Commentary

In the Crease: Can you trust Brodeur?

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey goalies

Updated: March 4, 2010, 3:58 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

NHL trade deadline day was not as exciting as usual, mainly because most of the big deals happened prior to the pre-Olympics deadline. But it was a performance at the Games from a certain top 'tender that has many more fantasy owners worried, anyhow.

Martin Brodeur
Pasatieri/US PresswireMartin Brodeur drops slightly in this week's rankings after picking up Team Canada's only loss at the Winter Olympics.

While Ryan Miller was busy introducing himself to the folks that normally don't watch Buffalo Sabres games by earning tournament MVP honors, Martin Brodeur struggled through two games, and was lifted for Roberto Luongo as the medal round began. The big question on everyone's mind now: Can Brodeur be trusted to lead my fantasy team for the remainder of the season?

There are a few theories emerging from the four-goal "meltdown" against the U.S. squad. The first theory is that Brodeur has "lost his fastball," and is trending downward in his ability. From a stats standpoint, that's not totally accurate as his save percentage is comparable to recent seasons, and his 2.33 goals-against average is good for the No. 8 spot in the league this season. Qualitatively, he still looks to be in command of the ice, bringing a settling presence. Another theory is that perhaps Brodeur was suffering through a minor injury that has not been disclosed; I don't buy that one, either, although secrecy about these types of things is the norm.

The last theory regarding the poor showing against the American squad is the old refrain that Marty is only as good as the New Jersey Devils' system allows him to be. This one tends to come out every time he sets a new career record in one of the important goalie categories. Given Scott Clemmensen's performance filling in last season, it has legs for some folks. But it's a pointless debate for us here in fantasy land: it doesn't matter if the system is the reason for the success. Now that he's back in the system, there's no reason to expect anything but success again.

In the first game back following the Olympics on Tuesday night, Brodeur had a bit of an up-and-down game. He held the San Jose Sharks -- the West's No. 1 team -- scoreless through two periods before relenting three in the third, but he still emerged victorious. He hasn't put up a "quality start" (two or fewer goals against, with a .912 save percentage or above) since Jan. 27. On the other hand, Brodeur is averaging a 2.18 GAA and .923 save percentage against the Devils' remaining opponents. Couple that admittedly unscientific analysis with the man's competitive drive, and we could see some even better numbers. If you've come this far with Marty, there's no reason to bench him now. In fact, although he didn't vent any frustration to the media, the benching at the Olympics might give him even more motivation, especially considering the man that replaced him is one of his rivals among the league's elite goalies.

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 (1)
2. Roberto Luongo, Van (3)
3. Martin Brodeur, NJ (2)
4. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (4)
5. Craig Anderson, Col (5)
6. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (6)
7. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (7)
8. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (9)
9. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (8)
10. Jimmy Howard, Det (10)
11. Tuukka Rask, Bos (13)
12. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (12)
13. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (11)
14. Niklas Backstrom, Min (14)
15. Jonas Hiller, Ana (16)
16. Jonathan Quick, LA (17)
17. Antti Niemi, Chi (20)
18. Cristobal Huet, Chi (19)
19. Michael Leighton, Phi (30)
20. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (18)
21. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (21)
22. Semyon Varlamov, Was (22)
23. Brian Elliott, Ott (23)
24. Tim Thomas, Bos (15)
25. Chris Mason, StL (24)
26. Jose Theodore, Was (27)
27. Steve Mason, Cls (25)
28. Antero Niittymaki, TB (28)
29. Carey Price, Mon (31)
30. Dan Ellis, Nsh (29)
31. Johan Hedberg, Atl (32)
32. Cam Ward, Car (33)
33. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (34)
34. Chris Osgood, Det (36)
35. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (37)
36. Marty Turco, Dal (35)
37. Mathieu Garon, Cls (38)
38. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (39)
39. Brian Boucher, Phi (NR)
40. Alex Auld, NYR (41)

