Commentary

In the Crease: Impact of Lehtonen deal

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies

Updated: February 11, 2010, 1:25 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

Two weeks, two big trades that affected the goaltending position. Thank you, NHL GMs, for making our fantasy lives more interesting. This week's trade saw the Atlanta Thrashers ship Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round pick in this summer's draft. As with the trades last week, there are profound effects on the different 'tenders.

Kari Lehtonen
Christopher Pasatieri/US PresswireKari Lehtonen did not play for the Thrashers this season as he recovered from a back injury.

First and foremost is Marty Turco. Turco has a lot of sentimental value in Dallas, but that might not keep him in a Stars uniform, and the rumor mill frequently churns out new homes for him. ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett makes a good argument why the Stars shouldn't trade him, but the only one who knows what'll happen is GM Joe Nieuwendyk, and he isn't talking.

The crux of Durrett's argument: Turco hasn't actually been playing that badly overall (and he's been better of late: six total goals allowed in his past four starts, .957 save percentage), so why trade a hot hand when the team still has a shot at the playoffs? Turco's overall numbers are decent -- a 2.73 goals-against average and .911 save percentage -- but that belies the fact that he's been very inconsistent, allowing four or more goals in 11 of his 40 starts. He was temporarily replaced as the starter by Alex Auld … 'nuff said.

If Turco stays with the team, starting at his current rate (more on that later), he's projected to pick up another 5.9 quality starts and another 6.6 wins. But I get the feeling that the Stars will want to play with their new toy, so Turco won't maintain his current rate of 67.8 percent. His career numbers say Turco is a goalie who thrives when he doesn't face a ton of shots, so both rumored trade destinations (Chicago, 24.3 shots against per game, and Philadelphia, 28.2) could bump him back up to a more relevant position in fantasy.

Lehtonen has been a somewhat frustrating player, for both Thrashers fans and fantasy owners, given his proclivity for injuries. After a while, it's no longer bad luck -- it becomes a trend.

When he's healthy, however, he's in some elite company. As pointed out by Stars fan blog Defending Big D, since the lockout, among goalies with at least 200 starts, he ranks No. 7 overall in even-strength save percentage at .925.

On the other hand, given his stats from the 2005-06 season to the 2008-09 season, is he really a huge upgrade over what Turco's done this season? The save percentage is nearly identical, but his GAA is worse than Turco's, and while the win percentage is a bit better, the Thrashers have scored more over that four-season span on average than the Stars have this season. The one difference: quality start percentage, and this is where Turco's inconsistency comes back to haunt him. As we know fundamentally, when a goalie puts up a quality start, he puts his team in position to win, so in that regard, Lehtonen's starts have been better in general than Turco's.

If Turco is moved and Lehtonen is fully healed and ready to go (he did pass his mandatory physical, so that's a good sign), I'd expect the Stars to ride Lehtonen pretty heavily, meaning he should be good for eight to 12 wins over the last 23 games. The problem will be the ratios, as even his best career marks put him pretty low on the league totem pole this season.

Bottom line: Pick him up if you need some wins (and potential for shutouts, as he has 14 in his career) and can afford to shoulder some ratio deficiencies.

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

Rising and falling

Johan Hedberg, Atlanta Thrashers (down two spots): Hedberg is a "winner" of sorts, based on this week's Lehtonen trade, but last week's Ilya Kovalchuk deal means the Thrashers are not going to be scoring as many goals moving forward. (They did, however, push three goals plus an empty-netter past Tomas Vokoun and the Florida Panthers on Saturday.)

So if wins are harder to come by, is Hedberg fantasy-relevant? Yes, but beware the cold streaks. Hedberg has a quality start percentage over 46 percent, but he's given up 13 goals in his past four starts. Given that there's now no chance that Lehtonen will steal starts -- and that Ondrej Pavelec has been very unreliable -- I'd consider Hedberg a nice spot-start option based on the schedule (and whether he's on a hot streak) for the rest of the season, but he's not good enough to have a regular spot in a fantasy lineup. Just because a guy is a starter in real life doesn't make him starter-worthy in fantasy.

Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Canadiens (up two spots): The time-share in Montreal is getting less and less even. Starting with the game against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 16, Carey Price has started only four of the Habs' 13 games. In those starts, Price has gone 1-2-1, allowing 15 goals and tallying no quality starts. He backstopped a thrilling win Wednesday that put an end to the Washington Capitals' long winning streak, but he gave up five goals in the process. Some of the goals can't be considered his fault, but they still count against him. In Halak's nine starts during that baker's dozen, he's gone 5-3-1, allowing 22 goals (and six of those came in one fluke outing against the New York Rangers) and putting up a save percentage much better than Price's.

All this considered, Halak's ownership percentage is remarkably low in ESPN leagues (35.9 percent as of Thursday). New Habs GM Pierre Gauthier has insinuated to the press that he'll keep both 'tenders, but as Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette wrote this week, he said the same thing about Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne when he was GM of the Anaheim Ducks, and then he moved both of them. Halak's value will only go up for the rest of the season. He's still a great buy in a trade, and if he's somehow still available for free in your league, what are you waiting for?

