Has Niklas Backstrom Lost his Fantasy Value?

While not everyone is a fantasy hockey geek, the relative value placed on players is worth noting for non-fantasy players as well. It forms a basis for debate as the season nears, and the rankings of players against each other can easily translate to a fantasy league environment.

Reading posts around the internet about the rankings for the pending season, Niklas Backstrom is ranked very low in a majority of them. They all offer justifications for ranking him low, and yet none of them seem to mesh with the current reality.

I feel like the guy who has a girlfriend all of his friends hate, and yet I can't see it. Help me out? Make the jump.

We see Backstrom a lot here in Minnesota. Training camp, pre-season, 82 regular season games. Fantasy hockey players, while they do not all watch Backstrom as much as we do here, you can bet they pay attention to his stats and the situation here in Minnesota. What do they see that I don't?

First, let's look at the rankings.

From SBN's own FakeTeams:

 TIER VI - Average goalies, bad teams.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota 

Steve Mason, Columbus

Antti Niemi, RFA

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas

Many people were concerned about Backstrom heading into last year, as the Wild were moving from Jacques Lemaire's suffocating defensive scheme to a more wide open, run-and-gun gameplan. Backstrom's save percentage took a massive dive, from .923 to .903.

That would be tier six out of eight. That would be the tier six that ranks directly below tier five, labeled "Tier V - Average goalies, good teams. And Cam Ward.

As you see, the justification here is that the Wild are not a very good team. Now, granted, last year was fairly brutal for Backs. Stats are all that matter for fantasy hockey. There are no moral victories, there are no better tomorrows. It is make the grade or go on the waiver wire.

Still, it smacks of lack of understanding of what was going on with the Wild last season. Granted, his stats were pretty bad for a fantasy goaltender last season, but he made a fine #2, and even a #1 in deep leagues.  This season is not last season, and one off season should not make people hit the panic button.

Our next example comes from one friend of the blog, Chris Wassel, writing for another friend of the blog, Red Light District Hockey. In a post entitled "Top 25 Fantasy Goalies," Backstrom does not make the list.

We do have one disclaimer on Minnesota goalie Nick Backstrom. He is not in the Top 25 because of fear for injury and this would ignite some serious debate on speculation. Josh Harding or the Russian Prospect will not make it either. Sorry Minnesota fans.

We had a brief conversation on Twitter about this, and there is strong disagreement on this end. Friendly disagreement, of course, but strong. Head over to the post and check out goalies that made the list. Here's a hint, almost everyone except Backstrom. This includes both goalies in LA, and Jonas Gustaffson in Toronto.

A hint for those playing in the Hockey Wilderness fantasy league this season: When two solid goalies play for the same team, neither of them is a good option. Two goalies split a teams wins, and most teams are not going to win enough games to make that worth it. Two goalies from LA on the list before Backstrom was truly confusing to me. Gustaffson plays for Toronto... enough said.

The thing that really caught my eye was the "fear of injury." Backstrom missed some games with injury, yes. The biggest loss of time was due to taking a puck off the throat, something he has little control over, and is not bound to repeat.

Some numbers: Backstrom played in 60 games last season. Luonogo, the #2 goalie on this list, played in 69. Pekke Rinne, #8 on the list, played in 58. Backstrom ranked 14th for NHL goaltenders in GP. Not bad, considering the throat injury. I do not disagree that Rinne is set to have a solid season, but he struggled mightily when handed the reigns as the #1 in Nashville, and Ellis had to jump in to save him several times. However, if we are willing to accept a change from this year to next for Rinne, we need to accept that same premise for Backstrom.

Again, there is no malice here, just a friendly disagreement.

Looking at the so-called professionals, we can look at CBS Sports fantasy rankings, as well as ESPN's. I would use Yahoo's but apparently they prefer to make us wait while they move the players who left for the KHL into the top 30.

CBS Sports lists Backstrom as the 16th best goaltender, just behind Chris Elliot, Chris Mason, and Jonas Hiller.

ESPN has Backstrom as the 71st overall pick, and the ninth best goalie. 

While it is sacrilegious to accept ESPN as an authority in this matter, both CBS and ESPN at least have Backstrom being drafted and contributing.

The point of all of this is that Backstrom's reputation took a beating last season. The Wild were an awful team, and like the QB taking the blame for a football team's woes, the goalie bears the brunt in hockey. The talking heads opine, if only Backstrom had played better, kept them in the game, stolen a few, maybe the Wild would have been better. Stat wonks trot out save %, GAA, and other stats to show that Backstrom is not who he used to be.

As anyone who reads Hockey Wilderness knows, the Wild had some serious issues last season. New GM, new coach, new system, new players, too many people feeling far too comfortable with their job status.

This season is different. Defensive forwards have been brought in and coupled with solid two-way players to shore up the shut down part of the game. There are now four lines of bona fide hockey players. There are pieces missing, as has been stated here before. But we aren't looking for the potential for a Stanley Cup run. We are looking at regular season ability, and if Backstrom's numbers can rebound from last season.

Backstrom has not shown to be injury prone to the point of worry, and he stood tall while shots were being taken from the short side or while defending what has to be a record number of odd man rushes. There is little to no reason to believe that things have not improved in Minnesota, and by definition, that things have improved for Backstrom.

What say you, Wilderness? Can you set aside your fandom and evaluate objectively? Is Backstrom still capable of helping out a fantasy squad?

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