Commentary

In The Crease: Bark at the moon

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies

Updated: October 15, 2009, 1:55 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

It's been tough sledding for the folks who took stud goalies in the first few rounds of their fantasy drafts. Tim Thomas is off to a brutal 1-2-0 start with a 4.01 goals-against average and .868 save percentage, causing Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien to go with backup Tuukka Rask for two straight games this past week to try to jump-start his alpha dog. Meanwhile, other perennial fantasy standouts such as Tomas Vokoun and Roberto Luongo also have struggled.

Although the preseason favorites have fallen by the wayside, some of the netminders about whom we had questions leading into the season have showed some brilliance. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes, who climbs seven spots in this week's edition of the Top 40. Although the NHL and various possible ownership entities determine what will happen with the franchise, Bryzgalov has backstopped an impressive start for the Desert Dogs. After relenting three goals in a victory to open the season, he has surrendered just one in his three starts since. More germane to this discussion is the fact that he can still be had for free for more than 40 percent of you reading this, as his ownership in ESPN leagues sits at 58.9 percent.

The trouble for Bryzgalov will be consistency. Looking at his splits from last season, he put up his best ratio stats in November and December before declining thereafter and finishing the 2008-09 campaign as the No. 40 goaltender on the Player Rater. Bryzgalov's hot start has raised his expectation level a bit, but I'm still not convinced he is as good as these numbers would dictate. In other words, you'll have to pay very close attention to his output from start to start; pick him up and play him while this streak continues, but make sure he's not your Plan A for the long haul and be quick with the hook once the trouble ensues.

As for those top guys who have been killing you so far? Patience is the answer. The ratios have a way of correcting themselves as the season goes on, and a lot of wins are still out there. For the most part, nothing drastic has happened in the first two weeks to cause any of the superstuds to drift too far down from where they were ranked during the preseason.

Rising and falling

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Tim Thomas, Bos (1)
2. Niklas Backstrom, Min (2)
3. Martin Brodeur, NJ (4)
4. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (3)
5. Cam Ward, Car (6)
6. Roberto Luongo, Van (7)
7. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (9)
8. Jonas Hiller, Ana (14)
9. Craig Anderson, Col (10)
10. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (12)
11. Ryan Miller, Buf (27)
11. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (13)
13. Cristobal Huet, Chi (11)
14. Carey Price, Mon (5)
15. Ray Emery, Phi (8)
16. Jose Theodore, Was (20)
17. Steve Mason, Cls (16)
18. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (15)
19. Dan Ellis, Nsh (18)
20. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (17)
21. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (24)
22. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (29)
23. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (22)
24. Chris Mason, StL (21)
25. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (23)
26. Semyon Varlamov, Was (19)
27. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ana (28)
28. Tuukka Rask, Bos (32)
29. Marty Turco, Dal (25)
30. Jonathan Quick, LA (NR)
31. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (26)
32. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (42)
33. Ty Conklin, StL (30)
34. Mike Smith, TB (31)
35. Antti Niemi, Chi (NR)
36. Brian Elliott, Ott (33)
37. Thomas Greiss, SJ (34)
38. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (NR)
39. Chris Osgood, Det (40)
40. Rick DiPietro, NYI (35)

Ryan Miller, Sabres (up 16 spots): We had downgraded Miller in our preseason rankings for two reasons: The Sabres hadn't done much to improve their offense, and they had lost two key defensemen in Teppo Numminen and Jaroslav Spacek. Well, color me convinced. (Convinced is a tasteful shade of sapphire blue, for what it's worth.) In spite of these departures, the Sabres have yielded the second-fewest shots on goal thus far, and Miller has been phenomenal. In fact, it's a safe bet he'll be one of the selections for Team USA for the Olympics in the winter. Although I don't think that the wins throughout the course of the season will come as easily as they've come at this juncture, Miller should be able to maintain solid-enough ratios -- although they're sure to come back to Earth at some point -- to wind up somewhere between No. 1 and No. 2 fantasy goalie levels.

Carey Price, Canadiens (down nine spots): This is more a correction of last week's exuberance than anything else. What can I say, I got a little excited after the kid stopped 77 pucks in his first two games. But after the past two, they're already calling for Jaroslav Halak in the Montreal media. The Habs are home for six straight contests starting with Thursday night's matchup with the Colorado Avalanche. I think Price will wind up as a top-10 goalie in the long run, but I want to see him prove it in these next few contests before putting him up there on the list.

Jonas Hiller, Ducks (up six spots): Our friends at Puck Prospectus have projected Hiller to be one of the game's top goalies this season, building on his monstrous run during the 2008-09 playoffs, which included a .943 save percentage in 13 contests. The only question for the Ducks is: What becomes of Jean-Sebastien Giguere? So far, the numbers are stark: Hiller leads in GAA by a 2.28 to 2.94 margin, and in SVP .934 to .913. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle already has told both players their expected roles for the season, according to the L.A. Times, but he's keeping his plan close to the vest. I don't expect there to be any question who will get the lion's share of starts going forward if the disparity in production continues like this, and those trade rumors involving Jiggy will only intensify.

