Top 10 Goalie Battles (2016-17)

by Tom Collins on August 8, 2016

Which goaltending battles should fantasy owners look forward to in 2016-17?

Goalie battles this year will be played out on an even bigger stage than normal. Next summer's expansion draft will see to that.

There have already been rumblings about which goalies will be exposed. Some of those goalies are stars in fantasy hockey. But for those goalies to be exposed, teams need to know what they have in their system. So this could be a year where you see backups playing more than ever before.

Of course, this impacts fantasy hockey as well. A starting goalie that might lose an extra 10 starts because of the expansion process obviously limits his value.

Below you'll find the top 10 goalie battles for this upcoming season. Not all of them revolve around the expansion draft, but it is worth noting that many of them are.

On to the list.

10. Calvin Pickard vs Semyon Varlamov

Every year there's a story of a starter who loses his job to a younger goalie. Varlamov is a top candidate this year. It's not just that he gets injured often. But he was just awful last year. And Pickard is the goalie of the future in Colorado. This is where the expansion rules become interesting. Does Colorado leave Varlamov exposed if he has another poor year? Varlamov will start the season as the number one guy, but he may not finish with that status.

9. Anders Nilsson vs Linus Ullmark

This is the most interesting battle of the backups going into training camp as the winner will probably be the number one guy by Remembrance Day. Starter Robin Lehner is the undisputable top netminder but can't stay healthy. Lehner has never played more than 36 games in a season. Nilsson may get the backup job out of the gate, but he faltered in Edmonton and St. Louis last year. Ullmark could be Buffalo's top guy three years from now, so he may get the most starts when Lehner goes down.

8. Ryan Miller vs Jacob Markstrom

Miller's career as an NHL starter is almost finished. Last year he had just 17 wins in 51 games with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Markstrom had a similar goals-against average and save percentage, but picked up 13 wins in 32 games. The Canucks don't believe in rebuilds, so they will start whichever goalie gives them the best opportunity to win. This one could flip back and forth all year.

7. Kari Lehtonen vs Antti Niemi

I had this duo at the number one spot a year ago. There was a lot of hope that one of them would be able to cement his status as the Stars' top goaltender. They were both horrible but piled up a lot of victories. Niemi had 25 wins in 43 starts while Lehtonen had 25 in 39. Dallas hasn't been able to get another goaltender this offseason, so these two guys will battle it out again.

6. Brian Elliott vs Chad Johnson

Elliott has proven to be a great goalie on a great team, while Johnson has proven to be a good goalie on a bad team. What will happen when these two find themselves battling for ice time on an average team? Elliott has a tendency to get injured a lot, so the door will be open for Johnson to steal plenty of starts.

5. John Gibson vs Jonathan Bernier

Gibson owners breathed a huge sigh of relief when Frederik Andersen was traded away. And then the other shoe dropped a few weeks later when Bernier was sent to the Ducks. While Bernier may not seem like a big threat, remember new coach Randy Carlyle has no real loyalties to Anaheim players. And Bernier was his favourite goalie when Carlyle was coaching in Toronto. It all adds up to plenty of more headaches for Gibson owners.

4. Roberto Luongo vs James Reimer

The Panthers are serious about finding a long-term replacement for Luongo. They signed Reimer in the offseason to a five-year $17-million contract. That's pretty good, and indicative that Reimer is meant for more than the backup role. Reimer will get a ton of starts in October while Luongo is recovering from hip surgery. After that it would be no surprise if Reimer started 35-40 percent of the remaining games.

3. Steve Mason vs Michal Neuvirth

Mason was the undisputable number one goalie in Philly heading into the playoffs last season. Then he let in this goal, was shelled in three games and eventually replaced with Neuvirth. All the backup did was stop 103 of 105 shots and win two games before losing game 6. Don't forget Neuvirth once usurped Braden Holtby for the starter's job in Washington.

2. Ben Bishop vs Andrei Vasilevskiy

This wouldn't be much of a debate in most years. But there's a lot of talk— it's not even a rumour at this point — that the Lightning want to go with Vasilevskiy long-term and will leave Bishop exposed in the expansion draft. If that is the plan, then the Lightning are going to want to see what they have in Vasilevskiy.

