Eastern Edge: Goalie tiers for this fantasy hockey season
Goalies can be extremely unpredictable in fantasy hockey, so it’s a waste of time to make specific estimations of their performance. Rather, it makes much more sense to establish general groupings that help you see how one goalie’s fantasy value compares to his counterparts. This week I’ll be grouping share some thoughts about goaltending in the Eastern Conference as I create my own goalie tiers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy – Incredibly talented goalie playing behind the best roster in the NHL. I think most would agree that Vasilevskiy is expected to be the most valuable fantasy hockey goalie this season.
Frederik Andersen – Y’know that narrative of the Leafs being all offense and no defense? I feel like that’s a little outdated. Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie represent solid options on the team’s top two defensive lines. Toronto has a plethora of young talent on the blue line as Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott (when he returns from injury) should effectively round out the defensive corps. I don’t even need to mention the team’s offense as you already know that’s world class – which should help Andersen register a few more wins than his fellow netminders. Quality of his team aside, I think there’s something to be said about how consistent Andersen has been throughout his career. Over the past four seasons he has posted save percentages of 0.919, 0.918, 0.918 and 0.917. He’s an excellent goalie on an excellent team – which is hard to find in today’s NHL.
Sergei Bobrovsky – I really wanted to put Bob in Tier 1, but I’m not completely sold on Florida’s defense – I think it’s a downgrade from Columbus’s. With that being said, Florida’s offense is outstanding and Bobrovsky is capable of being an elite goaltender, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end the year as a top goalie. Just be wary of Bobrovsky’s fantasy hockey value being inflated by the never-ending media coverage we were bombarded with over the offseason. Many seem to have accepted that Florida is going to be amazing because they turned one of their weaknesses from last year into a strength this year. However, the team also has to adjust to a new system under the direction of new head coach Joel Quenneville. There are a lot of unknowns when a player joins a new team, so don’t be so quick to accept that the best-case scenario will become reality.
Carey Price – At first glance, Price’s 2.49 GAA and .918 SV% from last year appear to be pretty solid. However, you expect a little bit more from someone who’s often in the conversation for best goalies of this generation. Then you take a closer look and realize that it was a tale of two seasons for the Canadiens netminder. In the first half of the campaign, he had to deal with injuries and the absence of Shea Weber. These obstacles proved to be overwhelming as Price posted a .904 save percentage and 2.84 GAA in the 2018 portion of the season. With the arrival of a new calendar year came a new Carey Price. He managed a .928 save percentage and 2.20 GAA in 2019, with a 20-14-2 record. Price also enjoyed better health in the second half of the season and benefitted from the return of Weber. Montreal has a deep forward core and while their blueline is a bit questionable, I think Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are extremely strong options.
Matt Murray – Murray struggled at the start of last season as he was battling a lower-body injury. He posted a 4.08 GAA and .877 save percentage over his first 11 games. He was able to rebound in a big way and ultimately played an important role in Pittsburgh’s qualification for the playoffs. In the final quarter of the 2018-2019 campaign, Murray went 11-4-4 with a 2.25 GAA and .930 save percentage. He can be inconsistent and plays behind a leaky defense in the Steel City, but he’s also won two Stanley cups through just four NHL seasons. As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play for the Penguins, the team is capable of success.
Tuukka Rask – He was outstanding during Boston’s run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final – posting a 15-9 record alongside a 2.02 GAA and .934 save percentage. That incredible playoff performance was fueled by a lighter workload during the regular season, where he appeared in just 46 games. The team will likely employ a similar strategy this year as they look to keep Rask fresh for the postseason, so don’t be surprised to see Jaroslav Halak start a sizeable chunk of Boston’s games during the 2019-2020 campaign.
Braden Holtby – He’s in the final year of his current contract, so I can see him putting forth a strong effort this season in order to secure a lucrative new deal. Holtby posted an underwhelming 2.82 GAA and .911 SV% last season, with a 2.99 GAA and .907 SV% the year before that. Prior to that he had been pretty reliable for a .920 SV% and 2.20 GAA between 2015 and 2017. He plays for a good team and we know he’s capable of great things. Let’s see if he can rediscover some of his old magic.
Carter Hart – In the 2019 portion of last season, Hart posted an impressive 14-10-1 record and .919 SV%. Not bad for a rookie! Hart is expected to develop into one of the league’s best goalies, but we have to remember that he’s only 21 years old and has just 31 games of NHL experience. I wouldn’t blame you for gambling on Hart has your number one goalie, but I think you’re in a solid position if he’s your number two option.
