The majority of the NHL has a clear starting goaltender who will seek the bulk of the starts. That kind of deployment is the easiest for fantasy owners to predict and plan when drafting options for their goalie rotation.
Unfortunately, there are teams that are much harder to read because of goalie controversies and time shares. Often times it's difficult to know which puck stopper will play on any given night because some teams have more than one option. Most of the time these situations are avoided on draft day until the guaranteed starter options have been taken off the board. However, that plan becomes complicated when strong teams adopt two- or-more goalie systems.
Below you'll find some recommendations on how to approach some expected goaltender dilemmas going into the upcoming season:
The Ducks made the decision late last season to switch to the young tandem of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Viktor Fasth was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and Jonas Hiller was permitted to walk as an unrestricted free agent. Andersen appeared in 28 regular season games during the 2013-14 campaign in his first taste of NHL action, while Gibson saw action in three outings. Anaheim utilized three netminders in the playoffs, with Andersen starting seven of the team's 13 contests and Gibson playing in the last four.
Jason LaBarbera was added as a free agent in the off-season on a one-way contract, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him start the year in the minors. If the Ducks want to give Gibson more playing time in the AHL then LaBarbera could be a backup option for Andersen.
The safest bet is to grab Andersen first if you are in a standard league. He has a better chance of starting as the top netminder and because he's four years older than Gibson, he might have a longer leash. Gibson has superior value in keeper formats and a ton of potential. What we've seen from him so far has been impressive, but it's been an incredibly small sample size and Anaheim might make the decision to not rush him. Gibson could be a savvy sleeper selection on draft day, so monitor what Anaheim's thought process is like during training camp.
St. Louis Blues
St. Louis is another highly-talented club with the potential for a time share in the crease. The Blues aren't strangers to using two goaltenders and they've operated with a 1A, 1B system for the past three seasons. Ryan Miller's arrival was supposed to change all that, but he didn't work out after his acquisition from Buffalo and the club made the decision to let him walk as a free agent.
Brian Elliott and Jake Allen will occupy the blue paint for St. Louis in 2014-15. Elliott is expected to be given the No. 1 job early, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if Allen took over at some point. Elliott has posted respectable numbers with the Blues and he's been very good in spurts. He tends to be streaky in the crease and when he goes cold, Allen will have an opportunity to run with the top position like he did during the lockout-shortened season when he appeared in 15 matches.
If you have to draft one goaltender then Elliott is your man. The Blues have already come out and declared him the initial starter because of his experience and "all the work he's put in." Allen's brief work in 2012-13 wasn't exactly spectacular, but he does have the potential to be a strong NHLer. He could fly under the radar a bit on draft day, so he may be available in the later rounds and will serve as a great handcuff for Elliott owners.
Injuries hit the Wild hard last season when it came to their goaltenders Oft-injured Niklas Backstrom battled a sports hernia ailment for most of the 2013-14 campaign and Josh Harding experienced complications with his battle with multiple sclerosis. The two appeared in 50 games combined.
Rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper picked up the slack for Minnesota between the pipes with Backstrom and Harding on the sidelines. He was joined by Ilya Bryzgalov, who also performed admirably, late in the year. Bryzgalov departed as a free agent and Kuemper is still waiting for a new contract as a restricted free agent.
Harding and Backstrom are expected to be ready to participate in training camp, but they are serious injury risks. Harding could suffer a setback at any time and Backstrom hasn't been a very reliable option since his first three seasons in the league on top of his health concerns. Kuemper held the fort effectively, but he's more likely to be an insurance policy should the Wild enter the year with three goaltenders like they've hinted they will. Harding is certainly a gamble, but he was leading the league in goals-against-average and save percentage prior to his illness. Take him over the other two if you have to and hope for the best, but make it a late-round pick if you can. Backstrom also represents a gamble and he'll probably be available late as well. Kuemper would be the preferred option because he isn't a major health risk, but his contract situation has the look of a possible holdout. He could end up starting more than one or both of his injury-riddled teammates this year. The best recommendation is to let someone else wrestle with the conundrum that is Minnesota's goalie situation.
Anton Khudobin showed he could be a capable starter with Carolina last season. He missed 32 games early in the year due to a lower-body injury, but he outplayed Cam Ward thoroughly when he was healthy. Ward dealt with his fair share of injuries as well during the 2013-14 campaign, but he wasn't impressive when he was in the lineup.
There was some speculation that Ward could be moved during the off-season, but he's still around and he'll try to reclaim the top spot in the Hurricanes' crease from Khudobin. Khudobin feels he earned the job last year based on merit and he's ready to prove it again.
