Pretty tough out there in the goaltender landscape, isn't it? Early-season shares of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, John Gibson, Carey Price and Devan Dubnyk aren't looking so hot right now. The pain is made worse because Vasilevskiy and Bobrovsky were top-five goalies heading into the season; Rinne and Price were top-10.
As happens every season, regardless of how much we warn about it, the goaltender market has been cornered by this stage of the game. Why does it happen? Because while Vasilevskiy and Bobrovsky struggle, no one is dropping them from their roster. And rightly so; this market can turn itself around. But in the meantime, you can't just play Price or Dubnyk and expect to get ahead, so fantasy players are finding room to pick up additional goaltenders. As teams scoop up the emerging or trending netminders, while also holding the household names that are slumping, we quickly find the pickings become quite thin.
Any league deeper than a 10-team standard roster knows exactly what I'm referring to. It becomes a desert out there in the free-agent pool.
While I would never advocate for dropping most of these big-name goaltenders because it's absolutely true that their success can turn on a dime - I think it's time to stop hoping for a turnaround and start making some other changes.
We are two months into the season, which is enough action to call what a goaltender has been doing so far a trend. While I think Rinne, Vasilevskiy and maybe even Bobrovsky are in a position to turn this thing around sooner than later, we can't wait forever. So park them on the bench, and let's dive deep into the free-agent pool to find some goaltenders that might be available in your league regardless of its depth.
Alex Stalock, G, Minnesota Wild: Scooped up in up to 18 percent of leagues depending on where you play, Stalock is still available in the vast majority of fantasy leagues. And while Devan Dubnyk remains out as his wife deals with a serious medical issue, that doesn't really play into this recommendation for Stalock. You see, Stalock was the stabilizer here before Dubnyk took his leave of the team. And Stalock is having more success for the Wild than they've had this season to this point. He has more wins and better ratios and is giving Dubnyk the time off he needs. Given the current performances, even when Dubnyk does return, this is still a timeshare. The biggest indicator here is even strength save percentage, where Stalock is in the middle of the pack with a .916 percentage, while Dubnyk is near the bottom of the league at .893.
Chris Driedger, G, Florida Panthers: I say we jump in on Driedger for fear of missing out. I still think Bobrovsky can get right in the crease and pay off down the stretch run, but there is still doubt in my mind and Driedger's storyline scares me. Why? I know it's just one game, but he checks all the same boxes Jordan Binnington did when he stepped into the crease for the St. Louis Blues last season. Binnington was a mid-20s goaltender with a high pedigree, but got lost in the system and played some games in the ECHL before ultimately stabilizing a team that only needed solid goaltending to be a contender. Driedger has followed a similar path as an Ottawa Senators draft pick from 2012 that bounced around the minors and has finally been killing it in the AHL this season. The Panthers called up him to see what he could do, and he notched a 27-save shutout against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Bobrovsky has been a dumpster fire so far this season, so expect the Panthers to give Dreidger a chance to see how this plays out. I waited to long last year with Binnington, so I'm OK with burning a roster spot for a week or two to give this situation a chance.
Eric Comrie, G, Detroit Red Wings: But what if you play in a league that is so active that Driedger was already scooped up on Sunday? Good on you for being competitive, but there is always another speculative play to make. The Red Wings traded for Comrie on the weekend and he's not nobody. If the Winnipeg Jets didn't fully commit to Connor Hellebuyck, Comrie was the backup plan in their system, but he became expendable with the emergence of Hellebuyck and they lost him to waivers at the start of this season. Comrie was playing in the system for the Arizona Coyotes until the Wings came calling this past weekend. He's a 24-year-old goaltender with four professional seasons under his belt and was among the top-10 in the AHL in save percentage last season. The Wings clearly aren't getting what they need from Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard - and Howard just hit the IR with a mid-body injury. This is going to be Comrie's big chance.
Forwards on the move
Jeff Skinner, W, Buffalo Sabres (down 14 spots to No. 131): It's been two months and, despite scoring 40 goals last season, Skinner remains on the outside of the fantasy bubble in Buffalo. Sure, he has 10 goals and is on pace for 30, but Skinner has had otherwise-empty 30-goal seasons for fantasy before. He needs to be on this power play with Jack Eichel and he just isn't. He still has some fantasy value, of course, but unless Victor Olofsson or Sam Reinhart are bumped from Eichel's side, it won't be top-100 value.
Jake DeBrusk, W, Boston Bruins (up 16 spots to No. 195): It still amazes me that DeBrusk somehow hasn't exploded for fantasy purposes. He is the fifth-man on one of the best power plays in the NHL - and he has been playing there for the better part of a couple seasons. But that potential to go off as part of the power play will always be lingering in the background of his profile, so, when DeBrusk is also hitting at even strength, he should be in lineups. He has six points in five games and should be locked into lineups while Patrice Bergeron is out and the Bruins need offense to come from other lines.
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus Blue Jackets (enters ranks at No. 250): Perennially underrated because he'll slump below 40 points most seasons, Jenner is a great driver of offense for the players around him. He helped push Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno into fantasy-relevant territory last season. Now, he seems to have settled onto a line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Gustav Nyquist. And, of course, both of Jenner's linemates are clicking at the moment. If you play in a league that has already rostered the two streaking wingers, consider Jenner as a subtle addition.
Defensemen on the move
Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets (up 21 spots to No. 102): With Zach Werenski gone for four weeks, we can anticipate a boost from Jones as all offensive work from the blue line gets concentrated to his stick. He should get almost all the power-play looks on the blue line, which he has been splitting with Werenski to date.
Neal Pionk, D, Winnipeg Jets (up 24 spots to No. 169): Slowly, but surely, Pionk has pushed his way past Josh Morrissey on the depth chart for the Jets power play. The man advantage for Winnipeg hasn't been as good as it should be, but Pionk seems to be sewing up the role after Morrissey went cold in November. The Jets need results when their opponent gets a penalty, so expect more of Pionk here going forward. Really, only the return of Dustin Byfuglien would throw a wrench into his value, but that doesn't seem likely anytime soon.
Goaltenders on the move
Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers (up 23 to No. 148): Hart has been mercurial in these rankings this season for a reason: His play has been up and down. While his stats have been better in recent weeks, it has come at a cost. Hart and Brian Elliott are in a straight rotation for the crease, which reduces Hart's workload enough that he needs to be better than average to earn value. It doesn't help that Elliott is keeping pace and looking strong this season. Hart leads in goals-against average, but it's Elliott who has the better save percentage. It's natural to like Hart more for fantasy because he's younger and has more potential, but Elliott could be a sleeper for your team and certainly a bridge in net while you seek a goaltender with more playing time. Neither can be a G1 unless the other is out of the picture.
New to rankings
Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ivan Barbashev, Hampus Lindholm, Brandon Montour, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, Rasmus Ristolainen, Eric Comrie, Andrew Mangiapane, Jordan Eberle, Ondrej Palat, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Fiala, Charlie Coyle, Denis Gurianov.