In The Crease: Quality starts

Updated: February 26, 2013, 4:04 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | ESPN.com

Through the course of a fantasy hockey season, I'll occasionally make reference to the "quality start" metric, a statistic developed by the stat gurus over at Hockey Prospectus, and defined as "an idea blatantly lifted from baseball, Quality Starts were one of Hockey Prospectus' first contributions back in 2009 as a measure of whether a goaltender 'gave his team a chance to win.' In order to record a Quality Start, the starting goalie must stop at least a league average number of shots (typically 91.3 percent prior to 2009-10, and 91.7 percent since), or play at least as well as a replacement-level goalie (88.5 percent) while allowing two goals or fewer."

Sometimes, the numbers don't really yield any new information -- some netminders with a high percentage of quality starts are already listed amongst the top-flight options in fantasy -- but other times, the metric can guide us towards some goalies that are perhaps being overlooked, due to the fact that their team isn't holding up their end of the bargain on the offensive end. On the flip side, there are some goalies who are earning wins more often than they should, based upon a strong offense, and these goaltenders may be in for a rude awakening if and when the offensive production cools off.

Culling through the data, I analyzed NHL goalies that have started at least four games this season, a list that runs 49 deep. Here's the Top 10:

This cohort features a lot of names that have been near the top of the rankings this season -- Corey Crawford has 10 quality starts in 11 starts overall, Craig Anderson is 12-for-15, Viktor Fasth and Roberto Luongo are both 7-for-9 and Tuukka Rask is 9-for-12 -- and there are also some pleasant surprises: super backups Ben Bishop (4-for-5) and Ray Emery (6-for-8). What the inclusion of Bishop and Emery signify to me is that both Ottawa and Chicago have an effective defensive system for yielding success for their netminders. While this doesn't mean that just anyone can be plunked into the crease and have similar success, it does mean that the performance out of Bishop and Emery isn't a fluke. (More on Mr. Bishop a little later).

Just missing out on the Top 10 list here are Niklas Backstrom (8-for-12 quality starts), Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi (both 9-for-14) and Ben Scrivens (7-for-11). Of that group, Quick has obviously been the biggest disappointment thus far -- ranking No. 25 in the Player Rater amongst goalies thus far -- but the fact that he's had a quality start on 64.3 percent of the occasions on which he's started is a good sign that things should improve. Perhaps it's time to float a trade offer in front of the exasperated Quick owner in your league.

Here are the Bottom 10:

Not totally surprising to see some of the league's backup backstops in this group; however, it is frankly quite shocking to find Semyon Varlamov and Jimmy Howard down on skid row here. In Varlamov's case, we'd taken his final 22-game stretch from 2011-12 (when he posted a 1.87/.934 ratios split), mixed it with a dash of playing time in the KHL during the lockout and a pinch of optimism, and projected him to finish as the No. 17 goalie in fantasy by season's end. That's not out of the question, but his current ranking on the Player Rater is double that (No. 34 amongst goalies). He's been all over the place this season.

As for Howard, he's just two spots ahead of Varlamov on the Player Rater, and the only thing keeping him afloat has been that tremendous win total (he's tied for fifth in the league with 8). His ratio numbers should get better (2.88 and .901 are significantly off from his career averages), but maybe we didn't factor in the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom enough. Either way, he too makes a fine trade target at this point, owing to the fact that the wins should keep pouring in even if his ratios don't improve; it's the blessing of being the Red Wings' primary netminder.

As was the case with the "just missed" section of the Top 10, there are some intriguing names just off the margin of the Bottom 10, too: Anders Lindback (5-for-13), Evgeni Nabokov (6-for-15), Cam Ward (5-for-12) and Mike Smith (6-for-14). The fact that Lindback and Nabokov are in that spot isn't too surprising to those who've watched multiple Lightning and Islander games; more importantly, expectations were low for both.

