Commentary

In The Crease: Free-agent impact

Tomas Vokoun among big winners for 2011-12 season

Updated: July 12, 2011, 11:59 AM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

The goaltender carousel went for a spin during the first weekend of July, and with all the starting jobs filled -- and most of the free agents off the market -- it's time to take another look at the preseason fantasy rankings list for the NHL's netminders.

Although much of the shopping has been completed, one familiar name sits on the shelf in the goaltending aisle waiting to find out where he'll play next season: Ray Emery. After being signed by the Anaheim Ducks midway through the 2010-11 season, Emery was quite effective in a small regular-season sample (nine starts and one relief appearance), racking up seven wins, a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. The No. 1 jobs around the league have been filled, but Emery would be fantasy-relevant even as a backup, as long as he could reproduce the numbers we've seen from him (when healthy) the past two seasons. A return to Anaheim is not outside the realm of possibility, but this will be largely contingent upon the health of Jonas Hiller, who was among the elite goalies in the league last season before vertigo symptoms ended his campaign.

As a reminder, or for the new converts in the fantasy hockey crowd, my rankings list takes into account the three standard categories in ESPN leagues: wins, goals-against average and save percentage. We've got a lot to get to in our journey this week, so enough of the preamble.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues in the 2011-12 season. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Previous ranking -- from after the draft -- is indicated in parentheses.

1. Tim Thomas, Bos (1)
2. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (2)
3. Carey Price, Mon (3)
4. Roberto Luongo, Van (4)
5. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (5)
6. Tomas Vokoun, Was (11)
7. Ryan Miller, Buf (6)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (7)
9. Jonathan Quick, LA (8)
10. Martin Brodeur, NJ (9)
11. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (10)
12. Corey Crawford, Chi (12)
13. Craig Anderson, Ott (13)
14. Dwayne Roloson, TB (16)
15. Jimmy Howard, Det (14)
16. James Reimer, Tor (15)
17. Antti Niemi, SJ (17)
18. Jaroslav Halak, StL (18)
19. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (19)
20. Cam Ward, Car (20)
21. Mike Smith, Pho (NR)
22. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (21)
23. Niklas Backstrom, Min (22)
24. Al Montoya, NYI (25)
25. Semyon Varlamov, Col (NR)
26. Jose Theodore, Fla (NR)
27. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (26)
28. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (27)
29. Ray Emery, FA (28)
30. Michal Neuvirth, Was (23)
31. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (29)
32. Jonas Hiller, Ana (30)
33. Steve Mason, Cls (31)
34. Jonathan Bernier, LA (32)
35. Dan Ellis, Ana (33)
36. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (34)
37. Tuukka Rask, Bos (36)
38. Cory Schneider, Van (38)
39. Johan Hedberg, NJ (39)
40. Mark Dekanich, Cls (NR)

Changing sweaters

Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals: An incredible sequence of events ended with the top free-agent goalie on the market this offseason landing with the team that finished atop the Eastern Conference -- with three promising young goalies in the mix -- last season. Huh? Let's review.

The Capitals were one of the teams that ran a time-share in goal throughout the 2010-11 season, with Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby alternatively looking like the answer or fading away because of injury or poor play. Another early-round playoff exit was enough to get the momentum moving toward changes in net. A report earlier this offseason had Varlamov taking his equipment bag and heading home to Russia for a contract in the KHL, but instead, Caps general manager George McPhee was able to fleece the Colorado Avalanche, who sent a 2012 first-round pick and a second-rounder in 2012 or 2013 back to Washington. (More on Varly in a bit.)

Simultaneously, the Florida Panthers were attempting to re-sign Vokoun, who had been with them for four seasons. According to The Miami Herald's George Richards, as the Panthers got close to a deal with Jose Theodore, Vokoun and his agent passed on the Panthers' final offer, putting him out on the street looking for the best option available. Despite the potential of the young pair already in-house, McPhee pounced on Vokoun, landing him on a one-year deal for $1.5 million, less than the annual salary of less accomplished options signed elsewhere in the previous days.

