In the Crease: Fantasy All-Star team
With every NHL team having hit the midseason point by last week's column, I went through a collection of midseason awards. And with the NHL preparing to stage the All-Star Game this weekend, what better way to mark the occasion than to assess which players around the league have been fantasy All-Stars?
Just so we're on the same page, I'm following colleague Sean Allen's lead here: these are not simply the best fantasy assets to this point of the season. The overall Player Rater rankings for netminders can provide you with that information. Instead, this assessment also takes draft value into account, much like the MVP award from last week's column, which went to the largely undrafted Brian Elliott. With that explanation out of the way, let's run through some goalies -- other than Elliott -- who have provided the best figurative bang for the buck in fantasy hockey.
The All Stars
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: There's an adage in fantasy hockey that a backup on a great team will provide more value than a starter on a bad team. This is even more relevant when considering a player that is arguably more skilled than a number of starters around the league and whose coach is trying to keep their other option -- one of the top 'tenders in the known universe -- fresh for a deep playoff run. Such is the situation in Boston with Rask and Tim Thomas. Rask is no stranger to veteran fantasy hockey owners, so his strong performance thus far isn't a total shock. What is noteworthy is the fact that he's generated strong enough stats to land in the No. 6 spot on the Player Rater among goalies while only appearing in 17 games. I suppose it helps to be leading the league in save percentage (.943) and second in goals-against average (1.69). It has been an excellent return on investment for those who drafted Rask this season; his average draft position (ADP) in ESPN leagues was 181.8, meaning he was generally taken as a team's third goalie or later. As for the continuation of Rask's exploits, there's no reason to believe that he won't continue to draw around a third of the starts down the stretch; furthermore, he's performed well over the final three months of the regular season in past campaigns. Though he won't be taking over from Thomas anytime in the near future, he'll continue to put up gaudy stats playing for the bullies of the Eastern Conference.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames. It seems as though every preseason, a number of folks are writing off Kipper, thinking that he's finally going to break down after several seasons of 70-plus starts, and this leads to reduced average draft position. But then after the puck drops on opening night, he's back to his usual exploits of starting just about every contest and producing pretty well in the relevant stat columns too. 2011-12 has been the same old story. With an ADP of 127.2, Kipper was taken as the second or third option by many owners, but he's been strong enough to be in the realm of the No. 1's thus far: starting 40 of the club's 49 games (and making relief appearances on two other occasions), Kipper has gone 22-15-3, while posting a 2.34 GAA and .919 save percentage (good enough for the No. 9 spot on the Player Rater amongst goalies). To see just how good those numbers are, compare them to those of Kiprusoff's creasemates in Calgary: Henrik Karlsson has an 0-4-1 record, with a 3.48 GAA and .895 save percentage, while Leland Irving is 1-1-2, with a 3.67 and .908, respectively. As far as trends go, the Calgary hockey team's name has belied its January performance -- they haven't been especially hot -- but this has not been the case for Kipper. The first month of the calendar year has been a strong one for the veteran Finn, with a 2.15 GAA and .921 save percentage in 10 appearances. Kiprusoff has struggled a bit down the stretch in recent campaigns -- especially in 2009-10, when his ratio stats fell to 2.74/.904 over the rest of the Flames' docket after allowing four goals on seven shots to Team USA in the Olympic semifinals -- so now might be the time to shop him in trade.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes. By now, we know the Mike Smith story quite well, but here's the Cliff's Notes version: Perplexity was the prevailing consensus amongst many analysts following the Coyotes' signing of Smith to a two-year, $4 million pact over more accomplished options on the free-agent market this past summer. Some others, however, pointed to the connection that the Kingston, Ont., native had with Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. Since our last experience with Smith was his 2.89/.899 split for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010-11, it's no surprise that his ADP was 191.9 in ESPN leagues entering his reunion campaign with Tippett. However, not only has Smith's GAA (2.46) returned to near the levels he enjoyed while working in Dallas with the coach -- he posted a 2.34 GAA in 2,385 minutes for the Stars in 2006-07 and 2007-08 -- but his save percentage (.921) is even better, and he's among the top dozen netminders on the Player Rater. Meanwhile, the Coyotes' starter from 2010-11, Ilya Bryzgalov (ADP of 42.7), has struggled mightily in his first campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers, sitting in the No. 57 spot when taking into account the three ESPN standard categories. Maybe there is something to be said for the concept of "system goalies" after all. Currently, Smith is trending up (2.28/.925 in January) after a rough December (3.53/.877), and appears to be over a lower-body issue sustained in that month as well. No reason to think that the strong play won't continue.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche. Mired in what has become one of the league's most frustrating goaltending timeshares for fantasy owners, Giguere has clearly been the Avs' stronger netminder this season, in spite of the ongoing belief that Semyon Varlamov may be the team's franchise goalie of the future. To this point of the campaign, Giguere has gone 12-7-1, with a 2.11 GAA and .922 save percentage, while Varlamov has posted a 14-15-1 record, with a 3.00 and .899, respectively. All comparisons between the two men aside, I would be remiss not to mention the fact that no one saw this renaissance coming for the 34-year-old Montreal native -- or, if they did, they kept awfully quiet about it. Giguere went undrafted in many ESPN leagues, and this isn't surprising: his last elite season was 2007-08. But he's posting ratio stats in line with that campaign (2.12/.922), and winning at about the same clip (getting the W in 60 percent of his starts this season compared to 61.4 in 2007-08). Looking ahead, the tide may be turning when it comes to Avs coach Joe Sacco's preference in net: with word that Jiggy will start Tuesday, that's four in a row for the veteran, and six of the last seven. More importantly for those in need of fantasy goalie help, Giguere is still available in 43.5 percent of ESPN leagues, but act fast: His ownership percentage number has gone up 17 points in the past week as people have realized what they're missing.
