Commentary

Blackhawks, Stars changing goalies?

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies

Updated: January 21, 2010, 1:41 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

This week, both the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars walked farther down the path of making a switch at goalie. The incumbents have been equally inconsistent this season, but the players unseating the incumbents offer quite divergent value to us in Fantasyland.

In Chicago, Cristobal Huet's past five starts have been a microcosm of that inconsistency this season. During the first game against the Minnesota Wild, he allowed just one goal on 20 shots, but followed that up by allowing five on 21 shots to the same team just three days later. Huet stopped 24 shots in a shutout in the next start against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which was followed by another five goals-against stinker against ... the Blue Jackets. Huet's most recent start came Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, a forgettable outing in which he allowed four goals on 18 shots.

Antti Niemi
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesAntti Niemi would lead the NHL in goals-against average if he had enough starts.

Antti Niemi -- who leads the tandem in goals-against average (1.90 versus 2.24) and save percentage (.921 versus .904) -- has been more of a rock over his January starts: two goals-against to the Anaheim Ducks (twice) and the Boston Bruins, and he backstopped the shootout win Sunday, allowing three regulation goals to the Detroit Red Wings. It's obvious that Huet's been playing himself out of the starting role and is running out of chances.

Coach Joel Quenneville told ESPNChicago.com that the move to start Niemi on Thursday against the Calgary Flames is a "performance-based" one, and that it's an adjustment to the schedule they'd mapped out. That's a nice way of saying, "We expected to start Cristobal more often, but he's stunk up the joint." It seems like Niemi will get some more starts in the short term, but don't discount the recent riff by Jeremy Roenick, who stated on the "Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 that the Hawks might try to trade for an elite goaltender. However, until that happens, the advice here is to act like Quenneville and stick Huet on your bench while he sorts himself out. If Niemi's available in your league -- he's owned in 26 percent of ESPN leagues -- grab him now. If nothing else, he can get you some wins behind the NHL's No. 3 offense, and if he had enough starts to qualify, he'd be first in the league in GAA and tied for ninth in save percentage. However, with the long-term uncertainty of whether or not he'll continue to start over Huet and/or Elite Goalie X, he's not worth over-spending for in a trade.

The trade rumblings are even greater in Dallas, because Marty Turco is playing out the last season of his contract, and it's clear the Stars need to get a new franchise goalie. Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News even spells out three distinct names in the mix: Jaroslav Halak, Cory Schneider and Kari Lehtonen. Heika feels that Schneider has the best promise of the three, but that it's going to take a hefty trade package to pry him away from Vancouver in spite of the fact the Canucks seem to be OK with Roberto Luongo between the pipes. But back to the guys already on the roster.

Unlike the Blackhawks' situation, incumbent Marty Turco has better stats on the season than backup Alex Auld; for a quick comparison, Turco's quality start percentage is 35.3 percent (12 out of 34) to Auld's 29.4 percent (5 out of 17). However, the Stars have been winning a greater percentage of games when Auld's in net, especially lately. This is one of the frustrating idiosyncrasies of fantasy sports: a player like Auld gives his team a better chance to win in real life, but he doesn't have that same value to us in fantasy. Going back to the idea of consistency (or lack thereof), Turco has been all over the place this season, as any of his fantasy owners (or Stars fans) will tell you, and you just don't know what you're going to get on a night-to-night basis. That's why Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPNDallas.com that "right now it's Alex's net." The advice here: keep Turco on your bench for now, but don't go picking up and starting Auld. The wins he may or may not get (it's not like the Stars are lighting the world up right now, waka waka) will not offset his pedestrian ratios.

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

Jose Theodore, Washington Capitals (NR last week, No. 34 this week): Theodore is back on a hot streak, and those daredevils that risked starting him over the past week have been richly rewarded. I urged a conservative strategy with Theodore in last week's column, but he acquitted himself quite nicely against the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. The Caps face the hated Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, and while you'd consider giving most goaltenders a night off against the Pens, that would be a mistake with him. He hasn't faced the Pens this season, but in 2008-09, he went 3-0-1 in four starts, allowing 11 goals and sporting a .900 save percentage. After the Pens, the Caps'll take on the Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks, and the first two offenses have been quite impotent this season. As for Michal Neuvirth, he hasn't seen any action since being pulled during the Jan. 13 game against the Florida Panthers, and in spite of some promising starts here and there, it appears he's fallen out of contention for now. As far as Semyon Varlamov is concerned, the latest word from the Washington Post is that he suffered another setback, and it happened just from skating. It's possible that Varlamov might not start again for the Caps until after the Olympics. The major concerns with Theodore are consistency and whether he'll keep the job when Varlamov comes back, hence the relatively low ranking.

