December Fantasy Hockey Rankings:  Goaltenders

The King is Back! Long Live the King!

All NHL teams have now passed the quarter mark of the season. Between the pipes, we've seen the injury bug bite hard (Ryan Miller, Kari Lehtonen, James Reimer, etc.), seen intriguing competitions emerge (esp. St. Louis and Vancouver) and seen potential competitions fizzle flat out (Boston, Edmonton, Los Angeles, etc).

Goaltender rankings are therefore some of the hardest--and most enjoyable--to determine. As always, they will be FORWARD looking. Yes, Jimmy Howard has been sensational, but is he really a Top 5 netminder? On the other end of the spectrum, what about Cam Ward? He's started poorly, but have his skills actually left him? He's currently ranked 42nd (!) in standard leagues. Can he climb back into the Top 10?

Let's check out how it all shakes out on this 1st day of December...

1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (3): The King has reclaimed his throne as the #1 netminder in fantasy hockey. I thought he'd miss Marc Staal more than he has (although I only dropped him to #3). Dude just keeps getting it done. A 2.10 GAA and .933 Save% to go along with the lion's share of starts for the Blueshirts. Amazing.

2. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (12): I have to admit that, even though I believe Tuukka Rask is overrated, I fell for the 60/40 timeshare talk. I also wondered if Father Time and a grueling Stanley Cup run might slow him down. Thomas, however, has been absolutely dominating.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (4): Much of Fleury's success may be attributed to the Penguins improved D corps, and esp. to the improved defensive play of Kris Letang. Outside of their Top 4, however, Pittsburgh is a bit thin on the blueline.

4. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (5): Rinne is finally being paid commensurate with his skills and abilities. In Trotz's defensive system, he's as reliable as they come. If possible, take advantage of his recent hiccup to acquire him at a discount. He will be a Vezina finalist again this season.

5. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (6): Quick has a 2.02 GAA and .933 Save%. So why isn't he higher? Well, he did bump up a notch, but he's a notorious fast starter who tends to fade down the stretch. Since we are looking forward, I could not justify putting him ahead of the elite keepers in the Top 4.

6. Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals (1): Wow. What an awful month for Vokoun. Coming into this season he had posted six consecutive seasons with a Save% of .919--or better! Likely, he was just a victim of the general disarray in Washington. A good buy low candidate as Dale (Head)Hunter should at least re-instill some fire and passion.

7. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings (13): Performance indicates that last year was the anomaly. Howard is posting sizzling peripherals: 1.87 GAA and .929 Save%, while winning 70% of his starts. Those numbers are not sustainable, but his excellent situation is. Welcome to the Top 10, man.

8. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (2): His return to the ice is imminent. Let's hope his return to (Vezina) form is as well. Over the prior two years, Miller achieved a .923 Save%. His supporting cast in Buffalo has improved, but there are some questions about his health and Jhonas Enroth has earned more starts. Don't believe the trade rumors.

9. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (11): He is currently ranked 19th among Gs in standard scoring formats with a .916 Save% (equal to his career average), yet for some reason has a reputation as an elite goaltender. Given his streakiness, next time he catches fire, you might dangle him and see what you can reel in.

10. Nicklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (17): Backstrom has been a fantasy monster in the not-too-distant past. He seems to have held off the hard-charging Josh Harding, and the Wild are playing excellent hockey. All signs are flashing green for Backstrom to break back into the Top 10 this season.

11. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks (15): After some early season injury issues and shaky play, Niemi has strung together a very solid series of games. Currently sporting a 2.35 GAA and .922 Save% on the high-powered Sharks. If he can maintain consistency, he could have a very good year.

12. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks (10): Well, Luongo has been true to form as a notoriously slow starter. Mix in an injury and the superlative play of Cory Schneider and you suddenly have a much less valuable netminder. Look for him to get plenty of chances, and, if his past performance is any indication of future returns, he should at least be better going forward. His risk/reward.

13. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars (8): Ouch! Another groin injury. Out at least 3 weeks. Sounds pretty nasty. Assuming he's back before Christmas and fully healed, this may be just a bump in the road. If it lingers, well...that's why he's down several rungs this month. Kick tires if you need a high upside/relatively low cost add in net.

14. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (7): The start to Ward's season has been brutal, but his entire body of work has been impressive enough that I am still keeping the faith. Still the clear #1 in Carolina and will be a workhorse. Eric Staal tends to start slow and should snap out of his funk soon. The coaching change may help as well. Hope.

15. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (9): Another netminder who may be helped by a coaching change. He has a history of starting slow--with November being his worst month of the season. Unlike Ward though you have to wonder about his health, and especially that mysterious vertigo issue. High risk/high reward.

16. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (14): Well, this certainly is starting to resemble a sophomore slump. Crawford is talented and played well under the pressure of last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, so I would be patient with him. Emery saw the door crack open and he did...nothing, so this is Crawford's crease.

17. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks (20): Dude is on fire! He's won 5 in a row. Two by shutout. And his numbers on the season are just ridonkulous: 1.93 GAA and .937 Save%. He's earned more starts for the Canucks, and if he's traded, that could work out even better. Unless you really need quantity, Schneider is a Top 10ish play.

18. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues (21): Another "back-up" who has sparkled this season. Elliott is actually the #1 ranked G in standard leagues as of December 1st. He's won 10 of 12 starts, with a remarkable 1.31 GAA and .951 Save%. Hitchcock's system is very goalie friendly, and Elliott has gone on tears like this before. The only thing holding him back is...

19. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues (off): Also a beneficiary of "The 'Cock's" system, Halak is locked in a fierce competition with Elliott. That should benefit both netminders. At some point, Elliott may look in the mirror and discover he is not the second coming of Dominic Hasek and Halak could overtake him as the clear #1. Just haven't seen any indication of that so far.

20. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes (27): Of all the pleasant surprises this season, to me, Smith is the biggest. His last 2 seasons in Tampa Bay he compiled an emetic .899 Save%, and he looked pretty atrocious in the process. The Lightning D corps is one of the worst in the league, and Dave Tippett's system is one of the most G-friendly which explains most of what you see with Smith. Enjoy the ride.

21. Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers (16): Speaking of Dave Tippett, who misses him more than Ilya Bryzgalov? A 2.89 GAA and .897 Save%. Not what the Flyers envisioned when they signed him to a contract that runs until he turns 40 y.o. Now, Bobrovsky is playing well. And Pronger is out for a month. Katie bar the door.

22. James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs (19): Optimus had a very nice start to the season. Sounds like he will be returning soon. The Buds sorely need him between the pipes as both Gustavsson and Scrivens have struggled. He will certainly receive goal support when he does return as Tortonto is #1 in goals scored so far.

23. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche (18): After a brilliant start the bottom fell out on Varlamov, and he yielded three straight games to J-S Giguere. His pine riding time seems to have paid dividends as in the 4 games immediately thereafter he's posted a .939 Save%. Heaps of talent. Just doesn't appear to have the constitution to be a workhorse. If the Avs play him more judiciously, he should do very well. Potential buy low here.

24. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (23): Kipper is having a fine year thus far: 2.32 and .920. Just not buying him going forward from here. The Iginla rumors appear to have more credence this year, and now he's lost his #1 D-man (Giordano) to injury. Hold or Sell High.

25. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers (26): Similar to Kipper, I'm not buying that Khabby can maintain his current ratios. He's already cooled off considerably with several clunkers in the middle of the month. He was then spelled by Dubnyk and has played better thereafter. Maybe if the Oil rests the 38 y.o. more liberally he can continue his hot play. Maybe. Sell high, if you can.

26. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild (off): With Backstrom ahead of him and playing well, Harding will not see a ton of action, yet when he does he makes for a quality play. In 10 starts, he has a 2.10 GAA and .933 Save%. An excellent #3 in most leagues--with upside if he is traded or if Backstrom misses any significant amount of time.

27. Jose Theodore, Florida Panthers (off): No, I haven't suddenly become a believer in Theodore, but I do believe the Florida Panthers are much better than anyone expected. He also appears to have held off challenges from Markstrom and Clemmensen, at least for the time being. That's worth something.

28. Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets (28): Same drill. Clear #1. Streaky. But with a weak team in front of him. If you don't need volume, you might try one of the guys lower on this list. Otherwise, nab Pavs and hope like hell he heats up. He's looking good so far tonight: 27 saves on 27 shots (sorry, if this jinxes him!). Very high risk.

29. Al Montoya, New York Islanders (off): Last man standing. Not sure why, but the Isles seem bent on playing anyone not named Al Montoya. Nonetheless, due to injuries to RDP and Nabby, he's getting chances by default and looks pretty decent. I wouldn't cough up anything of value for him, but if he's a free agent or someone you had stashed, he could be pretty decent for stretches here and there this season.

30. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (29): His numbers are ugly. He's maddeningly inconsistent. But hey, he's a warm body with a #1 gig. That's about the nicest thing I can see about "Andy."

On the bubble: Jhonas Enroth, Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Martin Brodeur.

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