Ranking the fantasy goalies…for next season

March 25, 2010

Buffalo Sabres G Ryan Miller is easily the best fantasy goalie heading into next year's fantasy drafts. He is well worthy of a top ten pick.

With fewer than 10 games left in the NHL regular season — aka the fantasy hockey season — it’s still a little early to plan for the 2010-11 campaign.

A lot can change in the offseason.

But for those of us in keeper formats, it’s never too early to start Draft 1 of the goalie cheat sheet:

1. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (37 wins, 2.20, .929, 5 shutouts). This season, Miller was the class of his position. His track record is also something to bank on. In each of his four seasons as a full-time starter, he has won at least 34 games. His save percentage and GAA have improved in each of the last three seasons. And he does not turn 30 until this summer.

For the record, the only non-goalies I would draft ahead of Miller are (in this order): Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Mike Green. And maybe — maybe — Zach Parise.

2. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils (40 wins, 2.34, .914, 7 shutouts). It’s a boring choice, I recognize, but sometimes Sam Adams Lager is the best beer at the bar. To be fair, some signs point to a statistical slippage. He turns 38 in May; his win totals, GAA and save percentage were better in 2006-07 and 2007-08. But when you compare his numbers to those of the other goalies in contention for No. 2, he remains the wisest choice for your second-round investment.

He is, in other words, the Mariano Rivera of NHL goalies: Slipping, but still one of the top three options — and the single safest option — any way you slice it.

Yes, Brodeur was outperformed this season by Ilya Bryzgalov and Miikka Kiprusoff, and to a lesser extent Tomas Vokoun. But if I’m taking bets for 2010-11, I’ll still take Brodeur. Bryzgalov might be a one-season wonder, while Kiprusoff and Vokoun have tortured fantasy owners for years with their in-season inconsistency.

3. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks (38 wins, 2.43, .921, 2 shutouts). Nabokov, who turns 35  in July, is like a younger version of Brodeur. His GAA and save percentage both improved this season, and his win total still has a chance to eclipse last year’s (41). So why have I ranked him below Brodeur? Mainly because Nabokov’s shutouts slipped to a paltry two. That is a handicap, especially in week-to-week leagues.

I also cannot shake the specter of Nabokov’s two career lapses: the 2002-03 and 2005-06 campaigns. Yes, it’s arguable — given how terrific he has been in the last three seasons — that Nabokov’s “down” seasons are over. But Brodeur does not have down seasons. And he always posts his share of shutouts.

Next time: Goalies No. 4 – No. 6.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


So fresh, so Steen

March 8, 2010

Blues C Alex Steen could help your squad this week if you need an injury replacement for Bruins C Marc Savard (above).

How long will the Bruins be without the stellar services of C Marc Savard (concussion)? Carried off the ice on a stretcher in Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Pittsburgh, Savard was moving his limbs — that’s the good news.

The bad news: Even if he is bodily ready, a head injury is something the Bruins will not take chances with. (It is safe to say the organization recalls how long it took C Patrice Bergeron to return to playing condition.)

Scan your league’s free agent pool for Savard replacements, and there’s one pivot who stands out: Blues C Alex Steen, owned in only2.8 percent of ESPN leagues and 8 percent of Yahoo! formats. How shall we make the case for Steen? Four ways:

1. On fire. In the three games the Blues have played since the Olympic fortnight, Steen has three goals and three assists. In the last seven days, he ranks No. 8 in ESPN and No. 9 in Yahoo! leagues.

2. This is when the Blues get hot. Last season at this time, Blues G Chris Mason went on a hot streak of fantasy-title winning proportions. From March 10 to April 12 of last year, Mason (and the Blues) went 12-3-2.  Those who rode the Blues in March and April were fantasy money down the stretch.

3. The Blues have an easy upcoming schedule. They do not play again until Thursday, March 11, but on that night they visit the Islanders. The next two stops — at Columbus March 13 and at Minnesota March 14 — hardly strike fear in the hearts of owners.

