Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Goalie Watch: July

The draft begins and Alex Ovechkin is off the board. You remain calm as your eyes instinctively scan the available goaltenders.

It may seem fortuitous that the goalie pool is remarkably deep this year. More options = more #1 tenders for all, right? Not necessarily. Outside of the elite options, time shares seem to be "in" in goalie world. Many teams have two capable goalies, which could make it difficult to project draft positioning. Paying close attention to training camp and preseason performances could make the difference between winning your league or just staying afloat.

As of July 22, 2009, 19 teams seem to have a clear #1 goalie. This leaves 11 teams with plans that are hard to predict. In a 20 team fantasy league, I estimate that approximately 12 goalies will be taken in the 1st round. This means that at least six managers in such a league figure to miss the boat on an elite goalie. Not to say that he or she won't build a successful team, but some chances will have to be taken.

Anaheim Ducks: J.S. Giguere struggled last year after the death of his father and Jonas Hiller carried the Ducks into the playoffs. Both guys can start, but a platoon seems likely unless one forces Randy Carlyle's hand.

Atlanta Thrashers: The much improved Thrashers re-signed Kari Lehtonen, who can be a top 5 goalie if healthy. A much delayed breakout season should not shock people.

Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas is the clear #1. Tuukka Rask and Dany Sabourin will battle for backup duties. If Rask wins, look for him to play 15-25 games.

Buffalo Sabres: The Ryan Miller show. No one else should see significant time unless injury strikes.

Calgary Flames: Miikka Kiprusoff - Above average skills + 75 games played = fantasy gold.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward continues his path towards elite status. Draft with confidence.

Chicago Blackhawks: Cristobal Huet's team now that Khabibulin is gone. Corey Crawford is the S.O.S man if Huet screws the pooch.

Colorado Avalanche: Craig Anderson gets his first crack at being a #1. Look for a 70-30 split with Peter Budaj.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Must be something in the water. Pascal Leclaire had 10 shutouts two years ago. Rookie Steve Mason repeated that feat last year. Mason should go in Round 1.

Dallas Stars: Turco should remain unchallenged as the Texas Tender. Look for a rebound season from the veteran who could challenge for the #3 spot on Team Canada.

Detroit Red Wings: Conklin out, Jimmy Howard in. Chris Osgood should have another painfully average season on a phenomenal team. Do not be shocked if Howard steals the job at some point.

Edmonton Oilers: Dwayne Roloson is gone, leaving starting duties to Nikolai Khabibulin. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers should see minimal time.

Florida Panthers: Tomas Vokoun will have another strong year out of the hockey spotlight. UFA signee Scott Clemmensen is a solid backup with 1B potential.

Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick should start most nights unless he falters or is challenged by Erik Ersberg or prized youngster Jonathan Bernier. Look for Bernier to spend one more full season in Manchester (AHL), but you never know.

Minnesota Wild: I would take Niklas Backstrom over the brilliant Martin Brodeur. Wade Dubielwicz should not pose any threat and Josh Harding will likely be traded.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price is big risk/bigger reward. Bet on a strong rebound, but don't gamble too early.

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne will get every opportunity to build on a fantastic rookie campaign.

New Jersey Devils: Can't go wrong with the all-time wins leader.

New York Islanders: An interesting scenario ... Rick DiPietro played in 60+ games for 3 straight seasons before missing most of least season with a knee injury. It appears he may take longer than expected to return as the Isles signed UFA Martin Biron to a 1 year deal. Dwayne Roloson will compete with Biron, but it's anyone's guess who will play more.

New York Rangers: Super Swede King Henrik is clearly a top 5 goalie. Nothing to say here.

Ottawa Senators: Pascal Leclaire will begin the year as the main man, but injuries are a concern. Brian Elliot will press for time, but Leclaire is by no means a poor #2 fantasy goalie.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ray Emery returns from Russia with a proclaimed new attitude and a willingness to adopt a team-first mentality. We will see. Philly could be to Emery what New York is to Sean Avery.

Phoenix Coyotes: Ilya Bryzgalov is one of the busiest goalies in the league. Phoenix is loaded with young talent and is slowly fighting towards a playoff spot amid financial struggles. Bryz is a quality #2 with potential for more.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I don't expect M.A. Fleury to put up All-Star numbers after winning the cup, but playing on one of the best teams in the NHL makes him a safe pick.

San Jose Sharks: Nabby could be done in San Jose after this year, but I suspect he is re-signed. Tomas Greiss should backup Nabby barring a trade.

St. Louis Blues: Chris Mason appeared to be the clear #1 until Ty Conklin was signed. Mason should start the season as #1, but Conklin's presence makes me reluctant to recommend Mason in the first 3 rounds.

Tampa Bay Lighting: Mike Smith appeared to be recovering well from his concussion and could quietly put together a 30 win season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Next to Anaheim, this is the toughest situation for me to predict in July. Brian Burke seems confident that a healthy Vesa Toskala will bounce back with a huge season, while the "#2" is only the most prized goalie to come out of Sweden since Henrik Lundqvist - Jonas Gustavsson. Watch the pre-season like a fox.

Vancouver Canucks - Roberto Luongo is gold, but if he gets injured again, look for Cory Schneider (not Andrew Raycroft) to carry the load.

Washington Capitals - Another toughie. I WANT to say confidently that Simeon Varlamov will be the clear starter and that he will win 40 games as the Caps go on to win the Cup. Unfortunately, Jose Theodore is under contract for one more year and his $6 million price tag could eat into Varlamov's ice time. Then again, Varlamov could be a flash in the pan and Theodore could hoist the cup.

The big message here is to pay attention to what goalies do in the pre-season. With so many starting jobs up in the air, it would be unwise to trust standard rankings or to draft based on names or what was accomplished last year.

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