Tomas Vokoun off to rough start
One of the biggest surprises this offseason was the relative lack of a market for veteran netminder Tomas Vokoun. After putting up quite respectable stats for the perpetually basement-dwelling Florida Panthers during the past four campaigns -- his overall save percentage was .923 in that span, with a low of .919 -- he was hitting unrestricted free agency, and there were a few teams around the league looking for a No. 1 goalie. Some finagling by Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee put them in place to make the move, and a single-season, $1.5 million deal later, Vokoun is playing for a team with a motto of Stanley Cup or bust for the 2011-12 season.
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. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (2)
3. Tomas Vokoun, Was (3)
4. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (4)
5. Tim Thomas, Bos (5)
6. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (7)
7. Carey Price, Mon (6)
8. Ryan Miller, Buf (10)
9. Corey Crawford, Chi (8)
10. Jonas Hiller, Ana (12)
11. Antti Niemi, SJ (9)
12. Jonathan Quick, LA (11)
13. Jimmy Howard, Det (13)
14. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (15)
15. Martin Brodeur, NJ (14)
16. Jaroslav Halak, StL (16)
17. Cam Ward, Car (17)
18. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (20)
19. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (19)
20. James Reimer, Tor (21)
21. Dwayne Roloson, TB (22)
22. Al Montoya, NYI (25)
23. Craig Anderson, Ott (18)
24. Jose Theodore, Fla (23)
25. Semyon Varlamov, Col (29)
26. Niklas Backstrom, Min (24)
27. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (31)
28. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (26)
29. Mike Smith, Pho (27)
30. Jonathan Bernier, LA (28)
31. Tuukka Rask, Bos (30)
32. Cory Schneider, Van (32)
33. Michal Neuvirth, Was (36)
34. Johan Hedberg, NJ (33)
35. Ray Emery, Chi (37)
36. Steve Mason, Cls (34)
37. Ty Conklin, Det (NR)
38. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (39)
39. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (35)
40. Mark Dekanich, Cls (40)
Hockey fans and scribes alike were intrigued by the pairing. Could Vokoun -- and his scant playoff experience -- lead the Caps to the playoff success that has eluded them during the Alex Ovechkin era?
That development is quite a ways off in the distance, and is not of too much concern to those playing in regular-season fantasy leagues, anyway. What is of great concern is the problematic start Vokoun has gotten off to in his new digs.
It's hard to take preseason numbers too seriously, since goalies are sometimes playing behind skaters who will be back in juniors or sent down to the minors by the time the regular season gets rolling. So the fact that Vokoun allowed 10 goals in his three starts (good for a 3.26 goals-against average and .870 save percentage) isn't too disconcerting -- Henrik Lundqvist notched a 3.30 GAA this preseason while Carey Price was at 3.25. But then some strange events occurred over the past few days. In the season opener on Saturday -- at home, no less -- it was Michal Neuvirth in net, not Vokoun, notching 28 saves in a 4-3 overtime win. And then Monday night happened.
The Caps scored five goals for Vokoun, but we already knew that the goal support would be there. The problem was that he allowed five himself. While at least one was not entirely his fault -- a first-period deflection off of Mike Green's skate -- something appeared to have gone awry with the 35-year-old. Shots that should've been stopped were let in, he seemed tentative at other times, even his positioning seemed off. To Vokoun's credit, he was able to shake off the questionable performance from regulation to post a clean sheet for overtime and the shootout, so he notched his first win as a Cap; however, the 4.62 GAA and .821 save percentage weren't quite what folks had in mind when he was one of the top 3 'tenders off the board on draft day.
Before anyone gets carried away, it was just one game. Considering that a large part of goaltending is psychological, throwing Vokoun a mental curveball by benching him for the season opener is a move for which Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was rightly questioned in recent days. Nonetheless, it's also a decision that will be quickly forgotten once Vokoun gets on a roll. I fully expect him to remain among the elite goaltending options this season, good for another 60-65 starts at a high caliber.
