In the Crease: Is Marty Brodeur back?

Don't wake the neighbors with your shouts of joy, but it looks like the great Martin Brodeur is rounding back into form. The New Jersey Devils goalie has strung together an impressive stretch of games and was named the No. 3 Star of the week by NHL.com for the seven-day period ending Sunday. Let's take a closer look at how we should proceed with him, from a fantasy perspective. After all, the window for a fantasy trade might be closing soon if this trend continues.

In this space on Dec. 29, I considered what would happen to Brodeur's value following the firing of Devils coach John MacLean. I noted that MacLean's replacement, Jacques Lemaire, guided a similar Devils team to 103 points in the standings in 2009-10 while allowing the fewest goals in the league (191). Needless to say, the miserly performance in goal wasn't all Yann Danis.

The changes under Lemaire's guidance weren't instantaneous, but they have been noticeable of late. With only a week remaining in January, the Devils have allowed 2.45 goals per game this month, down nearly a half-goal per contest compared to the season as a whole. They've allowed fewer shots as well. As one would expect, Brodeur's numbers are much better: he's 5-0-1 in January with a 2.17 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Those ratio numbers are mighty close to what we've come to expect from the man.

So here's the million-dollar question: Will this continue for the rest of the season? Given what we saw in 2009-10, and subsequently what we thought was going to happen this season, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Devils compile a winning record for the duration. So in the 34 remaining games, Brodeur could rack up 20 or more wins, and ratio-wise, I wouldn't be surprised if he's able to post numbers very similar to his January numbers. The key will be continued good health of the players skating in front of him.

For those who stuck with Brodeur through the tough times, you're reaping the rewards of your patience now. Continue to start him with aplomb. As for targeting Brodeur in a trade, it might be difficult because of Marty's name value and his recent run. But given what I believe he'll do in the remaining games, floating an offer that includes an overachiever from the first half of the season could prove quite wise by season's end.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Roberto Luongo, Van (1)
2. Tim Thomas, Bos (2)
3. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (4)
4. Carey Price, Mon (3)
5. Jonathan Quick, LA (6)
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (7)
7. Jonas Hiller, Ana (8)
8. Ryan Miller, Buf (5)
9. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (9)
10. Martin Brodeur, NJ (16)
11. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (10)
12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (12)
13. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (15)
14. Jimmy Howard, Det (13)
15. Jaroslav Halak, StL (11)
16. Cam Ward, Car (14)
17. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (17)
18. Corey Crawford, Chi (21)
19. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (20)
20. Antti Niemi, SJ (23)
21. Niklas Backstrom, Min (18)
22. Semyon Varlamov, Was (19)
23. Brian Boucher, Phi (22)
24. Dwayne Roloson, TB (25)
25. Michal Neuvirth, Was (27)
26. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (29)
27. Craig Anderson, Col (24)
28. Tuukka Rask, Bos (26)
29. Antero Niittymaki, SJ (28)
30. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (31)
31. Jonathan Bernier, LA (32)
32. Cory Schneider, Van (36)
33. Brian Elliott, Ott (30)
34. Anders Lindback, Nsh (33)
35. Mathieu Garon, Cls (34)
36. James Reimer, Tor (NR)
37. Steve Mason, Cls (35)
38. Kevin Poulin, NYI (39)
39. Dan Ellis, TB (37)
40. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (38)

Rising and falling

Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders (unranked): After being signed by the Detroit Red Wings but claimed on waivers by the Isles, Nabokov has refused to report. ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote Monday that this is the latest in a string of incidents -- not being able to find a suitor as an unrestricted free agent this past summer, asking for a release from his KHL contract -- that might wreck Nabokov's market value as a free agent this summer. As of now, Nabokov is sticking to his stance, and so are the Islanders, who claim they aren't going to waive him. Nabokov, whose ownership percentage in ESPN leagues shot up 14.9 percentage points over the past week, is of no current value while the holdout continues. That said, he's worth stashing on your bench in case one side relents.

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues (down four spots): Halak's run through the playoffs last season and early exploits this season were inspiring, but the Blues' backstop has been off-key of late. Halak has just two wins -- both were one-goal-against outings against the Los Angeles Kings -- to show for his past 10 starts, and has a 3.39 goals-against average and .883 save percentage during that time. Though he'll continue to rack up starts, he's drifting further away from the elite status he was enjoying early this season. He's worth keeping active with the hope that he'll go back to his dominant ways, but I have my doubts.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (up three spots): There's nothing specific to explain Crawford's little jump in the rankings, merely a continuation of the trends that have been ongoing for the rookie as he has wrested control of the Chicago nets away from Marty Turco. Though the starting breakdown has been Crawford 25, Turco 24 on the season, it has been even more slanted toward Crawford over the past two months, with Turco starting only six times. This is not surprising given the disparity in their stats, but there is some thought that Turco might get some more starts down the stretch. Though the Hawks were able to ride an untested rookie to the Stanley Cup last season, it's uncertain whether Crawford can pull an Antti Niemi this season. As a result, they'll need to keep Turco on top of his game with a share of the starts from here on out; that puts a ceiling on Crawford's fantasy value.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (up three spots): The disturbing trend of Kiprusoff's ratios heading in the wrong direction reversed itself in 2009-10, and he finished the season with a respectable 2.31 goals-against average and .920 save percentage while starting a typical workhorse load of 72 games. Perhaps that explains why owners in 93.8 percent of ESPN leagues are giving him the benefit of the doubt and retaining him on their rosters despite his subpar numbers this season. In 41 starts, Kiprusoff has a 2.79 GAA and .900 save percentage, and until recently the Flames were in second-to-last place in the Western Conference. But the Flames have heated up, posting points in the standings for all but three of their 12 games this month. So why is Kiprusoff no higher than No. 26 in the rankings? Because he's still allowing a lot of goals, and I think he'll continue to. He'll still get the majority of starts, and the Flames could string together some wins, but having him active in fantasy for those wins will be at the expense of the ratio categories.


