We are about a month away from when the playoffs start in most head-to-head leagues, which leaves about seven weeks in the season for rotisserie or points formats.
That's officially crunch time.
In what continues to be a theme of the season, goaltenders have not been the most reliable for fantasy teams - at least not the goaltenders one might expect to be. Among the most-rostered goaltenders in ESPN leagues, Pekka Rinne is fourth, Jordan Binnington is fifth, Marc-Andre Fleury is seventh, Braden Holtby is eighth, Frederik Andersen is ninth Petr Mrazek is 11th and Semyon Varlamov is 12th. All seven of those goalies among the top 12 in ownership have returned negative ESPN Player Rater value over the past month.
That's not helpful.
There will be a goaltender or goaltenders who aren't on many fantasy rosters now who will be difference-makers between now and the crowning of a champion in your league. Last season, it was Binnington, Mrazek and Darcy Kuemper.
This season? Well, that's where what we are going to speculate on today.
In order, I have four goaltenders who will be available in at least 80 percent of fantasy leagues who I like to run out the season as impact goaltenders.
Aaron Dell, G, San Jose Sharks: It may finally be safe to say that the Sharks have joined the rest of us in being over Martin Jones. The share of duties since the start of 2020 have been heavily in Dell's favor - 11 starts for Dell versus three for Jones. And the results have justified the split. Dell has a 7-4-0 record, while Jones is 0-2-1. The Sharks aren't completely out of the playoff hunt yet, but unless they keep winning through the month of February, they could be by the trade deadline. That means Dell, so long as he keeps winning, should have the crease to himself. The Sharks will probably have to take a look in the mirror in the offseason when it comes to goaltending, but it's doubtful they do something to change the personnel this season.
Dell hasn't been particularly special in his four seasons as a backup for the Sharks, but his ratios have - with the exception of last season - been respectable. We don't really know what he'll do over a longer period of time with the starting gig earned by merit (as opposed to injury), but I think it's worth finding out.
James Reimer, G, Carolina Hurricanes: Undefeated in regulation since 2019 and sporting a .933 save percentage across six starts, it's surprising that Mrazek actually has more minutes in the crease than Reimer in 2020. Here are the lines: Reimer has a 5-0-1 record with a .933 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average, while Mrazek is 2-6-0 with an .893 save percentage and 2.93 GAA. The Canes are most certainly in the thick of the playoff picture, but can't afford to start losing games in the crease. Look for Reimer to start sneaking in an additional number of starts.
Jack Campbell, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: We don't know precisely how long Andersen is going to be out of commission with a neck injury, but it is going to be long enough that trading for Campbell was a necessary move for the Leafs - who legitimately lacked a good enough backup goaltender until this week. Campbell has spend his entire NHL career as an understudy to Jonathan Quick, with only one of his 58 NHL appearances not coming with the Kings. It's been a decade since he was the No. 11 overall pick in the draft, and he certainly didn't like up to that billing. In fact, his first true work in the NHL didn't come until last season, when he started 25 games for the Kings.
Campbell had some very solid runs last season and stopped a lot of shots. Among goaltenders to face at least 600 shots at even strength last season, Ben Bishop (.938), Thomas Greiss (.937), Jordan Binnington (.936), Jaroslav Halak (.936) and Robin Lehner are the only ones to post a better save percentage at even strength than Campbell (.933).
If you like taking some risk, Campbell actually moves up the list here above Dell and Reimer. His ceiling for the remainder of the season is arguably among the top-five in fantasy goaltenders. But a lot has to break right: Andersen has to stay hurt and he has to shoulder the media spotlight as a starter in the city with the brightest of such lights. While Dell and Reimer can have fantasy value if everything goes right for them, Campbell can be a star if everything breaks right ... but it's a lot of ifs.
Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators: This one is more about gut feeling for me. Rinne has been pretty bad this season, but Saros hasn't been knocking socks off for most of the season either. He's on an upswing right now, but it's an upswing with a small sample size.