Cory Schneider – I’ll share the blurb I wrote about Schneider in the Eastern Sleepers section of this year’s fantasy guide (get your copy here). “Schneider’s recent struggles have been well-documented, as he failed to register a win during the 2018 calendar year – a losing streak which spanned 21 games. He had been battling injuries during the majority of that period and eventually underwent hip surgery in May of 2018 – a procedure that requires a lengthy recovery. Now that he’s feeling better and the Devils have made considerable improvements to the roster, expect a bounce-back season from New Jersey’s netminder”. Schneider represents an excellent example of a low risk/high reward pick as he posted spectacular numbers between 2010 and 2016 but his value has since diminished. Grab him as your third goalie and hope for the best.
Petr Mrazek – He was good last year as he sported a 23-14-3 record, 2.39 GAA and .914 SV% through 40 games. While I think Carolina is a good team and Mrazek can be a valuable fantasy hockey asset, I don’t think we’ve seen a large enough sample size with him as the starting goalie. Sure, he saw the majority of starts (54) in Detroit during the 2015-2016 campaign and excelled with a 2.33 GAA and .921 SV%, but he followed that up with a 3.03 GAA and .900 SV% through 49 games in 2016-2017. I think this is a safe tier for him until we see more.
Semyon Varlamov – The Islanders signed him to a four-year deal that pays five million dollars a season. Considering he’s getting paid more than Thomas Greiss, I’d expect Varlamov to see more starts. With that being said, Greiss posted a sparkling 2.28 GAA and .927 SV% through 43 games and will definitely be given a chance to take over if Varlamov falters. A long list of injuries and competition of Greiss limit Varlamov’s fantasy value, but an excellent defensive system and renowned goalie coach (Mitch Korn) could work in his favour.
Henrik Lundqvist – With the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers are a much better team than they were last season. While he did struggle last year, the King is only one season removed from a .915 SV% in 2017-2018. At 37 years of age, he may no longer be an elite goaltender, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bounce back this season now that his team is more competitive. He should see the majority of the starts, but there is a chance that Alexander Georgiev will take over if Lundqvist struggles.
Thomas Greiss – Could see a bump in fantasy value if Varlamov struggles or gets injured. I’m still not convinced that Greiss could excel while seeing 50 to 60 starts, even behind the stingy defensive system of Barry Trotz.
Jaroslav Halak – Should see a sizeable workload as the team attempts to keep Tuukka Rask fresh for the playoffs. Halak posted an impressive 2.34 GAA and .922 SV% through 40 games last season. His value is limited because he’s playing second fiddle to Rask and won’t see as many starts, but he makes for a great second or third goalie in fantasy leagues if you already have a proven number one option.
Linus Ullmark – Carter Hutton didn’t do very much with the starting gig last season as he posted a lackluster 3.00 GAA and .908 SV% through 50 games. Enter 26-year-old Linus Ullmark who saw his first real stretch of NHL action last year and performed similarly to Hutton. The difference of course is that Hutton is 33 years old, with much less room for growth and development. Expect Ullmark to see the majority of starts this year behind an improved defensive core in Buffalo.
Elvis Merzlikins – This one’s tough because on one hand, Joonas Korpisalo has NHL experience but he hasn’t been very good. While on the other hand, Merzlikins doesn’t have NHL experience but he has put up some impressive numbers in the Swiss league. The Blue Jackets roster has obviously gotten a bit worse with the departure of Artemi Panarin, but I think their defensive corps of Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and David Savard is solid enough to support either goalie. There’s a chance that one of Korpisalo or Merzlikins are available on the waiver wire, so monitor Columbus’ goaltending situation closely and make a move when you see one of the two starting more games.
Jimmy Howard – A 35-year-old goalie who has never really been a great fantasy asset, playing behind an untrustworthy defensive corps. Sure, Detroit’s blueline features some exciting young talent in Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski, but how much faith do you have in Danny Dekeyser, Patrik Nemeth, Mike Green and Trevor Daley? Please avoid drafting Howard in fantasy leagues unless you’re a masochist.
Craig Anderson – Do you mind if I copy and paste the blurb I wrote for Howard over here? Too late, I’ve already done it. “A 38-year-old goalie playing behind an untrustworthy defensive corps. Sure, Ottawa’s blueline features some exciting young talent in Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom, but how much faith do you have in Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, Mark Borowiecki and Dylan DeMelo? Please avoid drafting Anderson in fantasy leagues unless you’re a masochist.
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