Grand Theft Roto: Goaltender breakdown

Let's talk goaltenders.

You might be thinking: "But Sean, you've already talked about which goaltenders to trade for this season." And my answer would be: "Well, we need to have another talk."

You see, goalies are an enigma, wrapped in mystery, coated with intrigue and garnished with coriander. Goaltending categories are quite often hit or miss; either your goaltenders keep you near the top of the standings or the bottom. You could draft a bust forward and make up for it with other draft picks or free-agent pickups. But if you drafted a bust goalie, you have some repair work to do, and the options you'll find on the waiver wire are very limited, especially in deep leagues.

All of these things combine to make elite goaltenders the most sought-after commodity in fantasy hockey. The value of a hot goaltender soars well above the value of any forward. As I've said before and I'll say again, the revolution is drawing nigh. Fantasy hockey will one day value goaltenders the way fantasy football values running backs.

In the meantime, let's have a look at where certain players fall on the goaltender trading market. It's always prudent to do an update like this now and then. After all, if you had listened to me the last time I did this, you would have bought Miikka Kiprusoff at a discount rate right before he found his form.

The Elite

Sure, you need help in goal. But you are not going to get it at a decent price trading for the best of the best. Unless his owner doesn't know what he or she is doing, which is unlikely, an elite goaltender such as Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Evgeni Nabokov or Kiprusoff is going to cost you an arm and a leg. The exception, of course, is an owner dwelling near the bottom of the standings, looking to turn around his season. This is a paradox, however; it would be quite the feat to own an elite goaltender and be at the bottom of the standings. Either way, if a cellar-dweller in your league owns one of the elite, there is an opportunity there.

A side note: Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood likely are owned by the same person in your league and is a tandem to stay the heck away from. Two Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders, both deserving of being an everyday starter, fighting for starts is a situation too confusing for head coach Mike Babcock, let alone a fantasy owner.

Goaltenders to Buy

Ray Emery, Senators: He has been picking up momentum with two January wins, one of them a huge victory over rival Buffalo. His resurgence has been an inevitability and I don't expect to hear Martin Gerber's name very much in Ottawa now, except in trade rumors.

Vesa Toskala, Maple Leafs: Now that he is adjusted to the Toronto market, also known as the hockey-is-so-crazy-popular-it's-literally-all-this-city-talks-about market, Toskala is ready to get back to his shutdown ways. Once his groin is healed, he will be about as underrated as No. 1 fantasy goaltenders get. Regardless of the Leafs record, Toskala will get you the numbers.

Kari Lehtonen, Thrashers: Back away from the ledge! Lehtonen is just fine. Trade for him with confidence. The Thrashers are a playoff-hungry team and Johan Hedberg is going to have no part in getting them there. This thing falls on Lehtonen's shoulders and he'll be up to the task. His last two starts aside, Lehtonen has been the star goaltender we expected him to be since mid-December.

Mathieu Garon, Oilers: Nice knowing you, Dwayne Roloson. Garon has taken advantage of the opportunity he has gotten in Edmonton and stolen the No. 1 job away from Roloson. And I think this will stick; I don't expect we'll see much of Roloson anymore in Edmonton. Because of some "defensive inefficiencies" on the Oilers, Garon will be no better than a No. 2 goaltender in fantasy, but he's a sound investment nonetheless.

Manny Legace, Blues: The Blues still aren't getting the respect they deserve. Hannu Toivonen is the future at goaltender, but Legace will be the go-to guy for the remainder of this season and maybe longer. You should feel comfortable trading for Legace as a borderline No. 1 goalie this season. Actually, he would be a sure-fire No. 1 if not for Toivonen stealing starts.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Coyotes: The Coyotes are on the comeback trail. Bryzgalov is a solid No. 2 fantasy goaltender despite playing on what most people believe is a stinky team.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins: As happy as I am about calling this whole Ty Conklin hot streak before it happened, I expect the bloom to fall off in time for Fleury to step back into his old job.

Goaltenders to Sell

Chris Mason or Dan Ellis, Predators: For whatever you can get. Seriously. Take anything.

Pascal Leclaire, Blue Jackets: We've seen Leclaire peak this season. I was hopeful he could hang on, but health woes have been creeping in. Recent call-up Steve Mason is also going to make some noise in Columbus, if he gets the opportunity.

Martin Gerber, Senators: His placement here goes along with Emery getting his job back.

Cam Ward, Hurricanes: Something is just not right with Ward, and his stamina has been an issue. I think you can get more in trade than you are going to get by keeping him.

Rock-Solid Investments

Here are your options if the buy-low goaltenders are unavailable. You will probably have to pay a pretty penny to get one of these guys, but if it's what you need, he'll be worth it. Marty Turco, Tomas Vokoun, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Rick DiPietro, Cristobal Huet and Ryan Miller fall into this category.

Henrik Lundqvist's roller-coaster season should even its keel, making him a decent pickup. But he'll probably have an increased trade cost tied to his strong start.

Hail Mary Goaltenders

Antero Niittymaki, Flyers: He has been my guy for three seasons now, as I look for him to make a bid for Philly's No. 1 slot. Niitty has been blocked by Martin Biron, but with two good hips in tow, he is going to get more playing time eventually. If you need help desperately in net, pick him up now; he would be a No. 1 fantasy goalie if he were starting full-time.

Karri Ramo, Lightning: I still believe he is the key to Tampa Bay's success this season. That means he needs to play well.

Pekka Rinne, Predators: He probably won't be summoned unless the Preds make a playoff push, but he is their No. 1 next season if they don't get more help. As the subhead suggests, he's should clearly be regarded as a Hail Mary pickup.

The Untouchables

These are players that I personally won't touch in fantasy hockey right now. They either won't fetch anything via trade or logically shouldn't be traded because they are just fine despite what my gut tells me.

Tim Thomas, Bruins: Like I always say, never trust a guy with a moustache or a late-blooming goaltender. Thomas is lucky he doesn't have a moustache. There are so many other names in the bucket for Boston that I just want no part of it, even though the team breeds good goaltending.

Martin Biron, Flyers: I want nothing to do with Biron; I like Niittymaki too much.

Niklas Backstrom, Wild: Josh Harding has had some hard luck of late, but Backstrom has been no better. But I think the Minnesota brass wants Harding to be the guy.

Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj, Avalanche: Not with a 40-foot pole.

Olaf Kolzig, Capitals: He just gets no help in his zone. None. Unless Washington magically gets some "defensive-minded" defensemen, Kolzig's value will remain low.

Nikolai Khabibulin, Blackhawks: Like Washington, the Blackhawks try to outscore opponents; they have a suspect defense.

The L.A. Kings Net: Not with a 100-foot pole.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.