In last week's column, I highlighted four real-life backup goaltenders that had been performing well this season, and assessed whether they'd continue to provide value to us in the fantasy realm: Johan Hedberg, Thomas Greiss, Dan Ellis and Viktor Fasth. In the time since, one of them has continued to stake a claim to taking over his team's goaltending duties entirely.
Fasth was owned in just 8.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues a week ago. Many jumped on him thereafter, and that number has rocketed up to 90.2 percent. The real question is: What kind of folks are playing in these leagues that haven't picked him up yet?
Here's what has transpired since we met last: Fasth won both of his starts -- a 31-save shutout against the Colorado Avalanche and an uglier win (for those who like defense) over the St. Louis Blues, in which he allowed five goals, but won in the shootout. Meanwhile, incumbent No. 1 Jonas Hiller -- who started 73 of the Anaheim Ducks' 82 games last season -- struggled in the first period against the Dallas Stars, allowing two goals on 16 shots, and was removed due to a lower-body injury. On the season, both men have appeared in six contests, and Fasth has the edge in goals-against average (1.72 to 3.69) and save percentage (.932 to .872). It's an easy call for Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to make the switch, right?
Not exactly. Boudreau is calling his burgeoning goaltender controversy "a blessing," according to the L.A. Times, and added that "I can take [Fasth] out. Hilly is a great goalie too, and we're going to need both of them to get through these 39 games."
One previous example to keep in mind when analyzing what to expect out of Fasth (and Hiller) from a fantasy perspective over the rest of the season is the Boston Bruins' example from 2009-10. From 2006-07 through 2008-09, Tim Thomas was the main man for the Bruins in net, starting 69.5 percent of the club's regular season contests during that span. The next season, Boston established a 1A-1B rotation between Thomas and Tuukka Rask, the latter of whom had previously been most famous for an on-ice tirade while playing for the AHL affiliate in Providence. (And even today, when searching YouTube for Rask highlights, the first thing that comes up after "tuukka rask" is "goes crazy").
The arrangement worked out pretty well: Rask finished with a 22-12-5 record, 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage, and both of those ratios were tops in the league. Thomas lagged behind a bit, with a 17-18-8 record and 2.56/.917 ratios, though those numbers are still pretty good. After just five NHL appearances to his name prior to 2009-10, Rask established himself as a fantasy hockey force, and it appeared that he'd be the primary backstop in Boston for the next several years.
It didn't exactly pan out that way; after Rask was the third or fourth netminder off the board in fantasy drafts for 2010-11, Thomas regained control of the Bruins' crease en route to a Vezina Trophy. The point is this: As we look back at Rask's 39-start campaign, we see that it's possible for a goalie in a timeshare to be one of fantasy hockey's elites, even if he never gets full control as the No. 1 starter. Another recent example is Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues -- incidentally, the man against whom Fasth picked up his latest win -- who started only 36 games in 2011-12, but was the No. 1 overall player on ESPN's Fantasy Player Rater at season's end.
So even if Boudreau never elevates Fasth to the full-fledged No. 1 role -- and the coach's behavior in helming the Washington Capitals' goaltending merry-go-round in previous seasons would seem to indicate that a timeshare is the most likely outcome -- this doesn't short-circuit the 30-year-old's chances at winding up as one of the best fantasy netminders by season's end. The ensuing question, then, is whether Fasth can play well in enough in half the starts to hold up his end of the bargain. The argument against his keeping up the pace is Jonas Gustavsson: After posting a 1.91 GAA and .932 save percentage in his final campaign in the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) in 2008-09, Gustavsson hasn't been able to adjust to the North American game, with career marks of 2.98 and .900.
The argument in favor of Fasth continuing his strong play is Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist won the Honken Trophy three times as the SEL's top netminder, and in his swan-song campaign of 2004-05, he managed 1.79/.935 ratios. Things have gone considerably better for Lundqvist than Gustavsson (and several other goaltenders who excelled in European leagues), including winning the Vezina following the 2011-12 campaign.
The bottom line is this: Fasth has played well enough to justify his being owned and started in any format right now, over most other goalies. His ability to maintain a similar pace will determine where he lands among his fellow netminders by season's end. Personal preference will dictate whether he's a candidate to sell high right now -- thinking that his regression will be considerable -- or to acquire, with the thought that the good times will keep rolling. For now, he's tucked in amid the fantasy No. 2's in my rankings, as the presence of Hiller (and Boudreau's previous proclivities in splitting his goaltending duties) will limit him somewhat. But as that situation evolves, so will the ranking.
Top 40 Goalies
Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The ranking at the start of the 2011-12 season is indicated in parentheses.
