February 24, 2024

Strength of schedule – Best and worst goalie matchups in February

Not all schedules are created equal, that should go without saying. But it’s hard to remember that when we are comparing, rating, evaluating and projecting players in fantasy hockey.

Each player had a much different path to walk to their current place in your fantasy league. How can we add a dash of representation for their schedule to the mix that we use for evaluation?

Fantasy-points modifiers to schedules is a good starting point. Let’s stick to goaltenders for this, as it’s the most frustrating of the fantasy positions and arguably the one most reliant on schedule and opponents.

By looking at how many fantasy points each team allows opposing goaltenders to earn, we can start to manipulate our view of the schedule and results.

It can be telling.

Would it surprise you now to learn that the Buffalo Sabres had the best schedule for fantasy goaltenders so far in 2024? Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has exploded in the past month, earning 42.4 fantasy points since Jan. 1, placing him sixth among goaltenders.

And we aren’t talking about a self-fulfilling prophecy here, as this statement is based on stats as of Jan. 1. Taking the average fantasy points against per game for goaltenders from the start of the season to Dec. 31, 2023, then applying that average to the schedule so far in 2024, we can see the Sabres, even before the success in January of Luukkonen, had the best strength of schedule with opponents averaging 2.45 fantasy points against per game (FPAPG) to goalies.

Would that have been enough information to add Luukkonen to your fantasy roster on Jan. 1? At the time he had a grand total of 15.6 fantasy points on the season across 18 appearances — good for 46th among all goaltenders. It would have been a bold, bold move.

On Jan. 1, the Edmonton Oilers had the second-best projected schedule for 2024 to date. Stuart Skinner has a ridiculous 60.4 fantasy points in 2024, but the schedule shouldn’t take all the credit for a historical run in which the team will try to tie the NHL’s all-time win streak mark on Tuesday. That said, take a look back at Skinner for how fantasy evaluation of goaltenders can change.

After two full months of the season, Skinner had 3.0 total fantasy points on Dec. 1. Total. That’s it. Three points in 16 appearances. We had a coaching change a couple of weeks prior to that moment and Skinner has turned his season around since. He had 30.0 fantasy points in eight appearances in December, fifth among goalies. Then the Oilers had the second-best schedule so far in 2024 and Skinner has been the best goaltender since the calendar flipped.

It can work the other way too.

Does it provide some solace in knowing that the New York Islanders had the worst FPAPG schedule in 2024 so far? Ilya Sorokin hasn’t been the worst fantasy goaltender, but he’s certainly been a far cry from his usual self, earning only 15.4 fantasy points across 12 appearances.

What’s on tap

So let’s have a look at the strength of schedule ahead when it comes to fantasy points against per game (FPAPG) for goaltenders and how things might shake out from here.

And let’s take it in chunks first.

The March 8 trade deadline is a good halfway pole for evaluation.

Here are the fantasy points against per game (FPAPG) for each team’s opponents between now and March 8:

At the top end, does this mean Vitek Vanecek of the New Jersey Devils should be stashed on benches? Jack Hughes is on the verge of a return, which would give the Devils some swagger back. What about Joonas Korpisalo and the Ottawa Senators? Both of those moves would be no less bold, however, than adding Luukkonen to a fantasy roster back on Jan. 1. It’s certainly worth considering a stash.

Certainly Tristan Jarry and the Penguins are going to have one of his peaks between many valleys this season.

If this FPAPG script plays out, we could also see the Blue Jackets maybe squeeze some extra value out of Elvis Merzlikins via trade.

At the bottom end of the list, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman certainly have their work cut out for them in the next month. It also doesn’t look like a great schedule for Cam Talbot to rediscover his form from earlier this season.

