Many coined Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick as the “Big 3” when it comes to goaltending last summer. After all, in fantasy hockey the goaltender is the most difficult position to project, so it’s good to know there are at least three you can rely on every year to post good numbers. Do everything you can to acquire one of those three, because then you won’t have to worry about that roster spot.
Or so the theory goes.
That theory sure went out the window quickly. Rinne and Quick missed almost the entire first half, while Lundqvist probably wishes he did. This is one season in recent memory where depth goaltenders and quick thinking on the waiver wire with backup netminders saved the season for many poolies.
Let’s take a look at the biggest questions fantasy owners have about that area between the pipes for 2014-15.
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
I rate Anderson a “buy low.” Looking back at his career, he has a Vinny Prospal-like tendency to follow up a good season with a bad one. That should make 2014-15 a good one. Even if you don’t buy into that theory, try to remember just how incredible he was in 2012-13. At the very least, he’ll bounce back from this terrible campaign.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Diligent poolies last summer have been rewarded for taking Bishop in the draft. They knew that if there was competition between two unproven No. 1 goalies that Bishop would beat out the oft-injured Anders Lindback. It turns out that Bishop didn’t need to win by default, he was just plain awesome on his own. With a handful of games left until the end of the season, he has a decent shot at 40 wins and you should see his name on the Vezina Trophy ballot. There is some worry from fantasy owners that the league’s top goalie prospect, Andrei Vasilevski, is on his way, but that’s a worry to be dealt with in 2016, not today.
Jaroslav Halak, Washington Capitals
With so many quality young goaltenders champing at the bit for a starting job, it’s always a little nerve-wracking to own a starter who is heading into free agency. Most of the successful ones re-sign with the team they are on, while those starters who move onto other teams risk mediocrity at best (Evgeni Nabokov) or fantasy irrelevance at worst (Ilya Bryzgalov, Tomas Vokoun). This year, with Brian Elliott, Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller all on the free agent market, not to mention veterans Nabokov, Martin Brodeur, and Tim Thomas, Halak could be stuck without a chair when the music stops. I suspect he’ll re-signs with Washington and, if so, it’s a great fit. But there are lots of question marks until that happens. If July 1 arrives and he does not re-sign with the Capitals, he is one hot potato I would not be comfortable holding. However, if he stays, I consider him one of the better goaltending options out there.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks
Hiller is in a much worse spot than Halak. He’s a free agent, but he’s ahead of two elite goalie prospects in John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. The Ducks probably don’t feel a lot of pressure to re-sign him and his numbers haven’t been nearly as impressive as Halak’s. I already moved him in all of my keeper leagues. If you haven’t by now, it’s too late to get anything good for him you just have to hope for the ideal destination.
Anton Khudobin vs. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
On one hand you have Cam Ward, who is the golden boy. He’s the guy who led the Hurricanes to Cup glory and he’s the guy with the big paycheque. The big cheque generally means you will get every opportunity to be the No. 1 guy, every opportunity to work through a slump and every opportunity to get back in there as soon as the other guy so much as sneezes wrong. But Khudobin has been the better goaltender by far. So, what you’ll see is Ward starting 12 of the first 20 games, likely struggling and then Khudobin slowly cannibalizing the starts. In the end, you’ll be left with a near 50-50 split, which fantasy owners treat like the plague.
Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers
Is he the real deal? So asks dozens of emails, tweets and forum posts. The answer is simple: it doesn’t matter. He’s making $4.1 million next year and the Flyers aren’t going to be buying him out. Nor will they let that money go to waste. Mason will get all the starts he wants and then some. With 65 starts on a playoff team, his numbers will be quite fantasy worthy for each of the three years of his contract.
Viktor Fasth vs. Ben Scrivens, Edmonton Oilers
Here are a couple of underrated goalies on a team that you’d think would have taken a huge step forward by now but has not. Potentially, either one of Scrivens or Fasth could top 30 wins next year. Or they could fall short of 10. Worth owning as a No. 3 or No. 4 on your squad, but obviously they should not be relied upon to carry your team. If Fasth can ever put his injury woes behind him, my hunch is that he will prove to be the better of the two.
James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s a fairly safe guess that Reimer will move on to a new team in the off-season. Stranger things have happened, but that’s the sense that I get. Whether or not you believe he can be an NHL starting goaltender, what matters is what other teams believe. I happen to think he can be a starter somewhere, but it doesn’t matter what you or I think. NHL GM’s will acquire him as a backup or 1B option. So his only hope of being fantasy relevant next season is if the other goalie is injured. Not a far-fetched scenario, but really no different than it was in Toronto in 2013-14.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
I didn’t think Rinne would be a question mark, but I get asked about him so much that it’s pretty clear I need to include him here. Is Rinne still elite? That is to say, is he still a part of the aforementioned “Big 3?” The answer is yes, and I can give you 35 million reasons why. You see, that’s what’s left on his contract: $35 million – far too much for a team to swallow and they’ll never pay him that cash to be a backup, so he’ll get the starts. Now, whether or not he can return to “elite” form would depend on the coaching situation. If Barry Trotz sticks around, then Rinne should be gold once more. With a different coach, all bets are off.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
The Avs made a statement when they traded both a first and a second-round draft pick for Varlamov. He is young and talented – and the Avalanche wanted him to be their starting goalie. All that stood between him and impressive fantasy numbers was health and a winning team in front of him. As of last summer, both of those things looked like long shots. Talk about a 180. Suddenly, Varlamov is healthy enough to start nearly 65 games, while the Avs are playing like an elite team with new coach Patrick Roy. So can Varlamov repeat this magical year? Absolutely. But the same two criteria apply – health and a winning team.
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.