Fantasy Hockey: Goalie draft tiers
By Jon Litterine, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It's virtually impossible to achieve fantasy success without stable goaltending. As a general rule, target goaltenders who are locked into starting roles as opposed to those destined for a timeshare, especially in leagues that don't allow daily lineup changes.
Here's a preview of this year's goaltenders, ranked by tier.
TIER 1 – THE UNTOUCHABLE
The Skinny: The best of the best.
- Vasilevskiy has won back-to-back Stanley Cups, led the NHL in wins four straight seasons, plays for arguably the deepest team in the league, and will play the entirety of the upcoming campaign at age 27. He's in his own tier and the one goaltender in the NHL capable of winning you a fantasy championship by himself. Vasilevskiy is a worthy first-round selection in all formats.
TIER 2 – THE NEXT BEST THING
Connor Hellebuyck, Robin Lehner, Jordan Binnington, Darcy Kuemper, Jacob Markstrom, Igor Shesterkin, Juuse Saros, Thatcher Demko, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ilya Samsonov
The Skinny: Unquestioned No. 1 goaltenders on teams that appear to be playoff locks or, at the very least, figure to be in the hunt until the end of the season.
- Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy two years ago and led the NHL in wins three seasons ago. He typically plays well over 60 games in a full 82-game campaign, a rarity these days, and that number could conceivably increase this coming year due to his backup's lack of experience.
- Lehner ended up being severely over-drafted a season ago due to an injury and the stellar play of Fleury. Fleury was surprisingly traded to Chicago in July, leaving Lehner as the unquestioned starter for Vegas heading into 2021-22. Be aggressive in targeting him in this year's fantasy drafts.
- Binnington is 0-9 in the playoffs over the past two campaigns, but that won't impact fantasy managers in the least. He's a remarkably steady option for a solid St. Louis team. Considering backup Ville Husso was terrible last season during his first extended NHL action only stands to stabilize Binnington's floor.
- The Avalanche targeted Kuemper on the trade market after last season's starter (and Vezina finalist) Philipp Grubauer signed with Seattle. Colorado gave up a good young defender in Conor Timmins and multiple picks to acquire Kuemper, which suggests the Avalanche will roll out the former Coyote as their No.1 option in 2021-22.
- Markstrom's first season in Calgary, while solid (22-19-2, 2.66 GAA, .904 save percentage), was a tad underwhelming. Expect a bounce-back effort from him and his teammates this year.
- Shesterkin is probably the one player in this group with the best chance to explode. He's been banged up throughout his first two NHL seasons, but his numbers have been spectacular (26-16-3, 2.59 GAA, .921 save percentage), and the Rangers felt confident enough to hand him a four-year, $22.7 million deal this summer, the most ever for a goaltender on his second NHL contract.
- Saros is one of the most underrated goaltenders in the league, likely due to his small stature. His positioning and athleticism are flawless, and the only real concern is that he plays for a team in Nashville that lacks offensive firepower.
- Demko should be the unquestioned starter for what figures to be an improved Vancouver team in 2021-22, but Jaroslav Halak looms as a capable veteran backup.
- I mentioned Fleury's trade to Chicago earlier. The former No. 1 overall pick (2003) won the Vezina Trophy last season as a 36-year-old netminder. He'll be great, but the Blackhawks may limit his playing time.
- Samsonov was out of the lineup a ton last season, opening the door for Vitek Vanecek to steal playing time. Samsonov is talented enough to run away with the Capitals' starting job, but getting off to a strong start will be imperative.
TIER 3 – THE SOLID STARTERS
Carey Price, Linus Ullmark, Cam Talbot, Philipp Grubauer, Carter Hart
The Skinny: Starting goaltenders on at least average clubs, all of which carry some red flags.
- Price turned the clock back in the playoffs last season, showing that he's still an elite netminder, but he's also extremely injury prone and the Canadiens coaching staff loves backup Jake Allen.
- The Bruins handed Ullmark a four-year, $20 million contract to serve as their new starter in 2021-22, but the former Sabre has never played more than 37 games in a season.
- Talbot played above his head last season (19-8-5, 2.63 GAA, .915 save percentage) for an overachieving Minnesota team.
- Grubauer is going from arguably the most talented team in the league in the Avalanche to an expansion team in Seattle.
-Hart was arguably the worst goaltender in the NHL in 2020-21 (9-11-5, 3.67 GAA, .877 save percentage), but the Flyers will deploy him without hesitation as their No. 1 netminder in hopes of a bounce-back in 2021-22.
TIER 4 – THE TIMESHARES
Semyon Varlamov/Ilya Sorokin, Frederik Andersen/Antti Raanta, Jack Campbell/Petr Mrazek, Sergei Bobrovsky/Spencer Knight, Jake Oettinger/Anton Khudobin/ Braden Holtby
The Skinny: Goaltenders destined for timeshares on better teams.
- Islanders coach Barry Trotz has always been a guy who uses both of his goaltenders a ton. Expect an equal timeshare between Varlamov and Sorokin in 2021-22.
- Andersen and Raanta, both added in free agency, will comprise Carolina's goaltending duo in 2021-22. Andersen should have a minor leg up, but neither of these goalies was healthy for the majority of last season.
- Mrazek lost his starting job to rookie Alex Nedeljkovic with the Hurricanes last season, while Campbell played out of his mind for the Leafs (17-3-2, 2.15 GAA, .921 save percentage) following Andersen's injury. The two will battle for playing time in Toronto.
- Bobrovsky is the most overpaid goaltender in the NHL, but Knight is a 20-year-old rookie with four regular-season games under his belt. He's almost certainly the better option, but Bobrovsky's contract combined with Knight's inexperience makes it unlikely the latter runs away with the Panthers' starting job.
- Ben Bishop remains without a timetable to return, leaving Oettinger and Khudobin to again share the net in Dallas. Holtby was also added to the mix, making this a disaster for fantasy purposes.
TIER 5 – THE LOW-END STARTERS & VETERANS
Tristan Jarry, Mike Smith, John Gibson, Cal Petersen, Mackenzie Blackwood, Alex Nedeljkovic
The Skinny: Projected No. 1 goaltenders on poor teams, or aging netminders on decent clubs.
- Jarry is the one guy here who doesn't really fit into either of the aforementioned categories, but I have serious doubts about his ability to handle an extended role for the Penguins.
- Smith played as well as possible for the Oilers last season (21-6-3, 2.31 GAA, .923 save percentage), but betting on 39-year-old goalies is a bad idea.
- Gibson (Anaheim) and Petersen (Los Angeles) will be starting for what projects to be two of the NHL's worst teams. Gibson should be at least two tiers higher on this list based on natural ability alone.
- Blackwood should start over newcomer Jonathan Bernier in 2021-22, but I imagine the latter will see his fair share of playing time.
- The Red Wings stole Nedeljkovic — a reigning Calder Trophy finalist — from Carolina for a couple of draft picks this offseason. Sadly, the youngster will be going from one of the best teams in the NHL to one of the worst.
TIER 5 – THE DART THROWS
Jake Allen, Jeremy Swayman, Casey DeSmith, Vitek Vanecek, Joonas Korpisalo/Elvis Merzlikins, Chris Driedger, Jonathan Bernier, Adin Hill/James Reimer, Alex Georgiev, Thomas Greiss, Pavel Francouz, Martin Jones, Matt Murray/Anton Forsberg, Carter Hutton/Josef Korenar, Craig Anderson/Aaron Dell/Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
The Skinny: Backups who may play for one of the worst teams in the league and figure to need an injury to amass any real fantasy value.