As a website that focuses on starting goalies, we would be remiss to not end 2011 discussing starting goalies and the potential they may have in losing their jobs. To add a bit of suspense, we will do a Top 10 countdown. Feel free to go nuts in the comments.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning — Mathieu Garon vs. Dwayne Roloson
Roloson entered the season as a top 100 fantasy hockey player. He came over to Tampa Bay a year ago tomorrow and played quite well down the stretch. In 34 regular season games he posted a respectable 18-12-4 record with a 2.56 GAA, .912 SV% and four shutouts before taking the Bolts to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals. It is likely for that reason, and nothing else, that Roli the Goalie still has a job in the NHL right now.
His GAA is an atrocious 3.72 while he’s only stopped 88 percent of shots faced. By comparison, his counterpart Mathieu Garon has looked that much better. Despite allowing four or more goals in five of his 25 starts, he started his third consecutive game tonight. Furthermore, it looks like it will be his job to lose until Steve Yzerman makes an inevitable trade for an upgrade.
Tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning sit outside of the playoffs looking in. With more than half a season remaining, the starting goalie configuration is directly tied into their future moves. If the Bolts start winning then Garon and possibly even Roloson become fantasy hockey relevant once again. If not, we may be looking at the Lightning of old — where only the top scorers are universally owned.
9. New York Islanders — Al Montoya vs. Evgeni Nabokov vs. Rick DiPietro vs. Anders Nilsson vs. Kevin Poulin
Five separate goalies have graced the crease for the New York Islanders this season.
Currently Evgeni Nabokov is the team’s starting goalie but his status between the pipes and in Long Island remains in jeopardy. If fully healthy, Rick DiPietro is the team’s go-to netminder. A series of injuries have sidelined the former 1st overall pick for all-but eight games so we recommend keeping him on the waiver wire for the foreseeable future.
Al Montoya remains the wild card in Nassau County. Despite entering the season with only 26 career appearances — with 21 coming last year with the Islanders — the team seems to play better in front of the big Cuban. For my money, he’s the only goalie that’s worth a legitimate look.
If Nabokov gets hurt again, the Isles would be in some more trouble. Like starting Nilsson or Poulin trouble. One thing is for certain — their situation could not get any worse.
8. Chicago Blackhawks — Corey Crawford vs. Ray Emery
Ray Emery scared a good deal of Corey Crawford owners with his heroics earlier in the month. If you were unfamiliar, Rayzor started six consecutive games before giving the job back to Crawford. Even though he won his first five of the six, his leash was quickly yanked after allowing three goals against the Penguins.
Coach Joel Quenneville clearly believes in Crawford enough to keep running him out there. The Calder Memorial Trophy snub has started the last four games and managed to win three, allowing only six goals over that span. His fantasy hockey value appears restored after a string of poor starts. However, Emery starting a string of games could happen again.
Over the previous two seasons, the starting goalie has been unseated in Chicago. First Antti Niemi stole the gig from Cristobal Huet and led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup. The following year Crawford took the job from Marty Turco. The goaltending situation is not quite the same this season but it would not be surprising to see Crawford finish the season with only 55 starts.
7. Edmonton Oilers — Nikolai Khabibulin vs. Devan Dubnyk
Nikolai Khabibulin has been fantastic throughout the season. As we near the season’s halfway point he still boasts a respectable 2.25 GAA and .924 SV%. My words of advice: sell high while you still can.
His December looks like the Khabibulin of old — two wins in seven starts, 3.20 GAA with a .896 SV%. Those totals eerily resemble last years’s totals when he finished with a 3.40 GAA and .890 SV%. Furthermore, he’s not getting any younger and his 38-year-old frame probably won’t start 60 games this season.
With only one more season left on his contract after this year, the Oilers definitely would like to groom youngster Devan Dubnyk for the starting gig. Therefore, you should tread lightly on Khabibulin and perhaps even pickup Dubnyk if he string some starts together.
6. Boston Bruins — Tim Thomas vs. Tuukka Rask
The situation in Boston is actually a lot like the scenario in Edmonton. We have an aging but still dominant starting goalie who is fending off his successor. The storyline remains the same even though the stakes are notably a lot higher in Bean town.
