There has been plenty of coverage of the goaltender wheeling and dealing that went down in the NHL this week, opening up the door for several players to make a statement. But there is one in particular who we can't tout enough: Devan Dubnyk could be very, very good for the Nashville Predators, and possibly for the remainder of the season.
A steady progression by Dubnyk into a reliable fantasy starter was cut short this season by horrific defensive numbers by the Edmonton Oilers. Dubnyk's goals-against average and winning percentage have been building into respectable territory since the 2009-10 season, but this season plummeted to downright untouchable for fantasy owners. At a 3.36 GAA and .894 save percentage, Dubnyk wasn't on most fantasy teams by the time he was dealt to the Predators on Wednesday.
Was it the Oilers or Dubnyk that should catch blame for the terrible numbers? Anyone who has watched an Oilers game this season can be made to agree pretty quickly that the team should shoulder plenty of the responsibility. Ilya Bryzgalov -- who has proved to be a better-than-average NHL starter when behind a good team defense -- has struggled just as much as Dubnyk (if not more) behind the porous play of the Oilers in their own zone. The Oilers are near the bottom of the league for shots allowed and are only better than the Toronto Maple Leafs for team Corsi percentage (which tracks shots, plus missed shots, plus blocked shots).
One of the most interesting statistics to look for with goaltenders is quite revealing when it comes to Dubnyk. Power-play save percentage tracks how well a goaltender does only when his team is down a man. Logically, this number is worse than the goaltender's even-strength save percentage, because the other team has a distinct advantage. The power play is an intense two minutes for a goaltender, often facing a barrage of shots with no chance to catch a breath. Last season, Dubnyk was the only goaltender to start more than 35 games with a power-play save percentage better than .900 in the NHL (it was .907). Of the qualified leaders in the NHL, Dubnyk was fourth in the league for power-play save percentage last season.
This season, Dubnyk's .893 power-play save percentage is the same as Josh Harding's. Among goaltenders that have started 25 games, Dubnyk's power-play save percentage is only trailing Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Roberto Luongo, Semyon Varlamov and Carey Price. Notice something about those names ahead of him? They are a veritable who's who of valuable NHL fantasy goaltenders this season. The difference is that they haven't been playing for the Oilers.
Now, Pekka Rinne has resumed weight training in his recovery from his hip infection and subsequent surgery. But for general manager David Poile to even be talking to the media about scenarios where Rinne doesn't come back this season is a sign that fantasy owners should plan for the worst with Rinne. Fortunately, that now means they can go after Dubnyk and, potentially, watch him take the fantasy world by storm behind the stalwart Predators defense.
We mentioned Corsi already. Well, overall the Predators aren't much better than the Oilers. But that's because Corsi percentage looks at defense and offense. Looking at just Corsi against, which is the defense, the Predators are actually the 11th-best team in the league for limiting opponents' chances. It's also somewhat evident that neither Carter Hutton nor Marek Mazanec will be starting with any regularity now that Dubnyk is in town.
As of Friday morning, Dubnyk is owned in 29.8 percent of ESPN leagues. That means there is not only a starting goaltender out there available in 70 percent of ESPN leagues, but there is a starting goaltender with tremendous upside available in 70 percent of ESPN leagues.
Finally, we've been advocates in this space for keeping Rinne rostered in most ESPN leagues. The fact that the Predators would still make this trade for Dubnyk even after already going months without their starter is a cause for concern. If you have been hanging on to Rinne to the detriment of your roster (you could be using that bench spot to hang onto occasional starters), no one will blame you for dropping him. The Dubnyk acquisition and comments by Poile to the media are a bit ominous.
Looking for offense
Nashville Predators: All this time talking about the Predators' defensive prowess and its potential for Dubnyk, but this is also a solid week ahead for the Predators' offense. The team has four games against the less-than-stellar defenses of the Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and sure enough, Dubnyk's former team, the Oilers.
Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand are available in leagues to varying degrees, but could all be deployed with confidence for next week's games. If you can only pick two, lean Fisher and Hornqvist as they play together on the power play and at even strength. Legwand only joins them on the man advantage. For deeper leagues, Craig Smith always has intriguing upside whenever the Predators have a good schedule. When the offense is flowing for the team, Smith tends to take a lot of shots, which is step one for scoring goals. Roman Josi is available in only 20 percent of ESPN leagues, but might be worth a shot as well. He gets first unit power-play time with Shea Weber on the point.
Phoenix Coyotes: If the Predators have a good schedule, the Coyotes have an even better one. Like the Preds, the Desert Dogs also face the Canucks, Flames and Oilers. But instead of the Stars as their fourth game, the Coyotes get the Maple Leafs. As good as the goaltending might be from a pure skills standpoint, the Leafs' defense doesn't give the goaltenders a chance most nights, surrendering a ridiculous 36 shots per game. Actually, during the past three weeks it has been 38 shots per game. Given the current line combinations and the solid schedule, Mikkel Boedker makes a solid play. On the second line with Shane Doan and Antoine Vermette (depending who you ask, you could argue it's the first line), Boedker has eight points in his past nine games and is getting first power-play unit time. Vermette could also be a target for use, but hasn't bee as hot lately.