But the Predators are in a weird place. They have a lot of the same team that has dominated the NHL in recent seasons, but if the season ended today they wouldn't make the playoffs. Rinne's ratios haven't helped them. He sports an .898 save percentage and 3.01 GAA. He's never had a season in his career with a save percentage below .900 or a GAA north of 3.00. But, at 37 years old, it's not a giant shock.
Saros could have seized the reins much earlier with a solid showing, but hasn't been a whole lot better than Rinne overall. But the tide could be turning. The Preds have a new coach and Saros has been building some separation in the ratios since Jan. 1. In 2020, Saros has a 4-1-1 record with a .928 save percentage and 2.47 GAA, while Rinne sports a 4-5-0 record with a .906 save percentage and 3.00 GAA. It's not stark, but it's definitely enough for a playoff bubble team not to mess with success when they see it.
In summary, I like Dell and Reimer for more consistent, middle-tier and predictable value. They are my "safer" recommendations. (I say "safer" because no recommendation available in 80 percent of leagues will really be "safe.") Campbell I think has the most upside, but his availability window will close fast. He should be available in 80 percent of leagues now, but that window will close quickly with a win or two. And Saros should be available in 90 percent of leagues, but I feel less confident in him pulling through with a late-season run.
Fantasy Forecaster: Feb. 10 to Feb. 16
A hefty schedule has 55 games on tap. I haven't kept a formal record, but that might be a high for the campaign so far. Eighteen teams have a four-game schedule on tap, so there isn't much advantage to be had in loading up on busy schedules.
That does, however, make the Los Angeles Kings two-game schedule - the only one this week - extra tough to justify having players in your lineup. Even Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are questionable plays with such a schedule disadvantage.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks three-game week stands out thanks to all three games being at home against suspect defenses. There is also the wrinkle of Elias Pettersson ailing to a lower-body injury. For the coming week, Adam Gaudette should be on some radars. He's been elevated to a line with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser while Pettersson is on the mend. We haven't seen much of the 23-year-old Gaudette in a scoring-line role, but he has the chops to do something with it.
Montreal Canadiens: The schedule isn't necessarily awesome, but we should highlight the Habs for the likely return of Jonathan Drouin for all four games this week. Out since Nov. 15, Drouin was rocking 15 points in 19 games for the season before his wrist injury. While he won't factor into the Canadiens top line of Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault, he could be the missing piece for the team's second line. He's worth adding.
For the second time in a few weeks, we've taken a collective hit to the fantasy defensemen ranks through injury. Here are the guys who may be taking a step up their depth chart given the injuries to Mark Giordano, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Shea Weber.
Noah Hanifin, D, Calgary Flames: The Flames power play may be middle of the pack, but this is a chance for Hanifin to show off what he's learned as a second-fiddle defenseman in his five seasons in the league. He has been limited in opportunity throughout his career, playing behind Justin Faulk and then Giordano for opportunities on the man advantage. But even with all that experience under his belt, Hanifin is still just coming into his prime at 23. This is an opportunity for him to showcase what he's learned.
Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona Coyotes: Chychrun still runs hot and cold, but when he's hot, he shows off some serious potential as an offensive blueliner. The Coyotes are splitting some of the duties since Oliver Ekman-Larsson went down, giving Chychrun, Alex Goligoski and Jordan Oesterle some runs on the power play. Of them, Chychrun has the most upside. While he was ice cold in January, he's started February off with two assists in three games. Here's hoping for something from him while the opportunity is here.
Jeff Petry, D, Montreal Canadiens: While Petry has been the better fantasy asset this season already, having Weber out of the lineup for a week or more will further distill Petry's dominance. They've been about even in total power-play minutes since Jan. 1 (40:32 for Petry, 36:35 for Weber), but Petry should be supercharged by any absence of Weber. Think more power-play time, more offensively responsibility and more results than what we've already seen from him.