2018-19 Fantasy Hockey: Goalie Tiers
How to sort out all the goaltender options for the 2018-19 season? Sasha Yodashkin offers up eight tiers to help Fantasy owners for Draft Day.
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Goalies are a unique Fantasy commodity, as they account for a completely different set of categories and often have much greater scoring variations compared to skaters. While forwards or defensemen have a whole roster of alternatives to cover for any shortcomings, goaltenders can make or break your entire week with a clunker/shutout (or two). They're better equipped to fight off Father Time than skaters, but netminders can still fluctuate in value from year to year.
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. Lastly, it's important to have a flexible approach once the season starts and not miss out on potential breakout players. Carter Hutton's name didn't even appear in last year's edition of this column, and he ended up leading the league in GAA and save percentage.
Tier 1: Cream of the Crop
It's hard to go wrong with any of these proven options, all of whom serve as backstops for elite teams. All five of them finished among the top eight in wins last season and are expected to do so again in 2018-19.
Hellebuyck and Rask also tied for eighth with a 2.36 GAA, while Tampa Bay's league-best offense helped Vasilevskiy match Hellebuyck atop the wins leaderboard at 44. Bobrovsky declined in 2017-18 after posting 41 wins, a 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage during the previous campaign, but owners who looked his way after that fabulous season still got 37 wins, a 2.42 GAA and .921 save mark.
While Holtby had a disappointing regular season following a trio of campaigns with over 40 wins, he earned inclusion in this top group with a Stanley Cup-winning playoff run that featured a 2.16 GAA and .922 save percentage.
Tier 2: Close to the Top
While these guys represent a small step down from the members of the top group, owners who snag a Tier 2 option are still in great shape. All five of these goalies could easily finish as top-five performers, but they face a few more obstacles than the group above.
Rinne should be terrific on a per-appearance basis for the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners, but he turns 36 in November and has dropped from 66 starts to 59 to 51 over the past three seasons. With talented, young backup Juuse Saros still on hand, Rinne's workload could well decline further. Fleury excelled in Vegas' incredible inaugural season, but he's only one year removed from posting a 3.02 GAA with Pittsburgh and has had concussion issues. Quick was ninth in wins (33) and 10th in GAA (2.40) in 2017-18, and Los Angeles' offseason addition of Ilya Kovalchuk should strengthen Quick's goal support. On the other hand, age-related decline could start to kick in for a goaltender who turns 33 in January and Quick only has one 40-win season under his belt.
While Andersen could well contend for the league lead in wins considering he snagged 38 last season for a Maple Leafs team that subsequently added John Tavares in free agency, that signing did little to address a porous defense that allowed 33.9 shots per game -- fourth-most in the league. Gibson's seen his appearances, win total and save percentage climb in each of the past three campaigns, but so has his GAA. Coming off 31 wins and a .926 save mark, this could be the year that the 24-year-old Pittsburgh native finally steps into the elite Fantasy echelon.
Tier 3: A Cut Below
If you failed to snag anyone from the top two tiers, getting a pair of Tier 3 guys isn't a bad consolation prize. Dubnyk has 75 wins over the past two seasons, but a 2.52 GAA in 2017-18 and the lack of an elite supporting cast in Minnesota keep him from cracking the top two tiers. Jones is in a similar position after three consecutive campaigns of 30-plus wins and a GAA that's climbed in each of his five NHL seasons to reach last year's 2.55 mark. If Murray didn't have two Stanley Cups under his belt already, the oft-injured youngster would have been dropped even further after a lackluster campaign that featured only 27 wins and a 2.92 GAA in 49 appearances.
Price is another guy whose disastrous last season is overshadowed by a greater body of work. Owners will almost surely be getting something between his Hart-worthy 2014-15 (44 wins, 1.96 GAA, .933 save percentage) and his putrid 2017-18 (16 wins, 3.11 GAA, .900 save percentage). Where he lands on that spectrum will define whether Price is a steal or a bust at this valuation.
Tier 4: Plenty of Question Marks
While all of the Tier 4 options have sustained top-10 goaltender form in the past, they'll have to exceed expectations in order to reach that range this coming year. Crawford was terrific when he played last season, but a concussion shut him down after Dec. 23, and Chicago's offseason addition of veteran Cam Ward should cut into Crawford's workload even if the Montreal native returns in top form. Allen posted a 2.75 GAA while losing his starting job to Hutton for a chunk of last season, but he'll turn just 28 in August, has 60 wins over the past two years for a playoff-contending Blues team and doesn't have to worry about Hutton breathing down his neck with the latter now plying his trade in Buffalo.
While Bishop's elite days with the Lightning seem to be behind him, he's locked into a starting role with Dallas and shouldn't have trouble repeating last year's 26 wins, 2.49 GAA and .926 save mark. Lundqvist's rebuilding Rangers were peppered with 35.3 shots per game last season, but the 36-year-old Swede has carried subpar rosters to the playoffs before while posting 30-plus wins in all but two of his 13 NHL campaigns. A pair of ex-Lundqvist backups round out this tier in Talbot and Raanta.
The former won 42 games in his first year as a starter with the Oilers but regressed to 31 with ugly peripherals last season; splitting the difference puts him in this range. Meanwhile, Raanta posted stellar ratios -- a 2.24 GAA and .930 save percentage -- while still winning only 21 of 46 starts for the Coyotes. While a healthy season will likely net more wins, the Finnish backstop's weak supporting cast makes it tough to view him as much better than a low-end No. 2.
