Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, a regional goalie scout for USA 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.
This fantasy hockey season was truly the Year of the Goalie.
When the Winnipeg Jets' Michael Hutchinson and the Anaheim Ducks' John Gibson made their NHL debuts Monday night, they became the 91st and 92nd goalies to appear in a game this season. On Thursday night, John Curry will become the fifth goalie to suit up for the Wild this season, extending the total to 93. That's an impressive number, because only once since the 1999-2000 campaign has there been more than 92 goalies to appear in a season (94 in the 2003-04 season).
With so many unknown fantasy goalie assets weaving their way in and out of starting lineups this season, the only thing more impressive than the number 92 would be the play of the class of 22 rookies. After Gibson's 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night, rookies have a combined 103-81-25 record. Their 2.52 goals-against average and .912 save percentage (5,658 saves on 6,206 shots) also includes 15 shutouts.
It's hard to believe we're wrapping up the third year of "In the Cage" articles, but in doing so, let's look back at some of the best fantasy goalies from the regular season.
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 ...
Without a doubt, Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask earned the title as this season's king of the crease. Not only does he currently hold the best even-strength save percentage (.941) for any goalie playing more than 20 games, he has the most shutouts (7) in the League. He's also in the top five for wins (35), GAA (2.06) and save percentage (.929).
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop earned the second spot in our final ranking. He was the biggest question mark heading into the season, but was very impressive in the first half. He went 7-2-1 with a 1.80 GAA and .943 save percentage in November, then went 6-1-2 with a 1.50 GAA and .945 save percentage in December.
Not only does he have the most wins (40), shots (1,973 total, 102 more than Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes) and saves in the League (1,829 total, 116 more than Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars), but the biggest key to his elite fantasy value has been his play on the road. Last season, Varlamov did not win a single game away from Denver until April 26, going 1-14-2 with a 3.67 GAA and .887 save percentage. This season, however, he is 16-5-2 on the road with a 2.52 GAA and .926 save percentage, including two shutouts.
MOVIN' ON UP
This season brought about many great surprises at the forward position, but here's a look at three players that outperformed expectations this season that I believe can sustain -- or better -- their production next season.
Aside from Bishop and Varlamov, two goalies that crushed our preseason rankings, a few other goalies proved their value is rising heading into next season.
Anton Khudobin straight up stole the Carolina Hurricanes' starting job from Cam Ward. He currently sits right behind Rask for the League's best even-strength save percentage (.940) for goalies playing more than 20 games, and he's currently holding the second-best overall save percentage (.931). Of his 18 wins this season, 12 of them came in the first two months, so he established his starter upside early and often.
Rookie Eddie Lack is also establishing his long-term value with the Vancouver Canucks. The organization is in major flux right now, but with a few apt moves during the offseason Lack could be a top-10 fantasy goalie next season. Even though the team struggled to score goals this season, he still has a .921 even-strength save percentage. His best run was in December, when he went 5-0-1 with a 1.29 GAA and .949 save percentage.
In December, Los Angeles Kings goalie Martin Jones put an authoritative stamp on his long-term value by producing one of the most memorable runs for a rookie goalie in NHL history. His eight straight wins to kick off his career included three shutouts, and in 18 games this season he has allowed more than two goals just three times.
Pretty straight forward -- these guys all had rough seasons in 2013-14, but I believe they could put up big numbers in 2014-15:
Ilya Bryzgalov, Minnesota Wild -- Considering he was out of the League through October, Bryzgalov's play in March and April makes him a perfect bounce-back candidate for next season. We wrote about his excellent fantasy value in last week's article, and since then he has gone 3-0-1 with back-to-back shutouts. An unrestricted free agent at season's end, sustaining his recent value outside of Minnesota's sound defensive scheme might be a question mark. But in the right environment, he could easily thrive.
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes -- With only nine wins in 26 games this season, Ward is still looking to recapture the level of play that made him a reliable fantasy asset. But now that Khudobin has proved his starter upside, it may have to come outside of the Hurricanes organization. It won't be easy; Ward will be entering the fifth year of a six-year contract that will pay him $6.7 million dollars, a contract that also includes a no-trade clause.
Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres -- In 26 games, Enroth has just four wins. But his .911 save percentage is solid considering the lack of support he receives. Now that he has a chance to establish his starter upside on a team that continues to rebuild, he could bounce back in a big way in the 2014-15 season.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Whether it's a rookie or just a young player that outperformed our greatest hopes, fantasy owners always end up with at least one talented kid on their squad that provides some unexpected value. Here's a look at three players you should keep an eye that could fill this role next season:
Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks -- Although they have some tough decisions on the horizon with pending unrestricted free agent Jonas Hiller and a future stud in Gibson, Andersen's future remains very bright. His .924 save percentage is currently sixth in the League and his 2.27 GAA is 10th overall.
Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames -- It wasn't an easy transition from Russia to Calgary, but aside from an injury that kept him out of action for most of March, Ramo has proven he could potentially carry this team next season. In his past 10 starts, he's 6-3-0 with 285 saves on 305 shots, a .934 save percentage. He also had a strong December, posting a .922 save percentage in seven games (3-2-2).
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks -- It may only be two games, but with a strong pedigree and impressive success at the international level, Gibson deserves a mention here. He has stopped 54 of his first 56 NHL shots and is forcing Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to make difficult decisions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
TOP 40 FANTASY GOALIES
Below are the final fantasy goalie rankings for the 2013-14 NHL season -- including players that are or were injured. They are based on how they performed during this season and expectations of how they will perform next season.
1. Tuukka Rask, Bruins
2. Ben Bishop, Lightning
3. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche
4. Carey Price, Canadiens
5. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins
7. Jonathan Quick, Kings
8. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
9. Ryan Miller, Blues
10. Antti Niemi, Sharks
11. Anton Khudobin, Hurricanes
12. Roberto Luongo, Panthers
13. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks
14. Pekka Rinne, Predators
15. Kari Lehtonen, Stars
16. Mike Smith, Coyotes
17. Jonathan Bernier, Maple Leafs
18. Steve Mason, Flyers
19. Jaroslav Halak, Capitals
20. Jonas Hiller, Ducks
21. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings
22. Ilya Bryzgalov, Wild
23. Cory Schneider, Devils
24. Eddie Lack, Canucks
25. Karri Ramo, Flames
26. Josh Harding, Wild
27. Frederik Andersen, Ducks
28. Chad Johnson, Bruins
29. Braden Holtby, Capitals
30. Ben Scrivens, Oilers
31. Craig Anderson, Senators
32. Jhonas Enroth, Sabres
33. Jonas Gustavsson, Red Wings
34. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets
35. Robin Lehner, Senators
36. Thomas Greiss, Coyotes
37. Niklas Backstrom, Wild
38. Darcy Kuemper, Wild
39. Martin Brodeur, Devils
40. Alex Stalock, Sharks
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