Fantasy Hockey: Goalie Tiers

I hate lists for the following reasons:

1. They're dumb.

2. As many have stated before me, guys within one or two spots of each other are more or less interchangeable depending on which factors you value.

3. This is a list.

4. Wait, what was #3? This is ...

5. sdiofhsdiofnwe foiwne iowenw

Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway I am here to announce that I'm going to change my format a bit here. Instead of continuing to roll out my rankings, I'll post the tiers Fangraphs style, with each of the dude's names and then a short blurb about said players before moving on to the next tier. If anyone dares question me has a differing opinion, I would be more than happy to debate these in the comments.

More or less, though, these are where guys should be drafted this fall. Onward! (After the jump, I mean.)
 

 TIER I - U-S-A!! U-S-A!!


Ryan Miller, Buffalo

To me, Miller is in a class by himself. He's a "safe" pick in that he's shown very little health issues, he doesn't have anyone pushing him for starts and the entire hopes and dreams and fairy tales of the Sabres franchise rest on his shoulders. He's going to get 70 starts this season, and he also has upside as high as anyone else in the league. He's an asset in wins, saves, save percentage, goals against, cuteness, you name it. He's the only goalie I'd consider spending a first round pick on.

TIER II - We're steady options, but we've got some warts too.

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver

Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix

Yes, I bagged on Luongo in the caption above. And yes, he is highly overrated, but he's still a top-end option due to the amount of playing time he'll receive. His days of being a first round fantasy pick, though? Over. Dunzo. Kaput. The guy isn't going to get anywhere close to a .930 save percentage again, and if the playing time starts to slip, he could fall even further. Brodeur is Brodeur, and his bounce-back 2009-10 season shut the doors on any injury concerns associated with drafting him. The save percentage isn't stellar, but he's a goalie who has oodles and oodles of guaranteed playing time, he'll rack up wins and be an asset if chosen as a 2nd/3rd round pick. He won't last that long in most drafts, but a boy can dream, can't he? Lundqvist and Bryzgalov will likely make better bargains, as they fly somewhat under the radar. Wins will be a question mark for both this season, but it's safe to pencil them into your lineup with 30-35 wins, a 2.50ish GAA and a .915-.920 save percentage. Really, that's about what you can expect from Brodeur and Luongo as well, with slightly better win totals (especially if that Kovalchuk guy ends up in New Jersey after all).

TIER III - Upside for dayssssssssssssss.

Jimmy Howard, Detroit

Tuukka Rask, Boston

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis

This tier is really for the home run hitters. Each of these guys have incredible, top-of-the-charts upside, but they're all relatively unproven. None have had a full season's body of work as "the guy" to judge, and 2010-11 figures to be their first. Numbers wise each of these three were fantastic last year. They play on relatively strong teams which are built around strong defense (which = wins and low GAA) and have league-leading, .930-ish save percentage potential. I'm inclined to side with each of them, but it definitely needs to be noted that all three are relatively unknown commodities and don't have nearly the "safety" involved with the TIER I goalies.

TIER IV - Solid, unsexy* choices.

Tomas Vokoun, Florida

Jonas Hiller, Anaheim

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary

Craig Anderson, Colorado

 Pekka Rinne, Nashville

If Vokoun or Hiller played for good teams, their value would be much greater. Both will be below average fantasy assets in terms of wins, but their save percentages are among the league's best year in and year out. After two really poor years, Kiprusoff got back to his old form last year. Will the 2010-11 version of Kipper be the guy whose save percentage was dwindling ever-so-close to .900? Or will it be the 35-win, 2.31 GAA, .920 monster from last season? Safe money is probably somewhere in the middle. Anderson finally got a full-time gig last year, and acquited himself well. The final numbers weren't top shelf quality, but there's reason to believe he can be even better in his second year of full-time duties (namely, his .935 save percentage in October last year). Rinne is sort of like Vokoun light. He's not quite as good (few are) but he plays on a better team. Each of these guys will get the lion's share of work for their respective teams this season, and for that (and the fact that they're all above league-average) they have considerable value.

TIER V - Average goalies, good teams. And Cam Ward.

