- Sean Allen
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Regardless of your league's size, goalies are always among the hottest commodities. I'm actually waiting for the revolution to take place that makes goaltenders get treated like running backs in fantasy football. One of these years everyone will clue in and goalies will fill the first two rounds of drafts, with the only debate being where to take Sidney Crosby in the first round, a la Peyton Manning.
There isn't a heck of a lot of turnover year in and year out with regard to elite goaltending, making it especially important to try to catch lightning in a bottle if your team is weak in net. Deeper leagues should be especially ready to use a couple bench spots speculating on a goaltender, even if you have a good tandem. There is no trade bait like a hot goalie.
Puck Stoppers to Pick Up
Ondrej Pavelec, G, Thrashers: Kari Lehtonen's underwhelming play aside, his groin is acting up again. Lehtonen left Thursday night's start in the first period and according to reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he did more than just tweak something. Johan Hedberg may be the starter for now, but he does not come with much upside. Pavelec is the kind of goalie who can carry a team on his back. If Pavelec is called up, he should be starting over Hedberg. Pavelec is 2-0 with a 1.49 ERA in the American Hockey League right now and represents a ton of upside if he is called up. Pounce on him if it happens.
Jean-Sebastien Aubin, G, Kings: Aubin represents the last best hope in L.A. pending a trade for another goaltender. Jason LaBarbera is clearly not translating his AHL success to the NHL, Jonathan Bernier is back down in the juniors for the rest of the season and Dan Cloutier is busy plying his trade in the minors. I'm not promising a miracle, but this defensive corps is better than it has shown, and the Kings should win games if their goaltender allows them to stay in them. The probability of success for a career backup like Aubin is low, but he has shown flashes of aptitude during his career.
Jose Theodore, G, Avalanche: This goalie controversy is going to heat up quickly and I am betting on Theodore to emerge victorious over Peter Budaj. I think Theodore still has it in him somewhere (talent that is) and it just needs the right set of circumstances to emerge. The pressure is long gone from the Montreal media and it's a contract year for Theodore. I have him rostered in just about every league I'm in, expecting some big numbers this season. Budaj is a No. 2 goaltender who has been pressed into full-time duty and the chinks in his armor are showing with time. The Avalanche are going to win a lot of games and I think Theodore is the beneficiary.
Pekka Rinne, G, Predators: The signs are starting to point to trouble for Chris Mason. I never did trust the idea of handing the job to a 31-year-old who has never been an NHL starter. Dan Ellis is nothing more than a backup and if the Preds decide to make a serious change in net, Rinne or a trade would be the only option. I have my doubts that the team is ready to waste a season of Rinne's rookie contract this year though, and that may hold him back and force us into a year of a struggling Mason. Suffice it to say, if Mason is one of your goaltenders, look at some of the other names I've mentioned here.
Josh Harding, G, Wild: OK, so Niklas Backstrom looks pretty darn good this season. You know what though? Harding is just as good a goaltender with a brighter future. I fully anticipate a rotation emerging where Harding gets enough starts to deserve attention, even in medium-sized leagues. Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez managed to both have value in Minnesota, and I think the Backstrom-Harding connection can be just as useful.
Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Ducks: Bryzgalov isn't as widely available as some of the other goalies I've talked about, but he should be owned universally. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is good to go, and the Ducks saw that Jonas Hiller can be a more-than-adequate backup, which leaves the team free to trade away Bryzgalov with no concerns about its netminding. If a team steps up to the plate and trades for him, it will be doing so for a starter. Bryzgalov should fall into a starting role at some point this season and you want to own him when he does.
If You're Hard-core
A reminder: This section is for the warriors out there playing in ultradeep leagues. If there are enough starting goaltenders in the NHL for each team in your league to have two, this section isn't for you.
Joe Motzko, RW, Capitals: Motzko's assist on Alexander Ovechkin's goal Thursday was no fluke. The former Duck skated with Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov all night. He represents an addition to your fantasy team who will lose all his value as soon as coach Glen Hanlon decides to tinker with his lines more, but consider the assist enough success in his top-line debut to get him at least one more try.
Rob Schremp, C, Oilers: The ice time is not there at all, but Schremp is at least playing with the Oilers right now. You should know the name by now; he has magic hands, but he hasn't been able to catch up to the professional game since leaving the Ontario Hockey League. Redraft leagues that go any deeper than 14 teams need to add him now, just on the hope that Schremp is able to play enough minutes to have an impact. The Edmonton power play is 1-for-27 and playing with the man advantage is Schremp's specialty. He may be used to kick the power play into high gear if nothing changes soon. Watch for any call-up of defenseman Danny Syvret, too. The Edmonton prospect was Schremp's power-play accomplice in the OHL.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.