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2010 Draft Prep: Goaltending tiers

by | Rotowire.com
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While goalie values vary according to how your league is structured, both in terms of scoring and how many players you start, often I won't end up with the three blue chip goalies listed here. There are about 6-8 goaltenders in my next tier that I wouldn't mind selecting, and instead getting a top-level skater in the first round. This would cover me in a 10-team league, and even if I was playing in a 12-14 team league I could still live with an average goalie with high upside. What I can't live with is not having that high-scoring forward that I want. Those kinds of players will fly off the board quickly. I will take a top goalie if they slip to the bottom of the first round, but at the top I want the player that can put the biscuit in the basket, not the player that keeps it out.

Blue Chips

Martin Brodeur, Devils: Choose whatever catch phrase you want for Brodeur, "first ballot Hall of Famer", "best goaltender ever", "ageless wonder", it doesn't matter, he is still a top goaltender in any fantasy format. That the Devils re-signed Ilya Kovalchuk should also be a good thing, as theoretically New Jersey should score more goals thus alleviating some of the pressure on Brodeur's shoulders. If you're a pessimist, the addition of Johan Hedberg could lead to Brodeur being rested more often than usual.

Ryan Miller, Sabres: After the incredible run Miller had last season with Team USA in the Olympics and with the Sabres, he may be the first goalie taken off the board in most fantasy drafts, and it's difficult to argue against that logic. Miller won 42 games last season while posting a 2.22 GAA and .929 save percentage, numbers that any fantasy owner would take once again, and playing in the Northeast Division may allow Miller to repeat that performance.

Roberto Luongo, Canucks: I downgraded Luongo from this tier, as his 2.57 GAA last season and average performance during the playoffs were hardly noteworthy. Still, Luongo is a world class goaltender and the Canucks have the look and feel of a team that could make a strong run at the Stanley Cup this season, much like the Blackhawks did last year. Henrik Sedin has emerged as good a player as his brother Daniel, plus Alexandre Burrows, Mason Raymond, and Ryan Kesler, give them the additional scoring they need. The team has reworked their defense, all with an eye towards giving Luongo the support he needs to remain a top NHL goaltender.

Second Tier

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: If Lundqvist were playing for a better team, he might make the leap to the top tier. However, the Rangers however are a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot come April, have just an adequate offense and an average defense that puts much of the pressure on Lundqvist to not only keep them in games, but win some by himself. The addition of Martin Biron as a backup finally gives the Rangers a legitimate option to start in net when they want to rest Lundqvist, too. This could be bad news as Lundqvist may start less than the 71 games he has averaged over the past five seasons.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins: In my mind Fleury is this generation's Billy Smith in net. He's a solid goalie during most of the regular season, but only truly turns it on when the games matter most and during the playoffs. This can drive fantasy owners crazy as he plays for one of the best offenses in the NHL and should put up better statistics than he does.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames: If you look at Kiprusoff's win total from last season, 35, you may come to the conclusion that he had an off year. That's not quite true, as Kipper had a 2.31 GAA and a .920 save percentage, numbers that aren't far off of Ryan Miller's. The reason for the low win total was the Flames lack of offensive support, something they are hoping the return of Olli Jokinen will eliminate.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Coyotes: Phoenix and to a certain extent Bryzgalov were huge surprises last season. The Coyotes made the playoffs, which seemed unlikely before the season began with all the talk about relocating the franchise and coach Wayne Gretzky stepping down due to the team's financial problems. Bryzgalov posted career best numbers in both GAA (2.29) and save percentage (.920) to lead this team to the playoffs. Whether or not he can do it in back-to-back seasons remains to be seen, but I wouldn't count him out.

On The Rise

Semyon Varlamov , Capitals: With the departure of Jose Theodore, Varlamov no longer has strong competition for the starting job between the pipes. Varlamov was having a strong sophomore season before injuries set him back and he was never able to get back into rhythm once he returned. With Alexander Ovechkin and company putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard, Varlamov can relax in net and play his game, knowing that one bad goal is not going to cost the team the game. Varlamov may not be a top goaltender, but he will come off the board quickly because of his offensive support.

Pekka Rinne, Predators: Rinne and Dan Ellis were platooning in net to begin last season before the Predators decided to hand the job to Rinne, giving him a contract extension. Rinne proved the Predators right by becoming one of the stingier goaltenders in net during the second half of the season, finishing with a 2.59 GAA and .911 save percentage. The Preds let Ellis walk this offseason, and he ended up in Tampa. All of the potential backups to Rinne are untested at the NHL level, so look for Rinne to be a workhorse this year.

Jimmy Howard, Red Wings: With the free agent defections and injuries the Red Wings suffered early last year, it was starting to look like a lost season until Howard was installed as the starting goaltender over Chris Osgood. Howard thrived with the additional workload. His level of play in net seemed to spark the entire team as the Wings play improved dramatically, especially when all of their injured skaters returned. The Wings are healthy this season and look to be one of the stronger teams in the West, Howard could be one of the top goaltenders in the league this season.

Jaroslav Halak, Blues: Halak's trade to the Blues was one of the strangest moves of the offseason. Not because the Blues traded for him, but because the Montreal Canadiens decided to keep Carey Price ahead of Halak. Halak had clearly outperformed Price and was the main reason why Montreal had such an impressive playoff run. He will give the Blues the franchise netminder they haven't had since Curtis Joseph was in his prime.

Craig Anderson, Avalanche: The Avalanche took a chance when they signed Anderson before last season. He had never been a full-time starter in the NHL before, but the Avs liked what they saw in Anderson's limited action for the Panthers the season before. The gamble paid off nicely when Anderson put up a better than expected season with 38 wins, 2.64 GAA, and .917 save percentage. Sure the GAA could be better, but the save percentage is where you want it, and remember this is a young team that should only get better.

On The Decline

Tim Thomas, Bruins: Thomas won the Vezina Trophy in 2008-09 but that wasn't enough to secure his starting job last season as he slumped and eventually lost the job to Tuukka Rask. Once Rask took hold of the job the Bruins tried to trade Thomas, but his contract made that next to impossible. He is slated to be a backup this season and his name is sure to come up in trade rumors whenever a team is in need of a backstop. Thomas also underwent offseason hip surgery, though he's been cleared for training camp.

Carey Price, Canadiens: The Canadiens traded away Jaroslav Halak and decided to hand the starting job to Price. This was a curious decision, as Halak had outplayed Price in every facet of the game, but the Montreal brass still believes Price will eventually be the better goaltender. They paid for that assertion by handing Price a two-year contract extension on the eve of training camp. I have serious doubts and if Price were to get off to a slow start this season, the Montreal faithful are sure to let him hear it. Alex Auld is this year's backup.

Cristobal Huet, Blackhawks: Huet has had one strange ride over the past 12 months. He's gone from being the starting goalie for a strong team, to the backup, to being most likely to play in the AHL this season so his salary doesn't count against the cap, to possibly being lent to a Swiss team. Having a .895 save percentage will do that for you. The Blackhawks confirmed Huet's lack of future with the squad by keeping him away from training camp, even with Antii Niemi plying his wares elsewhere.

Chris Osgood, Red Wings: Osgood went from the penthouse to the outhouse in a big hurry. He was the starting goaltender for the Wings during the 2008-09season when they went to the Stanley Cup finals, but then lost his job during the first half of last season when his play deteriorated badly. He posted a 3.02 GAA and .888 save percentage. Osgood is 38 years of age and perhaps Father Time has finally caught up with him, though at least he'll have the benefit of playing behind a healthier Red Wings squad. He has been relegated to the backup role behind Jimmy Howard.

Nikolai Khabibulin, Oilers: Khabibulin had a debut season to forget in Edmonton. He first he was lost for the season due to a back injury in November, and then got arrested for drunk driving while rehabbing the injury during the season. Khabibulin was found guilty of the DUI but will probably not have to serve his 30-day jail sentence during the NHL season. Still, the Oilers may give Khabibulin their own penalty and with the talent around him, it's not like he was a solid pick in net this season anyway. On the bright side, at least he's fully healed from last season's back injury.

Newcomers

Michael Leighton, Flyers: Leighton is certainly not a newcomer to the NHL as he has been playing since the 2002-03, but last season was the first in which he had a starting role. Leighton was claimed off waivers from the Hurricanes as the Flyers needed a goaltender once Ray Emery went down for the season. Leighton was everything they asked for and more as he posted a 16-5-2 record and 2.48 GAA in the regular season and then the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup finals with him between the pipes. He's still a bit of a fantasy gamble, with Brian Boucher still around and youngster Johan Backlund potentially there to steal playing time away.

Antti Niemi, Sharks: Like his former goalie partner Cristobal Huet, Niemi also had a crazy ride last season. He took over the starting job from Huet, led the Hawks to their first Stanley cup in almost 40 years, won his arbitration case and subsequently was released by the Hawks, and then finally signed by the Sharks. Before you go bonkers and grab him in your fantasy draft, remember that San Jose also signed Anterro Niittymaki, so this could be a straight platoon situation, something that is never good for a fantasy owner.

Tuukka Rask, Bruins: Rask put up numbers that were simply out of this world last season. A 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage gave the Bruins no choice but to bench Tim Thomas, who had won the Vezina Trophy the season before and was signed to a big contract. If Rask doesn't come down with a sophomore slump, then he can be the type of goaltender who can give you great value among the middle tier of goaltenders. If the Bruins ever find a taker for Thomas' contract, Rask could vault among the elite with the added job security.

Jonathan Quick, Kings: The Kings became relevant in the NHL again last season and Quick was a big reason why, as he posted 39 wins to go along with a 2.54 GAA and .907 save percentage. Quick however is not the Kings goaltender of the future (Jonathan Bernier has that distinction), but should be the starter this season, though the team has suggested that they will reduce his workload. When evaluating Quick's value, you have to temper your enthusiasm for last season's numbers and a team that's overall on the rise with the news of his workload reduction, and the presence of two legitimate threats to that playing time in Bernier and Erik Ersberg.

While this doesn't cover every goaltender in your fantasy pool, it should be a good headstart towards seeing where the first couple of tiers start and end. Good luck in preparing for your drafts!

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