Commentary

In the Crease: Potential trade targets

Updated: February 14, 2012, 11:25 AM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

It's the official -- if contrived -- day of love, so what better way to celebrate than to delve into a subject we all adore: trade rumors, and their potential impact in the fantasy hockey world. Though the big move may not happen until the summer -- when the negotiating rights to Cory Schneider could be in play before he hits unrestricted free agency -- there are some intriguing names currently being bandied about, goalies whose values could swing widely depending upon the acquiring club.

Nabokov
Nabokov

Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun recently reported that Isles GM Garth Snow has no intention of moving Nabokov by the deadline; furthermore, the franchise may even extend their relationship with the 36-year-old beyond 2011-12. However, part of the reason for Snow's reluctance to trade Nabokov is the belief that his team still has a shot at the playoffs -- they sit eight points behind the No. 8 seed Toronto Maple Leafs, with five teams to jump -- and their recent string of encouraging play. If the promise of a postseason berth drifts away over the next several days, it could be game on. From a fantasy perspective, it would be better if Nabby stayed on Long Island: he's posted a 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage during his stint with the Isles this season (including pretty even home and away splits), good for the No. 11 slot in each category. While the win total may increase with a move, he could also potentially be dealt to a team that already has a steady No. 1 and just needs a more capable backup. This latter scenario would obviously destroy the veteran's value. And even if he found himself shipped to the contending Chicago Blackhawks -- and Hawks GM Stan Bowman recently denied that they are in the market, according to ESPNChicago.com -- it's not certain that Nabokov would simply be handed the No. 1 gig, nor would he necessarily produce at the same level as he has for the Isles. Obviously, hang on to Nabokov for now, but be prepared to make a move should he be dealt to a less desirable spot.

Khabibulin
Khabibulin

Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers: Remember back at the beginning of the season, when Khabibulin posted a 5-0-2 record in October, with 1.12/.960 ratios? After two more strong outings to begin the month of November (47 saves on 48 total shots, racking up two wins in the process), the inevitable downfall began. Though he's had a nice outing here and there, he's generally been overtaken by Devan Dubnyk as the Oilers' No. 1 netminder. This makes sense from an organizational standpoint, given the youth amongst the skaters and the discrepancy in the goalies' ages -- Dubnyk is 25, Khabibulin is 39 -- as the club appears to be one more season away from making a serious run at contending in the West. If Tom Renney and his staff are truly sold on Dubnyk as their building block in the crease, then Khabibulin could be on the move, which may explain why we've seen the veteran start twice within the last week. With an ownership percentage in ESPN leagues that has dipped to 29.5 percent, Khabibulin could be a nice waiver-wire target if he lands with the right team. The concerns about Nabokov meshing well with his new team apply here too, although Khabibulin's early-season success came behind a questionable defensive group; so even if he lands with another team that has problems in the defensive zone, he's proven that he can be productive. And if he's still an Oiler after the deadline? Carry on. Nothing to see here, folks.

Bernier
Bernier

Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings: With the Kings organization moving forward with 26-year-old Jonathan Quick as their franchise netminder, the 23-year-old Bernier has been ill-cast as the "future No. 1" in Tinseltown. The rumors have not been flowing as heavily as one might expect on the Laval, Quebec, native, but one idea could have him going to a place where he'd be the No. 1 guy almost immediately. Recently, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Columbus Blue Jackets are shopping Jeff Carter, and that the Kings are one of the teams in the mix -- potentially reuniting Carter with former teammate Mike Richards. Furthermore, Bernier would be a big piece of the package returning to Columbus in this deal. While the Jackets have certainly had their struggles this season, Bernier would finally have a chance to show off his considerable talents, as he's a better option than either Curtis Sanford or Steve Mason. Owned in just 3.7 percent of ESPN leagues, Bernier could also be a steal for fantasy hockey owners: The much less regarded Sanford has been able to rack up numbers to put him at No. 27 slot among netminders on the Player Rater this season. While it's no guarantee that Bernier will be better, it's highly likely. But as with Khabibulin, if Bernier remains a King this season, he's best left off fantasy rosters for the final stretch.

