With the season less than 10 days old it's too soon to discern any major trends. The focus in our first foray of SOG is to look at the intriguing backups around the league. At this point some could actually be available in your league's free-agent pool. For the record the last five free-agent pickups in this year's Yahoo! Friends & Family experts league have been backup goalies.
That's not to say that picking up a backup goalie is the only way you can upgrade your team's goalie situation. Trading is always an option - just try to do it soon and be prepared to overpay or at least make it appear that you're overpaying. Case in point, in last season's Yahoo! Family & Friends draft I got burned by one of those irritating/illogical early goalie runs and I had to pick Colorado's Craig Anderson as my top goalie. Anderson had decent value then for he was coming off a career season in 2009-10 (38-25-7, 2.63 GAA, .917 SV %, 7 shutouts) but I had my misgivings, largely based on the Colorado blue line and the fact that he'd faced about 30 shots a game that season. I felt compelled to try to move Anderson early in the new season while he still had value and I knew I'd have to make the deal enticing if I was going to land a top-5 goalie. One owner was thin at left wing but had two top-10 goalies. I offered Anderson and Tomas Vanek (left wings who can score 30-40 goals are great trade sweeteners) for Henrik Lundqvist. That trade, along with the drafting of then backups Tim Thomas and Michal Neuvirth, helped propel me to a league title.
Here now is a look at some of the more attractive backups in the league (all stats are through Oct. 14):
Tuukka Rask is probably not available in your league's free-agent pool but you could always trade for him. He should get somewhere in the range of 30-35 starts this season, for Tim Thomas is 37 years old and the Bruins would like to keep their Stanley Cup MVP fresh for the stretch run and postseason. And don't worry - the Bruins will start scoring goals eventually.
Jhonas Enroth - keep this 23-year-old Swede on your watch list, as he went 9-2-2 last season when Ryan Miller was injured. His numbers included a 2.73 GAA, a decent .907 SV % as well as a shutout. Keep in mind that Buffalo is an improved team with a deeper, more talented defense corps.
Ray Emery saved Anaheim's bacon last year when Jonas Hiller suffered vertigo and his backup Dan Ellis also got hurt. Emery's exemplary late season play carried the Ducks into the playoffs. Now Emery is in Chicago and he's already won his first start. Emery is roster worthy now in many leagues.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is not a top-10 backup but there are several positive facts working in his favor. First, Semyon Varlamov has been very injury prone thus far in his NHL career never playing more than 27 NHL games and never playing more than 33 combined games anywhere in one season since he turned pro in the KHL in 2006. Secondly, Colorado looks better than many expected them to be (including this writer). Third, JSG looked good in his first start of the season, albeit against Ottawa.
Jimmy Howard should play 60 games this season, perhaps more. So why is Ty Conklin on this list? Well, he recorded a shutout in his first start of the season for the powerhouse Wings and that got our attention. Then consider his last season in Detroit (three years ago before he left for a two-year sojourn in St. Louis): 25-11-2, 2.51 GAA, .907 SV %, and six shutouts. If you have the bench space and can afford to carry a goalie for just 20 starts, Conky is your man.
Jonathan Bernier is a threat to Jonathan Quick. However patience will be required, as it could take months for him to usurp him and there's no guarantee that he will. Owning Bernier is a high-maintenance/high-patience proposition. What we do know is that he should see at least 20-25 starts on a very strong Kings squad and that his pedigree is uber-blue chip.
Anders Lindback was an unknown to most hockey observers before last season. Then Pekka Rinne got injured and the 6-6 Lindback stood tall, literally and figuratively, in the Predators' goal going 11-5-2 with a 2.60 GAA, .915 SV %, and two shutouts.
Fact: Martin Brodeur is 39 years old. Fact: After 12 consecutive seasons of playing between 67 and 78 games, Brodeur has played in less than 57 games in two of the past three seasons. Brodeur will miss his first start due to injury this season on Saturday, just nine days into the new campaign. Johan Hedberg was 15-12-2 last season for the Devils with a highly impressive 2.38 GAA along with a solid .912 SV % and three shutouts.
Poor Rick DiPietro? Well, he's already hurt but he's certainly not poor (he's signed through the 2020-21 season with a cap hit of $4.5 million per season). Meanwhile Al Montoya is quickly dispelling any ideas about last season's performance being a fluke. Montoya is 2-1 with a ridiculous 1.35 GAA and astounding .953 SV %. Those numbers will obviously come down, but there's no denying that he's the best goalie on the Island. Still, DiPietro's concussion means that Evgeni Nabokov will soon see a start. In fact, he'll start his first NHL game in 16 months Saturday against the Rangers. There's a reason Nabokov is owned in 29% of Yahoo! Leagues, he could be dealt to a team needing a starting goalie. We know that some team will likely lose a starting goalie to injury by December and not every team has a Rask, Emery, Conklin, Hedberg - or others we've yet to get to name - sitting on their bench. Nabokov will come into play at some point and that's why most Nabokov owners have him currently rostered.
There's no denying the fact that Sergei Bobrovsky put up some good numbers last year in Philly - he was 28-13-8 with a 2.59 GAA and .915 SV %. Like Enroth in Buffalo, keep Bob on your watch list but know that No. 1 Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has averaged 67 games played over the past three seasons.
The outlook for Antti Niemi, despite starting the season on IR, has not changed - he's expected to play in 60+ games this season. What has changed is that Thomas Greiss has rendered Antero Niittymaki (out until January) obsolete. Greiss has done an excellent job filling in for Niemi over the first two games while registering a 2.02 GAA and .923 SV % with a 1-1 record. Greiss is virtually a must-own for Niemi owners and there's no longer any reason to stash Niittymaki in your team's IR spot.
Dwayne Roloson's age, he's 42, practically guarantees that backup goalie Mathieu Garon starts 30-35 games this season. Then there's the fact that the team has already stated that he will. There goes any uncertainty as far as starts for Garon. Then consider the scoring talent the Lightning enjoy. Then temper your excitement with the reality that one of their best defenders, Mattias Ohlund, is out for 4 to 6 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to both knees. That means that Marc-Andre Bergeron may play a shift at regular strength, and not just the power play. Cue Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, "The horror! The horror!" Nevertheless Garon is a roster-worthy goalie in most leagues for few backups are guaranteed 30+ starts and on a top 10 team.
Roberto Luongo has been a slow starter for each of the past five seasons: one win in his first six starts last year, three wins in his first eight starts in 2009-10, four wins in his first eight starts in 2008-09, four wins in his first 12 starts in 2007-08, two wins in his first five starts in 2006-07. Is this year no different? He is 0-1-1 with a 3.90 GAA and .855 SV %. What is different is that 25-year-old backup Cory Schneider is a greater threat this season. Schneider played in 25 games last season and he won 16. With Luongo's slow start combined with the memory of each of his implosions at Boston in the Stanley Cup Final fresh in everyone's mind, Schneider could push for a platoon position. For now snatch him up if he's available and count on 24 more starts minimum.
Michal Neuvirth is one of the most talented backup goalies in the league right now but new No. 1 Cap goalie Tomas Vokoun is used to a heavy workload, making Neuvirth far less likely to see 30+ starts than the likes of Rask, Garon, or even Schneider.