With a 2.33 GAA and .925 SP, Mike Smith has had a career resurgence in Phoenix. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
The goaltending position is the most important in fantasy hockey. Hey, that sounds just like real hockey, doesn’t it?
At the draft you need to make certain you are covered at G, because in rotisserie leagues that position is usually responsible for 30 to 40 percent of the categories. And in a points-only format, there will be a mere 10 or 15 goaltenders who give you the same value as a top first-line skater.
So besides looking strictly at talent, you need to look at the environment the goalies are in. Coaching system, overall team talent and the backup goaltender situation are the three things to key in on. There are some very good goalies who become elite thanks to the coaching system and the team around them. I cite Jimmy Howard and Pekka Rinne here. There are decent goalies who become very good owns, such as Mike Smith and Corey Crawford (circa 2010-11). And then, on the other side of the coin, there are top goalies who take a value hit thanks to being on a rather weak team (ahem, Carey Price).
I had the privilege of drafting Smith in three of my four leagues, with two of them being keeper leagues. I saw what the Phoenix system did for Ilya Bryzgalov and I knew Smith would thrive there. My only concern – and it was a big one – was his health.
On the other hand, I drafted Bryzgalov in one of them. I thought his numbers would take a huge hit, but that all those W’s would more than compensate. He’s out of the tight defensive structure the Coyotes had, but the Philly firepower would easily get him 40 wins. Obviously that didn’t happen.
Looking ahead to next year, as many keeper owners are, it is helpful to determine, or rather make your best guess, as to who will do well. The top four goalies this year are Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Howard and Rinne. Those four will be locks again for next year. The other “reliable” goalies include Marc-Andre Fleury, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo (the latter two are the reasons I put quotes around the word “reliable,” given the current campaign). You can probably add Antti Niemi to this list too, although his injury troubles in San Jose make him slightly less reliable.
After this group, you get into some question marks. Here are some key ones as well as other thoughts:
1. Tim Thomas vs. Tuukka Rask
To me, Rask will be one of the three or four best goaltenders to own in fantasy hockey. Will that be next year or three years from now? That’s the million-dollar question. But the way the games are being split between Rask and defending Vezina Trophy winner Thomas is making Thomas the No. 5 own in fantasy hockey - otherwise he would be No. 1. The situation for Thomas won’t improve next year either. Rask played 29 games last season and is on pace for 31 this campaign. Next season expect that number to be closer to 35 and continue to push Thomas’ starts down.
2. Mike Smith
This year’s surprise goalie stud is seventh in the league when ranking the five main goaltending categories and then adding up the ranks to get a “score.” Were it not for his injury in December, he would be higher still. He’s signed for another year so expect similar numbers next season. Phoenix is a goalie gold mine. Any struggling goaltender should do everything he can to sign there.
3. Brian Elliott vs. Jaroslav Halak
Halak ranks 12th in the league, but if you ignore his pre-Ken Hitchcock numbers it would actually be closer to fifth or sixth. So how does he not get all the starts? Because Elliott ranks seventh. Elliott’s surprise play earned him a two-year contract. I’m afraid this will lead to a 1A/1B situation in St. Louis next year. Halak will be the 1A, but that still means just 45 or 50 games.
4. Jonas Hiller
Yes, he’ll bounce back next year. He’s already bouncing back now. Off to a slow start as he recovered from vertigo, Hiller is now back on track and should be a 35-game winner next season.
5. James Reimer vs. Jonas Gustavsson
Gustavsson has finally stayed healthy long enough to find his rhythm in this league. Although neither goalie can be called “elite,” both are proving capable. I think you’ll see a 60/40 split in favor of Reimer next season.
6. Other reliables
There are a few other reliable goaltenders, although these ones have a range that is lower on the spectrum because they are on weaker teams or have injury troubles. You can count on them for 25 wins, but 32 or 33 would be pushing it. Either that or they’ll get the 33-plus wins, but they will come with weak numbers: Price, Niklas Backstrom, Cam Ward, Kari Lehtonen, Ondrej Pavelec, Bryzgalov and Craig Anderson.
7. Take a chance on
There are some goalies with a shot at playing in a better situation next year. These guys may be worth picking up for cheap now and crossing your fingers: Cory Schneider, Richard Bachman, Thomas Greiss and Jhonas Enroth. All are talented backups with a chance at seeing more action next season with a lucky bounce or two.
8. Steer clear of
a) The Islanders situation. I like Kevin Poulin to eventually come out of this five-headed monster they have in goal. I also like Al Montoya. But with so many options right now, I don’t see it being sorted out by next season.
b) Martin Brodeur. He’s doing great now, but even if he plays another year and signs in New Jersey, he’s not the goalie he was.
c) Jose Theodore. Jacob Markstrom is considered the top goalie prospect in hockey and he’s getting closer to becoming a No. 1. Theodore’s job for 2012-13 is not safe.
d) Edmonton goalies. I think the Oilers will go after a good goaltender in the summer, even with Nikolai Khabibulin signed for one last season. It’s another situation I wouldn’t touch at all.
e) Josh Harding. The Minnesota backup has the talent to be a starter, but he’s had a heck of a time with injuries these past three years or so. Red flag.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.
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