A lot of things baffle me about the NHL, but like many, you just eventually let it wash away for the sheer sake of enjoying the game.
While I consider myself both bemused and annoyed by Matthew Tkachuk, essentially the Bart Simpson of the NHL, it feels like the NHL doesn’t even ask him to write things on chalkboards with these slap-on-the-wrist suspensions. Boosts in scoring almost always come down to a) young talent forcing improvements by sheer skill and will and b) actually calling a handful of infractions that should have always been penalties in the first place. And, of course, the debilitating normalcy of work stoppages.
Yeah, there’s a lot of things you just need to do the shrug emoji toward and just keep moving along.
The things that still baffle me, though, are the decisions that cost teams wins and, arguably, money. NHL GMs sometimes skimping on backups has regularly confounded me, to the point that I can’t just look away.
Consider this. Aside from the Oilers turning Cam Talbot into the hockey equivalent of a running back who received too many carries or a pitcher who logged too many innings last season, most teams pencil their starting goalies in for about 60-65 regular-season games per year. Things get fuzzy when you add postseason starts, especially when you remember that the repeat champion Penguins started at least two goalies for significant chunks of their runs both times.
That generally leaves your backup starting 17-22 games per season, and that’s if you’re lucky with your number one guy’s health.
So, it boggles my mind a bit that the pursuit of a backup is frequently treated with the indifference you’d show in acquiring a bottom-pairing defenseman or depth forward.
Sure, “goalies are voodoo” and maybe there’s even more noise with number two guys, but it still bewilders me that the Pittsburgh Penguins would really think Antti Niemi was a likely fit last summer, and that all these teams with shaky backups didn’t even bother claiming Calvin Pickard. And so on.
Before this devolves from rant to hyper-rant, allow me to shift to the point of this column: a lot of starters are on the shelf right now, so how have their backups been doing, and how much should you trust them to continue to succeed?
In this latest fantasy column, I’ll look at goalies who are currently thrust into situations, and maybe sprinkle in a few scenarios that just ended or experienced quite a bit of disruption.
Note: This isn’t a comprehensive list. Also, this column ended up running long. Sorry.
Coyotes – So, it looks like Antti Raanta is healthy, but it’s been a bumpy ride.
Raanta’s played 13 games, Scott Wedgewood appeared in 12, Louis Domingue was banished after seven, and others have picked up some scraps. While I believe the Coyotes are more competitive than their record indicates, I also think that it’s better to travel the road of least resistance in fantasy.
There are a lot of bumps on this desert road.
Bruins – Yeah, I know Tuukka Rask is getting older, but it’s still perplexing that Anton Khudobin has objectively been the better goalie with each guy getting 10+ games played. This is weird and not good, but credit Khudobin for rekindling some of his early-Boston magic.
(Honestly, as happy as I was to see David Backes score two goals last night, I’m generally of the mind that the Bruins offer little beyond a terrifying top line and some promising young blueliners. At least in fantasy.)
Flames – Good grief, it’s really Mike Smith or bust, isn’t it? Enjoy footage of not-Mike-Smith getting a goal scored off of his mask:
For so long, Chicago was the place where backup goalies would do so well, they’d often get chances to be full-time starters. Sometimes those guys ended up being legit, while others were propped up a bit. Now the Blackhawks’ leaky defense instead trips their goalies and pushes their faces in puddles. Or whatever the opposite of “propping up” is. Knocking your crutches/walking cane out of your hand? I don’t know, someone help me out.
You really need to be desperate to roll with Forsberg, is what I’m saying.
Stars – Ben Bishop is dealing with a back issue, opening the door for Kari Lehtonen to already eclipse 10 games played before the calendar hits 2018. This should go about as well as things went on this hideous shorthanded goal (which wasn’t really on Lehtonen, mind you).
On a similar note, I like some of the Stars players and generally Ken Hitchcock as a coach, but not together. It’s basically a peanut-butter steak in Dallas.
Oilers – In my head, I thought Laurent Brossoit was doing kind of OK with Cam Talbot on the shelf.
In reality, Brossoit’s been even worse, with an ugly .877 save percentage so far this season. If I didn’t know any better, I’d wonder if the Oilers were pretty bad at everything beyond employing Connor McDavid.
Panthers – Roberto Luongo‘s injury could be substantial, which is bad news since he’s been playing so well and James Reimer‘s been off his game. Still, Reimer’s been a 1B and analytics darling for ages now, so if anyone can run with a chance like this, it’s Reimer.
