<
>

Fantasy hockey sleepers and busts

9/15/2011

The time-honored cliche when it comes to investing is buy low, sell high. Within the world of fantasy sports, a similar principle is at play: Acquire undervalued players (through the draft, free agency or trade) and avoid overpaying for players who are not going to perform up to their expected level of production. It can be a challenge to determine which players fit into those two categories, but luckily for you, we've gathered a panel of our fantasy hockey experts to reveal who they believe are the 2011-12 sleepers and busts.

Our experts polled this season are Sean Allen, Pierre Becquey, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Scott Cullen, Tim Kavanagh and Victoria Matiash. Each scribe has included brief analysis as to why he or she believes each player is going to perform above expectations or be a disappointment to those calling his name on draft day, and their thoughts can be found below the table displaying the players in each category.

Sleepers

Sleeper Forwards

Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary Flames: The Swedish native closed out the 2010-11 campaign as the pivot on the Flames' top scoring line, and all indications are he's going to get another look at the spot as the 2011-12 season begins. If he sticks, this would prove to be incredibly fruitful for those with the foresight to draft him, as he'll be playing alongside Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. The points should pile up as a result. -- Tim Kavanagh

Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars: Maybe he's not necessarily a sleeper, since he has continued to get better and better in his young career, but the Stars finally turned Benn loose last season and he showed he could be a prime-time player. In fact, he forced his way into that role. While Benn finished with 33 points in his last 33 games, he was playing only 15-17 minutes per game when he suffered a shoulder injury in February. Upon his return, Benn's minutes finally went up and he was playing more than 20 minutes per game. Expect that to continue this season because, with Brad Richards gone, the Stars will need to count on 22-year-old Benn to be an offensive leader in his third NHL season. -- Scott Cullen

Matt D'Agostini, C, St. Louis Blues: Believe it or not, D'Agostini is the favored candidate to play on the Blues' top scoring line with David Backes and Andy McDonald at the start of the regular season. Seriously. Not that Chris Stewart or T.J. Oshie won't try to steal the gig in training camp, but it's the 24-year-old's to lose. As recently reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blues coach Davis Payne insisted D'Agostini earned the opportunity by filling in adequately for the injured David Perron (concussion) in 2010-11. Playing with Backes and McDonald, the young forward amassed 21 goals and 25 assists in his first full NHL season. This isn't to suggest you should blow an early- or mid-round pick on D'Agostini, but if he's around later in fantasy drafts, why not snag him? It could prove to be a wise investment. -- Victoria Matiash

Tomas Fleischmann, C/W, Florida Panthers: I like it best when the numbers stand firmly behind my predictions, and in Fleischmann's case, the numbers scream, "Breakout!" Simply by projecting him for a full season of around 19 minutes of ice time per game, the numbers suggest he can score 70 points. With the pulmonary embolism that ended his season prematurely behind him, Fleischmann has emerged from a bottom-six forward with the Washington Capitals to the highest-paid forward for the Panthers. It's all thanks to the 21 points he scored in 22 games with the Colorado Avalanche after a trade and before his blood clot last season. I believe Fleischmann has the talent to at least come close to a point per game. -- Sean Allen

Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto Maple Leafs: There are two things the Maple Leafs need desperately: forwards who can put the puck in the net, and for at least one of their first-round picks from the past decade to blossom into a star (for their own team, so Tuukka Rask doesn't count). Kadri will be given the opportunity to do both. Although he failed to shine in his 29-game debut last season, he did score 41 points in 44 games with the AHL Marlies, scoring on 17.7 percent of his shots. He'll be 21 years old to start the season, and he might well have 30 goals and 60 points in his stick if he lands a top-six role, along with some decent power-play upside. -- Pierre Becquey

Magnus Paajarvi, Edmonton Oilers: Though perhaps buried on the depth chart -- he might have to settle for a third-line wing role initially this year -- this member of the promising "H.O.P.E Quartet" has one advantage over his Oilers brethren: his versatility. He's an excellent skater and has more defensive ability than his minus-13 rookie rating showed; that helped earn him occasional looks at the point on the power play later in the year. Sure enough, Paajarvi ended his rookie campaign on a high note, managing five goals, five assists and five power-play points in his final 19 games. The late rounds in fantasy drafts tend to be populated with ho-hum, 40-point veteran retreads; given the choice I'd much rather take the chance on the promising youngster who, while he has work to do to scale the depth chart, has the skills necessary to break through with a 50-60 point campaign. --Tristan H. Cockcroft

