Goalie stats are a funny thing.
It's a long season, but a win here, a fluky goal there, a missed start with the flu, etc., can add up to a marked difference between one netminder and another, as we're splitting fine hairs when we talk about this position's statistics. However, it's those fine hairs that can turn Fantasy doom into glory, so let's split them as best we can.
A few points to keep in mind before we jump in:
- These rankings have been generated for CBS head-to-head points leagues (scoring system listed here) - that means goalies who play a lot are much more valuable even if their ratios aren't quite as good as some of their peers who are forced to share minutes in net.
- For the most part, backups behind a clear No. 1 goalie aren't listed here.
- The order in which players are listed approximately represents their ranking within the tiers.
Let's start at the top, shall we?
Tier 1: La Crème de la Crème
That's it. Two men at the top in a tier of their own. Holtby is, of course, coming off a Jordanesque 48-9-7 season in which he tied Martin Brodeur's record for regular-season goalie wins. As he enters his age-27campaign, there's an argument to be made that Holtby hasn't even reached his ceiling yet. Meanwhile, Price is coming off an injury-shortened season, but has quite literally been the MVP of the league when healthy, and I expect him back in full force this year. With Al Montoya having arrived to serve as Price's backup, the Habs are surely counting on their top dog to stay healthy and start 60-plus games.
Tier 2: Stone-Cold Reliability
The guys on the front end here are your exciting veterans, the guys who can generally be counted on to start 60-plus games (except for Crawford, who makes up for it by winning a lot) and put up strong stats. Bishop and Quick just barely miss the top tier in my view, but I wouldn't blame you at all if you wanted them in that conversation. Jones is the new addition here, coming off a season in which he finished as one of the top-scoring goalies in this format. With a muddled backup situation in San Jose, there's no reason he shouldn't start about 65 games again.
Tier 3: The Up-and-Comers
For Allen, Gibson and Elliott, playing time is the name of the game -- Allen and Gibson have been liberated from one another, putting both men in position to take full-time starting roles for the first time in their careers. Similarly, Gibson had Frederik Andersen get shipped out of town, allowing the 23-year-old to finally take the role of Next Big Thing in the Anaheim nets. Schneider is the wild card here; assuming health permits him to return to his typically enormous workload, he's a lock for this tier despite his lack of wins. But he's also one of a precious few who could make the leap into Tier 1 if Taylor Hall can jumpstart the Devils' offense enough for Schneider to accumulate, say, 35 victories. On the basis of pure goaltending prowess, he's probably second only to Price among current NHL netminders. Andersen could bust out in a full-time role with the Leafs and it wouldn't be surprising if he posted strong ratios, but we don't know how long it'll take this youthful squad to come together, so the 26-year-old Dane may not justify his place in such a high tier.
Tier 4: Steadfast Veterans
Even at age 37, Luongo would be a strong contender for Tier 2 if not for two factors: the recovery from hip surgery that'll cost him the season's first three weeks and the offseason addition of James Reimer to serve as his backup. Reimer's on a five-year deal, so the Panthers are going to give him some playing time, and it may end up being enough to push Luongo down another tier. Otherwise, we're looking at guys who see a lot of playing time, but can't be counted on for elite stats. Dubnyk could potentially rediscover the ol' magic and move up a tier, but there's no banking on that on draft day. Similarly, Rinne may see enough volume to push him up into Tier 3, but he's going to be 34 and seems to be trending down.
Tier 5: Good Things in Small Packages
This tier is home to several good goalies who, because of some outstanding factor (typically injury or competition), just can't be counted on to hit 60 games ... or even 50. Maybe not even 40. Fleury has always been an outstanding regular-season goalie, but the emergence of Matt Murray during the Penguins' Stanley Cup run has changed the calculus in that team's net. I'd guess that Fleury actually ends up taking a 50-30 (we're talking games here, not percentages) split, but the potential for an even timeshare means they have to stay on the same tier. Halak's in a similar boat, as his injuries last year let the Isles get a good look at Greiss, and they liked what they saw; that's got a good chance at being an even split also. Mrazek is on what should be the friendly side of a timeshare, but his stumbles down the stretch last year will keep Jimmy Howard in the mix enough to damage the young Czech's Fantasy value. A healthy season from Lehner could very well push him into Tier 4 or higher - he looked great last year during the 21 games he was able to play in, plus the Sabres have an intriguing, up-and-coming squad, but his lack of experience buries him here. Neuvirth's listing here can be considered my vote of confidence in him over incumbent starter Steve Mason, whose Jekyll-and-Hyde ways are maddening. All in all, there's a lot of variance in what these guys might deliver, but there's upside as well.
Tier 6: The Expendables
The upside Mason's shown for stretches does at least put him at the top of this tier. If Smith can actually play as well as he did in limited time last year over the course of a full season, he'd jump up a couple tiers; of course, he's 34 years old and has to deal with the presence of Louis Domingue, who's 10 years younger and put up equally strong stats last year, so here's where we find him. Niemi and Lehtonen are in for another unexciting near-even split, with the Stars' scoring ability not quite compensating for the duo's worse-than-mediocre goaltending (which isn't helped by a defensive corps that lacks depth). Luongo's injury makes Reimer a great play in October, as he's in a nice situation there, but he may find starts hard to come by once Bobby Lu returns. The situations in Winnipeg and Carolina remain somewhere between messy and uninspiring. Miller, entering the final season of his contract (and maybe his career?) seems to be trending in the direction of becoming Jacob Markstrom's backup.
Tier 7: Fliers (not Flyers)
This group is all upside and very little downside, as these goalies won't cost you much to acquire. Pickard and Vasilevskiy both offer stud potential, but have well-established starters ahead of them; the young Av heads the list because it doesn't seem wholly unrealistic for him to unseat Varlamov at some point, while Bishop is markedly better entrenched. Domingue gets listed over Darling because of playing time and playing time only. Lack and Howard may be at different stages of their careers, but they're both fighting themselves as well as better goalies for playing time. Perhaps you've gotten through seven tiers and you're wondering, "Where's Jonathan Bernier?" or some other silly question. The answer, of course, is that unless you're in a very deep league in which nearly all goalies should be owned, the likes of Bernier, Reto Berra, Jonas Gustavsson and other non-luminary backup netminders don't much merit mentioning.
Tier 8: Top Prospects for 2016
These guys are listed not in order of their ability -- Subban would top that list, albeit narrowly over Hellebuyck -- but rather how many games they seem likely to play at the NHL level this year. Injuries and trades can rarely be predicted, but these are the top few young bucks who are only one of those events away from finding themselves on NHL rosters. The guys on the front end have also gotten a taste of the big leagues already, which helps.