Welcome to Assume the Position, a new weekly feature that will focus on one specific player position each week. On a personal note, I love a good, deep league, the kind in which it’s actually helpful to know who the backup goalie is in Buffalo. We’ll be wading deep into the player pool on most weeks, so dynasty and deep redraft league owners, take note.
We’ll start things off with a look at the goaltenders, breaking them up into four tiers, with comments on each.
Below, goalies denoted in parentheses are the clear backup, while teammates that are hyphenated play in a more balanced timeshare. Rating goalies by the numbers alone is tricky business. We’ll revisit the chart throughout the season and hopefully give you a leg (pad?) up on the competition that goes beyond the numbers.
“Did you just call me ‘Roy’? It’s Roo-ah!”
The best of the best. The Elite. Top gun. You could probably argue for a few more to be added here, but what sets these chosen few apart? Consistency, plain and simple. We’re not throwing darts here, folks. Though apparently we are mixing metaphors.
- Carey Price (Mike Condon), Canadiens – Price is in no danger of losing the starting gig, but while he’s been out, the undefeated Condon hasn’t missed a beat.
- Henrik Lundqvist (Aanti Raanta) , Rangers –Am I the only one confused by the nickname ‘The King’? I guess when you’re this good, you can nickname yourself after any old team, whether you play for them or not. I’d suggest the ‘The Ranger’, but then I think of the poor Texans who haven’t heard of hockey yet who might be even more confused than I.
- Pekka Rinne (Carter Hutton), Predators – Speaking of names… Carter Hutton sounds more like a Nashville country singer than a goalie, backup or no. Which is just fine, cuz he ain’t gonna see much time in net with Rinne around. Yeah, it’s hard out here for a pimp…. Now, let’s talk about Rinne for a sec. A couple of rough starts lately – by his standards, anyway – and so it feels like maybe he doesn’t belong here. But check the stats. He’s 7-2 with a shutout, 2.16 GAA and .919 SV%, which is pretty much in line with what he accomplished last year, when he finished with 41 wins.
- Marc-Andre Fleury (Jeff Zatkoff) – Is Fleury really elite? Well, he’s certainly been playing like it. But here’s the quick test: Heard of the backup goalie? Yeah, me neither.
- Braden Holtby (Philip Grubauer), Capitals – Holtby’s save % is a little off the pace, but that can mostly be attributed to one bad game.
“What’re you guys doing?”
-“Puttin’ on the foil!”
-“Yeah, you want some?”
Like the Hanson Brothers, it’s pretty simple: You want these guys on your side. They will consistently contribute in all categories and be the foundation of your team. With a couple of these goalies on your roster, you’ll be singing Mmmbop! all the way to the rink.
- Corey Crawford (Scott Darling), Black Hawks – Crawford is playing like a member of the elite so far. But blowing a 5-2 first period lead against the Blues keeps him in this tier for now.
- Jimmy Howard–Petr Mrazek, Red Wings – Rare that a tandem would fit in this category, but they’re both playing well. Start ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.
- Roberto Luongo (Al Montoya), Panthers – Goalies age like pitchers sometimes, and getting by on more than their ‘stuff’ can keep them in the game. Luongo’s proving that 36 isn’t necessarily old for his position. But can the Panthers offense get him a win? On a better team, his stats would approach elite level.
- Jonathan Quick (Jhonas Enroth), Kings – Shaky start with three straight losses, followed by six wins, and then poor play in a loss to the lowly Blue Jackets. Hmm, red flags? But, he’s earned our trust, he should hold the fort more often than not going forward.
- Cory Schneider (Keith Kinkaid), Devils – Schneider is posting great stats right now, but it’s hard to trust the offensively challenged Devils will keep scoring enough for him to earn as many wins as he has so far.
- Jaroslav Halak (Thomas Griess), Islanders – Halak could move up a tier if the Isles can get on a roll and win a few than they are currently.
- Martin Jones (Alex Stalock), Sharks – Jones is in a good situation, but it’s hard to know if he’s the goalie who won the first four games while posting two shutouts, or the recent version who just got beaten by two of the worst teams in the league.
- Jake Allen–Brian Elliot, Blues – Allen has played extremely well so far. If he can stake the claim to the #1 role, there might be a case for calling him elite.
- Ben Bishop (Andrei Vasilevsky), Lightning – The wins will come for Bishop. His team is too good to maintain their recent 3 goals in 4 games disappointment.
