2017 Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Braden Holtby, Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky land in the top tier at goalie
There aren't enough top-tier goaltenders to go around in Fantasy, so it makes sense to have a plan to make sure you're covered at hockey's most scarce position.
The goalie position in Fantasy Hockey carries a unique level of scarcity.
Like pitchers in baseball, goaltenders are counted on to produce in a number of categories not covered by any other position. What separates them even further is that there are often few, if any, reliable options to be found on waivers. For these reasons, it's imperative to have a draft-day plan ready so you don't end up with the short end of the goalie stick.
Breaking positions up into tiers has been all the rage for a while in the Fantasy realm, and it's a useful tool for preventing panic picks when a draft inevitably goes through a run on goalies. Keep in mind that these rankings are designed for CBS head-to-head points leagues, which means maximizing playing time is more valuable than posting the best ratios.
The guys at the top can obviously be counted upon for both, but this is an important distinction to remember once you get into the lower tiers. Players are listed by their ranking within the tier, so pick the earlier names when in doubt.
Without further ado, here are the 2017-18 goalie rankings:
Tier 1: Team Cornerstones
These three goalies can be counted upon to lead teams to greatness with dominant stretches.
Holtby has recorded at least 41 wins, a 2.22 GAA and .922 save percentage in each of the past three campaigns. He turns just 28 in September and is the safest bet for elite production playing on a Capitals team that should be in the hunt for another Presidents' Trophy after winning the past two. Price thrived after Claude Julien took over behind the Montreal bench, holding 15 of his last 19 regular-season opponents to two or fewer goals while posting a 13-6-0 record. The 2015 Hart Trophy winner has topped 35 victories only three times, however.
Finally healthy in 2016-17, Bobrovsky led the league in GAA (2.06) and save percentage (.931) while notching 41 wins en route to his second Vezina Trophy. The Russian carries more risk than Price or Holtby, but his upside is every bit as great.
Tier 2: Set it and forget it
Each of these options have the combination of ability and opportunity necessary for a top-10 finish.
Murray could make the jump into elite territory this year and possesses the highest ceiling of this group, but the 23-year-old's inability to stay healthy last season is a red flag. For all his struggles down the stretch, Dubnyk was still the only goalie outside of the top tier trio to finish in the top 10 in wins, GAA and save percentage last year. The other five are all in or approaching their respective primes while in position to start 60-plus games for contending teams.
If you don't end up with anyone from the top two tiers, grabbing two guys from the next one is highly recommended.
Tier 3: Not without risk
These five names have been hanging near the top of the Fantasy landscape for a while, but each enters the 2018 campaign with some question marks. While Rinne and Lundqvist stepped up in the playoffs, both played below their lofty standards in the regular season and will be 35 years of age by the time 2018 rolls around. Rinne's drop-off was much less precipitous than Hank's, but he also has to worry about the emergence of studly young backup Juuse Saros. While Crawford has long made up for a pedestrian workload by winning a lot in Chicago, last year's first-round sweep at the hands of Rinne's Predators could be the beginning of the end for the Blackhawks dynasty.
Quick was limited to 17 appearances by a groin injury last year while Bishop posted a 2.54 GAA and will now be tasked with tending twine for a Dallas team that sports a high-powered offense but just allowed the second-most goals in the league.
Tier 4: Something to Prove
These goaltenders are all talented options projected to have starting roles, but each comes with a personal set of question marks.
Elliott just missed cracking the previous tier due to a combination of his slow start the last time he switched teams and Philadelphia's track record of turning good goalies into disasters. Anderson is 36 and will likely see 25-plus starts siphoned off by talented backup Mike Condon. Vasilevskiy finished strong, but it remains to be seen whether the 22-year-old Russian can handle a starter's workload over a full season. While Andersen is the undisputed starter in Toronto, improving on last season's 33 wins and 2.67 GAA will require a jump defensively from the young Maple Leafs. Smith hasn't posted a sub-2.50 GAA since the 2011-12 campaign, but Elliott's replacement in Calgary will benefit from leaving the defensive dumpster fire that is Arizona.
