With every NHL team officially finishing out the first 41 games of their schedule, it's time for the ESPN.com fantasy hockey midseason awards, as started on Monday by my colleague Sean Allen's look at the forwards. Some of the awards you see here will be familiar if you read Monday's column, but goalies are a different breed than skaters, so there are obviously going to be some tweaks.
As we reflect on the accolades of the players here, the midseason point is also a good time to obey the credo that we hear so often in athlete interviews: "It is what it is." That bit of existential philosophy can be maddening for sports reporters looking for an opinion, but it's an important phrase to keep in mind when taking a realistic assessment of what particular players are going to do from here on out. Sure, some teams could alter their makeup prior to the NHL's trading deadline, but for the most part, what you see is what you get at this point; a mediocre goalie is unlikely to magically turn into a stud down the stretch unless we've seen some of that at some point already during the first half. That being the case, it's certainly time to trim some figurative fat if you haven't done so already.
First half awards
Fantasy Goaltending MVP: Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues. When it comes to the top player in the crease over the first half, it was a tight five-man contest among Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Jimmy Howard, Tim Thomas and Brian Elliott. But when considering the value that each man brought to the table, which takes into account their draft position, the race wasn't really that close: Lundqvist had an average draft position (ADP) of 15.7, Thomas' was 20.8, Quick's was 88.2 and Howard's 91.7. As for Elliott, he went largely undrafted. This is not wildly surprising, considering he accounted for 15 wins in 55 appearances for the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche last season, with a 3.34 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. This season, Elliott has won 15 games in 22 appearances, logging a 1.68 GAA and .937 save percentage. To say that Elliott's season has been a shock is a vast understatement; it's been more like a jolt from a taser. As for Elliott's projection looking ahead, we may have already seen his stock at its highest value: Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has begun to shift the timeshare more in the direction of Jaroslav Halak, with the Czech starting nine of the team's past 15 games. Nevertheless, even as a part-time option, backstopping the No. 1 team in the West will certainly generate some more wins for Elliott whenever he gets the nod.
Rookie Fantasy Goaltending MVP: Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres. Though it seems weird having a player that is playing games in his third NHL season eligible for this award, I'm going by the book here, as in the NHL's Hockey Operations Guidelines: "To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie." So, while I was impressed with what Richard Bachman was able to do for the Dallas Stars during Kari Lehtonen's injury -- as were the Stars, who have kept him with the big club as Lehtonen's backup -- as well as the projection for future Florida Panthers franchise keeper Jacob Markstrom, the nod here goes to Enroth. The 23-year-old Swede filled in ably for Sabres franchise backstop Ryan Miller during the latter's recovery from a concussion, and though he's taken some lumps here and there, has generally outperformed the team's No. 1. Each has won games at about the same rate per appearance, while Enroth is well ahead in GAA (2.42 to 3.12) and save percentage (.924 to .898). That's not to say that Buffalo is going to move away from Miller, but they do have a viable alternative if they do choose to walk down that path.
Consistent Performer Award: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins. For those who play in head-to-head leagues, it's vital that a goaltender doesn't lay an egg during the course of any given week; with limited appearances, that can ruin one's chances to win categories. While Fleury has not been as good as his competition from an overall standpoint, there have not been the peaks and valleys that plague others. To wit, in 37 games played this season, he's allowed more than three goals only once (a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 29). In addition, Pens coach Dan Bylsma has not yanked him early this season: if Fleury starts, Fleury finishes. So, for those looking to get a little bit more consistent production out of their goalie slots, consider a move for Fleury; you may have to trade a player that's ahead of him on the Player Rater, but rest assured that your stress level will go down thereafter.
Timeshare of the Half-Season: Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues. While the momentum has shifted a bit towards Halak lately (as noted above), the Blues' crease has been well tended by either man ever since the organization elected to make the coaching switch to Hitchcock on Nov. 6. Since that point, Halak has gone 11-1-5, with a 1.61 GAA and .939 save percentage while Elliott has been 10-4-1, with a 1.66 GAA and .937 save percentage. Despite the lessened workload, each has been worthy of a prominent spot in any fantasy goaltending rotation, and that's been a pleasant surprise considering their preseason stock (Halak was projected as the No. 16 fantasy goalie in the league; Elliott as No. 44). They'll both continue to maintain their value until Hitchcock decides to stick with one or the other, and that may take us late into the regular season, when fantasy titles have been all but decided.
