Drafting goalies is a risky proposition. More than any position, this choice can make or break the fate of your fantasy hockey team. One of the biggest factors you need to consider is how often a goalie is going to play. Some netminders can be counted on to get 70+ starts a season, while others will sharing the net with another man. In short, you want to avoid the split crease scenario. As Philly and others demonstrated last season, NHL teams are more likely than ever to go with a goalie system, rather than depending on one star goalie to carry the load. While that may play well in the NHL, it's a nightmare for fantasy hockey managers. So as you finalize your cheat sheets, consider how secure each goalie's starting job will be throughout the season, and make sure you select at least one workhorse for your roster.
Roughly half the teams in the NHL have an undisputed #1 goalie. Barring injury or complete collapse, these guys should start 60+ games this season, so no need to be concerned here:
• Buffalo - Miller
• Montreal - Price
• New Jersey - Brodeur
• Pittsburgh - Fleury
• NY Rangers - Lundqvist
• Carolina - Ward
• Florida - Vokoun
• Detroit - Howard
• Nashville - Rinne
• Vancouver - Luongo
• Colorado - Andersson
• Calgary - Kiprusoff
• Phoenix - Bryzgalov
• Anaheim - Hiller
• Dallas - Lehtonen
There are a handful of goalies that are almost guaranteed starters, but haven't quite locked up the job 100%.
• Boston - Rask/Thomas
Rask is a sexy-bold pick for your starting goalie this fall, but don't get overconfident here. Thomas didn't exactly lose his job, as much as Rask earned it. Things could easily go the other way this time around. Thomas is making too much cash to sit idle all season long, and his no-trade says he'll be a Bruin for awhile.
• Chicago - Turco / Crawford / Huet?
All signs point to a successful bounce back season for Turco as he assumes the #1 spot for the Cup champs. However, Crawford will push hard for starts, and the Huet situation hasn't technically been resolved yet. I can't see any goalie getting more than 50 games in Chicago this season.
• St. Louis - Halak / Conklin
Halak should have the edge as the go-to guy in St. Louis, but the Blues have said there's no clear starter. Conklin has had a very solid career and is capable of being a #1, though he's never earned the role. Like Chicago, 50 games may be the ceiling for either guy, so grab a cowbell and simmer down on that Halak-fever.
Roughly one third of the teams in the league enter the season without a clear-cut number 1 goalie. There are some darn good goalies in this group, so don't write them off entirely. Just be aware that questions remain, and you should consider drafting both options as a safety net.
• Ottawa - Elliot / Leclaire
Leclaire was brought in to be the #1 guy, but injuries opened the door for Elliot. Both are capable options, and both will see some net. Safer bet is Elliot, but don't forget they went back to Leclaire in the playoffs. And then there's that "other Brodeur" guy who may make a guest appearance again.
• Toronto - Giguere / Gustavsson
Giguere is obviously Burke's favorite, but he's the GM, not the coach. Both men are highly skilled and injury prone. Toronto's defense is stellar and should allow both to put up solid stats, but there's just no way of getting past the playing time questions here.
• Washington - Varlamov / Neuvirth
Bottom line is that I just don't see Varlamov as a long-term solution in Washington. Neuvirth will be given the chance to win the job, but don't be surprised if McPhee swings a deal for an outsider at some point this season, if neither of these men seem sufficient to bring the Cup to D.C.
• Atlanta - Mason / Pavelec
Pavelec was in a great spot following the Lehtonen trade last season. He's back to singing for his supper, as the Thrashers brought in a capable starter in Chris Mason. I see this one playing out right down the middle, 50/50. And since most of those starts will be losses either way, neither goalie should crack your top 20.
• Tampa Bay - Ellis / Smith
• Columbus - Mason / Garon
You've got to believe that last season was a fluke for Mason, and that he'll be back on top in 2010 (particularly if you're from Ohio). There's no long-term future in Garon. Mason will be motivated as he plays for his first big pay day. However, until he earns it back, we'll stick Mason in the split-crease heap with the rest.
• Minnesota - Backstrom / Harding
The Wild have been grooming Harding for a few years now, and Backstrom's health is always a concern. Backstrom's $6m price tag suggests he'll be favored, but then again, Harding has the UFA carrot dangling out there if he can perform. Should be an interesting battle in the State of Hockey.
• San Jose - Niemi / Niittymaki / Greiss ?
For years now, the San Jose net was a place of comfort for fantasy owners. Draft Nabokov and have no worries. Now, what to do? 3 adequate goalies on a team that will pile up the wins, regardless of who they dress in net. This is the definition of risk-reward when it comes to goalies. As tempting at each may be, my advice is avoid the heartburn.
• Los Angeles - Quick / Bernier / Ersberg?
Sure, Quick piled up 39 wins in72 games last season, so why isn't he in Category 1 you ask? Well, I get the impression he was just keeping the crease warm for Bernier. Don't forget, Quick went a couple months last winter when he couldn't buy a win. It's a good problem to have for Kings fans, but an awful dilemma for us fantasy nuts.
Finally, there are three teams that merit their own special category, as we have no idea how the goaltending will play out over the course of this season. Best advice is to just completely ignore these options at your draft.
• Philadelphia - Leighton / Boucher / ???
Fantasy football offers the cop-out "Team Defense" category. Teams like the Flyers make you want to push for such an option in our game. If the last 10 years gave us anything to go on, Philly will enter the playoffs with Jose Theodore, Vesa Toskala, or Dominic Hasek as their starting man.
• NY Islanders - DiPietro / Roloson
You have a young guy with an old-man's medical chart and an old guy with the stamina of a college student. Anybody's guess how this will play out. Best to steer clear.
• Edmonton - Khabibulin / Gerber / Drouin-Deslaurier / Dubnyk / Ranford??? / Fuhr???
No threat of the Jennings trophy making an appearance in Oil country next spring, thanks to this goalie carousel. Just stay away.
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