It’s ridiculously early, and yet there’s already plenty of fretting and hand-wringing (and coach-booing) following what can only be characterized as a rather chaotic start to this regular season. The Sabres and Red Wings are soaring while other reputed contenders are barely stumbling along.
It’s a lot for any fantasy manager to process, particularly in the goaltending department. With some top stars struggling, should we panic, push pause, or pack some patience? Is hooking up with an overachieving underdog a hysterical overreaction or a show of divine premonition?
Here’s a look at eight NHL netminders who aren’t following the fantasy script, and what to do about it.
Underachieving to start
Philipp Grubauer, Seattle Kraken (90.4%): While the inaugural, and stalwartly constructed, version of this expansion squad wasn’t expected to light up the scoreboard like other offensive corps around the league, they weren’t projected to surrender that many goals either. An average of 4.01 allowed per game through four contests later, and Grubauer no longer presents as a previously predicted top-10 fantasy prize. But how about we let the Kraken play a home game first, before making rash assessments? After scooting through five cities across the country in the span of a week, this new club has barely had a chance to catch their collective breath.
Also, the offense looks better with a healthy Yanni Gourde, who made his season debut in Tuesday’s loss to the Devils. Having Calle Jarnkrok (post-COVID protocol) in the lineup will help too. An upcoming four-game homestand will give us much better indication of how this team – along with their starting netminder – truly looks. If they go 0-4 versus the Canucks, Canadiens, Wild, and Rangers, then it’ll be occasion to rethink matters. Not until then. As an aside, current backup Joey Daccord played fairly well against New Jersey this week, and could serve as an attractive Daily Fantasy asset when active, if the matchup makes sense.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks (85.6%): Not exactly the debut we were anticipating from the reigning Vezina winner in his new digs, or from this Chicago team as a whole. Fact is, anyone who’s tuned in could tell you the Blackhawks have performed terribly, particularly on defense. Combined with the lack of goal support, coach Jeremy Colliton’s club is off to an ugly (boo-worthy, according got some fans) start. But this team is too good on paper to not figure it out. A potential pair of home wins versus the beatable Canucks (Thursday) and Red Wings (Sunday), and Colliton’s hotseat should cool by next week. I’ve noticed a good number of managers are already bailing on Fleury in ESPN.com fantasy competition. It’s too early for that move.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (99.7%): Unlike the top-ranked fantasy netminder in Tampa – who no manager should feel the least bit concerned about despite his own ho-hum start – the No. 2 on many preseason fantasy sheets has yet to win a game. The 14 goals allowed by Hellebuyck through three contests, including losses to the Sharks and Ducks, further stoke mild fantasy concerns. But Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler – once COVID protocols are followed and completed – are going to start scoring. As will Nikolaj Ehlers. And the third-worst penalty kill in the NHL (53.3%) is going to figure it out too. Contrary to popular thought, Hellebuyck isn’t fantasy elite in 2021-22, through my lens. But he’s a lot better than what we’ve seen this past week. Hang tight.
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens (19.0%): Taking a stroll on the less sunny side of the fantasy street, there are plenty of reasons to feel worried about relying on Montreal’s substitute netminder. The Canadiens don’t look the same without the leadership of Shea Weber and Carey Price, the palpable heartbeat of this squad. Montreal’s defense is a mess in front of Allen. No one besides Jonathan Drouin can score. Perhaps most concerning, this team is clearly lacking confidence. A recent post-game oration from Brendan Gallagher sounded downright funereal. I’m not suggesting this group can’t turn it around to some degree, because they have the talent (où es-tu, Nick Suzuki et Tyler Toffoli?) to be much better, but I’m not going anywhere near Allen in the meanwhile.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (71.4%): All that preseason hype about Spencer Knight and along comes Bobrovsky with a sizzling start for an equally impressive Panthers squad. Pumped to be a new father and sworn off social media, the former Vezina winner appears in a good spot once more. Even the goals he did allow in the season opener against the Penguins were largely fortuitous and/or unstoppable. Having Knight – no slouch himself to start 2021-22 – as another quality option should further inspire Bob to be his very best. The veteran is scheduled to make this third start of the season versus the visiting Avalanche on Thursday.
Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars (18.6%): He’s looked flat-out superb for a competitive Stars team, allowing only five goals through three early contests. Right now, Holtby is Rick Bowness’s go-to over Anton Khudobin, and rightly so. A lot can change between the pipes for Dallas between now and winter, never mind spring, especially considering other available options (Jake Oettinger, Ben Bishop eventually). But I’m all over getting the most out of Holtby in fantasy play until/if that change arrives. Again, the 32-year-old has never looked better.
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks (42.2%): The Anaheim netminder is off to his prototypical hot start, posting a 2-0 record, 1.46 GAA, and .961 SV%. If manageable, take advantage of Gibson’s superb play, at least until the burden of overachieving on a non-contending team begins to weigh too heavily. And who knows? The Ducks don’t look shabby to start 2021-22, even without some of the youngsters – Trevor Zegras and Max Comtois, for example – contributing much yet. In my view, Gibson is worth an early-season flier in deeper fantasy leagues.
Craig Anderson, Buffalo Sabres (4.4%): The Sabres – including Anderson and backup Dustin Tokarski – are having a blast to start 2021-22, and good on them. But this hot streak is hardly sustainable. This is a young team, whose top-six averages a titch over 24 years of age. The organization’s No. 1 defenseman doesn’t turn 22 until next April. They’re still developing and figuring it out under coach Don Granato. Which is fun!
But after beating a shaky group in Montreal, the not-great Coyotes, and Vancouver, they now face Boston, this Friday night on ESPN+, and later New Jersey and Tampa Bay. Matters could turn in a hard hurry. I need a lot more from Anderson and the rest of Buffalo’s skaters before even considering making any variety of fantasy move. The same goes for Adin Hill in San Jose, Devils’ goalie Jonathan Bernier (when again healthy), and Detroit netminder Thomas Greiss. Two solid games ain’t going to cut it. Show me more.
The Sabres are a perfect three for three this season after beating the Canucks 5-2.