1. Tuukka Rask, Bos (1)
2. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (3)
3. Carey Price, Mon (2)
4. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (5)
5. Jimmy Howard, Det (6)
6. Craig Anderson, Ott (9)
7. Jonathan Quick, LA (4)
8. Antti Niemi, SJ (7)
9. Mike Smith, Pho (8)
10. Corey Crawford, Chi (12)
11. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (14)
12. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (11)
13. Ryan Miller, Buf (10)
14. Roberto Luongo, Van (15)
15. Jaroslav Halak, StL (13)
16. Martin Brodeur, NJ (19)
17. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (21)
18. Viktor Fasth, Ana (39)
19. Cory Schneider, Van (18)
20. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (16)
21. Cam Ward, Car (17)
22. Niklas Backstrom, Min (23)
23. Semyon Varlamov, Col (20)
24. Anders Lindback, TB (22)
25. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (24)
26. James Reimer, Tor (29)
27. Ben Scrivens, Tor (33)
28. Jose Theodore, Fla (27)
29. Brian Elliott, StL (25)
30. Johan Hedberg, NJ (38)
31. Braden Holtby, Was (28)
32. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (30)
33. Jonas Hiller, Ana (31)
34. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (32)
35. Sergei Bobrovsky, Cls (26)
36. Michal Neuvirth, Was (34)
37. Dan Ellis, Car (35)
38. Tomas Vokoun, Pit (36)
39. Thomas Greiss, SJ (37)
40. Anton Khudobin, Bos (40)
Rising and Falling
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (down four spots to No. 7): Who is this Bizarro No. 32 playing for the Kings, and what has he done with the real Jonathan Quick? Steady improvements in Quick's play over the past three seasons saw him finish with a sterling 1.95/.929 ratios at the end of 2011-12, and combined with his 35 wins, that pushed him to the No. 3 spot among goalies on the Player Rater by season's end. A postseason run that saw him improve those ratios to 1.41 and .946, respectively, had his fantasy stock at an all-time high heading into 2012-13. That train seems to have been derailed, unfortunately. Whether it was the extended time off, his recovery from back surgery or simply the Stanley Cup hangover effect, something is clearly amiss with Quick this season, as he's off to a 2.70 pace in GAA, and .891 in save percentage. Unlike some of the other slow-starters like Pekka Rinne and Lundqvist, Quick hasn't encountered that turnaround yet. The recommendation here is to hold on to him for now; you're not going to get good value back in trade, and things should get better, though perhaps we won't see the 2011-12 version of Quick at all this campaign.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadephia Flyers (up three spots to No. 11): A rough Monday notwithstanding, Bryzgalov has played pretty well this season: Even after giving up four goals on 14 shots to Toronto (and being pulled in the second period), his ratios stand at 2.53 and .912, which is certainly acceptable. The reason for Bryz's boost in the rankings is that the Flyers' offense has begun to show some signs of life, and that will improve his chances of picking up some more wins.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (down three spots to No. 13): Some may gaze upon Miller's seasonal stats and wonder why he's even as high as he currently is, despite another drop this week. While those numbers aren't encouraging -- a 2.97 GAA and .913 save percentage -- he appears to be back on track looking at his most recent pair of starts. Facing 81 shots combined against the Bruins and Islanders, Miller allowed just two goals in each contest, which works out to a .951 save percentage. The Sabres' offensive production this season has been a nice surprise (2.92 goals-per-game, which is ninth in the league); while I don't believe that Miller is good enough to have a .951 save percentage for the rest of the season, I'm not giving up on him yet, and with some modest improvement back to his career marks, the wins will start to flow.
Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers (up four spots to No. 17): Prior to the season getting underway, I identified Dubnyk as a player who had the potential to make a big leap in the fantasy goaltending ranks this season, as he was talented enough to put up good ratio numbers, the Oilers had a dangerous offense (in theory), and investments on defense this past offseason would certainly help as well. Through 11 starts, Dubnyk has certainly held up his end of the bargain, posting a 2.45 GAA and .928 save percentage, good for the No. 18 and No. 9 marks in the league, respectively. Unfortunately, Edmonton is scoring just 2.25 goals per game, which is the seventh worst league-wide; as a result, even though Dubnyk has had quality starts -- giving up two or fewer goals, with a save percentage of .917 or better -- in seven of 11 outings, he has just five wins. The Oilers' young offense should only start to click more and more efficiently as they play together more this season, so that rate should improve.
Sergei Bobrovsky (owned in 36.3 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Steve Mason (2.6 percent), Columbus Blue Jackets: Last week's column noted that the competition in the Blue Jackets' crease was a lot closer than anyone -- save for Mason -- expected coming into the campaign. Over the past week, things have changed, and not in the way that Bobrovsky owners appreciate: Bob has gone 0-1-1, with a 3.01 GAA and .860 save percentage, while Mason has gone 1-1-0 with 3.05/.897 ratios. Obviously, those aren't hugely disparate results, but overall this season, Mason has outperformed Bobrovsky in the ratio stats and equaled his win total. Obviously, there aren't a lot of people stuck deciding between these two as their primary netminder; however, it would appear that Mason is a slightly better fantasy play at this point.
