevskiy’s value comes from his tremendous upside. The 2012 first round draft pick is a future star in the making, both on the ice and in Fantasy leagues. The Russian prospect’s 4-1 record for Tampa Bay this year and his sparkling 2.09 GAA and .929 SV percentages speak volumes to his potential as a shutdown goaltender. Although American Ben Bishop remains the teams gold standard in net, the Lightning’s position atop the Eastern Conference standings means that they can afford to rest him more often over the season’s final 26 games. Vasilevskiy stands to get at least one out of every four starts moving forward, which is enough to swing an entire weekly head to head matchup with the way he has been performing.