Welcome to NHL.com's "Fantasy Faceoff," where our panel of insiders will dissect individual matchups to help determine which player carries the most fantasy value. Torn between two players on draft day? Look no further than NHL.com for the edge on the most compelling positional toss-ups as your fantasy draft approaches.
Earlier this week our NHL.com fantasy writers debated the forward and defense positions. Now we move on to the goaltenders, where Justin Goldman weighs in on who he believes should be selected first, Henrik Lundqvist or Antti Niemi.
Between a few tactful trades, a handful of free-agent signings, division realignment and a tricky case of trimmed thigh rises, the winds of change ripped through Goalie Nation this summer.
Combine all of that with the rising parity around the league, and this year's crop of top-30 fantasy goalies was tougher to rank than ever before. Because the talent just keeps getting better, statistically speaking, the difference between a top-ranked and a lower-ranked fantasy goalie could literally be a few saves per game, and as little as four or five wins.
But now that the dust has settled, we feel that Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has the edge on Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks as the top goalie to own in a Yahoo! Fantasy league. Both play very different styles, but they have proven to be two of the most durable and reliable goalies over the past few years.
Reliability can be defined in different ways, but for goaltenders, it would be their overall consistency, or the speed, efficiency and manner in which they rebound from a bad game. Off nights and untimely bounces are inevitable, so we can separate one elite starter's value from the next by realizing that it's not always how well they perform in wins that matter, but how well they perform following a loss.
In terms of durability, since the 2010-11 season, Lundqvist (173) and Niemi (171) sit third and fourth respectively for the most games played. Lundqvist has the second-most wins in that group with 99, while Niemi is third with 93. Lundqvist also has the most shutouts (21) and the best goals-against average (2.11) of the group, while Niemi is fourth on the shutout list with 16 and seventh in GAA (2.34).
For every active goalie that has played at least 3,000 regular season minutes since the start of the 2010-11 season, Lundqvist is the king in the even-strength save percentage category, which is considered as a more viable indicator of success. He has a .932 SV%, while Niemi sits fourth on that list with a .930 SV%.
Another edge to Lundqvist is seen in total saves. With only two games played (173 to 171) separating the two elite starters, Lundqvist has faced 4,908 total shots and Niemi 4,826. That's only a difference of 82 shots over three seasons, and with Lundqvist's SV% in that span sitting at .926 and Niemi's sitting at .919, you can see just how effective they both have been since 2010.
In terms of reliability, in the lockout-shortened season, Niemi actually dominated the field. He was a remarkable 6-1-1 after a loss in which he allowed three or more goals, and in those games he posted a sparkling .928 save percentage, stopping 218 of 235 shots. He was also 16-2-4 at home with a .934 SV%, so his only two back-to-back losses came on the road.
On the other hand, Lundqvist was only 3-4-0 after a loss in which he allowed three or more goals last season, stopping 163 of 179 shots for a .911 SV%. But in the 2011-12 season, he was more reliable, going 6-2-2 with one shutout and a .926 SV% (289 saves on 312 shots) in the same situation.
By comparison, Jonathan Quick was 5-4-1 last season with a .911 SV% after allowing three goals or more in a loss. Pekka Rinne was 3-5-2 with one shutout and a .916 SV% in that situation, but he's placed lower in our prelim ranking since he may miss some of Nashville's training camp due to offseason hip surgery.
Another value indicator is revealed when the game is on the line in overtime. Lundqvist established another edge on Niemi in this category, as he stopped all 30 shots he faced in 11 OT games last season. Niemi was not far behind, allowing just two goals on 33 shots in 15 OT games. Only one other goalie had a perfect SV% in OT games and that was Corey Crawford, who stopped all 23 shots in 12 decisions.
Crawford had an unbelievable run last season, but he still has just a .913 career SV%, which actually puts him in the lower-third of active NHL starters. We know he belongs in the Top-10, but he wasn't strong enough to warrant a place in front of Niemi or Lundqvist. Crawford went just 2-2-0 with a .912 SV% in games following a loss of three goals against or more last season.
Ultimately, we felt there was simply no topping Lundqvist's living legacy in New York. He's the rock that always gets the Rangers on a roll, and he has proven that his learned experience over the years has forged his fantasy value as one of the most adaptable, durable and reliable goalies in the last decade.
For these reasons, while we know that a team's defensive and offensive support will play a vital role in a goalie's overall value this season, we're crowning Lundqvist as the king of our preliminary top 30 fantasy goalie rankings for a second year in a row.
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