Shots on Goal: Bitter Times/Reality Bites
By Peter Maingot
These are bitter times for those managers that drafted goalies Tuukka Rask, Marc-Andre Fleury, Semyon Varlamov, and Antti Niemi with the assumption that they'd be getting 50+ starts from any of them. That's not likely to happen at this juncture of the season but other realities must also be understood. First of all, these situations are all fluid in that they could change within the next two weeks. The caveat is that one should never expect the goalie landscape to suddenly change in their favor just because they want it to. In other words don't expect Michal Neuvirth to get hurt just because you own Varlamov. Second, each team's situation is unique and we'll delve deeper into that as we address each team that has either "goalie drama" and/or an injury to one of their top-six defensemen.
Before we go there we thought we'd provide an example of the bitterness that exists among some owners of Rask, Fleury, Niemi, or Varlamov. In an industry "experts" league that I'm in I received an offer of Olli Jokinen for Antero Niittymaki. The manager who sent me the offer is a Niemi owner and he was trying to complete the Sharks' set. Aside from it being a low-ball offer the other odd thing was what he'd written in the comments section - something to the effect that he wasn't going to overpay for a mediocre goalie. Then he proceeded to say that Niittymaki was garbage! That, my friends, is bitterness. I politely declined the offer though I was perhaps less polite with my own comment that I wasn't going to take a washed-up center (the most plentiful of fantasy positions) for a starting goalie on a top-10 team. Moreover, I also mentioned that Niitty is not garbage but was in fact the 2006 Olympics MVP who played on poor teams in Tampa Bay, though I readily admitted that he was a young and inconsistent goalie at the beginning of his career when he played for Philadelphia.
The realities may bite for some but here they are: if you don't own Neuvirth, Tim Thomas, Brent Johnson or Niitymaki you will have to give up something of quality to acquire them in a trade. If you drafted Rask, Fleury, Varlamov or Niemi thinking that you were getting 50+ starts from them, it is not happening.
Here's another reality if you're in a standard league with nine statistical categories. Four of those categories are for goaltenders only. That means that 44.44% of your team stats will come from your group of goalies. You may think that your 70-point/70-PIMs winger is worth gold but he is one of many forwards playing nightly on your team. You can only play two goalies a night in standard leagues and you only have a total of 162 starts in goal for the season. Check and see how many games combined your forwards have. This is the reality. If you're long on goalies from quality teams who are seeing regular duty you deserve fair value for them. If the suitors for your Neuvirth, Thomas, Johnson, or Niitymaki won't pay up, then hang onto the goalie for a while longer. If nobody will pay up then eventually you can offer him to the teams in your league with the least threatening goaltending tandems. Or you could be like this writer in that experts' league and just play keep away and spot start them for the foreseeable future.
While the addition of Tony Lydman and Andreas Lilja has helped Jonas Hiller owners, the temporary loss of rookie Cam Fowler has caused the team to play Danny Syvret. Syvret is in the lineup because Brendan Mikkelson was lost to Calgary on waivers and veteran defenseman Andy Sutton is out until late November. Syvret started off poorly, going minus-1 in each of his first two games but then scored against Detroit. Syvret is a former third-round pick who has been unable to match his junior hockey success in the NHL. During the 2004-05 season he was named the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Defenseman of the Year, was a CHL First All-Star Team and made the CHL Memorial Cup All-Star Team. Syvret was also a member of Team Canada's gold medal-winning World Junior Championship squad and his London squad won the Memorial Cup. Though he's put up 130 points in 273 games in the AHL, the 25-year-old has yet to establish himself as an NHL regular.
Ondrej Pavelec is off IR and should see a start this week. So far Mason is 3-4-1 with a 3.54 GAA and .902 SV %, so the opportunity is there for Pavelec to get a bigger share of the goalie pie should he succeed in his first action back in the lineup. Meanwhile, defenseman Zach Bogosian is also expected to return to the lineup, though I don't expect to see him on the first power-play unit anytime soon as Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom are thriving on the first unit as the point men.
Rask lost the home-opener to the Rangers, though he did not play badly and was a victim of two bouncing-puck goals. This looks like a timeshare for the foreseeable future and we'd be a little surprised if Thomas didn't get the start Thursday against Toronto. The bad news for owners of either goalie is the broken bone in top-four defenseman Johnny Boychuk's arm. Boychuk, who was the victim of slash last Saturday vs. the Rangers, had been averaging over 22 minutes a game before Saturday. His injury will result in more minutes for Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg, with the latter also seeing a spike in power-play time. The new addition is Adam McQuaid, a big kid (6-5, 209) who's not afraid to mix it up. The 24-year-old has 280 PIMs in 178 career games in the AHL after racking up 340 PIMs in 246 games in junior for Sudbury of the OHL.
Marty Turco's splits so far favor home usage (he's 3-1 with a 2.18 GAA and .935 SV %) over road work (he's 1-1-1 with a 3.27 GAA and .901 SV %). The great news for Turco owners is that top-four defender Brian Campbell is expected to make his season debut on the weekend. Campbell averaged 23:13 of ice time last season and should see the same, if not slightly more, this season. Corey Crawford is 1-2 with a 3.03 GAA and .910 SV % so Turco owners need not stress about the youngster, who should get about 24 more starts this season.
