Goalie talk: Who to draft from the Avalanche, Bruins and more

Which of the two Bruins netminders, Jeremy Swayman at left or Linus Ullmark at right, will get more starts this season? Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Goalies are an essential position, in both fantasy hockey and on the ice once the 2022-23 NHL season opens. You're not raising your fantasy championship or the Stanley Cup unless you make the right decisions in net. So after an offseason at looking at fantasy hockey goalie rankings and live draft results, we've asked our experts to break down some key goalie situations across the league to help you get ready for your draft.

The Colorado Avalanche have a great track record with starting goalies in recent years. Who do you believe will be the better option this season, Alexandar Georgiev (currently going in the 14th round) or Pavel Francouz (20th round)?

ESPN Fantasy analyst Sean Allen: Give me Francouz. I do believe that if Francouz hadn't lost a year and a half to knee and hip surgeries over his career, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. He has the skills of a top starting NHL netminder, but just hasn't had his proper moment to shine. I think this is that chance. He's done nothing in the NHL but win. And all he did before joining the Avalanche in 2018-19 is put up the best all-time goaltender statistics in the history of the KHL. The only netminder with a better save percentage for their Russian league career is Semyon Varlamov, but that total is tainted by a minimal sample size of just 16 games. In his 83 games spanning three seasons in the KHL, Francouz posted a .945 save percentage. That's better than the career marks of Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin or Sergei Bobrovsky. Granted, Francouz did it in his late-20s, but posting that kind of save percentage over an extended period of time is a skill. Georgiev might turn out great in the future, and I have no doubt the Avs did their research before investing, but I think Francouz gets at least a 50-50 split to start and, when he continues to pile up wins, will start earning an even bigger piece of the pie. The fact that Francouz is going even later in drafts is just gravy.

NHL on ESPN host Arda Öcal: I actually wonder if, for the same reason Sean mentioned, if Georgiev doesn't earn the starting job. He has been clamoring for a chance to shine as a No. 1, which was difficult to fight for this past season behind Shesterkin (who I still maintain should have won the Hart Trophy but that's a debate for when I'm old and complaining a lot more about hockey), now he has a chance to fight for it with the defending Cup champs. His numbers arent as impressive as Pavel's, but that doesn't mean he couldn't find a new beginning in Denver, steal the spotlight and shine bright. Francouz does have home field advantage though, as well as some clutch playoff wins en route to winning the big one.

ESPN Fantasy analyst Victoria Matiash: I'd rather run with the fella the team targeted to fill the hole left by their departed Stanley Cup-winning netminder. At 32 years old, Francouz is a proven go-to as a solid sub to spell off the top option, when needed. To date, his ceiling appears set and measured. Whereas Georgiev is still getting going, now out from under the shadow of last year's Vezina winner. He's the more fun fantasy option, that's for sure. While I'm not drafting either as my one or two netminder, Colorado's most contemporary choice in net appeals most in sporting the greater upside.

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Out in Boston, Linus Ullmark (22nd round) and Jeremy Swayman (17th round) saw an even split, with both netminders starting 39 games apiece. Which one are you picking this season?

Allen: Is neither an option? Because I'd rather pick neither. I foresee another split season, but one with statistics that are a little less useful overall. The impact of missing both Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk -- first and third on the team in even-strength minutes last season -- can't be overstated. Swayman does appear to have the chops of a No. 1 goaltender of the future, but I feel like this team is still in the awkward transition phase with him thanks, in part, to the $5 million committed to Ullmark. I'd rather have Swayman on my team if I had to have one, as I think the ceiling is much higher if he were to pop this season.

Öcal: Asking this question is an absolute blasphemy because it implies that we in any way shape or form would desire to see the end of the cherished celebratory goalie hug. Therefore, I cannot possibly dignify this with an answer. You either pick both or neither. That's the rule.

Really though, for the reasons that Sean mentioned above, I would try to avoid making a Bruins goalie pick in your draft for as long as possible, because it's a tough one.

Matiash: If forced to choose, I'll side with the guy who wheedled his way into the larger Calder conversation last year. Like with Francouz in Colorado, we know who Ullmark is: a solid tandem teammate who evidentially lacks the wherewithal to flourish as an everyday starter. But Swayman is going to be a legit No. 1, one day. Perhaps one day soon. I also don't mind that he's playing on an expiring entry-level deal. An extra little kick in the hockey pants, if you will.

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Let's check in on a pair of new faces in new places out in Ontario. Matt Murray in Toronto and Cam Talbot in Ottawa are both being selected in the 18th round. Which one will have the better season?

