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Tuesday, November 2, 2010
In the Crease: Get Peter Budaj?

By Tim Kavanagh
Special to ESPN.com

Although the agent for Colorado Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson has told the Denver Post that his client is "going to be fine," and that the mysterious knee injury sustained in warmups last week is "nothing serious," the team has stuck with their message that he's out indefinitely.

Enter Peter Budaj, the third-longest tenured member of the team, who was their starter in 2008-09. "I have all the confidence in the world in Peter," Avs head coach Joe Sacco told the Calgary Herald this past week, "and more importantly, his teammates have all the confidence in the world in him."

Sacco's quote makes for a touching sound bite, but the question remains: While he's the clear choice to be the No. 1 for the Avs (journeyman John Grahame has been recalled to back him up), is he worthy of a roster spot (and being activated) in fantasy? Did owners in 5.8 percent of ESPN leagues jump the gun in adding him over the past week? Let's take a look.

The Budaj stats are the typical goalie stats, plus a breakout of EVSVP, which is even strength save percentage, and PKSVP, which is save percentage on the penalty kill. For the team stats, GF/G is goals scored by the Avs per game, SA/G is the shots allowed by the Avs per game, PPGA/G is power play goals scored against the Avs per game, and PIM/G is the penalty minutes taken by the Avs per game.

Through the initial four seasons of Budaj's tenure in the NHL, his overall save percentage remained in the neighborhood of .900, although in the limited sample we have for him over the past two seasons, his save percentage while on the penalty kill has taken a significant nosedive. While that number may change as he gets more starts, the Avs' tendencies to hit the sin bin may not, as they're in the top 10 in team penalty minutes per game at this point. This decreases Budaj's value a bit, as there is clearly an issue with Sacco's penalty killing unit right now (No. 29 in the league, including Anderson's seven starts). In the vast majority of leagues, goals allowed count against a 'tender regardless of whether his team is at even strength or on a penalty kill, so that's something to keep in mind as goals-against average is a full one-third of a goalie's value in ESPN standard leagues.

Peter Budaj
Peter Budaj's best season for the Avalanche was 2006-07 when he won 31 games with a 2.68 GAA

Going back to the coach's quote on confidence, the opposite may actually be true, looking at the shots allowed. While Anderson has faced 33.9 shots every start, Budaj is facing an easier load (28.0); likewise, in 2009-10, Anderson saw 31.5 shots per game, with Budaj at just 25.7 per contest. Whether that's an indication of a relative lack of confidence is up for debate. However, seeing fewer shots gives Budaj less of a chance to build up that save percentage, another one-third piece of the pie for a fantasy goalie.

But all is not lost. The one category for goalies in ESPN standard leagues that depends most on a goaltender's team is the one where Budaj has been shining this season: wins. Although Budaj has given up 14 goals in his four starts this season, he's playing behind the NHL's No. 2 offense with 3.45 goals-per-game; in Budaj's starts, that number climbs to 4.50.

Unfortunately, it's hard to feel confident that the second number will remain so high, and two of Budaj's three wins would have been losses without his offense bailing him out. If you believe that the Avs will continue to make like a bail bondsman, he's worth an add right now. But if you don't buy that theory, he's not a very valuable commodity. Even if he puts up ratios near his career averages in the games ahead, that's not any great boon to most fantasy rosters.

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. Jimmy Howard, Det (2)
3. Tomas Vokoun, Fla (4)
4. Roberto Luongo, Van (3)
5. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (5)
6. Jaroslav Halak, StL (7)
7. Jonathan Quick, LA (9)
8. Martin Brodeur, NJ (6)
9. Cam Ward, Car (10)
10. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (11)
11. Tim Thomas, Bos (16)
12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Pho (8)
13. Niklas Backstrom, Min (12)
14. Carey Price, Mon (13)
15. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (14)
16. Michal Neuvirth, Was (18)
17. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (19)
18. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tor (20)
19. Craig Anderson, Col (15)
20. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (21)
21. Brent Johnson, Pit (26)
22. Antero Niittymaki, SJ (28)
23. Dan Ellis, TB (29)
24. Tuukka Rask, Bos (17)
25. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (23)
26. Chris Mason, Atl (24)
27. Jonas Hiller, Ana (22)
28. Marty Turco, Chi (35)
29. Anders Lindback, Nsh (25)
30. Steve Mason, Cls (30)
31. Jonathan Bernier, LA (32)
32. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (36)
33. Semyon Varlamov, Was (27)
34. Dwayne Roloson, NYI (33)
35. Antti Niemi, SJ (34)
36. Rick DiPietro, NYI (NR)
37. Pascal Leclaire, Ott (31)
38. Mike Smith, TB (37)
39. Brian Elliott, Ott (NR)
40. Peter Budaj, Col (NR)

Rising and falling

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (up five spots): Another week, another two shutouts. Ho hum. Thomas' fast start has him atop many lists, including the ESPN fantasy hockey player rater and Puck Prospectus' player power rankings. The struggles of 2009-10 seem eons ago, considering his 0.50 GAA and .984 save percentage (those are not typos). Much more importantly (to me at least) is his new nickname: "Tank." So will there be any semblance of a time-share between Tank and Tuukka Rask as the season progresses? Of course. But even with some nights off here and there, Thomas may wind up with legit No. 1 fantasy goalie numbers by season's end.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes (down four spots): The Coyotes were the feel-good hit of the 2009-10 season. Mired in uncertainty due to their ownership situation, they managed to paw their way into the playoffs before ultimately falling in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings. A cornerstone of their success last season was the man in net, as Bryzgalov posted a 2.29 GAA and .920 save percentage along with eight shutouts. Through eight starts this season, Bryzgalov's ratios aren't too shabby (2.61 and .922), but that increase in goals-against average is colossal for a team that is only scoring at a 2.30 goals-per-game clip. If the offensive deficiencies are not corrected, Bryzgalov's owners will not get the expected return on their investment.

