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In the Cage: A look back at the top fantasy goalies

Thursday, 04.25.2013 / 1:10 PM
Justin Goldman  - NHL.com Correspondent

Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, the Director of Goalie Scouting for McKeen's Hockey and founder of The Goalie Guild, will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in NHL.com's weekly segment: "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.

No matter how many games get played in a season, there's never a shortage of drama in the crease. This season was certainly no different, as a plague of injuries shut the door for some goaltenders, but opened the door for many others.

With so many variables to consider -- a condensed schedule, numerous back-to-backs and a total of 18 teams using at least three goalies, decisions made at the draft table seemed quite futile. Whatever tandem you started with on Day 1 was most likely not who you relied upon down the stretch.

Coincidentally, the main storyline this season was the influx of first-year goalies that showcased their skills in impressive fashion. From Viktor Fasth's awesome 8-0 start for the Anaheim Ducks to Jake Allen's solid five-game winning streak in March with the St. Louis Blues, to the arrival of Jacob Markstrom with the Florida Panthers, this season's first-year class proved that the future of NHL goaltending is in great hands.

There's still a few days left in the regular season, but it's time to shut down this year's “In the Cage” articles until September. We'll do so by reflecting on the top fantasy goalies this season, and then look ahead at some potential sleepers for the 2013-14 campaign.

A LOOK AT THE TOP

Who gets the honor of holding down the No. 1 ranking throughout the offseason? How about who's second and third? Let's have a look ...

Not only did Sergei Bobrovsky establish himself as one of the best young NHL goalies, he's also poised to collect some hardware this summer. He went 9-2-3 in March with a 1.49 goals-against average and .950 save percentage, and has gone 7-3-0 with a 1.87 GAA and .937 save percentage in 10 games so far this month. If he can give the Columbus Blue Jackets the edge they need to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he'll not only put a stranglehold on winning the Vezina Trophy, he could also be a finalist for the Hart Trophy.

Bobrovsky's dominance aside, a few other goalies were impressive from start to finish.

Antti Niemi is currently first overall in minutes played (2,522) and has a 24-11-6 record with a 2.14 GAA and .925 save percentage. He leads the League in wins, is sixth overall in save percentage, and also earned four shutout points for poolies. He did all of this while collecting the third-most saves in the League (1,103).

Henrik Lundqvist saved his best play this season for last, going 8-3-1 this month with a 1.81 GAA and .935 percentage. Despite going just 3-4-0 in January with a .904 save percentage, he posted save percentage totals of .928, .928, and now .935 in each of the last three months. Like Niemi, Lundqvist logged workhorse minutes with 22 wins in 41 games.

Many questions surrounded Tuukka Rask when the season started, but he silenced his critics by going 18-9-4 with a 2.00 GAA and .928 save percentage. If not for the solid play of backup Anton Khudobin, he would have likely reached the 40-game plateau. Regardless, Rask proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he was capable of leading the Boston Bruins back to the playoffs.

MOVIN' ON UP

There was no shortage of goalies posting unexpected stretches of strong play this season. Whether it lasted for a few weeks or a few months, the goalies below proved their original draft value was vastly underrated.

Thirty-year-old Viktor Fasth took the entire League by storm when the puck dropped, winning his first eight games of the season. He went 8-1-0 in February with a 1.93 GAA and .928 save percentage, an amazing feat considering he was originally drafted in just four percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues.

James Reimer started the season in tremendous shape with much better athleticism, but even more importantly, the fog had completely lifted from last season's head injury. That allowed him to go 18-7-5 with a 2.46 GAA and the current ninth-best save percentage (.923), along with three shutouts.

Reimer missed two weeks of action in February with an injury, but didn't miss a beat. He won two in a row prior to the injury, and upon return, won three more. After a single loss on March 12 to Winnipeg, he went 4-0-3 to finish the month.

Reimer accomplished all of this after being drafted in just 17 percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues.

But rising above them all was Ray Emery, our choice for the top hidden gem. Originally drafted in just three percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, he didn't lose a game this season until March 29, when he allowed two goals in a 2-1 loss to the Ducks. Even in the loss, he was still voted as the game's third star.

In just 21 games this season, Emery is 17-1-0 with a 1.94 GAA and .922 save percentage. He currently sits third overall in GAA and is 5-0 in April with two shutouts and a .932 save percentage.

BOUNCE-BACK CANDIDATES

Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. It's never fair when a goalie loses value due to an unexpected trip to the IR, but in a world where value is tied to playing time, health is of utmost importance. As such, we chose two goalies that we feel will regain the confidence of poolies next season.

Cam Ward was placed on the IR after suffering a sprained MCL on March 4. He had his fair share of struggles in the early going, posting a 2.84 GAA and .908 save percentage in 16 games. The timing of the injury was unfortunate, as he had won his previous three games.

Jaroslav Halak will also look to rebound from a frustrating season hampered by injuries. He went 4-0-0 with two shutouts to begin the season, but suffered a groin injury on Feb. 1 against the Detroit Red Wings. He returned on Feb. 20, but relinquished a 4-1 lead in the third period of a game against the Los Angeles Kings on March 6, giving up five goals on just 21 shots. That game clearly rattled his confidence; he went just 2-4-0 in March with a 2.53 GAA and .890 save percentage before suffering another groin injury on April 1.

KEEP AN EYE ON …

This offseason will have its fair share of roster turnover in the goalie market, as rumors are flying about the possible trade of Ryan Miller, a buyout of Ilya Bryzgalov, and the retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff. With that in mind, keep an eye on the following goalies for next season:

Jonathan Bernier: Still searching for a chance to be a starter elsewhere, his 9-3-1 record and .922 save percentage should be enough to gain the confidence of other GMs looking for the next Bobrovsky.

Karri Ramo: One of the Kontinental Hockey League's best goalies is expected to sign an NHL contract with the Calgary Flames and potentially replace Kiprusoff. He posted a 2.00 GAA and .929 save percentage in 40 games this season.

Steve Mason: He's 3-2-0 in six games since joining the Philadelphia Flyers, stopping 160 of 171 shots, a .936 save percentage. If the Flyers buy out Bryzgalov, he's a potential starter on a team that will once again be healthy on defense.

TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES

These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie’s fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, and GAA and SP%. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team’s strong defense and offense.

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets

2. Antti Niemi, Sharks

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers

4. Tuukka Rask, Bruins

5. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings

6. Niklas Backstrom, Wil

7. Craig Anderson, Senators

8. Ray Emery, Blackhawks

9. James Reimer, Maple Leafs

10. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks

11. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins

12. Pekka Rinne, Predators

13. Jonas Hiller, Ducks

14. Jonathan Quick, Kings

15. Carey Price, Canadiens

16. Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders

17. Braden Holtby, Capitals

18. Cory Schneider, Canucks

19. Ryan Miller, Sabres

20. Kari Lehtonen, Stars

21. Viktor Fasth, Ducks

22. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets

23. Roberto Luongo, Canucks

24. Ilya Bryzgalov, Flyers

25. Mike Smith, Coyotes

26. Martin Brodeur, Devils

27. Ben Bishop, Lightning

28. Devan Dubnyk, Oilers

29. Anton Khudobin, Bruins

30. Jacob Markstrom, Panthers

Injured: Cam Ward, Jose Theodore, Jaroslav Halak

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