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Shots on Goal: Finding Value in Uncertainty

Peter Maingot

Peter Maingot

Peter has been covering fantasy sports for Rotowire for over 10 years. He's covered hockey, football and basketball over the past decade but now focuses strictly on the frozen game. From the Great White North, Peter is a strong proponent of physical, up tempo hockey.

Shots on Goal: Finding Value
by Peter Maingot

The longer title of this exercise is "finding value in uncertainty." It involves the stress managers endure when dealing with goalies stuck in a time-share. While we cannot prescribe medication for the said stress we will offer our version of a holistic approach involving the use of appropriate strategies to deal with the task at hand, namely surviving, if not thriving, in a time-share. Have can you thrive in a time-share? Start with realistic expectations on how many starts your time-share goalie will be getting, barring an injury to the other guy in the time share. Once that has been assessed you can get a brush up here on how to properly deploy backup goalies, which can drastically alter the fortune of your fantasy hockey clubs.

We will address every team where the No. 1 goalie will probably not be looking at 60+ starts. Basically if you ONLY own Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Miikka Kiprusoff, Marc-Andre Fleury, Craig Anderson, Niklas Backstrom, Cam Ward, Jonas Hiller, Steve Mason and Carey Price, then this article should be read for entertainment purposes only. For the rest of us not so fortunate as to ONLY own those netminders, the following is required reading for your goalie-stressed squads.

Drafting backups on top teams is a strategy that can work but it requires bench space and patience. It is better to get 25-35 starts from the #1a or #2 goalie on a top-10 team than to play a good goalie on a lousy team for 50-60 starts, as long as you have the numbers and the bench space to carry a 4-goalie roster. It's a long season and opportunities often arise over the six-month campaign.

Atlanta:

Chris Mason nearly made the above list, as he played in 61 games last season for St. Louis. However, he's 34-years-old and last season presented a career-high in games played. Moreover, the Thrashers at some point need to see what they have with Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec has been on the team for three seasons yet he's still just 23. He's a career 20-28-7 with a 3.33 GAA and .902 SV % on some pretty bad Atlanta teams. While Mason is the No. 1 goalie this season, Pavelec could still see about 27-30 starts, depending on how long he's going to be out of the lineup with post-concussion issues.

Boston:

While Tuukka Rask was phenomenal last year, Tim Thomas won the Vezina two years ago and appears to be fully healed from the offseason surgery to repair the torn labrum in his hip. This hip problem caused him to change his playing style last season, which resulted in him picking up some bad habits. Thomas asserts that he's back to playing his style, the one that he's clearly more comfortable with and the one that helped him win the Vezina. To prove it, he posted a shutout in his first start of the season. We are not saying that Rask will lose his majority share of the goalie starts. However, Rask owners (and goalie speculators) need to know/remember that Rask has never played more than 57 games in any season. This research dates all the way back to 2003-04 in the Finnish Under-18 league. Rask's career-high in NHL appearances is 45. The 57 number is significant, for it equates to 25 starts (minimum) for Thomas. As such, he makes for a solid third or fourth goalie on most roto squads.

Chicago:

Even more than Mason in Atlanta, Marty Turco has proven that he can handle a heavy workload. Father Time may be changing that, though, as the now 35-year-old was limited to just 53 games last season for Dallas due to injury. Furthermore, Chicago's defense is missing Brian Campbell for the first five weeks of the season and Turco faced 41 shots in the team's first game of the season. Corey Crawford should see 20-25 starts but that number could increase depending on how much rubber Turco faces in the first month.

Dallas:

Kari Lehtonen's talent has never been questioned. What has been questioned is his ability to complete a season without a significant injury. Since the 2006-07 campaign in which he played in 68 games for Atlanta, the now 26-year-old Finn has played in just 106 games - an average of just 35 games a year. That propensity for injury makes backup Andrew Raycroft worth a roster spot in deeper leagues, as he was 9-5-1 with Vancouver last season with a 2.42 GAA and .911 SV %.