And let’s look at the same FPAPG numbers for after the March 8 trade deadline:

  • 1. Chicago Blackhawks: 2.38 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 2. Minnesota Wild: 2.29 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 3. San Jose Sharks: 2.27 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 4. Seattle Kraken: 2.24 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 5. Boston Bruins: 2.23 FPAPG (17 games)

  • 6. Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.2 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 7. Detroit Red Wings: 2.2 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 8. Anaheim Ducks: 2.16 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 9. St. Louis Blues: 2.15 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 10. Carolina Hurricanes: 2.08 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 11. Calgary Flames: 2.08 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 12. Los Angeles Kings: 2.07 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 13. Nashville Predators: 2.03 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 14. New York Islanders: 2.0 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 15. Ottawa Senators: 2.0 FPAPG (21 games)

  • 16. Dallas Stars: 1.99 FPAPG (17 games)

  • 17. Philadelphia Flyers: 1.97 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 18. Toronto Maple Leafs: 1.94 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 19. Columbus Blue Jackets: 1.88 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 20. Vancouver Canucks: 1.86 FPAPG (17 games)

  • 21. New Jersey Devils: 1.83 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 22. New York Rangers: 1.81 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 23. Edmonton Oilers: 1.78 FPAPG (21 games)

  • 24. Winnipeg Jets: 1.7 FPAPG (20 games)

  • 25. Colorado Avalanche: 1.67 FPAPG (17 games)

  • 26. Vegas Golden Knights: 1.66 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 27. Washington Capitals: 1.64 FPAPG (21 games)

  • 28. Florida Panthers: 1.63 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 29. Arizona Coyotes: 1.56 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 30. Buffalo Sabres: 1.53 FPAPG (18 games)

  • 31. Montreal Canadiens: 1.51 FPAPG (19 games)

  • 32. Pittsburgh Penguins: 1.46 FPAPG (21 games)

Better enjoy the next month from Jarry and the Penguins, as the road gets significantly more difficult after the deadline.

It will be difficult to trust and use goaltenders from the Blackhawks and Sharks, despite their positive schedule for the stretch run. That said, Mackenzie Blackwood is 10th in fantasy points so far in 2024, while Petr Mrazek is 16th, so it’s not impossible that they are factors late in the season.

Filip Gustavsson certainly checks all the boxes as a fantasy trade target as you approach the fantasy trade deadline in your league. The Wild have a positive late-season schedule and his overall struggles have suppressed his value to date this season. The same could be said on a lesser scale for Andrei Vasilevskiy.

And if you want a holistic view for the rest of the season, here are the overall FPAPG stats:

  • 1. Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.11 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 2. Minnesota Wild: 2.11 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 3. Ottawa Senators: 2.1 FPAPG (35 games)

  • 4. San Jose Sharks: 2.09 FPAPG (31 games)

  • 5. Philadelphia Flyers: 2.01 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 6. Nashville Predators: 2.01 FPAPG (31 games)

  • 7. New Jersey Devils: 2.01 FPAPG (35 games)

  • 8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 2.01 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 9. Chicago Blackhawks: 2.0 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 10. St. Louis Blues: 2.0 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 11. Anaheim Ducks: 2.0 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 12. Dallas Stars: 1.98 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 13. Detroit Red Wings: 1.94 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 14. Winnipeg Jets: 1.93 FPAPG (35 games)

  • 15. New York Rangers: 1.93 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 16. Seattle Kraken: 1.92 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 17. Calgary Flames: 1.91 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 18. Vancouver Canucks: 1.88 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 19. New York Islanders: 1.88 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 20. Carolina Hurricanes: 1.87 FPAPG (34 games)

  • 21. Boston Bruins: 1.87 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 22. Los Angeles Kings: 1.83 FPAPG (34 games)

  • 23. Edmonton Oilers: 1.81 FPAPG (37 games)

  • 24. Florida Panthers: 1.81 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 25. Toronto Maple Leafs: 1.77 FPAPG (34 games)

  • 26. Pittsburgh Penguins: 1.76 FPAPG (36 games)

  • 27. Arizona Coyotes: 1.74 FPAPG (34 games)

  • 28. Buffalo Sabres: 1.71 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 29. Montreal Canadiens: 1.69 FPAPG (33 games)

  • 30. Colorado Avalanche: 1.67 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 31. Vegas Golden Knights: 1.67 FPAPG (32 games)

  • 32. Washington Capitals: 1.59 FPAPG (35 games)

For the big picture, maybe it is worth having a look at Korpisalo. He’s available in 75.9 percent of ESPN leagues and the Senators have a solid rest-of-season schedule. Heck, in Week 18 of the fantasy season (starting Feb. 12), the Sens face the Blue Jackets, Ducks and Blackhawks. Why not add him and kick the tires next week.