r1154334 1296x729 16 9 - Replay Madness

There are half as many fantasy goaltenders qualifying for the top 250 players this season than did in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season.

In recalculating age-related modifiers for our upcoming dynasty rankings, this is the biggest statistical change that jumped off the page for me.

In the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, there were 30 goaltenders that finished among the top 250 in fantasy points. In 2015-16, for example, the pack was led by Braden Holtby, Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick all ranking sixth or better, but followed up with Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Jones all within the top 15 fantasy scorers. There were 12 goaltenders in the top 30 and 18 in the top 100.

Compare that to this season as of Sunday: Linus Ullmark and Alexandar Georgiev are in the top 12 and there are eight goaltenders in the top 50, but it gets real troubling after that. Only 11 goaltenders are sitting in the top 150 and only 16 goaltenders make the cut among the top 250. That is a sea change when it comes to the scarcity of quality fantasy goaltending.

But it hasn’t come out of the blue.

Here are the number of goaltenders in the top 250 starting in the 2015-16 season: 30, 30, 23, 24, 26, 21, 21 and now trending toward 16 this season.

So what gives?

Well, there are a few obvious factors. The first being the rise of tandems and the fall of the workhorse starter. In those same eight seasons, there have been a total of 31 goaltenders with at least 75% crease share for a season, but 16 of them were all in the first three seasons. There was a low of only two in 2019-20 and only three goaltenders are on pace for that mark this season. A tandem doesn’t preclude two goaltenders from the same team finishing in the top 250, as is the case with Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, but it’s certainly easier to get the fantasy points through a combination of quality and quantity, as opposed to quality on its own.

The second factor would be turnover with the departure of some tenured elite goaltenders in the past few seasons. Of those 30 goaltenders to finish in the top 250 in 2015-16, only Fleury is on track to do the same this season. That has led to some inconsistency at the top of the position. Of the 16 goaltenders on track to be top 250 this season, nine of them managed to do so last season. Only six goaltenders have been top 250 for three consecutive seasons and only four have done it for four seasons running (Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Fleury and Juuse Saros). Vasilevskiy is the only one that has been a top-10 goaltender for the past four years in a row, with Hellebuyck getting there in three of four seasons and Saros managing the feat for the past three seasons running.

So there’s the elite and then there’s a crapshoot. Understanding that situations change and the goalie carousel goes around, but goaltenders like Darcy Kuemper, Sergei Bobrovsky, Frederik Andersen, Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko, Jack Campbell and even Marc-Andre Fleury oscillate between rewarding and punishing fantasy campaigns during the past five or six seasons.

But if this is a recent low-water mark for fantasy goaltending, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future. Based on the eight years of data we looked at here, the goaltender fantasy points per 60 trend line peaks in the age-28 season for a goaltender, while goaltenders in their age-26 and age-27 campaigns play the most collective minutes.

That means, in theory, the 2023-24 season will be prime time for the likes of age-28 goalies like Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Juuse Saros, Vitek Vanecek, Tristan Jarry and Demko, with Georgiev and Ilya Samsonov coming in one and two years behind them. Meanwhile, Jake Oettinger, Filip Gustavsson, Jeremy Swayman, Stuart Skinner and Carter Hart will only be 25 next season. Then there is the next youth wave that has Pyotr Kochetkov and Spencer Knight established, Devon Levi and Yaroslav Askarov having cups of coffee this season, and Dustin Wolf and Jesper Wallstedt ready to make the jump from the AHL at any moment.

The league needs some of these young goaltenders to take back the crease. Only two goaltenders in their age-30 season or older are likely to finish among the top 250 fantasy scorers for 2022-23 (for reference it was eight in 2021-22 and seven in 2020-21; it was 14 goalies age 30 and older in the 2015-16 season). Darcy Kuemper should have no trouble getting there (No. 199 as of Sunday), but Marc-Andre Fleury is on the bubble (No. 224 as of Sunday).

Age curve

Can you tell I’m doing all the background work for dynasty rankings? They are scheduled for next week here on ESPN.com.

While going through the projection modifiers based on recent seasons from certain age cohorts, I thought it helpful to share a chart of the NHL age curve for fantasy relevance. This is simply the number of players from each age that have found their way to fantasy relevance (top 250 in fantasy points) in the past eight NHL seasons. Here are the forwards first.

As you can see, the number of players contributing for fantasy peaks at 24 and manages to stay relatively steady through to 28. It then goes into a roughly 2.5-year half-life cycle. By the time players hit 37, they are lucky to still be contributing. Only two forwards have had a fantasy-relevant season after age 38, both of them in the 2015-16 campaign. Jarome Iginla is the one 39-year-old and Jaromir Jagr was the 43-year-old. Joe Pavelski, who is ranked No. 55 in fantasy as of Sunday, will look to buck the trend next season. With only 14 forwards age 37 or 38 having fantasy-relevant campaigns in the past eight seasons, the odds are not all of Alexander Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron, Evgeni Malkin, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler can be in the top 250 again next year. I wouldn’t bet against the Russians. It’s certainly any easy out for Bergeron and Krejci if the President Trophy-winning Bruins can go all the way to the cup.

On the positive end of that spectrum, there is a big bump at 23 years old when the 22-year-old cohort from the previous season jump into fantasy relevance. Some forwards from outside the top 250 who will be 23 next season include: Shane Pinto, Kirby Dach, Cole Caufield, Joel Farabee, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Kirill Marchenko, Matias Maccelli, Ty Dellandrea, Pavel Dorofeyev and Alex Newhook.

The peak for the number of defensemen in the top 250 over the past eight years comes for age-26 players. The curve here is a bit smoother with a lower overall peak and lower grades on either side. In other words, defensemen develop a little slower, but age a little more gracefully. When you look across the seasons for each age group, it’s neat to see the cohorts that stay relevant together. For example, starting in 2015-16 when they were in their age-25 season, there is a peak in each subsequent season as the same group of defensemen that includes Roman Josi, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman works toward their current age-32 season. There’s another bubble working through the system at age 28 this season with Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Devon Toews, Morgan Rielly and Jaccob Slavin among the group.

Keep both of these age curves in mind when evaluating players on both ends of the spectrum.

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Looking ahead to next season