Open Ice: No. 2 goalies to target

Jonas Gustavsson among backups with upside for fantasy owners

Updated: December 17, 2013, 3:06 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Antti RaantaRob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsAntti Raanta is 6-1-1, with a 2.41 goals-against average and .915 save percentage this season.

The rise of the backup goaltender will surely be an overriding theme when we look back at the 2013-14 fantasy season. We aren't even at the halfway point of the campaign and no fewer than six of the top 10 goaltenders coming into this season have been replaced by their backup due to injury, ineffectiveness or a combination of both. It's an infuriating situation for fantasy owners (and an absolute nightmare to try and rank for fantasy advice articles). How much stock do you put in a strong performance by the backup? What if it's a strong performance by two different backups? Were your goaltender's struggles because of the injury he is now rehabbing? Or were the struggles unrelated to a current injury?

We will start getting a better picture soon, but let's go over a few basic ground rules when it comes to assessing the goaltender landscape.

Leashes in the NHL are long: Look at Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators as the prime example of this rule. Anderson, who has been thoroughly outplayed by backup Robin Lehner this season, has been given ample time to right the ship and get his game back on track. One, two, five or even 10 strong games in a row by a backup goaltender are not enough to change the minds of some coaches who have been through the trenches (and the playoffs) with a certain netminder. Goaltenders have developed track records that deserve respect. Unless a goaltender plays out of his mind, like Josh Harding for the Minnesota Wild, it will take more than a few games or even weeks to have an official declaration of a new No. 1. Even for the Wild, coach Mike Yeo wasn't endorsing a bona fide "starter" last week, despite the fact everyone else knows who it is.

Case in point: Cam Ward is still the No. 1 for the Carolina Hurricanes. Justin Peters is playing better right now, and Ward's numbers have been downright subpar. But it doesn't change the fact Ward is the starter for the Hurricanes. It will take a lot more than a couple of good weeks for Peters to take over for the remainder of the season. Just look to last season, when Ward went down with an injury and Peters couldn't get his feet under him in the Hurricanes' crease for any extended period of time. Anton Khudobin is also lurking here, but Ward is the most likely candidate to reward owners as the season progresses.