Looking ahead, head coach Bruce Boudreau has indicated that Vokoun has been penciled in as his No. 1, according to The Washington Post, and that the addition "gives a chance for Braden to play a little bit more before he's thrown into the fire," meaning the fans of the AHL's Hershey Bears should take their Holtby jerseys out of storage. Projecting the ratio stats can be tricky when a goalie changes teams, but one would think that Vokoun's win total certainly would increase; another season for the Caps to adopt Boudreau's defensive alterations also should help his goals-against average. Given that he's been a top-10 fantasy goalie in past campaigns with as few as 23 wins (the 2009-10 season), this puts Vokoun among the elite top-tier guys, and he will probably be gone within the first three rounds in most fantasy drafts.

Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning waited until I'd submitted my post-NHL draft column to make this signing official, but Roloson will be back between the pipes for them in 2011-12 on another one-year deal (for $3 million, double what Vokoun got ... sorry, it just still amazes me). As I've noted previously, Roloson's regular-season ratio stats in Tampa (2.56 goals-against average and .912 save percentage) were comparable to earlier in the season when he was with the New York Islanders (2.64 and .916, respectively). However, he won 18 of his 34 starts with the Ning, compared to just six of 20 with the Isles. With a full season of racking up wins to go along with steady ratios, Roloson will be a nice No. 2 option in fantasy.

Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: Roloson's backup from 2010-11 found himself a nice, new home (though that home could soon be uprooted and moved depending on forces beyond his control), and it's his third, and best, opportunity to snag a starting job. Smith's mediocre play and injury issues were part of the reason Roloson was acquired last season, but the Kingston, Ontario, native acquitted himself well in three postseason appearances against the eventual Stanley Cup champs. He had clean sheets in two relief appearances -- stopping 29 shots total -- and stopped 17 of 19 in his one start. As we say, production is part opportunity and part performance when given that opportunity. Smith is the unquestioned No. 1 for the Coyotes heading into the 2011-12 campaign, but he hasn't shown enough in past opportunities to deem him more valuable than many of the other starters around the league in fantasy terms.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: Varlamov's roller-coaster tenure in D.C. appeared to be heading toward the end this offseason, one way or another, and with his trade to the Avs, it's another shot at becoming a legitimate No. 1 NHL goalie. Unfortunately, although the pressure of living up to his promising work in the 2008-09 playoffs in a hockey-crazed market is lifted, he will now have to prove that not only was his 2-year, $5.5 million deal not made in error, but likewise, his acquisition was worth the risk in trading what could be very high first- and second-round picks. From a talent and production standpoint, he's in good shape. His 2010-11 stats, though a limited sample, were impressive: 2.23 in goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. However, he's started just 48 games in the past two seasons thanks to injuries and inconsistency, and among all the goalies slated to be No. 1s in reality, he's the biggest risk in fantasy.

Jose Theodore, Florida Panthers: A two-year, $3 million deal lands the former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner in South Florida on a roster that has experienced the league's biggest shake-up since the end of the 2010-11 season. In addition to adding Theodore, the Panthers traded for Brian Campbell, then went on a feeding frenzy in free agency, signing Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Fleischmann and then trading for Kris Versteeg. Of those other additions, "JovoCop" and Campbell are obviously the biggest ones when it comes to assessing the value of Theodore looking ahead. However, although Theodore enters the mix with a chance at being the team's starter, Scott Clemmensen -- who's shown prowess when afforded the opportunity -- is still on the roster, and multiple outlets have reported that this will be a training camp battle for the No. 1 job. Ultimately, the two veterans may operate in a time-share, which hampers each of their respective value. There's some sleeper potential, although we'll have a much better idea of the pecking order by fantasy draft time.

Mark Dekanich, Columbus Blue Jackets: A number of backups found new homes this offseason, too many to list individually. But the reason Dekanich gets some love here is two-fold. First, he was among the top performers in the AHL last season -- his goals-against average of 2.02 was third behind Brad Thiessen and Curtis Sanford, and his save percentage of .931 was tops in the league. Second, he was signed by the Blue Jackets, for whom Steve Mason has a somewhat-tenuous hold on the starting job. It's no certainty that Dekanich will be able to duplicate his AHL exploits at the NHL level, but for those who look ahead to backups who could steal jobs down the road, the Vancouver native should be on your list.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com.

Tim Kavanagh

Fantasy and Insider
Tim Kavanagh is an associate editor for ESPN Fantasy and Insider, with specific responsibility for NHL and fantasy hockey coverage in addition to other sports.