In the Crease: Halak on the move?
Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies
Although some No. 1 forwards might be on the move before the March 3 trade deadline, the most captivating set of rumors -- for the sake of this column -- center on Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak. ESPN Insiders can check Rumor Central for the latest, but the rumored destinations mentioned most are the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. Each option presents a different real-life situation, and Halak's value would be different in each spot in our world, too.
The Flyers are arguably the most desperate. Thought to be a solid Cup contender before the season thanks to the addition of blueliner Chris Pronger to a team that finished with 99 points in 2008-09, they're currently 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. With Ray Emery out of action because of a torn abdominal muscle, the Flyers have been using Brian Boucher in goal, but in recent days they've also claimed Michael Leighton off waivers and inked John Grahame to a minor league deal. Not exactly the luminaries you'd want backstopping a contending team.
If Halak is sent to Philly, he likely would have a good chance of unseating Boucher. In the past week, Boucher has alternated two one-goal quality starts with a four-goal debacle against the New Jersey Devils and a six-goal nightmare against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers are more stout defensively -- allowing 28.1 shots on goal against per game compared to 31.4 for the Canadiens -- and have some talent in their top six to put some pucks in the net.
The problem for Halak is Emery's eventual return. As I noted last week, in his first 14 starts (before being hampered with the groin injury), Emery had a .924 save percentage with nine quality starts. On the other hand, I don't see Emery coming back to a true No. 1 role if Halak is in town; a time-share would be in place in that case. Both guys have the talent to be No. 1 NHL netminders, so both would get starts through the remainder of the season, with the hotter 'tender taking the reins if the Flyers wind up in the playoffs.
Although the Flyers likely would send a top-six forward to Montreal in exchange for Halak, the Blues might include their backup, Ty Conklin, in a deal. This would make sense for both teams: The Canadiens would have a reliable backup in Conklin, but one who wouldn't get antsy about lack of starts given his role during this season and the past few. For the Blues, they would be able to continue to ride the 33-year-old Chris Mason while working the 24-year-old Halak in as the long-term answer in net. The Blues are not as good as the Flyers at limiting shots on goal against but slightly better than the Habs. However, their team GAA is considerably lower than the Habs' and the Flyers' (2.66 versus 2.83 and 2.91, respectively). That tells us that either the D is limiting good scoring opportunities or there's a sizable raw-talent differential in goal. If Halak is indeed traded to the Gateway City, we'll have direct evidence of whether it's the former or latter, but my inclination is that it is the former.
The bottom line after all of this is that Halak is a great candidate for a pickup. Unless you're playing in a league full of absentee owners, the only way to win is by anticipating moves before they happen on the ice instead of reacting afterward. It's true, Halak isn't getting much action in Montreal, but if a trade were to go down, his value would go up by some degree, either to the level of one of the league's better backups/time-shares (in the case of the Blues) or a low No. 1/high No. 2 starter level (in the case of the Flyers) until Emery's return, when that would become a time-share. Although no trade is a foregone conclusion, this one seems especially ripe. Like a ripe piece of fruit, the time to grab Halak off your waiver wire is now.
Top 40 Goalies Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN.com standard leagues from this point on, not based 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. Ryan Miller, Buf (1)
2. Martin Brodeur, NJ (2)
3. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (4)
4. Roberto Luongo, Van (5)
5. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (3)
6. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (7)
7. Craig Anderson, Col (6)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (8)
9. Tim Thomas, Bos (10)
10. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (11)
11. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (12)
12. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (9)
13. Cristobal Huet, Chi (13)
14. Niklas Backstrom, Min (16)
15. Marty Turco, Dal (17)
16. Semyon Varlamov, Was (14)
17. Chris Mason, StL (18)
18. Ray Emery, Phi (15)
19. Carey Price, Mon (19)
20. Tuukka Rask, Bos (20)
21. Jimmy Howard, Det (24)
22. Jonathan Quick, LA (28)
23. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ana (25)
24. Jonas Hiller, Ana (22)
25. Jose Theodore, Was (23)
26. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (21)
27. Steve Mason, Cls (27)
28. Dan Ellis, Nsh (32)
29. Jeff Deslauriers, Edm (36)
30. Ty Conklin, StL (29)
31. Antero Niittymaki, TB (26)
32. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (31)
33. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (30)
34. Antti Niemi, Chi (33)
35. Cam Ward, Car (34)
36. Johan Hedberg, Atl (35)
37. Mathieu Garon, Cls (38)
38. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (39)
39. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (40)
40. Brian Boucher, Phi (NR)
Rising and falling
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (up one spot): Before the season, I feared that although Kipper would get you wins, they'd come at the cost of the two ratio categories. We can all recite it in unison now: His GAA had risen and his save percentage had dropped in every season since the lockout. But Kipper has put both those trends in reverse thus far in 2009-10; compared to last season's numbers, he's allowing 0.66 fewer goals per game and has increased the number of shots he's stopping by .025. In fact, the three goals he allowed on Sunday to the Colorado Avalanche broke a streak of 10 straight games in which he allowed two or fewer goals, including consecutive shutouts over the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings. I can admit when I make a boo-boo, and Kipper's low preseason ranking is certainly looking like a major one right now.