Tier 5: You Could do Worse
These guys don't quite have what it takes to end up as No. 1 Fantasy options in net, but any of these goaltenders is capable of a top-20 finish if things break right. Luongo posted a .929 save percentage over his 35 appearances a year ago, but you can't pencil him in for more than half of Florida's games at age 39 with quality alternative James Reimer on hand. Smith's no spring chicken himself at 36 and hasn't posted a sub-2.58 GAA since 2011-12. Schneider and Varlamov both battled injuries last season, with the former actually losing his job to Keith Kinkaid and the latter being joined by high-end backup Philipp Grubauer this offseason. Both veterans have the pedigree to significantly outperform their respective valuations if they're able to hold down a starting role all season -- the key word being "if."
Elliott made the playoffs in his first season with the Flyers and is the clear starter ahead of Michal Neuvirth coming into Year 2, but he hasn't topped 50 starts since 2010-11 and has a .909 save percentage over the past two campaigns. Howard will have to hold off free agent signing Jonathan Bernier for the starting gig after seeing his GAA balloon from 2.10 in 26 appearances during 2016-17 to last season's 2.85 over 60 games. Mrazek and Lehner are both 26-year-old free agents on one-year deals with serious shots at starting. In Mrazek's case, he's now two years removed from posting a 2.33 GAA and 27 wins for the Red Wings and just needs to beat out Scott Darling, whose first year in Carolina resulted in a 3.18 GAA and .888 save mark.
The argument for Lehner goes something like "the post-Tavares Islanders can't possibly be worse than Buffalo has been, right?" Lehner's move downstate should come with a starting job for what was the league's worst defensive team in 2017-18, and the Swede will be hoping for a return to the form that saw him post .924 and .920 save marks before dropping to .908 last year.
Tier 6: Best Backups
All of these guys are capable of providing starter-worthy numbers if given enough volume, but they're not currently expected to lead their respective teams in starts. It's no coincidence that each of these players' names has already come up in previous sections, as all of them are likely one injury or slump away from being universally owned. Grubauer actually outplayed Holtby during the regular season and started two playoff games before the veteran stud took back over and helped carry Washington to the Cup. Given Varlamov's extensive injury history, the German netminder is expected to receive plenty of run in Colorado.
Should age finally catch up to Rinne, Saros' .923 save percentage through 48 career NHL appearances suggests he's ready to fill his countryman's large skates in the crease. Kinkaid and Reimer both operated as starters for portions of last season and should be up to the task again if need be. Bernier has the best chance of usurping the man blocking him for good, but his Red Wings club is also projected to be worse than the supporting casts surrounding the rest of this tier.
Tier 7: On the Radar
While the goaltenders in this group aren't likely to attract much buzz on draft day, they are all primed to make some positive contributions in the Fantasy realm this season. Don't be surprised if a few of these players emerge as consistently rostered options by year's end.
Hutton and Markstrom are both clear-cut starters for teams with low expectations (Buffalo and Vancouver), though it's worth noting that the former did lead the league in GAA (2.09) and save percentage (.931) with St. Louis last season. Ward and Halak are both formerly successful starters who should play well in backup roles for Chicago and Boston, respectively. Miller posted terrific rate stats in a backup role last season, but he's not much of a threat to Gibson's job security at age 37. Dell's blocked by Jones in San Jose, but his 2.37 GAA and .920 save percentage through 49 appearances (39 starts) make the 29-year-old a solid spot-start option.
The last four guys in this tier make it due to the potential for playing time, though volume will likely be their best attribute. Darling will compete with Mrazek for the top gig in Carolina after his aforementioned awful 2017-18, Anderson and Condon should split time for an Ottawa club that was awful last year and is likely to lose superstar blueliner Erik Karlsson in a trade prior to the start of the season, and Greiss could bounce back from a down year and snatch the starting spot from Lehner if the offseason addition flops in his new setting.
Tier 8: The Next Wave
These players may or may not make much of an impact at the NHL level this season, but keeper leaguers should file their names away for the future, while redraft owners shouldn't hesitate to pounce if any of these netminders work their way into a major role this season.
At almost 27 years of age, DeSmith is actually three years older than Pittsburgh's starter Murray. Still, we'd be remiss to leave him off entirely after a rookie season that featured a 2.40 GAA and .921 save percentage over 14 appearances, especially given Murray's injury history and the plentiful goal support in Pittsburgh. While the 24-year-old Subban has been mediocre in his limited NHL action, going from Fleury's backup on a contending team to Fantasy stud in the blink of an eye is a tried-and-true formula. Ullmark could take over as the primary option in net as soon as this season for the Sabres should Hutton struggle in a bigger role.
Hart doesn't turn 20 until August, but the 48th overall selection in the 2016 NHL draft is already a two-time CHL Goaltender of the Year and was also named WHL Player of the Year last season. Arguably the best goalie prospect in the NHL, Hart should garner immediate interest once he's promoted to the highest level, though that ascent may not happen this season. Georgiev posted a .918 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Rangers down the stretch last season, and the 22-year-old Russian would likely be handed the reins in net should Lundqvist suffer an injury or further age-related decline.
New York has an even better Russian goaltending prospect in the pipeline in Shestyorkin, but he's still under contract with the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg for one more season. While Samsonov's blocked by Holtby in Washington and likely to start the year with AHL Hershey, the 2015 first-rounder is a terrific prospect and potentially one Holtby injury away from starting in a very Fantasy-friendly environment. Demko is likely due for another year of seasoning at the AHL level, but Vancouver's top goalie prospect is still a strong dynasty stash.
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