Sleeper Defensemen

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames: Giordano will be 28 to start the season and looks ready to take that final step into the defensive elite. His ice time has increased in consecutive seasons, along with his point production, both at even strength and on the power play. With a final boost to 25 minutes of ice time per game alongside his excellent stay-at-home partner Jay Bouwmeester, Giordano's offensive output easily could climb to 15 goals and 60 points. As a bonus, a disproportionate number of points might come on the power play, where he's thrived throughout his career, acquiring 51 of his 108 career points in 277 games. -- Pierre Becquey

Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders: The 21-year-old emerged in the second half of his rookie season, and his ability to combine points and penalty minutes can make him very valuable. The Islanders are a young team with some offensive upside -- which helps -- and even if Mark Streit's return gives the Isles a genuine power-play quarterback again, Hamonic's second-half surge (18 points in 33 games) shouldn't be discounted. Last season, there were two defensemen (Kris Letang and P.K. Subban) who put up 30 points and 100 penalty minutes, and that's an entirely reasonable expectation for Hamonic this year. -- Scott Cullen

Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche: March 21, 1988. Wayne Gretzky was playing out the final season of his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers, financial markets worldwide were still shaken by the events of a stock market crash just five months prior and Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" had just dethroned Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" as the No. 1 song on the charts. It also was the day Erik Johnson -- the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2006 -- was born. Johnson's first two-plus seasons in St. Louis might have had the front office looking at the man in the mirror, wondering why the organization had invested such draft capital in the Minnesota native, and he was traded to Colorado. But there's no reason to give up on Johnson as an elite fantasy product. He's surrounded by a group of promising young forwards led by Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and 2011 first-rounder Gabriel Landeskog, and he figures to inherit the power-play quarterbacking duties left vacant by the departure of John-Michael Liles. Forty-plus points, elite average ice time and tons of shots on net could be in the cards this season, and you won't have to pay a stiff price to draft him, either. -- Tim Kavanagh

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: Remember 260 shots, 60 points, 180 penalty minutes and a plus rating? Those are the kind of numbers Phaneuf used to put up as a 22-year-old with the Calgary Flames. He's 26 now and looking to embark on a season that will return him to elite top-five fantasy defenseman form. I don't think there is anything standing in Phaneuf's way. John-Michael Liles is a perfect defense partner for Phaneuf, and Tim Connolly should help improve the overall offense and the power play. Chalk me down as a believer in Phaneuf's return to power. -- Sean Allen

Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars: Signed to a one-year (last NHL gasp) contract with the Stars, Souray will get one final chance to prove he's not a washed-up, bellyaching, rusty has-been. And there's enough evidence to suggest he makes the most of the opportunity. First of all, general manager Joe Nieuwendyk is a smart man; he wouldn't have thrown a million bucks Souray's way if there wasn't enough potential upside. Secondly, the 35-year-old reportedly has been working out hard this offseason with former NHLer Chris Chelios -- who takes physical fitness to a whole other level. And then there's that vicious shot of his; one of the most lethal in the NHL, Souray's rifle from the point helped him earn 23 goals and 30 assists with the Edmonton Oilers in 2008-09, and 67 points with the Montreal Canadiens back in 2006-07. That's not that long ago, really. With Alex Goligoski as their only other standout offensive defenseman, the Stars are in position to benefit greatly from playing Souray with the man-advantage. After being injured and/or stuck in the AHL last season, a very hungry Souray will do all he can to continue playing at the highest level. -- Victoria Matiash

Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers: What can I say, I'm a sucker for Ryan Whitney and I think the Oilers are on the rise. Typically, I shy from the injury risks, and Whitney certainly qualifies; he had foot surgery in January and had a setback with it in August. There's a chance we're not going to see him the entire preseason, and that alone might be enough to suppress his draft-day value into the late rounds. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need gamble on the "per-game" performers, and look at Whitney's Oilers career numbers scaled to 82 games: 6 goals, 40 assists, plus-10 rating, 17 power-play points, 137 shots on goal. (And he was a heck of a lot more productive in 35 games in 2010-11 alone.) Remember, defensemen -- at least the back-end roster options -- tend to be more replaceable than, say, forwards or goalies. Take a shot on upside with your final picks. --Tristan H. Cockcroft

