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Open Ice: Assessing each team's goaltending situation

1/19/2009

It remains a season of headaches when it comes to goaltenders in fantasy hockey. Just have a look at this list:

Martin Brodeur, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Roberto Luongo, Evgeni Nabokov, Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, Chris Osgood, Marty Turco, Jose Theodore and Cam Ward. All those goaltenders were taken in the first three rounds of one of my leagues. Only two of them (Luongo and Price) appear in the top 10 in goals-against average. Only two of them appear in the top 10 in save percentage (again, Luongo and Price). Luongo and Price have also missed time with injuries.

In that same league, Steve Mason was taken in the 14th round. He currently leads the league in goals-against average and is second in save percentage. Tim Thomas lasted until the sixth round and currently leads the NHL lead in save percentage and is second to Mason in goals-against average. In that same draft, Jonas Hiller -- fourth in GAA and third in save percentage -- lasted until round 27. Ty Conklin -- top 10 in both stats -- went in round 16. Pekka Rinne -- 10th in goals-against average -- was a 26th-round pick.

You can see my point here, that those who focused on drafting good goaltending aren't necessarily the teams dominating those categories in most fantasy leagues. In fact, many leagues didn't draft Mason, Hiller, Rinne or Conklin, so those owners who are the most active with the waiver wire are the ones benefiting most from strong goaltending.

A quick alphabetical trip around the league with a focus on goaltending appears to be in order. With some teams there won't be much to say, but with others I won't have enough space to tell the full story. Each team also gets a label for quick reference. "Safe" refers to your established No. 1 goaltenders. "Anybody's Gig" would be a wide open battle with some value to be had should someone emerge as No. 1. "Who Cares" are your teams that don't offer much in the way of goaltender value. "Comfortable Timeshare" refers to teams with two goaltenders who are both fantasy relevant.

Anaheim Ducks:
Anybody's Gig

The numbers speak loudly about how this season has gone for Jean-Sebastien Giguere: 12-11-4 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. He hasn't finished a season with a GAA north of 3.00 since he became a Duck in 2000-01. While Giguere may improve his statistics in the second half, Jonas Hiller is a must-add for fantasy purposes with his play of late. Hiller is 11-8-1 with a 2.09 GAA and .930 save percentage. His four shutouts also double Giguere's total. Until Giggy gets his groove back, feel free to roll on Hiller.

Atlanta Thrashers:
Who Cares

Kari Lehtonen is supposed to be the No. 1 goalie, Johan Hedberg is supposed to be the veteran backup. Ondrej Pavelec is supposed to be the future. In reality, all three have been relied upon as the starter at various points this season. All three have a GAA worse than 3.15. Stay far away.

Boston Bruins:
Comfortable Timeshare

Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez are both top five in the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage. Both remain everyday players in all fantasy leagues.

Buffalo Sabres:
Safe

Ryan Miller is his usual hot-and-cold self, with the streaks offsetting each other to make him a solid No. 2 goalie. Patrick Lalime was supposed to steal away 30 starts this season and have value in deep leagues, but he may not get to 20 on his current pace.

Carolina Hurricanes:
Safe (deep leagues)/Who Cares (shallow leagues)

Cam Ward is perfectly pacing his numbers from last season. Unfortunately, that makes him a detriment to shallow leagues. Still, his 2.70 goals-against average and .906 save percentage aren't bad for a No. 2 goalie in much deeper fantasy formats.

Calgary Flames:
Safe

Miikka Kiprusoff has pulled his ratios into respectable territory thanks to strong play in December and January, but his current pace still has him finishing with a goals-against average and save percentage worse than the previous season for the fifth straight year. His win total keeps him valuable as a No. 2 goalie, though.

Chicago Blackhawks:
Comfortable Timeshare

Nikolai Khabibulin was worked back into a timeshare with Cristobal Huet, after missing a few games with injury. Both goaltenders have statistics that are usable in most leagues, but neither can be considered a true No. 1 goaltender in fantasy while the other is still present in Chicago. Of note, however, is that Huet's numbers have been significantly better of late. He was 3-5-2 with a 2.97 goals-against average in October and November, but has a 9-2-1 record with a 1.78 GAA in December and January.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Safe

Steve Mason has been a machine this season and there is no reason to start worrying about him yet. Whether fatigue becomes an issue later in his first full season at the NHL level will be a debate to be had as your league trade's deadline approaches.

Colorado Avalanche:
Anybody's Gig (deep leagues)/Who Cares (shallow leagues)

Andrew Raycroft has been making things interesting lately -- going on a seven-game win streak at one point -- but Peter Budaj remains in the picture for starts. Razer's numbers are slightly better on the season, but significantly better than Budaj's since mid-December. Still, mistakes like the one Raycroft made on Friday (serving up the game-winning goal to the Oilers) won't help his cause. Right now, I'd back Raycroft as my horse knowing that if I am in a league with only 10 teams, I should be looking elsewhere.

