Fantasy Hockey: How to get the most value out of your goalies

Steven Psihogios
·8 min read
Jordan Binnington should see his workload increase this year with Jake Allen out of the picture. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jordan Binnington should see his workload increase this year with Jake Allen out of the picture. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

In fantasy hockey, you either have a good goalie situation or you don’t. There’s no in between.

When it comes to drafting goalies, my personal strategy is that if I miss on the top options, it’s best to wait it out and draft a pair of netminders later in the draft. Typically, there’s very little value to be had in selecting the mid-round guys and your chances of finding value are much better once you get to the later rounds of your draft.

With that in mind, here are my goaltending tiers for the 2021 fantasy hockey season.

Tier 1: The Workhorses

Members: Andrei Vasilevskiy (7.6) and Connor Hellebuyck (16.9)

These two goalies are elite and will play the large majority of their team’s games. Vasilevskiy and Hellebuyck were two of seven netminders to top 50 starts in 2019-20 and the only ones from that group to own a .915 save percentage or better. Both also have an excellent track record, as they represent the last two Vezina Trophy winners and have finished top-three in voting multiple times over the past three years. If you’re looking to address this position early in your fantasy hockey draft, these are the two options worth targeting.

Tier 2: The Talented Veterans… and Carter Hart

Members: Tuukka Rask (33.2), Carter Hart (34.4), Robin Lehner (34.9), Jordan Binnington (40.8), Carey Price (49.5), Frederik Andersen (53.3)

These goaltenders are a talented bunch, but with the exception of Binnington, all of them have an established backup who will cut into their start totals. Binnington will likely face a heavier workload after Jake Allen was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens. His new backup, Ville Husso, had mixed results with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL in 2019-20, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to give Binnington many nights off.

Hart, 22, is the youngest of the bunch and has the best chance to catapult into the top tier. The Flyers took some pressure off the young netminder last season by mixing in Brian Elliott a fair amount. The problem with that, however, was that Elliott wasn’t very good. Hart really hit his stride as the season rolled on, earning a .929 save percentage during the month of February and a .943 mark in the four games he started in March. His stellar play carried into the playoffs, as Hart finished his first postseason with a .926 save percentage across 14 starts.

Tier 3: The Up and Comers

Members: Ilya Samsonov (43.4) and Igor Shesterkin (49.7)

Goaltending is a tricky position when it comes to prospect evaluation so selecting inexperienced players can be a bit of a gamble, but both of these netminders are poised to become difference-making presences between the pipes.

Samsonov was the Capitals’ first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and he played very well to start 2019-20, owning a .925 save percentage across his first 20 games. Over his last six matches, however, Samsonov’s save percentage dropped to a putrid .869. With Braden Holtby gone, this is now Samsonov’s crease. Prior to joining Washington in the NHL, the 23-year-old posted a save percentage of .925 or better in each of his three seasons with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.

Shesterkin was sensational upon arriving in New York, earning a .932 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average in 12 regular season starts. While the performance was encouraging, the sample size isn’t quite large enough to grant him a full vote of confidence, especially because the Rangers aren’t the most defensively sound team. New York also has a solid backup option in Alexandar Georgiev, who they could potentially turn to if the 25-year-old falters. Prior to playing in North America last year, Shesterkin posted a save percentage of .933 or better in each of his past three seasons for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. He also played 25 games for the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL in 2019-20, posting an impressive .934 save percentage.

Darcy Kuemper has been elite, he just doesn't have the help. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Darcy Kuemper has been elite, he just doesn't have the help. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tier 4: Goalies on Good Teams… and Darcy Kuemper

Members: Tristan Jarry (65.8), Darcy Kuemper (67.9), Philipp Grubauer (74.9), Anton Khudobin (76.2), Jacob Markstrom (80.1), Marc-Andre Fleury (82.2), Pavel Francouz (99.3), Braden Holtby (103.4)

The goalies being selected during this portion of the draft are all here for their win potential. It’s not a list of the league’s elite and their numbers likely won’t rival those in the tiers above, but they’ve got a solid team in front of them that will help them bank Ws.