Craig Anderson is out indefinitely after he injured his knee during warmups prior to Tuesday's game against Vancouver. Anderson flew back to Denver Wednesday to see a doctor and the early word is that he won't need surgery. Peter Budaj may be worth picking up. Just expect Budaj to see a lot of rubber as Anderson has faced an average of 34 shots per game this season. Budaj only played 15 games last season whereas the season prior to that he went 20-29-5 with a 2.86 GAA and .889 SV %.
Top pairing defenseman Brian Rafalski (knee scope Oct. 12) has missed five games so far and Jimmy Howard has started four of them. In two of those games he allowed four goals. Overall he's got a 2.75 GAA in the four starts since Rafalski went under the knife. Rafalski is expected back in early-to-mid November. Meanwhile fellow defenseman Jonathan Ericsson has been out of the lineup since Oct. 8 with back spasms but could be back by the weekend. What this all means is that Jimmy Howard's overall numbers may take a dip in the short term though the wins should remain plentiful. What it also means is that sitting your top forwards or defensemen at Detroit is no longer an automatic.
Dwayne Roloson is 2-1 with a miniscule 1.65 GAA and .942 SV % while Rick DiPietro has gone 2-1-2 with a 3.32 GAA and .880 SV %. We remain reluctant to own either goalie, though Roloson admittedly could be serviceable for spot starts as a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy goalie.
The Rangers have shown character and team spirit as they've rallied themselves after a slow start and despite missing a third of their offense from last season in Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal, and Chris Drury. Gabby is expected to start skating next week and could be back in 10-14 days whereas Drury won't be back until December and Prospal perhaps not until January. Henrik Lundqvist owners have to be happy with the way the team has responded to the adversity. They have "circled the wagons" so to speak in tightening up their defensive zone coverage and everyone is buying in. They are playing physical hockey and the back end is holding up well. Back-to-back wins against Boston and New Jersey have shown that they can win games against quality opposition even with their reduced firepower.
Pascal Leclaire is out for at least another week and Brian Elliott should face Florida Thursday and possibly Boston on Saturday, though the 19-year-old rookie Robin Lehner could start vs. the Bruins. Alexei Kovalev was able to score finally (2 goals/1 assist) the other night vs. Phoenix and that could bode well for the Sens, as a Kovalev hot streak could be a difference maker to a club struggling to score goals and missing their top center in Jason Spezza (groin). Spezza has missed the last three games. Top-four defenseman Filip Kuba (broken leg) has begun skating. The Sens have the nucleus of a playoff team and the return of both Spezza and Kuba could spur a winning streak.
Sergei Bobrovsky has played 297 minutes this season to Brian Boucher's 237. Bobrovsky and Boucher have the identical .900 SV % but Boucher owns the better GAA (2.26 to 2.82). While this is a very small sample size (5 starts for Bobrovsky, 4 starts for Boucher), the fact remains that Bobrovsky needs to be outplaying Boucher by the end of November, or he'll be the one being sent down to the AHL when playoff hero Michael Leighton (back surgery) returns to the lineup.
Speaking of small sample sizes, Brent Johnson has five starts thus far to Marc-Andre Fleury's four starts. While others think that MAF is overrated and that Johnson is the new sheriff in Pittsburgh we're not quite ready to make that pronouncement. There's just something about winning a Stanley Cup that makes one give a guy under 30 the benefit of the doubt. Yes Johnson has an insane 1.39 GAA and .950 SV % but we need to see a larger sample size before we get too excited about Johnson. In other news, top-four defenseman Zbynek Michalek (shoulder) remains out, possibly until mid-November.
Antero Niittymaki has vastly overplayed Antti Niemi thus far - Niittymaki has a 1.81 GAA while Niemi has a 4.50 GAA. While we're only a tenth of the way into the new season the difference in their play has been so severe that even the most ardent Niemi supporters have to realize that he'll need to dig his way out and it could take a while.
The anticipated time-share between holdover Mike Smith and newcomer Dan Ellis has not transpired as expected, for Ellis is playing his way out of a time-share into full sit on bench and watch mode. While Smith is 4-0 with a 3.12 GAA, Ellis is 1-3 with a 3.67 GAA. Even Smith can't be relied upon as anything more than a mediocre No. 2 goalie as the .880 SV % combined with the 3.12 GAA will drag down most teams' goalie stats.
Roberto Luongo may seem overrated to some but he does have an Olympic gold medal and pretty good regular seasons' stats when played over a full season. Luongo stopped 36 of 39 shots in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win over Colorado and was in fine form. Injuries on defense remain a concern as Keith Ballard (concussion) is out indefinitely whereas Dan Hamhuis (foot) could return Nov. 1 vs. New Jersey.
The young yet oft-injured Semyon Varlamov is hurt again, though he is expected to be game ready by next week. With the Caps looking at three games in four nights Michal Neuvirth will be busy. There is also a chance that recently called up goalie Braden Holtby plays on Thursday or Saturday. One thing both teammates and coaches have raved about Neuvirth is his calmness. He is not rattled and players know that he can come up with the big save when defensive breakdowns occur. While injuries are beginning to plague the blueline, both Mike Green (hip) and hotshot rookie John Carslon (leg) are expected to play Wednesday at Carolina.