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Yahoo Fantasy Hockey: Tiering goaltenders to improve draft success

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Yahoo Fantasy Hockey is open for the 2013-14 season. To help give you a better chance to win your league, our pals at Dobber Hockey are returning for another season. They'll be breaking down the top forwards, defense and goalies, and also giving you some sleepers to keep an eye on. Today, the goalies.

By Michael Amato

In most typical fantasy hockey leagues, goaltenders make up less than 10% of your roster, but account for almost 50% of your categories. Choosing wisely when it comes to netminders is crucial and if you get stuck with a below average group your chances of success are slim. Tiering your goaltenders prior to drafting is a great way to help your decision-making process when selecting. You may have a plan of targeting two goalies from the second Tier, or perhaps a Tier 1 which means you might also get stuck with someone from Tier 3. It's all personal preference.

The key thing to remember when setting up your Tiers is that it's not all based on skill and production. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott probably should be ranked higher based on the numbers they have had in St. Louis over the last two campaigns, but the fact that they split starts hurts their value. Someone from Tier 1 can give you similar, if not better results, and take up less roster space which allows you to focus on other needs.

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Tier 1

The cream of the crop. Posting 35-40 wins should be in the cards for this group as well as some great GAA and SV% totals. Unless something unforeseen happens like a major injury, or they somehow end up on the Philadelphia Flyers.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

The plan of Rask taking over for Tim Thomas went off without a hitch last year in Boston. He tied for the league lead in shutouts and posted a .940 SV% in the playoffs, while continuing to haunt Leaf fans at every turn. With a strong Bruins squad in front of him, you'll be hard pressed to find a safer pick than Rask.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Quick's regular season numbers in 2013 were a slight cause for concern, but his performance in the playoffs should have erased any doubt about his reliability. With Jonathan Bernier now gone and the motivation of earning a starting spot on the U.S. Olympic team this winter, don't hesitate to grab Quick early.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Nashville had a rough campaign in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, but Rinne has averaged 36 wins a season in the three previous full years. Don't be surprised if David Poile and Barry Trotz figure things out and get the Predators back to playing a strong team concept that has made them so successful. Rumor has it they're even looking into a radical new concept this off-season that may help out Rinne's cause called "scoring goals."

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

He hasn't posted a SV% below .920 since 2008-09 and recorded 24 wins in the lockout shortened season last year. I'm not sure there is another player in the National Hockey League that means more to his team than Lundqvist does to the Rangers. Pay that man, Glen Sather. Pay that man.

Antii Niemi, San Jose Sharks

Niemi faced the third most shots among starting goalies last season and still managed a .924 SV% and 24 wins. Shots against are a great stat to look at if you have total saves as a category in your pool. The Sharks figure to be strong again in 2013-14 and Niemi should play a big role in their success.

Tier 2

Many goalies from Tier 2 could easily fall into the Tier 1 category if a few bounces fall their way. Then again, it wouldn't take much for them to slide down to Tier 3 either. If you can draft two from this group you should be in good shape though as they all have the capabilities for 30 win seasons.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

Miller hasn't been able to get back to the level he played at in 2009-10 and the Sabres are trending in the wrong direction. With that being said, however, Miller's talent is still there and he does have a shot at 30-35 wins. Sadly for poolies, complaining and post-game rants are not applicable categories.

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes

He's missed a large chunk of the year in two of the past four seasons due to injury, but when healthy he is a solid option. Perhaps being left off Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp roster gives Ward some motivation to channel in 2013-14.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Crawford is very close to being in Tier 1 thanks to setting several career bests in many statistical categories last season. Much of his success, however, is thanks to playing on the juggernaut Blackhawks. The lack of consistency in his brief career is enough to keep him in Tier 2 for this year, but with the team in front of him he has a shot at 40-plus wins.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

There's no question Bobrovsky had an incredible run last year, but keep in mind that was a very small sample size. In 2011-12 he wasn't even able to post a .900 SV% and he is still relatively inexperienced by NHL standards. The Blue Jackets made a few solid off-season acquisitions and they played well as a team in front of Bobrovsky in 2013, but hitching your entire goaltending wagon to a Columbus netminder just sounds like a bad idea.

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Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

Detroit goalies have a reputation for being overrated and just being along for the ride while collecting wins, but Howard seems to be doing a good job of dispelling that theory. In three of the last four campaigns he has posted a SV% of at least .920 and he made the sixth most saves among starters in 2013.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Price was inconsistent at times last year and has only hit 30 wins once in his career. He has the talent to take him to the Tier 1 level, but Montreal probably overachieved last season and are likely to regress slightly in 2013-14, meaning he will be in tough to hit 35 wins. He's still a viable option with plenty of upside if the Canadiens can rebound from a tough playoff exit.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

Anderson is a borderline Tier 1 guy, but the pace he was on last year is just too torrid to keep up. He posted a .941 save percentage in only 24 games in 2013 and if he puts up anything even close to that in 2013-14, it's going to make poolies very happy. Factor in the Senators improving their roster this summer and that should equate to more W's for Anderson.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Luongo was relegated to backup duties last year and was essentially fantasy irrelevant. Now with Cory Schneider off to New Jersey, he's a solid option to carry your team once again. Before last season, Luongo had averaged 37 wins a year as a starter since 2005-06. The one thing to watch this season, however, is the NHL's realignment when it comes to the Canucks. The last few campaigns Vancouver had feasted on weak teams in the Northwest Division, but now Minnesota and Colorado have been replaced with the likes of San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Although Holtby's time in the NHL has been brief, he still boasts a career .923 SV% and a 2.39 GAA. He seems to have claimed the number one spot in the longstanding goaltending carousel in Washington, so he should be good for plenty of wins this season.

