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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
In the Crease: Luongo's future

By Tim Kavanagh
Special to ESPN.com

As my colleague Sean Allen wrote in the "Front Line" column Monday, the signing of Zach Parise with the Minnesota Wild doesn't necessarily affect his fantasy ranking all that much, but it will have a significant impact on many other players around the league, both on Parise's new team and the New Jersey Devils squad he left behind. Similar circumstances surround Parise's new teammate Ryan Suter, who leaves a Nashville Predators club now trying to find an answer regarding Shea Weber. Those thirsty for Suter and Weber analysis will have to wait for Victoria Matiash's "Thin Blue Line" column later this week, but there was some impact felt within the goalie realm after the first big rush of free agency, in spite of the fact that there weren't many big names on the move.

For starters, the Wild's tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding see a boost to their rankings this week, while Martin Brodeur's value takes a slight bump. There were some other slight shifts based on forwards and defensemen signing with particular teams, but the two big unsolved mysteries now are where Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Bernier will be playing at the start of the 2012-13 campaign.

Luongo
Roberto Luongo finished 13th among goaltenders on the Player Rater.

Of the two, Luongo is much more likely to move, and in fact, during an appearance on 99.3 FM in Vancouver recently, he acknowledged that "I think it's really time to move on." So where will he wind up? Rumors have indicated that the Florida Panthers are the front-runners, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs remaining in the mix. Each of the teams plays in a vastly different market -- with vastly different expectations upon Luongo should he be shipped there -- though his spot on the Top 40 list won't change too much depending on the winning bidder. The Leafs and Panthers surrendered a similar number of shots on goal this past season to the Canucks, while the Blackhawks were much stinger. All three teams were in the bottom-10 in penalty-kill percentage, but all spent significantly fewer times short-handed than the Canucks, who finished eighth in the league in that category in 2011-12 (286).

The Leafs made the biggest move of the three clubs in question thus far this offseason, trading Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for promising young forward James van Riemsdyk, who will only bolster an offensive group that finished 10th in the league in scoring in 2011-12. The Blackhawks have stood relatively pat while the Panthers lost talented defenseman Jason Garrison (to the Canucks, naturally). So of the three teams, it might seem like the Leafs would make Luongo the most attractive from the fantasy angle. Then again, the Montreal native famously crumbled on the sport's biggest stage during the Stanley Cup finals following the 2010-11 season; putting him in a market that is regarded as the league's most intense pressure cooker may not be the best idea. Incumbent James Reimer -- whose impressive work in the second half of 2010-11 earned him a multi-year deal -- would obviously lose most of his value if this deal comes to pass.

In Florida -- where he spent five seasons earlier this millennium -- Luongo posted a 2.84 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, but the Panthers' lackluster skater group meant that he averaged just 21.6 wins per season in 60.8 starts. Fortunately, while the netminder may still have some favorite restaurants in the area, this is a much different hockey team, one that took the Eastern Conference champions to double overtime in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. The one downside to Luongo potentially landing in Miami? It will stunt the continued growth of Jacob Markstrom, who flashed his significant potential in brief time with the Panthers in 2011-12 before a knee injury knocked him out of commission in January. While the non-Luongo plan may have Markstrom spending another season honing his craft in the AHL, acquiring Luongo (and his contract that runs through the 2021-22 season) obviously complicates things for the prospect, who may be ready to be a No. 1 at the NHL level before too long.

Finally, for the Blackhawks, Luongo would serve to stabilize the nets for a team that has had trouble in that spot since letting Antti Niemi walk after their Stanley Cup victory. Sure, Corey Crawford has been impressive at times, but he has generally lacked the consistency required of a goalie for a Cup contender, allowing questionable goals in big spots. The team got some reasonable play out of journeyman Ray Emery in 2011-12 (and he'll be back for 2012-13) but Luongo would obviously be an upgrade over him as well.

Once Luongo has been delivered to his new team, there will be a better sense of how he, his new teammates and the goalie(s) he's displaced will be affected. But it's never too early to start thinking.

Top 40 Goalies

Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The most recent ranking is in parentheses.

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

Rising and Falling

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils (down two spots from last week to No. 14): Simply put, there's no replacing a player of Zach Parise's ilk for the Devils, or any team for that matter. Parise was a big contributor on one of the Devils' top scoring lines and played significant time both on the penalty kill and power play units as well. Additionally, his work ethic served as a strong example for his teammates. I don't think the Devils will go completely off the rails -- it's a group that still features veteran leadership like Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and Bryce Salvador -- but Brodeur's fantasy value obviously takes a hit here. We'll get a better sense of how the new-look Devils operate offensively in the preseason -- the pesky and surprisingly offensively proficient fourth line from the playoff run was all re-signed -- so Brodeur's spot in the rankings may shift.

Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild (up nine spots to No. 17 and six spots to No. 24, respectively): Brodeur's and Pekka Rinne's loss is Backstrom's and Harding's gain. Aside from the star power being brought in for this and the next dozen seasons after that, the Wild have spent years cultivating an impressive garden of talented prospects, some of who will be ready for harvest this fall. Backstrom is a few seasons removed from the last time he was an elite fantasy netminder, but perhaps he's got one great season left before hitting unrestricted free agency next summer. As for Harding, he was one of the hot waiver wire pickups early on last season -- posting 2.03/.934 ratios in the months of October, November and December -- and just signed a three-year contract with the team in the hopes that he'll be their new No. 1 'tender after Backstrom's tenure has finished. Should the veteran struggle, Harding would be more than happy to take over sooner, so he's a name to remember.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers (down four spots to No. 22): Sure, the Flyers did acquire Luke Schenn in the trade mentioned above, but they just lost fellow D-man Matt Carle (who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning), and the return of Chris Pronger remains shrouded in mystery (if he ever returns at all). This is a team that had no problem lighting the lamp in 2011-12 -- either in the regular season, where they tied for second in the NHL with 260 goals, or in the playoffs when they made Marc-Andre Fleury look like he'd never played in the league before -- however, Bryzgalov is not the type of goalie who should be placed behind a shaky defense. His best seasons came playing within Dave Tippett's vaunted defensive system in Phoenix (the one that made Mike Smith the surprise star of 2011-12), and his propensity for giving up questionable goals was a notable trend throughout this past campaign. That type of deficiency is not something that goes away magically. While Bryz certainly had some impressive stretches in 2011-12, it's his inconsistency that put him in the No. 23 spot on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater by season's end, and it's that same inconsistency that provides ample reason to let someone else draft him, especially given the defensive void now present in Philly.

Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets (up two spots to No. 20): Pavelec's new contract with the Jets was announced as this column was being published last week -- ensuring that the promising young netminder would stay in Winnipeg for five more seasons -- and thereafter, the Jets made some intriguing moves to bolster their forward ranks. Olli Jokinen will add some firepower to the Jets' top-six, while Alexei Ponikarovsky -- who played significant minutes during the Devils' playoff run -- is an improvement wherever he winds up. Like any young goalie, Pavelec went through some patches of inconsistency in 2011-12, but there were some nights when he looked as good as any goaltender on the planet. Looking at his splits from this past season, there was a significant difference in his ratios while playing at home (2.47/.917) versus away (3.42/.895) and for some reason, he loved playing on Thursdays, where his .937 save percentage in 16 starts was significantly better than any other day. In any case, Pavelec is a player who will be available in the realm of No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy netminders, but has the talent and opportunity to put up numbers worthy of a No. 1 this upcoming season.

Ice Chips

With Pavelec returning to Winnipeg -- he had a massive offer on the table from a KHL club -- Jonas Gustavsson elected to skip town and sign on to be Jimmy Howard's backup in Detroit. Last week, I noted that Gustavsson has potential to turn his career around with a fresh start, and he'll get that with the Red Wings. Howard has averaged 60.3 starts over the past three seasons, and while Gustavsson won't be much of a challenge to the incumbent, we've learned in recent campaigns that there's certainly value to be had in rostering Detroit's backup netminder: the latest example was journeyman Joey MacDonald, who squeezed out eight wins, a 2.16 GAA and .912 save percentage in 2011-12. … Instead of Gustavsson, the Jets will have Al Montoya serving as Pavelec's backup this season. Montoya's recent NHL arc has mirrored that of James Reimer's: an impressive 2010-11 second half, leading to higher expectations for 2011-12, followed by disappointing play (and a concussion for both men). Montoya is a name to keep in mind should Pavelec get hurt or struggle, since he has shown that he has the talent to perform well at the NHL level. … Though Lou Lamoriello lost Parise, he did retain both Brodeur and his backup Johan Hedberg, who both signed two-year pacts with the Devils. Though it's not an even starting split, Hedberg will get more starts than backups in other NHL cities, so he's a useful fantasy commodity, especially for those who play in leagues deeper than 12 teams. In two seasons in New Jersey, Hedberg has managed 31 wins in 50 starts, posting a 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage over that span. … There are some familiar names remaining on the free-agent goaltender market -- Dan Ellis, Dwayne Roloson, Marty Turco and even Dominik Hasek, who reportedly is interested in a return to the NHL -- though none who figure to have much impact in the fantasy realm this upcoming season.