The Top 200

Note: Sean Allen's top 200 players 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 goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, F, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, F, Pit (2)
3. John Tavares, F, NYI (3)
4. Corey Perry, F, Ana (7)
5. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (6)
6. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (4)
7. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (8)
8. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (5)
9. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (11)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (9)
11. Carey Price, G, Mon (10)
12. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (12)
13. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (13)
14. Josh Harding, G, Min (16)
15. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (14)
16. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (15)
17. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (20)
18. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (17)
19. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (22)
20. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (19)
21. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (24)
22. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (18)
23. David Backes, F, StL (21)
24. Logan Couture, F, SJ (23)
25. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (27)
26. Alexander Steen, F, StL (26)
27. Zach Parise, F, Min (25)
28. Henrik Zetterberg, F, Det (33)
29. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (29)
30. James Neal, F, Pit (28)
31. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (30)
32. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (32)
33. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (36)
34. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (37)
35. Roberto Luongo, G, Van (46)
36. Eric Staal, F, Car (38)
37. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (39)
38. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (40)
39. Drew Doughty, D, LA (41)
40. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (42)
41. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (43)
42. Martin St. Louis, F, TB (44)
43. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (45)
44. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (53)
45. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (48)
46. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (49)
47. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (47)
48. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (35)
49. Rick Nash, F, NYR (51)
50. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (56)
51. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (55)
52. Jaroslav Halak, G, StL (57)
53. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (58)
54. Ben Bishop, G, TB (71)
55. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (50)
56. Thomas Vanek, F, NYI (59)
57. Ryan Suter, D, Min (60)
58. Matt Duchene, F, Col (61)
59. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (52)
60. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (62)
61. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (63)
62. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (72)
63. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (64)
64. David Krejci, F, Bos (65)
65. Johan Franzen, F, Det (54)
66. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (68)
67. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (69)
68. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (70)
69. Brad Richards, F, NYR (73)
70. Jeff Carter, F, LA (82)
71. Justin Williams, F, LA (66)
72. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (67)
73. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (75)
74. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (76)
75. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (77)
76. David Perron, F, Edm (85)
77. Braden Holtby, G, Was (78)
78. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (79)
79. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (74)
80. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (110)
81. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (87)
82. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (81)
83. Steve Mason, G, Phi (83)
84. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (89)
85. Marian Gaborik, F, Cls (195)
86. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (90)
87. Dustin Penner, F, Ana (105)
88. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (31)
89. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (98)
90. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (91)
91. Kris Letang, D, Pit (34)
92. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (114)
93. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (116)
94. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (94)
95. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (95)
96. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (92)
97. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (96)
98. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (97)
99. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (138)
100. Shane Doan, F, Pho (99)
101. Pekka Rinne, G, Nsh (125)
102. Brent Burns, F, SJ (88)
103. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (100)
104. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (101)
105. Torey Krug, D, Bos (93)
106. Mike Green, D, Was (111)
107. Dustin Brown, F, LA (84)
108. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (115)
109. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (104)
110. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (107)
111. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (108)
112. Paul Stastny, F, Col (118)
113. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (117)
114. Matt Moulson, F, Buf (80)
115. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (112)
116. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (134)
117. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (128)
118. Jason Pominville, F, Min (102)
119. Jason Garrison, D, Van (141)
120. Steve Downie, F, Phi (103)
121. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (121)
122. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (139)
123. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (133)
124. Mike Richards, F, LA (124)
125. Radko Gudas, D, TB (119)
126. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (126)
127. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (86)
128. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (122)
129. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (129)
130. Tomas Hertl, F, SJ (130)
131. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (109)
132. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (167)
133. Cam Ward, G, Car (131)
134. Robin Lehner, G, Ott (135)
135. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (145)
136. Ben Scrivens, G, LA (123)
137. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (136)
138. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (157)
139. Mikhail Grabovski, F, Was (156)
140. Tobias Enstrom, D, Wpg (106)
141. Cody Franson, D, Tor (120)
142. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (142)
143. Erik Johnson, D, Col (143)
144. James Reimer, G, Tor (144)
145. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (127)
146. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (147)
147. John Carlson, D, Was (149)
148. Jonas Gustavsson, G, Det (185)
149. Pascal Dupuis, F, Pit (113)
150. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (140)
151. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (137)
152. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (151)
153. Slava Voynov, D, LA (152)
154. Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR (153)
155. P.A. Parenteau, F, Col (158)
156. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (163)
157. Mike Smith, G, Pho (154)
158. Sam Gagner, F, Edm (148)
159. Justin Peters, G, Car (NR)
160. Justin Schultz, D, Edm (150)
161. Justin Faulk, D, Car (160)
162. Andrew Shaw, F, Chi (155)
163. Frans Nielsen, F, NYI (161)
164. Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dal (162)
165. Alexander Semin, F, Car (173)
166. Andrej Sekera, D, Car (190)
167. Martin Brodeur, G, NJ (164)
168. Mark Giordano, D, Cgy (NR)
169. Kris Russell, D, Cgy (166)
170. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (176)
171. Jaden Schwartz, F, StL (199)
172. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (168)
173. Chris Higgins, F, Van (NR)
174. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (170)
175. Justin Braun, D, SJ (171)
176. Nick Bonino, F, Ana (175)
177. Lars Eller, F, Mon (159)
178. Cody Hodgson, F, Buf (165)
179. Patric Hornqvist, F, Nsh (177)
180. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (172)
181. Tyler Johnson, F, TB (NR)
182. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (179)
183. Mason Raymond, F, Tor (180)
184. Alex Galchenyuk, F, Mon (169)
185. Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Edm (182)
186. Reilly Smith, F, Bos (NR)
187. Vincent Lecavalier, F, Phi (183)
188. Marcus Johansson, F, Was (184)
189. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (187)
190. Chris Stewart, F, StL (188)
191. Sean Couturier, F, Phi (NR)
192. Anton Khudobin, G, Car (191)
193. Roman Josi, D, Nsh (NR)
194. Tomas Fleischmann, F, Fla (192)
195. Scottie Upshall, F, Fla (194)
196. Mike Santorelli, F, Van (NR)
197. Jake Gardiner, D, Tor (NR)
198. Sergei Gonchar, D, Dal (NR)
199. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (197)
200. Kimmo Timonen, D, Phi (NR)