Edmonton:

Nikolai Khabibulin looked impressive in his season debut for Edmonton, posting a shutout against Calgary. Temper the excitement somewhat when factoring in that Calgary was missing four top-9 forwards in Daymond Langkow, Matt Stajan, Ales Kotalik, and David Moss. Nevertheless, it was a good start for a 37-year-old goalie that missed the last 60 games of the 2009-10 season with a bad back. He followed that up with another win against an offensively challenged team in Florida. Despite this early-season success against offensively challenged teams, The Bulin Wall has only played in as many as 60 games once a season over the last seven seasons and that was four years ago. Either Devan Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers will be in line for 20-25 starts, but there probably are better teams to snag backups from.

Florida:

The reason why Tomas Vokoun wasn't on the list at the beginning of the article is that he will likely be traded by the NHL trade deadline. He's an immense talent whose value takes a hit this season because the Panthers are sorely lacking in offensive firepower. Jacob Markstrom, drafted 31st overall in 2008, is their goalie of the future now playing in Rochester of the AHL and waiting for the callup sometime in early 2011. Current backup Scott Clemmensen would likely take over the majority of the workload in nets if/when Vokoun gets moved.

Los Angeles:

Even though Jonathan Quick appeared in 72 games last season and went 39-24-7 with a 2.54 GAA and .907 SV %, he's on this list because his new backup - Jonathan Bernier - is all but certain to receive at least 22-25 starts and could very well threaten his job security as the No. 1 goalie for the Kings. Yes, Bernier is that talented. In fact, if for some reason Bernier is available in your league stop reading this article and go pick him up. Now! The 22-year-old Bernier, drafted 11th overall in 2006, appeared in three games last year and was a resounding success going 3-0 with a 1.30 GAA, a ridiculous .957 SV % and a shutout. If Quick slumps or gets hurt he has a good chance at losing his job to Bernier.

Nashville:

Pekke Rinne would normally be expected to start 60+ games now that he's firmly established himself as not only the Preds' uncontested No. 1 goalie but as a top-10/15 goalie in the league. However, his opening night injury has provided an opportunity to the 6-6 rookie Anders Lindback. Lindback is a 22-year-old with 66 career games played already in the Swedish Elite league (2.52 GAA/5 shutouts). Rinne owners need to keep a close eye to see if the early showing by the rookie will alter the original projection of 65-70 starts for Rinne.

NY Islanders:

You should probably avoid this team's goalies unless you think that Dwayne Roloson can match season's heroic numbers whilst playing on a dreadful team: 23-18-7 with a 3.00 GAA and .907 SV percentage. Before you say "why not?" there are several compelling reasons why it's highly unlikely. First, Rollie is 40-years-old. Second, the Islanders have already lost their best defenseman (Mark Streit) for the season. Third, the Isles will be without their best right-winger, Kyle Okposo, for two months. If you insist on deploying Rollie we can only hope he's no better than your third or fourth goalie.

As for Rick DiPietro, we have no confidence in him making any sort of significant contribution this season. The Islanders have the unfortunate distinction of having handed out the two worst long-term contracts in NHL history: DiPietro's 15-year, $67.5 million contract and Alexei Yashin's 10-year, $87.5 million contract which, luckily for the team, was reduced by 24 percent due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2005.

Philadelphia:

The Flyers are very deep at forward. They may have lost a top-6 winger in Simon Gagne but they added one in Nikolay Zherdev (assuming he can learn on how to play in his own end). They have also changed up the cards on D, drastically improving their No. 5- thru- No. 7 spots on defense in adding Andrej Meszaros, Sean O'Donnell and Matt Walker during the summer. They now have the most expensive defense in the league ($24.8 million), so they've got that going for them.

This is one of the top 10, if not top 5, teams in the league. Yet they lack a star goaltender and last spring's hero - Michael Leighton - is injured. For now the goaltending duties will be shared between the 35-year-old Brian Boucher and the 21-year-old rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, who's already won his first two games (over Pittsburgh and Colorado no less). Bobrovsky is a popular pickup right now but the team re-signed Leighton for two years and he should at least have a half share of the starting goalie duties when he returns from back surgery in late November. In the meantime, go pick up Bobrovsky (if it's not too late) and see if he can render Boucher, on the last year of his contract, redundant once Leighton returns. If you do not own Leighton and he's been dropped in your league it may be prudent to pick him up and stash him on IR for the next five to six weeks until he's back and his value has been restored to that of at least a time-share on a top-10 team.

