This week marks the return of a series outlining the top players in the Eastern Conference at each position for the upcoming season.
Today we begin with goalies, which is the most difficult position to evaluate because of their volatility and how heavily they rely on their team to post good fantasy numbers. As such, goaltenders cannot be judged strictly on talent, and an elite goalie can easily become mediocre in a hurry. Not only does team quality impact a goalie’s ability to pick up wins, the team’s strength at the defensive end will also impact both the quantity and quality of shots against.
In this article, we will focus primarily on W, GAA and SV%.
5 – Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
Schneider has been outstanding in multi-category leagues since he became a full-time NHLer back in 2011, sporting a GAA of 2.26 or better and a save percentage of .921 or better every year. Adding to his value is his high volume of games played which includes 69 in his first year with the Devils and 58 this past year before missing most of the action down the stretch with a leg injury.
While Schneider was a key reason the Devils overachieved, there were other factors helping their cause. The team received an abnormal amount of offense from its top line of Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak. Such chemistry is difficult to repeat. Of course acquiring Taylor Hall will help a ton but secondary scoring could be even scarcer this year. This will not help Schneider in the wins column.
Also, the loss of Adam Larsson could prove to be a problem. While he disappointed in fantasy circles, he was an effective defensive player on a pairing with Andy Greene. The change could make the Devils weaker defensively which would also take a bit off of Schneider’s fantasy numbers. Regardless, he will remain a great option in most leagues. It just could prove difficult to once again post a positive win-loss record.
4 – Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
For many years Lundqvist has been an elite fantasy goaltender combining top-level numbers along with outstanding consistency. This past year at age 34 he had his highest win total (35) since 2012 and he has now achieved a save percentage of .920 or better for seven straight years.
Despite getting 101 points last year, the Rangers do not appear to be as strong of a team as they have been in recent years. This summer they lost Keith Yandle without acquiring a suitable replacement and dealt away Derick Brassard to clear some cap space.
Cracks are starting to show as the Rangers have pushed hard to win the Stanley Cup over the past several years. A weaker team would no doubt hurt Lundqvist in the win column, and even if the Rangers can keep their level of play, there is little reason to believe Lundqvist has upside in this situation to improve upon his 2015-16 numbers. However, with no golden-boy backup, he will continue to see in excess of 60 games and should be a lock for 30 wins.
3 – Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Prior to going to the sidelines with knee problems, Price was the top goalie in the league. Missing such a long stretch of action is troublesome, but now that he is back healthy, he should get back to carrying the majority of the workload. What puts Price so high on this list despite the risk is his potential to dominate the peripheral categories, especially save percentage.
While it is expected Price will once again see a ton of action, the signing of Al Montoya to perhaps replace Mike Condon as backup is noteworthy. Montoya has been strong in a secondary role over the years and his arrival could mean the team plans to give Price more rest than in past years.
Another noteworthy change is the acquisition of Shea Weber. The trade itself was one for the ages but Weber has historically been very good in his own end and on the penalty kill. The improved defensive play could rub off on Price and help him regain top form.
2 – Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
It says a lot when Bishop’s 35 wins are his lowest total in his three years in Tampa Bay. Surely, the Lightning starting the year cold, especially at the offensive end, did not help matters in the win column. Meanwhile, Bishop's 2.06 GAA, .926 save percentage and six shutouts were all career-best marks. With Steven Stamkos sticking around, the Lightning appears poised to take another run at the Atlantic Division title. Bishop being in the final year of his contract should also give him extra motivation.
Of course, there are trade rumors surrounding Bishop with Dallas being a potential destination. This would also be a great fit fantasy-wise, as the Stars possess a strong roster that is also a contender. But until a deal takes place we should assume Bishop is staying put. The Lightning have a strong golden-boy backup in Andrei Vasilevskiy who could earn some extra starts at some point but so far the veteran has done well holding on to the starter’s gig.
1 – Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Even though it will be very difficult for the Capitals to repeat last year’s magical run to 120 points, it is impossible not to rank Holtby as the top fantasy goalie in the Eastern Conference. In addition to great peripherals in just about every year since he arrived in the NHL, he has also won 40 or more games in each of the last two years, and the Capitals have a strong enough team to take another shot at the Presidents Trophy.
Holtby is also a proven workhorse, having appeared in 139 games over the past two years. He was able to get a bit more rest this past year due to improved play at the backup spot as Philipp Grubauer played well in his first full NHL campaign. Holtby’s three shutouts were shockingly low given his win total and hurt his value in some leagues. Look for a bounce-back in this area.
Honorable Mention – Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
Being out until November due to offseason hip surgery will surely slide Luongo down rankings for the upcoming season. Making matters worse is newly acquired backup James Reimer who has had great stretches of games throughout his career. This will certainly cut into Luongo’s playing time when healthy, likely to a greater degree than last year when Al Montoya had a strong year in the backup role.
With that said, Luongo should be a great fantasy goalie when he is available. Historically, he has offered great value even when paired with a quality backup. Plus, the Panthers have been on the rise with a strong young core and have made the push to become a contender. In particular, the team bolstered its blueline with the acquisitions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. Assuming the team does not suffer a setback after making so many changes, Luongo should be a good bet to pick up the win whenever he gets the start. If you can set your fantasy team to cover for Luongo’s lost time in October, he can give your team the boost it needs down the stretch.
Honorable Mention – Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Murray had an improbable run this spring, as he played a key role in the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. This assures he will be given every opportunity to be the team’s primary goalie moving forward. However, young goalies can be unpredictable and go through growing pains, as we saw with Cam Ward after leading the Hurricanes to the championship in 2006 as a rookie.
This makes Murray a wildcard heading into next season. If he struggles, he has a strong backup in Marc-Andre Fleury who is capable of leading the Penguins to a playoff spot. Assuming things go well for Murray, he should be solid for wins and should also produce good peripherals. Having Fleury in the mix limits Murray’s upside, though, as Murray's volume of starts is unlikely to match goalies ranked in the top five.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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