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Thursday, December 10, 2009
In The Crease: Replacing Razor

By Tim Kavanagh
Special to ESPN.com

Looking back over Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ray Emery's past seven starts, of which only one was quality, it's not that surprising to hear that he "felt something pop" during the game against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 14. His fantasy owners "felt something pop," too: the bubble of effectiveness he'd produced over the first 14 starts, nine of which were quality. From that point forward, he only got one win in the seven starts, and relented 26 goals, nearly four per game. His save percentage went from .924 in the first 14 starts to .786 in the past seven.

At least now we know there's a reason for that statistical brutality and not just an inexplicable drop in skills. We also know that Emery underwent surgery for his groin problem Wednesday, and it's a similar process to what forward Simon Gagne had done earlier this season. Emery is set to miss about six weeks, and his injury will have the greatest impact on his backup, Brian Boucher, who is now the only 'tender on the Flyers with NHL experience. Recent callup Johan Backlund toiled in Sweden's Elitserien for the past four seasons before signing his one-year deal, but he's been with the Adirondack Phantoms for most of this season.

You might remember Boucher as the handcuff to Evgeni Nabokov from 2008-09. He was one of the league's most rosterable backups for fantasy purposes last season, finishing the campaign with 12 wins in 20 starts, and ratios of 2.18 GAA and .917 SVP. But those nice ratios are a bit deceiving, as he showed some inconsistency when asked to start several games in a row, which is the task at hand now. There is, of course, an outside chance that the Flyers trade for Martin Biron, who was with the team last season. Biron is currently with the New York Islanders, who have been getting reasonably good play from Dwayne Roloson, and franchise goalie Rick DiPietro is inching closer to a return. But if no move is made, expect Boucher in net for many of the 16 games the Flyers will play over the next six weeks.

So how valuable will he be for us in those games? Well, this Flyers team was expected to mount a serious challenge in the Eastern Conference this season, with some pundits claiming they'd represent the East in the Stanley Cup finals. Obviously we haven't been seeing that version of the team too often thus far, but the talent is still there somewhere. The firing of head coach John Stevens and subsequent hiring of Peter Laviolette didn't light an immense fire under them, as they were fricasseed 8-2 by the Caps a day later. I'm not too high on Boucher winning a ton of the games during this stretch, but if he can maintain his 2.53 GAA (or drop it down a bit), he's not too bad an option. Then again, you might be better served getting an occasional start from one of the other backups -- like Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi or Johan Hedberg -- all of whom are available in over 50 percent of ESPN leagues.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Ryan Miller, Buf (1)
2. Martin Brodeur, NJ (2)
3. Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (3)
4. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (5)
5. Roberto Luongo, Van (6)
6. Craig Anderson, Col (4)
7. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (10)
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (8)
9. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (11)
10. Tim Thomas, Bos (12)
11. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (7)
12. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (14)
13. Cristobal Huet, Chi (15)
14. Semyon Varlamov, Was (13)
15. Ray Emery, Phi (9)
16. Niklas Backstrom, Min (16)
17. Marty Turco, Dal (17)
18. Chris Mason, StL (19)
19. Carey Price, Mon (28)
20. Tuukka Rask, Bos (24)
21. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (20)
22. Jonas Hiller, Ana (18)
23. Jose Theodore, Was (22)
24. Jimmy Howard, Det (30)
25. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ana (27)
26. Antero Niittymaki, TB (26)
27. Steve Mason, Cls (21)
28. Jonathan Quick, LA (23)
29. Ty Conklin, StL (35)
30. Ondrej Pavelec, Atl (29)
31. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (25)
32. Dan Ellis, Nsh (38)
33. Antti Niemi, Chi (36)
34. Cam Ward, Car (31)
35. Johan Hedberg, Atl (39)
36. Jeff Deslauriers, Edm (NR)
37. Peter Budaj, Col (NR)
38. Mathieu Garon, Cls (33)
39. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (34)
40. Jaroslav Halak, Mon (37)

Rising and falling

Pekka Rinne, Predators (down four spots): Rinne's play in November had him shooting up the rankings, but a recent spat of forgettable performances has tempered that enthusiasm. A 34-save, two-goals-against performance against the Canucks (the league's No. 5 offense) makes his five goals relented to the Wild (the league's No. 22 offense) all the more puzzling. Due to Rinne's inconsistency, the door has been cracked back open for Dan Ellis in Nashville, which diminishes Rinne's value slightly.

Carey Price (up nine spots): In spite of their well-publicized offseason acquisitions, the Habs are struggling to remain in the top half of the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, it appears as though Price has turned a bit of a corner and stabilized his role on the ice and in the box score. Going back to a Nov. 5 shootout win against the Bruins (13 starts), Price has let up 28 goals total, with a save percentage of .932 and seven wins over that span. The Canadiens were rewarded for their patience with Price; hopefully you were, too. While the Habs could make a trade to shake up their anemic offense (No. 26 in the league, with 2.45 goals per game), remember they'll be getting Andrei Markov back sometime in early January which will boost that scoring average, with a coinciding effect on Price's wins.