Marty Turco, Chicago

Antero Niittymaki, San Jose

Marc Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh

Carey Price, Montreal

Cam Ward, Carolina

Brian Elliot, Ottawa

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles

Turco's value got a huge boost when he signed with the defending champion Blackhawks. His save percentage was actually better than Anttii Niemi's last year (.913 to .912). If he faced as few shots as the Blackhawks give up, he'd have a much more impressive GAA. In Chicago he'll likely top 40 wins, have a decent shot at a sub 2.50-goals against and a similar low-teens save percentage. Nothing crazy, but definitely valuable if you can draft him late. Niittymaki also benefited from a change in scenery (and the departure of Evgeni Nabakov) and assumes the lead role for an extremely talented San Jose team. A two-year drop in Fleury's save percentage (from .921 to .912 to .905) is a big concern and hampers his pre-season value. He's capable of shooting up this list, but the luster of 2008's superb season is growing fainter every day. The trade of Jaroslav Halak opens the door (again) for Carey Price to assume full-time duties for the playoff-caliber Canadiens. Ward's value was smashed last year by playing on a profoundly bad Hurricane's team. His save percentage has been around league average the past two seasons, and if Carolina improves (they have to, don't they?) he could easily slide up alongside any of the TIER IV goalies. Quick will be a chic pick this fall, but I think his grasp on that job is more tenuous than most people want to believe. Everyone expects the Kings to be a strong Western Conference contender this year, and a .907 save percentage won't cut it for a team in the hunt.

 TIER VI - Average goalies, bad teams.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota 

Steve Mason, Columbus

Anttii Niemi, RFA

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas

Many people were concerned about Backstrom heading into last year, as the Wild were moving from Jacques Lemaire's suffocating defensive scheme to a more wide open, run-and-gun gameplan. Backstrom's save percentage took a massive dive, from .923 to .903. Mason's save percentage also took a dive for the disappointing Blue Jackets, from an average mark of .916 in his rookie season to well below that at .901 a year ago. Niemi's value was largely derived from playing on the best team in the league and it's impossible to project anything for him until he signs. If he signs. Lehtonen moves from Atlanta to Dallas this offseason. His numbers were on the wrong side of average as a Thrasher, and nothing about that will change on this Stars team. He's also a massive injury risk, having only played 97 games in the past three seasons. It's probably best to steer clear of all four of these guys unless you can nab them very late.

TIER VII - Camp battlers.

Semyon Varlamov, Washington

 Tim Thomas, Boston

Varlamov will be another chic pick in drafts this fall, but it remains to be seen if he'll win the bulk of the starts for the Capitals, if he'll have more of a 50/50 split, or if he'll be relegated to backup duty again like last season. He's a fantastic goaltending prospect (#2 on HockeysFuture.com's list), there's just not much evidence that he's ready to provide the necessary league average netplay the Capitals will require on a nightly basis. As for Thomas ... yeah, remember him? Guy won the Vezina two years ago and then lost his job. Unreal. Unless Rask falters (unlikely), gets hurt (possible) or Thomas gets traded (also possible), Timmy T won't have much value to fantasy leaguers.

TIER VIII - Just not very good at hockey/great at getting injured.

Atlanta Goalie

New York Islanders Goalie

Edmonton Goalie

Philadelphia Goalie

Tampa Bay Goalie

Toronto Goalie

Question marks abound here. A lot will come down to who does what in camp and in the early parts of the season, and it's really too early to judge. Of the netmidners on these teams, Jean-Sebastien Giguere is the most likely to emerge from a timeshare and have significant fantasy value. But Ondrej Pavelec? Jeff Deslauriers? Martin Gerber? Brian Boucher? Michael Leighton? Dan Ellis? Mike Smith? I can't see many fantasy drafts where calling their names would be a good thing.

OVERVIEW

Goalie is a fairly wide open position. There are some big names, and a bunch you know are going to play every night, but few sure things. I wouldn't advise reaching on one until the 2nd or 3rd round at the earliest, given the relative depth and levelness of the field. If the question is: "Do I spend a first round pick on Luongo or wait and use a third or fourth rounder on someone like Bryzgalov or Vokoun?" I'd wait. Definitely. There are far more shallow positions that need far more attention earlier in the draft. It's important to get someone you know you can trust (and someone you know is going to play), but there are probably 10-15 names called out on draft day that could provide as much value as anyone else. So much of their value is tied up in team-dependent stats like wins and shots allowed that it's nearly impossible to predict from one year to the next. Take Bryzgalov last year, for instance: he lasted longer than he should have because most people didn't think the Coyoteswould get him to 42 wins. You could have wasted a 1st round pick on Luongo and his averageness, or you could have waited and made a better value pick later in the draft.

Do the latter this season, and hope luck is on your side.

(*ED NOTE: I am probably going to throw the term sexy around a lot. Get used to it.*)

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