Replacing Cam Ward, Jose Theodore
The accelerated schedule during this lockout-shortened season gave us the potential for a lot of injuries, and that's certainly come to bear amongst goaltenders in the first half of the campaign (yes, teams are reaching their halfway point of 24 games this week). However, many of the injuries in weeks prior were of the minor variety; over the weekend, two starters succumbed to injuries that could keep them out for nearly the duration of the season.
The loss that is greater in terms of star power, as well as value to the player's real-life team and to fantasy owners, is Cam Ward. The Carolina Hurricanes' primary backstop had been drafted as a secondary option in most leagues (a primary option, for some teams) based upon the belief that the Canes were going to take a big step this season, and he'd be a big part of that with a fine set of ratio statistics. Unfortunately, a third-degree MCL sprain sustained during Sunday's win will shelve him for six to eight weeks. For those without immediate access to a calendar, that time frame will take us into mid-to-late-April of a regular season that ends on April 27.
The Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes have indicated that they will not make a push to trade for a replacement starter ahead of the April 3 trade deadline. Instead, they'll turn the reins over to Dan Ellis, a journeyman netminder who earned a spot on the roster with his strong play for the Hurricanes' AHL affiliate during the lockout. Backing him up will be Justin Peters. For those who are fastidious about finding solutions for their fantasy hockey team, Ellis is no stranger: though he has just seven games played this season (compared to 17 for Ward), his stats are considerably better. Ellis is ahead in save percentage (SV%) by a margin of .923 to .908, and in goals-against average by 2.53 to 2.84. Three of his five starts have been "quality starts" -- as defined in last week's column as a start when a goalie has a SV% of .917 or higher, or allows two goals or fewer with a SV% of .885 or higher. Ward's quality start percentage was down this season versus his rate from the five previous campaigns (41.7 percent versus 54.5 percent), but over the past week, two of three starts of his had been quality (both wins) and he was almost 29 minutes into a shutout bid before suffering his injury Sunday.
In a shocking development, Ellis is still owned in just a relative handful of ESPN leagues, 5.4 percent as of Tuesday morning. Given the news that Ward will be out for possibly the duration of the regular season, coupled with the fact Ellis has delivered when called upon this season, this makes him a very wise pickup right now, whether you're a Ward owner or not. Ellis moves into the mid-20s of the rankings this week, as it's not clear whether he has the capacity to handle a full No. 1 starter's workload (and keep delivering strong stats), and that ranking will rise or fall based upon what we see over the next couple of weeks. For now, he's a must-start. As for Ward, going off the early end of his return timetable would bring him back into the mix on April 15; the Canes have seven games to play following that date. At the far end of the timetable, he'd miss the rest of the slate. If you have a spare bench (or IR) spot, feel free to use it. If a sacrifice must be made, so be it.
Our other loss from the goaltending ranks this week also comes from the Southeast Division. During Saturday's game against Carolina, Florida Panthers netminder Jose Theodore sustained a torn groin, and while he ponders his options, the early buzz from his agent, Don Meehan, is that it'll be five to six weeks before he can play again. The longer end of that prognosis would bring us to April 15, after which time the Panthers have seven games left on the schedule, so it won't be surprising to see his ownership numbers in fantasy leagues dwindle down to next to nothing. The Panthers, who have gone from division champs in 2011-12 to last place in the entire Eastern Conference this season, do have a proverbial ace up their sleeve in 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom. The Swedish import leads the team in both GAA (3.05) and SV% (.915) this season, though the usual warnings about small sample size do apply: he's had only two starts. However, in a longer look last season (seven appearances), he was even better, with a 2.66/.923 split. I suppose now would be the time to mention that he's owned in just 3.9 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.
So should you join the ranks of those adding Markstrom this week? It's a tough sell for those who need wins; those W's have been tough to come by for Florida this season. However, the Panthers' goal differential this season is a minus-1.23, and a rather large part of that has been their goals against per game, with Theodore and Scott Clemmensen starting the vast majority; in the 20 games started by those two, the Panthers have given up 73 non-empty-net goals (3.65 per game). Markstrom has given up six in his two starts; while that's not necessarily great, reducing that figure will make a difference in the Panthers' ability to nab some more wins. Furthermore, two-thirds of a goaltender's value in fantasy is tied to his ratio stats, and while there's room for improvement in the 3.05 figure, the .915 mark would put Markstrom in the top 15 in the league once he's had enough starts to qualify.
At this point, the smart move is to add Markstrom, and see what he does over the next few starts while keeping him on the bench. He's got the talent to deliver some great stats for fantasy owners, but it's best to let him sort things out in the early going in a place where he won't hurt your current ratios.
Top 40 Goalies Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN Standard Leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The ranking at the start of the 2012-13 season is indicated in parentheses.