Sleeper Goaltenders

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: Sometimes off-ice issues can have a way of affecting players on the ice, and even a mild conspiracy theorist would suspect something was up with Anderson during the opening portion of the 2010-11 season in Colorado. He started 31 games for the Avalanche, posting a 13-15-3 record with a 3.28 goals-against average and .897 save percentage. Those numbers horrified anyone in the fantasy world who had used a high draft pick on the man who had 38 wins, a 2.65 GAA and .917 SV% just a season before. Some suspect a failure to negotiate a contract extension with the Avs was at the root of Anderson's problems. But following a trade midseason to the Senators, Anderson hit the ice as a man on a mission, and finished off the season with an 11-5-1 record, with a 2.05 GAA and .937 SV%. To put those Ottawa numbers in perspective, had he carried them out for the entire season, they would have been just a shade behind those of Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas. I don't believe Anderson is capable of doing quite that well, but he's got the upside of a midrange No. 1 goalie in fantasy for the cost of a No. 2. And for those worried about the contract woes rearing their ugly head again? The Sens locked him up with a four-year extension in March. --Tim Kavanagh

Ray Emery, Chicago Blackhawks: No offense to young Alexander Salak, but if given the opportunity to wear GM Stan Bowman's shoes, we're all over inking Emery as the Blackhawks' No. 2 netminder, as long as the 29-year-old doesn't sustain an injury or make a fool of himself during his tryout via invite at training camp. Emery was fabulous (7-2, 2.28 GAA, .926 SV%) as a February pickup for the Anaheim Ducks, and frankly, the lack of interest in signing the free agent this summer still doesn't make sense. If truly recovered from last year's hip surgery as reported, Emery has to be considered the favorite to earn the backup gig ahead of Salak. And keep in mind, No. 1 Corey Crawford has only the one successful NHL season under his belt. If those often-unpredictable fantasy dominoes fall in certain formation, Emery could stand to get more than a small percentage of NHL starts in 2011-12. -- Victoria Matiash

Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto Maple Leafs: I seriously just can't shake that season in which Gustavsson completely dominated the Swedish Elite League over a full campaign and was named that very competitive league's best player after literally backstopping his team to a championship. Gustavsson's numbers over that season were eerily similar to those of the previous dominant goaltender in the Elitserien: Henrik Lundqvist. While Lundqvist made for a fairly quick convert to the North American game, Gustavsson's progress was halted by health problems. If Gustavsson's heart is all healed up and he is focused in 2011-12, I see him having little trouble stealing the No. 1 label from the unproven James Reimer. When Gustavsson was dominating the Swedish league in 2008-09, Reimer was being demoted to the ECHL. -- Sean Allen

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: After a mediocre first season in St. Louis, Halak comes into this season with far lower expectations than he had prior to 2010-11, the campaign following his playoff heroics for Montreal. The Blues have a promising young team, and if Halak plays around his career average (2.57 GAA, .916 SV%) over 60-plus starts, he might have his breakout campaign. -- Scott Cullen

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: When it comes to sleeper-seeking among goalies, generally filling the final spots on your bench, draft either elite skills or clear opportunity, but not a little of both. Rask fits the former description; in his 70 career NHL starts, he's 36-26 with eight shutouts, a 2.26 goals-against average and .925 save percentage, numbers that would put him squarely in the top 10 in the league if he ever got a chance to start. So why doesn't he start? Simple: Tim Thomas, the reigning Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winners as well as the NHL's leader in both ratio categories in 2010-11, returns atop the depth chart. In other words, Rask's value is "handcuff" at best come draft day, but we shouldn't ignore that Thomas is 37 years old, and without the track record that traditionally comes with a workhorse, starting NHL goaltender. Heck, Rask might not warrant draft-day consideration in your league at all. But if Thomas were to suddenly go down, Rask would be not only an instant pickup, but an instant start, and that's why he's the true definition of a sleeper. --Tristan H. Cockcroft

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: Finally, a clear path to starters minutes for Semyon Varlamov. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is well past his prime, while 23-year-old Varlamov has his best years ahead of him. Armed with a .924 save percentage (fifth in the NHL) in his third and final season with Washington, with a potentially better-than-you-think defensive squad in front of him in Colorado and an offense that already scores more goals per game (2.7) than Varlamov has allowed in his career (2.39, 2.23 last season), Varlamov is a No. 2 goalie with bottom-tier No. 1 goaltender upside. -- Pierre Becquey