Allen: I think there will be enough fight out of Ilya Samsonov to give Murray a smaller workload than he needs to be super successful for fantasy managers. I also think that, while the Senators offense made a lot of improvement this offseason, the defense is still suspect at best. Talbot will certainly play the most, but I'm not sure the production will merit regular usage in fantasy, with the Senators winning a lot of 5-4 and 4-3 games. On the other hand, I think the Maple Leafs are a good place for both Murray and Samsonov to synchronously regain their form, detracting from the potential value either would have in isolation of each other. All in all, I'd rather roll the dice with Murray. For Talbot to be a worthy fantasy netminder this season, we'll need 30-plus wins and a save percentage better than .910 -- which is a feat accomplished at the age of 35 or older by an elite list of Hall of Fame goaltenders (and Tim Thomas). Consider me dubious of Talbot joining the crew.

Öcal: First of all, it's crazy to think Murray is 28 years old. It feels like he should be 37 with the career he's had. The Leafs goaltending has been a hot topic for at least a decade, but this year especially there will be a giant microscope between the pipes - will Murray or Samsonov measure up to Jack Campbell? Ottawa looks like a vastly improved team on paper going into this campaign, will that benefit Talbot in net with wins? If I had to pick from the two, I would still lean Toronto, if only because we know that the Leafs are a terrific regular season team. (I say this for fantasy hockey purposes not to troll my hometown that I love very dearly.)

Matiash: One of my favorite sleeper picks this season, Talbot should have enough gas in his 35-year-old tank to kick out at least one solid campaign with an improved Senators team that seems ready to turn the corner. Also, the veteran will undoubtedly feel inspired to stick it to his former team in Minnesota, after management instead opted to run with an even more seasoned netminder in Marc-Andre Fleury. It's hard to quantify what a little spite brings to the competitive equation, but I'm all over that extra incentive.

Whereas, after a rough patch stretching more than three seasons, split between Pittsburgh and Ottawa, Murray is a wild card. Especially in the pressure cooker that is the Toronto hockey market. While I'm rooting for the guy, I need consistent play from the Maple Leafs newbie before jumping on his fantasy bandwagon. Even though he plays for the better club.

Which Florida Panthers goalie will have the better season, Sergei Bobrovsky (18th round) or Spencer Knight (22nd round)?

Allen: Money talks. The net is still primarily Bobrovsky's until injury or age catches up to him. He showed enough last season to quell aging concerns (after they started to creep in) by leading the NHL in wins. Thirty-four is old, but not too old. I know I just shied away from Talbot for being 35, but Bobrovsky has a Vezina under his belt, and the list of quality seasons by goaltenders 34 and older is a little longer and a little less prestigious overall.

Öcal: It's the regular season, so definitely Bobrovsky. But I still think there's gas in the tank with Knight. I'm not at all ruling him out, just picking Bob to have another great year.

Matiash: In 2021-22, Florida's veteran won 39 of 53 starts, while posting .913 SV% and 2.67 GAA. The Panthers are paying him another $12-million ($10-million AAV) to serve up a similar performance this round. Knight, all of 21 years old, will get his turn, but we're not there yet. Bobrovsky functioned as a top-10 fantasy netminder just a few months ago. Until shown otherwise, I expect much of the same, beginning this October.

In your opinion, who is the best backup goalie in the NHL and why?

Allen: Two assumptions I'm making in answering this question: Has to be someone who is a clear backup and we want an answer that is relevant to fantasy hockey. I find Antti Raanta intriguing from a fantasy perspective. He was born in the same year as Frederik Andersen and owns better career NHL ratios than Andersen -- despite playing a good chunk of his career with the Arizona Coyotes. Up until the last two games against the Rangers, Raanta was having a fantastic postseason and was far from the reason the Hurricanes didn't get out of the second round. In fact, his .922 save percentage was second only to Igor Shesterkin's for last season's playoffs. Andersen has earned this starting role and will continue to get the lion's share of starts, but I think the statistics Raanta can put up in a backup role could be useful in deeper leagues -- and if injury should befall Andersen (again), Raanta could be in the clear for some solid numbers.

Öcal: Give me an Islanders resurgence this season with Semyon Varlamov as the best backup in the league. Last year was a series of unfortunate events for the Isles, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if we saw a return to prominence in 2022-2023. Besides, if the Fisherman's logo is indeed making a triumphant return, how can they possibly lose?

(...says the host who will then get tons of screen grabs of that phrase tweeted at him if the Isles do miss the playoffs this year)

Matiash: Circling back to an earlier point, I'm not convinced Matt Murray will exactly flourish as Toronto's new No. 1. That's a tough market in which to revitalize a career. Which means I wouldn't feel entirely shocked if the Maple Leafs' starting net fell to Ilya Samsonov well before 2022-23 runs it's course. The 22nd overall draft pick (2015) put together one great, one fine, and one not-so-great campaign in his three years with the Capitals. I'm intrigued with, and optimistic about, what the 25-year-old makes of this fresh start with a top-tier club in Toronto. To me, Samsonov sparkles as a sleeper candidate in deeper fantasy leagues.

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