Years ago, drafting goalies was easy. Every season, you could argue over order, but you couldn't go wrong with Roy, Brodeur or Hasek. These days, it's much harder to predict who will be the elite fantasy goalies from year to year. Consider this: the top 5 fantasy scorers from 2008 included the likes of: Tim Thomas, Niklas Backstrom, Steve Mason, and Cam Ward. If you spent an early pick on those names last fall, you were most likely scrambling for options by mid November.
You can no longer bank on the top names being the same from season to season, and so your approach to drafting goalies has to change with the times, particularly in the early rounds. Traditionally, the top goalies go off the board pretty early in a draft and once a run on goalies gets started, you'd better catch one quick. It's time to rethink that approach. If you're going to spend an early pick on a goalie, you had better be sure you're getting a sure thing. And once again, that's a hard proposition these days. Otherwise, you could be passing up a chance to get a stud forward or a sure-fire defensive scorer in round 1.
More than any other position, you need to evaluate the value of your pick by breaking them into tiers. There is so much parity and volatility at this position, that you must set your scopes on a tier and not so much a particular name. Either you want a tier 1 goalie at the expense of settling for a lesser forward or defenseman in round 2, or you go for the Crosby/Ovechkin/Green type in round 1 and grab what's left from the goalie position in round 2 or 3.
As I see it, there are only 3 "Tier 1" goalies going into 2010, and I could take them in any order: Miller, Lundqvist, and Brodeur. While these names may not ultimate finish at the top at the end of the year, they'll got the best track record and chance of being in the top 5 of anyone out there. Brodeur and Lundqvist have been money for years now, and Miller has obviously hit his prime and proven his worth. While it's tempting to throw other names into the mix, all other goalies come with some hesitation. If you're drafting late in Round 1 and any of these names are available to you, it's a no-brainer to spend your first pick on a goalie. If you're drafting early (picks 1-4), your money is better spent on an elite forward or defenseman, and settle for a Tier 2 goaltender.
When you get to Tier 2 for goalies, it's truly a matter of interchangeable parts. I've got some strong opinions on who I would take in what order (see my list below), but it's more important to step back and look at the big picture. Is there really that much difference between #4 and #10? In other words, would you be willing to sacrifice in other areas to get a guy like Bryzgalov over a guy like Kiprusoff? I say no. This kind of decision has to be made on the fly in your draft. If you're drafting in round 2 and there are plenty of Tier 2 guys left on the board, you're better off finding value at another position and settling for a guy further down the list in that tier. That said, you don't want to risk not getting at least one Tier 1 / Tier 2 goalie. The value does take a dip when you move down to Tier 3 and beyond. This is one area that mock drafting can truly help you prepare. It let's you test out your scenarios based on your position in the draft. (side note: our Mock Draft feature will soon be available).
Enough on the game plan, let's get to the picks. Here are my Tier 1, 2 and 3 draft rankings for goalies in 2010-11:
1. Ryan Miller (BUF)
If there is such a thing as a can't miss goalie pick these days, Miller is it. He may not finish at the top of the charts again in 2010-11, but you can bet he'll be up there. Miller's stats have improved for 4 straight seasons, culminating in a Vezina Trophy last year. Move him to the top of your list.
2. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
Lundqvist has been as consistent as they come since coming into the league. Over the past 5 seasons, his GAA has stayed between 2.2 and 2.5. He finished 7th in fantasy points last season, so he may not be the sexiest pick in the early going, but you know what you're getting with Lundqvist, and that is a very solid #1 goalie.
3. Martin Brodeur (NJD)
Some GMs will start to get gun-shy when it comes to Brodeur, fearing that he can't do what he does forever. Until he actually shows any sign of decline, show no fear. Brodeur doesn't play a particularly acrobatic style, so being an old man won't affect him like it might other goalies. The Devils will be the Devils and Brodeur will be Brodeur once again in 2010. Rank him as high as you please.
4. Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT)
Fleury has yet to display top notch fantasy numbers, but a few things have changed. First off, he's just now entering his prime in terms of goalie years. It's easy to forget he's only 26, which is about when most goalies break into the league. The Pens loaded up on defensive help this summer for the first time in decades. It all adds up to a potentially hot season for Fleury in terms of fantasy numbers. 40 wins are a given. GAA approaching 2 is in reach.
5. Ilya Bryzgalov (PHO)
It's taken some time, but Bryzgalov has finally made believers out of the hockey world. Since arriving in the desert, he has been the team's MVP, and his efforts were finally rewarded with a Vezina nomination last season. Under coach Dave Tippett, the Coyotes will continue to be committed to tough defense. The team will miss Michalek's shot blocking, but that shouldn't set back Bryzgalov's fantasy numbers. Bryzgalov should continue to be a solid #1 option in net.
6. Roberto Luongo (VAN)
It's hard to set expectations for Luongo right now. Last year, he topped most draft lists; however, if you took him in the first round, you probably cursed his name a time or two. After a disappointing season which saw all of his stats tumble, his value this fall has likewise gone down. The question is, how far? He's obviously still a good #1 option. Vancouver will be a Cup contender, and he's the undisputed starter when healthy. If he's around in the 2nd Round, take your chances.
