Fantasy Hockey: Who's the top goalie?

Who's the top fantasy goalie? Are there any rookies worth taking? And who are the best tough guys? We answer these burning questions and more in this week's edition of's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1.
Vancouver's Roberto Luongo will be the top goalie taken in a lot of fantasy drafts. ((Dave Sandford/Getty Images))

Welcome to's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1, where every Friday our resident nerds — er, experts — Jesse Campigotto and Jordan Shifman debate three hot topics of interest for poolies.

In last week's debut edition we duked it out over who we'd draft with the first overall pick. This time we continue getting you prepared for your draft by answering another three burning questions: Who's the top goalie? Are there any rookies worth taking? And who are the best tough guys?

Looking for a league to join? Check out CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool. It's fun. And you could win a car.

Oh, and follow Jordan and Jesse on Twitter. If that's your thing.

1. Who will be the top fantasy goalie?

JS: This could be the first time in years that there's no undisputed No. 1 goalie out there. In the past, it would have been a toss-up between Marty Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, but both are coming off injury-plagued seasons and mediocre playoff performances. And with the Olympics on the horizon, my bet is that one of them won't make it through the season unscathed. Evgeni Nabokov is a more durable goalie on a better team and seems to improve every year. He's averaged nearly 31 wins and five shutouts his entire career as a starter and is overdue for a Vezina Trophy. This year, it's crucial not to get caught up in the hype of an unproven or overrated goalie like Tim Thomas, Jonas Hiller, Semyon Varlamov or Steve Mason. As good as those guys may be, their value is based on where they're drafted in your pool (so if you get Steve Mason in the second round, he's not a steal!). Save yourself for a late-round veteran with something to prove, like J.S. Giguere or Marty Turco.

JC: Well, we agree on one thing: Turco could be a nice late-round steal. He's averaged 36 wins over the last five years, but with Dallas coming off a disastrous season he may slip under the radar in a lot of drafts. The only potential pitfall I see is playing time. Sure, he made a career-high 74 appearances last season, but that was with the immortal Tobias Stephan as the primary backup. The Stars have brought in the more reliable Alex Auld, so expect a dip in workload for Turco, who just turned 34. That reminds me of  my most important piece of advice on drafting goalies: if you look at just one stat, make it ice time. Simply, goalies who play a lot, win a lot, and wins are the bread and butter of a good fantasy goalie. So target workhorses that won't be pushed for playing time by a solid backup: that means guys like Luongo, Miikka Kiprusoff, Hank Lundqvist and Ryan Miller. Don't reach for Tim Thomas (only 54 games played last year), Dwayne Roloson (part of a crowded Islanders crease with Marty Biron and Rick DiPietro) and the aging Nabokov (62 games last season after playing 77 the year before).

JS: Just for the record, you also agreed with me on not going with Tim Thomas. That makes two things. And by the way, if you're in it for more than just wins from goalies, I definitely wouldn't hang my hat on Kiprusoff. His goals-against average and save percentage have worsened each year since the 2003-04 season and this trend should continue.

2. Are there any rookies worth drafting?

JC: I avoid rookies like Ken Hitchcock avoids salads. We were spoiled for a few years by dynamite freshman crops that brought us the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Geno Malkin. Those three averaged an absurd 98 points in their debut seasons, but it's important to remember that we could be talking about three of the all-time greats. For a more typical rookie performance look at Tampa's Steve Stamkos, who struggled at the beginning of last season before coming on at the end and finishing with a solid 23 goals and 46 points. But even that modest production can be considered an overachievement. Fellow No. 1 overall picks Vinny Lecavalier (28 points) and Joe Thornton (seven points) weren't nearly as good in their rookie years. If you're in a keeper league, consider taking a late flyer on John Tavares. Otherwise, stick with players with a track record.

Kiprusoff: Burned out?

 Season GP GAA SV%
 2005-06 74 2.07 .923
 2006-07 74 2.46 .917
 2007-08 76 2.69 .906
 2008-09 76 2.84 .903

JS: You're right, Jesse. The stats don't lie. Rookies are generally big risks with minimal up side. However, there always seems to be one or two guys who make it just worth it enough to take a chance. Take a look at Steve Mason, who headed into Jackets training camp last year backing up Pascal Leclaire (who had nine shutouts the year before) and realistically had no shot of taking over the job. But when Leclaire injured his ankle, Mason took the reins and didn't look back. He bested Leclaire with 10 shutouts on his way to the Calder Trophy. This year, other than Tavares, the rookies worth watching are Vancouver's Cody Hodgson and Nikita Filatov of the Blue Jackets. Filatov showed spurts of greatness in limited NHL action last season — he's already notched a hat trick — but he can be streaky. As for Hodgson, he was the OHL's player of the year last season for a reason, scoring 92 points in 53 games. If he makes the Canucks roster he could be a great late-round pick. Here's hoping he's not last year's Kyle Turris.

JC: Just to clarify, we're using a more strict definition for rookies — guys with zero NHL experience. The league considers players "rookies" if they've played in fewer than 25 NHL games the previous year or 26 the previous two years. Under this lax definition, you get guys like Bobby Ryan, who already had more than a quarter season of NHL experience under his belt before his "rookie" campaign of 2008-09. That ain't right.

3. Who's the best fantasy tough guy?

JS: I'm not the type of poolie that will draft a guy like Eric Godard or Colton Orr simply for the penalty minutes, but I do like the value of multi-talented players that can get you points and a good plus-minus rating in addition to penalty minutes. In my mind, there are five players in the league that have fit the bill over the last few years: Steve Ott, Chris Neil, Alex Burrows, Scott Hartnell and, everyone's favourite, Sean Avery. Avery and Neil both had mediocre seasons in 2008-09, so both should drop in your draft a bit, but expect them to rebound. The other three are becoming more valuable every year. Last year, Hartnell had 60 points with 143 PIMs, 13 power-play points and a plus-14 rating, while Burrows had 51 points with 150 PIMs, four shorthanded goals and a plus-23. In Dallas, Ott had 46 points, 12 power play points and 135 PIMs.

JC: First off, I hate fantasy leagues that reward penalty minutes. Instead, I suggest deducting something like half a point for every penalty minute a player incurs. After all, who wants to be drafting guys like Dan Carcillo? That said, if you're in a roto league with a penalty minutes category, you'll of course want to target enforcers who can also give you a boost in the scoring columns. Devils tough guy David Clarkson was your best bet last season, pairing 17 goals with 164 penalty minutes, 100 of those coming via majors. And, as Neal McCauley would say, there's a flip side to that coin. Keep an eye on star players who like to mix it up. Ryan Getzlaf's points and PIM totals have increased in each of his four seasons, up to 91 and 121 last year, and the big Ducks forward relishes his nasty reputation.

JS: I like drafting guys like Carcillo. True, he was merely a goon last year, but the year before he had 24 points with eight on the power play to go along with a league-leading 324 PIMs in just 57 games for the lowly Coyotes. That's almost a point every two games and I expect bigger things from him this year in Philadelphia. So let this be a lesson to all you poolies out there: even the fantasy guru Jesse Campigotto didn't realize Carcillo had fantasy value. So don't let him talk you out of taking a guy like Milan Lucic or David Backes this year.

JC: If 24 points in 57 games is "almost" a point every two games, then I'm "almost" seven feet tall. Oh, and Carcillo had 14 points in 74 games last season. The prosecution rests.

Next week: Who are the best free agents?