The 2015-16 NHL season is set to begin in just a little over a month. That means Fantasy Hockey drafts are about to start, especially after the Fantasy Football season has begun. Today will be the first in a series of five columns ranking the different positions (goalie, center, left wing, right wing, and defense). We will start off with probably the most important position in today’s NHL, goaltender.
When I think about net minders, it reminds me of quarterbacks in Fantasy Football. If you’re playing in a league that only starts one, you can wait and grab one in the middle rounds, thus allowing you to load up on your skill players. If you’re playing in a league in which you start two goaltenders, then you will be selecting them early and often. In most category leagues, goaltending occupies half the categories. This should tell you all you need to know about how important the position is. Most leagues will use wins, goals against average, save percentage, saves, and shutouts as their main five categories. Now, it can be difficult to find a goalie that can excel in all five. Goalies on better teams with better save rates may not make as many saves as goalies on teams with weak defenses, whereas goalies on weak teams may make a boatload of saves but suffer in all of the other cats. I guess we can’t have it all, now can we?
This is our Top 25 Goaltender rankings.
- Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: The neck injury Lundqvist suffered last season disappointed Fantasy owners, as he didn’t play in quite the number of games they were expecting, but there is no reason that history should repeat itself this season.
- Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: I did toy with the idea of having Price as my number one goaltender, but in the end I just couldn’t pull that trigger. Price posted insane numbers last season (1.96 GAA, .933 save percentage), and while he may not reach those heights again, they may not be that far off either.
- Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: This ranking has more to do with trust than anything else. Quick and the Kings were disappointing last season, as they didn’t even make the playoffs. They look to avenge that fact this season and the acquisition of former Bruin Milan Lucic could go a long way towards returning the Kings to their “hit everything that moves,” defense first philosophy.
- Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Last season welcomed Rinne back to being a Top 5 Fantasy goaltender. The hip injury, subsequent surgery and infection looked like they were going to sap Rinne of his greatness, but no, it just took longer than expected to recover from the injury.
- Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: We can say all we want about how poorly Fleury plays in the playoffs, but in the regular season he’s gold. The Penguins won’t suffer the injuries this year that they did last year, and they have acquired Phil Kessel to add even more goal scoring. In points leagues, Fleury should be able to rack up plenty of wins.
- Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning: Although the Lightning may have overachieved as a team last season, Bishop didn’t quite live up to his play from the year before. Maybe he wasn’t over offseason elbow surgery, or maybe we were just asking too much of him.
- Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets reloaded during the offseason for what should be a playoff run at the very least. This may be the most improved team in the East, and if Bobrovsky can stay healthy and make 60 starts, he will reap the benefits.
- Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: Some pundits have Holtby in their Top 5. I am, however, a conservative drafter and will need him to prove he is not a one year wonder before making that kind of investment.
- Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks: Crawford is never going be mistaken for Price or Rinne; he is simply not that kind of goalie. He ranks in the Top 10 because of the team he plays on and the wins he will accumulate, not because of his talent. If he were on a lesser team, he wouldn’t be in the Top 10.
- Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: Dubnyk proved last year what playing for a good team can do for one’s career. Dubnyk looked like a sieve in Edmonton and Arizona, but like a brick wall in Minnesota. Can he do it again, or was he just a one year wonder.
- Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: The Bruins are rebuilding, otherwise Rask would be several spots higher. Talent-wise he has Top 5 ability but none of us really know how the Bruins will play this season.
- Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils: The Devils seemed to have made one mistake after another the last couple of years, but stealing Schneider from Vancouver wasn’t one of them. Like Rask, Schneider could easily be a Top 5 backstop, but the Devils have a long way to go before anyone confuses them with a playoff team once again.
- Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues: The Blues always seem to disappoint during playoff time, but with that defense they are Fantasy gold in the regular season. The problems is Brian Elliott. He will play more than a typical back up, and if Allen gets off to a slow start, he could even take over the starting role once again.
- Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks: Andersen is in the same boat as Allen in that he plays on a very good team with a good defense in front of him, but he has to worry about John Gibson, who could also start for this team. The argument can be made that Gibson would’ve started last season if not for injury, and let’s not forget that the team acquired another NHL goaltender in Anton Khubobin, which would seem to signal that another trade is forthcoming.
- Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: That Howard is so low on this list tells you how deep goaltending is this day and age. Howard also has Petr Mrazek pushing him and Wings aren’t the great team they used to be. They will need every win they can get, and this could lead to a change in net if Howard doesn’t pick up his play and become more consistent.
- Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks: The good news for Miller is that the Canucks traded away Eddie Lack, thus alleviating a young up and coming net minder who could’ve pushed Miller for the starting job. The bad news is that Miller’s name was also on the trade block, which tells you all you need to know about the Canucks’ faith in Miller.
- Craig Andersen, Ottawa Senators: Anderson was given a gift when the team traded away Robin Lehner. Anderson now has the number one job all to himself.
- Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers: There are two problems for Mason, staying healthy, and his defense. I’m not sure either one is going to get any better this season.
- Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: What I wrote for Mason, could easily apply here also. He’s just going to be difficult to rely on as a number one, but the upside is certainly there.
- Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: Luongo may have been my toughest ranking. I feel he should be higher but just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. Maybe I’m just being too hard on him because of the team he plays for.
- Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders: Halak is the best Islanders goaltender they have hard in years, but he is also far from consistent and may eventually be the reason the Islanders are unable to get out of the first round in the playoffs.
- Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: The great unknown. How will Jones handle the starting job? He played well for the Kings but that’s for a team that has one of the best defenses in the NHL, something the Sharks don’t have.
- Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have all the pieces in place to make more than just a token playoff run, but Pavelec may not be the answer. Michael Hutchinson replaced Pavelec as the starter for a time last season and could do so again this season if Pavelec remains inconsistent.
- Antti Niemi, Dallas Stars: Let’s not forget Kari Lehtonen is still here also. This is a training camp battle waiting to happen, but one would think the Stars wouldn’t have signed Niemi if they did not plan to use him.
- Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes: If only this team was on their way up.
You can feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz