The 2014-2015 NHL regular season might still be a couple of months away, but that doesn’t mean that fantasy hockey managers haven’t started to do their research in the meantime. While last year’s champions might be taking things a bit lighter during the off-season, it is never too early to start preparing for the season ahead – especially if one plays in a deep league.
For those in deeper leagues, formidable netminders could be hot commodities, so for all intents and purposes this post will attempt to shed light on some goaltending tandems that could have an impact for their respective teams during the upcoming season. Of course, it is certainly hard to gauge how each tandem mentioned below will perform during the ’14-’15 NHL season, but there is reason enough to give these duos a good amount of consideration for fantasy rosters.
Carolina Hurricanes – Cam Ward/Anton Khudobin
Justin Peters helped out the Carolina Hurricanes tremendously last season as injuries to Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin forced the team to rely on what was essentially their third-string goalie. With Peters signing a deal with the Washington Capitals, Ward and Khudobin will have to stay healthy if the Hurricanes want to vie for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Last year, Ward registered a 3.06 GAA and .898 Save Percentage – some of the worst totals he has had since his first two years in the NHL – but it would be unrealistic to think that the goalie doesn’t have anything left in the tank. Having played in 60 or more games in five out of his nine NHL seasons, having a back-up such as Anton Khudobin could alleviate some of the stress placed on Ward.
While Khudobin might not have had many games of NHL experience under his belt before signing with the Hurricanes (21), the goalie put up some solid numbers in 36 games played (2.30 GAA, .926 Save Percentage) last year. As previously mentioned, if both Khudobin and Ward could manage to stay injury-free, Carolina’s goalie tandem can be one of the best in the NHL as both netminders could create an atmosphere of healthy competition for each other.
San Jose Sharks – Antti Niemi/Alex Stalock
All signs have pointed to Alex Stalock maturing into the goalie that the San Jose Sharks had put so much stock into developing, and that certainly is good news for Antti Niemi – at least for the time being. Ever since coming over to the San Jose, Niemi has played in 235 games for the Sharks, so having a reliable back-up in the form of Stalock could provide San Jose’s starter with some much needed and dependable relief.
Stalock’s skills – especially his stick-handling abilities – have been highly touted over the last few years, and even though it is unlikely that the back-up will supplant Niemi this season fantasy managers should still want to draft the goaltender. In 24 games played last season, Stalock went 15-4-2 and compiled a spectacular peripheral statistic line with a 1.87 GAA and a .932 Save Percentage.
Although Niemi played in almost three times the amount of games that Stalock appeared in, he still managed to put up some of good stat-lines (64 GP, 2.39 GAA, .913 Save Percentage) for a starting goalie. Fantasy managers will undoubtedly flock to select Niemi, but for those that are vigilant, Stalock could definitely be picked up in the later stages of a given draft as his name might still fly under the radar a bit.
Ottawa Senators – Craig Anderson/Robin Lehner
Despite having a 3.00 GAA last season, fantasy managers should still put their trust into Craig Anderson as the goalie shown that he is more often than not a very dependable option. Similarly, Robin Lehner also saw his GAA soar to an unsightly 3.06 clip, and that could make him more available in some leagues as managers might still be wary of the netminder after last season.
Since arriving in Ottawa, Anderson has been a staple of consistency for the Senators, so fans and managers alike should expect Paul MacLean to absolutely give his goalie a nod of confidence for the upcoming season. During the lockout-shortened ’12-’13 NHL season, Lehner proved his worth to the Senators as he played in 12 games and had a very impressive 2.20 GAA with a .936 Save Percentage – a form that the Senators are probably expecting their young goalie to return to for this season.
Barring any injury to Anderson, Lehner – who signed a three-year extension with the Senators – will likely see around 25 games of action during the ’14-’15 NHL season, and fantasy managers would be wise to snag the goalie if they see that he is unclaimed in either a draft or free agent/waiver-wire setting as Anderson will most likely be taken in greater numbers – particularly in shallower leagues.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer
The selection of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer might seem like an odd choice for this list, but there is ample opportunity for healthy competition in this scenario. Towards the end of last season and into the off-season, it was widely speculated that Reimer would be leaving Toronto via a trade because of his relationship with head coach Randy Carlyle.
However, with the goalie recently signing an extension to stay in Toronto, there could be a situation where Reimer pushes Bernier to constantly be on top of his game as Reimer has said that he fully expects to compete for the Leafs’ starting duties out of training camp. Whether or not Bernier or Reimer will be Toronto’s starting goaltender come opening night is anyone’s best guess, but it’s not as though Reimer will have a cakewalk when it comes to wresting starting duties from Bernier.
Last season, Bernier played in a career-high 55 games and was able to compile a 2.69 GAA with a .923 Save Percentage while Reimer had a 3.29 GAA and .911 Save Percentage in 36 appearances. Of course, Reimer’s GAA might be cause for concern amongst some managers, but there is no doubting the fact that the Maple Leafs went through some tough stretches – specifically during Reimer’s March starts – with Reimer in goal. As long as Reimer and coach Carlyle maintain a working relationship, the Bernier-Reimer tandem has a good amount of potential for the upcoming hockey season.
