In the Crease: Enroth's time to shine
Saturday night in Boston, an incident occurred that could have far-reaching consequences for how the game is played at the NHL level in the future: Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic leveled Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller after the latter had skated out of his crease to play the puck, knocking Miller's mask off and concussing the netminder in the process. According to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier hopes to bring up the topic of goalie protection at the league GM meetings on Tuesday, as Lucic received no suspension for the hit from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
Meanwhile, Miller is out indefinitely. While we have little control over whether the league alters the rules on goaltender contact, or how quickly Miller returns from his concussion, we can examine how valuable backup Jhonas Enroth will be in his stead.
Over the past week, the Stockholm native with the cool first name has been added in 50.9 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, pushing his current percentage up to 64.1. But it's not all because of Miller's injury. Going into Monday night's start in Montreal, Enroth was fourth in the NHL in both goals-against average (1.75) and save percentage (.944), and had won all five of his starts. Those numbers slipped ever so slightly following Monday's shootout win -- to 1.76 and .942 -- but as far as the productive real-life No. 2 goalie ranks go, he was certainly among the most valuable in the league to this point. In fact, if we include the games from the 2011 portion of last season, Enroth is now 13-0-1 this calendar year.
Enroth is on the smaller side of NHL netminders at 5-foot-10, 166 pounds, but he's fundamentally sound, positioning himself square to the shooter to take up as much of the net as possible and staying on his feet longer than his butterfly brethren. In addition, Enroth has shown a knack for rebound control, and Sabres defensemen have been apt in helping out in this regard when pucks are in the danger zone. From a visual standpoint, the 23-year-old has certainly looked the part of a legitimate starting-caliber NHL goalie this season.
On the other hand, there is an air of unsustainability about him, statistically (it's accompanied by a faint odor reminiscent of wet leaves). On the penalty kill, both Enroth and the Sabres have been playing especially well this season. Overall, the team has allowed just six goals in 63 opposing opportunities (a 90.5 percent kill rate), and Enroth has a .931 PK save percentage (27 saves on 29 shots). Last season, the team killed penalties at an 83.0 percent rate, while the Swede's PK save percentage was .879 (51 saves on 58 shots). It's possible that the team's blue-line additions this offseason -- especially Robyn Regehr -- will usher in a new era of penalty-killing prowess, but Enroth's numbers likely will regress a bit (he allowed a PP tally to Erik Cole on Monday).
It's a similar story at even strength, where Enroth improved from a .919 save percentage in those situations last season to a .942 clip this season. To illustrate how unlikely it is that he'll maintain that new rate, note that Enroth is currently ninth in the league among qualified goalies in the category, but only two times in the past three seasons has a regularly-starting NHL goalie finished with the season with an even-strength save percentage at or above .940. On both occasions it was Tim Thomas, and on both occasions Thomas won the Vezina Trophy. There's a "gut feeling" component to projecting future performance, and my gut feeling is that Jhonas Enroth is not quite the netminder that Tim Thomas was in 2008-09 or 2010-11.
With the likelihood of future regression in mind, Enroth is still a very fine option in the near future while he is Buffalo's real-life No. 1 (and he retains some value even when returned to his No. 2 role). At this point, we don't know whether Miller's concussion is as career altering as that of Sidney Crosby -- who has been out for more than 10 months -- or as mild as that of Rick DiPietro, who was back on the ice within two weeks. For that reason, I haven't pushed either man too far up or down the rankings just yet, though that could change as more information comes to light.
In the meantime, Enroth is clearly a must-add and must-start in all fantasy hockey formats (I know, really going out on a limb there). He's shown deftness in his handful of starts thus far, and the increase in opportunity provides the other ingredient for fantasy value. As far as trading for him if he's already been rostered, I would only give up as much as would be applicable if he were still the backup. Don't get too carried away here: Once Miller is healthy enough, he's going to be Buffalo's primary starter once again, so don't overpay for Enroth now.
