In the Crease: Kings change coaches

In what's become a troubling tradition this season -- at least from a human interest standpoint -- another NHL head coach lost his job just prior to this column going live. First it was Ken Hitchcock taking over the St. Louis Blues. Shortly thereafter, it was Dale Hunter getting the Washington Capitals gig, and the Carolina Hurricanes hiring Kirk Muller on the same day. This was followed by former Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau being hired by the Anaheim Ducks to replace Randy Carlyle. The coaching carousel took another spin on Monday night, with Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi letting Terry Murray go, replacing him on an interim basis with assistant coach John Stevens.

After making sure that the media were well aware that this was the fault of the players underachieving -- reports emerged later that Lombardi went to the locker room and made his feelings brutally clear to each and every Kings player -- the GM also admitted that he has a "very short list" of permanent candidates for the post, according to Dan Arritt of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Some names rumored to be on the list include former Colorado Avalanche coach Tony Granato (currently an assistant in Pittsburgh), former Calgary Flames coach and general manager Darryl Sutter and, fittingly, Carlyle. There's also the possibility that Stevens will retain the role, though that wouldn't seem to make all that much sense, given that this is a team in need of a new voice, and Stevens has a very similar temperament to Murray's.

As fantasy hockey owners are well aware, for all the things going wrong with the Kings this season, Jonathan Quick is not part of the problem. After finishing as the No. 6 netminder on the ESPN Player Rater for 2010-11, he's in the same spot more than a third of the way through this season, 10th among qualified goaltenders in goals-against average (2.10) and ninth in save percentage (.931); his one deficiency is in the win column, and the lack of team wins was the main reason for Murray's firing. Quick's backup, Jonathan Bernier, has also had some good moments, especially as of late: He's allowed two goals in each of his past three outings (good for a .919 save percentage), though the Kings' impotence on the offensive end has meant he's got just one win in those three quality starts.

So what changes do I foresee down the pike? The good news for Quick owners is that each of the men rumored to be taking over the post have leaned heavily on their No. 1 'tender in past jobs: Granato had Patrick Roy and then David Aebischer. Sutter had Mike Vernon, Steve Shields and Evgeni Nabokov play heavily in San Jose, followed by Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary. During his Ducks tenure, Carlyle rolled with Jean-Sebastien Giguere as his primary backstop before the emergence of Jonas Hiller over the past few seasons. And even if Stevens sticks around, his track record includes two workhorse campaigns out of Martin Biron. From that standpoint, there's no reason to think that much will change for Mr. Quick, although perhaps the team might finally start helping him out in the win column.

In fact, Quick may even be a little bit undervalued right now. The Kings have won just five times over Quick's previous 16 starts stretching back to Oct. 29. So while the Quick's ratios have remained solid, his owner may be getting a little anxious. This seems like a ripe situation to exploit with a trade offer.

As for Bernier, the coaching change and the team's struggles have only pushed his name out there even more as potential trade bait in real life. Of the "starting goalies in waiting" around the league -- a list that also includes Cory Schneider, Josh Harding, Tuukka Rask and Jacob Markstrom -- Bernier is the only one playing behind a starter born after 1980 (Quick is just 25). So unlike some of the others (Rask and Markstrom, in particular), the chances of reaching his full potential as an NHL No. 1 in his current location are dim, despite his talent and pedigree. As a result, he's a very valuable trade chip, one that Lombardi could cash in before too much longer in exchange for some scoring help up front. With the trade rumors only in the speculation stage, there's no reason in the majority of cases to stash Bernier on fantasy rosters just yet; unless and until the move is actually made, he'll continue to be considerably less valuable than other available options. But for those thinking a few steps ahead, it's time to start considering him.

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

Rising and Falling

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (down one spot): Troubling news for the Pens up front and on the back end over the past several days: Both Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang are out indefinitely with concussions. These losses don't change the Pens' play in the defensive zone too significantly, but the loss of the game's top playmaking forward and one of its slickest power-play quarterbacks will continue to have a negative impact on the team's win total. With the Pens clamming up on a timeline for either player's return -- and the uncertain nature of concussions in general -- it's hard to project how much longer the team will miss the pair. Because of this, Fleury's stock doesn't take too big of a hit just yet.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (up five spots): Aside from the 2009-10 campaign, Kiprusoff's numbers have generally been in decline every season since his phenomenal performance in 2004-05. Thus far, however, he's ahead of last season's pace, and given where we stand on the schedule, those ratios -- 2.40 GAA and .916 save percentage -- can be taken somewhat seriously. As for the most frustrating of ESPN standard fantasy categories, Kipper has always racked up the wins (35 has been his low-water mark over the previous six seasons). With 14 already, he's third in the league and should be good for at least 20 more. It looks like it'll be at least another season for the Finnish workhorse before he starts to decline out of fantasy relevance. I expect him to remain in the realm of fantasy No. 2s from here on out.