Don't drop a potential ace starter: Just because the replacements for Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick are playing phenomenally (both were literally named as two of the three NHL stars of the week), doesn't mean that Rinne and Quick won't be able to stroll casually back into their starter's gig. There is a little more concern with Quick due to how much he was struggling before taking time off with the injury, but both Rinne and Quick have enough pedigree to take the reins back immediately upon their return.

There is no way that Quick, Rinne or even Corey Crawford and Jimmy Howard should be available in as many fantasy leagues as they are. Playing the goaltender carousel is a dangerous game at the best of times. It is almost always wiser to wait patiently for the better goaltender to return to action, especially when many of the injuries have been diagnosed as a month to a month-and-a-half in length. Yes, find a way to get some additional goaltender starts in the meantime, but don't drop your prized workhorse to do it.

Look for the right backups to target: With all the turnover in net this season, it is inevitable that some of the valuable goaltenders to emerge were likely picked up by owners in your league that don't need them. That means some trades need to happen, but you need to be very careful when dealing in backup goalies. You lost Corey Crawford for three weeks, but is it really the best move to trade for Antti Raanta? The Chicago Blackhawks may run with Raanta for another two weeks, but if you are dealing assets for a backup, don't target one that has a shelf life of 14 days or so. At least look for backups who have a pedigree of reliable performance and a starter ahead of them with struggles that could be unrelated to injury.

Howard was putting up poor numbers and ceding starts to Jonas Gustavsson long before he hit the injured reserve. Gustavsson came to the NHL as a high-upside skilled starter from Europe, but seemed to flunk with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Well, he hasn't lost his pedigree, and Howard's struggles came before he was hurt. Maybe, just maybe, you can get more than a couple of weeks out of Gustavsson. It's a similar situation for Ben Scrivens or Martin Jones, except that neither has the pedigree of Gustavsson. Still, both are talented enough at minding the net, and Quick wasn't exactly sharp before hitting the IR. Lehner and Anderson with the Senators are another good example, with Lehner one of the better goaltending prospects in the game.

At the end of the day, skill wins: At least, it usually does. Why should you bet on Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier to win the timeshare battles for the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs? Because they have a better skill set than Martin Brodeur (2013-14 version) and James Reimer. In assessing the situation mathematically, you can't account for Brodeur's veteran knowledge or Reimer's unpredictable resiliency. But you can look at what Schneider and Bernier have done as backups in the past and lean their way in betting on the outcome.

Handcuffing in fantasy hockey went out of style in recent seasons with the emergence of some workhorse goaltenders at the top of the pack, but with the way things have gone this season we may see handcuffing make a comeback as an important draft strategy. Heck, if you have the bench room and have been watching the other goaltenders drop like flies while yours is just fine, maybe it's time to hedge your bets. Eddie Lack, Al Montoya or Cam Talbot anyone? (For the record, Montoya wouldn't be a bad grab in deeper leagues).

Forwards rising and falling

David Perron, F, Edmonton Oilers (up nine spots to No. 76): Much respect to Perron, and it's about time he moved up into the top 50 forwards. During a season in which the Oilers' offense has been misfiring and injured, Perron has been a shining star. Although currently separated from Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in order to try and spark the rest of the offense, Perron continues to be to cycled back in with the elite forwards of the Oilers' offense. Now with 27 points in 31 games -- and one of the few Oilers with a respectable plus/minus -- Perron has officially busted through and become the forward we expected him to be before suffering concussion issues with the St. Louis Blues. Already ahead of Nugent-Hopkins, Perron is creeping up on Eberle in the ranks, which was not something we expected to see before the season.

