In the Crease: Single-category helpers
Some goaltenders can produce in just the wins category or GAA, save percentage
Only one more NHL head coach was replaced over the past week (as opposed to the two that were canned just prior to last week's column), and the realignment plan approved Monday will not take effect in time to affect this season's play. So instead of those topics, let's have a look at a rare breed of fantasy hockey athlete: the single-category stud.
Standard ESPN settings being as they are, goaltenders only account for three of 10 categories: wins, goals-against average and save percentage. So unlike with defensemen and forwards, the players who excel at just one category can be a little harder to find. Nevertheless, there are some players that can help your win total but hurt your chances with their performance in the ratios, and vice versa. Bear in mind that these sources don't come straight from Elite Street: It isn't much help to tell you to target Jimmy Howard, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tim Thomas to help your team, as you'd have to pay a hefty trade ransom to land one of them.
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (Wins) : Owned in 78.4 percent of ESPN leagues, Anderson is not an unfamiliar name. The Illinois native was an effective roto asset as the backup to Ed Belfour and then Tomas Vokoun during his Florida Panthers days. In 53 total appearances over three seasons, he had 24 wins and ratios of 2.52 in GAA and .928 in save percentage. His first season as a full-fledged No. 1 came in 2009-10 with the Colorado Avalanche, where he posted 38 wins in 71 starts, with a 2.63 GAA and .917 save percentage. Last season, as some of us recall with gnashed teeth, he was one of the most disappointing players in fantasy hockey during his time with the Avs. A midseason trade to the Senators reinvigorated him, and he won 11 of 18 starts, with a 2.05 GAA and .939 save percentage. This season, Anderson's 12 wins tie him for sixth in the league, though his ratios have been brutal: the 3.36 GAA has him in the coveted No. 37 spot amongst qualified 'tenders, while a .896 save percentage has him at No. 35 in that category. I can't guarantee that those ratios will improve, but it does appear that he'll continue to be sent out as Ottawa's starter just about every night (he's started 23 of 27, and been the winning goalie of record for all but one of the team's victories). If you can stand the potential hit in your ratio categories and are lagging in wins, he's a fine trade target.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets (Wins): Pavelec was a rising star after a promising start to the 2010-11 season. After impressive work in November and December of last season, he posted mediocre numbers in January before the wheels came almost completely off thereafter. Unfortunately, he picked up where he left off: nine October appearances yielded a 3.62 GAA and .885 save percentage while he improved slightly -- to 3.07 GAA and .904 save percentage -- in 12 games played in November. December has been good to the 24-year-old, as he's allowed two goals total in two starts, with a .966 save percentage. While he's struggled to get his bearings during his first season in Manitoba, he's been the Jets' starter in 23 out of 26 games, which shows a wealth of faith in him on behalf of the coaching staff. He's also rewarded his fantasy owners with nine wins. However, unlike Anderson, Pavelec's ratios appear to be trending in the right direction, and since he is owned in only around half (55.5 percent) of ESPN leagues, he could be sitting on your waiver wire. Though the Jets aren't an automatic W every night, Pavelec will be between the pipes for most of them in the future, and there is a chance that he'll improve in the ratios enough that he won't destroy those categories for you.
Al Montoya, New York Islanders: (GAA and save percentage): A frequent guest in the "Timeshares" section, Montoya has become the Isles' primary starter due to attrition: Evgeni Nabokov is out indefinitely after injuring his groin on Nov. 17, and -- hold on, I'll let you prepare yourself mentally for this -- Rick DiPietro is hurt again, after being knocked out of Saturday's game with a groin injury of his own. However, saying that Montoya has been promoted merely due to health issues around him is selling him short: He's their most effective option even when everyone's healthy, it's just that now the Isles' coaching staff can't taunt us by trotting out one of the others. Here's a taste of what Montoya brings to the table: in 32 appearances since joining the Isles on Feb. 9 last season, the former No. 6 overall draft pick has posted a 2.32 GAA and .925 save percentage. This season alone, he's been good for a 2.17 and .932, respectively, in those categories, which puts him in the No. 12 and No. 7 position for qualified goalies league-wide. With no exaggeration, trading a sixth-round pick for Montoya has been one of the best moves that this star-crossed franchise has made in the past decade. Unfortunately, the Isles have not been giving Montoya (or any of his creasemates) much goal support this season. After finishing in the middle of the NHL pack with 2.74 goals per game last season, they're dead last in 2011-12, with just 2.17 tallies per contest. While they've scored at a slightly higher clip -- 2.45 goals per game -- during games in which Montoya has appeared, that would still keep them in the bottom third of the league. So, while it's smart to target Montoya either off the waiver wire (he's available in just under half of ESPN leagues) or in trade, don't expect him to help you out that much in the win category.
