Open Ice: Fishing for goalies
We stressed goaltending a lot in the preseason here at ESPN Fantasy. The reasons are quite numerous but can be boiled down quite simply: Only a few players account for a decent chunk of your productivity in fantasy hockey.
Now, if you didn't subscribe to the idea that you need to address this important position early in drafts, you are probably scrambling to find that key goaltender(s) who will emerge as a reliable starter this season. There are several teams with goaltending influxes right now, so let's take a look at them before we get into "risers" and "fallers."
Philadelphia Flyers: Martin Biron has been incredibly beatable to begin the season while Antero Niittymaki has looked quite unbeatable. Niitty has been a gigantic tease since his 2006 Olympic performance for Finland that seemed to signal his arrival as an elite goaltender. Two troubled hips later, Niitty finds himself as a backup with unrealized potential. After having his hips fixed prior to last season, Niittymaki was supposed to push Biron but a hot start by the latter allowed him to stay as the unquestioned No. 1 all season. It's a much different story this year, as the Flyers are yet to notch one in the win column. Niitty has backstopped the Flyers to both of their points this year with two overtime losses and has a respectable 2.84 goals-against average. Biron has three losses and a 5.75 GAA. This battle looks like it may skip the "goalie controversy" stage and go straight to a change in net. Add Niittymaki now.
Colorado Avalanche: Peter Budaj was tabbed as the No. 1 to begin the season, but that is already in question. First let's note that Andrew Raycroft has already matched his win total from last season. That's already a positive sign. All kidding aside, Raycroft is 2-0 and Budaj is 0-3. That recipe only needs a couple more ingredients before it's a full-on controversy. Raycroft is the one we expected to emerge victorious anyway. The pressure from the Toronto media is off, and he can just get back to goaltending. Raycroft is one of the better pickups here as he has a chance to win and keep the job if he plays well.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have two goalies with stats that aren't that hot to begin the season, and a hot streak by either one could lock up the job for at least the first couple months. Tim Thomas has the better save percentage, but Manny Fernandez has the better goals-against average and both have one win in two starts. Fernandez is the better bet to give you elite goaltending statistics if he can shake the rust off. Either way, this is a battle to watch closely, as the Bruins look like a very strong offensive team this season.
Ottawa Senators: Coach Craig Hartsburg tried to put any debate to rest after the two games in Europe -- where Martin Gerber got beat and Alex Auld came within seconds of a shutout -- by naming Gerber his unchallenged starter. Trouble is, Gerber is having issues living up to the vote of confidence. Through four games he is 1-2-1 with a 3.46 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. It's doubtful that the Sens turn to Auld to be their savior, but stranger things have happened. It is easier to envision Gerber turning things around soon though, so definitely keep him stashed on the bench.
Washington Capitals: The Caps offer some false hope for those seeking goaltender change. Although it appears as though Brent Johnson has been outperforming Jose Theodore, it's a close battle and ties go to the one being paid more. So Theodore will get every opportunity to get more acclimatized in Washington and hope his starts turn around. Besides, Johnson's stats may be better, but a sub-.900 save percentage is still ugly.
Carolina Hurricanes: Here's where there is some serious sleeper value, and you should be stashing away Michael Leighton at every opportunity. Don't let the Conn Smythe Trophy fool you, Cam Ward has never put together a season as an elite goaltender. Leighton, however, is coming off a season as "the" elite AHL goaltender and is already flashing that skill. Leighton is 2-0 with a 1.93 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. The changeover might be slow, but envisioning Leighton as the No. 1 in Carolina by 2009 isn't difficult.
Ales Kotalik, RW, Sabres: The power-play wizard from last season is up to his old tricks again. Two of his four goals and two of his three assists have come on the power play. The way the Sabres are scoring this season, Kotalik may have enough power-play time to be a consistent No. 3 right wing.
Patrick Sharp, LW, Blackhawks: Sharp could have been included in the "stocks falling" section, but coach Joel Quenneville has been kind of enough to keep him as a member of the first power-play unit with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, even though he is no longer on a line with the two young phenoms. Sharp had three points (two of them on the power play) Sunday, but it was a day after posting a minus-3 with no points. Sharp's fate will rise and fall with the Hawks' power play, but he is still worth owning and starting.
Kris Versteeg, RW, Blackhawks: Speaking of Sharp being moved off of Toews' and Kane's line, Versteeg is the lucky winger who gets to take that spot for now. Versteeg had two more assists Sunday to give him six points in six games. Playing with Kane and Toews makes him well worth your while.
Pascal Dupuis, LW, Penguins: In case you haven't kept up with our daily fantasy hockey blog, I thought I'd include this note about Dupuis' new linemates. You may have heard of them: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The points-by-osmosis will start flowing quickly into Dupuis' stats sheet if he sticks with those two.
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, Rangers: This is somewhat of a "gut feeling" listing. I just have a hard time envisioning Chris Drury and Markus Naslund not having good chemistry. Drury has some of the best hockey sense all over the ice and Naslund is a wizard in the offensive zone; it seems like a good combination. We have yet to see much fruit from the tree, but Korpikoski is listed here for he has been the third member of the Drury-Naslund line of late. A decently skilled forward, Korpikoski could thrive if lined up with the right star player -- you know, like Naslund or Drury.
Fabian Brunnstrom, LW, Stars: This is an admittance of an incorrect assessment of how the Stars would handle the young European. (Mmmm, crow). Brunnstrom is clearly in the short-term plans for Dallas, as he is arguably skating on the teams' top line with Brad Richards and Brenden Morrow. As long as that continues, he has to be recommended as someone to add.
Mike Knuble, RW, Flyers: The Flyers brought back the Daniel Briere, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne line on Saturday, and it resulted in Briere's first two tallies of the season. Knuble has the most to gain from this move as he didn't appear to have much chemistry with Jeff Carter and Scottie Upshall. We could also seem some positive numbers from Knuble on the power play if the trio are allowed to continue their connection. Beware the plus-minus of all three players though, as evidenced by the trio's atrocious numbers last season on a good Flyers team.
Derek Dorsett, RW, Blue Jackets: It never hurts to lock up the early-season penalty minutes leader to a roster spot. Last season, Jared Boll rewarded those who pounced on him with a pretty decent PIM pace. Dorsett has been doing much of the work as sheriff for the Blue Jackets this season and has at least five penalty minutes in each of the four games he has played.
Marian Gaborik, RW, Wild: After missing time in the last several seasons with groin strains and contract holdouts, its shouldn't be a huge surprise that Gaborik has an injured groin and uncertain contract status. He certainly isn't looking like the second or third round draft pick he was in most leagues with just one goal and two games played so far. I'm not going to go with a buy-low recommendation here, as the valley is probably still ahead. We do know that besides missing a lot of time, Gaborik also excels at making up for lost time, so he will be a good buy-low later in the season if these troubles continue to plague him.
Kyle Okposo, RW, Islanders: It looks like Okposo is stuck on right wing and that is not a favorable position to play on the Islanders. A guy named Bill Guerin remains on top of the depth chart at that position and is the first option on the power play as well. It would be more beneficial if Okposo could play with a finisher like Guerin, but for now he is lined up with Mike Comrie and Richard Park; not exactly encouraging. Can you drop Okposo? Maybe in shallow leagues, but in deeper leagues its still too early to do more than slide him to your bench.
Chris Pronger & Scott Niedermayer, D, Ducks: The Ducks power play is 1-for-24 so far this season and looks positively lost as a unit. Pronger and Niedermayer will eventually right this ship, so try to buy low on them, but be prepared to be very patient.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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