Rising and Falling
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers (up one spot): With just a game or two in the books for most NHL teams at this point, it's hard to justify wild swings in the rankings, which are meant to reflect how I think the goalies will wind up from here on out. Nevertheless, Bryzgalov has already looked to be worth every penny of that $51 million deal the Flyers gave him this offseason (well, maybe not quite $51 million): two starts, two wins, one goal allowed on 43 shots, good for a .977 save percentage. I don't know that he'll crack the very top echelon of the fantasy goaltending elite, but those who drafted him have been handsomely rewarded thus far.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (up two spots): Miller was the subject of much debate leading into the 2011-12 season: Was 2010-11 an off year, or was the previous campaign -- when he won 41 games with a 2.22 GAA and .929 save percentage on his way to a Vezina trophy -- the fluke? His historical numbers seemed to back up the latter argument (that 2009-10 was not going to be repeated), and millions of fantasy owners who had used a top-10 draft pick on him prior to last season needed to know whether he could be trusted again. The Michigan native drew a more conservative preseason ranking (at least around these parts), and the owners who drafted him this season in a lower position can feel much happier about their investment. Miller won both of his starts in Europe while allowing just three total goals, and I expect him to keep rolling to a finish somewhere in the 6-10 range among goalies on ESPN's Player Rater (which measures the three categories used in standard league settings) by season's end.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (up two spots): The biggest question mark this offseason within the realm of NHL goaltending was the future of Hiller. The Swiss-born netminder was one of the league's best last season prior to a strange bout with vertigo that left him unable to handle the rigors of playing the position. It was unknown when Hiller would be able to return (if at all), and how well he'd be able to perform when he was back on the ice. Fantasy owners reflected this sense of uncertainty, as Hiller -- a clear No. 1 goalie for roto purposes when healthy -- came off the board in an average draft position of 80.8; in some cases, he was drafted as the third goaltending option by the owner that selected him. The Ducks have played just two games thus far, so it's hard to draw any firm conclusions on Hiller's projections for the rest of the season. However, the fact that he's emerged no worse for wear from the two contests (one good, one bad) is a good sign that he's overcome his medical condition. You can now feel a little better about deploying him in the active lineup, and better days should be ahead.
Al Montoya, New York Islanders (up three spots): Rumors have been flying that the Islanders are poised to showcase Evgeni Nabokov for a trade. Instead, Montoya has drawn both of the team's starts thus far this season, and looked pretty sharp in the process with just three goals allowed total. Sure, it'd be a lot better if Nabokov and/or Rick DiPietro weren't in the picture, but until they're not, Montoya is a nice source of production when he does get the starts. I get the feeling that Montoya is a little undervalued by some folks, and might make a nice trade target for those looking to shore up their goalie ranks on the cheap.
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (down five spots): I had Anderson pegged as a sleeper in the ESPN draft kit, and I'm not recommending anything rash like cutting ties with him after two bad outings to start the season. But it looks like I overestimated the Senators a bit; there have been problems at both ends of the ice, and those will need to be fixed before he can be relied upon to start with any regularity. Keep him on the bench for the time being.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche (up four spots): Varlamov has the tough task of living up to the package of draft picks for which he was traded this offseason: a first-rounder in 2012 plus a second-rounder in either 2012 or 2013. Through two games, his play has been encouraging; he allowed two goals on 38 shots against the Detroit Red Wings, and followed that up with a 30-save shutout of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Monday. I had pegged the Avs as a team that could possibly use a time-share this season, but as long as Varlamov stays healthy, that probably won't be happening. He's shown a high level of ability when he's actually been on the ice. Of course, that's a considerable leap of faith based upon his history, and it's the reason why he's up only four spots (and still in the 20s). Even so, a nice return thus far for the small percentage of ESPN fantasy owners who have him rostered. And for those leagues where he is a free agent, he's worth a bench spot if you've got the space, on the chance that he can stay on the ice.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes (down two spots): There was considerable talk this offseason about how Smith had experience in Dave Tippett's system, and could build on this to become a valuable commodity in fantasy circles. On the other hand, he's never really posted numbers that make him noteworthy (at least in a good way), finishing the past two campaigns in Tampa Bay with save percentages of .900 and .899. The 2011-12 campaign has gotten off to a mixed start for Smith -- he was tagged for six goals in the season opener, but allowed just one on Monday night in a shootout loss -- and he could be headed for that most inauspicious spot in the goalie rankings: behind the productive real-life backups like Cory Schneider, Michal Neuvirth and Co.