1. Matt Murray vs Marc-Andre Fleury

The last time a rookie goalie took over in the playoffs to win a Stanley Cup was Cam Ward with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, when he took over from Martin Gerber. Ward went on to start 60 games the following season. I don't expect the same from Murray this season, but both Fleury and Murray could each see 40 games.


30 responses to “Top 10 Goalie Battles (2016-17)”

  1. Mark McAuley says:

    Pavelec vs Hellebucyk deserves to be on the list instead of a back-up battle like Ullmark vs Nilsson. Starting Hellebucyk instead of the worst starter in the league could make the difference between Winnipeg making it to the playoffs.

    • Dobber says:

      My opinion is that Lehner is a Band-Aid Boy so Ullmark/Nilsson could get a surprising amount of starts. I think Nilsson gets first dibs though, and would have to lose a few games before Ullmark gets in.
      Pavelec vs. Hell isn’t a battle. The job is Pavelec’s even if he goes 0-5 in preseason and Hellebuyck goes 5-0. Pavelec gets the giant paycheck so he’ll start unless he’s hurt or he starts the season 3-20-2.

      • Tom Collins says:

        Dobber pretty much stole my reply. It is interesting to note that even with 10 battles listed, and another couple mentioned as should have been included, that this could be a really volatile season for goalies in fantasy pools.

      • Mark McAuley says:

        True, there aren’t that many sure bets this season.

      • Mark McAuley says:

        Miller, Pavelec, Howard, Smith, Mason, Halak, and Fleury all have larger salaries than their competition, but they could still end up splitting time or becoming backups. None of these teams are going to play their highest-paid goaltender out of a sense of obligation if they think it will cost them a trip to the playoffs.

  2. isle b. says:

    While I am sure I am biased, I can’t fathom how Halak vs. Greiss isn’t more interesting from a fantasy perspective than a lot of these. Greiss was the Isles’ best player in the playoffs not wearing 91 and the GM publicly proclaimed him to be a legit #1 goalie in the NHL. Halak publicly bristled at being part of a 3-headed monster and, consequently, would likely be dealt if not for the fact that there is zero market for goalies at the point, and yet he has undeniably brought some stability to the position after a decade of flux. Meanwhile the tandem will also be teammates in the World Cup w/ Halak as the clearcut #1 on that team. That’s seems pretty intriguing.

    The Flames’ situation isn’t a battle at all (if it is then Calgary is in deep trouble); I’m not sure if the starting goalie of the 2016-17 Canucks would be of much interest even if there was a clearcut #1 as the team currently projects to be around 31st out of 30; the battle for the Sabres’ backup goalie would seem to be of little interest to anyone outside of western New York.

    • Tom Collins says:

      My guess is Halak is the number one guy. Then the battle becomes Greiss vs Berube if Halak is injured.

    • puckman says:

      I agree, I would even slot it in #5 and remove the Gibson / Bernier… Those 2 are officially in their real roles now (never mind their earnings $), Gibson is the starter and Bernier the backup. Islanders are among the contenders in the East and we cannot close our eyes on last year’s stats. Much like Mason with the Flyers, Halak was getting outplayed by the #2 (let’s just say that Halak also played a lot like “# 2”). Can’t wait to see how this will unfold…

    • Dobber says:

      I agree with Tom here. Halak is the No.1 guy, but his BAB status makes this interesting, not a camp battle.
      I agree with isle b. though that Elliott is clear No.1 no battle at all. Again BAB status makes it interesting, not a camp battle.

  3. Bass56 says:

    Nothing in regards to Halak and Greiss? I guess the debate will heat up during the Worlds again… I would say that there is a much bigger battle between Halak and Greiss than there is with Gibson and Bernier.

    • Tom Collins says:

      Funny enough, I was actually more concerned with Berube vs Greiss. Once Halak gets injured, who replaces him? Both Berube and Greiss are on one-way deals, and Berube is 25 compared to Greiss who is 30. And they are both free agents next summer (RFA for Berube, UFA for Greiss). I think the backup battle there will be more interesting than Halak vs Greiss.