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. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (3)
3. Roberto Luongo, Van (2)
4. Jimmy Howard, Det (7)
5. Tim Thomas, Bos (4)
6. Jonathan Quick, LA (5)
7. Jaroslav Halak, StL (6)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (8)
9. Mike Smith, Pho (10)
10. Antti Niemi, SJ (11)
11. Tomas Vokoun, Was (9)
12. Martin Brodeur, NJ (12)
13. Ryan Miller, Buf (21)
14. Cam Ward, Car (13)
15. Carey Price, Mon (18)
16. Jonas Hiller, Ana (15)
17. Craig Anderson, Ott (14)
18. Niklas Backstrom, Min (16)
19. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (24)
20. Brian Elliott, StL (22)
21. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (19)
22. Tuukka Rask, Bos (17)
23. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (27)
24. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (20)
25. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Col (23)
26. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (32)
27. Jose Theodore, Fla (29)
28. James Reimer, Tor (25)
29. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (33)
30. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (31)
31. Semyon Varlamov, Col (28)
32. Ray Emery, Chi (26)
33. Corey Crawford, Chi (30)
34. Joey MacDonald, Det (NR)
35. Cory Schneider, Van (34)
36. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (36)
37. Al Montoya, NYI (37)
38. Jonas Gustavsson, Tor (38)
39. Josh Harding, Min (35)
40. Jonathan Bernier, LA (NR)

Rising and Falling

Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings (up three spots): Well, that was a lot of hullabaloo over what turned out to be very little. With some reports on Howard indicating that the Wings netminder could miss up to six weeks with a broken finger, the latest buzz from the Detroit Free Press is that he'll be back on the ice this Friday against the Nashville Predators. If that's the case, he'll have only missed six games. The reason why the Wings haven't had to push Howard back into action is the play of Joey MacDonald, which took a lot of people by surprise. After inconsistent work in spot duty with the Red Wings last season -- he had one shutout, but also had five- and seven-goal outings -- expectations were understandably low. Nevertheless, he's posted 1.87/.926 ratios in five appearances, winning three of his four starts. But going back to Howard, he's indicated that he's suffered a similar injury in the past, so it would be a surprise if he was much worse for wear after he's back in action. My only concern at this point -- and the reason why he's only in the No. 4 spot in the rankings -- is whether the club will elect to give him some additional rest during the stretch run, knowing that they now have a reliable alternative option in MacDonald. This is something watch over the next several days. As for the MacDonald owners, it's been a nice run, but be prepared to find an alternative. This will not be a timeshare situation.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (up eight spots): The typical cliché when describing an inconsistent player is that he's putting his fantasy owners through a roller coaster. A more apt metaphor for Miller earlier this season was the Tower of Terror at Disney World: including all the free-falls contained therein. However, in his past seven starts, he's been up to his All-World antics again, going 5-1-1 in that stretch, with a 1.23 GAA and .958 save percentage. If this was any old schlub, I'd caution that this level of performance is unsustainable. Since it's Miller, we know he can play at an elite level, so while those sparkling numbers may not be replicated for the duration of the season, he has the talent to produce at a similar clip. If you're looking at potential trade targets for your own stretch run, it might be worthwhile to reach out to Miller's owner in your league, as the arrow is certainly pointing upward right now.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (down five spots): Bit of a controversy emerged in Boston as of late, with a report from a Finnish website seemingly indicating that Rask was unhappy with his current role in the Bruins' timeshare. However, Rask blamed Google Translate for the trouble, and added that he's happy with his role, according to ESPNBoston.com. So he's happy -- or claims to be happy -- and that's good. Nevertheless, he falls down the rankings list this week, and it has nothing to do with the alleged controversy. Though his season-long numbers are still pretty stellar, he hasn't been an elite netminder as of late, at least numbers-wise. After starting the 2012 calendar year off with a 25-save shutout of the Calgary Flames, Rask has made six appearances, generating 3.27/.893 ratios in that span, with only two wins to show for it. It remains unclear what kind of playing time split Bruins coach Claude Julien and his staff will employ for the rest of the regular season, but there is an argument for giving Tim Thomas the majority of the work to get him in a rhythm before the postseason. With this uncertainty (and his inconsistent play), it would be foolhardy to rely too much on Rask for fantasy purposes from here on out.

