Commentary

In The Crease: Elliott on hot streak

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies

Updated: January 28, 2010, 2:41 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

The Ottawa Senators are one of the hottest teams in the league right now -- winners of seven straight -- and Brian Elliott is one of the hottest goaltenders, both in the real world and in fantasy. Elliott has allowed just five goals over his past five starts, all wins. His work last week alone won him the First Star on NHL.com. His fantasy ownership in ESPN leagues has shot up 7.6 percent over the past seven days but is still only at 19.0 percent total, so there's still time to pick him up. Just don't expect any of this to continue.

While we don't have a huge sample on Elliott (it's only his second full season in the NHL), we saw these same flashes of brilliance (and frantic waiver-wire work) last January too, only to have him disappoint in February, recover slightly in March, and then finish the 2008-09 season by allowing four goals on 29 shots in a loss against the enigmatic Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here's a breakdown of Elliott's stats by calendar month during last season and so far this season:

I have two main points here. First, the dude is streaky -- take a look at his performance last February compared to the other months, yeesh -- so if you take a ride in the Elliottmobile, prepare yourself for some bumps in the road, as its shocks seem to be malfunctioning. Second, as we know well, the win component of a goalie's fantasy value is largely not up to him. Note that Elliott's resurgence in wins in last March was largely a result of the Sens' offense turning the corner, as he managed nine wins but just five quality starts. Compare that to December this season, when his goals-against average and save percentage were slightly off from the related values in March, but his ratio of quality starts to total games started was nearly the same (4/11 this December compared to 5/12 last March); he only won four of those 11 December starts. Will the Senators keep scoring? Maybe. As Sean Allen talked about in Open Ice this week, Senators coach Cory Clouston has experimented with putting his three top guns (Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev) on three different lines now that they're all healthy. It's worked so far, but whether it continues for the rest of the season is an unknown. That's disconcerting because Elliott's ratios this season are tolerable, but not great (No. 18 in GAA and No. 25 in save percentage).

There's also the matter of the time-share. Pascal Leclaire (who will earn $3.6 million this season and $4.8 million next season compared to Elliott's $850,000) has resumed skating after his concussion, per the Ottawa Citizen, and could be ready to go within "a few weeks," likely after the Olympic break. Here's an unsettling stat for those who are poised to rely on Elliott: During the games in which Leclaire was healthy (a shaky premise here given his history), he started 22 out of a possible 33 games. Whether that two-thirds split in Leclaire's favor continues once he comes back is uncertain, but one needs to temper one's expectations for Elliott accordingly. He's definitely a worthy pickup right now, but keep your eyes on a potential successor on the waiver wire should the time-share situation (or Elliott's inevitable downturn) come to pass sooner rather than later.

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

Rising and falling

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (up four spots): The goalie rotation in Nashville might -- I stress the word might -- be finally coming to a close. Rinne got starts in two consecutive games this past week: one good (21 saves on 23 shots for the hard-luck loss to the Colorado Avalanche) and one bad (three goals on only 17 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets). I'm moving Rinne up the list because I think he will emerge as the clear-cut winner, and while his ratios haven't been spectacular this season, his 2008-09 stats (2.38 GAA and .917 save percentage, with seven shutouts in 49 starts) were quite promising. If he can get a foothold on the starting gig, he should be a top-end No. 2 or low-end No. 1 in fantasy from here on out.

Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers (up six spots): So much for Michael Leighton. Since returning from injury Jan. 17, Emery has started all five games for the Flyers, including starts on back-to-back days against the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins this week. Although only two of the five have been quality starts, he got a win against the Blue Jackets because the Flyers deposited five pucks behind Mathieu Garon. Here's the deal: Before Emery's injury occurred (which was seven starts before he actually told anyone, tough man that he is), Rayzor put up a .924 save percentage, and nine quality starts of his 14 outings. While Emery was hurt, the Flyers found their scoring touch: Their goals-per-game has gone from 2.27 in December to 3.58 in January, and we know this will help him pile up the wins. I'm not convinced that Emery is back 100 percent yet, but clearly Flyers coach Peter Laviolette disagrees, given the way he's doled out the starts over these past five games. Start Emery with reckless abandon, and consider a trade for him while he's still a buy-low candidate. That window will be slammed shut soon.