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Tier 3

Many of the goalies in Tier 3 are frustrating in the sense they could be much higher if they didn't share so many starts, have injury issues, or struggle with consistency. It's important to keep a close eye on this group as increased playing time and hot streaks can lead to a steal in your draft if you choose right.

Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, Anaheim Ducks

On their own they could be great starters for your fantasy squad, but paired together they simply become decent. Both had strong campaigns in 2013 and will likely split time again this season, although if someone falters it will open the door for increased playing time for the other. Keep in mind the Ducks' organization is stocked full of goaltending talent at the moment with prospects John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, so it's not crazy to think they could deal Hiller or Fasth at some point next year.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

Varlamov has battled injuries throughout his career and had a GAA of over three last season. Colorado is still rebuilding so his stats aren't likely to be too fantasy friendly in the near future. He should still get plenty of starts though if he stays healthy and can help you hit your weekly minimum requirements if needed.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars

Lehtonen has 30-plus wins in two of the last three seasons, but he's another guy who must have attended Carlo Colaiacovo's seminar on how to perpetually get injured. If he's healthy he can help you, just proceed with caution where Lehtonen is concerned.

Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers

Dubnyk has slowly but surely impressed over the last three seasons, culminating in 2013 where he finished with a solid .921 SV%. The problem is that he plays for an Oilers team that struggles to pick up victories. People have been waiting for Edmonton to show signs of improvement for years now, but this has to be the year they turn a corner doesn't it? If the squad is receptive to new Coach Dallas Eakins' goalie friendly defensive system, then Dubnyk could be a smart play.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

Any thoughts that the Wild might part with Backstrom were put to rest when the team extended him for three years this summer. His numbers aren't what they were when he first arrived in Minnesota, but he still has 35-win potential.

Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

Schneider left one goaltending controversy for another, although this one doesn't figure to last as long. Brodeur isn't likely to play more than another year or two, and if the Devils were smart they would give Schneider the bulk of the starts. That's easier said than done though when you factor in all that Brodeur has done for the franchise, so the future Hall-of-Famer is still likely to vulture 30-35 starts away from Schneider in 2013-14.

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Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

Anyone who took Smith last year hoping he could duplicate what he did in 2011-12, was left sorely disappointed. Other than that incredible campaign, he hasn't been able to put up solid numbers with regularity. However, Dave Tippett is still behind the bench in Phoenix and a more goalie friendly coach you will not find.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh Penguins

Fleury is normally a regular Tier 1 guy, but his performance in recent playoffs is likely to give Vokoun more starts this year. Both guys will get wins when they're between the pipes, but sharing the duties hurts both their values.

Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues

Ken Hitchcock's love affair with the "Dead Puck Era" isn't great on entertainment value for hockey fans, but it's a thing of beauty for Elliott and Halak owners. The two have combined for 21 shutouts over the last two seasons. Unfortunately splitting time makes it difficult to rely on them.

James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs

Reimer hasn't backstopped the Leafs to consecutive Stanley Cups yet, which is essentially what it seems he has to do to be declared the starter. Reimer has arguably performed better than Bernier in their young careers, but because of the significance of the trade, Bernier is likely to see plenty of action in 2013-14. Look for Randy Carlyle to go with the hot hand.

Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets

It always appears that Pavelec is performing better than his numbers indicate. Last year it looked as though he was one of the main reasons the Jets were contending for a playoff spot, as he was seemingly making highlight reel saves on a nightly basis. Then you look at his SV% and it barely breaks .900. Fun to watch, but not always fun for his owners.

Tier 4

Let's just hope it doesn't come to this.

Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald, Calgary Flames

Ramo has recorded solid numbers in the KHL in recent years, but this is the NHL and he's got the Flames in front of him now. That sound you hear is Jay Feaster pulling up in front of Miikka Kiprusoff's house with a dump truck full of money, trying to convince him not to retire.

Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers

You might want to hang on to Markstrom if you're in a keeper league, but this year figures to be hard times for goalies in the Sunshine State.

Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin, New York Islanders

Nabokov hasn't been awful since his return from the KHL and he could be a Tier 3 guy if the Islanders continue to play the way they did last season.

Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

Both goalies have some potential, but you have to think short-term in fantasy hockey. If either of them gets on a run and claims the starting job you may be able to capture lightning in a bottle.

Ray Emery and Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers

Emery has a good shot at overtaking Mason as the clear starter by Christmas. He had a 17-1 record last year, albeit as a backup with Chicago. This is Philadelphia though, where goalies often forget how to save pucks.

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Michael Amato is an Associate Editor for DobberHockey and a News Editor for theScore. You can follow him on Twitter at @amato_mike. And to get up-to-the-minute - free - starting goalie information, look no further than Goalie Post.

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