Kuemper is the exception here as he’s been an excellent goaltender, but he’s not going to see very much goal support. The Arizona Coyotes have the worst forward group of any team in the NHL, which is going to hurt Kuemper’s chances of winning. Since the 2017-18 season, Kuemper’s .924 save percentage is tied with teammate Antti Raanta for the best mark in the league.

Grubauer and Francouz will form the Avalanche’s goalie tandem once again in 2021. Grubauer had 36 starts in 2019-20 and Francouz had 30, although the latter had a better save percentage (.922 vs. .916%). Grubauer was much better than his counterpart during the playoffs, however, and that makes him the clear 1A to Francouz’s 1B in this situation to start the year. Both will likely see a fair share of action on a very good Colorado team, however.

Fleury, 36, has posted a save percentage of .910 or lower in two of his last four seasons which makes it fair to believe he is beginning to decline. Robin Lehner was clearly the more effective goalie in Vegas last year, as demonstrated in the Golden Knights’ playoff run. Lehner started 16 games while Fleury saw just four. Flower will still likely see a good amount of action, however, and given the team playing around him, he should make for a fine No. 2 goalie option.

Tier 5: Committee ‘Keepers… and Sergei Bobrovsky

Members: Petr Mrazek (91.7), Elvis Merzlikins (113.6), Juuse Saros (119.3), Jaroslav Halak (125.5), Joonas Korpisalo (126.8), Sergei Bobrovsky (129.9), Mikko Koskinen (176.8)

To be honest, I’d be totally fine if I ended up with two goalies from this tier. This group for the most part is made up of low-end 1As and high-end 1Bs.

Bobrovsky, as I recently wrote about, is one of the better bounce-back candidates available at the position. There’s no way around it: he was absolutely dreadful in 2019-20 after signing a seven-year, $70,000,000 contract with the Panthers. The bet on Bobrovsky this year banks on his larger body of work, which is that he’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and owns a solid .917 career save percentage. The defense, which was also subpar last year, added a pair of minor additions in Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas. At his current ADP, he’s worth a flier.

With regards to the Blue Jackets’ goaltending duo, I’m on team Merzlikins. After being a rock for HC Lugano in Switzerland’s National League for two seasons, the Latvian netminder dominated in the NHL. Across 33 starts, he posted a sterling .923 save percentage and five shutouts. While Korpisalo was excellent during the playoffs and the team’s preferred option, bank on Merzlikins emerging from this tandem as the 1A.

Tier 6: The Late-Round Fliers

Members: John Gibson (156.4), Semyon Varlamov (157.4), Thatcher Demko (158.0), Antti Raanta (168.2), James Reimer (169.5), Casey DeSmith (170.0), Ilya Sorokin (171.4)

If you want to take a stab at a goalie with some upside during the later portion of your draft, this collection of puck stoppers can offer you some of that.

The Canucks brought in Braden Holtby this offseason, but Demko’s postseason performance was encouraging enough to believe that he may have a chance at earning a decent share of the crease. Through four games, Demko posted an unbelievable .985 save percentage and a 0.64 goals-against average. Factor in his draft pedigree as a second-round pick in 2014 and you have a mix good enough to warrant some consideration during the later rounds of your fantasy hockey draft.

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz and his long-time running mate, director of goaltending Mitch Korn, have an excellent track record of success with goaltenders. Last year it was Varlamov who excelled under the pair’s tutelage, recording a .914 save percentage across 45 regular-season starts and a .921 mark during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference final. Varlamov will likely start the season as the 1A, but the super-intriguing Russian netminder Sorokin should push him for starts. Sorokin has been a wall for CSKA Moskva in the KHL, sporting an incredible .930 save percentage in 244 games played with the club.

I put DeSmith on this list because it appears the Penguins are putting a lot of faith in Tristan Jarry’s performance across 33 games last season. A former second-round pick, Jarry backstopped his way to a .921 save percentage. The small sample size of success that he’s had might be enough for Pittsburgh to trust him as its No. 1, but there should be some reservations. DeSmith is currently the team’s No. 2, which means he’ll take over if Jarry falters.

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