Marty Turco, Dallas Stars (down six spots): The Stars' lame-duck franchise netminder slips again, but he's still ahead of Alex Auld. Why? Although Auld has started more games recently than Turco, and won three of his past four starts, his numbers aren't very good in those games: 12 goals against and an .882 save percentage. More importantly, Turco might find greener pastures soon, as his name has been bandied about in trade rumors. The latest one (courtesy of NHL Rumor Central) has him off to Washington. So consider this a conditional ranking, based on his being moved soon. However, as you can tell by the rankings of these guys, it's just best to stay away altogether. A stud backup (Tuukka Rask, for instance) who gets the occasional start will serve you better than either of these two.

Johan Hedberg, Atlanta Thrashers (up nine spots): Speaking of trades, the Thrashers are major players in the market this season with Ilya Kovalchuk, but Thrashers GM Don Waddell has also told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he will not be carrying three goaltenders, and Kari Lehtonen is set to return soon following his rehab stint with the AHL's Chicago Wolves. In spite of this pressure -- or perhaps because of it -- Hedberg is putting together a nice little season for himself. He's the No. 19 goalie on the Player Rater, with a 2.46 GAA and .917 save percentage along with 11 wins in 22 starts. His past three starts have been particularly strong: one goal allowed in each and a .965 save percentage in that stretch. Whether Hedberg is traded to a contending team or not, he's still a very good free-agent pickup right now, and with an ownership percentage of just 3.9, he's probably sitting on your league's waiver wire.

Time-shares

Cristobal Huet (99.4 percent) and Antti Niemi (31.2 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: With all the hemming and hawing that the Blackhawks (the league's No. 4 offense) need to trade for a stud goalie in order to win in the playoffs -- including a loud proclamation from Jeremy Roenick, who, let's not forget, has his name on the Stanley Cup exactly zero times -- it's easy to overlook the fact that the team is currently second in the league in goals-against per game (2.23, trailing the New Jersey Devils by just 0.03). I don't see Stan Bowman & Co. panicking and pulling the trigger for another goalie, so owners of Huet and Niemi shouldn't worry about that. Presumptive starter Huet has been reliable from a seasonal rotisserie perspective (sixth in the league in GAA), but his inconsistency will give H2H owners whiplash. In order, here are his goals-against totals for his past 13 starts: 0, 0, 3, 1, 4, 1, 3, 1, 5, 0, 5, 4, 2. Although Niemi was chased after one period against Vancouver in his most recent start, he's had the steadier hand. Don't expect this time-share to be resolved any time soon, so pick up Niemi if he's available for some spot starts. There are two back-to-backs before the Olympic break, and both men will stay home this year: France didn't qualify, and Finland opted to go with Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff and Antero Niittymaki.

Semyon Varlamov (87.9 percent), Jose Theodore (35.6 percent), Michal Neuvirth (1.1 percent) and Braden Holtby (0.0 percent), Washington Capitals: Call it the Kavanagh Curse. Theodore got some love in the Rising and Falling section last week based on his killer month of January, and now he's day-to-day with a "lower body" injury. The news is a little more encouraging on Varlamov, as The Washington Post reports that he took part in skating and goaltending drills (even going down in the butterfly for a "good portion" of the time) under the stern but fair eye of goaltending coach Arturs Irbe. The previous word was that Varly would be back sometime after the Olympic break, but maybe (hopefully?) we'll see him before then. Neuvirth had played his way out of contention for starts earlier in January, but he got the nod against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday and emerged with a two goals-against victory. Subsequently, he was called on to relieve the injured Theodore after two periods Tuesday against the New York Islanders and turned in a scoreless frame. He then allowed just one goal in a win against the tailspinning Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. Braden Holtby (pride of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan) wears No. 70 on his back, but he's not worthy of fantasy consideration during his cup of coffee in the NHL. Neuvirth is the short-term pickup, but his streakiness will keep him from getting many starts once the injuries to Theodore and Varlamov subside.

Carey Price (88.8 percent) and Jaroslav Halak (31.6 percent), Montreal Canadiens: Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette sounded the call this week for Halak to be given the job that "he has legitimately won a half-dozen times." Meanwhile, according to Montreal radio station Team 990, Habs defenseman Andrei Markov allegedly told Price, "If you are not going to play with heart, stay home. We don't need you here." Price went out for his next start after the tongue-lashing and allowed three goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, while Halak (who plays with heart, apparently) was near-perfect in his three starts over the past week: a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, a 32-save shutout of the New York Rangers and a tough-luck loss to the Florida Panthers in which he stopped 27 of 29 shots. Whether coach Jacques Martin pays attention to Todd is debatable, but whether he pays attention to team leaders like Markov is not. Regardless of the possibility that one of the goalies gets traded, I expect to see Halak's start percentage increase a bit, therefore he becomes the more valuable commodity. Those ownership percentages are way off-kilter.

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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