This week, your friends at Puck Daddy are offering a variety of fantasy hockey previews ahead of the 2014-15 season.
By Darryl Dobbs
In many fantasy hockey leagues, goalies make up close 10 percent of your roster, but account for 40% to 50% of your categories. Choosing wisely when it comes to netminders is crucial and if you get stuck with a below average group your chances of success are slim. I’ve been using a tiered system for several years and most of the time goaltending has been an asset to my team.
Sure, there was the one year where I had one injured and one struck by a case of Masonitis. But for the most part, it’s a position that I don’t have to worry about mid-season. Tiering your goaltenders prior to drafting is a great way to help with decision making.
The main thing to remember when setting up your 'Tiers' is that it's not just about skill and production. Often, it’s about opportunity and team strength. Michal Neuvirth is a talented goalie, but splitting starts with Jhonas Enroth on a team that will struggle for even 30 wins makes him next to fantasy useless. Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are two of the better goaltenders in the league in terms of talent, but the likelihood of splitting starts almost down the middle make both of them less valuable than say Corey Crawford – who is on a top team and is the clear No.1.
Never start drafting goaltenders until there is a chance that you will miss out on all of your Tier 1 goalies. Then make sure you get one. After that, go back to forwards and defensemen until there is a chance that the Tier 2 goalies will be scooped up. Whatever happens - make sure you have at least one from Tier 1 and one from your Tier 2 (or a second from Tier 1 if one of them falls too far).
The cream of the crop. Posting 35-40 wins should be in the cards for this group as well as some great GAA and SV% totals. Unless something happens like a major injury, or they get traded to Buffalo.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
After back-to-back pro-rated 36 wins (or more) seasons, Rask is firmly entrenched as one of the top goaltenders to own. Given his GAA and SV% last season (2.04 and 0.930) he's arguably the best.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Crawford slipped last year due to a couple of nagging minor injuries and bouts of inconsistency. The latter will probably continue in the season ahead, but it doesn't matter - the Blackhawks will still play the hell out of him and the Blackhawks will still win a ton of games.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bob followed up a Vezina Trophy season with a 32-win campaign and some strong supplemental numbers to go with it. For the second straight year he started out slow (4-8-0 to start 2013-14), so if he can fix that issue he'll flirt with 40 wins. But for now you may want to consider benching him the occasional start in October.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Pro-rating the lockout year, Price has averaged 36 wins over his last three seasons. His 2.32 and 0.927 numbers last year were career bests and he's only now entering his prime.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Lundqvist is about as "money in the bank" as goaltenders get in the NHL, though he sure had our faith shaken a bit last October and November. At the Christmas break he was 10-15-2 with a save percentage of just 0.906. He was back to his old self in the second half, but his streak of consecutive seasons of at least a 0.920 SV% was in jeopardy. Since 2008-09 he never dipped below that number to end a season. Two one-goal games to end the 2013-14 campaign eked him up to 0.920. So yeah, he can continue to hold his head high. Because otherwise a man with his looks and his bank account would have no reason to do that.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
Last I checked, fantasy leagues only count the regular season. And Fleury is a potential 40-game winner any way you slice it. You already know his reputation in the playoffs. Just for kicks, go look at his save percentage each playoff year throughout his career - even going back to junior hockey. Shocking.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
While Bishop just has the one big season to go by (37 wins), I'll give you nearly 12 million reasons why he'll at least come close to repeating the effort. That two-year deal was for huge money and he'll see 65 starts if healthy.
Many goalies from my Tier 2 could jump to Tier 1 if they can stay healthy. By the same token, it wouldn't take much for them to slide down to Tier 3 either.
Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes
Smith has had two fairly weak seasons to follow his incredible one from 2011-12. But he'll see more starts than his 62 from a year ago, because the alternative to starting him would be to start Devan Dubnyk.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
After an NHL-high 41 wins, it's still hard to slide him into that top tier because he has only done this for one year. But that's not the reason (after all, I still kept Bishop up there). My reason for considering him a little bit lower is his track record with injuries and I need to see a second healthy season before I'm sold.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
Lehtonen is coming off what I consider the second best season of his career. With the Stars being the team that arguably improved the most in the off-season, he could be looking at a career high in wins this year.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Howard has had two weaker seasons sandwiched between three really strong ones. Because we can't guarantee which Howard we're going to get from year to year, he should not be considered a Tier 1 guy.
Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
Luongo will see his most starts since 2010 when he had 68. Even if the Panthers are a non-playoff team again, which is likely, he's still getting back into the 30-win club.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Quick would be a slam-dunk Tier 1 guy but for two reasons. One, his regular season numbers the last two years were mediocre at best. And two, he had wrist surgery - again - in June. Expected recovery time could cost him part of training camp, but just that entire wrist issue makes him less of a guarantee and thus should cost him a spot in your top Tier.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Between his seven-year contract, his 43-win season and the amazing Nashville playing style, Rinne was an elite fantasy goaltender to own. But now that the team has a new coach and Rinne has been battling back from a serious hip problem, it's best that you slide him into your second or even third tier.
Corey Schneider, New Jersey Devils
The way I feel about Schneider for this year - he could very well do what Martin Brodeur was doing in his prime. The problem is, he has never been the No.1 goalie in the NHL before and without that track record, I can't slot him in with the elite. I'm also not confident in the Devils winning even 37 games.
Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders
Halak is a really good goaltender who joins a team on the cusp of something special. If that's truly the case and things fall into place this season, Halak could be the dark horse of the draft. If the perennial Islanders rebuilding plan is pushed back still another season, then he'll fight to reach just 30 wins. Surprisingly, Halak has never done that - but that's due to Brian Elliott taking a bunch of starts away from him in St. Louis.
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
He's not as awesome as he was two years ago, nor as mediocre as he was last season. But something in between is still very much second-tier worthy. Robin Lehner fanboys will have to wait a couple more seasons now because Anderson is nowhere near "done" - the team extended Anderson's contract for three more years.
Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers
His 33 wins last season tied a career high and his 0.917 SV% set a career high. Whether or not Mason has truly found his magic, the Flyers have anointed him as their savior and have opened their wallets accordingly. That means 60 starts are a guarantee, probably 65 - and around 35 wins.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks
Now why on earth would I slide a 39-win goaltender down to the second tier? After all, he has at least (pro-rated) 34 wins each of his last four seasons and he's only turning 31 next week. Simple - I think Alex Stalock is a better goaltender. There, I said it. Now, it should take several months for the transition to begin, so Niemi will have a pretty good first half. But I expect his starts to be cannibalized a lot in the second half. His contract runs out after this season.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
The fantasy hockey world's worst kept dark horse secret. Everyone and their mother is targeting this guy as their "personal" sleeper. Hate to break it to you but the cat is long out of the bag. With Justin Peters as the backup option, Holtby will get 65 starts if healthy. And in a Barry Trotz system, he could very well become a Top 5 fantasy own the way Ben Bishop did last year. If Trotz can make Carter Hutton a starter, he can make Holtby a star.
Here are a group of quality goaltenders who take a fantasy hit because they are either injury prone or they will be sharing starts. Great to have as your No.3 goalie because they will have certain weeks throughout the year in which they are white hot.
Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Two very talented goaltenders, but I would be going after Andersen as my No.3 goalie. He has the best chance of becoming my No.2 or even No.1 by season's end.
Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames
A solid goaltender on a weaker team. Could mean 25 wins, but doubtful you will get many more than that. Again, as a No.3 he makes a good stopgap.
Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, Edmonton Oilers
Here are two underrated goaltenders and I would suggest that Fasth is the more talented one. However, he also seems to be the more injury-prone one. So drafting either as your third goaltender may help you at times.
Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
Harding is one goaltender in Tier 3 who should be drafted earlier. This is because he will put up some pretty kickass numbers early on. However, the risk lies in his health and you may only get a couple of weeks out of him. Or a couple of months. Or days? In leagues with an IR, he might actually end up as your No.1 goalie whenever he's healthy.
Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
For several years, St. Louis has been a haven for goaltenders. But it has also been a 1A/1B situation, which kills the fantasy value. This season Allen replaces Halak, but the situation is exactly the same - 45 or 50 starts at best from either one. But look for Elliott to get the bulk of them in the first half, Allen in the second half.
Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs
Bernier is "probably" going to end the season with 60 starts, assuming good health. But that is highly dependent on an early Reimer trade. If he doesn't get traded until the deadline (or not at all), you may see Bernier with just 50 starts. Too risky to be in the second tier in my opinion, but when you set up your own tiers you may feel differently.
Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks
Under a new head coach, the Canucks could turn things around and become a playoff team again. I'm banking on "not", which makes Miller a 27- or 28-win goalie. It's a moot point, since someone in your league will scoop him up in the middle rounds and you won't have to worry about him.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets
Pavelec was nothing short of a train wreck last season. But the fact is, he's the No.1 goalie for Winnipeg and will get all the starts. His contract says as much, and his backup goalie is a formerly mediocre minor leaguer who is coming off of one absolutely tremendous season. Michael Hutchison could be a one-year wonder, or if Pavelec crashes and burns again - then perhaps Hutchinson makes a great dark horse. Regardless, Pavelec is too risky for Tier 2.
Here are a handful of goaltenders with the ability to enjoy an extended stay as the team's No.1 goalie thanks to an injury to the guy ahead of him. Or from just plain outplaying him. If you have room for a fourth goalie, or you have little faith in your first three - then one of these guys will be around late in your draft and are worth sitting on.
Anton Khudobin, Carolina Hurricanes
Khudobin is probably a better goaltender than Cam Ward but he doesn't get paid as much. Which means Ward will log all the starts until Khudobin eventually muscles his way in. It will happen - but how long that takes is the question.
Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings
Because Jonathan Quick underwent wrist surgery in late June, he could miss part or all of training camp recovering. That should result in some early starts for Jones, who will put up great numbers behind a stingy Los Angeles system. Quick has been hit by injuries a lot these last couple of years, making Jones a worthwhile guy to have on the bench.
Chad Johnson, New York Islanders
Johnson's fantasy numbers will rely on Halak getting injured, but the oft-injured Halak is usually good for about 10 to 20 games missed in any given year.
Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators
Lehner is the future starter for the Sens, just not this season. Or next. Unless, of course, Anderson has the same injury-filled inconsistent year that he had in 2013-14.
Alex Stalock, San Jose Sharks
After the way Stalock (good) and Niemi (not good) played towards the end of last season, he is a strong candidate to steal the No.1 job away before January. Niemi is also in the final year of his contract.
Dobber has been the fantasy hockey writer for The Hockey News since 2002 and for Puck Daddy since 2009. He launched his fantasy hockey site DobberHockey.com in 2005 and has been helping poolies win their leagues ever since. Follow him on Twitter @DobberHockey. And to get up-to-the-minute - free - starting goalie information, look no further than Goalie Post.