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Draft Guide

Goaltending Battles

by Corey Abbott
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The top tier netminders don't last long on draft day and once they are gone fantasy owners have to switch their focus to other options.  The easiest thing to do here is to pick a goalie on a strong team; one that either is more than competent defensively or one that will get you the most wins possible with a high volume of starts.  The issue that could arise here is some clubs don't have a clear cut number one goaltender.  Some coaches like to rotate starts, or roll with the hot hand, while others operate in much less predictable manners.    

That unpredictability and timeshares in the crease are the situations most fantasy poolies would prefer to avoid.  You always want to maximize the value of your puck stoppers because most times they are the key to winning your league. 
Keep in mind that things could change at training camp, but here are some teams that are facing potential goalie battles going into the season along with thoughts on how it could play out: 
Tampa Bay Lightning  
Andrei Vasilevskiy will be a starting goaltender in the NHL, but Ben Bishop is the starter until he is traded or Tampa Bay decides to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent next summer.  Allowing him to walk away for nothing would be a disaster and it is the far more unlikely scenario.  The Lightning were reportedly listening to trade offers for Bishop at the NHL Draft, but a deal wasn’t finalized and GM Steve Yzerman appears to be comfortable to enter the 2016-17 campaign with him in the fold.   
With the expansion draft looming Bishop or even Vasilevskiy could be gone around the trade deadline or after the season.  However, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bishop saw the bulk of the starts before a possible trade occurs.  He is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist and Vasilevskiy still has a great deal to prove before he can take the reins.  The Lightning may give the 22-year-old netminder additional action earlier in the year to experiment and see what life could be like without Bishop.  Still, this situation might not turn into a timeshare.   
Bishop is an established number one who has excelled with Tampa Bay and it would be a mistake to keep on the bench.  It is a difficult situation because a decision will have to be made if the Lightning don’t want to lose a top-notch goalie for nothing.  Vasilevskiy could be a great pick, especially if he becomes Tampa Bay’s starter.  Bishop should be the keeper of choice if you had to choose between the two on draft day, though.   
Dallas Stars  
Dallas spent $10.5 million on goaltending in 2015-16 and they were not worth the price.  Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were responsible for the Stars’ team save percentage of .904, which ranked 25th in the league.  Niemi posted personal worsts with a .905 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average, while Lehtonen improved slightly from a disastrous 2014-15 campaign with a .906 save percentage and a 2.76 GAA. 
Both goalies recorded 25 wins apiece to help Dallas win the Central Division.  However, they didn’t have much of a hand in the title as the team’s potent offense shouldered most of the load.  The Stars led the league with 265 goals for, while placing tying Los Angeles for second overall with 32.0 shots per contest.  Dallas also posted the 10th-best penalty kill and the fourth-best power play.   
Lehtonen and Niemi continued their struggles in the playoffs, which leaves plenty of question marks in the crease going into the season.  The Stars decided not to go the buyout route, but a trade remains a possibility.  The team has been linked to plenty of rumors during the off-season, with Bishop at the forefront.  Nothing has come to fruition yet, so it’s assumed that Lehtonen and Niemi will share starts again in 2016-17.  Niemi started 43 games compared to Lehtonen’s 39 last year, but coach Lindy Ruff will probably ride the hot hand.  Based on last year, Niemi may have a slight edge again.  However, it’s recommended that you avoid this situation unless you have no choice.   
Colorado Avalanche  
Semyon Varlamov was a star for the Avalanche in 2013-14, but his numbers have declined for two straight seasons since then.  He recorded a 2.81 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage last year.  Varlamov dealt with confidence issues during a wildly inconsistent campaign.  
The Avalanche struggle mightily when it comes to puck possession, which puts plenty of pressure on the goalies.  The team finished 25th in the NHL in shots for per game (28.6) and allowed the third-most shots against per match (32.3).  Varlamov unquestionably needs more support, but Calvin Pickard could cut into his starts if the ups and downs continue.   
Pickard played well and he earned the trust of coach Patrick Roy over the past two seasons when he was called up from the minors and he is due for some additional looks in the crease even though Roy is now gone.  Pickard owns a 2.46 GAA and a .927 save percentage in 36 career appearances.  Pickard could be a viable option in 2016-17 as a handcuff for Varlamov owners.  If Varlamov battles consistency issues then Pickard could also have some sleeper potential as a depth option.   
New York Islanders  
Jaroslav Halak missed the last 17 games of the regular season and all 11 playoff games because of a groin injury.  He was limited to 36 appearances after he played in 59 matches during the 2014-15 season.  Halak has performed well for the Islanders in two years when he has been healthy.  He has posted a 56-30-8 record along with nine shutouts, a .916 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against average.   
However, Thomas Greiss was excellent after Halak was injured and he was between the pipes in a starring role for the team in the franchise’s first trip to the second round of the playoffs since 1993.  He registered a personal best 23 wins and a career high .925 save percentage in 41 outings.  Greiss also had an impressive 2.36 goals-against average.   
Complicating the matter further is Jean-Francois Berube, who stayed up with the Islanders after he was claimed off waivers from Los Angeles early last October.  New York didn’t want to risk losing him so he spent time as the third goalie on the roster when Halak and Greiss were both in the lineup.  The 25-year-old played in seven games with the Isles, where he posted a 3-2-0 record with a 2.71 GAA and a .914 save percentage.      
Halak has two more years left on his contract, while Greiss’ deal expires at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.  The Islanders will probably give both goaltenders a chance to claim the top job, but there have been plenty of trade rumors.  Greiss has upped his value after a very successful year, but the Islanders may want to move Halak to free up some cap space. 
Carrying three goaltenders is not an ideal situation.  It takes away a roster spot and it doesn’t do Berube any favors if he gets mostly practice time and ends up as a regular scratch for games.  Halak’s experience as a starter counts for more to fantasy owners, so he should be the priority over Greiss if they both stay in the fold.  However, if Halak has any lingering issues from his groin then quickly jump on the Greiss bandwagon.   
Pittsburgh Penguins  
Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last year with Matt Murray between the pipes.  Marc-Andre Fleury has been criticized heavily in the past for his postseason shortcomings, so Murray’s success puts the Penguins in a complicated situation.   
Fleury was outstanding during the 2015-16 season.  He posted a 35-17-6 record along with a .921 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average prior to sitting out the last five games of the year with a concussion.  Fleury appeared in two games and made one start during the Eastern Conference Final, but Pittsburgh handed the top job back to Murray to finish what he started as the veteran netminder displayed plenty of rust after an extended absence.   
Murray will probably be Pittsburgh’s starter eventually, but until Fleury is traded fantasy owners should lower their expectations.  He is just 22 years of age and Fleury’s experience should give the benefit of the doubt going into the season.  The Penguins expect to have Fleury on the roster going into the 2016-17 campaign and you should anticipate him being the number one option.  Murray will supply quality starts when he is called upon and will make for a decent depth option, but his value won’t take off until Fleury is gone.   
Winnipeg Jets  
Ondrej Pavelec reverted back to his disappointing ways last season after he posted personal bests in 2014-15 during an up and down season.  He registered a 13-13-4 record with a .904 save percentage and a 2.78 GAA in 33 appearances.  Pavelec missed 33 matches with a knee injury last year, which gave Connor Hellebuyck an opportunity to play at the NHL level for the first time.   
Hellebuyck earned 13 wins in 26 outings, while posting two shutouts, a 2.34 GAA and a .918 save percentage.  He outperformed Pavelec and started more games than backup Michael Hutchinson, who struggled in his second NHL season.  There’s a slim chance that Hellebuyck may not start 2016-17 with Winnipeg even though he proved to be the best option in the crease by a considerable margin last year.   
The Jets need to address their goaltending.  Pavelec, who could be moved out prior to the season, is not the answer and Hutchinson could go either way.  If they both continue to struggle then the motivation to use Hellebuyck will be high.  Winnipeg posted a minus-24 goal differential in 2015-16 and team save percentage (.903) that ranked 28th in the league, so perhaps that is already enough to warrant a change.  Hellebuyck won’t be handed the job, but he appears to be the number one contender.  