7. Tomas Vokoun (FLA)
Vokoun doesn't get the credit that he deserved, mostly because of where he plays. He put up another great year with a .925 save percentage and 7 shutouts; however, a mediocre GAA of 2.55 holds him back. If your league values saves highly, he's a solid #1 goalie. He approached 2000 saves last season once again, and should see a good deal of action in 2010-11. Add to that the possibility that he could be moved in the spring to a contender, and you could find yourself in a good spot come playoff time.
8. Tuukka Rask (BOS)
You could argue that last year was his breakout campaign, but since he essentially played half a season, there is plenty of room for growth in 2010-11. Rask had the best stats of any goalie for 2nd half of the season, and he has apparently dethroned Tim Thomas for good. The Bruins will be better next season than last, and Rask should profit.
9. Antero Niitymaki (SJ)
For the first time in his career, Niittymaki looks to start the season as the #1 goalie, and what better place to do it than in San Jose. Niittymaki turned in a pretty good season for the Lightning, but there's no comparison here in terms of locale. Assuming the Sharks don't sign a 1B option, you should expect his win total to double next season. His GAA and Save % should also improve with the Sharks. He could conceivable finish the season in the top 5 of fantasy points. You may even be able to grab this steal in a later round.
10. Jimmy Howard (DET)
Howard waited a long time to get his shot at defending the Detroit crease, and it finally paid off last season. Had he started the season in net, he may have walked away with the Calder, and possibly even the Vezina. Detroit always gives their goalies a shot at great numbers, and that shouldn't change as long as Lidstrom delays retirement. Although he's just a sophomore, he's a safe pick as a #1 option this year. Count on 35 wins and up to 10 shutouts.
11. Miikka Kiprusoff (CGY)
Kiprusoff had been in a steady decline for several seasons, but redeemed himself a bit last year with some solid numbers, particularly in the 2nd half. He finished with a strong 2.31 GAA and .920 save %. The Flames as a team have been in a freefall, so he may not get back to 35 wins next season. Kiprusoff generally gets drafted pretty high, so you may count him as overrated. You'll probably find better options later in the draft. He's worthy of a 3rd round selection.
12. Marty Turco (CHI)
Things were looking for grim for Turco last spring when the Stars brought Lehtonen in to replace the long-tenured starter. He couldn't have asked for a better resolution, however, after landing on his skates in Chicago to join the defending Champs on their Cup defense. He still has the skills to win games and may ultimately post his best numbers in years playing behind the likes of Keith and Seabrook.
13. Jonathan Quick (LA)
Quick shot out of the gate last season, but couldn't win to save his life down the stretch. He proved he's capable of a heavy workload, but perhaps 72 games was a bit too much for the youngster. Don't be surprised to see the Kings incorporate some of their other young netminders into the mix next season, meaning he probably won't match his total of 39 wins next year. As far as a #2 option, he's as good as it gets. The Kings may be one of the top teams in the West next season, and they've got a decent defense in front of him.
14. Jaroslav Halak (STL)
Halak escaped a dysfunctional goalie situation in Montreal to join a Blues team that should be back in the playoff hunt next season. St. Louis has a good stable of defensemen that helped Chris Mason put up some decent numbers last year. Halak proved last season that he's an upgrade over Mason, and for the first time in his career, he's unopposed in net. Expect big things for Halak this year, without the soap opera with Price to distract and eat in into his playing time. Halak should be strong enough to lead the Blues back into the playoffs. He's a solid #2 option if he slides that far.
15. Craig Anderson (COL)
Half way through last season, Anderson was the story. He led the shocking Avalanche to an incredible start. While he didn't completely collapse, the team, and his stats, came down to earth in the 2nd half. Because of his high fantasy point totals last season, GMs may overinflate his value. Despite the early success last season, Colorado is still a young, growing team. It wouldn't be surprising to see them miss the playoffs next year. Look to Anderson as a decent #2 option in 2010, no more.
16. Pekka Rinne (NAS)
Rinne took another step forward last year and established himself as the #1 guy in Nashville, as Dan Ellis has moved on. With Rinne, you can count on steady, but not spectacular numbers. The Predators boast one of the best defensive units in the game, which helps keep the quality and quantity of the shots low that he has to face each night. However, the lack of scoring will limit his potential for wins once more. Rinne has yet to play more than 55 games in a season, so we'll see if he can handle full time duties. As a #2 option, you'll be satisfied.
17. Jonas Hiller (ANA)
After chasing Giguere out of town and taking over the #1 role, Hiller's numbers took a dip last season. The Ducks don't have anywhere near the defense they enjoyed when he broke out a couple seasons back. Gone are the big 3 of Niedermeyer, Pronger and Beauchemin. The Ducks should linger as a playoff contender, and he has no competition, so you can count on his playing time if nothing else. Pencil him in as an adequate #2 option for 30 wins.
To see the rest of my top 60 goalie rankings, visit: http://www.landsharkhockey.com/LS/tools/DraftRankings.aspx. You can also customize your own list there. Stay tuned for defensemen rankings next week.