Busts

Bust Forwards

Claude Giroux, RW/C, Philadelphia Flyers: Someone has to replace Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and that task will fall to Giroux, who certainly deserves the shot on the heels of his team-leading 76-point season. Certainly, Giroux has a scorer's pedigree from his days with Gatineau of the QMJHL. But the Flyers are a team in transition, and joining Giroux on the top line will be someone vaguely resembling Jaromir Jagr (mullet length undetermined at press time), and that's a long way from skating with Jeff Carter on a regular basis. Perhaps we've already seen Giroux's ceiling, as there's no guarantee his point total can improve simply because half the guys he used to share his points with aren't in town anymore. Better hope they didn't take half his production along with them. -- Pierre Becquey

Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks: This isn't a suggestion that Kesler can't be a productive player, but he scored 41 goals last year while converting on a career-best 15.8 percent of his shots on goal. In most cases, career highs in shooting percentage will tend to regress toward career averages. Kesler doesn't have terrific linemates at the best of times, and Mason Raymond might not be ready to start the season after suffering a fractured vertebra in the Stanley Cup finals. That leaves the likes of Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm and Chris Higgins as possible wingers for Kesler, and that alone is reason to consider it unlikely that Kesler will have a third straight season with 70-plus points. While these are some reasons to consider that Kesler's production might dip, the foremost reason is that he had offseason hip surgery and it might take him some time to get up to speed. --Scott Cullen

Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning: He's simply overrated, and it's not merely the bloated $85 million contract that decides it. Through 12 NHL seasons, Lecavalier has managed 30 or more goals precisely five times (and not once since 2007-08), 90 points twice (also not since 2007-08) and has a putrid minus-110 rating, averaging to minus-9 per year. Steven Stamkos has thundered ahead of him as the Lightning's new offensive leader, and that leaves Lecavalier a second-fiddle, offensively minded No. 2 center, and on a line where the man with whom he saw the most chemistry a year ago, Simon Gagne, is now gone. It's not that Lecavalier doesn't have a place on draft day; it's that he's that ho-hum, 25-and-35 scorer whose probable minus-10 rating will more than offset the 20-25 or so power-play points he might provide. Let someone else deal with the headache. --Tristan H. Cockcroft

Zach Parise, LW, New Jersey Devils: The Devils had a brutal start to the 2010-11 campaign, one that eventually resulted in coach John MacLean being fired. One of the significant hurdles along the way was Parise's knee injury less than a month into the season. After surgery to repair a torn meniscus and an extensive rehab, Parise made it back into the Devils' lineup for one game in April before shutting it down for the season. In the two seasons prior, Parise was a wildly valuable fantasy commodity, scoring at a 1.08 points-per-game clip, while registering a plus-30 and plus-24 in 2008-09 and 2009-10, respectively. Furthermore, he was very durable, playing in 163 out of a possible 164 regular-season games in those two seasons. Will he be as durable and effective on a surgically repaired knee? That's not certain. But another reason for Parise's selection in this group is that coach Peter DeBoer has confirmed he won't be asking Parise or Ilya Kovalchuk to switch positions this season. They're both left wings. Translation: They won't be on the same line together at even strength, and top center Travis Zajac will be out for the start of the season with a torn Achilles. Are the Devils talented enough up front to send out two big-time scoring lines? Are you willing to risk a first- or second-round pick to find out? -- Tim Kavanagh

Corey Perry, RW, Anaheim Ducks: Perry was such a great story last season that I hate to sour it by listing him as a bust, but there is no way he scores 50 goals again. No way. It is just too much of a statistical outlier to depend on it being repeated. Give him 40 goals, fine. He had 27, 32 and 29 goals in the three seasons prior to last season's eruption, so the 40-goal benchmark is not completely unreasonable. But 50? No sir. Perry will be one of the best fantasy right wingers there is; he'll net close to 80 points and eclipse 100 penalty minutes. But I'll be damned if he scores 50 goals again. It's just too many. To wit, even as an OHL superstar with the London Knights in 2004-05, Perry scored only 47 goals in a season in which he netted 130 points. -- Sean Allen

Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers: Despite dealing away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and allowing Ville Leino to sign with the Buffalo Sabres over the summer, the Flyers remain balanced and in above-average shape in terms of talented forwards. And unfortunately for recent Columbus Blue Jackets' export Voracek, that could result in an undesirable third-line role. Assuming Jaromir Jagr plays on the Flyers' top line with Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, one winger will have a chance to fight for a spot on the second line alongside Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. At the very least, Voracek will have to battle Wayne Simmonds for the position. And that's presuming Brayden Schenn doesn't merit the second-line center's job, moving Giroux to the wing. Plus there's the chance -- however slim -- that training camp invitee Michael Nylander could earn a gig as Jagr's centerman (they have a pleasant history), and Voracek's chances of skating as a top-six forward take an additional hit. There are too many variables at play here. Voracek has a very promising future in the NHL, but perhaps not immediately, and certainly less so with the elderly Jagr kicking about. -- Victoria Matiash

Bust Defensemen

Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: Since debuting with the Florida Panthers in 1998-99, Boyle has participated in 752 regular-season games and 84 playoff tilts. That's not to say the Ottawa native -- who turned 35 this offseason -- is ready for retirement or even necessarily on his way to hitting a significant wall this season. But the Sharks' behavior on the transaction wire this offseason might give us a clue as to their plans for him. A trade for Brent Burns (another offensively inclined D-man stud nearly 10 years his junior) might mean Boyle will see a bit less ice time in 2010-11, both on even strength and the power play, so as to keep him fresh for the long haul. It would seem that a reduction in that category (one of the seven tabulated for skaters in ESPN standard leagues) would be accompanied by less production on the scoresheet as well. Still a very useful player, Boyle just isn't worthy of the spot at which he's being projected to be taken in fantasy drafts this fall. -- Tim Kavanagh

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: Following his Stanley Cup win with Chicago in 2010, the 26-year-old had a terrific season playing defense full time for the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-2011, but his midsummer arrest brought an interesting tidbit along with it -- namely that he's 286 pounds! Big (or really big), Buff could drop weight and get down to the 269 or so that he reportedly played at last season, but if he's pushing three bills this summer, I'd be extra cautious when it comes to taking Byfuglien on draft day. -- Scott Cullen

Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are paying for what will wind up being regarded as a couple of career years out of Ehrhoff with the Vancouver Canucks. Not to discount the quality defender Ehrhoff is, because he is a solid defenseman, but a sack of potatoes on the ice at the same time as the Sedin twins could have a plus-36 rating. It's not a knock, just a fact. Here's another: Ehrhoff never managed more than 10 goals or 42 points before joining the Canucks. It's already been suggested Tyler Myers will be paired with Robyn Regehr as the Sabres' top defensemen, leaving Ehrhoff with Jordan Leopold as the second pairing. While it's also been suggested Ehrhoff will still play the top power-play unit with Myers, I think the team has too many talented forwards not to use four forwards and Myers on the man advantage. I don't think Ehrhoff will be fantasy poison this season; I just think he'll be closer to the 25th-best fantasy defenseman instead of the 10th. -- Sean Allen

Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens: Markov is one talented son of a skater. But will that right knee of his allow him to resume his role as a 60-point man? Markov is no spring chicken any longer. He'll turn 32 in December, and his body has taken a beating over his 10-year career, sustaining injuries to both knees as well as his ankle. He'll definitely be worth starting when he's healthy, but should you really be risking your No. 1 defenseman having played only 52 games in the past two seasons, 60 if you include the playoffs? -- Pierre Becquey

Andrej Meszaros, Philadelphia Flyers: Of any player who finished in the top 25 on our Player Rater in 2010-11, Meszaros is the one least likely to crack the top 50 this season … and he might miss by a noticeable amount. One reason is that it's foolish to chase plus/minus: Of the 43 instances of a player managing a plus-30 or greater from 2005-06 through 2009-10, all but two declined in the category the following season, 21 declined by at least 20 and the group as a whole averaged a drop of 22.2. (Consider this a caution for Kevin Bieksa, Matt Carle and Toni Lydman as well.) The ones who remained fairly constant? They played for obvious juggernaut offenses -- think Detroit Red Wings, exiting-lockout Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals … -- which the Flyers are not. Meszaros also greatly benefited from an expanded role during Chris Pronger's absence last season, and Pronger, so far, looks like he'll be ready for the season. --Tristan H. Cockcroft