Edmonton Oilers goalies (none in the Top 40): While Nikolai Khabibulin is likely done for the season after undergoing back surgery, the goaltending duties fall to youngsters Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk is highly regarded (he was a first-rounder back in 2004), but he's struggled greatly in his limited NHL action this season, compiling a 4.09 GAA and .863 save percentage. Deslauriers' numbers are slightly better, though not great (3.18 and .896). The Oilers' D has tightened up a little bit, and their league ranking in shots-against per game is now only seventh-worst after being in the bottom three earlier this season. However, unless the team manages to trade for a top-tier goalie (and they likely won't because they're out of the playoff hunt), this is a team to avoid completely, no matter who starts.

Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders (NR last week, No. 32 this week): Why does DiPietro go higher on the list than Theodore? It's simple: he's the franchise goalie for the Islanders (misguided decision or not), so I see them leaning more heavily on him now that he's back in game shape. Dwayne Roloson has had a steady season, but has fallen apart (16 goals in five January starts) at the wrong time since DiPietro is available. DiPietro's first start was a disaster, but he let up just two regulation goals in a shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres before blanking the New Jersey Devils on Monday. Roloson's response on Tuesday? He allowed five goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, don't go crazy for DiPietro, but it's safe to give him a shot at active duty now, because he's capable of putting up decent ratios (and the occasional shutout) and it stands to reason that he'll be getting at least half the starts seeing as the Isles are stuck with him no matter what.

Brian Elliott and Mike Brodeur, Ottawa Senators (35 and 40, respectively): Pascal Leclaire was expected to be the majority leader for the Senators this season, but he's had a string of weird injuries. The latest was a concussion caused by a puck to the mask in practice. This concussion gave Brodeur a chance to test his mettle last Thursday and Saturday, and he allowed two goals on total 64 shots, notching two wins against the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. Brodeur, a seventh-rounder in 2003, lacks the pedigree but he's got the name, and he's shown he can come up big for the Sens in a pinch. As for Elliott, he was a fantasy hero to some late last season: In 12 starts in March, he picked up nine wins with a 2.57 GAA and .901 save percentage. Elliott is a suitable handcuff for the fragile Leclaire, and his value could climb again if he can get back to that form from last season. As for Brodeur, his value will only get higher if Leclaire suffers a setback (or another injury).

Time-shares

Pekka Rinne (96.9 percent) and Dan Ellis (7.1 percent), Nashville Predators: The Preds and Canadiens both seem to be locked in pretty even time-shares right now, and Dan Ellis continues to get no love from fantasy owners. Here's an interesting stat courtesy of John Glennon of the Nashville Tennessean: Going back to Dec. 26 when the almost 50-50 split began, Rinne has allowed 19 goals in seven starts while Ellis has allowed just 10 in his five starts. Going a step further, Ellis has a .932 save percentage to Rinne's .900, and has four quality starts in five total starts to Rinne's two out of seven. The reason Rinne will continue to sit higher on most forecasting ranks is that he's believed to have a higher ceiling, but based on current stats, Rinne is only better in wins, with Ellis leading in both ratios. Ellis is worth picking up and starting in any format right now.

Ray Emery (78.7 percent) and Michael Leighton (7.7 percent), Philadelphia Flyers:. Possibly feeling the pressure of Emery's return to active duty, Leighton gave up four goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs last Thursday before Flyers coach Peter Laviolette turned to Ray for the next two starts. The first game back didn't go so well for Emery (17 saves on 22 shots); then again, it was against the Caps, who hang big numbers up on most goalies. His next start against the Columbus Blue Jackets went slightly better, with just three goals-against on 28 shots, and he got the win. The battle isn't over for Leighton, especially with back-to-backs this next week and again in February. More vitally, if Emery continues to put up a .880 save percentage, there will be much clamoring among the Philly faithful for a switch back to Leighton. For now, hang on to the backup until Rayzor shows that he's definitely back in the swing of things.

Carey Price (90.3 percent) and Jaroslav Halak (31.7 percent), Montreal Canadiens: The New York Rangers put six goals past Halak in his one start of the past week, but it's hard to say it was all his fault. "If you look at the goals they scored, he was alone most of the night," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin told the Montreal Gazette after the game. "Almost every goal was an odd-man rush or a rebound where we left people alone in front of the net." I'm willing to issue a mulligan on that one, although that mulligan doesn't help anyone that started him. Price got the other three starts over the past seven days (the "starts in bunches" trend continues), none of which were quality (81 saves on 91 shots total, good for an .890 save percentage), but he did manage one win. Expect a more even split through the Olympic break because the Habs have two back-to-backs this month followed by two more in February. As I say every week, you'll have to check the Montreal coverage online to find out who'll start from night to night, but both men are worthy in all formats.

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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