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.