New York Islanders – Jaroslav Halak/Chad Johnson
The New York Islanders completely revamped their goaltending situation and probably have their best goalie tandem since Chris Osgood and Garth Snow. Jaroslav Halak will likely be the Isles’ starting goalie once the NHL season begins with Chad Johnson assuming back-up duties after serving as a number two to Tuukka Rask in Boston.
Halak spent last season as a member of the St. Louis Blues (40 GP, 2.23 GAA, .917 Save Percentage) and Washington Capitals (12 GP, 2.31 GAA, .930 Save Percentage), and the goalie should bring some stability to the Isles’ crease as the team’s starter. As a member of the Bruins, Johnson appeared in a career-high 27 games for Boston last season and played to the tune of a 2.10 GAA and .925 Save Percentage.
A good amount of fantasy managers will most likely select Halak on draft day, but that doesn’t mean that Johnson should be slept on in certain leagues. Halak and Johnson sure do have a task ahead of them as they will try to stabilize the Isles’ crease, but the newly formed duo will undoubtedly be an upgrade over what New York has had between the pipes over the last few years.
New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist/Cam Talbot
After making a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Rangers will undoubtedly have some high expectations for next season. Henrik Lundqvist will go into the upcoming season as the unquestioned starting goalie for the Rangers, but Cam Talbot’s play during the ’13-’14 regular season definitely left some intrigue as to what role the goalie will play during the ’14-’15 NHL season.
Since 2006-2007, Lundqvist has appeared in at least 62 games per season (43 in a lockout-shortened ’12-’13 season), so some relief for the veteran netminder is due at some point. In 21 games played last season, Talbot registered a 12-6-1 record with a 1.64 GAA and .941 Save Percentage.
While it would be unfair to expect Talbot to maintain such numbers in the long run, the goalie definitely looked calm and composed when head coach Alain Vigneault depended on him last year. Fantasy managers will definitely not leave Lundqvist unselected on draft day, but Talbot could definitely be of use in deeper leagues as he will likely see at least 20 starts behind Lundqvist for the ’14-’15 regular season.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Ben Bishop/Evgeni Nabokov
If Ben Bishop wasn’t injured for the Lightning last season, then things might have taken a different turn for Tampa Bay. Bishop was superb in his second year with the Lightning as he played in 63 games and recorded a 2.23 GAA and a .924 Save Percentage.
Meanwhile, Evgeni Nabokov appeared in 40 games with the Islanders – despite two separate injuries – and amassed a 2.74 GAA and .905 Save Percentage. Nabokov will probably not play in as many games with the Lightning as he did with the Islanders over the past three years as he will be Bishop’s back-up, but his veteran leadership, insights, and locker-room presence are second to none.
Being used less frequently could provide Nabokov with more opportunities for rest, thus preserving his body over the course of an 82-game regular season schedule. Fantasy managers could definitely snag Nabokov during the later stages of their fantasy draft as Bishop will likely be selected in droves, but Tampa Bay’s netminding situation seems to be pretty solid heading into the upcoming season.
Vancouver Canucks – Ryan Miller/Eddie Lack
After underperforming with the St. Louis Blues to some extent, managers might not have the confidence that they once had in Ryan Miller, but that doesn’t mean that the veteran can’t bring some consistency to Vancouver. As a member of the Blues, Miller’s GAA dipped to 2.47, but his Save Percentage took a drastic tumble as it went from .924 with the Sabres to .903 with St. Louis.
Despite his poorer quality of play in St. Louis, Miller probably won’t be dealing with trade speculation with the Canucks. Dealing away Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, Vancouver is likely done trading away its goalies for the time being. While Miller will assume starting duties for the Canucks, fantasy managers won’t be likely to forget the job that Eddie Lack did throughout last season when he played in 41 games in his first NHL season and registered a 2.41 GAA and .912 Save Percentage for a Canucks team that went through a tumultuous season on many fronts.
With Miller on board, Lack will probably see somewhere in the range of 25-30 starts and could be a useful pick-up in a variety of leagues. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues should absolutely consider selecting Lack during the mid-to-late stages of their drafts as the Miller-Lack duo has the potential to bring the Canucks back into some form of contention in a highly-competitive Western Conference.
Washington Capitals – Braden Holtby/Justin Peters
Braden Holtby registered the worst statistical season of his career with the Capitals last year, but there is little reason to think that the goalie will regress. Last season, Holtby accumulated a 2.85 GAA and a .915 Save Percentage for Washington as he started a career-high 45 games.
On the other hand, Justin Peters found himself the beneficiary of injuries to Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward as he appeared in 21 games for the Hurricanes and had some decent statistics (2.50 GAA, .919 Save Percentage) as Carolina’s starter. With Peters as the back-up and Philip Grubauer in the AHL, the Capitals seem to be set in goal for the upcoming season.
