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NHL Fantasy: Goalie tandems to target in 2021-22

The NHL season is rapidly approaching. Just under two weeks away now, team rosters and lineups are beginning to take shape as preseason games continue. The preseason may not mean much, but in terms of fantasy hockey it can provide some insight into some potential players to target as sleepers in your fantasy draft.

Goalie timeshares are a fantasy manager’s worst nightmare. No fantasy manager wants to spend a top draft pick on a goaltender only for them to end up in a 1A/1B situation and regularly splitting starts. In weekly head to head leagues, having your top goalie only playing once or twice a week because of a timeshare can drastically reduce your chances of winning each week. That’s why it may be in your best interest to target goalie tandems in fantasy. Let’s take a look at some valuable tandems to stack in your league.

*All rankings are among goalies with at least 15 games played in 2020-21.

*ADP is based off 12 round leagues.

5v5 SVA Stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com

Seattle Kraken

Philipp Grubauer (Yahoo ADP: 68) and Chris Driedger (Yahoo ADP: 170)

The Seattle Kraken will one of the most exciting teams to watch in fantasy this season. With a completely new roster entering their first year, it’ll be hard to predict the fantasy value among their top players before we see how they lineup and perform to start the season. Their defense is good, but with so much uncertainty on who will get top pairing and top power play duties, the real value is in the crease.

Seattle possesses one of the best goaltending duos in the entire NHL entering the 2021-22 season, yet they are currently being underrated in fantasy. Both Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger had exceptional seasons last year, especially Grubauer who finished the year as the number two goalie in fantasy. Among goalies with at least 15 games played last season, Grubauer and Driedger both finished inside the top 10 for save percentage and GAA. Grubauer finished the season with a ridiculous .77 win percentage, while Driedger was at .61.

Grubauer’s numbers were obviously boosted from playing behind the best team in the regular season, but he had a great season nonetheless. It was especially encouraging to see him finally stay healthy for an entire season after struggling with injuries his whole career.

What makes this duo even more valuable is how low they are currently being drafted. Grubauer is going in the sixth round right now, while Driedger is falling all the way to the 15th round. It would be very easy to snag both Kraken netminders.

I understand the concern considering we don’t know how good Seattle will be next season, but there are two main factors to consider here. One is that the Kraken play in the pitiful Pacific division, and two is that they have arguably the best defence core in the division. There’s a good shot they’ll be one of the best defensive teams in the West next season, which is great news for their goalies.

Grubauer is the go-to starter for now, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Driedger get into a fair share of games. Grubauer has dealt with injury issues his whole career, and his 40 games last season were the most of his career. Picking up Driedger as a handcuff is a must for any Grubauer owner.

Seattle also has 15 back to backs in 2020-21, and the Kraken will certainly want to give Grubauer a break whenever they can given his injury history. After all, they didn’t go out and pay Driedger $3.5 million a year to sit on the bench all season.

Boston Bruins

Linus Ullmark (Yahoo ADP: 90) and Jeremy Swayman (Yahoo ADP: 140)

The Boston Bruins underwent a complete revamp in net over the offseason as long time starter and fantasy stud Tuukka Rask is out with a long-term injury and Jaroslav Halak was let go in free agency. Incoming is the underrated Linus Ullmark.

Ullmark may not have gotten much attention in fantasy circles to this point in his career, playing in Buffalo will do that, but he’s got loads of potential now that he’s on a good team. Ullmark managed to post save percentages of .915 and .917 in Buffalo the last two seasons, and is the only Sabres goalie to manage a save percentage over .910 over that time. He also managed to post a winning record of 9-6-3 in 2020-21 and 17-14-3 in 2019-20, again the only Sabres goalie to do so in both seasons.

Ullmark has never gotten the respect he deserves because of how bad the team in front of him has been, but now behind one of the league’s better rosters he’s set for a huge season. He goes from a team in the Sabres who finished dead last for shots against at even strength in 2020-21 to the Bruins who finished with the second least shots against at even strength, behind only the Colorado Avalanche.

Now of course there is some concern with Ullmark, as he’s never played over 40 games in a season with the 37 he played in 2018-19 being his career high. That’s why it makes sense to go out and pick up impressive rookie Jeremy Swayman at the end of your draft as well. Swayman made his NHL debut last season and looked exceptional. In the 10 games he played, Swayman went 7-3 with a .945 save percentage and 1.50 GAA.

The Bruins put their faith in Swayman by letting Halak leave and trading away fellow rookie Dan Vladar . It’s clear they trust Swayman and feel comfortable using him as much as necessary. Given both goalies lack of experience being a go to number one start, I’d expect a timeshare of sorts with both goalies providing solid fantasy value. The Bruins also have 13 back to backs next year, ensuring both goalies will see some work on a consistent basis.