Regarding Ward and Smith, their ranking is clearly more disconcerting, especially given where they were drafted. In looking at the data produced by Hockey Prospectus from 2007-08 through 2011-12, Ward had a quality start percentage of 54.5 percent so his 41.7 percent this season is a big drop. It's a slightly lesser drop for Smith (52.1 percent to 42.9), but not one that was any more expected. I don't think Ward is as bad as his numbers have been thus far this season, and he can likely be had on the cheap in a trade based on where he sits in the seasonal rankings. In Smith's case, while I anticipate his improving a bit in the future, his decent overall ranking (No. 27 on the Player Rater) likely means that his owner won't accept a clearance-rate deal.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The ranking at the start of the 2011-12 season is indicated in parentheses.

1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (1)
2. Tuukka Rask, Bos (2)
3. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (3)
4. Carey Price, Mon (5)
5. Corey Crawford, Chi (4)
6. Antti Niemi, SJ (8)
7. Viktor Fasth, Ana (11)
8. Craig Anderson, Ott (7)
9. Jonathan Quick, LA (9)
10. Roberto Luongo, Van (12)
11. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (14)
12. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (18)
13. Jimmy Howard, Det (6)
14. Mike Smith, Pho (10)
15. Ben Scrivens, Tor (24)
16. Jaroslav Halak, StL (16)
17. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (15)
18. Ryan Miller, Buf (13)
19. Martin Brodeur, NJ (17)
20. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (19)
21. Anders Lindback, TB (20)
22. Cory Schneider, Van (21)
23. Cam Ward, Car (22)
24. Ray Emery, Chi (NR)
25. Niklas Backstrom, Min (23)
26. Semyon Varlamov, Col (25)
27. Braden Holtby, Was (30)
28. James Reimer, Tor (28)
29. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (26)
30. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (27)
31. Johan Hedberg, NJ (29)
32. Ben Bishop, Ott (NR)
33. Jonas Hiller, Ana (38)
34. Dan Ellis, Car (33)
35. Tomas Vokoun, Pit (34)
36. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (35)
37. Jose Theodore, Fla (32)
38. Sergei Bobrovsky, Cls (36)
39. Michal Neuvirth, Was (37)
40. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (NR)

Rising and Falling

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (up seven spots to No. 12): As with Jimmy Howard, Fleury derives a ton of value from his win total -- he picked up No. 10 on Sunday, which ties him for the league lead with Carey Price. The difference between Fleury and Howard? 0.60 points in goals-against average (2.28 to 2.88) and 0.15 in save percentage (.916 to .901). Those ratios are a bit better than Fleury's career marks, but not that far off from what he's done the past two seasons. There could be some regression, but the plan to spell him with a Tomas Vokoun start here and there seems to be working. The temporary loss of Evgeni Malkin may do some damage in terms of Fleury's potential for wins in the near future, but with the Penguins suggesting that Malkin's concussion is on the mild side, his absence may not be an extended one.

