By A.J. Scholz, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Last season, I separated the goalies into two distinct categories: Elite, and Best of the Rest. This season, however, I’ll be adding a new tier that includes just one player: Andrei Vasilevskiy, as he seems to be in a league of his own right now.
Once again, I’ve considered past performance, longevity, health and supporting cast while separating this year’s goaltenders into three distinct tiers: In a League of His Own, The Elite, and Best of the Rest.
In a League of His Own
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s been a while since there’s been a consensus No. 1 fantasy netminder, perhaps not since Martin Brodeur hung up his skates, though even he had to compete with the likes of Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek. Andrei Vasilevskiy only played 53 games last season, a sharp decline from the 65 he logged the year before, but he still managed to rack up a league-leading 39 wins on his way to claiming the Vezina Trophy. A postseason sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets should only serve as motivation for the 24 year old.
While his workload will continue to be held in check, it would hardly be surprising to see the Russian netminder threaten the 40-win mark while walking away with the Vezina Trophy for a second straight campaign in 2019-20. It should also be noted that Vasilevskiy will be backed by an offense that should continue to thrive after putting up 3.89 goals per game last year.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
More often than not, goalies are victims of their supporting cast, which can take them from Vezina Trophy nominee to mid-tier netminder (see Dubnyk, Devan). But in some cases, it simply doesn’t matter where a goalie is playing. That will almost certainly be the case for Sergei Bobrovsky, who makes the move to sunny Florida this season. The veteran netminder has racked up at least 37 wins in each of the previous three campaigns while posting a combined .922 save percentage over that span. After reportedly butting heads with Blue Jackets bench boss John Tortorella, Bobrovsky could actually find himself on an upward trajectory heading into the 2019-20 campaign under Joel Quenneville.
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
One netminder who won’t have to worry about the cast of characters surrounding him is Frederik Andersen. Since joining the Maple Leafs, the Dane has never missed the 60-game or 30-win thresholds, and he should keep rolling in 2019-20. Despite facing 1,958 shots last season, second only to the 2,051 fired at Connor Hellebuyck, Andersen was able to maintain a .917 save percentage, though he managed just one shutout. The 29 year old picked up at least three shutouts in four consecutive campaigns from 2014-18, so he’s due for some positive regression in that category this year.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
While Vasilevskiy has garnered all of the limelight as the league’s top young netminder, fantasy gamers would be remiss to overlook the NHL’s forgotten club, the Winnipeg Jets, who are backstopped by 25 year old Connor Hellebuyck. His GAA last year (2.90) is certainly a concern, but the Michigan native’s supporting cast will once again be strong in 2019-20. Additionally, Hellebuyck should see plenty of action, likely 60-plus games, despite being backed by a solid No. 2 option in Laurent Brossoit, so he’ll be in a position to rack up wins. If he can drop his GAA back down to the mark he posted in 2017-18 (2.36), he’ll be a high-end No.1 fantasy option this season.
Last season, only three netminders over the age of 30 (Devan Dubnyk, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Carey Price) started more than 60 games, a workload that has become increasingly rare in recent years. While the youngsters may be getting most of the glory right now, don’t sleep on the Flower or Price, both of which make the elite tier with ease. Both netminders were able to rack up 35 wins while keeping their GAAs right around the 2.50 mark last year. The two have dealt with their share of injuries in the past but were able to stay healthy last season, which should quell some of the concerns regarding their durability heading into 2019-20.
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks
Perhaps no netminder has confounded fans and fantasy gamers like Martin Jones over the course of his career. When he’s hot, he’s nearly unbeatable, but when he goes cold, it feels like the Sharks would be better suited to put six skaters on the ice. Last season, the 29 year old gave up four or more goals in 19 games, but still walked away with wins in five of those contests. Conversely, he allowed two or fewer in 26 outings, all victories. His inconsistency led to a sub-par GAA last year, which was a career-worst 2.94, but he still managed to crack the 30-win and 60-game marks for the fourth consecutive season and is capable of doing so again in 2019-20.
Best of the Rest
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
As always, this is the point where you’re no doubt saying, “Hey! What about [insert netminder],” and you probably have a valid argument to make. The most likely candidates for your concern are Pekka Rinne, Braden Holtby, and Ben Bishop. In each of the previous two seasons, each of the aforementioned netminders has failed to crack the 60-game mark due to age, design or injury. Rinne and Holtby have both managed to top the 30-win mark over that span, while Bishop hasn’t reached that threshold since 2015-16 when he was with the Lightning. Holtby, meanwhile, has posted two of his three worst GAAs in the last two years, and Rinne is now the fourth oldest netminder in the league, so a drop-off is inevitable. Despite falling outside of the elite tier, Rinne, Holtby, and Bishop all remain high-end fantasy netminders capable of putting together highly productive seasons.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington will be drafted early, as he should be following a 24-5-1 regular season that included five shutouts and a .927 save percentage. The 25 year old took the league by storm in January and ended the year by lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, but half a rookie season, as phenomenal as it was, doesn’t automatically vault you into the NHL’s elite (see Murray, Matt). The Ontario native will undoubtedly be a solid fantasy option in 2019-20, but he’ll need to put together another impressive season to prove that he’s truly special.
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Finally, let’s address the elephant in the room: Devan Dubnyk. Were it not for his aging supporting cast and listless front office, he might be eligible for elite status. Four straight seasons over the 60-game and 30-win thresholds plus a combined .918 save percentage over that stretch are hard to beat. While the front office has been addressed with the hiring of Bill Guerin, it will take some time for the roster to be overhauled, and at 32 years of age, the clock is ticking on Dubnyk’s prime. Still, a healthy Mathew Dumba and the addition of Mats Zuccarello could be enough to bolster this club’s, and by extension its netminder’s, fortunes this season.