Fantasy Top-10: Goalie Battles for the 2017-18 Season

by Tom Collins on September 18, 2017

One of the most frustrating aspects of fantasy hockey is getting stuck with goalies that are stuck in a timeshare.

This why it is so important to draft a true number one goalie instead of waiting until the later rounds. It’s better to draft a netminder who is guaranteed 60 starts than to be stuck with a goalie you aren’t sure will start any games for you in a specific week. It’s especially frustrating in head-to-head leagues that have minimum games played.

There are numerous teams out there that could have a goalie controversy at some point this season. And that doesn’t bode well for your fantasy squad. It’s best to steer clear of players in a timeshare unless you are desperate.

Here are the top 10 goalie battles for 2017-18.


10. Pekka Rinne vs Juuse Saros

This is lower down the list because Rinne will still be the number one goalie in Nashville, but don’t be surprised to see Saros start siphoning some starts. Saros was just as good as Rinne last year, and is considered to be the goalie of the future in Nashville. Rinne has the big money contract and the golden boy status, but is only signed for two more years. Rinne can go into some wildly bad streaks, and there could be a mini-controversy in Nashville at some point this season.


9. Semyon Varlamov vs Jonathan Bernier

These are two goalies you draft if you are desperate. By desperate I mean you need to start a goalie or else you lose the matchup, and every other goalie in the league has been drafted already, including the substitute high school teacher who was signed to a one-day contract because of an injury to an NHL starter. The Avs are going to awful, and Varlamov and Bernier are going to be for a rough season. Varlamov will start the season as the number one goalie, but if he struggles too much, then Bernier could steal some starts.


8. Jacob Markstrom vs Anders Nilsson vs Thatcher Demko

Markstrom looks to have an advantage out of the gate but has never been able to prove he can be even a reliable backup, much less a number-one netminder. He has a 25-28-7 record with a .911 SV % and a 2.71 GAA in Vancouver. That’s actually an improvement on his career numbers of 36-53-12, .906 SV % and a 2.91 GAA. Nilsson’s career stats are similar but he had a successful season in Buffalo last year. Vancouver is going to be dreadful and these goalies would only be worth rostering if you knew they were the number-one goalie, but a timeshare will really hurt. I added Demko because he is a wild card, but he will start the season in the AHL unless he plays dynamite in the preseason (Note: He won’t).


7. Thomas Greiss vs Jaroslav Halak

What a difference a year makes. Last September, Halak was one of the top players at the World Cup of Hockey. Then he struggled and was sent to the AHL before being called back up in March and was excellent the rest of the way. Greiss was excellent in the first half of the season before faltering down the stretch. The Islanders will ride the hot hand for most of the season.


6. Jimmy Howard vs Petr Mrazek

It feels as if every season, one of the two netminders is great while the other is mediocre. Last year it was Howard’s turn to be great, but he only started 24 games because of groin and knee injuries. Mrazek looked to be the number one for the previous two seasons until he bombed last year. Which one of these two will post respectable numbers this year? You’d be just as accurate flipping a coin.


5. Brian Elliott vs Michal Neuvirth

There is nothing that will dictate that Elliott deserves to get a lot more starts this year than Neuvirth. He’s been known to lose the starting job in the past and has been inconsistent throughout his career. He’s not making a ton of money (at $2.75 million, his AAV is only $250,000 more than Neuvirth, and they’re both signed for two seasons). Neuvirth struggled last year but was excellent for the Flyers in 2015-16. Elliott won’t be on a short leash, but the Flyers won’t hesitate to go with Neuvirth if Elliott struggles for too long.


4. Antti Raanta vs Louis Domingue

You might know very early into the season who wins this goalie battle. Both goalies are free agents next summer (Domingue an RFA and Raanta a UFA). If Raanta signs a big-money or a long-term deal, he’s obviously the golden boy in Arizona. Until that happens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these guys split starts at some point throughout the year. The former Ranger will get the majority of the starts for the first month, but any type of struggles will open the door for Domingue.


3. Scott Darling vs Cam Ward

I’m of the belief that Darling doesn’t have a stranglehold on the starting job in Carolina. He looks like he should since the Canes traded for him and signed him to a four-year deal, but Ward has been here before. We all counted Ward out when Carolina got Eddie Lack, but Ward stuck around. He has at least 50 starts in each of the last three years and started 61 last season. The Canes have lots of back-to-backs this year, so I expect Ward to start at least 30-35 games, more if Darling falters.


2. Robin Lehner vs Chad Johnson

Rumour had it earlier this summer that new Sabres GM Jason Botterill isn’t a big fan of Lehner and was looking to trade the 26-year-old. Lehner was signed to just a one-year deal which only helped fuel the speculation. Johnson has proven to be more than a backup, temporarily stole the starting job last year in Calgary, and was excellent for Buffalo two years ago. The oft-injured Lehner will be on a short leash in Buffalo and has no one from the previous regime fighting for him to keep his top spot.


1. Steve Mason vs Connor Hellebuyck

Hellebuyck would be a bona fide number-one guy if he could make a save once in a while. His .907 SV % and 2.89 GAA last season meant the Jets were forced to get someone who could challenge Hellebuyck. Steve Mason hasn’t been a world beater either, but he’s been able to put together some good stretches. Winnipeg didn’t sign Mason to a two-year deal with an AAV of $4.1 million to play 20-30 games. The two goalies will split starts until one gets hot for a while, and then switch back to splitting starts again once he cools down. This one will be a mess to follow this year. 


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