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Fantasy Hockey Philosophy: Take the red pill on drafting goalies, Neo

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

(Ed. Note: In celebration of Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey's return, Puck Daddy presents a short series of guest posts this week that look at how some prominent fantasy experts go about building their own teams. Here's Justin Goldman, founder of The Hockey Guild.)

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By Justin Goldman, The Goalie Guild

What you logically know about a goalie's skill and stats will always influence whom you choose for your fantasy teams. But after today, your entire goaltending strategy will break free from the slavery of the routine. We know what you are seeking. We know the importance of being successful in fantasy goalie categories.

In order to be one of the best, you have to learn to open your mind.

You are on the fringe of crossing the mental threshold. Right here, right now, in this place, you have the chance to know the truth. If you loved The Matrix and how it changed your perception of the world, you'll have no problem taking the red pill again and following us to the other side. Then, and only then, can you truly see just how far the rabbit hole goes.

Welcome to the School of Block, a place where nothing seems familiar, but only because you've never seen the position from this place before. This is where you must go to truly out-smart your opponents in the most important area of all fantasy leagues - goaltending. We can lead you to the door that will take you there. But you have to walk through it alone.

(Coming Up: Five vital pieces of advice for your fantasy team between the pipes.)

The first and most important thing you must realize before crossing to the other side is this: a goaltender's stats are merely a representation of how they performed in another world, and in a different time.

In reality, stats have little bearing on their current and future performances. The path that lies ahead is theirs to make, and it can go in infinite directions. So as a keen fantasy manager, you must learn to free your mind and see what your goalie's stats don't reveal on the surface.

On the other side, you'll find that the true nature of a goalie's fantasy value is not found in stats alone, but rather in situation. Stats are finite numbers that represent what was previously accomplished. And since everyone knows that goaltending is 90-percent mental, their performance is rooted more in their current situation and state of mind, not in what their stats show. If your strategy is based around skin-deep stats and predictions, you are more likely to struggle and lose confidence when things don't go well.

Down here, you must quickly remove yourself from that familiar atmosphere of statistical analysis. But for now, leave it all behind. It's not going anywhere and it exists as a universe bound by rules and science.

Now swallow that pill and see things from a different angle. Begin to search for the truth and that hidden skill you never knew you had - Situational Awareness.

Situational Awareness is the key that unlocks the door to advanced fantasy goalie strategy. Instead of having a two-dimensional view of your goalies, Situational Awareness allows you to see things in 3-D. Along with knowing a goalie's skill (1-D) and stats (2-D), you'll also recognize their infinitely different motivations, emotions and mannerisms. It is this non-statistical third dimension that is necessary to understand how a goaltender is expected to perform in his next game.

Think of it this way - a goalie's situation is the vehicle that drives them to act in certain ways. Every goalie is capable of standing on their head, falling apart in the third period and getting four shutouts in a row. So without knowing how or why that vehicle runs a certain way, you'll always be missing the point of a goalie's true performance.

One of the best ways to train your mind to understand Situational Awareness is to imagine a goalie as a book. In each book, a season is a different chapter. New characters are introduced, new settings are revealed. All of the story's elements impact (directly and indirectly) the goalie in different ways, all depending on the situation. There's a denouement, a climax and a conclusion. There are protagonists, antagonists and obstacles. Emotions and morals also play an influence in everything.

Most fantasy managers will have no problem reading the book's words. But few will understand the story's true plot and theme. Often, the theme is related to the person and can be taken in many different ways. That's where Situational Awareness comes into play. It's the ability for the fantasy manager to comprehend each and every goalie's unique situation. It's reflected in story, not numbers and it's an understanding of what you see. To harness and hone this power, ask yourself these sorts of questions:

Did my goalie struggle in his last game, or was he one of the three stars? What outside factors influenced his play? What internal factors influenced his play? Did he play worse or better than usual? Did he display uncommon traits in his game? Is his confidence high or low? Is it moving in a positive or negative direction? Is he under more or less pressure than usual? Is he in a comfortable rhythm or is he fighting the puck? Is he working hard in practice or does he seem complacent? What impact does his coach, teammates or backup have on him?

Now look closely at all of those questions and ask yourself ‘why?' Why did my goalie struggle or succeed in his last start? Why did an internal or external factor influence his play? Why was he better or worse than usual? Why did he act or react differently? Why is his confidence low? Why is it breaking through to new levels? Why and where is he being influenced by pressure?

