Grand Theft Roto: Get a goalie
Depending on the type of league you play in, goaltenders are solely responsible for anywhere from 30-50 percent of the categories. That's not news to you, though. That's why on draft day you invested in an anchor goaltender; someone who could be your real No. 1 in net. You took care of those categories by drafting Marc-Andre Fleury, Kari Lehtonen, Martin Brodeur, Chris Mason, Vesa Toskala, Ray Emery or Peter Budaj.
I'll pause now to allow you to bang your head on your desk a few times.
Now, I'm sure some of the above names will suit just fine this season and turn things around for you, but some of them won't. Reliable goaltending is essential to winning a fantasy hockey league. Look at the leaders in your league; I'll bet in most cases they have top-three goaltending statistics. If you invested in a Lehtonen, Toskala, Emery or Fleury, you need to act now.
No one wants to part with good goaltending. It's not news to anyone that goaltending is essential to winning. So the trick is getting someone to part with what is widely viewed as one of the most valuable commodities in fantasy hockey.
The first step is to find someone who is more likely to part with a goaltender. That should be relatively easy. Just look at who owns some of the surprise goaltenders this season. Whoever drafted Pascal Leclaire, Martin Gerber and Tim Thomas wasn't expecting much when they picked them up. Those goaltenders were their Plan C in the draft. One particular owner in one of my leagues was fortunate enough to draft both Thomas and Gerber as backups to Rick DiPietro and Niklas Backstrom. I'm sure he would have no issues with parting with a goalie for more offense. Double-check to make sure your potential target has been doing well in the goalie categories; they'll be more likely to part with a 'tender if they have been running away with wins, goals-against average and save percentage.
Next, you have to decide which goaltender you are targeting. Thomas has been a hero for the Bruins and his fantasy owners this season, but if you are going to invest in a goaltender, do you really want to trust him? There are just too many downsides to Thomas (Manny Fernandez, no track record for this performance, bad with rebounds) to really trust him as a solid investment to right your ship. In fact, track record should be one of the first things you look for. I'm going to break away from strategy for a moment and list what I believe are the best goaltenders to target to help fix your ailing squad.
Miikka Kiprusoff, G, Flames: Kipper is a perfect target to help buoy your goalie stats. Even though his save percentage is well below where it should be, his wins and goals-against average are just fine. Coach Mike Keenan's focus on offense and the loss of Roman Hamrlik are partly to blame for his sub-.900 save percentage, but things will get better. Kipper just needs to adjust to having a defense that doesn't consistently rival the best in the NHL. Even if he doesn't come around, pairing him with another goalie that has a strong save percentage makes up for his only shortcoming.
Cam Ward, G, Hurricanes: Ward worked on his conditioning all through the summer, and it is showing in spades this season. His glove is exceptionally sharp, and his numbers are reflecting the improvements. Ward's numbers are slightly above average right now, but I don't think they represent just how good he will finish this season. Many owners will still see him as a strong No. 2 goaltender, but as Carolina continues to roll, he'll turn in No. 1 numbers.
Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Coyotes: His brief Phoenix résumé is quite exceptional, and anyone who scooped him up when he was waived is likely in a position to try to deal him while the getting is good. Take them up on their plan. The Coyotes have a lot of problems, but defense is not one of them. Bryzgalov will get all the help he needs to continue to meet the lofty expectations he has already set in the desert.
Martin Brodeur, G, Devils: The window is still open to pay slightly less than you should for the best fantasy goaltender. Brodeur got over the hump of his 500th win and is on a roll that could well last into April. I have no concerns about paying a little extra and going after Brodeur.
Olaf Kolzig, G, Capitals: With a coaching change in Washington, I expect they will quickly climb out of the NHL's basement and leave Edmonton as the front-runner for the best draft lottery odds (incidentally, the pick belongs to Anaheim). Kolzig's numbers have been just fine, and the lack of wins have been the only real problem with depending on him. Expect a turnaround, and target him as a strong No. 2 goaltender if your situation right now isn't dire.
You'll notice the theme is "goaltenders that are undervalued." Of course you can go and pay out the nose for an Evgeni Nabokov or a Henrik Lundqvist. That will solve your problem, but will cost you more than it's worth.
The next step in fixing your problems in net is admitting to yourself you have a problem and realizing that trading for a goaltender is going to cost you. It's going to cost you a top-25 forward. That is an approximation of what the going rate for a goalie is. You are going to have to part with a Martin St. Louis or a Ryan Getzlaf. Once the season gets started, the value of goaltenders skyrockets. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: One of these days, goalies in hockey will be drafted like running backs in football. The process of acquiring one means you have to come to terms with the fact that it's going to cost you. You should try to get away with paying less, but be prepared to pay the price.
To finalize a deal, ask what your potential trading partner needs on their team without tipping the fact that you are after a goaltender. If you can identify a weakness they see that you can help fix, putting together the deal should be easier. It's also helpful to try to keep the deal positionally equal; meaning you toss in a lesser goaltender and ask for a weaker forward back. Even-keel deals are more appealing to other owners, and you want to keep them happy.
I needed some help in one of my leagues after taking Fleury as my No. 1 and backing him up with a skeleton crew of Cristobal Huet, Carey Price, Josh Harding and Jose Theodore. Fleury's failure and the juggling act of using four part-time goalies became too much. I needed a reliable No. 1 goaltender.
I targeted Kiprusoff, mainly because I have faith in him rising through the goaltending ranks over the next month or so as he gets more used to Keenan's new defense. My trading partner had a weakness down the middle and on the right wing, but he also had some high-upside players in those positions. After a couple of back-and-forths, I managed to get Kiprusoff, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik for Martin St. Louis, Scott Gomez, Huet and Price.
My goaltending problem is solved (as I continue to believe in Fleury) and I didn't lose much, if anything, on offense.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.
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