One of the most frustrating things a fantasy hockey owner can do is build a monster team and forget to account for goaltending. In roto and head-to-head leagues, even more than pitchers in baseball, a solid week from just one goalie can do wonders for your end-of-the-week statline. Despite the fact that they usually comprise less than a quarter of your roster, goaltenders often account for as much as 30% or more of a team’s stat categories. Wins, GAA, shutouts, saves or save percentage, sometimes even goals against are all potential categories that will end up being decided, not by the play of your whole team but by one or two masked men.
Everyone knows Marty Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller all should have great years, but all three of them, plus Henrik Lundqvist in New York and maybe even Ilya Bryzgalov will be gone by round 3 or 4 at the latest. Since most leagues let you play two goalies a night, you’re gonna need more than one stud between the pipes even if you do get one of them, so let’s take a look at five other sleeper keepers that can reap you big-time rewards this season.
Tuuka Rask: This one is especially painful for me as a Leaf fan, since we gave Rask up to Boston for the great and incredibly talented Andrew Raycroft a few years back, but Tuuka came into his own in a huge way last season, leading all NHL goalies with a miniscule 1.97 GAA and 22 wins in just 39 starts. Stealing the starting job from Vezina incumbent Tim Thomas, Rask led the Bruins to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, where they came within inches of reaching the Conference Finals. Rask should see a significant jump in playing time this season, so his win totals should go up, and with a hard-hitting, rock-solid Bruins’ defense ahead of him, that tiny GAA of his should stay down.
Antti Niemi: Classic story, how many times have you heard this one, eh? Rookie goalie comes out of nowhere to steal the starting job in an Original Six hockey town and backstops a 16-6 run through the postseason to end the longest current Stanley Cup drought. Standard stuff, really, hits the market after arbitration in the summer and signs with the team he put out in the Conference Finals last spring. Except, there’s only ever been three other rookie goalies to win a Stanley Cup championship, and the only two Cup-winning goalies since 1990 that didn’t return to their teams the next NHL season were Dominik Hasek (retired after winning with Detroit in ’02) and Nikolai Khabibulin (returned to NHL after lockout with Chicago after winning with Tampa Bay in ’04). The fact that Chicago was unable to keep a kid who lost only 7 games in the regular season is a huge blow to them, but if he puts up numbers like he did last year in San Jose, with their high-powered offense, he’s probably not going to lose too many more.
Carey Price: Hahahahahahah, just kidding.
Tomas Vokoun: A perfect complement to your lineup if you can snag a guy who’s gonna rack up wins somewhere like Pittsburgh or Washington, Vokoun isn’t going to get wins in Florida, potentially the worst team in the league this year. Still, in the past two seasons, Vokoun had over 3650 saves, ranked in the top 3 among NHL goalies in save percentage and registered 13 shutouts. He can’t be your only keeper, though, because the wins just aren’t going to be there.
Jimmy Howard: Yet another young goalie who stood out in the Central Division last season, Howard looks to be a fantasy stud in Detroit. The Wings don’t usually have too much trouble winning games, and Howard’s 2.29 GAA is very tempting. With a high save percentage as well, the only category Howard didn’t shine in was shutouts, but can you really complain there?
Pekka Rinne: There’s a reason Dan Ellis was traded during the offseason, and Rinne’s stellar play over the lat two seasons is precisely that. In 104 career starts, Rinne has 62 wins, a 2.46 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Fourteen shutouts are a cherry on top for fantasy owners, and there’s a good chance there will be even more of those in the future now that Rinne will be seeing full-time NHL starting duty.
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