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (down four spots): New head coach, same results. Despite the Hurricanes' decision to fire Paul Maurice and replace him with Kirk Muller on Nov. 28, the Canes have continued to struggle, and Ward has looked particularly unlike his former self. After allowing two goals to the Florida Panthers in his first start with Muller as his coach, Ward allowed five, six, three and four goals in his next four starts, being pulled twice in favor of Mike Murphy. His stat line for December is not pretty: one win, a 5.38 GAA and .842 save percentage. Ward's defense has not been helping him out this season, but as I've noted in past columns, this is a very talented netminder that has put the team on his back before. Ward's current value is about as low as it can get, but there is some hope for a turnaround. Keep him stashed on your bench for now.

Richard Bachman, Dallas Stars (debuting at No. 39): We all witnessed what Kari Lehtonen was able to accomplish during the first several weeks of the season. While he was unable to entirely sustain his hot start, his groin injury was still huge for those relying on him for fantasy production. The immediate replacement was Andrew Raycroft, but before long, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan came to realize that he had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, Gulutzan had previously spent time coaching the team's AHL affiliate, where a young Utah native named Richard Bachman had been tending the crease. After a perfect third period against the San Jose Sharks in relief of Raycroft, Bachman was tapped for his first NHL start against the Kings on Saturday night, stopping 26 of 27 shots he faced for his first W. As noted above, the Kings have had some trouble getting pucks in the opposing net, so a better litmus test of Bachman's NHL readiness will be Tuesday, when he's drawn the start against the New York Rangers, who have gone 7-1-1 in their past nine games, scoring 35 goals over that span. As with the Markstrom situation in Florida, there's a good chance that Bachman will be sent back to the minors once Lehtonen is back so that he can continue to develop instead of riding the pine or manning the press box. But in the short term, it appears he can offer a boost across all three categories.


Corey Crawford (100 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Ray Emery (34.6 percent), Chicago Blackhawks: The momentum seems to have shifted in Chicago, and while the change might only be temporary, it's not too late to jump on the Ray Emery bandwagon (he was picked up in more than a third of ESPN leagues over the past week). Emery got the nod for the second consecutive game Sunday and was rock steady: He stopped 35 of 37 San Jose Sharks shots and generally looked to be in command on the ice. Though he had a rough November, December has been good to Emery: In three starts and one relief appearance, he's posted a 1.57 GAA and .943 save percentage, with the team going 3-0-1.

As Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was announcing his intentions to start Emery for Sunday's game, he indicated that "[Emery] hasn't had a chance to go. Right now we'll see where we're going. At the same time, [Crawford] is working on his game. It's part of the process." Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com translated that to mean that Emery will continue to get the starts while he stays hot. Meanwhile, Crawford will continue to work out his issues in practice. From the fantasy vantage point, there's no need to panic if you're a Crawford owner. He'll get another chance. But as noted above, Emery is a must-add in all formats. He's been a valuable fantasy performer in the past, and this appears to be another episode in that saga.

Dwayne Roloson (42.6 percent) and Mathieu Garon (14.2 percent), Tampa Bay Lightning: Another week of action has provided even more evidence that it's time to give up on Roloson for fantasy purposes (his ownership percentage continues to astound me). Of the four games the Lightning played since last week's column, Garon started three, an indication, perhaps, that coach Guy Boucher has lost faith in Roloson. And if he hadn't prior to Monday, Roloson's work against the New Jersey Devils may have been the final straw, as the veteran allowed three soft goals in just over a period of work. Though Garon allowed two more to the visiting foes, they were both on odd-man rushes, with Zach Parise deftly finding Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique, respectively, on the doorstep. To be clear, Garon's production from a statistical standpoint has not been anywhere near elite, but until the team addresses its perennial goaltending problem with another move this season -- either via trade or by promoting Memorial Cup champ and WJC gold medal winner Dustin Tokarski from the AHL -- he's the better bet of the two to provide some value.

Semyon Varlamov (69.7 percent) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (9.3 percent), Colorado Avalanche: The narrative on the Avs' 2011-12 season has gone like so: After going 7-4-0 in October, they've won just six of the 19 contests since. And while Varlamov was busy making general manager Greg Sherman look like a genius early on -- he went 5-3-0 in the opening month, with a 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage -- he's faltered considerably since October, with a 3.45 GAA, .880 save percentage and four wins in those 14 starts. Though Giguere hasn't had much better luck in the win column, his ratios have been up to par with the Jiggy of old, currently at 1.95/.923. Avs coach Joe Sacco has stuck with Varlamov until now, though that trend could change soon enough. Giguere is worth some consideration for those with some roster space, as his ratio work is a benefit when tapped for a spot start.

Ice Chips

Minnesota Wild 21-year-old netminder Matt Hackett made his NHL debut over the past week, notching two straight victories and allowing just two goals on 78 total shots. Monday was eventful, too, as he took a puck to the facemask in practice! Fortunately, it appears that he'll be fine and will continue on with the team during the current road trip. Unfortunately, it's unclear if he'll have any role with the big club after Josh Harding returns from his neck injury. I don't wish to jinx anything for Roberto Luongo's fantasy owners, but the goaltending controversy for the Vancouver Canucks may be coming to an end. After relieving Cory Schneider on Dec. 1, Luongo was given the starting nod for the Canucks' ensuing four games, and he's won all of them, allowing five total goals and posting a .940 save percentage over that span. The specter of Schneider potentially stealing some starts lingers, but at least Luongo is back to playing lights-out.