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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
In the Crease: Who's in goal for Florida?

By Tim Kavanagh
Special to ESPN.com

With the 18th-ranked goalie on the Player Rater suffering a knee injury that will keep him out for the next couple of weeks -- and possibly a bit longer if surgery is required -- the netminder who is posting stats at the 59th-best pace in ESPN fantasy leagues will get the first shot to replace him, though No. 37 is waiting in the wings.

The Florida Panthers' trio is the one about which I write. With Jose Theodore on the shelf, Scott Clemmensen will take over for now, with franchise goalie of the future Jacob Markstrom getting another call-up this week. Let's examine the potential value of each as the Panthers flip the calendar to 2012.

Jose Theodore
Jose Theodore has not played since New Year's Eve.

Any significant injury is disheartening, but Theodore's is especially so as it comes while he's posting his best ratio stats since 2003-04 (a 2.43 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage) and on pace for around 30 wins. According to the Miami Herald, Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen has indicated that Theodore will miss the next two games -- against the New York Rangers on Thursday and the New Jersey Devils on Friday -- but acknowledged that the team had to wait for the swelling to go down before determining a more specific time line. Meanwhile, Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported Tuesday that Theodore will miss at least two weeks and possibly longer. Suffice it to say, Theodore's fantasy owners (and Panthers fans) are hoping that the injury does not require surgery and that the time line for a return skews toward the early part of that estimate. For now, keep him on the bench; he's been playing too well to cut him loose unless you really need the roster spot for someone else. As we learn more about his schedule for a return, adjustments naturally will be made to that recommendation.

As for the men tasked with replacing him in the immediate future, it seems Dineen may give Clemmensen a shot at redemption against the Rangers on Thursday, less than a week after pulling him after he allowed three goals on 14 shots in just over 15 minutes. Though the recent loss to the Blueshirts was Clemmensen's first in regulation this season -- his record stands at 3-1-2 -- his ratio stats have left quite a bit to be desired: a 3.03 GAA and an .891 save percentage. Looking over the next few games, it would stand to reason that we could see Clemmensen start in both roadies this week. His road splits (2.56 GAA and .899 save percentage) are actually better than his home splits (4.31 GAA and .875 save percentage), and while he struggled significantly against the Rangers last week, he's found success against the Devils (3-0-0, with a 2.36 GAA and a .930 save percentage) since leaving them after the 2008-09 season. So from a short-term standpoint, there could be some value.

Furthermore, there is a chance that Clemmensen will be able to recapture some of what allowed him to post a 2.62 GAA and a .911 save percentage last season behind a less defensively capable Panthers team. This is the same man who was good for a 25-13-1 mark with the Devils in 2008-09 (with a 2.31 GAA and a .917 save percentage), albeit one that is three years older than that model. For those who have fallen behind considerably in the goalie categories by this point of the season, Clemmensen is a low-risk option with which to roll in the near future: He's available in more than 95 percent of ESPN leagues and can be dropped just as easily if he doesn't impress in his short audition.

Clemmensen
Clemmensen

Markstrom
Markstrom

Of course, there are some of you out there who will gravitate toward the netminder with the higher upside -- that would be Markstrom -- and those additions already have begun this week (he's still available in more than 97 percent of ESPN leagues, however). Though the former second-round pick left his most recent stint with the big club with a sour taste in his mouth -- allowing five goals on 34 shots to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 26 -- and has not put up eye-popping stats with the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio (he's 6-7-0 with a 2.75 GAA and a .909 save percentage), it's his earlier work with the Panthers that has the fans in South Florida and fantasy owners salivating. In five appearances before that Lightning game, the 21-year-old had a 2.05 GAA and a .944 save percentage. By no means should anyone expect sustained performance at that level -- especially given the upcoming slate, which includes three of the league's top seven teams in goals-per-game (Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Boston) -- but the argument for Clemmensen above also applies to Markstrom, since we simply don't know toward which goalie Dineen will gravitate. One caveat on Markstrom: His short-handed save percentage is actually better than his mark at even strength, and as we know, that's an indicator that a downturn could be on the way.