Antero Niittymaki, Tampa Bay Lightning (up four spots): As I cautioned earlier this season, Niitty is prone to some big shifts in performance. On the season, Niittymaki has put up a 2.36 GAA and .922 save percentage, good for No. 12 and No. 9 in the league, respectively. That's copacetic.

Of course, during a span of eight starts from mid-December to mid-January, he gave up 29 goals (close to four per game, for those scoring at home), and that will destroy your ratios. The "Dr. Jekyll" version of Niittymaki is back -- 7-0-1 with nine goals allowed in his past eight starts -- and the Lightning have three more games before he heads to Vancouver to play for Team Finland. In the final stretch of 2005-06, when Niittymaki returned to NHL competition after being named Olympic MVP, he went 5-5-0 in 10 starts, with 29 goals-against and a .900 save percentage. So fatigue could be a slight issue depending on what happens at the Olympic tournament. Either way, Niittymaki is nice to have on the roster for the hot streaks, but be ready to pull him at the first sign of "Bad Niitty."

Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets (up four spots): Some people say players get an extra bounce in their step after a coach is fired, but this is ridiculous. In three starts since Ken Hitchcock was run out of Columbus, Mason has given up just one goal total (his shutout streak stands at 120 minutes, 47 seconds) while notching three wins.

Might he have turned the corner? It's possible, and 20.1 percent of his owners in ESPN leagues have given up completely, leaving him sitting on the waiver wire. For the folks in those leagues, you know what to do. For the rest, it might not be a bad time to float a trade offer for Mason. I don't consider it buying high because I think he should be a good option down the stretch.

Time-shares

Cristobal Huet (98.8 percent) and Antti Niemi (25.6 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: Niemi continues to be the backup to own in fantasy, as his 1.98 GAA is still tops in the league. His .920 save percentage is nothing to scoff at, either, and puts him ahead of several real-life starters in overall rankings. Huet continues to struggle in save percentage, but he too will bolster anyone's GAA.

Over the past week, Niemi had a stellar 34-save performance against the Blues, allowing just one goal, and got the start in the Blackhawks' next game, allowing three goals but getting a shootout win. The Blackhawks' defensive strategy limits the number of shots-against (they're currently leading the league at 24.3, more than three shots fewer per game than the No. 2 New Jersey Devils), so those save-percentage numbers won't get any better for either guy, especially if the Blackhawks trade for more help on the blue line. Fewer shots means fewer saves. My expectation is that one guy will become the clear-cut starter down the stretch, and Huet is more likely to earn that spot. Until then, Niemi is a must-add for his occasional starts, which are usually brilliant.

Tim Thomas (98.8) and Tuukka Rask (42.2), Boston Bruins: Thomas has continued to decline in value for our purposes, even as the discussion on his trade viability continues. (Check NHL Rumor Central for the latest.) Rask has now started four straight games for the B's, going 4-for-4 in quality starts, putting up a 2-0-2 record and allowing just six goals total.

So why do I call Niemi "the backup to own in fantasy"? Rask has become this team's starter, according to what anyone following the team will tell you and what has been written by ESPN Boston's Matt Kalman. Whether or not Thomas is moved by the deadline, Rask has the potential to enter the mix as a high-end No. 2 or low-end No. 1 in fantasy from here on out. He needs to be picked up wherever he's available. As for Thomas, don't drop him yet, as the situation in Boston will likely continue to resemble a No. 1/1A scheme, but his projected numbers are foundering.

Semyon Varlamov (84.6 percent), Jose Theodore (41.3 percent) and Michal Neuvirth (2.7 percent), Washington Capitals: The latest on the situation from the Washington Post is that Varlamov is traveling with the team during the final week before the Olympics, and it's possible he could get the start Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. Varlamov has not played since Dec. 7, and coach Bruce Boudreau might want him to shake some rust off before joining his Russian countrymen for the Olympics. Theodore's streak of good starts went kerplunk over the last week (perhaps it was because he was shot with a laser beam?), and Varlamov is the favorite in my eyes to get the majority of starts after the Olympic break.

While Neuvirth has been encouraging recently, I still think he'll be an afterthought if and when Varly returns. Bottom line: Varly is a buy-low guy right now, Theodore's value is going to go south after the Olympics, and Neuvirth is viable only in deep keeper leagues at this point.

Ray Emery (81.3 percent) and Michael Leighton (5.0 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: As with his groin injury earlier this season, Emery's current hip malady is being kept in a shroud of secrecy by the team and Emery himself. Although he did take shots from teammates during the morning skate Wednesday, he declined comment to the press, and according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the results of Monday's MRI are still unknown. The Philadelphia Daily News reported earlier this week that Emery could have a torn labrum, which would require surgery.

What all this means is that Leighton is the alpha dog in the Philly net right now. Following a three-week hiatus, Leighton picked up right where he left off: In four starts over the last week and change, he's allowed seven goals total, with a .936 save percentage. Complicating matters is the possibility that the team could trade for Turco -- many folks wonder why, given Leighton's success -- but for right now, Leighton gets a full recommendation as a pickup. His overall ratios this season aren't great, but they're skewed by some bad outings with the Carolina Hurricanes. I guarantee Leighton will help you out, and if not, you get a full refund for the price of this column.

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.

ALSO SEE