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. Jimmy Howard, Det (2)
2. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (1)
3. Roberto Luongo, Van (3)
4. Jonathan Quick, LA (5)
5. Tim Thomas, Bos (4)
6. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (6)
7. Jaroslav Halak, StL (8)
8. Tomas Vokoun, Was (7)
9. Mike Smith, Pho (10)
10. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (11)
11. Craig Anderson, Ott (13)
12. Antti Niemi, SJ (9)
13. Tuukka Rask, Bos (19)
14. Brian Elliott, StL (12)
15. Martin Brodeur, NJ (17)
16. Jonas Hiller, Ana (24)
17. Carey Price, Mon (15)
18. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (14)
19. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Col (22)
20. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (20)
21. Niklas Backstrom, Min (16)
22. Cam Ward, Car (27)
23. Corey Crawford, Chi (21)
24. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (28)
25. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (18)
26. Ryan Miller, Buf (25)
27. Semyon Varlamov, Col (23)
28. Jose Theodore, Fla (29)
29. Ray Emery, Chi (30)
30. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (35)
31. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (26)
32. Josh Harding, Min (31)
33. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (32)
34. Cory Schneider, Van (33)
35. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (NR)
36. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (NR)
37. James Reimer, Tor (34)
38. Curtis Sanford, Cls (36)
39. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (37)
40. Richard Bachman, Dal (38)
Rising and Falling
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (up eight spots): Last week I wondered whether Hiller had made it through all of his struggles, whether his performance in calendar year 2012 to that point -- in six appearances, he'd picked up four wins, allowing nine goals on 140 shots, which generated a 1.69 GAA and .936 save percentage -- was a positive harbinger for the rest of the season. In the time since, he's only added to his elite production for the month. With two more wins in the past week, his January now looks like this: a 6-1-1 record, 1.68 GAA and .940 save percentage. The window has nearly closed on picking him up off the waiver wire -- he's up to 96.2 percent ownership in ESPN leagues -- and his asking price in trade has likely gone up significantly over the past several days. Nevertheless, given Hiller's volatility, his owner could be looking for something a little more stable. For the risk-takers in the audience, now is the time to pounce.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets (down four spots): Pavelec has the talent to be amongst the elite in the league, and he continues to add highlight-reel saves on a near nightly basis. However, consistency has been a significant problem. Though his overall numbers in December were excellent -- 7-3-1, with a 1.95/.939 split -- he had a couple brutal outings as well, including seven goals on 26 shots against the Detroit Red Wings (that's a .731 save percentage for those scoring at home) and four on 39 to the Pittsburgh Penguins (an .899 save percentage). Pavelec's overall numbers have dipped in January to a 2.86/.903 split, while he's had two more rough contests in the process (allowing six goals to the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 4 and five to the Bruins on Jan. 10). Until he can find that elusive quality of consistency, there will be a ceiling on his value. This goes double for his worth in head-to-head leagues, as one of those "off" nights can sabotage a team's chances at winning the goalie categories that week.
Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders (up four spots): Earlier this season, the Islanders' devotion to playing Nabokov over last season's hero, Al Montoya, frustrated the latter's fantasy owners, as Montoya was clearly playing stronger over the first two months of the season. However, the tide began to turn in December, and was punctuated by a concussion for Montoya on Dec. 20. Taking over that night -- and stopping all 19 shots he faced -- Nabokov has started all but one of the team's 16 games since. Though he's had some hiccups here and there (including nine goals allowed on 45 shots total over two games against the Ducks and Coyotes earlier this month), we're seeing a vintage version of Nabokov as the month comes to a close. Prior to Monday's loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs, in which he gave up three goals on 35 shots, Nabokov had won his four previous starts. Including Monday's game, he's now put up a 1.38 GAA and .954 save percentage over the five-game span. Looking ahead, one of two things will happen: the Isles will attempt to market Nabokov to a contender in need of either a stronger starter or a reliable backup, or, failing that, he'll continue to get a fair amount of starts for the Isles. From an organization-building standpoint, the Islanders may want to work Montoya more into the mix down the stretch, but as with any player returning from a concussion, it's unclear what type of workload he'll be able to handle.
Ilya Bryzgalov (99.5 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Sergei Bobrovsky (63.0 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: For those who have witnessed Bryzgalov's antics for the past few seasons -- with his "Why you have to be mad?" clip perhaps the most beloved -- his star turn as the court jester of "24/7" was certainly not unexpected. What has been unexpected is Bryzgalov's performance this season, a development that has left Flyers coach Peter Laviolette no choice but to deploy a timeshare strategy in net, something that was supposed to be a thing of the past following the Flyers' lucrative, long-term commitment to Bryzgalov this past offseason. Regardless of the relative salaries involved, Bobrovsky has been considerably better in most regards this season: he holds a 2.46 to 2.99 edge in GAA and .919 to .895 lead in save percentage. Even after the HBO cameras left town, Bryzgalov has retained his troubles, with a 2.94/.907 split in January. The good news for Philly is that they remain in the thick of the Eastern conference playoff hunt in spite of getting less-than-stellar play from their No. 1 netminder (bear in mind that the two other top contenders in the East have Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas in net). I'm of the belief that Bryzgalov will continue to get chances to prove himself, but until he really takes hold of the Philadelphia crease, Bobrovsky will remain a very valuable fantasy asset. Backstopping the NHL's second highest scoring offense, each start for either man offers a good chance of padding the W totals, and Bob has offered fantasy owners solid ratios, too.
Jonas Gustavsson (67.4 percent) and James Reimer (46.8 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: Pegged as the next big thing upon his arrival on North American shores prior to the 2009-10 season, Gustavsson -- nicknamed "The Monster" -- had a lot of trouble finding his game on the smaller NHL ice against the best competition in the world. But, after signing his client's first deal with the Leafs back on July 7, 2009, agent Joe Resnick admitted that "This wasn't a one-year decision. This was for years three and four. We were looking at the long term that was a major factor in the decision." (Quote courtesy of ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun). Resnick may not have known that Gustavsson would struggle so badly in his first and second NHL campaigns, but the prediction that his client's third season would be the pivotal one has started to come true. Though Gustavsson's season-long numbers are still mediocre (14-10-0 with a 2.84/.907 ratios split), the 27-year-old has found his game in January, winning six of nine starts -- including three shutouts! -- and posting a 1.79 GAA and .934 save percentage. Meanwhile, the man who captivated Leafs universe last spring with his breakout campaign -- and earned a three-year, $5.8 million contract -- has either been injured (it's believed he suffered a concussion, though this has yet to ever be confirmed officially) or shaky, generating a 3.01/.899 split and only seven wins in 18 starts. Of the two, Gustavsson is the better play in the short-term for sure, and that may extend for the rest of the season if Reimer's play does not improve in quick fashion.
Canadiens franchise goalie Carey Price suffered a lower-body laceration during the team's win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, and was kept out of the team's fan-friendly exhibition practice on Sunday for "precautionary measures," according to the Montreal Gazette. The injury did not keep Price from finishing the contest Saturday, and the expectation is that he'll be fine in time for the next game, Wednesday against the Red Wings. Taking a longer view of Price's fantasy value, he's been putting in fine work as of late, but the wins have been hard to come by, ergo limiting his overall worth. After a disastrous start to the season, Cam Ward has finally turned things around as we hit the All-Star break, rewarding those fantasy owners that stuck by him when times were tough. In 10 January starts, the Carolina Hurricanes' workhorse has allowed more than two goals only once; over that span, he's posted a 1.67 GAA and .949 save percentage. Unfortunately, the 'Canes are still having some scoring troubles, so he only added five wins to his total in spite of the elite string of performances. So, like Price, the value is limited until he gets consistent support. The goaltending struggles continue in Tampa Bay and Columbus, yet there's still been no sign of a promotion for Dustin Tokarski or Mark Dekanich. There's still a lot of season left, though, so keep those names on the back burner.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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