Commentary

In The Crease: Roll with Roloson?

Updated: December 28, 2010, 2:19 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

Dwayne Roloson and the rest of the New York Islanders had a rough night on the job Monday, losing to the New York Rangers, their Manhattan-based rivals, by a final tally of 7-2. We in the fantasy world are not especially dismayed by one bad performance, though, and Roloson's play in the three games before Monday's earned him the NHL's first star for the week ending Sunday. With that wide spread of production, what can we expect from Roloson in the months ahead, and is he worth consideration for fantasy owners? As expected, the answer is a nuanced one.

Simply put, the three games before Monday's -- wins over the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning -- were statistically the best such stretch of Roloson's career since the 2005-06 season when play resumed after the work stoppage (although he did have two consecutive shutouts in the 2006-07 season while backstopping the Edmonton Oilers). Roloson posted a 0.98 goals-against average and a .972 save percentage in the three games, and given his ownership percentage in ESPN.com leagues (5.8 percent as of Tuesday), it's unlikely that many had the man activated to enjoy those results. That's not surprising, considering that the Isles have lost more than twice as many games as they've won this season, and from a pure statistical standpoint, Roloson hasn't been a superstar.

Before Monday night's game, the three standout games had pushed Roloson into only the top 15 for goals-against average (2.38) and save percentage (.920) on the season. After surrendering the seven goals to the Blueshirts, he has dropped out of the top 20 in both, pushing his ratios to 2.63 and .915, respectively. Should those rates hold up for the duration of the season, it will be a significant improvement over 2009-10, when he put up 3.00 and .907 numbers playing behind a similar Islanders team.

A factor working against Roloson is the Isles' continued reliance on a time-share in goal. This season, he's gotten the nod in 19 of 34 games, which is a 55.9 percent starting rate. The oft-injured Rick DiPietro has started most of the others, and Nathan Lawson was in the cage for one. This starting percentage is slightly behind Roloson's pace last season (59.8 percent) and well behind his 62-start campaign in 2008-09 for the Oil (75.6 percent). However, DiPietro's continued struggles with staying on the ice will help in this regard; he was taken off injured reserve and practiced Sunday, according to Newsday, but it's unclear when he'll make his next start.

So, Roloson doesn't have great ratios, his team usually loses and he's in a near 50-50 time-share. Fantastic. Why should you still be reading? Well, at the risk of looking too far ahead, good things could be ahead for Roloson: namely, the potential for a trade to a contender in need of a stabilizing veteran presence in net for a playoff run. Scott Burnside of ESPN.com touched on this subject Monday, noting that Roloson could be an attractive option for a team like the Washington Capitals and would come at less than half the cap hit of fellow trade-chip goaltender Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers. The Caps' struggles this season have been well-documented, but Roloson's stock would rise considerably with such a move. Consider: Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have comparable ratios but are owned in more than 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues based on the belief that the Caps will start winning at a clip similar to 2009-10. It should be noted that the Caps have scored 114 goals this season compared to the Isles' 78, so this belief isn't unfounded.

Should you pick Roloson up now in light of this potential season-altering trade? Probably not unless you have the roster flexibility. (And with all the injuries piling up around the league again this season, it's likely that you don't.) As mentioned above, his ratios aren't world-beating, and the Isles likely will continue to struggle in the win column while rotating their netminders. But for a cheap (i.e., free) acquisition, Roloson is a low-risk, high-reward candidate worth keeping an eye on as the trade rumors continue to swirl.

