The goaltender is the backbone of every team, and is also crucial to fantasy success. Instability between the pipes not only leads to tough times on the ice, but also unsteadiness on fantasy rosters. It's never too early to start preparing for next season, so let's take a look at several teams whose goaltending situations are unsettled heading into the 2012-13 campaign and how that could affect their fantasy stock.
Edmonton: Devan Dubnyk, a restricted free agent, likely played himself into the number one job with the way he ended the season, posting a save percentage of .932 and a goals-against average of 2.20 over March and April. Still, his overall body of work, coupled with how inexperienced and weak Edmonton is defensively, doesn't bode well for stability at the position. For better or worse, Dubnyk has a leg up on the position over Nikolai Khabibulin, who wore down as the year went on, finishing with a 12-20-7 record, a 2.65 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. The veteran should clearly be a backup at this point in his career. The Oilers’ goaltenders should not be high on your draft lists come September.
Florida: The Panthers weren't all that terrible in the goaltending department this season, finishing 12th in the league with 2.63 goals given up per game, though there is definitely room for improvement. Those deficiencies were exacerbated because they were the 27th-worst offense in the league. Still, Jose Theodore's inconsistencies (22-16-11, 2.46 GAA, .917 SV%) make him very difficult to rely on and Scott Clemmensen has never been a number one in his life and is more suited to a back-up role. In reality, Clemmensen, who's an unrestricted free agent, will probably re-sign this off-season and future number one Jacob Markstrom will be given some time in the AHL, before taking over full-time when Theodore's contract expires after next season. This is a situation to be leery of in fantasy leagues, no matter how good story it was that the Panthers snapped their 10-season playoff drought.
New Jersey: The Devils’ current goalies’ contracts both expire at the end of the season and both guys are not exactly in their hockey primes. No matter what New Jersey does in these playoffs, Martin Brodeur has accomplished it all in his illustrious career: he's won three Stanley Cups, won two Olympic gold medals and set a number of records. He's also 40 years old and there's a good chance he calls it quits at the end of this season -- a chance that becomes a near-certainty if the Devils go out on top. Johan Hedberg, also an unrestricted free agent, is no spring chicken, either, at age 39. Sure, New Jersey's minor league depth at the goaltending position has improved, but there's nobody really ready to claim the number one job. Next year could be the first season since 1991 that there's no Brodeur between the pipes in New Jersey – meaning there’s a lot for Lou Lamoriello to determine this off-season.
St. Louis: Unlike most of the teams mentioned here, the Blues actually seem to have two top goalies on their roster. The problem is there's not a clear-cut number one at this point. Jaroslav Halak (26-12-7, 1.97 GAA, .926 SV%) and Brian Elliott (23-10-4, 1.56 GAA, .940 SV% -- top NHL rates) both had outstanding seasons in what was nearly a 50-50 split in starts. Elliott ended the postseason with 11 goals allowed in three games, but his regular season cannot be ignored. St. Louis' system and attention to defense benefits whomever is between the pipes. It's a great situation for the Blues, it just makes it a tough call for fantasy owners looking for a keeper to get the bulk of the work.
Tampa Bay: In all likelihood, with better goaltending, the Lightning would have taken a run at the Southeast Division title this season as they led the division in scoring. However, they also led the entire NHL in goals given up with 281. Goaltenders under contract next season for the Bolts with NHL experience include Mathieu Garon, Sebastien Caron and Dustin Tokarski. Garon has been a career journeyman, and he put up a 2.85 goals-against average and .901 save percentage this campaign with a 23-16-4 record in 44 starts. Of course, he played that much because 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson, an unrestricted free agent, compiled a 3.66 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in 40 starts with a 13-16-3 record. Caron was signed to a one-year deal in March, and he hadn't played in the NHL in five years. Tokarski, 22, made five starts in March and gave up three or more goals in four of them. He was solid in the in the AHL with a 32-11 record, 2.23 GAA and .913 SV%. Does this collection inspire much confidence? That's the reason Tampa Bay is said to be looking outside the organization for help this offseason.
Toronto: The Leafs got out to a fast start and were even top 10 in the league in scoring but were undone by some shoddy play between the pipes, which was a major reason they finished with 80 points and a record of 35-37-10. In the 2011-12 campaign, the Leafs basically utilized musical goaltenders. Jonas Gustavsson, James Reimer, Ben Scrivens and even Jussi Rynnas got into the action. Heading into next year, just one is under contract, Reimer. The 24-year-old was expected to emerge as the number one guy in net; in fact, he went 4-0-1 in his first six starts, then suffered a concussion, which seemed to set him back the rest of the season. He also sustained a neck injury at the end of a campaign in which he finished with a 14-14-4 record, a 3.10 GAA and .900 save percentage. Gustavsson (17-17-4, 2.92 GAA, .902 SV%) will be allowed to test the market as an unrestricted free agent, while the 25-year-old Scrivens will probably be kept as he's a restricted free agent. The problem is there's still no clear top netminder in town, so it's hard to imagine general manager Brian Burke – unless he feels a big bounce back season is in Reimer’s future – going into next season without acquiring a frontline goalie.
Vancouver: Roberto Luongo is signed for another 10 years, but it appears a changing of the guard could be in store for the Canucks this offseason with Cory Schneider ready for a “promotion.” Even though he’s a restricted free agent and is set for a nice raise, Schneider was in net for the team’s last three postseason games, and he’s shown he has the ability to carry the load with a 20-8-1 record, 1.96 GAA and .937 SV% this past year. Of course, that means Vancouver will have to find a trading partner to ship Luongo to. The 33-year-old went 31-14-8 with a 2.41 GAA and .919 SV% this season and there aren’t a shortage of teams with goaltending needs. Just see above for a myriad of teams who could use Luongo’s services.