4. Steen has pedigree on his side. The 24th overall pick in 2002, Steen just turned 26 and tied his career high in goals (18), which he set as a rookie with Toronto in 2005-06.

Now, no one is saying Steen is going to morph into a draft-worthy fantasy center in the season’s final few weeks. But he has the talent — and supporting cast — to give your team a lift for the next few weeks. And if you own Savard, your team might need one.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Bruins at Lightning: For fantasy owners, it’s Tuukka time (and Downie’s day)

February 11, 2010

Why is Bruins G Tuukka Rask (2.01 GAA, .931 save percentage) owned in fewer than 50 percent of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues?

Half the fantasy hockey world is asleep at the wheel.

How else to explain that Bruins G Tuukka Rask (2.01 GAA, .931 save percentage) is owned in only 47 percent of Yahoo! formats and 42.2 percent of ESPN leagues?

In case you missed it — and it certainly seems as if half the fantasy world has missed it — Bruins G Tim Thomas is no longer the everyday netminder. Rask has started four straight, allowing only six goals. He and the Bruins have won the last two of those starts entering Thursday night’s tilt at Tampa Bay.

Rask isn’t the only streaking player fantasy owners need to watch in Thursday night’s Bruins at Lightning clash. Tampa RW Steve Downie (29.2 percent owned in ESPN, 41 percent in Yahoo!) has tallied five assists, +5 and eight shots on goal in his last four matches.

Heretofore, Downie’s primary fantasy contribution has been penalty minutes. With 153 PIMs this season, Downie, 22, has not disappointed. But his four-game point streak has the potential to catapult his value into the must-own stratosphere.

A first-round pick in 2005 (29th overall), Downie has the pedigree to post numbers in non-pugilistic categories too. Furthermore, he is skating on a line with all-world studs C Steven Stamkos (33 goals, 30 assists) and LW Martin St. Louis (20 goals, 46 assists).

In short: Like Rask, Downie deserves a higher level of ownership. Watch him tonight vs. Boston and see for yourself.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Holy Schenn

February 7, 2010

Blue Jackets G Steve Mason wasn't the only second-year star who shined on Saturday.

Saturday was a superb day for fans of the NHL box score.

There were four shutouts. Marty Turco, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Steve Mason and Craig Anderson, take a bow.

There were nine two-goal scorers. Michal Handzus, Henrik Zetterberg, Brian Gionta, Jamie Benn, Phil Kessel, Luke Schenn, J.P. Dumont, Dany Heatley and Radek Dvorak, take a bow.

Of all these players, the one who most caught my eye is Schenn. A second-year defenseman, the fifth overall pick in 2008, Schenn has played more than 21:00 in every game (all three of them) since Ian White left town in the Dion Phaneuf deal.

In addition to his two goals in Giguere’s 5-0 home shutout of the Senators on Saturday, Schenn notched an assist, two penalty minutes, four shots on goal, and a team-high +4.

Should you drop everything and pick him up? Unless there’s a player you’re dying to drop, not yet. After all, Saturday was the first time Schenn had cracked the scoring sheet since Jan. 18.

But as of yesterday’s performance, Schenn belongs on all watch lists. Especially if you missed out on the Mark Giordano sweepstakes.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Two goalies to watch Tuesday night (Giggy, and the other Chad Johnson)

February 2, 2010

Leafs G Jean-Sebastien Giguere is slated to debut tonight vs. the Devils.

Goalie: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Leafs

Game: Devils at Leafs, 7pm EST.

Breakdown: By now, you know the deal: This is Giggy’s first chance to shine for the Leafs. If he holds down the Devils, fantasy owners will rush to grab him. As Puck Daddy points out, Giguere, 32, is reunited in Toronto with goaltending coach Francois Allaire and, for that matter, Leafs GM Brian Burke — men under whose tutelage he produced stellar campaigns in 2002-03 and 2007-08.