Curtis Sanford, Columbus Blue Jackets; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche (GAA and save percentage): From a young star on the rise, making his case for more playing time, to two veterans trying to do the same at the other end of their career. Sanford and Giguere are actually not all that similar -- prior to this season, the former had not faced a regular season NHL shot since 2008-09, while the latter has been a starter or busy backup in every campaign since 2000-01 -- but both are providing some nice value under the radar of most thus far. To wit, Sanford (who has taken over the starting gig in Columbus) is owned in just 34.9 percent of ESPN leagues, while Giguere (fighting for the No. 1 job in Denver) is rostered in a mere 10.1 percent. While many have been sleeping on the two, Sanford has posted the No. 7 GAA in all the land (2.10 in 10 appearances) while Giguere's workload (just eight appearances) does not qualify him for ranking, but his 1.86 in that category would put him third. As for save percentage, Sanford's .926 puts him in the No. 12 spot, with Giguere's .924 just behind that. Keep in mind that both vets are -- or will soon be -- involved in a battle for playing time with a promising young option: former Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason is in Columbus, while Semyon Varlamov -- for whom the Avs traded a 2012 first-round pick and a second-rounder in either 2012 or 2013 -- is Giguere's competition in Colorado. Even so, even if they wind up as an occasional spot starter, each will continue to have value over the rest of the season, particularly for those needing help in the ratios.
Rising and Falling
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. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (1)
2. Tim Thomas, Bos (2)
3. Jimmy Howard, Det (4)
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (7)
5. Tomas Vokoun, Was (3)
6. Jonathan Quick, LA (8)
7. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (5)
8. Carey Price, Mon (6)
9. Roberto Luongo, Van (9)
10. Niklas Backstrom, Min (11)
11. Antti Niemi, SJ (10)
12. Ryan Miller, Buf (17)
13. Mike Smith, Pho (15)
14. Corey Crawford, Chi (12)
15. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (13)
16. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (14)
17. Jaroslav Halak, StL (16)
18. Brian Elliott, StL (20)
19. Cam Ward, Car (19)
20. Martin Brodeur, NJ (18)
21. Jonas Hiller, Ana (24)
22. Josh Harding, Min (22)
23. Jose Theodore, Fla (27)
24. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (21)
25. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (25)
26. Cory Schneider, Van (28)
27. Al Montoya, NYI (29)
28. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (31)
29. Craig Anderson, Ott (30)
30. Dwayne Roloson, TB (26)
31. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (23)
32. James Reimer, Tor (35)
33. Semyon Varlamov, Col (32)
34. Tuukka Rask, Bos (36)
35. Curtis Sanford, Cls (33)
36. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (39)
37. Mathieu Garon, TB (37)
38. Andrew Raycroft, Dal (38)
39. Johan Hedberg, NJ (34)
40. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (40)
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (up five spots): The uncertain return of the 2010 Team USA hero following his concussion on Nov. 12 led to a decline in Miller's position on the season-long rankings: it's hard to project a player's fantasy value when we don't know when he'll be back on the ice. However, Miller had an eventful return on Saturday night, as he was run over again (video can be seen here), this time by Jordin Tootoo of the Nashville Predators. It doesn't appear that Miller suffered any ill effects from this collision (though he and his coach were equally upset thereafter), and it should be back to business for one the league's most talented goalies. There's a flip side to Miller's return, of course, and the value of backup Jhonas Enroth -- who excelled during No. 30's absence -- takes a significant hit. The team now knows that it has a strong backup when the No. 1 needs a rest, but make no mistake, this is Miller's team.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (up three spots): Randy Carlyle became the fourth NHL head coach fired this season following the Ducks' win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, and oddly enough, he was replaced by Bruce Boudreau, who'd been fired by the Washington Capitals just two days prior. The coaching change did not produce an immediate bump in the team's results (or Hiller's), and following Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Swiss netminder let his feelings be known in no uncertain terms. "You can see why we're not winning," Hiller said, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com. "Guys always seem to get inside, walk through two guys and suddenly get a 2-on-1 out of nothing. Even though we have guys back [on defense], it seems like we're just too cute. I don't know if we think we're the best team out there."
It's possible that the Ducks are not finished making changes, and a trade could be on the way soon enough. However, what's unlikely to change is the man in net on most nights: That will continue to be Hiller. If anything, he's a buy-low candidate right now because it certainly can't get all that much worse, and will likely get considerably better. Despite this potential for vast improvement, it might be a good idea to stow Hiller on your bench for now, if you haven't already done so.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers (down three spots): The inevitable regression is now well underway. Over the first nine games of the season, Khabibulin posted the ridiculous ratios of 0.98 GAA and .964 save percentage, winning seven of the nine, and losing the other two in the shootout. In the process, he also caused a number of muscle pulls as fantasy hockey owners raced to their league's waiver wire to add him (always remember to stretch, ladies and gentlemen). In the nine games since, the 38-year-old's stock has dropped considerably: he's won just twice while his GAA has shot up to 3.12 and his save percentage dropped to .902 over that span. Combine the two nine-game sets and you've got the No. 8 goalie on the Player Rater from a season-long standpoint, a player that is still near universal ownership in ESPN leagues. So, if you didn't sell high when his value reached its peak, there's still time to try and mine some value from another owner in your league in exchange for Khabibulin. Just hope that the other owner hasn't read this column yet.