Schneider posted six consecutive seasons with a GAA no worse than 2.26 and a save percentage of at least .921 prior to finishing at 2.82 and .908, respectively, last season, making the 31-year-old American a strong bounce-back candidate despite the underwhelming roster around him. Darling should serve as the starter in Carolina after posting a .924 save percentage in 32 appearances for Chicago last season, though veteran franchise icon Cam Ward will likely steal more work than most backups if he isn't traded.
Tier 5: Fringe Starters
This group contains a mix of serviceable starters in poor situations and guys who lack the workload to compete with the tiers above.
Vegas looks like it will have a competitive roster from the get-go, but Fleury's 3.02 GAA and .909 save percentage in 34 games with the Penguins last year suggest he may not be much of a Fantasy asset despite being in position to start 60-plus games. Lehner should once again put up middling stats at best for a Sabres team that allowed the most shots on goal per game last season while Raanta's per-game stats will take a major hit with his move from New York's backup to Arizona's starter.
Howard will start this year after posting a sparkling 2.10 GAA and .927 save percentage in 26 appearances last season, but he's injury-prone and could end up flip-flopping with Petr Mrazek throughout the year. The three pairs of teammates will all cut into each other's value while likely seeing a near-even workload split. Hellebuyck has the most talent of the bunch, but the 24-year-old's Jets team is also inferior defensively compared to the Islanders and Panthers.
Tier 6: Cringe Starters
These guys aren't necessarily the best options left on a per-game basis, but it's important to remember that playing time is the more significant factor in points leagues. Nilsson and Markstrom won't finish as the top-two options in this tier, but whomever wins the job in Vancouver will pull away from the pack on volume alone.
Ditto for the Avalanche duo, even with both of those teams likely to end up near the bottom of the standings. Pickard has a clear path to playing time should Fleury's struggles from last season carry over in Vegas, and the 25-year-old's career .914 save percentage is skewed down by the .904 mark he posted in 50 appearances for last year's dreadful Colorado team. Mrazek will open as Jimmy Howard's backup after flopping as a starter last season, but he's just 25 years old and was 21-10-5 with a 1.94 GAA and .933 save percentage 38 appearances into the 2015-16 season.
Tier 7: If Things Break Right...
The first six goalies in this tier should be effective when called upon, but are stuck in low-usage roles behind strong starters on good teams. Unlike most backups, they'll actually be major difference makers in the event of injury or (less likely) a trade.
Grubbauer, Dell, Saros and Brossoit each have under 70 games of NHL experience, but are coming off a season with a save percentage of .923 or higher. While Niemi and Miller are in the twilight of their careers, both would rack up plenty of wins if either of their respective teams had the misfortune of losing its injury-prone starter. Arizona's no goalie paradise, but the 25-year-old Domingue has 62 starts under his belt over the past two seasons and the only man standing between him and major playing time is career backup Antti Raanta. Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire has made the most of past pupils like Talbot and Raanta, and Pavelec is arriving in New York on the tail of Lundqvist's worst season ever. A repeat of the Arizona-bound Finn's 2016-17 campaign isn't infeasible for the former second-round pick.
Condon has started 89 games in two NHL seasons, and could approach 40 starts once again if the 36-year-old Anderson's skills begin to erode. If Darling flops as a starter, Ward will likely take the reins again. Should Darling succeed, Ward can still be counted upon for 30-plus appearances. Plenty of other backups would obviously become relevant should the starter go down, but they don't come with the same level of ability or opportunity as the goaltenders above.
Tier 8: Probably Not This Year
These youngsters are projected to be the next big things in net. None of them are in position to make significant contributions this season, however. Korpisalo struggled as Bobrovsky's backup last year, but has all the tools to be a stud one day and should be in the NHL for good after signing a one-way deal.
Forsberg and Berube will battle for the backup spot in Chicago, with the Swede having an early leg up. Subban, Stolarz and Coreau are likely headed for another year of seasoning at the AHL level.
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