The Leap Award: Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings. This one goes to the player who appears to have taken the next step from being a reliable source of fantasy production to one who can be counted amongst the elites at the position, and the choice is obvious this season: Ogdensburg, N.Y., native Howard. His first two seasons showed why the ratios matter so much to us in fantasy: In 2009-10, he put up 37 wins in 61 starts, with a 2.26 GAA and .924 save percentage, finishing in the top 10 in each category. Last season, he maintained the win total, but the ratios dropped to 2.79 and .908, numbers which were good for the No. 34 and No. 31 spot, respectively, in the league. As a result, Howard fell from the ranks of the top-five fantasy 'tenders down to No. 31 among goalies on the Player Rater by the end of last season. At the 45-game mark for the Red Wings, Howard has started 37 games, picking up 27 wins; doing some quick math, this puts him on pace for 67.42 starts and 48.89 wins this season, with 48 being the NHL record set by Martin Brodeur in 2006-07. As for GAA and save percentage, his 1.98 thus far has him fourth in the league, while he's ninth in the latter with a .926 rate. It's going to be a tough call to keep one of Howard, Quick or Thomas home if USA Hockey wants to retain Miller for the 2012 Olympic team, as ESPN Insider Craig Custance wrote recently. From a fantasy perspective -- especially for those in keeper leagues -- the future is clearly brightest for one of this quartet, based on factors such as age and the team surrounding him, and that's Howard.
Biggest Disappointment: Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers. Bryz and Ryan Miller have waged a real battle here, but based upon his higher preseason ranking by yours truly (No. 7 versus No. 10) as well as higher ADP (42.7 to 49.4) Bryzgalov's descent into a black hole this season has been slightly more devastating. His 16 wins in 30 appearances, 3.07 GAA and .891 save percentage have put him in the highly coveted No. 65 spot among goalies on the Player Rater as his backup -- sophomore Sergei Bobrovsky -- is No. 26, having managed 10 wins in 17 appearances with a 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage. Based upon what we saw from Bryz in Phoenix, it'd be silly to drop him outright -- he's still a talented player, he just needs to get himself back on track. But he's bench material until he can find that groove again.
On the Cusp: Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. To close things out, this award is bestowed for expected second-half performance. In truth, Anderson is already performing at a high level, so perhaps this is more an indication that I expect the good times to keep rolling. Though just 29th on the season-long Player Rater, Anderson is in the top spot when only the past 7, 15 or 30 days are taken into account. Folks around the league are noticing, too, as he was awarded the NHL's third star of the week for the period ending Jan. 8, and followed that up by earning the league's first star for the week ending this Sunday. Over his past 10 starts, he's gone 8-1-1, with a 1.70 GAA and .947 save percentage. Anderson has generally been effective -- if a bit streaky -- in the second half in previous seasons, and there's no reason to think he won't be able to continue to shoulder the heavy workload from here on out: he started 18 of 24 games after being traded to the Sens last season, and 71 of 82 for the Avalanche the season prior.
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. Jimmy Howard, Det (3)
3. Roberto Luongo, Van (4)
4. Tim Thomas, Bos (2)
5. Jonathan Quick, LA (5)
6. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (6)
7. Tomas Vokoun, Was (7)
8. Jaroslav Halak, StL (9)
9. Antti Niemi, SJ (8)
10. Mike Smith, Pho (14)
11. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (10)
12. Brian Elliott, StL (12)
13. Craig Anderson, Ott (20)
14. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (16)
15. Carey Price, Mon (11)
16. Niklas Backstrom, Min (13)
17. Martin Brodeur, NJ (17)
18. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (15)
19. Tuukka Rask, Bos (21)
20. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (22)
21. Corey Crawford, Chi (23)
22. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Col (25)
23. Semyon Varlamov, Col (24)
24. Jonas Hiller, Ana (30)
25. Ryan Miller, Buf (19)
26. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (18)
27. Cam Ward, Car (31)
28. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (27)
29. Jose Theodore, Fla (26)
30. Ray Emery, Chi (28)
31. Josh Harding, Min (29)
32. Scott Clemmensen, Fla (33)
33. Cory Schneider, Van (32)
34. James Reimer, Tor (34)
35. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (NR)
36. Curtis Sanford, Cls (35)
37. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edm (36)
38. Richard Bachman, Dal (37)
39. Michal Neuvirth, Was (38)
40. Mathieu Garon, TB (39)
Rising and Falling
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (down four spots): Last Wednesday, Habs forward Mike Cammalleri uttered a quote that may or may not have led to his being pulled from action and traded a night later (depending on whose story you believe). The quote? "I can't accept that we will display a losing attitude as we're doing this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose." Good times in Montreal. In any case, the Canadiens lost the game from which Cammalleri was pulled, and went on to lose the next one as well. The 4-1 win on Sunday may get them back on track, but it was backup Peter Budaj manning the crease for Randy Cunneyworth's equipe. To be clear, this is not a timeshare situation, nor should it be: Price possesses elite talent, and has been a top-notch fantasy goaltender in the past. However, expectations must be adjusted until further notice.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (up six spots): Owning Hiller this season has been akin to taking on an alpine moguls run: a lot of bumps along the way. Have we passed through all the tough stuff yet? I'm not entirely sure, and I'm not entirely sure that Hiller is entirely sure, either. But the Swiss netminder's recent production does lead me to believe that he's on the way to regaining the form that made him one of the NHL's elite in the first half of last season. In six appearances since the calendar flipped to 2012, Hiller has allowed nine goals on 140 shots, good for a 1.69 GAA and .936 save percentage. Perhaps more importantly from a real-life sense -- as the organization decides whether or not to blow up the roster -- the team has gone 4-1-1 in those six games. Now, if this was an unknown up-and-comer, I'd say to temper expectations, but those rates are not entirely unsustainable, given what we saw out of Hiller last season and previously. In the contests prior to the onset of his vertigo symptoms in 2010-11, he had posted a 2.50 GAA and .926 save percentage, the latter of which would have been fourth in the league. For those looking to make up significant ground over the second half, finding hidden gems on the waiver wire -- or acquiring them for less than sticker value -- is key. Currently, Hiller is owned in 77.9 percent of ESPN leagues, so it's possible he can be yours for free. If not, he's worth exploring in trade.
