Commentary

In The Crease: Goalie swaps

Updated: February 23, 2011, 12:03 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

This week, the "Front Line" column from my counterpart Sean Allen focused on the flurry of trades that have occurred in advance of the trade deadline involving NHL forwards. We had no such excitement amongst the goaltenders, as only two netminders switched spots in a one-for-one trade between two also-ran teams. Furthermore, in perusing the usual channels, it would appear there are only two others that might be on the move prior to Feb. 28. Let's hit these one at a time.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: Perhaps making the playoffs in 2009-10 set the bar a little too high for the Colorado Avalanche, as this season's performance has been all the more disappointing as opposed to a realistic appraisal of where this franchise is at. One player whose stock took a big downturn was Anderson. Mentioned at the halfway point of the season in this space as a disappointment based on his preseason rankings, Anderson continued to struggle prior to the trade on Feb. 18. Anderson is a free agent after this season, so he can make himself a nice chunk of change on July 1 if he can perform for a Senators' team that is being almost entirely dismantled. He got off to a brilliant start, stopping all 47 shots from the Toronto Maple Leafs in regulation and overtime before making two more in the shootout to pick up the win. It's hard to know what to make of Anderson, but much of goaltending is the mental aspect, so perhaps there was something more to his struggles in Colorado than had previously been reported. In fact, a post-trade column by Adrian Dater of the Denver Post brought new information to light; namely, that Anderson was offered a two-year extension for $7.5 million last offseason, and rejected the deal. With the weight of that refusal (and the awkwardness it may have engendered) off his shoulders, perhaps he goes back to the Anderson of last season over the final stretch. For those in a league where he's been dropped, he's worth an add right now to find out, though I wouldn't consider him better than a mid- to low-range No. 2 for our purposes.

Brian Elliott, Colorado Avalanche: Elliott's short career in Ottawa was marked by streakiness, and not the cool-looking kind that forms on the inside of windows while washing them during the winter months. No, the multi-time honoree as one of the NHL's Three Stars of the Week was also prone to prolonged stretches of dismal play, and the Sens were clearly done with trying to figure things out, with possible franchise goalie Robin Lehner waiting in the wings. The move is a little peculiar for the Avs, as Elliott can't really be their answer as the future No. 1 given what we've seen of him thus far in his career. So what can he provide us in fantasy for the rest of the season? For starters (pun intended), he's entering into a timeshare with Peter Budaj, as head coach Joe Sacco confirmed to the team's official website that it'll be an open competition between the pipes. Budaj got the two starts after the trade while Elliott's immigration situation was worked out, and on Tuesday night backstopped the Avs to his first win since Jan. 24, but he allowed four goals on 33 shots this past Saturday. Though he's entering a timeshare, and has a lower ceiling than Anderson, the Avs may still have some fire left in them down the stretch compared to the Sens, who have clearly packed it in for 2010-11. So if Elliott can provide some sort of spark in net, he may actually have improved his standing a bit. Unless you're in a super-deep league, he can probably hang out on your waiver wire for a bit before you make a move, but keep an eye on how the next few games go.

Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers: Another reasonably good season for the veteran 'tender playing behind a team in serious flux, Vokoun is (and has been) considered the best trade chip on the roster. The prorated cap hit for Vokoun will make it tough for some of the interested teams to make the move, but something is still theoretically possible by the deadline. Obviously, on a better team, Vokoun's solid ratios will be buttressed by a better chance for more wins, meaning his fantasy value would rise accordingly. This may bump his stock up a bit, certainly back into the realm of the elite (he's outside the Top 10 on our Player Rater for the time being). The bigger beneficiary of any move would be Scott Clemmensen, who got a win this past Saturday in just his second start of the month. In seven January appearances, Clemmensen was 3-1-1, with a 2.33 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. So if Vokoun is moved by Monday, the near universally available Clemmensen (owned in just 1.1 percent of ESPN leagues) would become the must-add goalie for the final stretch.

Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings: Prior to the season, there was some thought that Bernier would overtake the other Jonathan -- Jonathan Quick -- for the crown of the Kings' No. 1 goalie this season. All Quick has done is gone out and established himself as a dark horse in the race for the Vezina Trophy, with the league's third-best goals-against average, seventh-best save percentage, and eighth-most wins. Needless to say, there isn't much of a goalie controversy in the City of Angels. Though Bernier has taken his lumps this season, his potential as a future franchise 'tender is what has opposing general managers salivating. Moreover, ESPN's E.J. Hradek reported on Tuesday that Kings GM Dean Lombardi is under pressure from the franchise to make an impact trade prior to the deadline, and that Bernier might be a piece of this forthcoming deal. On a team where he doesn't have a player like Quick ahead of him on the depth chart, Bernier could have some serious value down the stretch, even if in a timeshare. Currently owned in just 4.9 percent of ESPN leagues, keep a close eye on the transaction wire and be ready to pounce if the right move is made.