Semyon Varlamov, Capitals (down eight spots): Last week, Varlamov and fellow Caps backstopper Jose Theodore were featured in the Time-shares section. At that point, the word out of D.C. was that both men would see "ample time" to try to earn the right to the throne, a throne that will yield a king's ransom of wins this season. Apparently, "ample time" means four straight starts for Theodore, as The Washington Post is reporting that he'll complete the quartet against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. Theodore simply has outperformed Varlamov to this point, and until the youngster starts playing, he obviously can't help your fantasy team. Interestingly, both netminders experienced a drop in ownership percentage during the past seven days, with Theodore possessed in only 36.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues as of Thursday morning. That number is far too low considering decent ratios and a good chance at winning every night.

Time-shares

Pekka Rinne (100 percent) and Dan Ellis (20.4 percent), Predators: Ellis' ownership percentage jumped 13 points during the course of one week, and that number will continue to grow. Predators coach Barry Trotz seems set on keeping this a strict time-share until someone emerges as a clear favorite, and the goalies will finish out this calendar week alternating starts in the four games. On Wednesday night, Ellis was ransacked, allowing three goals on three shots in less than 10 minutes. Nevertheless, his seasonal numbers still beat out Rinne's, and both men must be rostered until this situation shakes itself out. I still see Rinne emerging as the winner here eventually.

Vesa Toskala (4.2 percent), Joey MacDonald (0.3 percent) and Jonas Gustavsson (66.9 percent), Maple Leafs: Note: This is a bad situation. Gustavsson is really the only one worth owning, and he's still on injured reserve with an injured groin after playing in just two games. Yes, Toskala has gotten the starts so far, but hopefully you've steered clear: He's coughed up 19 goals on 101 shots in four games, which is good for a 5.57 GAA and .812 SVP. Old McDonald may have had a farm, but young Joey MacDonald belongs there, and only the most desperate fantasy owner would think of rostering him. With Toskala experiencing some knee and groin issues, this will be The Monster's team once he's limber enough to suit up again. The roto world awaits, pal; let's see what you've got.

Cristobal Huet (97.0 percent) and Antti Niemi (6.6 percent), Blackhawks: This was supposed to be Huet's best shot yet. The Hawks got rid of Nikolai Khabibulin this past offseason, putting faith in the veteran from France as the sole backstop. So far, Huet has struggled to find his game, and coach Joel Quenneville had Niemi start in Khabibulin's return to Chicago on Wednesday night. Coach Q also told ESPNChicago.com that although Huet will "play the majority of games here early on" and remains his No. 1 on the depth chart, "I think he has to get comfortable in the net." With a lot of wins on the table for the rest of the season, if Huet can "get comfortable" soon, he'll be knocking on the door of the top 10 in the rankings. But until then, keep a close eye on Niemi, as he could be a steady source of W's while Huet struggles; after all, in the three games in which he's appeared, Niemi has three victories to go along with a spectacular 1.73 GAA and a tidy .912 SVP.

Are you for real?

In this section, which will appear occasionally in the column, I'll examine players performing quite well or quite poorly, and whether it is an emerging trend or just a blip on the radar.

Craig Anderson, Avalanche: Mr. Anderson carried many a fantasy team through November and December last season, notching three shutouts in 13 starts and closing out the calendar year with a 8-4-4 record and a .935 SVP for a Florida Panthers team that was middle-of-the-pack. Thanks to financial considerations, Tomas Vokoun stuck with the Panthers while Anderson became a free agent and was scooped up by the Avs on the first day of the free-agency bonanza. With Peter Budaj not providing much of a challenge behind him, Anderson should continue to see most of the starts for Colorado's feisty young team. Although I expect a slight correction from his current ratios of 1.98 GAA and .940 SVP, and I certainly wouldn't get used to winning this much, Anderson showed in his time with the Panthers that he can put up good stats even when his defense gives up a lot of chances. Verdict: For real. Get him.

Tomas Vokoun, Panthers: Anderson's creasemate from 2008-09 is mired in another slow start, going 1-4-0 so far with a 3.80 GAA and .903 SVP. That's good for position No. 54 among goalies in the Player Rater. Yikes, not exactly what you expected when you took him to be your No. 1. The bad news is that Scott Clemmensen -- the man who single-handedly turned the tide in many a roto league last season as the fill-in for Martin Brodeur -- is the No. 2 man for the Panthers. If the media in South Florida were anything close to that in Montreal, they would've been clamoring for him since the beginning of the season. He'll get his chance and will have a little value even if Vokoun stays healthy. But the good news for Vokoun and those who love him in fantasy is that he's like an old, trusty lawn mower. He sometimes has a little trouble getting started up as the season begins, but once he gets going, he can get the job done quite well. Furthermore, there's no reason to believe that the Panthers won't yet again be among the league leaders in shots given up as a team -- currently they're tops in the league with 38.6 SA/G, 3.6 ahead of the second-place Ducks -- and this onslaught of vulcanized rubber will help Vokoun square away his SVP once he gets his motor running full speed.Verdict: The struggling is not for real.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst 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.

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