Jaroslav Halak (89.0 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Brian Elliott (98.1 percent), St. Louis Blues: The Blues' timeshare continues, with no end really in sight. After a week in which Elliott started all three of the Blues' contests, head coach Ken Hitchcock tapped Halak for two of three this past week, and Elliott had a down performance in his one outing, allowing four goals on 35 shots. It's important to note, however, that Elliott indicated that he was screened on three of the four, which is atypical for a team that is usually quite responsible on the defensive end. Regardless of any explanations as to the one tough start, Elliott will be back in goal Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings, and I expect the timeshare to continue for some time as long as both men are excelling. It's also important to remember that the Blues have three more sets of back-to-back games this month, so expect a lot of work for each 'tender. Perhaps once the calendar flips to January, we'll have a better idea of who will be the top dog for the stretch run.
Dwayne Roloson (49.7 percent) and Mathieu Garon (19.1 percent), Tampa Bay Lightning: After I recommended dropping Roloson in last week's column, his ownership percentage dropped 11.4 percent. While that might be more correlation than causation -- it was his poor play that inspired me to make the call last week, after all, and many are probably on the same wavelength -- those who defied that advice were "rewarded" with two Roloson starts where he allowed four goals. His save percentage for those two games was .879, which is about where it stands for the season. I'll say it again: There is no good reason for him to be on your fantasy hockey team right now. As for Garon, his one start from the past week yielded the same number of wins (zero), but stopping 32 of 35 shots against the New York Rangers isn't too shabby. It remains to be seen whether Guy Boucher will continue to roll with a timeshare, or if Garon can sustain the production that he's provided thus far (including a 2.47 GAA and .915 save percentage). But of the two, he's certainly more valuable for our purposes for the short-term and likely the long-term as well.
Ilya Bryzgalov (100 percent) and Sergei Bobrovsky (10.5 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: It's hard to call this a true timeshare; after all, Bryzgalov is the highly-paid veteran, around whom the franchise intends to build their next championship roster, while Bobrovsky is young and inconsistent. Then again, the apprentice started five games in November, with the master getting the nod for just seven. Bobrovsky won three of those five starts, with a 2.44 GAA and .921 save percentage; meanwhile, Bryzgalov won four, with a 2.52 and .918, respectively. Those numbers aren't all that different, which is the point: Peter Laviolette can get a reasonably strong performance from either man, and whether Bobrovsky's increased usage last month was used as a motivating factor or not, the fact remains that we could continue to see significant work for the youngster in the months ahead. In the immediate future, the team has just one back-to-back set of games for the rest of December, but that doesn't mean we won't continue to see a rotation.
The ping-pong routine continues for Jacob Markstrom. The Florida Panthers' future franchise goalie is back with the big club while Jose Theodore battles an illness. There's no word yet on how long Theodore will remain out, but given that the Panthers have games on Thursday, Friday, Sunday and next Tuesday, there's a chance we'll see Markstrom instead of Scott Clemmensen at least once. Even so, the fantasy implications are minimal: Until Theodore or Clemmensen is traded or sustains a significant injury, Markstrom won't have much value (as he'll be down on the farm team). Another future franchise 'tender in waiting is Leland Irving, the 2006 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. Irving was called up from the Abbottsford Heat on Monday, with Henrik Karlsson out with an MCL sprain. The Alberta native will serve as Miikka Kiprusoff's backup for the near future. Irving has been impressive at the AHL level -- posting a 2.30 GAA and .913 save percentage over the past two seasons -- but is blocked on the organizational depth chart by one of the league's most durable goalkeepers. There is life after Kipper, and Flames fans may get a taste while Irving is up (the team plays on back-to-back nights next Thursday and Friday). After returning to full participation in team practices recently, Toronto Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer made his return to competition on Saturday, though he certainly looked a little rusty after missing over a month. Of course, this was the big, bad Boston Bruins he was facing (second in the NHL in scoring at 3.40 tallies per match), so frame the performance -- four goals against on 30 shots -- with that knowledge. Reimer will get the nod on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils, a team that is at the other end of the goal-scoring spectrum. We'll have a fuller prediction of his long-range prognosis thereafter.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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