San Jose:

This is a true time-share with two Finns. One, Niemi, is a Stanley Cup winner and the other, Niittymaki, is a national hero for his exploits in leading Finland to a silver medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Niittymaki was named the most valuable player and received the Directorate Award for best goaltender of the tournament. Either goalie should prove to be a solid No. 3 fantasy goalie. If you're like me and you've only got one bona fide uncontested No. 1 goalie you can overcome that with time-shares like the above-mentioned Finns.

St. Louis:

The Blues paid a serf's ransom for Jaroslav Halak and he is without doubt the No. 1 goalie in St. Louis. The only caveat is that Halak has never played more than 45 games in one NHL season. It's for this reason that Ty Conklin deserves consideration in deeper leagues, as he's looking at 25 starts and he's 53-29-9 over the last three seasons with a 2.50 GAA. Finally, the Blues are expected to make some noise this year so Conklin will be in line to at least match last year's numbers: 10-10-2 with a 2.48 GAA and .921 SV %, if not improve on the win total.
Tampa Bay:

Like San Jose, this is looking like a true time-share with Mike Smith and newcomer Dan Ellis. Smith won his first start of the season, against Atlanta stopping 27 of 30 shots. The team will continue with the hot hand but Ellis should see his first start later this week. Neither Smith (28) nor Ellis (30) has played in more than 44 NHL games in a single season so there's every reason to believe that this will be a fairly even split barring an injury to either goalie. Smith has never played more than 53 games dating back to junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey league while Ellis' maximum games played in any hockey season is 55, done both in the AHL and USHL. If you pick up either goalie don't expect more than 45 to 50 starts.

Washington:

In fantasy hockey, as in life, one should never take anything for granted. When it comes to roto puck, this is particularly true for Sergei Varlamov's owners. When it comes to top teams in the league, there are few in the league of the Capitals. As such Varlamov has been a popular selection as a high-end No. 2 fantasy goalie, getting drafted around the 60's in standard 12-team leagues. The problem with taking Varlamov at that point is that Michal Neuvirth, seen by observers who don't look beyond the surface as simply the backup, can be acquired in the 10th round or later in most drafts. While Varlamov and the Caps stumbled in the first round of the playoffs last spring, Neuvirth was leading the Caps' AHL farm team in Hershey to a second straight Calder Cup (the AHL championship, not to be confused with the Calder trophy - awarded annually to the NHL's top rookie). Neuvirth is a very real and present danger to Varlamov's hold on the top net minder position in D.C. and it would be wise to pick up the young Czech native, if for some reason he is still available in your league. Though Varlamov began the season on the injury list he is expected back at some point this week. Meanwhile Neuvirth is 2-1 heading into Wednesday's game against the Islanders.

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Yahoo! Friends & Family:

Suffice to say that I feel strongly about my draft board and I try to strictly adhere to it even when other managers fall prey to positional runs, the main one being "goalie panic." People start getting nervous as the top 10-15 goalies come of the board, some far ahead of their rankings. This is a white-knuckle ride but my track record in the Yahoo! F & F (4 years in the league: 1st, 4th, 2nd (tie), 2nd) seems to suggest that the strategy of taking value and adding backup goalies from top teams in the latter stages of drafts can work, if you're also willing to be extremely active throughout the season. It's all about sticking to your draft board.

In the Yahoo! Friends & Family draft last week I was fortunate enough to land the first overall pick. Drafting first overall was exciting and extremely fortuitous. However, my initial glee turned to wariness, as I quickly realized that my favorite top goalies would all be gone by my second and third picks (picks 24th and 25th overall). I made a decision then that I would not take Rask at 24 or 25 because I had him at 38 and there would be too much value on the board at forward to reach for him. So I took Ryan Getzlaf at 24th and Rick Nash at 25th. There are only so many forwards with a REAL chance at 40 goals and/or 80-to-90 points. My next turn came at 48/49 and I took Craig Anderson who was 45 on my board. Then I got Vincent Lecavalier, a steal at 49th overall thanks to those who took goalies at least a round or two before they should have been chosen.

