October 17, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Goaltender Tiers start with Andrei Vasilevskiy and four other ‘Cornerstones’

Goalies are a unique Fantasy commodity because they account for a completely different set of categories and often have greater scoring variance than skaters. Virtual managers have a full bench of forwards and defensemen to help offset shortcomings at those positions, but usually only have a few options to turn to in goal.

Netminders are better equipped to fight off Father Time than skaters, but they still fluctuate in value from year to year.

Where you should snag a goaltender during your draft will depend on your league setup and personal preferences. Think of pitchers in Fantasy baseball drafts. Some Fantasy managers like taking a stud early, while others prefer to wait, grabbing a few second-tier options in the later rounds. Irrespective of which strategy you use, prepare to be flexible and pivot based on how your draft unfolds, and also make sure to take a few fliers late in your drafts, especially if a rookie or a high-upside backup piques your interest.
 

Tier 1: Cornerstones

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Carter Hart

These goaltenders are the cream of the crop. Vasilevskiy’s ancillary numbers weren’t elite during the 2019-20 regular season, but all he does is win, and his GAA and save percentage both improved substantially during the postseason. Hellebuyck should have received more Hart Trophy love, but he rightly won the Vezina. If Winnipeg’s D is even slightly improved, look for a monster season from him in 2020-21. If you had to move one of these five backstops down a tier, Rask might be the one, because Boston will use Jaroslav Halak judiciously during the condensed season. Price is the engine that drives Montreal. The Canadiens will likely deploy Jake Allen around 35% of the time this season, which will keep Price fresh, but could also lead to a decline in wins. Hart took a major step forward last season as a sophomore and was brilliant in the bubble. Look for more growth this year.

Tier 2: Cornerstones Lite

Jordan Binnington, Frederik Andersen, Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Samsonov, Darcy Kuemper, Philipp Grubauer, Robin Lehner, Tristan Jarry and Jacob Markstrom

Binnington took a major step back from his rookie season in 2019-20, so if you believe that was his true self, move him down a tier. But with Jake Allen gone, Ville Husso as the new backup and a solid team around him, I expect a rebound campaign. Andersen should be a lock for 20-plus wins thanks to the team around him. Shesterkin took over as the No. 1 for the Rangers last season and is expected to be a Calder candidate this year. Alexandar Georgiev will see a decent amount of action, but “The Czar” is the new stud between the pipes on Broadway. Henrik Lundqvist’s heart condition will force him to miss the season. Samsonov was expected to battle The King for playing time, but now, even if a vet is brought in, Samsonov should be the featured netminder in the U.S. Nation’s Capital. Kuemper was in the Vezina conversation before he was injured last year. The team around him is meh, but Kuemper has been able to steal games for the Coyotes since arriving in the Desert in 2018, and that won’t change this season. Grubauer will battle Pavel Francouz for starts, but he should be the No. 1 for a team that has Cup aspirations. If he remained healthy during the playoffs, the Avalanche may have beaten Dallas, as Grubauer was on his game in the bubble. Lehner has taken over as the No. 1 in Vegas over Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flower looms, but Lehner is the one to own in Sin City. Matt Murray has been relegated to Ottawa, leaving Jarry, named an All-Star last season, as the unquestioned top dog in Pittsburgh. Markstrom was solid in Vancouver last season, parlaying his play into a six-year deal with Calgary. David Rittich will provide support, but Markstrom is the clear No. 1, though his GAA is far from elite.

Tier 3: Wild cards

Ilya Sorokin, Elvis Merzlikins, Matt Murray, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Anton Khudobin

Choose wisely from the list and you could possibly win your league. The Isles signed Semyon Varlamov last year, rather than Lehner, to help lure Sorokin to the US. That plan worked, and now the elite netminder from the KHL should eventually wrestle the top job from Varlamov. Merzlikins was brilliant for six weeks last season before a concussion sidelined him in late-December, and he was never able to return to form. I’m betting he’ll get back on track and hold off Joonas Korpisalo this season. Murray gets a downgrade from a team standpoint going to the Sens, but should be in net almost every night, and Ottawa should be better in 2020-21. Expect wins despite so-so ancillary numbers. Can Holtby find the Fountain of Youth in Vancouver? Thatcher Demko looms, but a two-year deal with a $4.3 million AAV gives Holtby some leash between the pipes. When Chris Driedger outplays you – no offense to Driedger – that’s not a good sign. Spencer Knight is the future, but seven more years at $10 million per will lead to Bobrovsky getting more than a few chances to bounce back. Dobby carried Dallas to the Cup Finals, and Ben Bishop is out until March, making Khudobin the unquestioned starter – for the first time in his career – in Big D.

