Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, founder of The Goalie Guild, will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in NHL.com's weekly piece: "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to players you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.
No matter where you look, most preseason goalie rankings have a similar "bell curve" construct.
There's a small collection of Tier-1 goalies that clearly belong at the top of your draft list, a much larger group of goalies that fall into the Tier-2 category, and then a group of Tier-3 goalies, which is mainly reserved for the lesser-used backups.
From Carey Price to Semyon Varlamov to top-ranked Tuukka Rask, there are many reliable goalies to choose from in early rounds of your fantasy draft. (Photo: NHL.com Illustrations)
But those backups played a significant role in fantasy leagues last season. The cumulative .914 save percentage (regular season, all situations) was tied for the highest mark ever recorded, and that included production from a class of 26 rookies, the biggest group since the 2008-09 season unleashed 27 rookies into the League.
Last season also included the largest pool of goalies appearing in at least one game (97 total) ever recorded, with 27 teams using three or more goalies.
To reinforce the strength of last season's goaltending, back in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons 11 goalies posted a .920 save percentage or better (25 games minimum). But last season, 17 had a .920 save percentage or above. And considering that Kari Lehtonen (.919), Roberto Luongo (.919), Ryan Miller (.918), Steve Mason (.917), and Corey Crawford (.917) averaged 60 starts between them, there's a chance this season could see an unheralded 20 serviceable goalies reach .920.
As for Lehtonen, we project him to be a Tier-1 asset this season. Not only is his team expected to be much improved offensively, but since the 2010-11 season he's one of only seven goalies to play more than 10,000 minutes. Of those workhorses, his .927 save percentage is tied for third with Antti Niemi, behind Henrik Lundqvist (.931) and Carey Price (.928).
Last season, the plague of goalie injuries was due in part to the condensed schedule and 441 total back-to-back games. But this season, the League has 413 back-to-backs, which may help reduce the strain of some workhorses enough to keep a few key fantasy assets healthy down the stretch (i.e. Ben Bishop, Mike Smith, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jonathan Quick).
Rookies will again make a big statement this season. We expect big things from John Gibson, who has a legitimate shot to earn the starting role in Anaheim, and we also like the potential of Michael Hutchinson in Winnipeg and Niklas Svedberg in Boston.
Overall, there's no doubt that goaltending will be very strong again this season. As a whole, we expect the cumulative save percentage to reach .915 for the first time in League history, but with contributions from close to 90 goalies and upwards to 20 rookies.
MOCK DRAFT: Results, analysis of NHL.com's 12-team, 16-round simulation
RANKINGS: Top 50 breakdown | Center | Left Wing | Right Wing | D-men | Goalies
SLEEPERS: Cubeta | Jensen | Sitkoff
NOTES: These preseason rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories (games played, wins, saves, goals-against average and save percentage). These are Justin Goldman's goalie rankings and may not reflect the order of NHL.com's aggregate top 275 overall fantasy rankings. The number in parenthesis is a projection for expected games played. As we have done each of the past two seasons, we are including one goalie from each team in these preseason 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.