Fantasy hockey: December goalie pickup guide

Ilya Samsonov of the Toronto Maple Leafs has wins in his past three starts. Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There is no more volatile relationship in the fantasy hockey fold than that between a manager and their goaltender(s). With so few figures in play, the potential negative integers - or non-appearances - can wreak fantasy havoc on what may otherwise qualify as a successful week (or day). But sourcing out the fantasy good-to-great is tough. Outside the miniscule gaggle of those who play a lot and win most often - this early season that consistently includes Connor Hellebuyck, Alexandar Georgiev, and Ilya Sorokin - we're stuck scrambling for gems otherwise.

As stands, the league's limited crew in net includes a varied bunch. We have our great goalies on struggling teams - think Carter Hart and Karel Vejmelka - along with those less successful who may play a lot, and strong backups who don't see nearly enough action for our fantasy use. Then everyone in between. With that view, here's a handful of somewhat available individuals who may enhance your fantasy squad at the goalie position, depending on roster flexibility and depth, if such improvement is warranted.

I'm also including each player's Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) and Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), compliments of Evolving Hockey. Both metrics are useful in their own fashion. While the first speaks to how well a goalie is performing as an individual, the second helps further illustrate team quality (especially defensively) and "busyness". Which matters just as much to fantasy managers like us, who care less about how or why the saves and wins are piling up..

Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Rostered in 57.4% of ESPN.com leagues): All healed up, the Maple Leafs' other netminder looked great in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the visiting Sharks, stopping 23 of 24 shots. Not bad for a first outing after losing nearly a month to a knee injury. While Toronto can be a tough hockey market for players - especially goalies - Samsonov appears to have a healthy enough head in helping to internally manage such heady expectations and occasionally fervent criticism. He's chill. Ideally, the Leafs would prefer to split starts relatively evenly between the former Capital and Matt Murray, as long as both are managing well. And should Murray sustain another injury - fingers crossed this doesn't happen, but history suggests it might - look out. As the everyday go-to, Samsonov could become one of the league's leading fantasy netminders. (7.10 GSAx, 5.02 GSAA)

Vitek Vanecek, New Jersey Devils (72.6%): He's the No. 1 netminder for one of the league's elite squads. Ranking seventh in fantasy points accumulated to date in standard competition, Vanecek is the only netminder of that elite group still available in more than nine percent of ESPN.com leagues. Why? Are we expecting the bubble to burst in New Jersey? I'm not particularly. Perhaps we're in for some mild deflation, but nothing more. After putting up solid numbers as a part-timer in Washington, Vanecek is having a rousing go of it as the premier performer with a team that appears to have it all coming together. Bonus advice: Play Akira Schmid (24.2%) as a dark-horse Daily Fantasy asset when applicable. The kid's good, as indicated by his perfect 4-0 record (1.24 GAA, .953 SV%) to date. (3.46 GSAx, 4.22 GSAA)

Cam Talbot, Ottawa Senators (52.1%): The former Wild (Flames/Flyers/Oilers/Rangers) netminder is a solid goalie, playing for a team that appears destined to improve as the season wears on. After a truly awful end-October/first-half November, the still-a-work-in-progress Senators are nearly a .500 team since. For his part, Talbot has averaged 2.5 fantasy points/game in ESPN.com standard leagues in the meantime. And that includes one terribly dreadful appearance in San Jose. Hardly jaw dropping numbers, sure, but they add up. Quickly most weeks, as the veteran netminder is clearly D.J. Smith's go-to, night in and out. Any manager desperate to improve their goaltending corps, and willing to take their fantasy lumps on occasion - Ottawa isn't a playoff team, realistically - might consider subbing in the skilled netminder. This is a club on the upswing. (3.70 GSAx, 4.43 GSAA)

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (53.0%): Before we all pencil in Linus Ullmark for the Vezina, this is the "best" Swayman has "looked this year". Those are coach Jim Montgomery's words - following the goalie's dominating performance against the Lightning on Tuesday - not mine. Since returning to action following a forced injury break, Boston's No. 1B has been excellent in three of four appearances (one partial) in the Bruins' crease. He's worth a fantasy pick-up as a threat to eat into Ullmark's playing time for the (statistically) most successful team in the NHL. (-0.61 GSAx, -0.31 GSAA)

Sam Montembeault, Montreal Canadiens (4.7%): First, look at the numbers; the young backup has been the better of Montreal's goalkeepers all year. Unless Jake Allen starts stringing together more performances like Thursday's admittedly concrete showing in Calgary, coach Martin St. Louis might start turning to his No. 2 more often. I would. A regular reader of our fantasy content recently asked me to suss out who this year's Ville Husso, who sparkled with St. Louis last winter, might be, and Montembeault may well be that guy. ("It takes a Ville to raise a hockey pool team" - thanks to H.C. for the excellent pun.) Montreal still considers itself a playoff team. If Allen's understudy continues to win more often than not, as he has, there's no question the 26-year-old will see a larger bulk of playing time. (6.63 GSAx, 4.93 GSAA)

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