Rask is the starter of the future, this much is very clear. Just like Khabibulin, Thomas’s contract expires after next season and the 37-year-old probably won’t play more than 55 games. So you should expect Rask to start a few games in a row in order to keep the reigning Vezina Trophy winner fresh.
Make no mistake, Thomas is the start, Rask is the backup. That trend should continue into the playoffs. Nevertheless, Rask is definitely a nice handcuff and a very decent third goalie off the bench.
5. Vancouver Canucks — Roberto Luongo vs. Cory Schneider
Luongo is once again the starting goalie in Vancouver. But the threat of Cory Schneider remains throughout the remainder of the season.
The latter has been the subject of trade rumors for over a year now but the Canucks would be foolish to deal him right now. Should Luongo get hurt again, the team has a capable number one to step right into the lineup.
The new NHL trend seems to be resting starting goalies to the tune of 60 games. So look for Schneider to start around five -10 games to round out the season.
4. Colorado Avalanche — Semyon Varlamov vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Varlamov’s season has been underwhelming to say the least. When Avs GM Greg Sherman traded a should-be lottery pick for the former 23rd overall pick he envisioned an athletic, all-world netminder who could help carry his team back into the playoffs. Although we expected Varly to fall a bit short of those expectations, we never thought he would have a 3.05 GAA and .897 SV%. Furthermore, we never expected him to be actually competing with ‘mentor’ Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
But Giguere has been that much better. Through 15 appearances, he sports a 1.95 GAA and .928 SV%. While we’re not advocating he win the Vezina Trophy for his efforts in a small sample size, his rebound on a rebuilding team has been impressive.
Down the stretch, Varlamov, barring injury, should get a few more looks as the team’s starting goalie. For whatever reason, Varly has never started more than 26 games in a season (a career high he just accomplished this season). Expecting him to finish with more than 55 starts would be foolish.
3. Washington Capitals — Tomas Vokoun vs. Michal Neuvirth
Vokoun makes his third consecutive start tonight and second in as many nights. When he entered the season as the starting goalie we did not expect there to be any question on who the starter would be. Nevertheless, this season in Washington has been special.
The Czech netminder has only started 23 of the team’s first 36 games, which puts him on pace for about 55-60 starts. If the Caps were keeping with the recent trend of keeping starting goalies fresh, then they have certainly succeeded. They’ve also succeeded in ticking off their newest goalie as he constantly questions why Michal Neuvirth gets so many starts.
Expect Neuvirth to steal a few more starts from Vokoun as the season progresses. The younger part of the tandem could even get the nod if the Caps make it into the playoffs.
2. St. Louis Blues — Brian Elliott vs. Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott has been the best starting goalie in hockey. His GAA (1.63) is much lower than Tim Thomas’s (1.84) while his save percentage is only three percentage points lower. Considering he barely beat Ben Bishop for the backup job out of training camp, we’ll give him the nod as the best goalie in the League.
Regardless of all of his success, he is stuck in a goalie tandem with Jaroslav Halak. The Blues made a significant investment in terms of assets — Lars Eller and Ian Schultz — and in terms of dollars — $3.75 cap hit through 2014 — so expect him to get his fair share of starts down the stretch.
For the time being, coach Ken Hitchcock has done a great job of tightening up the defense in front of both goalies which makes them both relevant in fantasy hockey circles. As a potential playoff team, he probably needs to make a choice by February, which could sway starts one way or another. If you were Hitchcock, who would you start in the postseason?
1. Philadelphia Flyers — Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Ilya Bryzgalov
January 2nd is the Winter Classic, arguably the biggest spectacle that hockey has to offer during the regular season. The Flyers have a pretty turned-over roster with new faces around the locker room. They also have one of the most expensive goaltending tandems as Sergei Bobrovsky is a relatively expensive backup while Ilya Bryzgalov is paid handsomely to star in HBO’s 24/7 documentary.
Despite all the changes, Bob is most likely to play with the Atlantic Division on the line due to Bryzgalov’s lackadaisical play in Orange and Black. Nevertheless, the Flyers are paying Bryzgalov a lot of money to ride the pine so expect him to regain the reigns at some point in the season and probably begin the playoffs in the crease.
Then again, stranger things have happened in the goaltending graveyard known as Philadelphia.