Marc-Andre Fleury (owned in 100.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Tomas Vokoun (71.0 percent), Pittsburgh Penguins: After it looked like Vokoun and Fleury were going to be locked into a timeshare as of last week, Fleury went out and put together a pretty solid week of performances. Starting three of the four Penguins games since last week's column, Fleury picked up two wins, allowing seven total goals on 87 shots. Vokoun earned just one start, allowing three goals on 23 shots in a losing effort against New Jersey on Sunday. I don't think this one is over. Pittsburgh acquired Vokoun specifically to keep Fleury fresh, and he's done more than that in general over the first portion of the season. So, the Vokoun owners shouldn't be too discouraged by his lack of playing time over the past week; on the other hand, should this 3:1 ratio of starts continue in weeks ahead, it'll be time to move on.
Cory Schneider (owned in 100.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Roberto Luongo (100.0 percent), Vancouver Canucks: The pendulum of the Canucks' timeshare swung back in Schneider's direction this past week, and the Massachusetts native delivered, allowing just one goal apiece to the Flames and Wild in picking up a pair of wins. In fact, if we didn't know that Luongo was looming, poised to start the team's contest on Tuesday night, I'd be a little more excited about Schneider's play: despite some early-season foibles, he's rebounded nicely to the tune of 2.36/.921 ratios. Luongo has been a bit better -- 1.53 in GAA and .940 in save percentage -- so the message again is simple: keep starting either of them in fantasy. While their value isn't quite as high as a player getting most of his team's work, they're both a strong starting option in any format whenever active.
Braden Holtby (owned in 48.1 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Michal Neuvirth (7.4 percent), Washington Capitals: It looked like Neuvirth was pulling ahead in this battle of attrition, but then things went haywire for him this past week: After giving up two goals within a six-minute span against Pittsburgh on Thursday, he was yanked, and hasn't been seen on the ice since. Holtby promptly allowed three more, but then notched a shutout against Florida over the weekend. The Washington Post reports that Holtby will be back in net against Florida on Tuesday, and another strong outing would strengthen his case to be the Caps' No. 1, as well as provide some value for us here in fantasy from here on out. As for the notion that there could be another netminder in the mix in Washington, Caps GM George McPhee said they won't "blow anything up," and landing another starting-caliber option would require significant trade fodder going the other direction (either in picks or players). It's tough to argue in favor of doing this with the playoffs a distant possibility for a team languishing in last place.
Training room roundup
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: Returning from a groin injury, Halak was activated off IR on Sunday and expected to start Monday against the Kings, even coming out first for the pregame skate. However, he reportedly tweaked his groin during the warmups, and it was Brian Elliott back in the cage. After excelling in 2011-12, Elliott has taken a trip through regression-ville this season, so both the Blues and Halak's fantasy owners are hoping that this "tweak" isn't something more serious. If it is, Elliott will continue to play his way out of the slump, but just because he's starting in real life, that doesn't mean he needs to be in active fantasy lineups; until he sorts himself out, he needs to remain on the bench.
James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs: After struggling considerably in 2011-12 -- possibly due to a concussion, though this was never officially confirmed -- Reimer appeared to have things straightened out in the early stages of 2012-13: in nine starts, he'd gone 6-3-0, with a 2.31 GAA and .929 save percentage, the latter of which is tied for the seventh best mark in the league. During a game the Leafs would end up winning on Monday night, however, Reimer sustained a lower-body injury and was pulled in favor of Ben Scrivens. Though the injury has been deemed not a serious one by coach Randy Carlyle (according to Pierre LeBrun), Reimer will undergo more testing to determine whether that's actually the case. For now, it's worth considering his backup, Ben Scrivens, who is owned in just 2.2 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. Scrivens started the first three games of the season for Toronto, and overall has posted a 2.56 GAA and .913 save percentage. Not to jinx things, but the Leafs appear to be on a bit of a roll as of late, and if Scrivens can maintain that kind of performance, he can rack up some wins in the near future for those in need of help in that category.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: The latest buzz on Kiprusoff is that he could return from his knee injury as early as Wednesday's game against Dallas. Throughout his career, Kipper has been remarkably durable, so this development has been a disconcerting one for those who were relying on him to generate a high number of volume stats this season. The more disconcerting development, however, has been how Kiprusoff performed prior to going down with the injury: his 3.23/.870 pace is well off his career pace (2.46/.913) and is in sharp contrast to what he did last season (2.35/.921). The positive news for Kiprusoff owners is that understudy Leland Irving was uneven in his play during the starter's absence, so it doesn't appear that Kipper's job is in peril once he's healthy.