Tier 4: Solid starters

Juuse Saros, John Gibson, Cam Talbot, Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Quick, Linus Ullmark, MacKenzie Blackwood and Thomas Greiss

If you’re looking for one goalie you could move all the way up to Tier 2, it’d be Gibson. He wore down from overuse trying to make up for all the deficiencies in Anaheim last year, but when he’s on his game, he’s a top-tier netminder. Juuse will finally get a chance at the big time, replacing Pekka Rinne. A hot start should allow him to lock up the job. Talbot receives another starting chance, this time in Minnesota, where he will play behind a solid blue line. A rebound could be in the cards. Mrazek is the 1A or B to James Reimer’s 1B or A. Both look to be placeholders but Carolina will go with the same netminders again this season, making Mrazek a viable second or third option in leagues. Buffalo is going all in this year, luring Taylor Hall with a lucrative one-year deal. Ullmark improved across the board last season and should be the starter ahead of Carter Hutton. Blackwood very quietly had a solid rookie campaign, especially in the second half. The signing of Corey Crawford hurts Blackwood, but he should still see plenty of playing time, albeit in front of a rebuilding squad. Chicago is going young in net and Subban is penciled in as the starter, though Collin Delia could grab the job and neither look like tremendously palatable options. Someone has to play goal in Detroit and Greiss’ two-year deal likely makes him the starter. Yzerman will get the Red Wings back to prior glory eventually, but Greiss likely won’t be a part of that. Nonetheless, you could do worse for a third starter.

Tier 5: Backups who should see solid playing time

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pavel Francouz, Semyon Varlamov, Alexandar Georgiev, Jaroslav Halak, Thatcher Demko and Joonas Korpisalo

These guys all should see playing time, at worst as a backup and in some cases as a platoon. Each is an injury or poor play away from garnering the lion’s share of playing time between the pipes. MAF would benefit from a move out of town, which might happen by the deadline. Francouz acquitted himself nicely last year, and if Grubauer slumps, he’s poised to take over for the Avs. Varlamov might open the year in a platoon, but Sorokin is the future. Still, Varly will play in front of a strong defensive system under coach Barry Trotz. Shesterkin is the #1 in New York, but Georgiev has shown he can handle the role when called upon and should carve out a strong percentage of playing time in this condensed season. Halak knows his role and plays it perfectly in Boston. Braden Holtby will open the year as the No. 1 but Demko could replace him, making him the one to target from this group. Korpi will give Elvis a run for his money in Columbus.

Tier 6: Flier time, likely backups, but could contend for playing time

Brian Elliot, Corey Crawford, Devan Dubnyk, Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, Jake Allen, James Reimer, Alex Stalock, Mikko Koskinen, Carter Hutton, Martin Jones, Cal Petersen, Jack Campbell, Anders Nilsson, Collin Delia, Chris Driedger, Curtis McElhinney and Laurent Brossoit.

Get your backups here, get your backups here! Crawford could start in New Jersey, while one of Smith/Koskinen will start in Edmonton. Right now, it’s a coin flip as to who gets the nod. The others are bench fodder, though Stalock might have beaten out Cam Talbot if he hadn’t suffered an injury. Delia will battle Malcolm Subban in Chicago and Driedger could replace Bobrovsky at some point again this season.

Tier 7: Unsigned or lower tier backups looking for a shot

Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Samuel Montembeault, Aaron Dell, Vitek Vanecek, Cayden Primeau, Ben Bishop, Louis Domingue, Adin Hill, Alex Nedeljkovic, Pheonix Copley, Jonas Johansson and Kaapo Kahkonen.

The first three are potential backup options for Washington. If none are signed, Vanejec and Copley will fill that role. If Stalock misses time, Kahkonen will back up Cam Talbot and could steal the job, so his name is one to keep in mind.

Tier 8: Other names to know

Spencer Knight, Yaroslav Askarov, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Justus Annunen, Jake Oettinger, Daniil Tarasov and Joel Blomqvist

These young goalies have great potential but are unlikely to make a splash or be in the NHL this season. Keep these in mind for the future.

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