Carolina Hurricanes  

Carolina re-signed Cam Ward to a two-year, $6.6 million contract to prevent him from testing the open market as an unrestricted free agent.  He was the superior option last season as Eddie Lack struggled and failed to take away the number one job.   
Lack struggled in his first year with the Hurricanes.  He posted 12 wins, along with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in 34 appearances.  Ward made 51 starts, while earning a 23-17-10 record in 52 outings.  He also had a .909 save percentage and a 2.41 GAA, which isn’t anything to write home about.   
If Ward and Lack remain the goaltenders for Carolina then they could end splitting time in 2016-17.  However, neither of them should be considered a very stable option.  Carolina ranked 29th in the league with a team save percentage of .902 last season.  The team is making improvements, but the crease is still a shaky position for them.  If that continues in 2016-17 then prospect Alex Nedeljkovic could get a crack at the NHL level.  He will turn pro this year and start in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers.  Carolina might also decide to seek an improvement through a trade if they feel the 20-year-old netminder needs more time to develop.   
Philadelphia Flyers  
Steve Mason started in 53 games for Philadelphia during the regular season even though Michal Neuvirth was impressive during his 32 appearances.  Mason posted 23 wins, with four shutouts, a .918 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against average, while Neivirth had an 18-8-4 mark along with a 2.27 GAA, a .924 save percentage and three goose eggs.   
The goalie controversy was sparked again in the playoffs when Mason struggled and Neuvirth was was superb.  The two of them saw three games apiece in the Flyers’ first-round loss to Washington.  Mason allowed 12 goals on 81 shots and Neuvirth turned aside 103 of the 105 shots he faced.  Neuvirth was also in goal for Philadelphia’s two wins in the series.   
Both netminders can become unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.  GM Ron Hextall said after the postseason elimination that Mason and Neuvirth have the ability to be number one goalies and he would be open to listening to trade offers even though it wouldn’t be a priority to unload one of them.   
Neuvirth will probably have trouble wrestling the top job from Mason, but he has likely earned himself an increased workload for this season.  If he continues to play lights out hockey then coach Dave Hakstol will have no other recourse than to ride the hot hand.  Still, you shouldn’t count Mason out.  He has played well for the Flyers since his arrival from Columbus and the sample size for Neuvirth is small.  Neuvirth isn’t as proven as a starter and his impressive regular-season statistics were buoyed by a fantastic start to the year.  He wasn’t nearly as impressive in the second half when Mason backstopped the Flyers to a playoff berth.  

Corey Abbott

Corey Abbott is an Editor for Hockey on NBC Sports Edge. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @CoreAbbott.