Considering the comedy of errors that is Panthers management, this isn’t a perfect situation, but Reimer’s a decent enough choice if you’re needing a goalie and have limited options.
Canadiens – Kudos to Charlie Lindgren, who might be a goalie to monitor, yet we don’t really need to belabor the “Carey Price is important” point, do we?
Islanders – A tricky situation with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss splitting things like a true platoon, at least so far. Halak’s been getting the reps lately, it seems. While the Islanders seem like they’re a true playoff team, their goalies are probably not worth the trouble, unless one of them is maybe your alternate option.
Penguins – Coming into this season, Tristan Jarry generated strong work in the AHL in 2016-17, managing a .925 save percentage. The Penguins wanted to leave in there to marinate for some time, but with Matt Murray hurt, Jarry’s pressed into action, and he’s shining pretty nicely. He’s 5-1-2 with a nice .921 save percentage in eight games.
As a second-rounder (44th in 2013 vs. Murray, a third-rounder who went 83rd in 2012), you could argue that Jarry might actually have the superior pedigree.
Jarry is currently 59 percent owned in Yahoo, so there’s still a chance you can get him. While the Penguins’ defense might leave him vulnerable at times, Pittsburgh is playing well, Murray might be week-to-week and Jarry is solid. You could do worse than to give him an audition.
Golden Knights – ¯_(ツ)_/¯
With Marc-Andre Fleury showing some progress, there’s risk beyond the already-comical risk of taking on Vegas goalies, but let’s give Malcolm Subban credit for revamping his career prospects.
As with most Golden Knights things, I really don’t know what to tell you, other than “Yes, they seem better than we all expected, and no, I still don’t know what happens next.”
Jets – There are warning signs that the Connor Hellebuyck train will slow or even come to a screeching halt, but sometimes fantasy success is about being willing to laugh and enjoy hot streaks while they last.
The World Junior Hockey Championship is just a few weeks away, which is great news. Although most countries have named their preliminary rosters for the upcoming tournament, there’s still a chance that NHLers could be added in the next little while.
NHL teams have the option to loan out their junior-eligible players to their respective countries for the two-week tournament that runs from Dec. 26, 2017 to Jan. 5, 2018 in Buffalo, New York.
Reminder: Teams have until Dec. 19 to decide if they’re going to loan their players to their respective countries.
Chychrun made his 2017-18 regular season debut on Sunday, after he missed the start of the season because of a knee injury. He played 22:40 and scored a goal against the Golden Knights in his first game of 2017-18. Chychrun heading to the World Juniors is probably unlikely, but it simply can’t be ruled out because of the amount of time he missed due to injury.
The Jackets rookie has a modest 11 points in 28 games, but six of those have come in the last five games. Dubois wasn’t getting much ice time early on in the season. That seems to be changing, as it appears as though he’s earned head coach John Tortorella’s trust. He’s played over 18 minutes in five of his last seven contests. Dubois is starting to become a big part of the team. It would be mildly surprising to see him be loaned out for the tournament.
At the start of the season, you probably would’ve thought that Girard would be playing in the tournament, but things have changed. Since being traded from Nashville to Colorado, he’s played a huge role with his new team. He’s played under 20 minutes in each of his last five outings, but he’s still averaging 19:22 of ice time per game.
Tyson Jost-F-Colorado Avalanche
Jost missed a significant amount of time because of a lower-body injury, but he’s back in the lineup right now. The 19-year-old has no points in five games since returning and he’s up to just one goal and one assist in 11 contests this season. Colorado is four points out of a playoff spot, which isn’t significant, but they’re probably a year or two away from being a serious contender anyway. Jost won a silver medal with Team Canada last year. He had a goal and four points in 7 seven games during the tournament. Don’t be surprised if he represents his country again.
Mete had a terrific training camp with the Canadiens, but he’s come down to earth a little bit. The 19-year-old has been made a healthy scratch a couple of times this season and with Jakub Jerabek and David Schlemko now on the roster, Montreal could opt to send their young blue liner to the tournament. Mete was part of Team Canada’s Summer Showcase roster last summer.
The second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has had a tough introduction to pro hockey. Not only has he missed nine games because of an upper-body injury, he also hasn’t really played much when he has been in the Flyers lineup. Patrick has two goals and four assists, while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time in 19 games. The 19-year-old missed last year’s tournament because of an injury. Playing heavy minutes with players his own age could prove to be a valuable experience for the rookie.