Ben Scrivens, Toronto Maple Leafs (up nine spots to No. 15): A knee injury knocked James Reimer out of the Leafs' nets, which pushed Scrivens back into the primary starting position. And unlike what the Dallas Stars have been getting out of Richard Bachman and Cris Nilstorp in Kari Lehtonen's absence, Scrivens has more than carried his weight while Reimer continues to rehab his injury. In fact, if you count Scrivens' relief appearance for Reimer on Feb. 11, in his eight games played since the injury to his teammate, he's posted a 1.91 GAA and .942 SV%, ratios that would be sixth and second overall if extrapolated to the entire campaign. (In total, his 2.17 is the No. 12 GAA, and his .928 is No. 6). Believe it or not, there are still some leagues where he's just sitting on the waiver wire (he's unowned in 17.4 percent of ESPN leagues, to be precise); might as well check things out today to see if yours is one of them. For the rest, it's unclear whether Randy Carlyle will continue to stick with Scrivens when Reimer is back, establish an even timeshare or go back to Reimer. You'll want to oversell that uncertainty when trying to acquire Scrivens in a trade: he's playing as well as anyone right now.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals (up three spots to No. 27): I was perhaps a bit higher on Holtby than most at the outset of the season -- what can I say, playoff heroes are my fantasy kryptonite -- and the start of the Adam Oates coaching era in D.C. was somewhat of an abomination on both ends of the ice. However, things have perked up as of late: while the Caps still face long odds to qualify for the playoffs, the offense is clicking (3.30 goals in the month of February, good for third in the league in that span), and Holtby is starting to look like an actual starting-caliber goaltender again. In the past six games for Washington, Holtby has been the starter in each, and he's gone 4-2-0 with a 2.35/.926 ratio split. Perhaps more importantly, in both of those losses, Holtby put forth a quality start (as defined above), meaning that he was a hard-luck loser in both; overall, four of his past six starts have been of the quality variety. Let's not get too excited just yet, but it's certainly safe to put him back into the active lineup, and pick him up in those leagues where he's been dropped (he's a free agent in 21.2 percent of ESPN leagues).

Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers (debuting on the list at No. 40): In last week's column, I pondered the Panthers' thought process in keeping future franchise netminder Markstrom down with the farm club while journeyman veterans Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen were struggling. I can't take total credit for Markstrom being called up shortly after my column posted, but it was an inevitable situation anyhow. The Panthers elected to break the 23-year-old phenom in with games against the Penguins and Bruins -- talk about being thrown into the deep end -- and he responded against the league's second- and ninth-highest scoring teams by allowing three in each contest. That doesn't sound great at first until you look at how bad it could've gotten: the three goals came on 40 shots for Pittsburgh and 31 for Boston. Despite this reasonably strong pair of outings, Markstrom was sent back down to San Antonio on Monday. For now, it's back to Theodore and Clemmensen, but we likely haven't seen the last of Markstrom this season (and he's obviously on the watch list for keeper leagues, too).

Timeshares

Sergei Bobrovsky (owned in 21.3 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Steve Mason (1.6 percent), Columbus Blue Jackets: A surprising finding when I compiled the quality start totals: Bobrovksy has six out of his 11 starts (54.5 percent), while Mason has three in eight (37.5 percent). Mason's total isn't surprising, but perhaps a deeper look at Bobrovsky is warranted since that rate is amongst some fine company (right behind James Reimer and Cory Schneider; right ahead of Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist). Isolating his quality starts, he's gone 3-2-1 in that cohort, while the Jackets have managed just 13 goals (2.17 per game). In the other five starts, he's gone 0-4-1, with the offense pumping in six goals (1.20 per game). So in other words, it still doesn't pay to be the goaltender in Columbus; even on nights when a goalie would not be presumptuous to think he should win, he's only earning the W half the time. This is not a situation of much value to us in the fantasy realm, aside from those in very deep leagues who have run out of No. 2 netminders on good teams to activate.

Anders Lindback (owned in 96.1 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Mathieu Garon (0.6 percent), Tampa Bay Lightning: This is not what Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had envisioned when he dealt for Lindback this past offseason: journeyman Garon is a full half-goal per game ahead of Lindback in GAA (2.75 to 3.27) and .27 ahead in SV% (.917 to .890). Sure, the team had measured expectations for the 24-year-old, but Yzerman's gamble in not targeting Roberto Luongo could backfire if the team -- with its high-octane offense -- finds itself on the outside looking in once the playoffs get started. That trade could still happen (the trade deadline isn't until April 3), but aside from speculating, what should be done from a fantasy perspective? Lindback should obviously be benched: he doesn't have much of a statistical background profile on which to lean for me to say that he'll definitely rebound. In Garon's case, his ratios are a bit ahead of what can reasonably be expected, but he's not a bad spot-start option for those in a pinch right now (as long as he's actually starting in real life); there is that high-octane offense and all.