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 already have been accrued. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (2)
2. Tim Thomas, Bos (1)
3. Jimmy Howard, Det (3)
4. Roberto Luongo, Van (4)
5. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (5)
6. Jonathan Quick, LA (7)
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (6)
8. Niklas Backstrom, Min (8)
9. Tomas Vokoun, Was (12)
10. Brian Elliott, StL (10)
11. Carey Price, Mon (9)
12. Antti Niemi, SJ (11)
13. Jaroslav Halak, StL (14)
14. Mike Smith, Pho (17)
15. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (16)
16. Martin Brodeur, NJ (18)
17. Ryan Miller, Buf (15)
18. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (13)
19. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (22)
20. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (19)
21. Corey Crawford, Chi (20)
22. Ray Emery, Chi (21)
23. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Col (24)
24. Jonas Hiller, Ana (25)
25. Craig Anderson, Ott (34)
26. Tuukka Rask, Bos (31)
27. Jose Theodore, Fla (23)
28. Josh Harding, Min (26)
29. Cam Ward, Car (27)
30. James Reimer, Tor (28)
31. Cory Schneider, Van (29)
32. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (NR)
33. Semyon Varlamov, Col (37)
34. Michal Neuvirth, Was (32)
35. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (33)
36. Richard Bachman, Dal (35)
37. Al Montoya, NYI (30)
38. Mathieu Garon, TB (36)
39. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (NR)
40. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (NR)

Rising and Falling

Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes (up three spots): After a brief absence to rest an ailing groin, Smith returned to active duty this week. While the statistical results of the first game back aren't fantastic -- he allowed three goals on 31 shots to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday -- Smith did not appear to be favoring the injury. Smith had a bit of a downturn in December before hitting IR, but he looks to be healthy as he tries to reverse that trend with the start of the calendar year.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (down two spots): Miller picked up the win Tuesday despite continuing a worrisome trend: In 15 of his 23 starts this season, he's allowed three or more goals. The man whose average draft position was 49.4 in ESPN fantasy leagues has posted a 3.05 GAA this season (good for No. 38 in the league) and a .900 save percentage (good for No. 35). With just 10 wins, there hasn't been much to show for that investment despite some mild success early on, and his No. 53 rank on the Player Rater for the season puts him among such luminaries as Peter Budaj and Ben Scrivens in terms of overall value. Miller is talented and has shown the capacity to carry both the Sabres and fantasy teams on his back in previous campaigns, but we haven't seen that version in a while. It's not yet time to drop him, but that day could be approaching without a strong turnaround soon.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (up nine spots): It took a while for Anderson to get rolling, but it seems as if he finally may have turned the corner. The man who has played in as many games as any NHL goalie this season (tied with Pekka Rinne and Cam Ward) continued to rack up volume stats in December, including six more wins, while his ratios during that month were an improved 2.87 and a .907 in GAA and save percentage, respectively. January is off to a good start following Tuesday's overtime win against the Devils. Though he surrendered two goals in the second period, both were from close range where his defensemen could have done a better job of clearing out the attackers. It's impossible to know whether he'll be able to produce the way he did last spring -- in 18 games after his trade to the Senators, he had 11 wins with a 2.05 GAA and a .939 save percentage -- but there's definitely some value here, especially for those who need to pile up wins: The Senators have won seven of their past 10 games, and Anderson has been in the crease for all but one of them.

Timeshares

Brian Elliott (100 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Jaroslav Halak (89.1 percent), St. Louis Blues: It seemed as though Elliott was continuing to gain a slight edge in the timeshare through December, but he encountered a bit of a swoon near the end: In his past four contests, Elliott has posted a 2.78 GAA and a .901 save percentage, losing three of the four. This could be a case of opposing teams getting a better read on Elliott now that there is more film of him playing in Ken Hitchcock's system, or it could be a brief lapse. One owner in every ESPN league is hoping it's the latter. As for Halak, he's heating up just as Elliott is showing signs of cooling down: In six December starts, he had a 2.08 GAA and a .922 save percentage (going 3-0-3 in the process) and started the 2012 calendar year off by allowing just one goal on 35 shots in a win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday. Despite the recent disparity, I don't foresee Hitchcock tapping Halak as his No. 1 on a more permanent basis anytime soon. The timeshare has worked for the Blues, so it would be foolish for them to change things up.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Ilya Bryzgalov and this goalie mask were on the bench during the Winter Classic.