While Holtby and Peters might not be the first names that fantasy managers think of when wanting to draft a goalie, the duo could turn out to be quite useful as Peters could alleviate Holtby’s workload if there is too much stress placed on the starter at any point during the season.
Chicago Blackhawks – Corey Crawford/Antti Raanta
Corey Crawford had yet another solid season last year and another good playoff run during which he and his team came within one victory of getting to the Stanley Cup Final. Crawford played 59 games last season and registered a 2.26 GAA and .917 Save Percentage while amassing a 32-16-10 record.
On the other hand, Antti Raanta played in his first NHL season with the Blackhawks after coming over from Finland and compiled a 13-5-4 record, a 2.71 GAA, and a .897 Save Percentage. Raanta’s Save Percentage numbers might not have been the most appealing, but the goalie was up to the task when Crawford went down with an injury last December, and he certainly made it plain to see why he was such an interesting free agent goalie during the 2013 off-season.
With Crawford firmly entrenched as the Blackhawks’ starting goalie, Raanta will likely play in the same amount of games (25) as he did last year. Fantasy managers should definitely keep a close eye on this situation as Raanta could emerge as one of the better back-ups in the league this year – making Chicago’s one-two goaltending punch one of the better ones in the league.
Florida Panthers – Roberto Luongo/Al Montoya
How the Florida Panthers will perform during the ’14-’15 regular season is yet to be seen, but with Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya in net the Big Cats definitely have a fighting chance at the very least. Despite playing to a 6-7-1 record in 14 games with the Panthers last season, Luongo recorded a very manageable 2.46 GAA and .924 Save Percentage after the Canucks traded him back to Florida.
Meanwhile, Al Montoya outperformed Ondrej Pavelec in Winnipeg as he put up a 13-8-3 record with a 2.30 GAA and .920 Save Percentage in 28 games played. Montoya has been a dependable back-up over the last five seasons and could very well provide the much-needed stability behind Luongo that could push the Panthers over the hump and back into the playoffs.
Fantasy managers will likely line up to draft Luongo on draft day, but those in deeper leagues should not shy away from adding Montoya to their roster as he has proved his worth as a number two goalie over the last several years.
Anaheim Ducks – John Gibson/Frederik Andersen
The Ducks might have the most unproven of goalie tandems in the NHL, but there is a huge amount of potential between John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. Last season, Bruce Boudreau surprised a lot of people when he placed an immense amount of trust into Gibson and started him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While rolling the dice on Gibson initially paid off for the Ducks, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings were simply too much for Gibson and the Ducks to handle. Gibson’s regular season stat-line (3 GP, 1.33 GAA, .954 Save Percentage) might not be the best indicator of how the goalie can perform over the course of a full NHL season, but his strong playoff performances certainly gave credence to the netminder’s talents.
Frederik Andersen also played in his first NHL season (28 GP, 2.29 GAA, .923 Save Percentage) with the Ducks last year and had a 20-5-0 record for Anaheim. Despite some sub-par showings in the playoffs against Dallas, Andersen will likely be the Ducks’ starter this season, and he will definitely be a draw for managers that have noticed his prowess. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues should absolutely pick up both Gibson and Andersen while those in shallower leagues might want to hold off on investing too much stock into the young duo as the small sample size of the two netminders isn’t the best forecaster of long-term ability.
Minnesota Wild – Josh Harding/Niklas Backstrom
Niklas Backstrom only played 21 games last year as injuries severely limited the goalie and Josh Harding had to take time off as well because of Multiple Sclerosis. With the Wild’s goaltending front being decimated, Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov had to step in and fill the shoes of one of the NHL’s most reliable goaltending tandems – and it was plain to see that Harding and Backstrom were sorely missed.
Being limited by injuries, Backstrom recorded the worst totals of his career last season as his GAA soared to 3.02 and his Save Percentage dipped to .899. On the other hand, Harding amassed some of the most impressive totals of his career as he played in 29 games and registered a 1.66 GAA with a .933 Save Percentage.
Much like Khudobin and Ward, if Backstrom and Harding could get through a full season and remain relatively healthy, then the Wild will be a much stronger contender out in a tight Western Conference. Fantasy managers should absolutely take one, or both, of the Wild goalies if they have a chance to draft them as netminding duos don’t get much better than Harding/Backstrom.
*** Some goalie tandems might have been left out, so we would love to hear your feedback on who you think could be an interesting duo going into next season. Also, be sure to check out Goalie Post for all of your goaltending needs, inquiries, and wonderings.
In his third year with The Hockey Writers, Toli covers all things related to the New York Islanders. Focusing on the Islanders, the NHL Draft & draft-eligible prospect goalies, and hockey history, Toli can be contacted on Facebook by searching/messaging Toli Metter and on twitter by searching @ToliMetterTHW.