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. Roberto Luongo, Van (1)
2. Tim Thomas, Bos (2)
3. Jonathan Quick, LA (3)
4. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (6)
5. Carey Price, Mon (4)
6. Jonas Hiller, Ana (5)
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (8)
8. Niklas Backstrom, Min (11)
9. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (7)
10. Martin Brodeur, NJ (13)
11. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (9)
12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (10)
13. Jimmy Howard, Det (14)
14. Ryan Miller, Buf (12)
15. Cam Ward, Car (16)
16. Antti Niemi, SJ (24)
17. Dwayne Roloson, TB (15)
18. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (20)
19. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (18)
20. Corey Crawford, Chi (22)
21. Jaroslav Halak, StL (21)
22. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (17)
23. Semyon Varlamov, Was (23)
24. James Reimer, Tor (28)
25. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (19)
26. Al Montoya, NYI (30)
27. Brian Boucher, Phi (25)
28. Johan Hedberg, NJ (NR)
29. Craig Anderson, Ott (29)
30. Michal Neuvirth, Was (26)
31. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (27)
32. Tuukka Rask, Bos (31)
33. Brian Elliott, Col (35)
34. Steve Mason, Cls (32)
35. Jonathan Bernier, LA (33)
36. Cory Schneider, Van (34)
37. Mathieu Garon, Cls (36)
38. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (37)
39. Peter Budaj, Col (NR)
40. Ty Conklin, StL (NR)

Rising and falling

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (up three spots): Long-time readers of the column know that I've probably been higher on Backstrom than most fantasy prognosticators going back to before this season began: I had him ninth in my preseason rankings while he was considerably lower elsewhere. Though there were some rough spots early on, Backstrom has been making me look good as of late. For the month of February, his .955 save percentage and 1.23 goals-against average are tops in the league for players with more than one start. As a result, the Wild are atop the second-tier peloton in the Western Conference standings. The mitigating factor here is the recent loss of top center Mikko Koivu due to a broken finger. Though the Wild aren't a team that scores a ton of goals every night, Koivu's presence as a defensive forward and on special teams will be sorely missed.

Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks (up eight spots): Embroiled in a timeshare for the initial part of the season -- and the short end of that timeshare, to be sure -- Niemi has recently made Antero Niittymaki all but entirely irrelevant with his play, while the latter is now out "indefinitely" with an injury, according to what GM Doug Wilson confirmed to the San Jose Mercury News recently. Niemi bested Martin Brodeur understudy Johan Hedberg for the NHL's First Star of the Week for the period ending Feb. 20, going 3-0-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .963 save percentage over that stretch. He wasn't quite as stellar in the first start of this week, relenting three goals on 38 shots to the Detroit Red Wings, but Niemi -- and the Sharks in general -- appear to be on the upswing as the season heads into the final stretch.

Al Montoya, New York Islanders (up five spots): After making his debut on my list at No. 30 last week, the former No. 6 overall pick is up again, after his first full week in an Isles' jersey has given us something with which to project the future. In the four appearances since we last convened, Montoya has gone 2-1-0, with a goals-against average just a shade over 1.10 and a save percentage of .959. Meanwhile, the Islanders have been the league's top scoring team in the month of February, with 3.83 goals per game. Obviously, they've been outshined by the streak of their Atlantic Division rivals in Newark, but a 7-3-0 mark over their last 10 game is nothing at which to scoff. At this point of the season, sometimes one has to throw a couple rink-long passes in order to make a jump in the standings, and Montoya is a widely available option for such a move. We talk a lot about opportunity when it comes to goaltenders and perhaps this is the opportunity Montoya has been waiting for since that day in 2004 that he was the sixth name off the board at the draft.

Timeshares

James Reimer (23.0 percent) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (13.2 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: Earlier trade rumors surrounding Giguere have gone the way of the wooden stick, but he's found a way to offer Reimer more opportunities to start as of late by injuring his groin. The 22-year-old has responded to that opportunity by continuing his streak of six straight starts without a loss, keeping the Maple Leafs on the periphery of the playoff hunt in the East. For the season, the Winnipeg native is 9-4-2, with a 2.12 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. In the unlikely but possible event that those ratios hold while he gets his number of starts up to the "qualified" level, he'll be second in both categories in the league. It's unclear how head coach Ron Wilson will divvy up the starts once Giguere has recovered, but he may roll with the hot hand. Reimer is an automatic pickup at this point.

Sergei Bobrovsky (97.9 percent) and Brian Boucher (47.2 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: I'm not much of a gambling man. But forced to pick between Bobrovsky and Boucher as the more likely emerge as the Flyers' starter for the playoffs, I'd pick the Russian rookie over the steady veteran. However, since my last column, the comparative performance of the two has done nothing to resolve the situation: Bobrovsky has gone 1-1-1, with eight goals allowed and a .914 save percentage. Meanwhile, Boucher won both of his starts -- the second of which was an inspiring performance against the New York Rangers during which he fought off a stinger to close out the win over their rivals -- with five goals allowed and a .924 save percentage. For the near future, it appears as though the split will continue.

Semyon Varlamov (89.8 percent), Michal Neuvirth (65.2 percent), Washington Capitals: Just like the Flyers, the Capitals have yet to officially anoint a starter, though Varlamov is like Bobrovsky: all signs seem to point to his winning this job eventually. Recently, Varlamov was chased after three goals in 20 minutes against the Anaheim Ducks (Neuvirth didn't fare much better in relief, with three more in the remaining 40), but recovered with a steady, one-goal against win against the Buffalo Sabres on "Hockey Day in America" on Sunday. Neuvirth was back in the cage on Monday night for a 39-save shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, this current group of flightless birds presents less of an offensive challenge than the healthy version; however, 39 saves is 39 saves, and what impressed me in watching the game was Neuvirth's rebound control. There will be another few weeks of this timeshare before the final decision is made for the playoffs, so enjoy Neuvirth's production while you can.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor 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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