Advice: No starting goalie — especially one with Giguere’s track record and upside — belongs in the free agent pool. Grab him while you can. He has more value than any No. 4 defenseman on your roster. (And yet, as of Tuesday afternoon, he was owned in only 31 percent of Yahoo! formats and 11.6 percent of ESPN leagues.)

Goalie: Chad Johnson, Rangers

Game: Rangers at Kings, 10:30pm EST.

Breakdown: Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist (flu) missed games Saturday and Sunday. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Phoenix, Johnson, 23, started out slowly — he allowed three first-period goals — before settling in and shutting out the Coyotes the rest of the way. He continued his stellar play in Sunday’s 3-1 win at Colorado, blanking the Avalanche until a third-period goal from Colorado LW Cody McLeod. All told, Johnson, a rookie, stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Advice: If you own Lundqvist, grab Johnson. Prior to missing in action last weekend, Lundqvist had lost four straight. Worse, he had allowed three or more goals in his last three games. The high-payroll Rangers are battling to make the playoffs. They are in win-now mode. The hot goalie is going to play, even if it’s a rookie. Head coach John Tortorella does not strike me as the type who’d provide groundless loyalty to a foundering veteran. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not counting out a resurgence from a star like Lundqvist. But if your fantasy season is riding on Lundqvist, you’d be wise to secure his backup — at least for the next few weeks.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


With Horton out, who scores?

January 29, 2010

Panthers RW Nathan Horton is out for five more weeks. Who will pick up the scoring slack?

Panthers RW Nathan Horton (fractured left tibia) is expected to miss five more weeks. Florida has now played twice in his absence.

Interestingly, the Panthers have won both games. Still, there are signs of a scoring slump.

For the season, Florida averages 2.61 goals per game, placing them in the middle of the NHL pack (16th). However, in each of these wins — 2-0 vs. Toronto Jan. 23 and 2-1 vs. Montreal Jan. 26 — the Panthers scored only twice.

Throughout the season, the line of Horton (17 goals, 29 assists), C Stephen Weiss (19 goals, 25 assists) and LW Michael Frolik (13 goals, 17 assists) has carried the Panthers attack. (Though Frolik is listed as a C/RW in both ESPN and Yahoo! fantasy formats, the box-score reality is that he has skated and scored all year with Horton and Weiss.)

In the 2-0 win vs. Toronto, both Frolik and Weiss tallied assists. On Florida’s first goal, Weiss and D Dennis Seidenberg helped LW Cory Stillman on a power play. On Florida’s second goal, Frolik and C Gregory Campbell set up LW Kenndal McArdle.

So, after one game sans Horton, the short list of Wally Pipp candidates was Seidenberg, Stillman, Campbell and McArdle. Alas, none of this mighty quartet cracked the score sheet in Florida’s 2-1 win vs. Montreal. It was C Shawn Matthias who scored both Panthers goals, the first of which came on a third-period penalty shot (and thus was unassisted). On his second goal, the assists went to RW Michael Repik and C/LW Dominic Moore.

In other words, it was a march of fantasy no-names.

And so, after two games sans Horton, here’s what we know:

1. While nine different Panthers registered a point, not a single Panther scored in both of the games.

2. The Panthers visit Washington Friday night, so there’s no reason any of them should be in your lineup anyway. You can safely return Frolik, Weiss and G Tomas Vokoun to your lineup Sunday, when Florida hosts the Islanders.

3. If there’s a fantasy commodity on the Panthers to monitor, it’s LW Rostislav Olesz. Dobber called him out on Yahoo! last week, writing:

“His bigger-than-deserved contract alone is reason enough to keep an eye on him. If the team thinks so highly of Olesz, then it goes without saying that he’ll get his chances. He has six points, six PIM and is a plus-4 in his last six contests, making him one of the better wingers to own in the past two weeks. He has the talent to keep up a similar pace, albeit slightly slower.”