Ullmark is currently being drafted right around the eighth round, while Swayman is going in the 12th round. As the 19th goalie off the board right now, Ullmark brings incredible value and upside for his ADP. Tagging on Swayman for insurance near the end of the draft will give you what should be one of the best tandems in the league for a team that finished 10th in the NHL last year.

Minnestoa Wild

Cam Talbot (Yahoo ADP: 67) and Kaapo Kahkonen (Yahoo ADP: 155)

The Minnesota Wild goaltending tandem of Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen had the second most combined wins of any tandem in the NHL last year, and there’s no reason why they can’t repeat that feat in 2021-22. Between Talbots 19 wins and Kahkonen’s 16, the duo combined for all 35 of the Wild’s wins last season.

The two were the third most valuable goaltending duo (with at least 10 gmaes played each) in fantasy in 2020-21 in terms of combined wins behind only Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner in Vegas who no longer play together, and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith in Pittsburgh.

Both Talbot and Kahkonen are back and set to once again play every game for Minnesota with no viable third option. The duo went a combined 35-16-5 last year as the Wild finished ninth in the NHL. The duo also combined for four shutouts on the year. Both goalies had extended stretches last season as the Wild’s number one goalie and the expectation is that they will once again split duties this year as the Wild ride the hot hand.

The Wild finished in the middle of the pack last year defensively, placing 16th for even strength shots against and 17th for even strength goals against. However, they did an exceptional job limiting high danger chances against. They finished first in the NHL in 2020-21 with the least high danger chances against, making life easy on their goalies.

The team also went out and completely revamped their defence this offseason, bringing in shutdown defenders in Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, and Jon Merrill. There’s a good chance the Wild will be even better defensively next season.

Talbot is the number one for now, thus his ADP being in sixth round compared to Kahkonen’s which is right around the fourteenth round. However like last year the duo will most likely both get into their fair share of games. Talbot hasn’t played over 60 games in a season since 2017-18, and the Wild certainly won’t want to overwork him with such a capable 1B option available. The team also has 14 back to backs, which is good news for Kahkonen’s fantasy value.

With Kahkonen being available near the end of most drafts, it’s definitely worth picking up Talbot early then adding Kahkonen late as the duo will most likely see around a 55-25 game split on what should be one of the league’s best teams.

New York Islanders

Semyon Varlamov (Yahoo ADP: 46) and Ilya Sorokin (Yahoo ADP: 57)

Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin are the undisputed best goalie tandem in the NHL, with both goalies being NHL caliber number ones. For that reason they are also the most valuable goaltending duo in fantasy this season.

Varlamov and Sorokin are both coming off great fantasy seasons in 2020-21. Varlamov finished the year 10th in the NHL for wins at 19-11-4 while also leading the entire NHL with 7 shutouts. Sorokin meanwhile posted a 13-6-3 record along with three shutouts. Both goalies also finished the season top 10 in save percentage as Varlamov was second at .929 and Sorokin placed 10th at .918. Similarly for GAA Varlamov was fourth league wide and Sorokin placed seventh.

Their 32 combined wins ranked fourth among goaltending tandems last year (among tandems with at least 10 games played each) behind Fleury/Lehner in Vegas, Jarry/DeSmith in Pittsburgh and Talbot/Kahkonen in Minnesota. However the Islanders duo’s combined 10 shutouts was tops in the league. Their counting stats were also the very best among any duo as they were the only tandem to both finish top 10 league wide in shutouts, save percentage, and GAA.

It took a little while last year for Sorokin to start getting consistent starts, but once he did the Islanders went with a full on timeshare in net. From February 28th onward, Sorokin and Varlamov both started exactly 18 games. I’d expect more of the same this season as the team takes advantage of their depth in net to keep each goalie fresh. The Islanders also lead the entire NHL with a ridiculous 19 back to back games, meaning they’ll need to use both goalies consistently throughout the year.

Now because both Islanders goalies are so highly touted, it will take considerable draft capital to get them both on your team. Varlamov is currently being drafted in the fourth round while Sorokin is going in the fifth round. That said if you are able to get both you’re set at the position and can hold off taking another goalie until the very end of your draft knowing you’ve got the best tandem in fantasy.

Target a tandem

Taking a goaltending tandem in your fantasy draft can be a great way to ensure you’re always getting the adequate amount of starts to win your matchup every week. In order to avoid the dreaded situation of having one half of a goaltending timeshare, give yourself some security in net by drafting one of the four goaltending tandems listed above in your draft.

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