Rising and falling

Michael Leighton, Philadelphia Flyers (up 11 spots): One of the biggest winners on trade deadline day is Leighton -- although not literally, given his awful performance in relief against the Florida Panthers -- since the Flyers resisted the urge to make a move for a goaltender. We learned this week that Ray Emery is out for the season, as he'll undergo surgery on a potentially career-threatening hip injury, and the Flyers will stick with Leighton and Brian Boucher in net as they make a final push for the playoffs. Since his trade to Philly in December, Leighton has given up 37 goals in 18 starts with a .928 save percentage; in seven starts since Emery's final game of the season on Feb. 1, Leighton has given up 13 goals total with a .935 save percentage. It looks like Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will go with Leighton most of the time, and you can't argue with that performance. If you're still anywhere near contention -- or even if you just want to make some noise in the goalie categories down the stretch -- he's a great pickup right now, and only owned in 13.8 percent of ESPN leagues.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (up two spots): In case you hadn't seen (or looked at the box scores lately), Rask has fully supplanted Tim Thomas in Beantown. Although there were reports that Thomas was upset about this in certain media outlets, he did tell Matt Kalman of ESPNBoston.com that he'll be ready to go when called upon, which could happen a few times down the compressed stretch of games over the next month (including four back-to-backs). But if he does play, it's more of a detriment to Rask's owners than it is a boon to Thomas' owners. Prior to the break, Thomas was not playing well, so unless some of Ryan Miller's mojo rubbed off on him in Vancouver, he's not worth owning at this point. One quick deadline day note: the acquisition of Dennis Seidenberg will help this team quite a bit on defense, as he is the league leader in blocked shots (179 as of this writing). Of course, fewer shots on goal means fewer saves, so a very slight boost in GAA might also bring a downgrade in save percentage.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (down two spots): Although a time-share might still technically exist in Nashville, the writing is on the wall. Given the fact that Rinne just agreed to a two-year, $6.8 million contract extension, it can be assumed that he is the goalie of the future for the franchise, and Dan Ellis is just playing out his remaining tenure. In fact, Ellis commented on Rinne's new deal to the Nashville Tennessean, saying, "when they choose to go in a certain direction, you have to see what's out there," regarding his plans to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason. It would appear that Rinne will get most of the starts heading into the playoffs, but should he be active for fantasy purposes? He wheezed down the stretch leading into the break, with just four quality starts 13 appearances in January and February. In his one game since the break, he allowed three goals to the Edmonton Oilers, the league's second-worst offense. There are better options.

Time-shares

Cristobal Huet (97.7 percent) and Antti Niemi (29.5 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: The trade deadline came and went, and the Blackhawks didn't make a desperate move to grab another goalie. Many pundits pointed out a reason why they shouldn't a few weeks back: this is a team that collectively has one of the best goals-against per game averages (currently No. 2 behind the New Jersey Devils, allowing 2.35 goals per contest). Following a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville "intimated Huet would have every chance to re-claim the No. 1 job heading into the playoffs," according to ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers. This came on the heels of two "questionable" goals (using Huet's own appraisal) that had the home fans out for blood. That type of inconsistency has been a hallmark of Huet's play for some time (and it's spread to Niemi as of late), and this time-share could continue right up through the start of the playoffs. It's best to find a more consistent source of production elsewhere, but Niemi is the better of the two.

Marty Turco (87.2 percent) and Kari Lehtonen (1.7 percent), Dallas Stars: In my last column, I went into some detail on the impact of Lehtonen's trade to Dallas, noting that he could provide some win production down the stretch if given the opportunity. Based on Turco's outing in the team's first matchup following the Olympics (five goals allowed on just 22 shots) that opportunity might come pretty soon. According to ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett, it'll be Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins (welcome back, Kari!), with Turco getting a chance for redemption on Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues. It's late in the game, but Lehtonen is surely worth a pickup in single-season leagues given the potential for some good production down the stretch: in his final nine starts last season, he picked up six wins (including two shutouts) while allowing 21 goals total and posting a .925 save percentage. For keeper leagues, he's a definite pickup, since Turco is almost certainly going to be somewhere else next season.

Semyon Varlamov (84.6 percent) and Jose Theodore (39.2 percent), Washington Capitals: Prior to the Olympics, I opined that Varlamov would be the favorite to get most of the starts down the stretch. After a quick visit down to the farm team in Hershey, Varlamov is slated to get the start Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. This comes on the heels of an impressive win for Theo over Miller and the Sabres, where he stopped all but one of the 24 shots faced, including nine in the third period as the Caps held on to a one-goal lead. It's tough to know exactly what coach Bruce Boudreau will do in terms of throwing Varly back into the mix, but sometime soon one of these men will emerge as the top dog. Until then, both of these guys are worthwhile to own and start whenever they play.

Jaroslav Halak (34.7 percent) and Carey Price (83.5 percent), Montreal Canadiens: Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier stayed true to his word at the trade deadline by retaining both of his goalies (as well as Tomas Plekanec, who was also rumored to be on the move). So now comes the million dollar question: How much did playing every game for Slovakia in the Olympics tire out Halak and will that affect his playing time down the stretch? It's pretty clear that he's been the better option for the Habs in goal this season, both quantitatively in the stat register as well as psychologically, given the purported friction in the locker room between Price and some of his teammates. Price got the start against the Boston Bruins this week, and may also start on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks to give Halak another night of rest. After that, it's a bit unclear, but in a hypothetical world where the two men split the starts 50-50, Halak is obviously the one to own. Moreover, my guess is that Halak will get more than 50 percent of the starts, so his value increases even further.

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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