Jonathan Quick (100.0 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Jonathan Bernier (12.5 percent), Los Angeles Kings: Going back to before last season, the Kings were expected (by some at least) to roll Bernier and Quick in a relatively even time-share, but that alleged plan was defenestrated after Quick got off to a hot start, winning 10 of his first 11, with a mere 17 goals allowed in the process. This season, Kings head coach Terry Murray elected to give each of the Jonathans a start over in Europe, and things went in different directions for each. Quick drew the start against the New York Rangers, stopping 24 of 26 en route to an overtime win. Bernier drew the start Saturday, allowing four goals on 26 Buffalo Sabres shots. Murray commented during the preseason that he'd go with the proverbial hot hand in net this season, which has led to the renewed speculation that we could see a more even time-share. However, if the early weeks of the season go as they did in 2010-11, that could mean Quick will get the lion's share once again.
Tim Thomas (100.0 percent) and Tuukka Rask (31.5 percent), Boston Bruins: As was the case heading into last season, Bruins head coach Claude Julien repeated the mantra time and again this preseason that the team has two No. 1 goalies. However, this time around, it's Thomas who is coming off the impressive season and was drafted as a No. 1 in fantasy. After the team's first three games of the season, Thomas has a win, a loss and impressive ratios (1.51 GAA and .945 save percentage) to show for his efforts, while Rask endured a tough-luck loss in a Monday afternoon tilt against the Colorado Avalanche. Holding the Avs scoreless through two periods, the lone puck he allowed past him came due to a deflection off defenseman Zdeno Chara's leg; meanwhile, his teammates were stymied at the opposite end. The good news for Rask owners is that he made 35 saves on 36 shots and kept the team in the game throughout. The bad news for Thomas owners is that excellent outings like this could mean more work for the Finn as the defending Stanley Cup champs' season wears on.
Jose Theodore (67.0 percent), Scott Clemmensen (0.5 percent) and Jacob Markstrom (0.3 percent), Florida Panthers: With Theodore off to a promising start -- a 27-save shutout of the Islanders in the season opener -- the concept of this time-share may be largely academic at this point: The Panthers have just two occasions on which they'll play on back-to-back nights during the course of October and November as Clemmensen recovers from knee surgery. As a result, as long as Theo remains healthy and reasonably stable in net, he should draw most -- if not all -- of the starts. Markstrom has a bright future ahead of him, but he's likely a season away from taking a real shot at the No. 1 job in South Florida.
The Detroit Red Wings went with veteran journeyman Ty Conklin in the crease for Saturday's contest against the Avs, and he delivered a 27-save shutout. Jimmy Howard remains the No. 1 by a wide margin, but Conklin may be one of the useful real-life No. 2s for us in the fantasy realm. Kari Lehtonen has always looked like a better goaltender on the ice than the stats have shown him to be. However, he's allowed just two goals in his two starts thus far, good for a .975 save percentage. Obviously, that won't continue, but he's worth monitoring over the next few weeks. Defensive shortcomings will plague the Edmonton Oilers this season, but Devan Dubnyk performed admirably in a similar situation last season. If the promising young offense can get cooking, he could be a nice pickup, and is almost universally available in ESPN leagues. After playing on back-to-back nights to start the season, Chicago Blackhawks starting netminder Corey Crawford is working his way through a minor lower-body injury and missed practice on Monday. It's been speculated that the groin injury which nagged him in the preseason is the cause, but in any event he's expected back at practice on Tuesday. Though it's been deemed minor, the injury is certainly disconcerting given Crawford's short track record as an NHL starter.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com
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