Marian Gaborik, F, Columbus Blue Jackets (up 110 spots to No. 85): Expected to make his return to the Blue Jackets' lineup within the week, Gaborik will rejoin an offense that has been better without him. It's odd to say that about a speedy sniper like Gaborik, but Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno and R.J. Umberger truly found a way to thrive while Gaborik was on the shelf. The good news is that none of those players are tabbed to skate on a line with Gaborik, and their emergence as a second line could prove to be the support the team's top line requires to get going. For now, Gaborik will play with Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky, but we are almost counting the days until Nathan Horton joins the offense off the injured reserve, as well. It might be a good time to buy low on some of the Jackets forwards that haven't been performing up to expectations.

Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles Kings (down 23 spots to No. 107): A few games is one thing, but it's been more than a couple of weeks that the Kings have been deploying three lines as opposed to their usual two lines to spread out their offense. The change seems somewhat permanent, and Brown is one of the biggest losers in the new formation. Already struggling to score this season, Brown no longer shares every waking minute of his ice time with Anze Kopitar. In fact, he rarely crosses paths with the Kings' primary offensive catalyst on the ice. Nothing against Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll, but they are not going to provide the environment Brown needs to be a fantasy darling in regular leagues. He is still an asset in leagues with hits, though.

Defensemen rising and falling

Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix Coyotes (up 10 spots to No. 62): Yandle seemed to not take too kindly to being outperformed by Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the start of the season. The veteran defenseman has picked up his shooting in recent weeks, and recently passed Ekman-Larsson in points and fantasy value because of it. We still have them ranked with the younger blueliner in the lead, anticipating another burst from Ekman-Larsson at some point. But Yandle needed to go up in the rankings to respect the pace he is on this season. Despite having a young buck sharing the blue line, Yandle is on pace to approach his career high for points, and shatter his career high for shots.

Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (down 57 spots to No. 91): After missing a ton of time with a knee injury, Letang is now out with a mysterious upper-body injury. With no word on what the issue is -- or on how long he will be out -- we've erred on the side of caution and dropped his ranking a fair bit this week. It is easy to show concern for Letang, given that his pace when healthy this season has been less than we expect from a perennial points leader from the blue line. His 11 points in 24 games (and minus-6, to boot) would have him on pace for fewer points than he scored in the lockout-shortened campaign last season. The bottom line is that Letang has a lot of work to do, post injury, to earn our trust back as fantasy owners.

Goaltenders rising and falling

Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver Canucks (up 11 spots to No. 35): It wasn't immediately clear that Luongo was ready to resume his duties as a No. 1 fantasy goaltender this season. After all, he struggled significantly with the looming shadow of Cory Schneider in recent seasons. But we are happy to report that after a run of some three-goal games early in the season, Luongo now has a goals-against average at 2.19 and dropping. His recent hot streak has reinforced the fact Luongo is still a No. 1 fantasy option and one of the more consistent starters around. He really has only two starts that could be considered blowups all season. This shift has Luongo ranked No. 6 among goaltenders, and he is quickly catching up to Antti Niemi.

Quick Hits

Michael Raffl collected three assists on Sunday while skating on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Scott Hartnell hasn't been cutting it on the top line this season, and Raffl should get an extended look thanks to his outburst.

• With Loui Eriksson suffering his second concussion of the season, Reilly Smith is back on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The difference this time is that Bergeron and Marchand are producing points. This could mean extended fantasy value for Smith, who is already turning some heads.

• Bad news for Alexander Semin, as coach Kirk Muller is opting to keep his red-hot top line of Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Nathan Gerbe together. It means Semin doesn't have much to work with for now.

• If your league counts penalty minutes, Antoine Roussel has been a great PIM-points combo player. He's been hot recently, which means a cold streak is due. But he'll pick his game back up in a month or so. Just stash his name away for when you need some PIM help in January.

Ryan Strome debuted on the New York Islanders' third line, but got a look on the first power-play unit. Speculative owners in leagues deeper than 12 teams need to add him right now.

• We suggested that Sergei Gonchar might be in line for some better stats back in the Dec. 6 Fantasy Forecaster. It was a good bet, as he has six assists in five games since then. It might not be too late to snatch him up.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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