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Fantasy NHL – Previewing the goaltender position from a fantasy angle for the 2018-19 season

In his assessment of NHL centermen, Sean Allen compared the role of fantasy goaltender to that of NFL quarterback. I dig that parallel in that while rostering a high-performing goalie/quarterback hardly guarantees season-long success, investing in a dud most certainly assures the opposite. These two or three players on any fantasy roster shoulder a much greater percentage of responsibility in having to satisfy several categories all on their own.

Here’s a look at this season’s fantasy crease outlook.


Strategy

Aside from above-average personal competence (GAA/shutouts) and health, an elite fantasy goalie boasts a resume of playing for a good team (wins), while carrying a heavy workload (opportunity) and still fielding a fair number of shots (SV%). A tricky formula, perhaps, but that’s the checklist. In my experience, securing a dependably high-end goalie early — second or third round — then grabbing a solid midtier performer a bit later and rolling the dice on a promising sleeper to round out the goalie stable often works out. That, of course, is depending on league size.

This bears repeating: Goalies can make or break your season single-handedly. Don’t load up on other positions in total neglect of the position, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle in later rounds. That rarely works out.


Top-tier goalies I like

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 15 overall, No. 1 goaltender): Despite feeling the pressure of demonstrating his merit as a legitimate top-tier No. 1 netminder with a bona fide contender at the age of 23, Vasilevskiy led the league with 44 wins while posting a .920 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average. Feel free to raise the bar higher for this season, as a full year’s experience can hardly hurt. Tampa drafted this guy 19th overall in 2012 for a reason. Vasilevskiy tops the list of those aforementioned goalies worth grabbing in the early stages of any draft.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals (No. 23 overall, No. 3 goaltender): Enduring the roller-coaster season of a lifetime, Holtby struggled through inconsistent play while battling minor injury, lost the starter’s gig late to Philipp Grubauer, only to claim the job back and carry his club to a Stanley Cup. With all that behind him, the 28-year-old can be expected to return to consistent form. He won a total of 90 games over the past two seasons (versus 21 losses) through 129 appearances while posting a .923 save percentage. He’s my clear-cut second option behind Vasilevskiy.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (No. 33 overall, No. 4 goaltender): The steady freddy of fantasy goaltending, Quick has been charmingly consistent throughout his 10-year career. After losing a substantial portion of 2016-17 to injury, the veteran netminder rebounded well this past campaign, boasting a .921 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average through 64 appearances. The offseason addition of forward Ilya Kovalchuk, coupled with Jeff Carter‘s healthy resurgence, undoubtedly will add up to more wins overall for the Kings. Barring injury, of which he sports no great habit of sustaining, the 32-year-old could emerge as the top fantasy goalie in the West.


Midtier goalies to target

Carter Hutton, Buffalo Sabres (No. 130 overall, No. 17 goaltender): When afforded the opportunity this past season, Hutton was exceptional in 32 appearances for the St. Louis Blues, posting a .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average. Now is his chance to prove his moxie as a No. 1 with an improved Sabres squad. There’s certainly risk here, since the 32-year-old has been untested as a legit top option in the NHL, but his numbers have been consistently good in part-time play these past four seasons. Draft him as your No. 2 or 3 fantasy netminder, depending on league size, and optimistically anticipate his rising to the occasion.

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (No. 209 overall, No. 20 goaltender): When healthy, Raanta was unexpectedly outstanding this past season (.930 save percentage, 2.24 goals-against average) in backstopping a young, talented Coyotes squad that’s still figuring it all out. While this developing club continues to climb the rising slope of the learning curve, the 29-year-old has demonstrated he can manage well enough, having held his own as backup with the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks in previous years. As long as wins aren’t appreciated at a premium, there’s a lot to like about Raanta as a No. 2 or 3 goalie in most conventional leagues.


Honorable mentions: Mike Smith, Calgary Flames (No. 217 overall, No. 21 goaltender); Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (No. 270 overall, No. 24 goaltender)


Key sleeper

Robin Lehner, New York Islanders (not ranked): Perhaps I’m placing too much stock in new coach Barry Trotz turning the Islanders’ defense into a stronger entity, but this new coach/goalie relationship intrigues me a lot. The fiery netminder could settle in well, if not flourish, under such a steady bench boss’ hand. It’s not like Lehner hasn’t risen to the occasion in the past, with often substandard Sabres and Ottawa Senators squads. Plus the 27-year-old is signed to a cheap ($1.5 million) one-year contract, laden with incentive. Sleeper-hungry fantasy managers might appreciate how this season likely will make or break Lehner as a starting goaltender in the NHL.


Late-round pick to consider

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers (not ranked): Sure, he sat out too much of 2017-18 injured, but when healthy, Luongo gave his club realistic hope of earning a postseason berth (929 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average through 35 games). Maybe the 39-year-old plays near a full season with the promising (read: playoff-contending) Panthers this campaign, maybe not. A fantasy gamble worth making in later rounds regardless, don’t you think?

Honorable mentions: Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche (not ranked); Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators (not ranked)


Avoid in drafts at current value

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (No. 65 overall, No. 7 goaltender): Backup Saros could see a larger share of work as the Predators slowly transition from their current franchise netminder to the next. Anticipating 60-plus starts from Rinne will inevitably bring about disappointment. If 50-55 suit your fantasy needs, then go on and draft the Vezina winner as planned. That stingy Predators defense (second best in 2017-18) projects to be just as unyielding this time around.

Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 105 overall, No. 13 goaltender): While the newly John Tavares-infused Maple Leafs are going to score buckets of goals this season, without having made any improvements to their defensive corps, they’re also likely to allow a good number. As one of the league’s better all-around netminders, Andersen is bound to win his solid share of games, but he’s equally likely to post a heftier GAA than many fantasy managers would prefer.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (No. 111 overall, No. 14 goaltender): Truthfully, the holes on both offense and defense out in front of Price are too significant to ignore. As assembled right now, this team is poised to struggle heavily this year, no matter how well their franchise netminder performs as an individual. In drafting, he’s worth a mid-round gamble, at best. Again, through no real fault of his own.

Honorable mention: Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (No. 126 overall, No. 16 goaltender)


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