Sergei Bobrovsky (88.9 percent) and Brian Boucher (43.0 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: The "Bob and Boosh" show continues for the Flyers, who are a wins-tiebreaker ahead of the Vancouver Canucks for first place overall in the league. As noted in last week's column, if we combined the two goaltenders into one, this would be an elite goalie for our purposes: Since the calendar flipped to 2011, the pair has combined for 24 goals allowed in 11 games, with a 9-2-0 record and a .924 save percentage. Though the ratios aren't incredible -- Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne are ahead in goals-allowed average and save percentage for the season -- the fact that they play on a team that wins so frequently adds a nice bump to their values. The only problem is you're getting half the production if you own just one of them, and that's a trend that's unlikely to change until the end of the season. While "Bob" likely was scooped up long ago, you might still be able to grab Boosh off the waiver wire, and he makes a nice addition in daily-lineup leagues.

Antero Niittymaki (43.3 percent) and Antti Niemi (71.3 percent), San Jose Sharks: This is hardly an even split anymore. After looking like the better option (especially in fantasy) in the opening months of the season, Niittymaki has started just seven of the team's 26 games in December and January, giving up 21 goals in those games and being on the wrong side of .900 in save percentage (.880). Following his placement on injured reserve Jan. 20, one must wonder if the actual injury occurred some time ago and he was just attempting to play through it. Regardless, the guy's value is pretty low right now. But he's not totally sunk. As I mentioned in last week's column, if you can spare a bench spot (or have an IR slot to use), he's worth owning. He has gone on hot streaks in the past in which he has been as good as anyone in the league, and I think he has one more left in him this season. As for Niemi, he's on a bit of a tear himself: Despite winning only five of his nine January starts, he has a 2.00 GAA and .937 save percentage.

Semyon Varlamov (96.4 percent), Michal Neuvirth (54.2 percent) and Braden Holtby (3.8 percent), Washington Capitals: With Neuvirth shelved until after the All-Star break, Holtby was recalled from Hershey and thrown into the line of fire with three straight starts: a 24-save, one-goal-against win over the Islanders, a 35-save, one-goal-against win in Toronto, and a shootout loss to the Rangers on Monday night, in which he stopped 28 of 29 shots in regulation and OT but did not make a save in the shootout (Brian Boyle shot wide in Round 3). The fact that he was deployed in three straight games is indicative of the poor health of Varlamov and Neuvirth, who have both been classified as day-to-day with lower body injuries, per the Washington Post. I don't foresee the team keeping three goalies on the active roster once everyone is healthy, but for now, Holtby is a must-add and a must-start. In spite of the Caps' lack of scoring -- 2.21 goals per game in December, 2.20 in January -- the 21-year-old Saskatchewan native has allowed just one goal in each of his past three starts.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere (20.0 percent), Jonas Gustavsson (38.2 percent) and James Reimer (1.6 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: You'll notice that the recently recalled Reimer is the only one of these three on my Top 40, in spite of the fact that he has been bouncing back and forth from the team's AHL affiliate and has an ownership percentage in ESPN leagues that is dwarfed by the other two. The reason is pretty simple: He has the most potential to be a difference-maker down the stretch. During his recent call-up, he made six starts, posting a 4-2-0 record with a 2.27 GAA and .933 save percentage. That's quite a stark difference from the season marks of Giguere (9-9-3, 2.82, .896) and Gustavsson (6-13-2, 3.28, .890). We run into the problem of small sample size with Reimer, but the next set of starts will give us a better picture. As for Gustavsson, this looks like a whiff for Leafs GM Brian Burke. The highly touted Swedish netminder was given the benefit of the doubt after learning the NHL goaltending game on the fly last season, but he has been even worse in 2010-11. Maybe the midseason trade a year ago for Giguere hurt his confidence, but something has been off this season. Speaking of Giguere and trades, the former Conn Smythe winner has been the subject of trade rumors again recently, and the Toronto Globe and Mail has reported that he's willing to waive his no-trade clause if asked to. Depending on how much of a timeshare he'd be entering into, Giguere's value would get a bump, as would Reimer's.