When considering goaltenders in head-to-head fantasy leagues, owners can hardly go wrong with drafting top-tier talent like the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price or Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne in the early rounds and a solid starter like Vancouver Canucks veteran Ryan Miller in the middle of their respective drafts.
But after settling on a dependable tandem, grabbing a third goalie who is projected to be a backup on his respective NHL team can give owners the edge in taking their fantasy matchup on any given week.
In addition to the bonus statistics, handcuffing a team's backup goalie to the superstar that you drafted early provides much-needed insurance in the case that a starting goaltender sustains a long-term injury.
Last season, NHL.com named former New York Rangers backup goalie Cam Talbot its second choice as a handcuff option and that pick ended up paying tremendous dividends when New York Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist played 46 games in 2014-15 due to a neck injury. Talbot filled in admirably with a 21-9-4 record, a 2.21 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Talbot is likely to be the starter for the Edmonton Oilers this season after the Rangers traded him in June.
The following five backup goaltenders should be available as a last pick in drafts or as an option on the waiver wire at the beginning of the season. This list does not include those that NHL.com expects to be part of a time-share situation like Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi (Dallas Stars), Jake Allen and Brian Elliott (St. Louis Blues), Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek (Detroit Red Wings), Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson (Winnipeg Jets) and Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond (Ottawa Senators).
1. Scott Darling, Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks have people talking dynasty after winning the Stanley Cup for the third time in the past six seasons, so almost any player from their roster is a wise choice for fantasy. Starting goalie Corey Crawford could play around 60 games this season, but owners should handcuff Darling to get an additional 20-plus starts in head-to-head leagues. The Blackhawks were tied with the Canadiens for best in the NHL last season with 189 goals against, so having Crawford and Darling playing behind such a solid defense should work wonders for fantasy teams. Darling was 9-4-0 with 1.95 GAA and a .936 save percentage as a rookie in 2014-15 filling in for an injured Crawford and is a sure bet to give teams dependable numbers as a backup this season.
2. Alex Stalock, San Jose Sharks -- A new coach and recently acquired projected starting goaltender in San Jose means that Stalock could be a steal as a handcuff choice in the final round of drafts or via the waiver wire. If owners assume that Sharks coach Peter DeBoer will go with former Los Angeles Kings backup Martin Jones as his starter to begin the season, then they can anchor their goalie staff by drafting Price or Lundqvist early and selecting Jones in the middle rounds. Since Stalock will likely get overlooked at drafts, owners can stock up on another lower-tier goaltender like the New York Islanders' Jaroslav Halak in the middle rounds and can add the projected Sharks backup as a fourth option at the end of the draft. Stalock hasn't had much opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level but has managed to go 21-14-5 with 2.23 GAA and a .917 save percentage in 49 games.
3. Antti Raanta, New York Rangers -- Rangers fans and fantasy owners are hoping to see Lundqvist have an injury-free season, but can take comfort with having Raanta as their backup should a worst-case scenario arise. The Finnish goalie relieved Crawford with the Blackhawks the past two seasons, but also yielded a share of starts to Darling in 2014-15. Although Raanta's NHL experience has been brief, he gives owners excellent numbers when given the opportunity to start (20-9-5, 2.41 GAA, .912 save percentage in 39 games). Given the Rangers' deep defense and balanced offense, any goalie playing between the pipes for New York has the potential to boost your fantasy chances.
4. Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo or Joni Ortio, Calgary Flames -- Given that it is currently unclear if either Jonas Hiller or Ramo will begin this season as the starting goaltender in Calgary, it may benefit owners to handcuff them at draft day and also picking up Ortio from the waiver wire at some point early in the season. One thing for certain is that the Flames' defense is one of the best in the NHL with the newly acquired Dougie Hamilton joining captain Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Kris Russell on the blue line. Owners should keep a close eye on who coach Bob Hartley taps as the starter, but it may be worth the risk to put all three Flames goalies on your fantasy roster while waiting for things to get sorted out.
5. Anton Khudobin or John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks -- Choosing which backup to handcuff to projected starter Frederik Andersen is difficult since it remains to be seen who will regularly dress as goalie insurance for the Ducks and who will start for their American Hockey League affiliate in San Diego. Because Anaheim traded veteran defenseman James Wisniewski for Khudobin at the 2015 NHL Draft, it would seem that the former Carolina Hurricanes backup would assume that same role with the Ducks. But Anaheim recently signed Gibson to a three-year, $6.9 million contract, which indicates that the young American goalie will see more time with the big club this season.
Taking skills and potential into consideration only, then Gibson is the obvious choice for owners. This situation deserves close attention throughout the early part of the season for anyone looking toward the Ducks for handcuff options.