Timeshares

Corey Crawford (92.0 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Ray Emery (10.9 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: Despite the growing consensus that the club would be well-served by trading for another option in net, GM Stan Bowman has thus far resisted the idea (at least publicly), as noted above. So, either Crawford or Emery is going to be the answer, barring the bold move of promoting Alexander Salak from Rockford of the AHL. Emery has been the team's choice in net as of late: He's supposed to get the nod for Tuesday's contest, which will be three out of the last four. But it's not so much that Emery has been superb lately, it's that he's been less bad. I'm actually a little surprised at the disparity between the ownership percentages of the two current Blackhawk options considering that Emery has better numbers overall (2.81/.901 to 2.99/.898) and since the calendar turned to 2012 (3.32/.887 to 3.49/.881). We're far enough into the season that performance isn't going to drastically change unless there is some sort of outside influence brought into the mix (such as a trade for a defenseman). Whether there is or there isn't, Emery seems like the better option of the two for fantasy owners hoping to ride a Blackhawks renaissance down the stretch.

Jonas Gustavsson (31.4 percent) and James Reimer (85.1 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: The past week has been an excellent illustration on why it pays to have a little bit of patience. After two straight shutouts (and a third win within which he allowed three goals), Reimer was added to rosters in 12.2 percent of ESPN leagues, pushing his number to the value indicated above. Meanwhile, Gustavsson -- who had played quite well in January, going 7-3-1 with 2.08/.926 ratios -- was dropped in 25.4 percent of leagues, nearly halving his ownership percentage. While some were furiously adding Reimer and many were dropping Gustavsson like a freshly baked oatmeal cookie that had not fully cooled, the following occurred: Reimer allowed eight goals in five periods of work (which works out to a 4.89 GAA) and Gustavsson picked up a hard-luck loss in his one start (stopping 27 of 29 shots). As with Chicago, the buzz emanating from Toronto is that the club is not looking to trade for goaltending help this season, so one of these two is going to emerge as the top option at some point. On the Reimer side of the argument is the Manitoban's performance down the stretch of the 2010-11 season; on the Gustavsson side is the Swede's work in recent weeks. If anything, the latter is underowned right now, given the chances that he could be the one.

Ice Chips

I made note of Ilya Bryzgalov possibly turning the corner in last week's edition, and he went out and saved all 18 shots he faced in regulation and overtime that night before losing in the shootout. Thereafter, unfortunately, he's been battling a flu bug, and has thus been unable to play since. Sergei Bobrovsky did not inspire much confidence in Bryzgalov's stead, so expect Ilya to get back between the pipes in the near future. … Speaking of the flu, Washington Capitals starter Tomas Vokoun was forced to miss the team's past two contests due to the condition. And on the same note, it doesn't appear as though Michael Neuvirth or Braden Holtby will be overtaking him any time soon. It would be a surprise if Vokoun is not tapped for Friday's pivotal Southeastern division contest against the Florida Panthers. … Those Florida Panthers saw the return of their starter, Jose Theodore, over the weekend, as he stopped 26 of 27 shots in a win in the veteran's first action since Jan. 20, because odfa knee injury. Theodore hasn't been consistently stellar in the ratios this season, but he's a decent option to pick up some W's down the final months of the season as the Panthers fight for a playoff berth.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst 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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