- Ryan Miller (Richard Bachman), Canucks – Miller has been a slow-and-steady presence in net for the Orcas. Consistency is his game. Well, no, hockey is. But you know what I mean.
- Ondrej Pavelec (Michael Hutchinson), Jets – Pavelec has hovered around a .905 SV% for most of his career, but last year he finished at .920 with an improved GAA to match, and this year he hasn’t missed a beat. Perhaps a little competition last year raised his game a little? Meanwhile said competition, Hutchinson, who before his stellar last season with the Jets, you may have assumed was the man known formerly as Starsky’s partner, is arguably playing even better. Pavelec has the keys to the Gran Torino, however, and until he dents the car, the hierarchy is clear. Keep Hutch on the radar, though.
“Hey, we can still win this thing 8-7!”
Sure, there might be a decent grab in here, depending on the stats your league uses, or if they’re on a particular roll. But typically, all of these guys have graduated from the Grant Fuhr School of Hard Knocks Goaltending. Good enough to shut the door in a close tie game and maybe get you the win. Too bad the tie is 7-7. Some goalies in this category fit into the secret, invisible ‘Better Than You’d Think’ category, but their situation currently holds them back.
- Fredrik Andersen (Anton Khudobin) Ducks – don’t look now, but after doing their best impression of the ’74 Capitals (go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait)… the Ducks are on a winning streak! Your buy low window may already be closed on Andersen.
- Tukka Rask (Jonas Gustavsson) – Yes, Rask is/was good. But the Bruins are all run’n’gun all of a sudden. A classic 7-7 duel every other night is not good for the save percentage.
- Cam Ward (Eddie Lack), Hurricanes – The nicest thing I can say about Ward is that he is playing just well enough to avoid being demoted to the bottom tier.
- Sergei Bobrovsky (Curtis McIlhenney), Blue Jackets – Better than you think? A bit of a victim of a terrible start by the whole team. If he’s been dropped in your league, scoop him up now.
- Antti Niemi–Kari Lehtonen, Stars – These guys would easily be bumped up a tier – if they were just one guy instead of the dreaded ‘we’ll play the hot hand’ committee.
- Devan Dubnyk (Darcy Kuemper/Niklas Backstrom) – Some might put Dubnyk in the tier above. They’d be wrong.
- Craig Anderson (Andrew Hammond), Senators – If he’s not off getting injured, the one thing you can count on from Anderson is inconsistency.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t save” (Said no one, ever.)
These are some bad dudes, you don’t want to touch them. And I don’t mean ‘bad’ in a good way. I mean, ‘baaad’. Now that just sounds like a sheep when you read it out loud, doesn’t it? And who wants a sheep for a goaltender?
- Mike Smith (Anders Lindback), Coyotes – Is Mike Smith better than we think? If a tree falls in the desert…
- Chad Johnson–Linus Ullmark, Sabres – Don’t look now, but Ullmark has just started four in a row, with three wins to show for it. But oops, 8-for-11 in the loss, while Johnson got a mini-shutout in relief (hey, I did say ‘don’t look’…). I wouldn’t touch this situation in a redraft league, but in a deep dynasty league, Ullmark might be worth a speculative grab.
- Joni Ortio–Karri Ramo, Flames – When Jonas Hiller returns, he’ll reclaim his starter role. You shouldn’t care.
- Cam Talbot (Anders Nilsson), Oilers – I don’t really need to explain this, do I? The Oilers are an offensive team on the rise, exciting as hell to watch. But their defense is a work in progress, and therefore their goalies offer nothing more than a desperation spot start on any given night.
- Semyon Varlamov (Reto Berra), Avalanche – The team in front of him is just too inconsistent.
- Steve Mason (Michal Neuvirth), Flyers – As Reto’s half-Grandfather Yogi might say: Mason ain’t half bad, some of the time. But the Flyers allow nearly 35 shots per game (which leads the league, btw), which doesn’t help any. Meanwhile Neuvirth teases and flirts with great games, but can’t string anything together. I guess that’s his thing.
- James Reimer–Jonathan Bernier, Leafs – Reimer could take the lead here while Bernier is out. If he does and you don’t notice, you are forgiven.
Lots to talk about as we track the ups and downs of the goalies throughout the season. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section, especially from ‘homers’ who are seeing their guys play regularly! There’s no substitute for watching the games, there really isn’t. So much of a goaltender’s fortunes are situation dependent, and seeing them for several games can go a long way to understanding why their play is up or down, and what to expect going forward.