In the Crease: Giguere trade fallout
Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies
The flurry of trades Sunday by Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke sent shock waves throughout the league. Many skeptics had started to think that massive player swaps were no longer possible in the current NHL, with salary-cap considerations limiting what teams could do. While the trades will impact each of the real-world teams differently, they will also have a significant impact on the three goalies.
First up is Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and what a difference a week can make. It had become increasingly clear to even casual hockey folk that Jiggy had become a high-priced afterthought for the Anaheim Ducks; that was confirmed officially when Jonas Hiller got his $18 million deal last weekend. I'll agree with Sean Allen's analysis from earlier this week that anyone in need of some goalie help should pick Giguere up right now (his ownership percentage in ESPN leagues shot up 6.4 percent over the past seven days, likely all since Sunday). I'll go a step further and say Jiggy could be ranked among No. 2 fantasy goalies (somewhere in the mid-teens) by season's end. Obviously his stats up to this point of the season are not great, and I do take that into account, but Toronto is a completely different situation than Anaheim.
As has been pointed out many times since Sunday, the trade reunites Giguere with goaltending coach Francois Allaire, the guru who put him on the map in the first place. Not only that, but the Maple Leafs are a much tighter team defensively (29.9 shots against per game compared to 33.0 for the Ducks), and it doesn't hurt that Dion Phaneuf came to town, too (although it does hurt that Mike Komisarek is now out for the season). On Tuesday night in front of the raucous home fans, Giguere blanked the New Jersey Devils, although there were only about five legitimate scoring chances. Word out of Toronto is that Giguere should start two of every three games for now, serving as the on- and off-ice mentor to Jonas Gustavsson. My concern about Giguere is that the wins won't all come that easily, especially with such a young roster (Damien Cox of the Toronto Star noted that Giguere was one of only three men 30 or older on the active roster Tuesday). On the other hand, it's seldom in fantasy sports that a possible roster addition of this magnitude becomes available on the waiver wire. It's "Hail Mary" moves like this one that can make (or break) a fantasy team that is struggling to climb the standings. Given what Giguere has done in the past, he gets my full endorsement.
While Giguere's debut in Toronto made a bigger splash, Hiller has been absurd since 2010 began. In 15 starts, he's gone 11-4-0, allowing just 31 goals and sporting a save percentage of .936. With the ink still drying on his new contract, Hiller nabbed two of those wins this week, allowing just one goal on 80 shots. That game in which he allowed just one goal against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night was a microcosm of why the Ducks are both helping and hindering Hiller's value in fantasy. The Red Wings got off 47 shots (as referenced above, the Ducks allow the third-most shots in the league), which is good for his save percentage, but it was a defensive lapse that allowed Pavel Datsyuk to score a power-play goal in the waning seconds of the second period, as he split two defensemen and moved in on Hiller relatively unmolested. I think the Ducks still have some work to do to shore up the defense, but Hiller does get bumped up a bit because Vesa Toskala will rarely start from here on out.
Miikka Kiprusoff is be the forgotten goalie in the chaos of Sunday's trading bonanza. To be sure, the effects on him moving ahead are mainly collateral. The Flames gave up struggling defensive stalwart Phaneuf but gained Ian White, the player most missed by Leafs Nation. Aside from a disaster against the San Jose Sharks in mid-January, Kiprusoff has held down the fort pretty well during the Flames' recent burnout. If we take that game out of the equation, he has given up 28 goals total in 14 starts (eight of which were quality starts), and put up a .927 save percentage. Still, the fact that he has only won five of those starts shows how feeble the Flames' offensive attack has become, and I'm not sure that the spare parts they got in return this week (Ales Kotalik, Christopher Higgins, Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan and Jamal Mayers) will do a whole lot to change that. Until the offense can get red-hot again (they were No. 2 in scoring in October, with 3.58 goals per game), Kipper will only be good for his ratios. Two options if you're a Kipper owner in need of wins help: Jonathan Quick (who leads the league with 32 victories but is No. 17 in GAA and No. 24 in save percentage) or Brian Elliott (who has rattled off eight straight wins and is still available in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues).
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 (5)
6. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (8)
7. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (6)
8. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (7)
9. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (12)
10. Jimmy Howard, Det (10)
11. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (11)
12. Tim Thomas, Bos (9)
13. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (15)
14. Niklas Backstrom, Min (13)
15. Jonathan Quick, LA (20)
16. Jonas Hiller, Ana (17)
17. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (14)
18. Cristobal Huet, Chi (16)
19. Chris Mason, StL (18)
20. Tuukka Rask, Bos (22)
21. Antti Niemi, Chi (19)
22. Ray Emery, Phi (23)
23. Semyon Varlamov, Was (24)
24. Brian Elliott, Ott (27)
25. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (NR)
26. Jose Theodore, Was (31)
27. Dan Ellis, Nsh (25)
28. Carey Price, Mon (21)
29. Steve Mason, Cls (26)
30. Johan Hedberg, Atl (28)
31. Cam Ward, Car (29)
32. Antero Niittymaki, TB (35)
33. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (30)
34. Michael Leighton, Phi (32)
35. Marty Turco, Dal (33)
36. Mathieu Garon, Cls (34)
37. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (36)
38. Rick DiPietro, NYI (37)
39. Alex Auld, Dal (38)
40. Ty Conklin, StL (39)
Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers (up three spots): Vokoun is slowly starting to inch his way back toward where most pundits had him ranked at the start of the season. He had a rough outing against the Washington Capitals on Friday, and another one this week against the rejuvenated Ducks, but in the other eight of his past 10 starts, he's been brilliant, allowing just seven goals total. His save percentage in those games? A ludicrous .973. Florida continues to allow the most shots on goal against (34.1 per game), so Vokoun will continue to be a save-percentage stud. Expect big things from him from here on out.