      • Bass56 says:

        Hehe, I almost added him to illustrate the 3-headed monster, but I still think either or will give the starter a run for his money.

  4. NHLGodfather says:

    That goalie tandem in Buffalo looks pretty shaky. How ’bout it Saber fans…Jimmie Howard? I’ll bet Detroit would let him go in a trade. Don’t concern yourselves with that contract…they’ll work something out. In all seriousness Tom, don’t you think Bishop in Buffalo would make sense?

    • Tom Collins says:

      Not really. I think Buffalo is better off rolling with Lehner/Ullmark and seeing what they have rather than making things murky by bringing in another goalie.

      • Dobber says:

        It’ll be Lehner/Nilsson. Ullmark needs lots of starts (AHL)

      • Tom Collins says:

        Yes. When I said I would roll with Lehner/Ullmark, I was thinking of as a number one goalie. Lehner to start, Ullmark when Lehner is injured. But Nilsson will be the backup (as mentioned in the list).

  5. stimperi says:

    Ward/Lack not making top 10?

    • Tom Collins says:

      Not really. Ward started 50-plus games last year, and outplayed Lack completely. Unless Lack can somehow turn it around (which I doubt), Ward will get 55-60 starts this year.

      • Dobber says:

        You should read my observations in the Fantasy Guide, Carolina section. Couldn’t be more the complete opposite opinion of each other we tried. Lack was fantastic, 100 times better than Ward, but only when Ward wasn’t taking any starts (i.e. he was hurt). I have Ward 44-43 in GP versus Lack.

      • Tom Collins says:

        I saw that. I just happen to disagree. If Ward isn’t injured, he’ll start at least 55 of the games.

      • Stu Campaigne says:

        That was a puzzling signing by Ron Francis. It doesn’t show much faith in Lack. There are a surplus of goalies he could have signed to back up or challenge Lack.

  6. Jeff McDonald says:

    Just a note that the LV expansion draft takes place in June 2017 and Bishop will be a UFA by then (this year being the last of his contract). I’ve heard the argument about TB exposing him to the expansion draft but it’s not accurate – he likely won’t be TB property at that point anymore. The decision for Stevie Y becomes handcuffing both goalies for the playoff run or dealing Bishop for a return in-season.

    • Tom Collins says:

      Thanks. I somehow thought he was signed for another year. It will still be a goalie battle though as Yzerman needs to figure out if Vas is any good as a long-term option.

      • BF says:

        It’s really irrelevant as to whether he has another year on his contract as the expansion draft will be held ~1 week before the contractual end of the current NHL season (June 30th annually)…so Bishop will be included.

      • Dobber says:

        Actually, the rules were clarified and at least one goalie who is signed for 2017-18 must be exposed. So Bishop is not included.
        Your source is from March, the rule was clarified more recently than that

      • BF says:

        That’s fine…but I’m saying that Bishop is subject to the expansion draft despite his contract expiring after the 2016-17 season. The original comment stated that he would not be Tampa property for the expansion draft when in reality he will.

      • Dobber says:

        He won’t be on Tampa’s list of exposed players unless they re-sign him. Yes, he’ll belong to Tampa for another week or so, contract-wise. But for the purposes of expansion he can’t be selected. Las Vegas could just sign him as a UFA two weeks later.

    • BF says:

      This isn’t true. The league season doesn’t finish until June 30th annually and the expansion draft is slated to occur approximately one week before this. That makes Bishop and twelve other players in a similar situation eligible for the expansion draft.


      • Jeff McDonald says:

        Eligible in the sense that they could be drafted, sure, but Bishop will not count as one of TB’s ‘exposed’ goalies (see below). So, Tom’s point about keeping Bishop around in order to eventually expose him is still off the mark.
        “* All Clubs must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the Expansion Draft:

        iii) One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club’s protected list.”

      • Dobber says:

        Gudlevskis will be exposed. Two years+ as a pro, will be signed for 2017-18, criteria is met.