Dallas Stars:
Safe

There is no doubt that this is Marty Turco's job, but his numbers have been that of a No. 2 goalie this season. In fact, you could even argue he is not worth starting at all in shallow leagues. His name still carries some weight in fantasy circles, though, so shopping him in a package deal with a top forward could net you a true No. 1 goalie from another team that has strength between the pipes. That is a deal you should strongly consider at this point if you need to start climbing the standings, as there have been very few signs that the Stars are on the brink of righting their ship.

Detroit Red Wings:
Comfortable Timeshare

Although both goalies in the Red Wings' rotation are winning games, only one is truly a No. 1 goaltender. Ty Conklin has been significantly better than Chris Osgood in every category that matters, with Osgood on pace for the worst season of his career in goals-against average and save percentage. Even more telling might be Conklin's five shutouts to Osgood's zero. Get Conklin into your everyday lineup and try your best to unload Osgood to a team struggling to win games.

Edmonton Oilers:
Safe

Dwayne Roloson is now the unquestioned No. 1 in Edmonton with the trade of Mathieu Garon to Pittsburgh. Roloson has pedestrian numbers so far this season but is a wise bet to improve and be a strong No. 2 goalie.

Florida Panthers:
Safe

Looking at the season as a whole, you might think this was a "Comfortable Timeshare" between Craig Anderson and Tomas Vokoun, but the tale of the splits puts Vokoun out in front. Anderson was terrific in November when Vokoun was struggling, but since then Vokoun is 7-2-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. The Panthers are quickly improving and Vokoun could even border on being a No. 1 fantasy goalie if the trend continues. Anderson can be safely discarded in all but deep leagues.

Los Angeles Kings:
Anybody's Gig

Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg look poised to trade off as the starter, relieving each other when one stumbles through a cold stretch. Both should provide adequate numbers, but since they will be splitting time neither can be counted on as a No. 2 goalie in fantasy. Should one goalie emerge as the everyday starter, you will want to own him as the Kings' defense remains the best in the NHL at limiting opposing shots on goal.

Minnesota Wild:
Safe

Niklas Backstrom is one of the few goaltenders who was a top pick on draft day and remains among the league leaders now. Keep him if you have him and don't bother his owner with trade proposals unless they are significant.

Montreal Canadiens:
Safe

A tricky situation exists in Montreal, as goaltender Carey Price has started only four games since Dec. 11. His stats still scream that he's a No. 1 goaltender, though, and he is hopeful to start one of the Canadiens' two games before the All-Star Game, which he has been elected to start. Jaroslav Halak has been decent in his place, but is only putting up the numbers of a No. 2 fantasy goaltender. Price's value probably won't get any lower than it is right now, and any team looking for a big boost should consider sending his owner a slightly discounted offer.

Nashville Predators:
Anybody's Gig

The problem here is that Pekka Rinne has been putting up numbers that could equate those of a No. 2 goaltender for fantasy owners, but the team is still giving Dan Ellis regular starts, thus stunting Rinne's potential value. The Predators are trending toward Rinne as the starter, though, with his minutes going up every month, so now might be a good time to make a play for him before it's obvious that he is the starter.

New Jersey Devils:
Safe

Scott Clemmensen has been a savior for Martin Brodeur owners who picked him up after Brodeur's injury back at the start of November. He has been a No. 1 goalie since then and should continue to tide Brodeur owners over until Marty returns sometime in March.

New York Islanders:
Who Cares

The situation is ridiculous on Long Island and none of the Islanders' goaltenders should be relied upon in any fantasy format. The only possible play would be to stash Rick DiPietro for later this season if you have a lot of bench or IR room. The craziness reached a pinnacle Saturday when the Isles tried to bring back former backup Wade Dubielewicz from Russia only to see the Blue Jackets claim him off waivers. Forget the whole lot of them.

New York Rangers:
Safe

Not only has Henrik Lundqvist been a strong goaltender all season after being drafted as one, but he'll get better from here on out. His goals-against average in his career goes from 2.42 to 2.08 and his save percentage from .913 to .923 after the All-Star break.

Ottawa Senators:
Anybody's Gig (deep leagues)/Who Cares (shallow leagues)

Alex Auld was a nice surprise to start the season, but he tanked quickly. Martin Gerber has been useless all along. The story isn't all gloom and doom, though, as Brian Elliot has breathed some life into the Ottawa net. In four games after being recalled -- after winning Goaltender of the Month in the AHL -- Elliot is 2-1-1 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. As far as waiver-wire gambles are concerned, he is a decent one.