The Oilers didn’t loan Puljujarvi to Team Finland last year when he playing in the minors, so it’s unlikely that they’d let him take off now that he’s contributing on the NHL roster. He owned the tournament last time he played in it in 2016, as he had an incredible 17 points in seven games.
Sergachev had a disappointing tournament last year, but he’s been way too good with the Bolts to head back there. The 19-year-old has averaged 14:32 of ice time, which isn’t significant, but he’s been productive in limited minutes. Sergachev has six goals and 19 points in 28 games. That puts him on pace to score 18 goals and almost 60 points.
In the first third of the 2017-18 season, there probably hasn’t been a bigger surprise than Bratt. The 19-year-old was the Devils’ sixth-round pick in 2016, and no one expected him to produce like this. The rookie now has nine goals and 19 points in 27 games. Would they ever consider sending him to Buffalo for the tournament? No way.
The top pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is having a strong rookie season. He’s picked up five goals and 20 points in 27 games, which puts him on pace to hit the 60-point mark in his first year. The Devils, who have shocked the hockey world by being in top spot in their division, need Hischier too much to allow him to leave for two weeks. He’s not going anywhere.
Even though he’s slowed down over the last month, there’s no way the ‘Yotes will be sending Keller to the world juniors. The 19-year-old is an important part of his team and he doesn’t have anything left to prove in the junior ranks.
On Sunday, the Oilers sent the 19-year-0ld Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in 2016, to the Bakersfield Condors, after he scored twice with three points in five preseason games for Edmonton.
It appears the play of 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto through training camp could’ve played a role in the decision to send Puljujarvi to the minors, where he scored 12 goals and 28 points in 39 games last season.
Yamamoto is listed at only 5-foot-8 tall, but he’s been very productive throughout his junior career and has impressed during training camp to the point where beginning the season in Edmonton has become a real possibility.
The Oilers have the option of keeping Yamamoto with the NHL club to start the year, giving him nine games of experience and then sending him back to junior without using up a year of his entry-level contract.
Habs prospect Reway: ‘It’s going to be difficult’ in comeback from heart condition
Reway would not say exactly what the illness was, other than it was a virus that put him in hospital for a month and required most of a year to overcome.
“After a long time, it’s a great opportunity for me to be back,” the 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward said. “I know it’s going to be difficult to get on track again but I’m working hard in practice here, trying to get better and I’m hoping it’s going to go as quickly as possible.”
The Canadiens are just as anxious to see what effect a year off has had on Reway, who dazzled while leading underdog Slovakia to a bronze medal at the 2015 world junior championship.
He was drafted in the fourth round in 2013, while he was putting up 112 points in 90 games over two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He later played for Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic and had a short stint with Fribourg in Switzerland before falling ill.
Doctors found a problem during a routine checkup a week before Reway was to leave for the Canadiens’ rookie camp last summer.
“I didn’t feel well so they kept me there and found out I had a serious problem with the heart, so I had to rest,” he said. “I had high fever. It happened so quickly I don’t know. I wasn’t able to do any workouts or any movements in the first three or four months. When you’re a hockey player, you know how hard it is to stop doing what you love. I had to rest up for a bit. But when you come back, you’re more excited, I think.”
Reway spent the season resting and resuming the economics studies he’d let slide when he joined Gatineau. He described his year as a “bore,” adding “I hope I’m not going to have to study any more because I’m not interested. I spent more time with my family. That was the positive part of the virus.”
Now he wants to make up for lost time. Reway received the green light by Canadiens doctors to resume skating five weeks ago and was working out with a Slovak team before heading to camp.
On the first day, he didn’t look up to full speed but said his fitness will come gradually. He’s to take part in the main camp next week. It would be a longshot for him to make the NHL club this season, so he’s expected to begin the season with team’s AHL affiliate, which starting this season will be based nearby in Laval.
“I was surprised that my hands weren’t as bad as I expected,” he said. “Obviously, the legs, the cardio, weren’t that good, but that’s understandable after a year of not playing.
“Now I think it’s getting better every day that I’m on the ice. I believed all the time that I was going to come back. Sometimes in life, the things that happen to you, you can’t change. You have to fight it. I’m really happy I came through. It’s a good experience for me and I hope nobody’s going to see the difference.”
Reway said no longer needs to take medication and is confident there should be no further problems with his heart.
Reway was among 23 prospects in camp. They leave Friday for a rookie tournament in Toronto against Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators hopefuls.