Granted: Olesz (13 goals, 13 assists) is no star and he has not scored in his last four contests. But he has continued to put shots on net — 130 this season and at least two in each of those last four games. And he gets ice time: at least 15:00 per match. He has pedigree — seventh overall pick in 2004 — and he is only 24 years old.

More pertinent to fantasy players, he is only 0.6 percent owned in ESPN and three percent owned in Yahoo! formats. No need to pick him up yet, but keep an eye on him to post numbers while Horton’s gone.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The Winter Classic’s top fantasy question: Is Leighton legit?

January 1, 2010

Flyers goalie Michael Leighton -- depicted here in Ducks gear -- has won four road games in a row. Is he a fantasy fluke?

The hype surrounding the 2010 Winter Classic makes it easy to overlook the game’s most vexing fantasy question: Is Flyers goalie Michael Leighton — winner of his last four and Philly’s starting pipe-man on New Year’s Day — a legit, long-term fantasy commodity?

First things first: Leighton has already proven himself as a short-term commodity. So grab him in your leagues while you still can.

As I type on New Year’s Eve, Leighton is owned in only 2.2 percent of ESPN leagues and 8 percent of Yahoo! formats. That is bound to change if he performs decently on national TV in a game that may garner higher ratings than the Stanley Cup Finals.

Look at it this way: If Leighton shits the bed Jan. 1, you can always drop him Jan. 2. If he plays well, you may miss your chance to add him.

So: Is Leighton legit for the long term? Here’s the case for Leighton, followed by the case against him.

Leighton is legit because:

  • He has won four straight on the road, including a 6-0 shutout Dec. 30 at the Rangers.
  • His save percentage in all four wins: 1.000 at the Rangers; .966 at the Islanders on Dec. 27; .925 at Carolina on Dec. 26; and .939 at Tampa on Dec. 23. Numbers like that win fantasy titles. Stats like that are why Leighton is ESPN.com’s highest rated goalie over the last seven days.
  • He allowed three or fewer goals in all four games. In addition to shutting out the Rangers, he allowed one goal at the Isles, three at Carolina and two at Tampa.
  • The Flyers’ starting goalie, whoever it is, can help any fantasy squad in the wins category. This is especially true with the return to health of LW Simon Gagne, whose hat trick was a terrific sign for Philly’s offense. The Flyers have so much firepower that their netminders are always in play for victories.

Leighton is not legit because:

  • His recent competition has been weak. Carolina (15th), the Islanders (13th), the Lightning (11th) and the Rangers (10th) are not in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Bruins (5th) are Leighton’s first true test.
  • His recent competition also stinks at offense. Carolina (2.42 goals per game, 28th), the Islanders (2.32, 30th) and the Lightning (2.42, tied with Carolina for 28th) are, in fact, the three worst scoring teams in the NHL. The Rangers (2.61, 20th) are not much better. Of course, here we should note that the Bruins (2.46, 25th) have hardly set the world aflame. (In fact, Boston has scored two or fewer goals in four of its last six. Both games in which the Bruins scored more than two goals were against the Thrashers.)
  • His previous flashes of brilliance have amounted to nothing. Last season with Carolina, Leighton stonewalled the Capitals 3-1 on Dec. 7 (save percentage: .974). The previous day, Leighton lost 2-1 in overtime vs. the Flyers (save percentage: .935). It was the last time all season Leighton would yield fewer than three goals in a start. For what it’s worth, Leighton also played well at the end of 2003-04 with the Blackhawks. In his final two starts, he posted save percentages of .951 (stopping 39 of 41) and .953 (41 of 43), earning 2-2 ties vs. Phoenix and at Colorado.

Still, make no mistake: The proper fantasy move is to roster Leighton as soon as you can. Great goalies win fantasy titles, and savvy owners will take risks to pluck them from the waiver wire.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons