Arguably, the most important position in hockey. Perhaps in all of team sports. Without a doubt, the single most important position in fantasy hockey. Goaltender. You need good ones if you expect to win your championship this year.
In a typical standard league, on a roster of 22 players, 3 goaltenders (13.6% of roster space) account for 3 of 10 scoring categories (30.0%). As they say, "You do the math." Moreover, in most instances there are only 2 "starting" goaltenders per team (9.1% of roster space) who account for 30% of your league's scoring categories.
Tonight, we continue with Part Deux of our October Player Rankings, by taking a look at the men behind the masks.
Goaltender Rankings -->> Top 30
Note: Goaltenders are ranked for their expected performance from this point to the end of the 2011-2012 season using standard scoring leagues categories: Wins, GAA, and Save%. Last year's final ranking (based on actual end-of-year performance data from the 2010-2011 season), W-L record, GAA, and Save % are noted.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (4): 36-32, 2.28, .923. He's a workhorse with great ratios, and his winning % should only improve with the addition of Brad Richards. Consistency + upside = winning combination. Snappy dresser, too.
2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (14): 34-30, 2.59, .916. Jhonas Enroth demonstrated he can be a reliable back-up. That should keep Miller fresh. Add in impact free agent additions Ehrhoff, Regehr, and Leino and the return of 1C Derek Roy, and the stars have aligned for Miller to reprise his Vezina winning 2009-2010 season.
3. Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals (17): 22-33, 2.55, .922. Another keeper whose value skyrocketed in the off-season. Vokoun always posts excellent ratios and now he will pile up the wins playing behind the juggernaut Caps. Neuvirth is good, but this is Vokoun's crease.
4. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks (2): 38-22, 2.11, .928. Vancouver is locked and loaded for another Cup run. Luongo can be inconsistent, and is generally a slow starter, but his numbers are always stout be season's end. If his owner gets fidgety these first few weeks, see if you can acquire him at a discount.
5. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (3): 33-31, 2.12, .930. Rinne benefits from playing in Barry Trotz's defensive system, owns an excellent skill set, and is massive in front of the net. A Vezina finalist last season, there is a lot to like about him. Moved him down just a couple spots from last year due to questions surrounding how the Predators will score goals. What else is new?
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (7): 36-25, 2.32, .918. After an absolutely brutal October, Fleury rebounded exceedingly well, and carried an injury-riddled Penguins team to within one point of the #1 seed in the East. Much of his value depends on the health of his D-corps. Orpik is questionable to start the season and outside of their excellent Top 4, there is no high quality depth.
7. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (13): 26-19, 2.56, .924. Has had recurring bouts of vertigo in the past, but is symptom-free and having an excellent preseason. There is a bit more risk here than with some other netminders, but I'm not a fencesitter, and I think he'll be fine. A full, healthy season out of Getzlaf and Selanne are additional key to his success this season.
8. Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers (10): 36-30, 2.48, .921. Traded from Phoenix to Philadelphia. Even with the loss of Carter and Richards you have to figure he will enjoy more goal support now. Pronger is back on the ice -- way ahead of schedule. If he stays healthy, that's another plus. If not, downgrade Bryz a bit.
9. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (5): 38-34, 2.35, .923. After struggling for a couple seasons, Price enjoyed a strong breakout last year. The Habs get Markov and Gorges back, and Jacques Martin's system is goalie-friendly, but I'm not totally sold on Price...yet. His glove hand still makes me uneasy, and I'd like to see more than one season before elevating him.
10. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (9): 37-36, 2.56, .923. Won't get as many starts this year after the signing of Brian Boucher. Save% is consistently excellent. If he played on a better team, he'd be Top 5. Move him up or down a bit depending on your outlook for the Hurricanes overall.
11. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (1): 35-20, 2.00, .938. Ridonkulous Vezina and Stanley Cup season in 2010-2011! Going forward, however, Rask will receive significantly more starts--potentially a 60/40 timeshare. Thomas is less effective for your fantasy team when he's riding pine. With potentially less than 50 starts, Thomas is bumped just out of the Top 10.
12. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (11): 33-24, 2.30, .917. Showed his mettle last season with excellent consistency, durability, and clutch performances down the stretch and in the playoffs. Many goalies take a step back in their second season, but Crawford is mature and has a terrific supporting cast in Chicago.
13. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues (23): 27-28, 2.48, .910. Started last season by carrying over his electric playoff performances from 2009-2010, but then was inconsistent the rest of the way. Look for substantial improvement on a Blues team that is on the rise. Halak could sneak into the Top 10 this year.
14. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks (8): 35-24, 2.38, 9.20. Took some time adjusting to his new team and was dropped by many owners early last season. Those that picked him up on the cheap were rewarded handsomely. Now fully acclimated, Niemi returns as the clear #1 on a quality team. He's won a Cup and still doesn't get respect.
15. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (28): 22-28, 2.66, .916. Theodore is gone which should mean more GS for Backstrom. Minnesota went wild over the summer by adding Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in two of the highest-profile trades of the off-season. Yeo plans to trap it up. Goalies like that.
16. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings (31): 37-22, 2.79, .908. Prime bounceback candidate. Wins will be there playing for the Wings. Unless you believe Howard will bust out of the league, last year's ratios are essentially a floor. Lidstrom's return helps, and the D corps overall is improved. Howard's stock is rising. Conkblock is no threat.
17. James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs: (31) 20-15, 2.60, .921. Optimus Reim came out of nowhere to nearly save the day for the Buds last season. I think he's got "it." So does Francois Allaire. And I love the improvements to the D corps in front of him.
18. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (6): 35-25, 2.24, .918. Benefits from Terry Murray's defensive system and the overall talent on the team in front of him. Addition of Mike Richards doesn't hurt. But hot prospect, Jonathan Bernier, does. Murray has said that he will ride the hot hand this season, and if I were a Quick owner that would make me decidedly unhappy.
19. Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings (37): 11-11, 2.48, .913. Widely regarded as the #1 goaltending prospect in the world these past couple seasons, Bernier has been given an invitation to compete with Quick for starts on an essentially equal basis. Quick outplayed JB last year. This year...?
20. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars (16): 34-35, 2.55, .914. Wow, nutrition and training actually DO work! Lehtonen started 68 games last year blossoming into a workhorse goaltender. This one could go either way. The loss of Brad Richards and James Neal hurts his goal support, but the Stars added more defensive pieces and will play a stricter defensive style.
21. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (40): 24-24, 2.83, .913. Had some injuries and other issues in Colorado, but was outstanding upon joining the Sens who, liking what they saw, locked him up to a multi-year deal this off-season. Will be called upon to stand on his head most nights with an inexperienced club in front of him, he will do so with more regularity than one might think.
22. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche (19): 11-14, 2.23, .924. Varly has undeniable talent. The issue for him has been durability. If he can stay healthy, with an improved Avalanche D corps, he could surprise. His ratios, especially, may be quite good.
23. Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay Lightning (26): 24-30, 2.59, .914. He would be higher if his numbers were appreciably better in Tampa Bay than they were on Long Island. He was likely a bargain on draft day and should garner a significant win total, but don't expect great ratios.
24. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils (33): 23-29, 2.45, .903. Some are expecting a return to glory. I'm not (although I do have him up 9 spots even that feels overly generous). To begin with, the Devils just don't play that well without Jacques Lemaire at the helm. And he's old. And he's been getting injured a lot more frequently. Plus, the D corps isn't anything to sing about, but hey he IS still Marty Brodeur. Thus, he comes in at 24.
25. Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets (35): 21-32, 2.73, .914. Wildly inconsistent. When he is hot, ride him. When he is not...wait it out. Great upside, but playing on what has the look and feel of an expansion club, this probably isn't the year he breaks out.
26. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers (43): 12-21, .2.71, .916. Stout save percentage on what was the worst team in the NHL last season. The Oilers look to be improved, and Dubnyk will benefit. Khabibulin and his bloated contract are an obstacle, but any Oilers fan will tell you that DD is clearly the better option. Talent wins out.
27. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks (12): 16-6, 2.23, .929. 25 starts last year worked out well for all parties involved, so look for a similar # again this year with strong peripherals. An ideal #3.
28. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (39): 11-16, 2.67, .918. The Bruins want to spell Thomas frequently. That could mean 30+ starts for Rask. His ratios and winning % should be strong, just don't expect him to unseat Tim Thomas. You made that mistake last year.
29. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (27): 37-30, .2.63, .906. Still a workhorse, although the talk of mixing in Karlsson more seems somehow slightly more legit this year. On a weak team, cannot see his ratios improving much. Widely (wildly?) overrated.
30. Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals (25) : 27-16, 2.45, .914. Knows how to win games. Will spend this year being mentored by his countryman and idol. Should Vokoun falter or get injured Neuvy's value would skyrocket.
On the Bubble: Steve Mason, Jose Theodore, Mike Smith, Al Montoya, Mark Dekanich (IR)