Goalie time-shares in flux
Time-share ends in Vancouver; will one emerge in Toronto or New Jersey?
There will be more wheeling and dealing to come, for certain, but fantasy owners were left with plenty to mull over following the NHL Entry Draft on the weekend (and the moves leading up to it). We have two potential new No. 1 goaltenders emerging from time-shares, a couple of forwards with potential for fantasy value were moved, and some aging, yet elite, defensemen changed teams.
The big news in the fantasy world were the Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier trades. Schneider leaves the Vancouver Canucks, where he shared the net with Roberto Luongo and was slowly, but surely, becoming the more reliable option of the two. Now he will study under the tutelage of the great Martin Brodeur as he prepares to take over the reins of the New Jersey Devils. Bernier, a potential No. 1 fantasy goaltender, had been stuck behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles for a few seasons. Still in his prime, he gets his first chance to be a full-time starting goaltender with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Changing goaltending time-shares
Fantasy owners have to be pleased overall with the move that will see Luongo re-established as the unquestioned starter for the Canucks and, unless the Devils have a surprising plan in place, sets up Schneider as the majority starter for the Devils. This trade not only resolves the time-share in Vancouver that has been giving fantasy owners headaches for two seasons, but it also answers quite clearly the questions of how to approach the 41-year-old Brodeur in drafts, considering his dwindling save percentage.
Cory Schneider, G, New Jersey Devils: There is little doubt that the plan for the Devils will be to move backup Johan Hedberg before the season and have Schneider start the majority of games with Brodeur as his mentor/backup. Part of the job description for the veteran this season will be to prepare Schneider to replace him completely in the Devils net going forward. On the low end, look for a 50-32 split of the games, but it is not out of the question for Schneider to end up splitting the games 60-22 with Brodeur. Lou Lamoriello can claim that Brodeur is still the Devils' No. 1 goaltender all he wants -- and certainly Marty deserves that respect -- but the statistics and logic say otherwise. The 41-year-old goaltender has watched his numbers decline in recent seasons, so much so that his .901 save percentage in 29 games last season was the worst of his career. We can't predict with 100 percent accuracy what the master plan will be for the Devils, so handcuff Brodeur to Schneider if you can. Look for Schneider to go off the board fairly early in fantasy drafts, but Brodeur will likely be avoided until later rounds. Don't hesitate to make the move, just in case the record-setting goaltender still has gas in the tank or the injury bug bites the new starter.
The best news for Schneider is that he takes one of the NHL's best save percentages of the past few seasons to a team that thrives on limiting chances. We already noted that Brodeur had a .901 save percentage last season, but did you realize his goals-against average was actually a solid 2.22? Consider this: All 10 goaltenders with a better GAA than Brodeur last season had a save percentage better than .920. That is a pretty solid indicator that the Devils' system and defense make it a bit easier on goaltenders. Combine that defensive-zone awareness with Schneider's ability to stop pucks and the sky is the limit. It will be hard not to consider him a top-five fantasy goaltender coming into the season.
Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver Canucks: Luongo's numbers began to decline about the same time the Canucks started giving Schneider more starts. As Schneider's workload increased year over year, Luongo's ratios started to become unfriendly to fantasy owners. It culminated during last season's lockout-shortened campaign when Luongo became the clear backup to Schneider and posted some pretty poor numbers. Luongo's ratios were made much worse by a couple of implosions during the season, including seven- and eight-goal debacles that he never really had the opportunity to offset with enough quality outings. You may also recall that, until the end of February, Luongo almost looked to be coming out ahead of Schneider in playing time, but things quickly spiraled out of control from there. Will being the unquestioned No. 1 starter help Luongo avoid the bad games and regain the form he showed in past seasons? It was only three seasons ago that he won 38 games with a 2.11 GAA and .928 save percentage, but can we completely erase last season's 2.56 and .907 marks from his ledger? Expect Luongo to be in the middle tier of No. 1 goaltenders. He has tremendous upside as a starter, but the question marks should make him affordable as a draft-day gamble.
Jonathan Bernier, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: It's almost unbelievable to longtime fantasy owners that Bernier has yet to celebrate his 25th birthday. Still in his prime, Bernier has been waiting in the wings for a chance at a starter's gig since he first stepped between the pipes in the NHL in September 2007. Yes, September 2007. Bernier's development has been a strange one, spending more time riding the pine in the NHL during his early 20s than playing in the AHL. He has shown plenty of flashes of his ability to potentially carry a team as a No. 1 goaltender, with no better example than his 14 appearances last season in which he had a 1.87 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Both numbers were better than Los Angeles Kings starter Jonathan Quick's marks, but Quick's playoff experience makes him a no-brainer to stay on as the No. 1 for the Kings.