This is how you develop an effective fantasy goalie strategy using Situational Awareness. Know your goalie from the inside first. That will make the statistical analysis more effective. And more importantly, you'll know why things happen. Just like your goalies, your strategy must morph and change depending on the situation. But now you have the tools needed to analyze situations and keep an open mind.

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On a personal note, here five morsels of fantasy goalie strategy that have helped me succeed for many years. It does help that I have a good understanding of an NHL goalie's skill, strengths and weaknesses, but anyone can use these tools to further unlock their mind and improve their own Situational Awareness skills. Another tool that is effective is our Goalie Depth Charts. The Alteration Marks act as a guide for current a goalie's current situations on a monthly basis.

1. Don't pass up a chance to draft a veteran workhorse in the first or second round. Goalies like Roberto Luongo(notes), Ryan Miller(notes), Martin Brodeur(notes) and Henrik Lundqvist(notes) are valuable commodities because they consistently perform at a high level, regardless of their situation. They have proven over time that they have the ability to stop pucks, regardless of the highs and the lows.

2. A goalie is going to come out of nowhere and defy all odds and logic. I didn't even expect Antti Niemi(notes) to make the Blackhawks out of training camp ... and he won the Stanley Cup. Regardless of his weak skill, Niemi's situation matched up perfectly with his strengths. Having mental toughness on a team that doesn't allow a lot of shots was the recipe for success last year. Everything went right in a world where anything can go wrong and it was a magical ride that proves what's possible under the surface.

3. Trust your instincts. If you think a goalie is destined for a great game, have faith in your hand. Trusting yourself will improve your confidence and focus, even if you fail. You know your goalies better than anyone else, and the only truth is in your heart.

4. A coach greatly influences a goalie's confidence and situation. What impact does being benched or getting a surprise start have on your goalie? If a goalie is rewarded, their confidence quickly increases. If they are penalized for a bad game, their confidence erodes. That plays a major role in how they perform over the course of a season, so pay attention to the coaches.

5. Many advanced statistics are extremely valuable. For example, Antero Niittymaki's(notes) personal record against Atlanta and Chris Osgood's(notes) personal record against Tampa Bay all but guarantee you success. Keep an eye out for these trends and numbers.

I'll close with one last ethereal piece of advice. It's another quote from Timothy Leary. "Science is all metaphor," he said.

It's so true. The science of fantasy goaltending is the most complex aspect of the game because, well, it's not an exact science at all. Without Situational Awareness, you never know the true reason of why something happened, or what's going to happen next. This leads people, like Romig in his fantasy article, to believe goalies are unreliable or volatile.

Don't think of goalies as being unreliable. That breeds hesitation and uncertainty. Rather, think of goalies as amorphic beings. They all react and play depending on how their surroundings, situation or stimuli interact and mix with each other. A keen fantasy manager must detect those stimuli and know how each situation might influence the goalie on a daily basis. Their situation reveals signs of a goalie on the rise or struggling, so the sooner you notice it, the more effective you will be.

This is a very different way of handling fantasy goaltending. But it is not unconventional. It works, especially if used as a way to enhance the scientific, statistical world. There are a million places to research and find goalie stats and trends, and that is a valuable asset. But one of the only places you can research and improve Situational Awareness is in your mind.

In my mind, I know this. Jeff Deslauriers(notes) was terrible statistically last year, but not because he's a bad goalie. His situation, from start to finish, was brutal. He was not expecting to be thrust into the starting role and his team did not give him much help. No statistic will show you that, if his team around him is solid and he is more composed and calm in tight games, he has the skills needed to be one of the most valuable fantasy goalies in that No. 3 spot on your team.

In my mind, I know this. Steve Mason(notes) was also terrible last season. He didn't understand the mental preparation needed to be a workhorse in the NHL due to a lack of experience, and he failed to get over a bad outing. But Mason is a legit talent with great size and skill and potential. His off-season has reportedly been much more focused and positive. If he plays well in his first couple of games, his confidence will soar once again. As a result, so too will his rhythm and attitude. And if he gained any experience from last year's difficult situation, this year's situation could result in him being a significant fantasy steal.

Every goalie has a story. One floats on the surface. The other is subterranean. One is simply the end result of the other. One is easy to see, the other one isn't. Which one do you think makes you a better fantasy goalie strategist and analyst? The rabbit hole goes deep into the center of the earth. Don't ever be afraid to let go of what you know and take a trip down the rabbit hole.

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