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (down three spots): I don't like the way this is going. For one thing, the Bruins now officially have the league's most impotent offense (2.31 goals per game); for another, Tuukka Rask is now outplaying Thomas not only in the season-long stats, but he's been better in spot duty of late to boot. In the five starts since Jan. 18, Thomas has given up 14 goals; not horrible, until you consider that he was pulled midway through two of those starts. Overall, he has put up a save percentage of .861 in that span, while Rusk has saved pucks at an .886 rate. There's also the fact that Thomas will be playing in the Olympics for Team USA, while Rask is resting and practicing over the break. I'd expect Ryan Miller to get most of the work in Vancouver, but Thomas will be more drained after the two weeks than Rask. Some sort of overhaul is necessary in Boston to get the ship righted, be it a trade or otherwise, and Thomas will continue to slide until that happens.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (up five spots): I'll be blunt: Quick is a one-category stud this season (as you can tell from the stats listed above). But he has been good enough in that one category to merit the No. 12 slot on the Player Rater among goalies. My concern is that Kings GM Dean Lombardi has been rumored to be scouting some veteran netminders to bring into the mix for the playoffs, including Marty Turco. If no trade is consummated, there's nothing to worry about. If a deal is sealed, several things could happen: One, Quick responds well to the pressure and retains his job; two, he doesn't respond well and is replaced; three, Turco (or whoever) gets handed the starting job because of the potential to do better than Quick's .909 save percentage. That's some serious concern, but until anything actually happens, Quick sticks where he is.
Pascal Leclaire, Ottawa Senators (down three spots): The problem isn't with Leclaire -- who is reportedly close to a return from a concussion -- the "problem" is how well Brian Elliott and the rest of the team have been playing during the Senators' 10-game winning streak. Sens coach Cory Clouston mentioned during Leclaire's recovery that Pascal was his starter, and that he'd get the job back once he was ready to play. But that was before this streak really got going. Although Elliott's numbers on the season as a whole aren't great, in his eight starts during the win streak, he has given up no more than two goals in any one game (10 total), and his save percentage over the span is .957. As you can expect, he's 8-for-8 in quality starts. As I mentioned last week, Elliott did disappoint down the stretch last season, and maybe that happens again, but one has to believe that Clouston will stick with the hot hand for a while, thus the downgrade for Leclaire.
Cristobal Huet (99.1 percent) and Antti Niemi (27.3 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: For those who picked up Niemi over the past week (it doesn't look like a lot of you), the young Finn gets an incomplete, as Huet has started all three games since, making it four straight total. Trends like this are not uncommon for the Blackhawks this season, as coach Joel Quenneville has given Huet streaks of five and six starts in a row earlier on, but with a back-to-back this weekend (and another on the final weekend before the Olympics), expect Niemi to get at least two starts over the next 10 days. Besides, it's not as if Huet has been fantastic over that quartet of games; he has allowed 12 goals with a save percentage of .885, so his job is far from secure. I still see Niemi getting a decent share of starts post-Olympics before they lean more heavily on Huet heading into the playoffs, and one great start a week from Niemi is better than three awful ones from a legit starter on another team.
Semyon Varlamov (86.7 percent), Jose Theodore (36.6 percent), Michal Neuvirth (2.2 percent) and Braden Holtby (0.1 percent), Washington Capitals: Anyone following the NHL even remotely closely this season knows the Caps are on an incendiary streak right now, with 11 wins in a row heading into Thursday's game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Likewise, anyone who has been following the Caps even remotely closely knows that the team's goaltending crew has been a proverbial M*A*S*H* unit. While Varlamov moves closer to a return (the Washington Post says he could start for the AHL's Hershey Bears as soon as Saturday), Neuvirth sustained an injury of his own after being sent down to Hershey. The only detail reported thus far is that it's a "lower-body injury," but it could affect how much action Neuvirth gets in the minors during the Olympic break. What does it all mean? Start Theodore, and start him hard over the next week and a half before the Olympics begin. Whatever his issue was in November and December (37 goals allowed in 12 starts, .882 save percentage), he pulled it together once the calendar flipped to 2010. Through January and this first week of February, he's 9-1-0 with 19 goals allowed in eight starts and a .937 save percentage. All that said, if and when Varly returns I expect him to start chopping away at Theo's starts, so enjoy Theodore while you can.
Carey Price (86.5 percent) and Jaroslav Halak (32.9 percent), Montreal Canadiens: As I wrote last week, these ownership percentages are still way off-kilter. Even if this was an even time-share (it's moving further into the Halak direction week by week), Halak has the better ratios by a good margin in each category (2.43 to 2.73 in GAA; .929 to .913 in save percentage). One key indicator of why the momentum seems to be shifting toward Halak: Habs coach Jacques Martin gave him the start Tuesday after losing in overtime Saturday, and this was the first time all season Halak was given the start after losing his previous one. It makes sense when the other option has given up fewer than three goals only once this calendar year, and we'll get another clue Thursday night in Boston. Although Halak has been the better option in general, Price is 2-0 against the Bruins, giving up just one goal each time. From a fantasy perspective, obviously go and get Halak immediately if he's available, but don't drop Price just yet. The prospect for a trade -- although admittedly slim -- is still out there. A fresh start in a less-stressful environment could be a renaissance for the former No. 5 overall pick.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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