Bernier is off to Toronto, where he will be given every opportunity to steal the No. 1 goaltender role from James Reimer. Reimer has been serviceable and sometimes impressive as the goalie for the Maple Leafs the past two seasons, but from a skills perspective, he doesn't hold a candle to the potential Bernier brings to the table. The plucky Reimer may give Bernier a run for his money in the early part of the season, but by December, you will see Bernier as the unquestioned starter for the Leafs. With the improvements shown by Toronto last season, Bernier could even flirt with being a No. 1 fantasy goaltender this season. For the sake of safety, it would be wise to handcuff with Reimer if given the chance. While Bernier has the skills and opportunity to run with the job for the Maple Leafs, the cost of handcuffing Reimer should be low enough to make hedging your bet an easy and wise thing to do.
PP QBs on the move
Mark Streit, D, Philadelphia Flyers: The move to the Flyers gives Streit an opportunity to re-energize his career following a couple of lost seasons. It may be easy to forget that Streit is only 35 years old and can be a dominating fantasy asset when healthy. He missed the entire 2010-11 season with a shoulder injury and was reportedly playing through a chronic knee injury last season. He averaged 54 points a season for four years prior to the injuries. While the Flyers have a puck-moving defenseman in Kimmo Timonen, Streit would complement Timonen's passing on the power play. Streit should be a sleeper for big numbers this season, especially if he looks good early in training camp.
Sergei Gonchar, D, Dallas Stars: Alex Goligoski did all right, but at the end of the day, the Stars learned last season that they don't have a terrific quarterback for their power play. Gonchar's 12 power-play points last season were one more than Goligoski managed to score. Next on the list for the Stars? Stephane Robidas with four power-play points. Adding Gonchar's veteran presence on the man advantage is likely the sole reason the Stars went out and nabbed him from the Ottawa Senators. The Sens could easily afford the loss with Erik Karlsson coming back healthy for next season. While Gonchar didn't have great years in Ottawa, he did play second fiddle there to Karlsson. The last time he was the lead presence on the ice for his team, he scored 50 points in 62 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10. He'll be a risk for both his age and a somewhat checkered injury history, but he is a risk worth taking when the elite defensemen are all off the board.
Depth forwards find new homes
Dave Bolland, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: The consummate third-line center brings his streaky fantasy game to the Maple Leafs. The question is, where does he fit in? With a full training camp in front of them, do the Leafs commit to converting James van Riemsdyk to the first-line center role? Do they consider re-signing Tyler Bozak to resume the role? Do they look elsewhere? Within? Or do they consider Bolland for a trial in the role? After all, Bolland came up through the ranks as a scorer and transitioned his game to be a valuable two-way center because that's what was needed of him. It might not be hard to reawaken the scorer that he once was. Bolland has shown plenty of flashes during his years with the Chicago Blackhawks when pressed upon for offensive duties, most notably scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal over the Bruins in Game 6. Odds are that Bolland is an afterthought for fantasy owners, but it is worth noting his new location and presence should the Leafs top six suddenly become thin with injuries.
Nino Niederreiter, F, Minnesota Wild: This is the second chance that Niederreiter has been waiting for. Traded out of the New York Islanders organization, where he clashed with the coaching staff, Niederreiter will get his chance to prove himself this season with the Wild. Both an offensive contributor and a powerful forechecker, Niederreiter brings a tantalizing mix of fantasy potential to the table. There's an argument to be made that his development was stalled by the Isles burying him on the depth chart in his rookie season. Then, during last season's lockout, Niederreiter was tearing up the AHL (against NHL-level opponents), but when the lockout ended, he was not given a spot on the Isles roster. He slowed down after that, and the final numbers make it look like he had a middling AHL season. However, prior to not making the big team and against ostensibly better opponents, he had 36 points in 37 games. There is big potential if the Wild decide to bring him up and use him properly.
Cal Clutterbuck, F, New York Islanders: Going the other way in the Niederreiter deal, Clutterbuck is a fantasy darling only for owners who use hits in their scoring format. Consistently near the top of the league in hits, Clutterbuck joins Matt Martin, who has led the league in hits for the past two seasons. This duo could form an intimidating checking line for opponents who don't like physical play.
Michael Frolik, F, Winnipeg Jets: There is still upside in Frolik's game that likely hasn't been realized, but it is getting a little frustrating to spend more time looking for it. Getting moved out of the Blackhawks stacked lineup likely gives him a better opportunity for a meaningful depth chart assignment. Just don't hold your breath.
Matt Frattin, F, Los Angeles Kings: Frattin has some potential as a goal scorer, shown by his run of seven goals and three assists in the first 10 games of last season. But after missing a month with injury, he came back to score only three assists during the final 15 games of the season. There will be an opportunity for Frattin to battle for the final spot in the Kings' top six next season, but even before the team makes many offseason moves, there is competition for the spot. Frattin could have fantasy relevance if he lands a gig on a scoring line, but otherwise he will not be worth your trouble next season.
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