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Fantasy: True backup goalies with upside

James Reimer, Andrei Vasilevskiy among top handcuff, streamer targets

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / Staff Writer

There are many ways you can go about selecting goalies in a fantasy hockey draft. The most logical is to pick two top 10 starters early and lock them into your lineup.

You could also take a chance on a new, certain No. 1 starter, like John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks or Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Or perhaps you're someone who enjoys a good redemption story and feels Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers or Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins could return to form.

If none of these strategies fits your personality, you're probably interested in potential goalie time-shares, or maybe you target a starter and his backup to carry you through the season. Playing a starter and the backup can be risky, but it can be incredibly rewarding if the NHL team is high in the standings. Handcuffing your elite goaltender with his backup is common, and most top handcuffs won't be available on the waiver wire, but a few will. Those who remain fall under the streamer category, a goalie with a good matchup you can pick up for a spot start.

Here are some backup goalies with upside as handcuffs and streamers (ranked best to worst):

Video: SJS@NSH: Reimer's save seals the victory

James Reimer, Florida Panthers

Reimer signed a five-year contract with the Panthers as the heir apparent to Roberto Luongo. Luongo, 37, had hip surgery in June but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. Keeping Luongo's age and health in mind, it would be foolish to think he can start 60 games again this season. The Panthers brought in Reimer to eventually replace Luongo, and he will be used to keep the veteran fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reimer played 32 games for the Maple Leafs last season (2.49 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) before being traded to and excelling for the San Jose Sharks (6-2-0, 1.62 GAA, .938 save percentage, three shutouts). The Panthers ranked seventh in goals against per game (2.44) and improved their defense by dropping Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov and replacing them with Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and a full season of Michael Matheson. Reimer should see about 30 starts behind one of the top defensive teams in the NHL and would become a top 15 goalie if Luongo gets injured.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm7: Vasilevskiy gobbles up Cullen's wrister

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

The future of starter and two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop is unclear. He can become an unrestricted free agent after this season and could be traded before then. Vasilevskiy signed a three-year contract extension and appears to be the goalie-in-waiting for Tampa Bay. He's had pedestrian numbers the past two regular seasons (18-15-1, 2.60, .913), though his even-strength save percentage was .921 last season. Vasilevskiy played well in the playoffs after Bishop was injured in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. He went 3-4 with a 2.76 GAA and .925 save percentage facing an average of almost 34 shots per game in eight games.

Vasilevskiy turns 22 on July 25 but has shown in the playoffs he can perform at a level beyond his years. Bishop will get the bulk of the starts (60-65), but Vasilevskiy is a necessary handcuff with huge potential should Bishop get traded or injured.  

Video: FLA@TOR: Bernier makes a great catch through traffic

Jonathan Bernier, Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks acquired Bernier from the Maple Leafs on July 8 after trading Andersen to Toronto on June 20. Gibson is expected to be the starting goalie for Anaheim this season, after he was 21-13-4 with a 2.07 GAA and .920 save percentage in 40 games as a rookie last season and received Calder and Vezina trophy votes. Gibson, 23, is heading into the prime of his career but has played 66 NHL games. Bernier, 27, has played 213 NHL games with the Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings, albeit with shaky numbers (88-88-23, 2.67, .915).

We don't know how Gibson will react over the course of a full NHL season. He had great numbers in 38 starts last season, but how will those statistics look in 50-60? Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle is familiar with Bernier from their time with the Maple Leafs in 2013-14, arguably Bernier's best NHL season (26-19-7, 2.68, .923). Carlyle might not want to push his young goalie, easing Gibson into a full workload. The Ducks were first in the NHL in goals against (2.29) and have almost the same lineup, minus Andersen. Should Gibson slip up during the season, Bernier would see additional starts behind a strong defense. Even if Gibson plays to his potential, Bernier will be in line for about 30 starts and should have no trouble putting up quality numbers.

Video: BUF@NYR: Johnson's sprawling blocker save on Nash

Chad Johnson, Calgary Flames

The Flames traded for Brian Elliott, who led the NHL with a .930 save percentage last season, and he should make the majority of Calgary's starts. But don't overlook Johnson, who thrived as the starter with the Buffalo Sabres last season (22-16-4, 2.36, .920). He also performed well with the Boston Bruins backing up Rask in 2013-14 (17-4-3, 2.10 GAA, .925).

Elliott has played in time-shares the past five seasons with the St. Louis Blues and hasn't started more than 45 games since 2010-11. He made 18 additional starts in the playoffs for St. Louis last season and is 31 years old. Johnson isn't much younger (30) but has fewer NHL miles in net, and Elliott has had trouble holding down a starting job for an entire season. Calgary was last in the League in goals against per game (3.13), but that should improve drastically with Elliott, Johnson and a rejuvenated lineup under new coach Glen Gulutzan. Johnson will begin the season behind Elliott, but don't be surprised if the situation evolves into a time-share by midseason.

Video: COL@DAL: Pickard flashes the leather on Klingberg

Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche

Colorado starter Semyon Varlamov's descent into the basement of fantasy hockey goalies is almost complete. He had the second-worst GAA of his NHL career last season (2.81) and was 27-25-3 with a .914 save percentage. The Avalanche missed the playoffs, and Varlamov was a big part of that; 25 of his 57 starts were considered quality (43.9 percent). One of Colorado's few positives was Pickard, who went 7-6-1 with a 2.56 GAA and .922 save percentage in 20 games. The 24-year-old rookie allowed more than three goals in a game twice and faced 26.95 shots per game.

Pickard signed a two-year contract, and the Avalanche will want to see what they have before it expires. Varlamov is under contract for another three years and is 28, but he isn't capable of playing at an elite level throughout an entire season. With nine sets of back-to-back games, Pickard will have to earn his starts, which shouldn't be hard considering Varlamov's performance last season. Pickard should make about 25-30 starts and could challenge Varlamov for the starting job if he continues to improve his game.

Video: NSH@WSH: Hutton turns away a pair of shots

Carter Hutton, St. Louis Blues

The Elliott trade to Calgary ensured that Jake Allen would be the starter for St. Louis. Allen, 25, played well splitting time with Elliott last season (26-15-3, 2.35, .920 in 47 games). The Blues brought in Hutton, who played behind Pekka Rinne with the Nashville Predators last season, to be Allen's backup. Hutton, 30, is a bit of a late bloomer but was serviceable over the past three seasons (33-23-12, 2.55, .910).

Allen signed a four-year contract extension and is in line for at least 50 starts, but is among a group of young starters who haven't experienced the rigors of a full NHL season. Hutton's numbers should improve playing for St. Louis, which finished fourth in the League last season in goals against (2.40); the Predators were 14th (2.60). This will make Hutton one of the top streamer options and it shouldn't be hard for him to reach 20 starts because the Blues have 11 sets of back-to-back games.

Other options: Antti Raanta, New York Rangers; Anton Khudobin, Boston Bruins; Jeff Zatkoff, Los Angeles Kings; Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets

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