Philadelphia Flyers:
Safe (for now)

It's actually debatable which Flyers goaltender has been the better fantasy asset, though it's a short debate as Martin Biron is still starting the lion's share of games. Biron leads Antero Niittymaki in goals-against average, but Niitty paces Biron for save percentage. For now, it's still Biron's gig, but Niittymaki was making a move on him before hurting his groin Jan. 3. Healthy again, Niitty could start mounting another attack on Biron's job.

Phoenix Coyotes:
Safe

This is Ilya Bryzgalov's job and no one is stealing it from him anytime soon. However, unless the Coyotes start improving dramatically, Bryzgalov will have a hard time being any more than an occasional No. 2 starter in fantasy. His save percentage is strong, but his other stats are lacking.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
Safe

There is no doubt that a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury will start more than 85 percent of the Penguins' remaining contests. What is in doubt is whether he'll find his form from last season's second half, or continue to be less than a No. 1 fantasy netminder. He played only 14 games after the All-Star break last year, but went 10-2-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Don't bank on those numbers going forward, but he is certainly a risk-reward acquisition at the moment.

San Jose Sharks:
Safe

The team continues to win no matter who is in net, but it is odd to see Evgeni Nabokov with a 2.54 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 33 starts, while Brian Boucher has 1.87 and .927 ratios in 12 games. Don't get me wrong, Nabokov will play the bulk of games when healthy, but the disparity in numbers is still strange. Nabokov can still be considered a No. 1 goaltender, but he can't be put into the top tier until his GAA and save percentage improve.

St. Louis Blues:
Who Cares

Manny Legace is technically the No. 1 goaltender, but Chris Mason is also on the radar. Trouble is, both goaltenders are playing behind a sub-par defensive squad and have goals-against averages worse than 3.00. They aren't a tandem fantasy owners should be watching.

Tampa Bay Lightning:
Safe (deep leagues)/Who Cares (shallow leagues)

Things have been going downhill since Mike Smith had a sweet start to the season in October. In fact, his save percentage and goals-against average have gotten worse as every month flips by. He's definitely the No. 1 in Tampa Bay, and you could do worse for a No. 2 goalie in deep leagues, but Smith shouldn't be depended on in shallow formats.

Toronto Maple Leafs:
Who Cares

Fantasy relevance could be coming down the pipeline later this season in the form of Justin Pogge, but for now no one should be starting a Maple Leafs netminder. Vesa Toskala has looked sharp at times this season for an overachieving Toronto team, but looks can be deceiving. His goals-against average of 3.34 and save percentage of .883 are fantasy poison. If Pogge can take the reins later in the year and pull a Steve Mason-style debut, he could find his way into fantasy lineups. Don't bank on it, though.

Vancouver Canucks:
Safe

With Roberto Luongo back in net and rounding into form, there should be no concerns about him. He's the surefire best option in fantasy from here out, given Martin Brodeur's injury.

Washington Capitals:
Anybody's Gig (trending towards Safe)

Yes, there is still a mild battle in Washington, but the goaltender they signed for the starting job is starting to play up to expectations. Brent Johnson mounted a heck of a challenge in December, but an injury allowed Jose Theodore to steal the thunder back. Johnson has also allowed four and five goals in two January starts. Meantime, Theodore has a 2.15 goals-against average in his past six starts along with a .916 save percentage. This was about the time last year that Theodore started getting hot, so hoping for a repeat isn't out of the realm of possibilities. If you can pick him up on the cheap, Theodore isn't a bad option.

Sunny Days Ahead

Steve Ott, C, Stars: Discover credit card commercials of late can be conjured up as I recommend Ott for fantasy owners. Not normally someone who should be on the radar, Ott is clicking with new linemates Mike Ribeiro and Jere Lehtinen. Ott should be a short-term add for fantasy owners with a hole in their forward ranks.

Rich Peverley, C, Thrashers: In case you missed it, Peverley is the new centerman for Ilya Kovalchuk. In his past two games with the Thrashers, Peverley has six points, four of them coming on the same goal where Kovalchuk got a point. Anytime you see that kind of chemistry with a superstar like Kovy, you pounce.

Storms' A' Brewin'

Simon Gagne, LW, Flyers: Through the first 20 games of the season, Gagne had 30 points. Since then, he has 13 points in 24 games. Gagne doesn't seem to have much chemistry with Mike Richards (who has also tapered off, with eight points in 15 games) as his centerman. There is still hope, though, as Daniel Briere is expected to return to the Flyers' lineup in the coming weeks. He currently has four points in two games during a conditioning stint with the Phantoms in the AHL. Briere and Gagne had decent chemistry last season (despite defensive lapses) and he should return to his goal-scoring ways when they are reunited.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.