Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With the NHL season just three weeks away, we begin a five-part series, ranking the best fantasy players by position. In the first of the series, we begin with the "last line of defense" - the goaltenders.
While skaters contribute to six fantasy categories (Goals, Assists, Plus/Minus Rating, Penalty Minutes, Power Play Points, Shots on Goal), goaltenders are good for only four; Wins, Goals Against Average, Save Percentage and Shutouts.
Therefore, theoretically a goaltender should be less valuable than a skater, however the "pool" of significant contributors is a lot smaller. While a team may have three each at center, left wing and right wing who can contribute to your fantasy totals, most have just one primary goaltender.
Getting at least one, or more likely two solid netminders, should be a high priority on Draft Day.
Let's evaluate the goaltenders.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey - The future Hall-of-Fame goaltender might be the safest pick on the board. He is virtually a lock to collect 40 wins (four of the past five seasons), a GAA around 2.20, a save percentage around .920 and half-a-dozen shutouts in 70+ games. If you are waiting for the 38-year-old's performance to decline, don't hold your breath. He'll be selected at the end of the first round.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo - The reigning Vezina Trophy winner and star of the U.S. Olympic team, should post another stellar season in goal. He was 41-18-8 last year with a .929 save-percentage and a stunning 2.22 GAA. He'll go slightly behind Brodeur (because of fantasy owners' respect for Brodeur's consistency and long history of success) at the start of the second round.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix - The Russian goaltender finished second to Brodeur in shutouts with eight, and posted a 42-20-6 record for the Coyotes. His save percentage (.920) and goals against (2.29) were both top notch and there is no reason he can't duplicate that performance in 2010-11. Bryzgalov is a late second/early third round selection.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit - Howard was the unknown backup to Chris Osgood when he was called upon to be the workhorse in mid-November. He ended up with 61 starts, winning 37 games and posting a solid save-percentage of .924 and GGA of 2.26. With a solid defense in front of him and at just 26-years-old, Howard should be able to handle 70+ starts and earn more than 40 wins. He'll be a middle of the second round selection.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver - Luongo posted the worst save percentage (.913) and GAA (2.57) of his four years in Vancouver and combined with a mediocre playoffs means he'll slip into the mid-to-late second round. If he returns to "normal" and gets help from the reworked Canucks defensive contingent, he could be a bargain selection.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary - If you ignore Kiprusoff's wins and losses, you will see that he played very well in goal. His save percentage was a solid .920 and his GAA was 2.31, the best since 2005-06. yet he won 10 fewer games than in 2008-09 because he didn't get the support from the offense. With very little other choices to turn to, Kiprusoff will likely start 70+ games again in 2010-11.
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis - The Blues traded center Lars Eller and winger Ian Schultz for Halak, who should be the mainstay in net this season replacing Chris Mason. Halak was a solid 26-13-5 for Montreal with a save percentage of .924, a GAA of 2.40 and five shutouts in 43 starts. He had a very good playoff run last spring. Although he should get 25 more starts, he'll have a younger, less-tested defense in front of him and less scoring to compensate for his "bad" nights. He should get selected at the start of the third round.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers - Lundqvist posted solid numbers for a fifth straight season in New York (.921 save percentage, 2.38 GAA) yet he has never won more than 38 games in any year because the Rangers have so much trouble putting the puck in the net (16th at 2.67 goals-per-game). The Rangers added goaltender Martin Biron, which might reduce Lundqvist's workload from an average of 71 starts over the past three seasons. He's likely to go around the start of the fourth round.
Craig Anderson, Colorado - Anderson went from solid backup in Florida two season's ago to Colorado's main man in 2009-10. He made 71 starts, posting a record of 38-25-7 with a save percentage of .917 and a GAA of 2.64. He is a middle of the fourth round selection.
Tuukka Rask, Boston - Rask put up stellar numbers in 2009-10, going 22-12-5 with a save percentage of .931 and a GAA of 1.97. If he were to get 70 starts, he might put up top-five statistics, but he'll only do that if the Bruins end up trading former Vezina winner Tim Thomas. He'll be selected around the end of the fourth round.