Philadelphia Flyers: It's too late to jump on the bandwagon with Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds. These two bruisers are reaping enormous benefits from being together on a line. Perhaps one of the best possible combinations for getting in front of the net and picking up garage together in the NHL, Hartnell and Simmonds have been pouring on the offense in recent weeks. But you know what is a surprise? The blue-chipper playing between them is still available in 20 percent of ESPN leagues. Brayden Schenn has 10 points in the past 10 games as the pivot for the Simmonds-Hartnell connection and remains available to owners. The Flyers' four-game week scores an O:9 on the Forecaster, so don't wait any longer on Schenn.
Looking for defensemen
Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks: Although it may not be the best week to acquire him with two games against the stingy Los Angeles Kings on the docket, it is still worth mentioning Lindholm as a fantasy option in general. Now regularly playing with Francois Beauchemin on the point and getting secondary power-play time with Sami Vatanen, Lindholm is putting up impressive numbers for a defenseman that is turning 20 this month. Pacing for better offensive numbers in each subsequent month, Lindholm is also sporting a plus-25 thanks to the prowess of his defensive partner and excellent overall D of the Ducks. With the news that Sheldon Souray will not come back this season, Lindholm has an extension on his value to the end of the season.
Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets: It really was an inevitability that when the Blue Jackets starting scoring more as a team, Murray would begin to earn some fantasy value. After all, he shares the ice with the team's best offensive defenseman in James Wisniewski and has been remaining at Wisniewski's side for the power play, too. Sure enough, Murray has points in five of six games in January, three at even strength and two on the power play. Still only getting 20 minutes of ice time per game and only 20 years old, Murray is going to be very good in a few years. For now, he can help fantasy owners needing some defensive depth in the coming weeks.
Looking for goaltending
The Minnesota Wild have a rough schedule, and it's not 100 percent clear who the team might start. Luongo is nearing a return, which would stop the decent run of Eddie Lack for the Canucks. Ben Scrivens isn't nearly as attractive as a starter for the Oilers as Dubnyk is for the Predators. Kevin Poulin has been hot for the New York Islanders but has a rough schedule as well, while Anton Khudobin's availability has slipped below 8 percent of leagues.
No, fantasy owners needing goaltending for next week face the same reality that the Caps do: Grubauer might be your only hope. The Caps face the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens next week and, though the situation is in complete flux, Grubauer still remains the top option for the Caps to use in net. Unless Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth do something significant this weekend to change the landscape, Grubauer should be a strong option for next week.
Each week the Fantasy Forecaster will also include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary cap game that allows you free reign over your fantasy hockey decisions within a starting budget of $100 million in fantasy money. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
Schedule: There's a laundry list of teams with four games coming up next week, leaving owners with plenty of choices for goaltending. The Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Kings, Predators, Islanders, Flyers, Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets all have four games to play. While that does mean that there are great options like Marc-Andre Fleury ($12.5M) and Jonathan Quick ($12.3M) available, fantasy owners are encouraged to take a shot on some cheaper option that might earn some salary and points. Specifically, Dubnyk ($10.7M) and Poulin ($7.8M) have potential for next week at very low prices. Also, do not forget to change your lineup this week, especially if you follow the schedule for making your picks. You probably have more than a few Tampa Bay Lightning players in your lineup this week thanks to their five-game schedule, but the Bolts are one of two teams that only have two games in Week 17 (the other being the Boston Bruins). Make sure you make your changes, even if you do it earlier than usual.
Hot streaks: As mentioned earlier in the Forecaster, the Predators are a decent place to start planning for next week. Legwand ($5.3M) is one of the hotter players with five points in his past two games. With so many options on a four-game week, feel free to mix and match your lineup for the coming week more than usual. Of the teams with the extra game, the Penguins, Blues, Flyers and Coyotes score the highest on the Forecaster for offensive rating. A final note, especially since the Jets have four games, Dustin Byfuglien ($9.1M) is playing as a forward, yet can be rostered as a defenseman in the Hockey Challenge. That means you should do exactly that.
My roster for next week:
As of Friday, I'm in the 89.4 percentile for the ESPN Hockey Challenge, with 551 points. My personal salary cap is at $118.5M.
Kevin Poulin, G, NYI - $7.8M
Devan Dubnyk, G, NSH - $10.7M
Keith Yandle, D, PHX - $7.8M ($7.7M on market)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, PHX - $6.9M
Shea Weber, D, NSH - $8.8M
Dustin Byfuglien, D, WPG - $9.1M
Mikkel Boedker, F, PHX - $6.7M
Blake Wheeler, F, WPG - $7.5M
David Legwand, F, NSH - $5.3M
Brayden Schenn, F, PHI - $5.7M
John Tavares, F, NYI - $9.7M ($10.3M on market)
Alex Ovechkin, F, WAS - $9.7M ($9.8M on market)