Top 40 goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN.com standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN.com standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Tim Thomas, Bos (1)
2. Ryan Miller, Buf (2)
3. Roberto Luongo, Van (3)
4. Carey Price, Mon (4)
5. Jonathan Quick, LA (5)
6. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (7)
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (11)
8. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (8)
9. Jimmy Howard, Det (6)
10. Jaroslav Halak, StL (9)
11. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (10)
12. Cam Ward, Car (12)
13. Martin Brodeur, NJ (13)
14. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (14)
15. Jonas Hiller, Ana (16)
16. Niklas Backstrom, Min (17)
17. Antero Niittymaki, SJ (18)
18. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (15)
19. Corey Crawford, Chi (21)
20. Craig Anderson, Col (19)
21. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (28)
22. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (24)
23. Michal Neuvirth, Was (23)
24. Semyon Varlamov, Was (22)
25. Anders Lindback, Nsh (20)
26. Brian Elliott, Ott (26)
27. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (25)
28. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (27)
29. Mathieu Garon, Cls (29)
30. Evgeni Nabokov, FA (31)
31. Tuukka Rask, Bos (32)
32. Dan Ellis, TB (35)
33. Steve Mason, Cls (33)
34. Peter Budaj, Col (40)
35. Brian Boucher, Phi (34)
36. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (30)
37. Michael Leighton, Phi (36)
38. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (NR)
39. Chris Mason, Atl (37)
40. Brent Johnson, Pit (38)

Rising and falling

Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings (down three spots): We're about to find out how deep this Red Wings franchise is and how much of a force Howard can be when the offense in front of him declines precipitously. No one can exactly quantify the impact of losing all-world center Pavel Datsyuk and leading scorer Daniel Cleary within a week, but one would expect that the team's scoring (currently third in the league) will peter out a bit. For a goalie who's ranked 25th in the league in goals-against average (2.61) and 24th in save percentage (.911), the win total is vital to his fantasy relevance. With Datsyuk and Cleary out for about a month each, Howard's performance from here on out takes a hit; hence the drop. The recommendation for his owners at this point is to sit tight and see what Wings head coach Mike Babcock can pull out of the new recruits. This team can make superstars out of previously overlooked players. (Cleary is a good case study in this, as his 16 goals in 35 games are just four fewer than his career high for a season.) Moreover, given that you probably drafted Howard in the top three rounds -- or paid a healthy ransom in trade -- you're not going to get an equal return now.

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils (no change): My colleague Sean Allen touched on the Devils' prospects for the rest of the season in this week's edition of the Fantasy Forecaster. Now that John MacLean is out and Jacques Lemaire is back in, the change behind the bench is supposed to manifest a change on the ice. So how does the change affect us, the fantasy owners? As Allen wrote, Lemaire led a similar squad to 103 points last season, and I'll add that this was a defensively responsible team that allowed the league's fewest goals (191) while surrendering about the same number of shots per game. The team he's inherited appeared to be lacking in endurance, according to what the coach mentioned to Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger after the first few practices. Improving that intangible aspect of the team should yield better play on the back end: Sure, Brodeur has showed some decline in his play, but in watching games this season, it seems as though the Devils' goaltenders have been seeing more odd-man rushes and other quality scoring chances. One would think that a coach who is renowned (or cursed) worldwide as one of the primary proponents of the neutral-zone trap will see to it that his team will be more effective defensively. I don't think Brodeur will automatically turn around and be the elite goaltender we've come to know and love (hence my keeping him out of the top 10 until we actually see some evidence of improvement), but I do think he's an undervalued asset who could take off.

Brian Elliott, Ottawa Senators (no change): Here we go again with Elliott. The man is back on a tear -- two straight one-goal-against victories while facing 71 total shots in that span -- while Pascal Leclaire is back on the shelf with yet another injury. Ho-hum. In other words, my prognosis on Elliott hasn't changed, as we expect him to go through bursts of production just as we expect Leclaire to be injured frequently. Elliott can be a stud in daily leagues, just be nimble with your lineup. Now is one of those times when he should be activated, obviously. But for those in weekly leagues, he simply can't be trusted, as the bottom can fall out without warning.

