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In the Cage: Draft the goalies you know

Thursday, 09.29.2011 / 10:05 AM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Draft the goalies you know
Regardless of what direction your draft takes, the most effective fantasy goalie strategies are backed by one thing -- preparation -- and the netminders you know the best are your top picks.
Welcome to NHL.com's "In the Cage" fantasy hockey segment, where each week fantasy insider Justin Goldman will give you an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders. 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.

With that, here's his opening statement regarding the League's goalkeepers...


When it comes to drafting fantasy goaltenders, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the endless options. You not only have to determine who to select, but when to select them and whether they're worth drafting over other skaters. On top of it all, you only have 60 to 90 seconds to make that crucial decision, one you simply can't afford to rush.

A solid goalie draft strategy will also change depending on your league's format, the scoring categories, your draft order placement and when other managers begin to select goalies. As a general rule of thumb, if a few elite starters are taken right before you, it's wise to follow suit at the same time. Goalies are often taken in waves, so once they start to go, they usually go quickly. Therefore, waiting to draft your starting goalie is not a risk worth taking.

Regardless of what direction your draft takes, the most effective fantasy goalie strategies are backed by one thing -- preparation. The more time you take to map out plans for certain scenarios, the more confident you will be when making your final decisions. NHL.com provides a number of resources and rankings for you to work with, so take some time to make a list, check it twice, and enter the draft expecting the unexpected. 

There's no denying the fact that drafting (and managing) goaltenders is a frustrating part of fantasy hockey. You never know what could happen with a goalie over the course of an 82-game season, as many are sidetracked by injuries, inconsistency or strong play from their backup. Plus today's NHL is so competitive that you rarely ever draft three goalies that all perform up to their expectations.

But if there's one Golden Rule to live by in the world of fantasy goaltending, it would be to draft who you know.

No matter how prepared you may feel, when the clock starts ticking, it's tough not to panic. More often than not, you'll be stuck trying to choose between two or three goalies that have similar value. If that happens, know the answers to these questions: Which goalie do you watch the most? How familiar are you with their ability to stop the puck and compete? How familiar are you with things like their attitude, work ethic and current situation on their specific team?

Having the answers to these questions are crucial, because the more you know about your players, the more confident you will be when it comes time to not only draft them, but trade, start, bench or pluck them from the free-agent wire. If you live in Pittsburgh and watch Marc-Andre Fleury way more than Roberto Luongo, and therefore know when he's playing well and when he's struggling, draft Fleury. You'll have way fewer headaches and way more confidence when it comes time to make daily starting goalie decisions.

Remember, winning your goalie categories isn't always about drafting the best talent available, but rather knowing when to start and when to bench them. The more familiar you are with a certain goalie, the more accuracy and the better results you will have with him in your lineup.

Five under-the-radar goalies:

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1. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers
From start to finish, Dubnyk was clearly one of the most improved goaltenders in the NHL last season. With his Leviathan size (6-foot-6 and just over 200 pounds) and tremendous foot speed, he simply takes up a ton of space in the net, especially when in the butterfly. Despite playing behind a weak Oilers team last season, he still finished with a .916 save percentage in 35 games. In his final three starts, he went 2-1-0 and stopped 90 of 93 shots. This season, Dubnyk is ready to begin right where he left off in April, so the odds are very strong that he not only plays more games than Nikolai Khabibulin, but wrests away the "starter" role for good.

2. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
Mentally and physically prepared to make up for lost time, Harding is out to prove he shouldn't be forgotten in fantasy leagues. Due to a long string of unfortunate injuries, many managers have totally lost faith in his ability to stay healthy and win. But backed by a slight advantage of catching with his right hand, terrific senses, quickness and reflexes, Harding's style is still very successful at the NHL level. Others don't recognize his true worth because he simply hasn't played enough games (his last start was on March 26, 2010). But if Niklas Backstrom continues to play sub-.500 hockey as a starter, Harding will get plenty of chances to shine.  

3. Jason LaBarbera, Phoenix Coyotes
When discovering hidden fantasy gems, one thing you'll want to evaluate is a goalie's comfort level. In Phoenix, Jason has the advantage of playing behind a defensive-minded Dave Tippett system. Although the Coyotes will struggle to score goals, the fact still remains that LaBarbera is destined to play way more games than what he earned behind Ilya Bryzgalov last season. And as any NHL goalie will tell you, the more they play, the more comfortable they feel and the better rhythm they find. For these reasons alone, LaBarbera is worth snagging late in your draft as an under-the-radar fantasy talent.

4. Chris Mason, Winnipeg Jets
Chris Mason
Goalie - WPG
RECORD: 13-13-3
GAA: 3.39 | SVP: 0.892
Look good, feel good, play good; that's the mantra for Mason this season. Plagued by inconsistency and injury last season, Mason went just 13-13-3 with a dismal .892 save percentage. This season, he's starting a new chapter in his career with the relocation to the familiar landscape of Winnipeg. At the same time, Mason is the first to sport the brand new Brian's Sub-Zero pads, a lighter, more effective set of leather that will boost his looks and performance compared to last season. With so much excitement surrounding the Jets' arrival, Mason should have no problem bouncing back and posting close to his NHL-career .911 save percentage.

5. Thomas Greiss, San Jose Sharks
Despite the struggles he had with Brynas in the Elitserien last season, Greiss was still rewarded with a new two-year contract, a true sign the Sharks value his upside. Combined with the fact that Antero Niittymaki will miss the first three months of the season due to more hip issues, Greiss could surprise everyone in October. Goaltending in the NHL is all about "what have you done for me lately," and Greiss has performed well in the preseason. Both he and Antti Niemi will benefit from the arrival of Brent Burns, but Niemi has yet to see any game action due to a cyst removal, so Greiss is destined to see some early action. If he does well and Niemi needs a few games to shake off the rust, it could lead to more opportunities as the season goes along.
NHL.COM FANTASY HOCKEY COVERAGE
Intricacies of NHL schedule important
30 in 30 fantasy hockey preview index
Pete Jensen's 10 sleepers for 2014-15
Matt Cubeta's 10 sleepers for 2014-15
Matt Sitkoff's 10 sleepers for 2014-15
Goalie battles: SJS | ANA | STL | MIN | CAR

OFFSEASON FANTASY RANKINGS

RANK TEAM PLAYER
1. Sidney crosby
2. Steven Stamkos
3. Corey Perry
4. Evgeni Malkin
5. alex Ovechkin

CUBETA & JENSEN'S COMPLETE RANKINGS