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. Tomas Vokoun, Was (1)
2. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (2)
3. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (3)
4. Jimmy Howard, Det (5)
5. Roberto Luongo, Van (4)
6. Tim Thomas, Bos (7)
7. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (8)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (11)
9. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (12)
10. Carey Price, Mon (9)
11. Jonathan Quick, LA (10)
12. Ryan Miller, Buf (6)
13. Antti Niemi, SJ (15)
14. Corey Crawford, Chi (14)
15. Martin Brodeur, NJ (18)
16. Jonas Hiller, Ana (13)
17. Cam Ward, Car (16)
18. Jaroslav Halak, StL (19)
19. Niklas Backstrom, Min (23)
20. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (17)
21. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (21)
22. Dwayne Roloson, TB (22)
23. Semyon Varlamov, Col (20)
24. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (31)
25. Josh Harding, Min (25)
26. Jose Theodore, Fla (28)
27. Mike Smith, Pho (29)
28. Brian Elliott, StL (33)
29. Al Montoya, NYI (27)
30. Craig Anderson, Ott (24)
31. James Reimer, Tor (26)
32. Johan Hedberg, NJ (30)
33. Tuukka Rask, Bos (32)
34. Mathieu Garon, TB (34)
35. Cory Schneider, Van (35)
36. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (36)
37. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (38)
38. Michal Neuvirth, Was (39)
39. Ray Emery, Chi (40)
40. Jonathan Bernier, LA (NR)
Rising and Falling
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars (up three spots): Though there have been some tough outings here and there, the massive swoon predicted in this space and elsewhere has not yet occurred, and Lehtonen remains in the No. 3 overall spot in the ESPN Player Rater (behind Daniel Sedin and Nikolai Khabibulin). In fact, Lehtonen has maintained his strong overall numbers in spite of his PK save percentage plummeting to .860 (so at least that part of the analysis was spot-on). There is now enough of a sample size to believe that Lehtonen will be among the fantasy No. 1s from here on out.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (down three spots): An encouraging start by Hiller this season somewhat quelled fears of any lingering issues related to his vertigo problem from last spring. However, I'm starting to get a little concerned about his prospects. In his past 10 starts, he's gone 2-5-3, posting a 3.74 GAA and .892 save percentage. Hang on to him unless you really need the roster spot, but be sure he's on your bench, far away from where he can do harm to your ratios.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers (down three spots): From a seasonlong standpoint, Khabibulin is still the top overall player in ESPN standard fantasy hockey leagues. But his two most recent outings -- eight total goals allowed on 64 shots to the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings -- provide reason to pause in considering what he'll do from here on out, especially given his work in recent campaigns. For the most part, those who picked up Khabibulin have one or two more reliable options on the roster. During rough spells like this, now's the time to lean on those options and wait until Khabibulin breaks out of the funk, as I don't believe that these two starts are the beginning of the end. However, adjust your expectations downward just a bit.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche (down three spots). One of the pleasant surprises of the early season -- he was 5-3-0 in October with a 2.45 GAA and .924 save percentage -- Varlamov has seen his numbers plummet in all categories on his way to a winless November (with a 4.26 GAA and .835 save percentage) thus far. All of the favorable press the Avs got earlier this season for their deal to secure Varlamov will be moot if the current trend continues. I don't see the Avalanche promoting Jean-Sebastien Giguere to the No. 1 spot, but Varlamov's starting frequency could decline if he can't pull out of the tailspin.
Niklas Backstrom (100 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Josh Harding (63.7 percent), Minnesota Wild: Like Enroth, Harding has been putting up some excellent performances as a backup this season (4-1-1 with a 1.78 GAA and .948 save percentage). Unlike Enroth, the man Harding backs up has not been concussed. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old retains some current value due to his strong play in spot duty, with the hope that he'll play a larger role later in the season or be traded to a situation where that will be the case. Coincidentally, Harding's emergence has somewhat overshadowed Backstrom's own bounce-back campaign. Though he has just five wins in 11 starts, his 2.14 GAA and .927 save percentage are better than the marks he put up in 2008-09, a season he finished as the No. 2 fantasy 'tender in the league. As it stands, both Harding and Backstrom maintain a fair amount of value, but that value would increase if one of them wasn't in the picture.
