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The Case for Number One in Goal

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Determining a first overall pick in this year’s fantasy hockey drafts is anything but easy, but we probably know this much: the first overall pick won’t be a goalie. Yet a goalie is an important investment to fantasy hockey teams, since only two goalies can be responsible for four out of a team’s ten stat categories in many fantasy hockey leagues. The need for solid goaltending explains why many starting goalies can fly off the board early in fantasy hockey drafts.

But can we count on the same names from one year to the next? The names listed below are generally names that we can count on in fantasy leagues, but goaltending success can be fleeting for many others. For example, what has Steve Mason accomplished since his Calder Trophy win? After all those years of greatness, what kind of damage did Martin Brodeur perform on fantasy hockey teams during the first half of last season? That is why the names listed below are possibilities to be among the first goalies chosen in fantasy hockey drafts this season, but we might not be saying the same about them this time next year.

Tim Thomas
Thomas should be the top-ranked goalie in fantasy leagues entering the season, as he posted unequalled numbers across the board last season. Both his 2.00 GAA and .938 SV% were first in the NHL last season, his 9 shutouts were second, and his 35 wins were just three shy of the league lead. Fantasy owners who snagged Thomas as a late-round option or off the waiver wire struck gold last season after it seemed that Tuukka Rask had taken over as the Bruins’ permanent starting goalie. However, the presence of Rask will only be a minor issue as long as Thomas the Tank Engine (a reference to my son’s favorite show) keeps chuffing along like he did during the 2010-11 regular season and playoffs. Thomas’ age (37) will reduce his value in keeper leagues, but that shouldn’t stop single-season fantasy owners from drafting him early.

Roberto Luongo
You might be tempted to avoid Luongo following his playoff meltdowns, but I’m here to pump his tires (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Lu finished tied for first with 38 wins, second with a 2.11 GAA, and third with a .928 SV% last season, so he deserved a Vezina Trophy nomination in spite of the school of thought that playing for the Canucks inflates his numbers. If you’re still worried, Luongo will only face the Blackhawks four times and the Bruins once, meaning that there really aren’t very many matchups against teams that seem to have his number. In fact, the Canucks could even go with Cory Schneider for at least a couple of those games. Lu won’t be overworked again this season, as Schneider will be with the Canucks for at least one more season and should start around 25 games once again. The Canucks remain mostly unchanged from last season, meaning that Lu should once again post his strong overall regular-season numbers that we’ve become accustomed to.

Pekka Rinne
Rinne was a second-tier goalie at best heading into the 2010-11 season, but his numbers from that season and Vezina Trophy nomination place him into this discussion. Rinne finished second in the NHL with a .930 SV% and third with a 2.12 GAA while backstopping an overachieving Nashville team to its first-ever playoff series win. Even though I’m not a believer that Nashville will take the next step to becoming a Western Conference powerhouse, I am a big believer in Rinne’s game and was able to extract significant value from where I drafted him in a couple leagues last season. As much as the Preds boast an AHL-level scoring attack, their defense of Rinne, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter is second to none in the NHL. From what I had seen of Rinne during the playoffs, he seems to be every bit the caliber of goalie of Thomas and Luongo. The only downside is that he may not post quite as many wins.

Henrik Lundqvist
The nice thing about King Henrik is that he has been in the category of fantasy elite for several seasons. Many argued that Lundqvist and not Luongo should have been nominated for the Vezina Trophy last season, which to me is fair comment. Lundqvist led the NHL with 11 shutouts, was only two wins behind the league leaders, and was fifth in both goals-against average (2.28) and save percentage (.923). By opening the vault for Brad Richards last season, the Rangers seemed to have done everything possible to take the next step in becoming an Eastern Conference powerhouse, and their young defense will be a year older and wiser. Lundqvist is as much of a sure thing as any goalie on this list, so don’t be surprised if he’s back in the final three for Vezina Trophy nominations again this season.

Ryan Miller
Following his Vezina Trophy win, Miller was the consensus number one fantasy goalie heading into the 2010-11 season. However, Miller disappointed those who used a high draft pick with a rather ordinary 2.59 GAA and seven fewer wins than the previous season. Why is Miller back into this discussion then? The main reason is that for the first time in awhile, the Sabres appear to be one of the most improved teams in the offseason, thanks to the additions of Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr, and Ville Leino. The Sabres, along with the Canadiens, should provide the Bruins with all they can handle in competing for the Adams Division Northeast Division crown. Miller’s stock could fall in drafts from last season, but he is very well capable of posting numbers alongside the big boys this season.

There are many other goalies who would be great fantasy options that are I haven’t included, as I wanted to stick to five names. For example, the stock of Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun has risen significantly this offseason, now that they are playing for legitimate contenders and will no longer be counted on to bail their teams out every game. As well, if Carey Price can take another step forward in his development and maturation this season, he will no doubt be in this discussion by this time next season. 

These goalies, plus many other solid starting goalies, should provide fantasy owners with plenty of options on draft day. The available list of options means that fantasy owners definitely do not need to draft a goalie in the first round, and probably shouldn’t need to draft a goalie in the second round. However, many fantasy drafts usually include a “goalie run,” when starting goalies tend to fly off the board. In order to avoid being left in the cold (or with Nikolai Khabibulin or Jose Theodore as your first-string goalie), you will probably need to have at least one goalie under wraps by the fifth round. There are always names that emerge as a team’s starter because of stellar play (eg. Thomas) or because of injury (eg. Sergei Bobrovsky), so don’t despair if you haven’t drafted a half-decent goalie. You might experience some short-term pain, however, since finding a starting goalie on your league’s waiver wire immediately following your draft might be asking a lot. If you’re a fantasy baseball buff, you could best compare the goalie situation to finding a closer who can help you in the saves category. 

Comments? Compliments? Criticism? Complaints? Please weigh in with your comments, and follow me on Twitter. You can also email me at gooding74 “at” shaw “dot” ca with your fantasy hockey question for a future mailbag article.

Filed in: Fantasy Hockey and Gaming, thegoods13, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: carey+price, cory+schneider, fantasy+hockey, goalies, henrik+lundqvist, ilya+bryzgalov, jose+theodore, martin+brodeur, nikolai+khabibulin, pekka+rinne, roberto+luongo, ryan+miller, sergei+bobrovsky, steve+mason, tim+thomas, tomas+vokoun, tuukka+rask

Comments

Avatar

I would take Neuvi and Rinne before I take Luongo

Posted by Capsrockva from Va on 08/22/11 at 12:35 PM ET

pensfan29's avatar

No love for Fleury?

Posted by pensfan29 on 08/22/11 at 02:42 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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