Cory Schneider (owned in 100.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Roberto Luongo (100.0 percent), Vancouver Canucks: Rather interesting report from ESPN.com's Craig Custance this week: in his column on Monday Insider, Custance reported that Vancouver GM Mike Gillis has actually been getting calls regarding Schneider's availability in trade prior to the April 3 deadline. Custance notes that this could actually be of great benefit to Vancouver; the trade package would be substantially bigger for the 26-year-old than the vet, and Luongo has a proven track record of postseason success, having led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010-11. As noted above, we're not going to deal with these hypotheticals just yet. As of right now, Luongo's seasonal stats continue to outrate Schneider's (2.11 to 2.69 in GAA; .916 to .912 in SV%) despite a brutal outing against Detroit on Sunday (eight goals allowed on 28 shots). Schneider, meanwhile, has been significantly better in February (a 2.38/.922 ratio split) compared to January (3.13/.897), and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll carry those strong ratios for the duration. Bottom line: keep both men activated until further notice.

Training room roundup

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: After a wild collision in the crease with the New York Rangers' Chris Kreider on Thursday night, Anderson moved gingerly off the ice, and the initial reports were not good; it was expected that he'd miss two to four weeks with an ankle sprain. However, in the days since those initial gloomy projections, things seem to have taken a significant turn for the better: the Ottawa Citizen reported that Anderson got some skating in on Monday, though Sens coach Paul MacLean cautioned, "He went for a couple of twirls today, but I wouldn't call it a skate." Nevertheless, a "couple of twirls" is a pirouette in the right direction, and he could be back ahead of that earlier projection. In the meantime, Bishop has been pretty superb: after replacing Anderson and leading the Sens to a shootout win against the Rangers, he saved 26-of-28 to get the W over Toronto on Saturday, followed by a remarkable 44-save shootout win over Montreal on Monday night (where he allowed just one goal in the shootout). We may get a glimpse of future franchise goalie Robin Lehner at some point, but perhaps not if Anderson is ready within the next few days. Keeper league owners, take note: either Bishop or Lehner is going to have a lot of value next season when one lands with another team.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: As noted above, the Stars can't get Lehtonen back fast enough. The No. 8 netminder this season on the Player Rater, his replacements Bachman and Nilstorp have not been able to maintain his elite level of play, and the Stars have gone 1-2-1 in the four games he's missed (allowing 14 goals in that span). Fortunately, Lehtonen was on the ice for a skate on Monday, and could return at some point this week; after Tuesday's trip to Columbus, Dallas is home for Edmonton Thursday and St. Louis on Sunday.

James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs: Reimer is getting closer to a return from an MCL sprain, though he has indicated that he won't be back in action until he's 100 percent. The good news is that the Leafs have Ben Scrivens in his place, and things have gone quite well with the understudy between the pipes. So well, in fact, that the Leafs may have themselves a bit of a goalie controversy once Reimer is healthy. But first he has to actually get healthy, and it appears we're still a few days away from that.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: The Flames have been inconsistent at both ends of the ice since Kipper went down with an MCL sprain back on Feb. 5; neither Danny Taylor, nor Joey MacDonald nor Leland Irving was able to replicate the stability that Calgary has gotten over the past eight seasons with No. 34 in the net (and Irving has been shipped back down to Abbotsford of the AHL). The Calgary Sun reported that Kiprusoff was able to do some light skating on Sunday, but is likely still a couple weeks away from a return. MacDonald, who has taken over as the de facto No. 1 in Kiprusoff's stead, is not worth activation in most fantasy hockey formats, though could be considered for leagues that use volume stats (number of saves, minutes, etc.) as opposed to rate stats.

Tim Kavanagh

Fantasy and Insider
Tim Kavanagh is an associate editor for ESPN Fantasy and Insider, with specific responsibility for NHL and fantasy hockey coverage in addition to other sports.

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