Commentary

NHL Forecaster: No. 2s are No. 1

Backup goaltenders can be fantasy category fillers -- particularly wins

Updated: December 11, 2009, 1:25 PM ET
By Sean Allen | ESPN.com

Backup goaltenders really are a lot more valuable in rotisserie leagues than in head-to-head leagues. I'm not saying a good backup can't be a real help in weekly leagues when you are dealing with injuries or poor performance, but the fact that the stats can add up over a long period of time in rotisserie leagues means there is no pressure to get the goaltender into the lineup at any particular point in time. That lack of pressure can allow you to have a "he'll help me when he helps me" attitude.

I'm actually beginning to wonder whether there is merit to a season-long goaltending strategy whereby you simply carry a bunch of backups and let them start when they finally get the chance to.

Jimmy Howard
Dave Reginek/NHLI/Getty ImagesJimmy Howard has made only 11 starts since Nov. 11, but he has won seven of them.
That sort of pondering of strategies doesn't help us now, though, and I wanted to highlight the abundance of backup goaltenders who are helping out in fantasy leagues at the moment -- or at least they could be helping out, if you use them right.

Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask, Erik Ersberg, Jaroslav Halak, Josh Harding, Ty Conklin, Johan Hedberg, Dan Ellis, Mike Smith and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have each won a game since Dec. 5. Brian Elliott, Vesa Toskala, Manny Legace and Peter Budaj have won two during that span, while Jeff Deslauriers has won three. None of those goaltenders is owned in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues, and seven of them are owned in less than 5 percent (including four of the five with multiple wins). My point is that there are lots of wins available on the waiver wire.

Of course, a lot of those goaltenders are just the backup goalies doing their jobs by stepping in and getting a win to give the starter a rest. However, Elliot, Budaj, Hedberg, Boucher, Deslauriers, Legace, Toskala and Rask are either the starter because of an injury or in a fight with the starter for more playing time. So it certainly is not all being done by just "backups."

Now, some of the wins by the quasi-starters were ugly (Toskala) or surrounded by terrible starts (Elliot, Boucher), but look at some of these numbers from the past 15 days:

Jeff Deslauriers, G, Edmonton Oilers: Four wins and a .914 save percentage. Owned in 2.8 percent of ESPN leagues. He's the starter while Nikolai Khabibulin is hurt (which could be for a long time).

Peter Budaj, G, Colorado Avalanche: Just four goals allowed in five starts for a 1.25 goals-against average and two wins. Owned in 2.5 percent of ESPN leagues. He's the starter while Craig Anderson is hurt.

Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins: Three starts, two wins with a 1.47 GAA and .955 save percentage. Owned in 44 percent of ESPN leagues. With a 1.97 GAA for the season, Rask continues to steal starts from Tim Thomas.

Johan Hedberg, G, Atlanta Thrashers: Four starts, three wins and a 1.36 GAA with a .954 save percentage. Owned in 8.2 percent of ESPN leagues. Hedberg has taken the starting role for the Thrashers away from Ondrej Pavelec.

If you lower your standards a little, Giguere (two wins in five starts, 2.13 GAA), Elliot (three wins in eight starts, 2.84 GAA) and even Smith (two wins in six starts, 2.49 GAA) are acceptable and getting the bulk of their teams' playing time.

Then there are potential candidates like Boucher (who could settle into a rhythm with Ray Emery out), Conklin (who seems to be earning more playing time) and Jimmy Howard (who just needs his team to find its offense).

So before complaining about the quality of your goaltending, put in a little hard work on the wire or come check the Forecaster for the week ahead. Deslauriers has some tough matchups on the horizon, Howard should feast on the Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning to start the week, Rask could shine if he gets the starts, and Elliot has a couple of favorable games against the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild.

And before we get into things, apparently the director of public relations for the Grand Rapids Griffins is a fantasy hockey fan and had this for me to pass on after a comment I made in Monday's Open Ice regarding Howard's minor league numbers:

"For Howard's four seasons, the Griffins ranked 11th among the AHL's 29 teams in both wins and points. Not among the very elite, to be sure, but better than 18 other teams, and certainly not 'really bad.'"

I agree, Randy. I guess I had that abominable 2007-08 on the brain and generalized about the other three years you had Howard. My bad. I have a lot of respect for the work non-NHL franchises do to put on a good show for hockey fans, and I didn't mean to belittle that.

Offensive highlights

Don't sweat Pens' lousy rating: The Forecaster is muting the Pittsburgh Penguins' offense far too much for a pair of games against the state-rival Philadelphia Flyers and the Sabres. Sidney Crosby is leading the charge for a hot-scoring Penguins team, and by no means would I bench their skaters as the Forecaster seems to suggest. Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Mike Rupp and Bill Guerin have at least five points each in seven games. The Flyers won't be the same team without a healthy Emery, and as good as Ryan Miller is, I wouldn't bet on him in this matchup.

Hawks still get brutal rating at home: But I wouldn't put too much stock in it. With Marian Hossa back and the team firing on all cylinders, it's hard to imagine the Hawks not playing like the class of the NHL no matter the locale. Even with coach Joel Quenneville mixing and matching linemates, the Hawks are getting their numbers. Hossa has seven points in seven games, and half of Jonathan Toews' goals this season have come in the past five games (four). Use your Blackhawks liberally.

A 4x6 is as good as it gets: The Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks have the best offensive forecast for the week, with each squad having four games for a six O-rating. From the free-agent pile, try out R.J. Umberger (eight points in eight games), Kris Russell (five points in six games), Dmitry Kulikov (four power-play points in eight games) or Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier (each with five points in the past two weeks on a line with Mikael Samuelsson).

Defensive highlights

Just one dip for Sharks: It's not a terrible rating for the San Jose Sharks this week, but with only one game, there is no reason to load up on them. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau might been vaulting each other up the assist and goal leaderboards, but they can't do that much damage for your team next week in one game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Western Canadian road swing for Kings: Offensively, you don't want to worry too much about the Los Angeles Kings this coming week, but there is some value to be found defensively. Jonathan Quick should be solid in at least two of the three contests the team plays in Western Canada. While the Oilers and Calgary Flames have hot goaltending, their offenses have been only average. Do watch out for the game with the Canucks to start the week, though, as those Sedin twins are looking more dangerous by the minute.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.