1. Tuukka Rask, Bos (2)
2. Corey Crawford, Chi (5)
3. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (1)
4. Carey Price, Mon (4)
5. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (3)
6. Antti Niemi, SJ (6)
7. Craig Anderson, Ott (8)
8. Jonathan Quick, LA (9)
9. Viktor Fasth, Ana (7)
10. Roberto Luongo, Van (10)
11. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (11)
12. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (12)
13. Jaroslav Halak, StL (16)
14. Jimmy Howard, Det (13)
15. Mike Smith, Pho (14)
16. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (17)
17. Ryan Miller, Buf (18)
18. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (20)
19. Braden Holtby, Was (27)
20. James Reimer, Tor (28)
21. Ben Scrivens, Tor (15)
22. Martin Brodeur, NJ (19)
23. Cory Schneider, Van (22)
24. Ray Emery, Chi (24)
25. Niklas Backstrom, Min (25)
26. Dan Ellis, Car (34)
27. Semyon Varlamov, Col (26)
28. Anders Lindback, TB (21)
29. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (40)
30. Jonas Hiller, Ana (33)
31. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (29)
32. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (30)
33. Ben Bishop, Ott (32)
34. Tomas Vokoun, Pit (35)
35. Cam Ward, Car (23)
36. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (36)
37. Sergei Bobrovsky, Cls (38)
38. Johan Hedberg, NJ (31)
39. Michal Neuvirth, Was (39)
40. Robin Lehner, Ott (45)
Rising and falling
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (up three spots to No. 2): The projection rankings you see to your right offer two benefits: they can aid in decision-making when an add or drop is necessary, and can also be of service when determining whether to trade for a player. Players in the top 10 (and most of the top 20, for that matter) you're not going to find on the waiver wire, so it's the second reason their position on the list matters. And as of right now, one would be hard-pressed to have anyone projected higher than Crawford (I think Tuukka Rask just edges him, based partially on their work in seasons past). The Blackhawks' point streak continues, and Crawford has overcome some minor health issues (flu and an upper-body injury), looking superb in his return to the crease in Sunday's win over the Detroit Red Wings. With about half the season played, Crawford sits first in GAA (1.41), second in SV% (.945) and fifth in wins (10) behind a foursome who have just one more. A high price must be paid for such a player, but maybe his owner in your league is struggling offensively: with limited goalie slots in the active lineup, having Crawford in one of those positions can make a colossal difference in the final weeks of the season.
Viktor Fasth, Anaheim Ducks (down one spot to No. 8): Three-pronged reason for Fasth's small drop here; (1) Craig Anderson has taken some significant steps in making his return (more on that below); (2) Jonathan Quick has looked a lot better in recent starts; (3) Fasth has started to look human as of late. In his most recent trio of starts, he's allowed nine total goals, with a 2.95/.890 ratios split. In the best case, this is just a blip, a correction for his incredible start, or perhaps some fatigue setting in. In the worst case, the video is now out on Fasth, and opposing teams have figured out how to beat him consistently. In either event, Jonas Hiller split the starts evenly with Fasth over the past week, and we know how much Bruce Boudreau loves time-shares in net. For the sake of Fasth's fantasy owners, let's hope the situation Boudreau orchestrated during his time in Washington doesn't repeat itself.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals (up eight spots to No. 19): In last week's column, I noted that in his six appearances prior to that posting, Holtby had gone 4-2-0 with a 2.35/.926 ratio split. In the three games since, Holtby sandwiched two shutouts around a regrettable four-goals-on-18-shots outing against the Philadelphia Flyers. In total over that nine-game span, he's generated a 6-3-0 record, with 18 goals against, which has produced a 2.11 GAA and .934 SV%. To put those numbers in perspective, they would rank him eighth and third if those were his season-long ratios. The window is closing to pick him up off of waivers (available in 21.2 percent of ESPN leagues last week, he's available in just 8.4 as of Tuesday morning), but it's possible you can still nab him in trade: his 3.01/.907 ratio split for the entire season may have his owner open to a deal. Along with the skaters ahead of him, who finally seem to be picking up Adam Oates' system, Holtby is an ascending player as we hit the midway point.
Sergei Bobrovsky (owned in 16.3 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Steve Mason (1.1 percent), Columbus Blue Jackets: In spite of a much stronger quality start percentage (as noted in last week's column), Bobrovsky can't seem to completely wrest the starting mantle away from Mason, and they alternated starts again over the past week. Though there was a preseason expectation that Bobrovsky would be able to come in and be the workhorse starter, the Blue Jackets haven't gotten demonstrably better play out of him. Within the fantasy realm, both men remain a "stay away" proposition, as neither is starting off enough (or playing well enough) to justify a roster spot, let alone being activated.