Ty Conklin, Blues (up six spots): Conklin is emerging as one of the better backups this season, which is no shocker to anyone who owned him last season as Chris Osgood's caddy. Speaking of the Red Wings, Conklin shut out his former teammates Wednesday night, facing a barrage of 42 shots. This, coupled with his 32-save win at the Sharks earlier in the month, adds to his legitimacy. The trouble is he's stuck behind Chris Mason, who in spite of a few bad outings recently is holding down the fort pretty well this season (2.44 GAA and .918 SVP, good for twelfth in the league in both categories). Until the time-share becomes more of a 50-50 split, Conklin won't approach the fantasy value of Boston's Tuukka Rask, who is more valuable than a few No. 1's out there.

Time-shares

Jose Theodore (23.9 percent) and Semyon Varlamov (95.2 percent), Capitals: Caps coach Bruce Boudreau went back to playing the alternation game, and aside from a 3-0 blanking Wednesday night with Theodore in net, it seemed to be going pretty well for both goalies. There is a report as of Wednesday, though, that Varlamov has a "lower-body injury," and he didn't take part in the morning skate before the team's 3-0 loss to Buffalo. While the official word is that Varlamov is day-to-day, Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post writes that it's a groin strain, an injury that can take weeks to heal properly. Especially with Theodore faring reasonably well in his past few games, the Caps might play it conservatively with Varlamov's recovery. What does that mean? Pick up Theodore (if he's available) since he's the one who'll get most of the starts for the next few weeks if El-Bashir's source is right.

Jimmy Howard (25.7 percent) and Chris Osgood (48.3 percent), Red Wings: Colleague Sean Allen took the reins on this one in this week's Open Ice, but the bottom line is this: In spite of the promotion to No. 1 goalie in Detroit, the team in front of Howard is still struggling to put pucks past the goalie at the opposite end. In theory, the starting goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings should be good for truckloads of wins, but less than half the team's 30 games have resulted in a W thus far. As strange as it sounds, by starting the Red Wings' netminder this season, you're punting wins. To make up for that, you need some dominance in the ratios, and Howard is No. 16 in the NHL in GAA and tied for No. 22 in SVP (although those numbers have been better of late). My advice is to roster him if you have a slot and hope that this team remembers its assassin's identity. Middle-of-the-road ratios are much more palatable when combined with lots of wins.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere (18.7 percent) and Jonas Hiller (91.3 percent), Ducks: Shamelessly stealing a bit from ESPN's fantasy guru Matthew Berry, let's do a blind comparison of the Ducks' goaltenders over each of their past five starts. Goalie A: 2-1-2 record, 11 goals against, .922 SVP. Goalie B: 1-3-1 record, 16 goals against, .880 SVP. Bear in mind that on the season as a whole, Goalie A has a 2.64 GAA and .913 SVP, whereas Goalie B has a 3.12 and .906, respectively. Funny thing is, based on those ownership percentages, ESPN's fantasy hockey community -- and until recently, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle -- hasn't caught up with the fact that Goalie A (Giguere) is destroying Goalie B (Hiller). Shocking, considering the "name value" that tends to guide some owners across all fantasy sports. Anyway, Carlyle recently dropped a hint that Jiggy might become more of a full-time tender when he told The Orange County Register, "when we make that change or make that determination, we'll make the selection on who we feel is going to give us the best chance to win versus 'if you win, you're in.'" Whether you own Hiller or not, Jiggy is now on must-pick-up status. I don't think he's No. 1-worthy in fantasy, but he could be a good No. 2 option, especially if the Ducks can pick up the scoring slack a bit.

To the rescue!

A couple of backups have provided some nice support lately after an injury to the alpha dog 'tender. Brian Elliott is not among this cohort. No one should be desperate enough to start him the way he's been playing, but that hasn't stopped his ownership percentage from staying at 16.7 percent in spite of 19 goals given up in five December starts.

Peter Budaj, Avalanche: Craig Anderson is suffering from some sort of neck injury (listed as "sore neck") that forced him to head home early from the Avs' recent road trip. Depending on who you believe, the injury could be worse than the team is letting on, or they're just being extra-cautious. Either way, Budaj has stepped in and put up better numbers than, well, ever for him: a 2.38 GAA compared to 2.74 for his career, and .920 SVP compared to .903 for his career. With the Avs scoring at a 2.93 goals-per-game clip, he has a chance to win each time out. He's only owned in 1.6 percent of ESPN leagues; there's no sense leaving him on the waiver wire while he's piling up these performances.

Jeff Deslauriers, Oilers: He might have dropped the first part of his hyphenated last name this season (he went by Drouin-Deslauriers last season), but Deslauriers has picked his game up in the wake of the back injury to Nikolai Khabibulin, especially in the past four starts. In that quartet of games, Deslauriers has let seven pucks past him total, with a save percentage of .947 and wins in all four. The news is more distressing regarding Khabibulin than Anderson. The veteran netminder -- who will turn 37 in January -- is still suffering from a back injury and is out indefinitely. The Oilers' Web site notes that he's about 25 percent recovered right now, meaning Deslauriers will continue to start for the time being. There will be some inconsistency (before the four-game hot streak, he gave up four goals to the Canucks in just eight minutes on Nov. 28), but the risk is worth the reward. He's owned in only 2.3 percent of leagues, and his value will continue to rise as Khabibulin's injury keeps the high-priced Russian off the ice.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com