The old adage is that a hockey team is only as strong as its goalie. I strongly believe in this when it comes to fantasy hockey and since I currently sit in first place in both of my leagues, just past the halfway point of the NHL season and over halfway through the fantasy season, I figure now’s as good a time as any to impart my knowledge to the people. I finished first and second in each of my two leagues last season.
My philosophy is simple: Focus on goalies. If you have ever played and had success in fantasy football, you know the importance of having good running backs. I apply the same principles to my fantasy hockey drafts. I carry five starting goalies on each of my two teams. I have Marc-Andre Fleury, Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Ondrej Pavelec on one team and Marc-Andre Fleury, Semyon Varlamov, Ryan Miller, Antti Niemi, and Ilya Bryzgalov on the other.
In one league, I ended up with the second overall pick, so I snagged Sidney Crosby. If you have a top three pick, I’d go ahead and take a Crosby or Stamkos or Malkin. My second through sixth round picks were all goalies. On my other team, I had the ninth pick out of 10 teams and drafted Fleury. I took Rinne in the second, non-goalie Gabe Landeskog in the third, then back to Niemi and Bryzgalov in the fourth and fifth. I got Pavelec late in the 10th.
Why It Works
If you have a 10-team or a 12-team league, starting goalies will be scarce toward the end of the draft. If it’s merely an eight-team league, there will likely be starting goalies not drafted, but the elite ones will still go high. Both of my leagues are 10 teams, so most, if not all starters were claimed by the end of the draft. Vezina finalists will obviously go high (Lundqvist, Quick, Rinne). I was surprised to land Rinne in the second like I did. Marc-Andre Fleury was very high on my radar. I still consider him an underrated goalie. For the most part, he’s consistent and he can steal a game or two every now and then. He may not lead the league in GAA or save %, but he will be right up there in wins. Plus, he has guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Letang in front of him so he will get plenty of wins. Goalies of good teams will always be useful.
Of course, the downside of focusing so heavily on goalies during the initial rounds of the draft is that you will obviously be missing out on many top forwards. My take on this: It’s worth the risk. If you get a goalie who can consistently get you wins and put up good numbers, it is more valuable than a top scorer. I landed Chris Kunitz in the 12th and 14th rounds of my drafts and he is 3rd in the NHL in scoring. Unless you get the darkhorse goalie like that (Brian Elliott last year), the top goalies will we be gone much sooner and it’s easier for a scorer to emerge throughout the season than a goalie. Backup goalies usually need an injury to the starter or amazing play to usurp the starter role. Scorers will play no matter what, it’s just a matter of jumping on player as he’s about to catch fire.
With any fantasy team in any sport, depth is certainly important to achieve success. There are certain positions that you want to focus on however, and have depth within that position specifically (running backs, pitchers, and goalies). Having multiple starting goalies on good teams will ensure