Antero Niittymaki, San Jose Sharks (up six spots): The Sharks' Finnish goaltending fiesta is becoming less of a timeshare week by week. The team had a light schedule over the past week, but Niitty started each of the two games, winning both by allowing two goals in each outing while countryman Antti Niemi hung out with a baseball cap on at the end of the bench. So why only the modest bump instead of a rise to the realm of the elite? As anyone who's followed Niittymaki's career will tell you, he's historically very streaky, and it feels like we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. He's very strong trade fodder right now; nevertheless, if you have confidence that he'll avoid the pitfalls he's encountered every other season in his career, by all means hang on to him. Just don't say that you weren't warned.

Dan Ellis, Tampa Bay Lightning (up six spots): Has Ellis won the No. 1 job in Tampa? Not quite, but he certainly did himself a huge favor over the past week. On Wednesday, Ellis came on in relief after Mike Smith allowed three goals on seven shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins and stopped every shot thereafter, earning a win as the team came back. That performance earned him a start on Saturday, when he had a 23-save shutout against the Coyotes. Ellis' ratios have been good thus far, although a dip from his current GAA (2.37) wouldn't be surprising. But even if he does start allowing more goals, the Lightning offense should continue to put goals past his opposite number; thus, the win contribution should be there.

Timeshares

Marc-Andre Fleury (91.8 percent) and Brent Johnson (82.3 percent), Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has begun to relent to the overwhelming evidence, as he indicated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Johnson will start two of the three games for the Pens this week, with Fleury taking the other. The quantitative comparisons between the two have become laughable: Fleury (the alleged No. 1) is 1-5-0 with a 3.35 GAA and .863 save percentage while Johnson is 5-0-1 with a 1.16 GAA and a .960 save percentage. At some point, the allegiance to Fleury will give way entirely to logic, and Johnson could be named the No. 1. Then again, from what we know of Johnson historically, the 33-year-old is playing out of his mind right now, and it's bold to rest one's hopes on him continuing this level of play. Johnson could be the next Tim Thomas, or he could fall by the wayside like so many others who came crashing down to Earth after explosive starts. Ride him while he's hot, but with an inflated value, be careful if his owner comes calling trying to sell high.

Dwayne Roloson (14.0 percent) and Rick DiPietro (4.0 percent), New York Islanders:The Isles' long-term franchise goalie has a 6-5 edge in games started this far in the season, and judging by the relative performance of the two men, it's natural to wonder why. Roloson is ahead in GAA 2.40 to 3.75 and ahead in save percentage .918 to .867. Perhaps the Isles feel that while DiPietro is actually healthy -- a rare occurrence, as we know -- they might as well get their money's worth. It's pretty obvious that he shouldn't be trusted in any fantasy format, but what about Roloson? Well, the offense has seemingly disappeared, as their pace of 18 goals through the first five games (3.60) has been supplanted by a pace of 11 through the past six (1.83). Wins will be tough to come by unless the Isles can find some proverbial Levitra for their impotent offense, and while those ratios are fine, Roloson's no more than a back-end option at this point.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky seems to have secured the Flyers' starting job for the near future.

Sergei Bobrovsky (53.2 percent) and Brian Boucher (4.8 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: Once again, a quick Michael Leighton update: According to TSN, Leighton skated Saturday during the Flyers' pregame skate, and remains on track to return around Nov. 22. In his absence, "Bob" is certainly holding the fort: He's now 6-2-0 this season, with a 2.39 GAA and .918 save percentage after winning four more games this past week (with eight goals allowed total). For now, Bobrovsky should be started without reservation in all formats while he has the hot hand, although I'm tepid on his ability to keep this up. But get as much as you can out of the 22-year-old now, because once Leighton returns, this could become more of a timeshare between the two.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere (74.9 percent) and Jonas Gustavsson (50.0 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: As the leaves on the trees have begun to change colors and fall, so have the results of the Leafs, although it certainly can't be attributed to the men between the pipes. The Leafs' mark of 2.30 goals-against per game is seventh in the league at this checkpoint, and both Giguere and "The Monster" are putting up better ratios than a season ago (2.27 GAA and .909 save percentage for Jiggy; 2.36 and .921 for Gustavsson). The problem has been the power outage up front, as the Leafs are only scoring at a 2.30 goals per game clip as well, the NHL's second-worst pace. It's very similar situation to the one being played out on Long Island; if you believe that the Leafs' offense will pick up, these are both worthwhile fantasy netminders. If not, you'll need to supplement with a 'tender who can actually win some games.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com