Anders Lindback (owned in 77.1 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Mathieu Garon (2.9 percent), Tampa Bay Lightning: The wheels began to really fall off for Lindback as of late (going into Monday night's game, he hadn't played since Feb. 24), and his owners in ESPN fantasy leagues are starting to give up. He's been dropped in 18.9 percent of leagues over the past week. However, those owners are not going out and picking up Garon in droves, either; his ownership percentage is up just 2.3 points in the same span. This makes sense. Over the course of the past five games for Tampa Bay (when Garon has either started, or replaced Lindback in relief), the veteran has posted just a 2.77 GAA and .904 SV%, and he was injured in Monday night's game against Pittsburgh to boot. The injury may give Lindback another shot to prove himself after his little vacation, and this could be a test to determine how the Lightning proceed as the trade deadline approaches. If you held on to Lindback, keep him benched, and see how the next few outings go. As for Garon, there's no need to rush out and grab him.
James Reimer (owned in 78.8 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Ben Scrivens (60.0 percent), Toronto Maple Leafs: The ebb and flow of Toronto goaltending continues. After Scrivens broke his streak of sharp play by allowing five goals to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, Reimer has reeled off two straight wins. The first was an ugly one -- saving 23 of 27 shots in an OT win over the New York Islanders -- but Monday night's win over the New Jersey Devils showed us why Reimer, on occasion, looks like he can be the answer in net for the Leafs: he stopped 28 of 30 shots, including a highlight-reel robbery of Patrik Elias, and held strong through a furious onslaught in the game's final minutes. Randy Carlyle and his staff have continued to show a slight preference to Reimer, so if you can roster only one of the two, he'd be the one. But both remain valuable (they're Nos. 16 and 17 on the season-long Player Rater as of this week).
Cory Schneider (owned in 100.0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues) and Roberto Luongo (100.0 percent), Vancouver Canucks: Still no trade for either Schneider or Luongo (I mentioned the report from ESPN's Craig Custance last week that the Canucks have now had inquiries on both netminders, and that the trade haul from a Schneider move could be considerably more lucrative), and both are still getting their share of the starts for the Northwest Division leaders. Luongo shook off an eight-goals-against outrage from Feb. 24, allowing three to the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Not a great performance, but it was good for him to get back in the crease to shake off some of the shell shock. As for Schneider, he gave up three goals to the Phoenix Coyotes in a loss Tuesday, before an impressive, 28-save win over the Los Angeles Kings. As the trade rumors heat up, there may be an opportunity to deal one of them; the risk you'll take is that a trade occurs in real life, making both of them workhorse No. 1 options. But someone in your league may be willing to pay to take that chance.
Training room roundup
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: The early reports on Anderson's return from an ankle issue pegged his next appearance at two weeks from the date of the collision with New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider (Feb. 21), and we're coming up on that this week. Sure enough, Anderson faced shots on Friday, and has continued to skate thereafter in an effort to keep his conditioning level up. The Sens don't need to rush Anderson back, either; Ben Bishop earned a shootout win in relief against the Rangers, and has posted three quality starts since, going 2-1-0 with a 2.03/.945 split. Future franchise goalie Robin Lehner has been two-for-two in quality starts, with a 1.87 GAA and .951 SV% in an OT loss and a shootout loss. If nothing else, the Sens are showing tremendous organizational depth at the position, something that is surely not going unnoticed in the goaltender-needy NHL outposts. So as noted last week, keeper-league owners need to keep Bishop and Lehner on their radar.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: For the past few seasons, Devils fans (and fantasy owners) have wondered what the team would look like in the post-Brodeur era. There was a glimpse of that future over the past several days, and it didn't look altogether rosy. Brodeur has been on IR with a back injury retroactive to Feb. 24, and while he's eligible to return this week, there's no guarantee that will be the case. Furthermore, back injuries can linger, so this could be something with which Brodeur has to deal for the duration. In Brodeur's place, the club called up Keith Kinkaid, but has yet to play him. Instead, Johan Hedberg has continued to shoulder the entire burden, and things have not gone well. After allowing just two goals across three starts to begin the campaign, Hedberg has allowed 23 in the past six. It's been six straight losses for the Devils (only one in a shootout), and Hedberg's ratios have been 3.84 in GAA and .849 in SV%; he clearly has no business in an active lineup, and can most likely be dropped outright. With four games in the next six days, one would imagine Kinkaid will be considered, but I can't recommend activating a goalie in fantasy on the night of his first NHL start. It would seem that until Brodeur returns, the Devils will not be offering anyone worth consideration in the fantasy cage.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: Just as the Flames are starting to spark a little bit offensively, it appears they may get their workhorse netminder back. The Calgary Herald has reported that Kiprusoff took the majority of shots during Monday's practice, and the buzz is that he could start as soon as Wednesday's tilt against the San Jose Sharks. However, just because he's back to starting in real life does not mean he needs to be starting for your fantasy team. In fact, prior to the injury, Kiprusoff had gone 2-3-2, with a 3.23 GAA and .870 SV%. Give him a few games to get back and see if he can improve on that before slotting him back into the active lineup.
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