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (up four spots): As anyone who pores over statistics frequently will caution, getting carried away with a small sample size is a mistake; however, much like fellow underachiever Hiller, a light appears to have gone off for Ward once 2012 began. In six January starts, Ward has backstopped the 'Canes to a 3-2-1 record, with a 2.16 GAA and .935 save percentage. Compare that to his 3.24 and .896, respectively, in the months prior, and that's a stark difference. Aside from last season, Ward has not generally been a ratios wiz, so those January rates are sure to tumble a bit. But even with that expected shift, his stock is definitely on the rise.
Tim Thomas (100 percent) and Tuukka Rask (92.9 percent), Boston Bruins: Rask continues to build his case as the league's best No. 2, and his fantasy value continues to exceed that of many of the No. 1's around the league. The 24-year-old stopped 38 of 40 shots the Florida Panthers mustered on Monday night -- including a breakaway chance for Kris Versteeg late in overtime -- and three of four in the shootout to nab the win in what was a remarkably spirited matchup for mid-January. The fact that Rask got the nod against another division-leading team speaks to Bruins coach Claude Julien's faith in the Finn, and there's no reason to believe that this split won't continue until we get closer to the postseason. While Thomas has not slowed down at all -- his "off" month of January has yielded a 2.27 GAA and .926 save percentage in four appearances, dropping his seasonal marks to 1.99 and .937, respectively -- the idea that Rask will continue to take starts away from him does put a ceiling on the veteran's value. If you are a Thomas owner, you've enjoyed the fruits of his labors throughout the season; if you're in need of some help elsewhere on the roster, now might be a fine time to see what kind of offensive firepower he can bring back in a trade.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (39.8 percent) and Semyon Varlamov (69.2 percent), Colorado Avalanche: In last week's column, I mentioned that over the 14-game span preceding the publication of said column, the Avs had given seven starts to each of their netminders. In those appearances, Varlamov had gone 5-2-0, with a 2.38 GAA and .918 save percentage while Giguere had also gone 5-2-0, but with a 2.24 GAA and .925 save percentage. The equal timeshare continued over the past week, although the results of the pair of games for each man couldn't be more dissimilar. Varlamov lost both of his starts, allowing 10 goals on 59 shots (good for a 5.00 GAA and .831 save percentage); meanwhile, Giguere lost in overtime in his first start of the week, but followed that up with a win. As he was generating those results, he posted a 1.99 GAA and .930 save percentage. The seasonal numbers are even more distinct: Giguere has gone 2.07/.925 in 19 appearances while Varlamov has registered a 2.89/.902 split in 29 games played. One would think that eventually the coaching staff will begin to shift the starting load more onto the veteran, but no promises. For the time being, Giguere's value is therefore limited -- from a fantasy perspective -- in his renaissance season.
Jose Theodore is back skating with the Florida Panthers, though he still needs medical clearance in order to suit up. Once that happens, the team may ease him back into the lineup slowly, but don't expect a timeshare: Scott Clemmensen simply hasn't been good enough to steal the starting job away in Theodore's absence. As for other injuries around the league, not much new to report on injured netminders directly, but there are some updates on injured players that greatly affect some of everyone's favorite goaltenders. For Pekka Rinne owners out there, a bit of concern as the week continues, as defenseman Ryan Suter is battling an upper-body injury. Suter was removed from the team's lineup after the first period of Monday's matinee against the New York Islanders, and coach Barry Trotz indicated that the blue-liner is doubtful for Tuesday's contest against the New York Rangers, according to the Tennessean. Unlike his fellow concussed teammate Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has been cleared for practice and game contact, and could be back within the next week, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Given Letang's scoring touch, more of those two-goal-against starts for Marc-Andre Fleury will be wins instead of losses once No. 58 is back in action. Already reeling -- having won just two of their past 15 games -- the Minnesota Wild will now have to play the next four to six weeks without captain Mikko Koivu. Though the team has listed the Finn as week-to-week, sources revealed to the Star Tribune that the pivot has a separated shoulder, ergo the four-to-six week timeline for a return. In addition to being the team's leading scorer, Koivu is effective on the defensive end as well, so his absence presents Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding with a bigger challenge as they attempt to right the ship in net.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.