Jeff Deslauriers, Edmonton Oilers (up seven spots): The Oilers might find themselves with a good problem to have next season. Nikolai Khabibulin will have three years left on his contract, prospect Devan Dubnyk has caught the attention of quite a few other teams with his play in the AHL this season and Deslauriers has showed that he's more than capable of being an NHL-caliber starter. But that's Oilers GM Steve Tambellini's problem, not ours. Our concern is how well these gents can help out our fantasy teams this season, and Deslauriers is playing pretty lights-out right now. Put it this way: If you take the stats from his past six starts, close your eyes and pretend he's been doing that all season, he'd be ranked No. 5 in GAA (2.17) and No. 3 in save percentage (.931). With Khabibulin no closer to a full return (the Edmonton Journal's latest report is that he's receiving analgesic injections to quell back spasms, a short-term fix that won't solve the long-term problem), Deslauriers is the unquestioned starter right now. He's owned in just 8.9 percent of leagues and is a great pickup for just about anyone reading this column.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (down three spots): Wins represent one-third of a goalie's value in ESPN.com standard leagues, and a keeper can't win if the team in front of him isn't scoring. Beyond Marian Gaborik, the Blueshirts can't seem to get anything going offensively: After Gaborik's 23 goals, the next-highest Ranger has seven. On the season, the team is scoring 2.69 goals per game, good for No. 19 in the league. During the past 10 games, it has totaled just 16 goals. With that 1.60 goals-per-game number in mind, you can see why the wins have been few and far between for Hank recently. Lundqvist hasn't been bad during that span -- he started nine of the 10 and gave up 21 goals total, good for a 2.33 GAA -- but the team will have to make a major change for him to get back into the elite tier of No. 1s. I'd consider him a buy-low candidate if his owner were fed up with the recent streak.
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks (down two spots): The Sharks haven't been as bad as the Rangers during the past 10 games (they're scoring at a 2.80 goals-per-game clip in that time), but the drop-off from the rest of the season (3.48 goals per game in the first 23 contests) has been more noticeable. The reason we use the quality start statistic is it represents the effort that should be good enough to win. Of Nabby's past five starts, four have been quality (a five-goal drubbing by the Los Angeles Kings qualifies as an outlier), and yet he has just one win to show for it. I'm much less worried about the Sharks' offense picking back up relative to the Rangers', so Nabby isn't downgraded much. Still very much an elite 'tender.
Jose Theodore (25.7 percent) and Semyon Varlamov (92.7 percent), Washington Capitals: Varlamov, currently on injured reserve with a groin injury, skated lightly for the second straight day, according to The Washington Post. Even so, his return is still unknown, and Theodore has been good enough to win behind the league's most potent offense this season in spite of questionable ratios. In the past week, Theodore has been in net for two of the team's three games (Michal Neuvirth, who has no business even being rostered except in the deepest of fantasy leagues, got the other) and picked up two wins and allowed just four goals. Start Theodore without thinking twice for a couple of weeks or so while Varlamov is still on the mend, and we'll meet back here then.
Pekka Rinne (98.4 percent) and Dan Ellis (4.4 percent), Nashville Predators: Let's face it, neither of these guys has been making fantasy owners climb on the roof to sing his praises: Rinne has given up 10 goals in his past three starts, while Ellis has given up seven in his past two. But somewhere along the way from the first month of the season (when Nashville was scoring at a league-worst 2.08 goals-per-game clip), the Preds' offense remembered that its job was to put the puck into the opponent's net. It has obliged by scoring 31 goals in eight December contests.
Call the Predators the Bizarro Sharks, as the regular San Jose Sharks have trended the opposite way in December, as noted above. As far as the time-share is concerned, Rinne still appears to be the lead dog, but there's been a tradition of the backup outplaying the starter in Nashville during the past few seasons: Rinne started as the backup (is that an oxymoron?) last season and took over for Ellis. Same for Ellis taking over for Chris Mason in 2007-08, and Mason for Tomas Vokoun in 2006-07. In other words, don't count Ellis out just yet, as he's a worthy insurance policy for the duration for owners who have some space on their rosters.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (15.9 percent) and Jonas Hiller (89.7 percent), Anaheim Ducks: I think I might've cursed Jiggy by noting in last week's column how much better than Hiller he was playing. Against a comparatively weaker opponent in his one start during the past week, Giguere gave up three goals in an overtime loss, saving 28 of 31 shots by the Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, Hiller, who appeared to be driving his potential straight into a ditch this season, has two wins in two starts: 35 saves on 36 shots against the Blue Jackets followed by 28 saves on 30 shots against the Vancouver Canucks. Maybe the strangest part of all of this is that the Wings are being outscored by the Nucks and Jackets this season, but I digress. This past week has been a reversal of fortune for Hiller and Giguere, it would seem, and it's tough to explain. Oh wait, here we go: Hiller got an early Christmas present, a new orange-and-black glove and blocker set, and he debuted his new toys in this past week's games. Maybe an equipment change is just what the doctor ordered for Hiller; after all, we all remember how much better Marc-Andre Fleury got when he switched from the bright yellow leg pads to white ones midway through 2007-08. Whether Hiller grabs some of that equipment-change mojo, he should start to grab more starts from the de facto No. 1 Giguere in the weeks ahead. Each is worthy of a roster spot.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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