Ward has played erratically for most of his career, but injuries have sidetracked for the past two seasons. His fantasy value has never been lower than it is right now, but there's a slim chance he could rebound with a fresh start on another team. Khudobin has the clear inside track of earning more action than Ward this season, but the prospect of having to share the crease will limit his fantasy value. The Hurricanes also aren't likely to be a very successful, so drafting either shouldn't be a priority until better options have been exhausted in the draft.
San Jose Sharks
Antti Niemi went from being a Vezina Trophy finalist in the lockout-shortened season to being a doubted starter during the 2013-14 campaign. He did struggle at times but the emergence of Alex Stalock had a lot to do with Niemi's fading value as well.
Niemi did post strong numbers last year, so there's a chance that Stalock's rise could be put on hold. However, the contract situations of the Sharks goalies tell a different story of what to expect. Stalock received a two-year extension in the off-season, while Niemi is eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2014-15 season. That may be enough of a reason to give Stalock a fair look to see exactly what the team has before making a final decision on the future of Niemi. If Stalock passes his test then the Sharks could make the call to move on and part ways with Niemi like the Ducks did with Jonas Hiller.
The Sharks should still be a strong team despite a terrible fallout from their playoff disaster, so getting a hold of at least one their goaltenders is recommended. Fantasy owners should lean toward Niemi's proven track record, but be mindful of his short leash and be ready when Stalock inevitably gets his chance. Look for the American netminder late in your drafts as a sleeper or an insurance policy if you've already taken Niemi.
Ryan Miller was the backbone of a terrible team last year and with him gone the Sabres will turn to Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth to fill their crease. Enroth has played second fiddle to Miller for the past four seasons and he's been hard-pressed to pick up wins during his NHL career. He recorded four in 28 appearances last season. Neuvirth was passed over in favor of Braden Holtby in Washington for the past two campaigns, but he played well as the Capitals starter in 2010-11.
Neuvirth holds an experience edge over Enroth that may give him the inside track for Buffalo's number one job. The fact that Enroth has yet to reach double digits in victories in one season is very concerning. If Neuvirth is healthy, which has been a bit of problem for him in the past, then he's probably going to be the top option in Buffalo.
Enroth has struggled to earn the trust of his coaches and Neuvirth may have established just that in two appearances with the Sabres last year when he was spectacular in a pair of losses. Neuvirth appears to be the "winner" here, but Enroth will probably get a more significant push and more action than he's been accustomed to seeing in the past. Whoever is in the crease for the Sabres will be an incredibly risky play in fantasy hockey this season. Buffalo is expected to finish at the bottom of the league again in 2014-15 and their goalies will be bombarded with shots on a regular basis, so it's best to steer clear.
Edmonton has some stability in their crease again after six goaltenders played for the club during the 2013-14 season, but the two they have are slated to compete for playing time. Ben Scrivens didn't get much support most of the time, which led to goals-against average of 3.01, but he some great showings including a record-breaking performance against San Jose when he pitched a 59-save shutout in 60 minutes of playing time. The Oilers acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim in March and did okay for himself in seven starts.
Scrivens will be given a chance to prove he can be the number one keeper. Edmonton made a crafty move by giving him a two-year contract worth $2.3 million per season. The Oilers made the message clear that they want him around, but they left it entirely up to him to show he's worthy of a larger deal down the road. Fasth looked good during his first NHL season in 2012-13, but he didn't get much playing time last campaign. He missed a sizeable chunk of the year due to a lower-body injury, but he was passed on the depth chart in Anaheim by Frederik Andersen.
Scrivens should be the target of fantasy owners if you are choosing between the two, but it's unlikely that the Oilers will take significant steps forward in 2014-15. The team is still working through a long rebuild, so their goaltenders will be under fire most nights. It's a good idea to leave them alone.
The Jets represent an interesting case because a potential starter for the team may not even be on their roster yet. Winnipeg is close to throwing in the towel with Ondrej Pavelec and AHL standout Michael Hutchinson may get a shot to hone his craft in the NHL after he played impressively in three outings at the end of the 2013-14 season.
Winnipeg was linked to Toronto's James Reimer in trade rumors over the summer. There are also some intriguing veterans on the free agent market, including Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov.
Pavelec should be out of lives by now, but it wouldn't be a shock if he got one last opportunity. Assuming the Jets don't dip into the free agent or trade markets then Hutchinson could see some action as well. However, unless Pavelec completely implodes then Hutchinson's playing time will probably be limited. Hutchinson may be worthy of a flier, but Pavelec should be left alone.