Dan Ellis, Tampa Bay Lightning (up three spots): On Dec. 13, Evgeni Nabokov and his KHL team agreed to go their separate ways, and they're now worlds apart. (Sorry, couldn't resist the Journey reference there.) Immediately, the rumor mill was churning at a feverish pace, and all signs appeared to point to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the former San Jose Sharks goalie's next NHL stop. In the time since, a fire has been lit under Ellis (and teammate Mike Smith before Smith's knee injury): In four starts, he's allowed eight goals and has put up a save percentage of .930. Bear in mind that this is a man who previously had six starts this season in which he allowed four or more goals, and his save percentage on the season has risen to just .887 in spite of the recent work. So is this a temporary spike or a turning point? I lean more toward the temporary spike, so don't trip over yourself heading to the waiver wire or demanding a trade from Ellis' owner. In fact, given historical precedent, I peg the ceiling for Ellis at not much above .905 in save percentage and not much below 2.60 in goals-against average for the duration of the season. He's an option in fantasy but not a great one, and his value certainly would plummet with any goaltending acquisition by his real-life team.

Time-shares

Michal Neuvirth (72.9 percent) and Semyon Varlamov (78.2 percent), Washington Capitals: It's a chicken-and-egg debate for the Caps' goaltending situation: Is the time-share a result of Bruce Boudreau's master plan as outlined before the season, or has the inconsistency from his two young goalies been the cause? Given that Boudreau adopted a similar strategy in 2009-10, it's tough to argue that this wasn't also in the works before the season's onset. Regardless, the past four games have given us a taste of what these two can do. Neuvirth stopped 84 of 89 pucks sent his way in notching two wins and a shootout loss, while Varlamov stopped 33 of 35 rubber disks in his lone outing of the four. Boudreau praised Varlamov after the game but offered no clues as to his plans in the months ahead. The recommendation remains the same: Both men are worth owning while the situation sorts itself out because both will continue to get starts.

Antero Niittymaki (73.7 percent) and Antti Niemi (44.8 percent), San Jose Sharks: Sharks head coach Todd McClellan continues to show faith in Niemi and skated him out against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. The entire team appeared sluggish in its first game since the holiday break, and after holding the Kings scoreless through two periods, Niemi was a sieve in the third, allowing four. The statistical contrast between the two Sharks goalies remains stark: Niittymaki is 12-3-3 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .910 save percentage compared to Niemi's 7-8-2 record with a 3.02 and .900, respectively. Although Niemi has been effective at times this season from a qualitative standpoint, it'll be interesting to see how stubborn McClellan and his staff remain as the differences in performance continue to pile up. Niittymaki remains the much better choice, and if he's somehow available in your league (as is the case in more than one-quarter of ESPN.com leagues), he makes a great midseason pickup. Niemi is best left off your roster.

Pekka Rinne (90.3 percent) and Anders Lindback (48.6 percent), Nashville Predators: With Rinne poised to return to the lineup, Lindback did himself a major disservice Wednesday, relenting four goals in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Rinne was unsympathetic to Lindback's hardship, as he showed no signs of rust in allowing three total goals over his two starts since returning. However, he lost both contests as the Preds managed just one goal in the duo of contests. The time-share is by no means over, as Lindback flashed some brilliance in Rinne's absence. I envision a split that could give Lindback another 15 or so starts for the rest of the season, so he still has value.

Mathieu Garon (25.0 percent) and Steve Mason (32.2 percent), Columbus Blue Jackets: Garon took over the No. 1 spot on the Blue Jackets' depth chart recently -- it was only a matter of time, given the disparity in his performance relative to Mason -- and his tenure in the top spot started well enough: just one goal allowed on 30 shots in a win over the Calgary Flames. It's been rough since then, though. Mason was pulled after 32 minutes as he was too gracious a host to the visiting Vancouver Canucks (six goals on 22 shots), and he also gave up four goals in a loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday. Mason saved all but one of the Canucks' shots he faced in relief, then outdueled Jose Theodore Monday night for a 37-save shootout win. Both men have had issues with consistency this season, so it's tough to trust either. However, if one must choose between the two, Garon is the safer option for our purposes.

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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