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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
In the Crease: Rankings tweaks

By Tim Kavanagh
ESPN.com

Ever since the tail end of the 2011-12 season, there was much speculation as to what a particular high-profile NHL team was going to do about its goaltending situation. That speculation continued over the course of the offseason and the lockout. The implications in real life and the fantasy realm would be huge once this transaction was transacted, for both teams involved in this deal.

And so, it's with great interest that I analyze the Philadelphia Flyers' acquisition of Brian Boucher over the weekend. (What, you were thinking of someone else?)

Boucher
Brian Boucher is back with the Flyers and might see some time depending on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov.

For Philly, Boucher is a familiar face that provides a steadier option as a Plan B should Ilya Bryzgalov struggle this season. In his last season in Philly (2010-11), Boucher posted a 2.42 GAA and .916 save percentage in 34 appearances (both better than what Bryz achieved in 59 appearances in 2011-12), and he'll compete against Michael Leighton for the backup spot. It's possible that Bryzgalov's second campaign in Philly goes better -- he was, after all, a stud in his days in Phoenix, with 2.39/.921 ratios over his final two seasons there, averaging 68 starts and 39 wins -- so this would be a moot point, but that's anything but certain.

On the other side of the deal, the Carolina Hurricanes appear to have solidified their choice at the backup spot behind Cam Ward. The stakes for the Canes are much lower -- Ward is one of the NHL's true iron men, and he may wind up starting more than 40 of the club's 48 games this season -- but now it's journeyman Dan Ellis who will inherit those duties after an impressive run for the AHL affiliate during the lockout (including 2.46/.922 ratios) resulted in the club signing him to a prorated one-year deal Sunday. Cast aside by many in his previous stops, Ellis played his way back to at least a scintilla of fantasy relevance during the lockout.

As for that other deal, we're still waiting on the Vancouver Canucks to ship Roberto Luongo off somewhere, and as the days pass by, it's becoming more likely that the season will begin with both Cory Schneider and him still on the roster. Both men have been saying all the right things about the situation, but the better reality -- psychologically for the parties involved and for us in fantasy terms -- is for a deal to get done as soon as possible. Seeing as both Schneider and Luongo remain property of the Canucks, they both take a slight tumble down the rankings this week, as Luongo may eat into Schneider's playing time but will be getting far less work than if he was dealt elsewhere to be the new No. 1.

No major shifts in the rankings this week -- and unlike the forwards you've read about in Front Line and the D-men you'll read about in The Thin Blue Line, there aren't any young prospect goaltenders ready to steal a big role coming out of camp -- but read on for some additional training camp tidbits as we head toward opening day this weekend.

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. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

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

Rising and Falling

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (up five spots to No. 7): This is a correction of the initial rankings based on multiple factors -- a downgrade for some of the players who had been ranked ahead of Ward and some additional analysis of our projections. If the Hurricanes are much improved -- a big if, since we haven't seen the new product on the ice yet -- then Ward will certainly be among the top goaltending options in fantasy this season. We know he'll start the lion's share of games, and he has the talent to post good ratios. Aside from a rough patch in November and December of last season, Ward was excellent; to wit, if we take out those 26 starts (and admit that this is statistical cherry-picking), Ward posted a 2.28 GAA and .931 save percentage over those remaining 42 starts.

Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers (up four spots to No. 16): As I hinted on Twitter on Monday -- you can follow me @timjkavanagh -- the Oilers' acquisition of burly defenseman Mark Fistric is just another reason to like Dubnyk's chances to break out this season. We hear about all the talent the Oilers have acquired up front, but while they added another No. 1 overall draft pick to the forward ranks this offseason in Nail Yakupov, they also bolstered their blue line with NHL-ready Justin Schultz -- who had 48 points in 34 games in the AHL during the lockout -- and Fistric, a defensive zone stalwart who was No. 16 in the league last season in hits (235). Thus far in ESPN.com fantasy drafts, Dubnyk has been the No. 20 goalie off the board. With this much upside, that's still a great bargain.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (up 12 spots to No. 20): Another correction from the earlier preseason ranks, Kipper's capacity as an every-night starter will weigh huge in this shortened season (as is the case with Ward). According to the Calgary Herald, Kiprusoff was the star of the game during the Flames' scrimmage Monday, proving that the time off during the lockout didn't adversely affect him too much (if at all). For a player used to starting north of 70 games per season, trotting out for 40-plus during the shortened campaign may seem like a vacation (bearing in mind that the schedule will be a tad compressed). Flames coach Bob Hartley achieved his greatest success at the NHL level with another veteran workhorse in the cage (Patrick Roy in Colorado), but the lone question remaining is how quickly the team can pick up his system in a brief camp period. There's potential for Kipper to push his way higher in the rankings. As an option typically available as a secondary choice for a fantasy team, he's a wise choice in the middle rounds.

Timeshares

Kari Lehtonen, Richard Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp, Dallas Stars: This probably won't be much of a timeshare -- unless Lehtonen gets hurt, he'll start the majority of the games for Dallas -- but there's an interesting goaltending battle going on between Bachman and Nilstorp as camp proceeds this week. You'll remember Bachman for his work as the primary backup last season and the fill-in starter when Lehtonen missed time; he posted an 8-5-1 record with a 2.77 GAA and .910 save percentage in 18 appearances. But neither Bachman nor Lehtonen has played in a professional game since April. In the meantime, Nilstorp has been solid for the Stars' AHL affiliate during the lockout with a 16-10-0 record and 2.13/.914 ratios. Of the three, Nilstorp is probably the most game-ready, and Stars coach Glen Gulutzan admitted to the press this week that he may keep all three at the NHL level for the start of the season. Keep an eye on this situation in the early going.

Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators: With Anderson locked in at the No. 1 spot -- and poised to start the season opener Saturday against Winnipeg -- the focus in training camp has been on Bishop versus Lehner. As noted last week, Lehner performed better during the pair's stint in the AHL this season. However, due to the nature of their contracts -- Bishop's is one-way, Lehner's is two-way -- the opening roster for the season will likely have Bishop as the No. 2, with Lehner heading back to Binghamton, ready to return to the big club if an injury strikes one of the vets. One thing to keep in mind as the season goes along: Should the Senators fall out of contention early and another team is in need of a goalie ahead of the trade deadline, Anderson could be moved. If that happens, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Lehner would jump ahead of Bishop. In other words, keep his name in mind even though he may not begin the campaign on an NHL roster.

Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues: From all indications as the club's training camp began this week, the Blues are going to stick with their goalie rotation, which is good for each netminder (each will be well-rested) and the team (it'll have a fresh goalie every game) but bad news for fantasy owners. Cry us a river and all that, but this is a fantasy column. The compacted schedule could benefit a team like St. Louis that has two No. 1-caliber netminders. Though neither one will start enough to be a true No. 1 for fantasy purposes, those in daily lineup change leagues can simply draft both and keep an eye on the newswire to slot the correct one in to the active lineup. Though he played in just 38 contests in 2011-12, Elliott was the league leader in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940), and 24 games of that will help anyone's fantasy roster this season.