Ilya Bryzgalov (100 percent) and Sergei Bobrovsky (47.2 percent), Philadelphia Flyers: The man who had been one of the stars of the "24/7" series leading up to the Winter Classic, Bryzgalov was actually benched for the contest on Monday afternoon, despite the fact that his massive offseason contract was supposed to signify that he is the organization's long-awaited franchise goalie. Not to mention that he had a really cool mask made up specially for the event. In comments to the media (including ESPN's Scott Burnside) the day before the game, Bryzgalov seemed to be playing the character we've seen on the show, noting that no matter what problems he's going through, it's "just hockey," and therefore no reason to worry. His fantasy owners disagree. After their "humongous big" investment in him in drafts this season, he's failed to deliver the goods consistently. This may have been part of the reason Peter Laviolette sent such a strong message by benching his No. 1 goalie for the most high-profile game of the regular season. The good news for Bryzgalov -- and his fantasy owners -- is that Bobrovsky also has struggled with putting up consistent performances, and Monday's game was no exception: He was perfect through the first period and most of the second, then Rangers forward Mike Rupp (whose career high in goals is 13) netted two past him before Brad Richards put the game winner in during the third. Though Bobrovsky was screened on the first Rupp tally, the second showed a lack of focus. In any case, there's been no announcement as to who will start against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. From a larger perspective, it will be interesting to see whether Bryzgalov uses this high-profile benching as motivation or sinks further into a black hole.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere (81.0 percent) and Semyon Varlamov (45.8 percent), Colorado Avalanche: By now, you know the story of the Avs' tenders pretty well. Following a nice start in October for Varlamov (five wins in eight starts, 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage), the team's investment in him (a first-round draft pick in 2012 and a second-round pick in 2012 or 2013) looked like a smart one. But through November and December, his ratios were well on the wrong side of 3.00 and .900, while Giguere continued to put up consistently strong performances. Lately, however, Varlamov has turned things around: In his past three starts (all wins), he's allowed five goals on 81 shots, which has worked out to a 1.61 GAA and a .938 save percentage. Nevertheless, it would appear the timeshare will continue. Despite repeatedly referring to Varlamov as the team's franchise goalie of the future this season, Avs coach Joe Sacco's comments this week seem to indicate that Giguere will continue to get significant playing time. "Both guys have been good, been giving us chances to win lately," the coach said, according to the Denver Post. "Whoever has been in net, it hasn't mattered so much." From a fantasy perspective, the news to take away from this is that while Giguere continues to have value, there is a cap on his worth as part of a timeshare. For Varlamov, maybe the hot streak will continue. I'm not ready to commit, but he's talented enough to post those kind of numbers consistently.

Ice Chips

Al Montoya continues to be shelved with post-concussion woes, and that means Evgeni Nabokov's run as the New York Islanders' starting netminder has been uninterrupted of late: He's started six straight after picking up a win in relief of Montoya on Dec. 20. Over the past three games (all wins), he's been particularly solid, posting a 1.62 GAA and a .950 save percentage. I'm not going all-in on Nabby just yet, but he's worth an add -- he's available in 68.2 percent of ESPN leagues -- to see whether he's finally gotten back into his former shape. … Tuukka Rask is in a contract year (sort of, since he'll be a restricted free agent this summer, and that's generally as limiting to his market value as it sounds) and has been performing as well as one might expect for a player trying to earn big bucks. In fact, his ratio stats -- 1.61 GAA and .945 save percentage -- are not only better than Bruins starter Tim Thomas, they're better than every other goalie in the NHL right now. It's possible we could see more of Rask over the next three months as the Bruins bear down for another long postseason run this spring, though acquiring him on the cheap likely won't be possible unless and until Bruins coach Claude Julien starts ignoring him again. … On the other end of the spectrum of opportunity, the window of value could open soon for Dustin Tokarski, the No. 3 goalie on the Tampa Bay Lightning's organizational depth chart. We're all well aware of Dwayne Roloson's struggles to this point, and Mathieu Garon has been unable to consistently perform up to an NHL standard. If Lightning GM Steve Yzerman can't swing a trade for a solution in net, it's possible Tampa Bay will give Tokarski a shot. Though not a household name at the professional level, the Saskatchewan native backstopped his junior team (the Spokane Chiefs) to the Memorial Cup as Canada's top team in the junior ranks and won gold as the starting goalie for Team Canada in the 2009 World Junior Championships.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.