Al Montoya (45.4 percent), Evgeni Nabokov (10.2 percent) and Rick DiPietro (1.3 percent), New York Islanders: Thursday night, wild rumors made the rounds that Nabokov had finally been traded; according to one version, he was being shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Fedor Tyutin. Alas, those rumors proved false, and the Islanders still have three goalies on their roster. That same night marked Montoya's return to the starting lineup, and despite allowing four goals in an overtime loss to the Avalanche, he made 47 saves, which is good for a .922 save percentage for the night. Montoya remains well ahead of both Nabokov (who seems to have one foot out the door) and DiPietro, who has been mediocre or injured over the past few seasons. Eventually, the Isles will have to turn back to him as their primary starter. It's worth checking to see if he's been dropped in your league. As for Nabokov, were he traded to Columbus he'd get a slight bump in value, as he'd become the unquestioned starter, but that team's a mess right now, and he hasn't been exactly lighting the world on fire with his own play.
Martin Brodeur (98.1 percent) and Johan Hedberg (34.2 percent), New Jersey Devils: In two weeks, Hedberg's ownership percentage in ESPN leagues has dropped from 77.4 to 34.2, a remarkable fall considering we still don't know for sure how Peter DeBoer plans to dole out the starts to his two veteran netminders. Sure, Brodeur has had the better career numbers and is clearly ahead of Hedberg from a talent standpoint; however, with eyes on a long playoff run, it's possible that we could see Brodeur only start 60 to 70 percent of the remaining games on the regular season docket. And when "Moose" does get the nod, he's been strong this season; in fact, his numbers now are far superior to those of No. 30. Hedberg's latest exploits came on Saturday night, when he backstopped a comeback win for the Devils, including one of the better saves of this young season. Do I think Hedberg will be more valuable than Brodeur from here on out? No. But he can certainly provide a great deal of value and is widely available.
Jaroslav Halak (88.4 percent) and Brian Elliott (73.2 percent), St. Louis Blues: Three games into the Ken Hitchcock era for the Blues -- the subject of last week's column -- and I've got no complaints, at least from a goaltending standpoint. Halak has stopped 49 of the 51 shots he's faced, picking up a shutout and a shootout loss, while Elliott notched a 19-save shutout of his own on Saturday evening. So combined, Jaroslian Halliott has been 2-0-1 with an 0.65 GAA and .971 save percentage on Hitchcock's watch. Unfortunately, you've likely got to pick a side in this matter, and the veteran bench boss has reiterated on multiple occasions that Halak is his No. 1. Elliott owners need not fret, as their choice will still be valuable in spot starts -- Halak has never started more than 57 games in a season -- but I don't foresee him finishing the season as the fifth-best goalie on the Player Rater, which is his current slot.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard took home the NHL's second star of the week honors after going 3-0-0, stopping 73 of the 77 total shots sent at the cage behind him. Those who projected a bounce-back season for him are looking sharp right now, and the Red Wings offense hasn't even started clicking yet. He'll be an elite option from here on out, but it may be too late to grab him for fair value in trade. The latest news on James Reimer came courtesy of his agent, Ray Petkau, who told TSN that his client would be back on the ice soon. It can't come soon enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who witnessed Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens combining to allow 12 goals in three games this past week. Vancouver Canucks fans and Roberto Luongo fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief. During Sunday night's game, Luongo had to be briefly checked out at the bench before returning. Though the ace netminder skipped an optional team skate on Monday, he said it was a maintenance day and he isn't hurt after taking a puck to the mask Sunday night, according to Scott Russell of News1130.