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In the Cage: Varlamov a fantasy commodity

by Justin Goldman /

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's weekly segment, "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to goalies you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.

Semyon Varlamov didn't win a single road game last season until April 26, just one day before the Colorado Avalanche ended their season. With a 1-14-2 record, a 3.67 goals-against average and .887 save percentage away from Pepsi Center, he was one of the worst goalies to own in any type of one-year fantasy league.

Semyon Varlamov
Goalie - COL
RECORD: 3-0-0
GAA: 1.00 | SVP: 0.967
But one week into this season, Varlamov appears to be revitalized completely. Not only is he a perfect 3-0 under new coach Patrick Roy, but he has allowed just one goal in each game, stopping 88 of 91 shots (a .967 save percentage). Furthermore, he is yet to allow a power-play goal or relinquish a one-goal lead. And in his only start on the road, he stopped 27 of 28 shots.

In his three games, Varlamov was named the First Star on Oct. 2 and Oct. 8, and the Third Star on Oct. 4.

At first glance, this turnaround may seem like a major surprise. But considering that he spent a big chunk of his summer working with legendary goalie coach Francois Allaire, the improved play was nothing short of a guarantee. Known for enhancing the skills of goalies like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Hiller and Ilya Bryzgalov, Allaire's latest pupil already is showing major signs of improvement.

Not only does Varlamov look more economical with his athletic butterfly movements and recoveries, but he's benefitting from some system changes that already has Colorado playing more consistently in all three zones. The defense remains very much a work in progress, but their perfect penalty killing (seven-for-seven) is a good early sign. They have also allowed fewer than 10 shots in four of nine regulation periods.


These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie’s fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, and GAA and SP%. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous 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.
  • 1. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (same)
  • 2. Antti Niemi, Sharks (+2)
  • 3. Jonathan Quick, Kings (-1)
  • 4. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (+1)
  • 5. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (-2)
  • 6. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (same)
  • 7. Roberto Luongo, Canucks (+1)
  • 8. Mike Smith, Coyotes (-1)
  • 9. Craig Anderson, Senators (+3)
  • 10. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (+6)
  • 11. Pekka Rinne, Predators (-2)
  • 12. Carey Price, Canadiens (-2)
  • 13. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (-2)
  • 14. Kari Lehtonen, Stars (-1)
  • 15. Ryan Miller, Sabres (-1)
  • 16. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (+6)
  • 17. Jaroslav Halak, Blues (+6)
  • 18. Cory Schneider, Devils (+1)
  • 19. Cam Ward, Hurricanes (-1)
  • 20. Jonathan Bernier, Leafs (+5)
  • 21. Braden Holtby, Capitals (-4)
  • 22. Jonas Hiller, Ducks (-1)
  • 23. Devan Dubnyk, Oilers (-3)
  • 24. Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders (+4)
  • 25. Steve Mason, Flyers (NR)
  • 26. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets (+1)
  • 27. Viktor Fasth, Ducks (-1)
  • 28. Jacob Markstrom, Panthers (NR)
  • 29. Martin Brodeur, Devils (same)
  • 30. Ben Bishop, Lightning (NR)
Dropped out: James Reimer, Maple Leafs (30)

Injured: Niklas Backstrom, Wild (15), Tim Thomas, Panthers (25)

In terms of Varlamov's technique, aside from being more economical with his athleticism, he's exhibiting more patience on his skates and more trust in his angles. Combined with some changes to the way he holds his glove, he also looks visibly bigger in the net. Already considered as one of the quickest goalies in the NHL, his explosiveness has made the obstacle of smaller gear and shallower nets a non-factor.

We know it's easy for cautious fantasy players to say these observations are too premature, or that the numbers merely are the result of a hot start. But for a goalie that still is owned in just 72 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues, you still may have a chance to add a starting goalie that quite possibly could be the "steal" of the season.


1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: Fantasy players were tentative to draft Fleury this season, as his average pick was 46th in Yahoo leagues, putting him 11th among goalies. But he has been just as hot as Varlamov, stopping 79 of his first 82 shots, including a 27-save shutout against the Devils on opening night.

2. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: With a shutout streak of 111:52 laced in the middle of his first three games, Halak is on the attack with a perfect 3-0-0 start. Not only is he healthy, but he also looks much stronger physically. After a win Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, he has 73 saves on 77 total shots for a .948 save percentage, and one shutout.

3. Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs: There's a good chance Bernier could be the first "tandem buster" of the season. His flawless relief effort in a 5-4 come-from-behind shootout win against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 6 was a statement victory, and he's now 2-1 with a .963 save percentage, stopping 77 of 80 shots on goal.


1. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers: New Oilers coach Dallas Eakins gave Dubnyk a chance to bounce back from some bad goals in the opener, but in two games he has allowed 10 goals (seven at even-strength) on 59 shots. He was peppered by Vancouver on Oct. 5 and was pulled after allowing five goals on 31 shots.

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: In his first three games Holtby is 0-2-0 and has allowed 10 goals on 66 shots. That included a game Oct. 3 against Calgary where he was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Last season Holtby allowed 12 goals on 104 shots in his first three games, and went 1-4-0 in his first five games.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: We predicted that Lundqvist likely would need time to get used to his smaller gear and his team's new style of play, and those omens have come true. He has allowed nine goals on just 87 shots and was pulled after allowing four goals on 26 shots on Oct. 8 against the San Jose Sharks.


Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers: With 33 saves on 34 shots in a 2-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, Mason, who is owned in just 29 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues, earned First Star of the game in coach Craig Berube's debut. Mason now has a .935 save percentage and has stopped 87 of his 93 shots on goal in three games.

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