The goalie madness continued with several learned managers falling prey to goalie runs (a.k.a. goalie panic) and taking net minders above their overall rankings so I chose to hang on and ignored it. This can be hard on your nerves but you can get some major value if you follow this path. I was able to load up on other top-100 talent (on my board) like Loui Eriksson (taken 72nd), Tomas Vanek (73rd), Lubomir Visnovsky (96th), Mason Raymond (taken 145th but 98 on my board) and David Backes (121st). My next two goalies - Anterro Niitymaki and Neuvirth - were chosen 97th and 120th respectively. Niitymaki went later than Antti Niemi, which I was surprised by. I had Niemi ranked higher than Niitymaki but both were in my top 100. Both Finns could each end up with 40 starts. I drafted Niitymaki with those 40 starts in mind and also with the idea that Neuvirth would be on my team also and get 25-30 starts minimum. I had always planned on taking Neuvirth, as I believe he's as good or better than Varlamov, who has already struggled with some injuries early in his career. So adding Anderson's projected 70 starts with Niitymaki's 40 and Neuvirth's 30, I was at 140 starts. It being a snake-chain draft and me having to wait 23 picks between selections gave me time to do some quick research and I discovered that Tuukka Rask had never played more than 45 games in an NHL season. Moreover, he's never played more than 57 games in any league anywhere, with the research going as far back as the Finnish Under-18 league in 2003-04. That made Tim Thomas, a Vezina winner just two years ago, an intriguing later-round pick. Knowing that at least 25 starts on a strong Bruins team was in the offing, I gladly took him in the 15th round, at 169th. Thomas has already given me a shutout. Amazingly, Thomas posted a shutout in five of his 18 wins last year. Incidentally, Rask was chosen 35th.

I figured that was the end of my drafting goalies until I saw that Michael Leighton was still available and, despite 12 teams drafting 36 starting right wings and 60 starting defensemen, there was still plenty of decent talent available at both positions in the very late stages of the draft. With the reality that Leighton has a two-year deal and plenty of goodwill built up in Philly from their playoff run I figured he would at least have a time- share when he returned in late November from his back surgery. Thus I grabbed him in the 16th round at 192nd. Despite there being only four rounds left I was able to take both Ryan Suter and Dennis Seidenberg (since dropped in favor of John-Micheal Liles)) to round out my 5-man defense plus pick up Tomas Holmstrom (first line duty with Datsyuk and Zetterberg) and Andy McDonald (since dropped in favor of Evander Kane).

Aftermath: the theme "panic creates value" has already been proven, as after surveying the other Yahoo! F & F teams' rosters I found a team that was really hurting at left wing yet strong everywhere else. That team also happened to have the fourth best goalie on my draft board - Henrik Lundqvist -- and the eighth - Miikka Kiprusoff. Because of the goalie runs, and having the 1st overall pick, I was able to draft ample talent from the most rare of forward position - left wing. Getting Vanek 73rd and Raymond 120th were both results of that panic. I offered Anderson and Vanek for Lundqvist, which was accepted that same day. Now I have a top-4 goalie in King Henrik as well as four goalies from four of the top eight teams in the league, each of who should get a minimum of 25 starts. I can trade another goalie at some point to shore up a need but I am fully willing to keep them for the entire season, as wins in goal is one of the rarest stats to acquire. Moreover, because of the early goalie runs, I have been able to transform my value/depth into owning four of the top 18 players based on my draft board (rankings in parenthesis): Ovechkin (1), Lundqvist (15), Getzlaf (17), Nash (18), as well as the 34th (Lecavalier).

Here's my current squad…

Forwards:

Ovechkin-Getzlaf-Eriksson
Nash-Lecavalier-Backes
Raymond-Arnott-Holmstrom

Depth: Oshie, E. Kane

Defense:

Visnovsky-Whitney
Kubina - Suter
Liles

Goalies:

Lundqvist
Niitymaki
Neuvirth
Thomas
Leighton (IR)

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