Marc Staal, New York Rangers: Staal is a great all-around talent on the blue line, and the Rangers are fortunate to have the 24-year-old locked in for the next four years. But he isn't a fantasy stud. Not likely in the distant future, and certainly not in the coming months. First of all, centerman Brad Richards will be asked to anchor the power play, as he did with the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Rangers are still expected to acquire another offensive defenseman for the 2011-12 season. Plus, Michael Del Zotto is pumped and committed to rebound after a fairly disastrous sophomore season with the Rangers. If Del Zotto nears his original promise as a serious power-play threat from the blue line, Staal will be even less obligated to contribute in such a fashion. -- Victoria Matiash

Bust Goalies

Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers: Can Brygalov still be Breezy under the intense spotlight under which all Flyers goaltenders live, and with Sergei Bobrovsky around to create a controversy at the first sign of trouble, on a team that's essentially trying to rebuild itself after jettisoning four of its top seven scorers from the previous season? Allow me to ask another way: When's the last time you gambled on a full-time Philly goalie, and won? -- Pierre Becquey

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: It's not that he's without value in fantasy -- certainly he has the skills to make another run at the top 10 goalies -- it's that with Fleury, you're chasing wins and wins aren't as consistently assured this year as in years past. Sidney Crosby (concussion) is out indefinitely and Evgeni Malkin (knee) is coming off surgery, and if you look at the Penguins' overall team performance before and after losing those two -- Feb. 4 was Malkin's final game -- the team was 34-19 and averaged 3.02 goals per game before, but 18-18 with a 2.28 GPG average after. Asked to be the Penguins' leader during the playoffs, Fleury did have a couple promising performances in the series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he also had a few stinkers, showing how unreasonable to expect him to pull a Martin Brodeur-like performance on a night-to-night basis. In fact, Fleury had a 2.52 GAA and .908 save percentage after the All-Star break, ratios that look disturbingly close to his 2.74/.908 career numbers. He's a product of his team, plan and simple, so temper your expectations this year. --Tristan H. Cockcroft

Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks: Not going to lie -- last winter's bout of vertigo remains a major concern. Sure, the Anaheim Ducks say Hiller is symptom-free, and yes, the goaltender himself insists that's indeed the case, but it's still a worry. This isn't a case of an injured wrist or knee or ankle or thumb -- it's a frustratingly mysterious affliction. And until Hiller irrefutably proves it's a historical one -- by competing at the most intense level for several games in a row -- it might be best to look elsewhere for a No. 1 fantasy netminder. -- Victoria Matiash

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: I don't want to accuse anyone of living in the glory of the past; I've still got cassette tapes lying around the house, after all. But it seems Miller (and his boisterous supporters) continues to reap the rewards of one amazing NHL regular season (2009-10) -- that happened to have a transcendent run as Team USA's backstop smack dab in the middle of it -- to being overdrafted thereafter in fantasy leagues. He was not only the first goalie off the board, but a first-round pick in many fantasy drafts prior to last season, and some fantasy prognosticators have him ranked as high as No. 5 among goalies heading into 2011-12. Here's the reality: Miller went 41-18-8 in 2009-10, with a 2.22 GAA and .929 SV%. In the other five seasons following the lockout, Miller has averaged 34.8 wins, while posting a collective GAA of 2.62 and SV% of .913 in that half-decade, never getting below 2.53 in GAA or above .918 in SV% in any one of the five campaigns. Don't get me wrong, those are pretty solid numbers. But they are not elite, draft-this-man-in-the-first-three-rounds numbers. -- Tim Kavanagh

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: It's not that Quick isn't an adequate NHL goaltender. It's that I still believe in Jonathan Bernier … big time. As Quick wore down again toward the end of last season, Bernier was relied on more. As he was relied on more, he got better. In February and March, Bernier played in 10 games, and earned a 1.60 GAA and a .942 SV% with three shutouts. The Kings will continue to turn to Bernier more and more this season, and they will find better numbers there every time. -- Sean Allen

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: Considering he wasn't even the starting goaltender on opening night last season, then went on to have one of the greatest seasons ever, it's easy enough to suggest Thomas can't duplicate his season of a lifetime. He can still be very good, but at 37 years old, it's easier to forecast trouble than it is another career year. -- Scott Cullen