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The Wire Troll: Taking Some Goalie Medicine

May 6, 2010 | By Chris Wassel | comment on this post

The thing that any expert fears is looking back at his predictions from the start of the season, and when he mostly cringes, you know it did not go quite as well as it planned. There is no way in Hades that everyone can get everything right. It is just mentally and physically impossible. Now do I really want to look at this list? Honestly, I really should because it gives an insight of just what we were thinking would happen compared to what actually transpired.

Everyone has heard of the whole Fantasy vs. reality construct. Well, it is time to apply it to our projections. Like we said before, the first victims are the goalies. Below is our original post from the start of the season and then we will get to work on it like a teacher with big red Xs and all that good stuff. The post-mortem commentary (“The Actual”) follows each blurb.

Here are your top 25 Fantasy goalies. Any debate means I have done my job. Enjoy.

Last season’s rankings are in parenthesis.

1. Roberto Luongo (5), Vancouver Canucks

Luongo, over a 70-starts or more season, just produces more points in leagues where wins and shutouts are essential. In his last two full years, he produced a 2.31 GAA and a .920 save percentage with 11 shutouts and 82 wins. Then, in just 54 starts last year, he had nine shutouts and 33 wins. Project those numbers over a 72-start season and you have 44 wins and 12 shutouts…that is nasty! This season, Luongo may not quite get 12 shutouts. I am thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 shutouts and 44 wins with a 2.29 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He is going to be pretty well automatic this year as far as Fantasy goalies.

The Actual: Well, the reality is Luongo had a pretty good year, but not by Luongo standards. Whether it was the Olympics or whatever, the grind of the season and the compressed schedule took a toll on him over the second half. Whatever happened, his 40-22-4 record was a bit off from expectations and the 2.57 GAA with only a .913 save percentage was quite a surprise. I do understand that a lot of top goalies took a hit in save percentage at the end of the season, but when you are expected to be No. 1 or are taken in the first round in most drafts, there are certain expectations that you are going to get the job done. Luongo got it done in the Olympics, but we do not count those games here. So to be fair and objective, based on our rankings, Luongo did not meet expectations for Fantasy owners this year.

2. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils (2)

Martin Brodeur

I don’t know…16 shutouts, 92 wins, and a 2.17 GAA to go along with a .921 save percentage is just too good to pass up in Fantasy leagues. Brodeur usually gets drafted as the No. 1 goalie based on reputation alone. Even at 37, he is still that good, when most goalies are slowing down. I have a feeling that last year left a sour taste in his mouth, so expect Brodeur to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy once again. His numbers will be around 41-43 wins, a 2.35 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Toss in eight or nine shutouts and people will forget all about that nightmare that was the 2008-2009 season.

The Actual: Well, the .921 save percentage did not quite happen. It was .916, but a lot of goalies saw about a .005-.007 dropoff at the end of the season. However, the 45 wins and 2.24 GAA exceeded expectations, while the nine shutouts was right in line with what we predicted. Remember, no one cares about the playoffs in Fantasy hockey, unless you are in a Fantasy playoff hockey pool. Considering he had a below average defense in front of him, imagine what Brodeur would do with a little more rest and a halfway decent defensive unit in front of him. I would have to say just based on stats, he actually exceeded expectations and was one of the top three Fantasy goalies of the season.

3. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (NR)

Tim Thomas

Thomas is a very solid goalie that can be downright brilliant and is not afraid to take a leadership role on the ice. Sure, he is 35, but that Boston defense is just about tops in the league even without a guy like Steve Montador. The numbers do not lie: last year, Thomas put up a 2.10 GAA, .933 save percentage and five shutouts along with 36 wins. Even if he gets 10-12 more starts which is almost certain, the numbers will still be up there. The bottom line is Thomas will not be the third goalie taken in most Fantasy drafts, but he should be. I’m expecting these kinds of numbers from the Flint, Michigan native: 40-42 wins with a 2.24 GAA and a .923 save percentage. Add in five or six shutouts for good measure.

The Actual: Clearly, the pressure got to Thomas and it did not help that he got a nice juicy contract, the team traded away Phil Kessel, and they literally were 30th most of the season in goals for. The margin of error was far less than last season and his 17-18-8 record was just not good enough, though the .915 save percentage was pretty good and the 2.56 GAA was respectable. Tuukka Rask came in and played like Thomas did last season and that was the true dagger in Thomas’s year. Quite a few owners drafted Thomas high and they paid an even higher price. The bottom line is Thomas did not even come close to meeting expectations and killed his share of Fantasy teams.

4. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild (11)

Niklas Backstrom

His numbers will suit him well in whatever system he plays. Still in his early 30s, Backstrom has — get this — room for improvement still. That’s a scary thought for all teams that face him this year. However, it might be bad news that he did get a shiny new contract that he will have to play up to, but not many foresee that as a major problem. Backstrom may actually get a few more wins with a slight uptick in offense. Interestingly enough, the signing of Greg Zanon (from Nashville) may help Backstrom have a better season than 2008-09. This season, I am expecting a 2.27 GAA and a .924 save percentage from Backstrom. He may even get nominated for the Vezina again when all is said and done.

The Actual:  Then, reality struck again. Injuries and a slow start doomed Backstrom, but this time it was the team’s slow start that did him in — not his own. As a matter of fact, Backstrom only started in 58 contests and spent the most of final third of the season injured, battling through various ailments and boo-boos. The 2.72 GAA and .903 save percentage represented an unmitigated disaster for Fantasy owners who were trying to score some gold after Luongo and Brodeur. Backstrom also had just three wins after the Olympic break. Some of that was because of injury, but some of that also falls on Backstrom trying to do too much. He will have to learn next season not to try to save the world while in net. Needless to say, Backstrom did not meet expectations at all.

5. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames (7)

Miikka Kiprusoff

We kind of expect Kipper to start off a bit slow again, but not with the outrageous GAA. As the team gels in Calgary, he will get on a roll. Then. look out from there! What can be expected this year? Well, about 43-45 wins, a 2.45 GAA and a .918 save percentage with at least six or seven shutouts. Yes, they do look a lot like his numbers from three years ago, but I think Brent Sutter brings in a defensive accountability and faith in his netminder that Mike Keenan clearly did not have.

The Actual: Well, we might have been surprised a bit on this one, but then again, not really. Calgary did, for the most part, play a little better defensively at first, but then afterwards, it was all Kiprusoff. Now, his win total was not impressive at 35, but everything else about his game was. The 2.31 GAA was over a half goal less than last year and his .920 save percentage put him among the league leaders. Just imagine if the Flames scored a few more goals (they were 30th in the league in scoring). Everything fell apart for Calgary except for Kiprusoff, and his four shutouts combined with his solid play all year, definitely helped him exceed expectations and justify a top five goalie ranking for the 2010-11 season.

6. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (4)

Winning at least 30 games in each of your first four seasons will get you more than noticed. Lundqvist is also on the cover of…oh, never mind no one cares about that. The bottom line is he is solid in net and behind a team that kills penalties very well and plays close to the vest, so expect that 2.43 GAA to come back down a hair this year. Likely, Lundqvist will have more than three shutouts as well (he did go 35 straight games without one during the ’08-09 season). It’s tough to predict this sort of thing because of the team he plays in front of, but expect Lundqvist to have at least 35 wins and probably close to 40. I’m going to say 39 wins with a 2.35 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Throw in seven or eight shutouts and you can see why it was tough to place him as low as No. 6 on this illustrious list.

The Actual: Perhaps on another team, Lundqvist would be a perennial Vezina favourite. However, in this realm of reality, he is a New York Ranger. He only had 35 wins, but his 2.38 GAA was pretty close to our expectations, and was his .921 save percentage. Now, Lundqvist had only four shutouts, but really that is a minor detail when compared to the overall body of work. I still firmly believe that at some point Lundqvist will either ask for a trade or actually be traded. Playing in front of a defense that would frustrate even Patrick Roy, Lundqvist had several episodes this season where it seemed that he wanted to throw his team under the bus. It is that sign of frustration that I actually like most about him as a goalie. He cares and overall I have to say he slightly exceeded expectations.

7. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks (1)

He wins, and that’s bottom line — 41 in total last year with some pretty good numbers along the way. Some will say that Nabokov benefits greatly from goal support that is second to very few, if any. Since the lockout, he has been kind of up and down, so expect a little more of an up year from the 34-year-old Russian, who, let’s face it, is playing for some serious coin this year. Here is the deal: Nabokov will win at least 40 games and probably closer to 45 if he stays healthy. If you can put up with the relatively low save percentage compared to almost all of this list, he is a great second starting goalie. I’m expecting a GAA of around 2.35 and a save percentage of about .912 with seven or eight shutouts from Nabokov.

The Actual: Well, he had a much better year, that is for sure. At 2.44, the goals against was a bit higher than our projection, but the save percentage was much better at .922. Nabokov also won 44 times and, while he only garnered three shutouts, that .922 save percentage was the big number here. That made Fantasy owners who stuck with Nabokov very happy. And again, no one cares about the Olympics amongst Fantasy hockey junkies. In a season where shutouts were at more of a premium, I cannot knock Nabokov’s shutout total because San Jose’s defense was a bit more porous than in previous years. To be fair, the goalie slightly exceeded expectations this year and may get rewarded with a higher draft position in Fantasy drafts next season depending where he ends up.

8. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (15)

Carolina is a team on the rise and the appearance in last year’s Conference Finals may be a sign of things to come. This could be the year that Ward breaks the 40-win plateau at last; a 40-42 win season is what we are calling for. He will have around a 2.40 to 2.45 GAA and close to a .920 save percentage with six or seven shutouts thrown in. A solid backup in Michael Leighton will give Ward the proper rest he needs to be at his best late in the regular season or your Fantasy playoffs — just some food for thought considering how hot he was last year down the stretch.

The Actual: When we are wrong, we are wrong and this is one of those picks that simply just missed the mark badly. The scary part is the next one was even worse despite foreshadowing. Now, Ward’s save percentage at .916 was not too far off what we picked, and the five shutouts wasn’t either, but the injuries that killed Carolina and even Ward as well are things that you cannot always account for. The team defense was just not there or hurt or something else (for instance, Joe Corvo got traded). The below .500 record hurt as well, but Ward was seven games over .500 over the second half. It just shows you how disastrous he was over the first half. Needless to say Ward did not meet expectations.

9. Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets (NR)

Mason’s win total should improve just because if he stays healthy he will play more than 61 games. He is a perfect No. 2 to have on your Fantasy team because most nights it’s a 2-1 or 3-2 game. Mason’s 33-20-7 record with 10 shutouts won him the Calder. And let’s not forget that 2.29 GAA…that was nice. I will take some heat for this as well. Mason is barely a top 10 goalie in Fantasy leagues, but because this seems to be the year of 1a and 1b again, he will benefit greatly. About 36-38 wins, a 2.32 GAA and a .917 save percentage along with seven or eight shutouts would not be a surprise for Mason.

The Actual: This was just basically a total sophomore slump of biblical proportions. At one point late in the season, Mason still had a GAA over 3.50. To be somewhat fair, the team fell apart under Ken Hitchcock and played out the string under interim coach Claude Noel. However, Mason did start playing somewhat better and got his GAA down to around 3.00 and his save percentage at .901. Considering what it was for a long stretch, there may be hope next year, Fantasy hockey fans. I would expect a bit more of a bounce back, but Mason is not going to toss 10 shutouts at you. He definitely missed the mark big time, expectations-wise.

10. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (10)

Simply look at how well he was playing before he got hurt. Thanks, Scott Gomez. Remember that Miller had 34 wins in only 59 games last year; he likely would have topped 40 wins with around a 2.50 GAA and maybe seven shutouts had he been healthy. However, we will never know. Well, for this season, 38-40 wins for Miller is about right. Add in the 2.45 to 2.50 GAA and a save percentage close to .920 and you have a guy that should sneak in under the radar in some Fantasy leagues. Sometimes, the veteran gets it over the young guns.

The Actual: All he did was pretty much finish near the top five in just about everything and played out of his mind, something we thought he had potential to do if he could stay healthy. Well, Miller did and the results speak for themselves. The 2.22 GAA with the .929 save percentage are pretty much Fantasy No.-type numbers to me. Hey, Miller even tossed in five shutouts as well. If he could have scored some goals, he probably would have accomplished that, too. There is a reason why Miller may just walk away with the Vezina, his year was just that damn good. He vastly exceeded expectations this season and you can expect more of it next season.

11. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (NR): Last year was no fluke and he will prove it. The Pred goalie should be expected to help your Fantasy team even with a funny first and last name. Rinne’s expected 36-38 wins with a nice GAA and save percentage will make you say Dan Ellias and Tomas Vokoun who?

Actual: YES!

12. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks (NR): Hiller will be the No. 1 in Anaheim and rack up numbers. He is set up for a very nice season. Anaheim has gotten younger and without the Chris Pronger trade distraction, the only thing left is J.S. Giguere, and you can expect him to get traded during the season. Hiller is a good goalie to take a bit later. Not exactly.

13. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers (NR): He will be better than Cristobal Huet this year, however, not by much. Khabibulin does like playing on a team with fast tempo (Chicago and Tampa). The numbers will be good — maybe even better than Chicago — because he knows he will be the No. 1, but still has the pressure. Oh, hell no!

14. Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks (NR): With that offense, he should be up here. Even missing Marian Hossa for a month or two, Chicago will score. And Patrick Kane, even with the distraction, will still produce. So even with global warming, Huet will produce. You get the idea…draft him late. Not even close.

15. Marc Andre-Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins (6): Expect a hangover, yes, but a better second half. Fleury is more inconsistent than the Devils defensive corps, yet he won a Stanley Cup last year. Go figure! It really comes down to the fact that this is a guy that plays better later in the year. Maybe even stash him as your third goalie, if possible. About right.

16. Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers (14): He still puts up solid numbers, but has little support. The other wrinkle is Scott Clemmensen — will he help or hurt Vokoun? That is a big question. Clemmensen helped spell a goalie like Brodeur, but Vokoun is no Brodeur. Maybe someone should go Distant Early Warning and signal red alert! BINGO…great numbers, though.

17. Chris Mason, St. Louis Blues (NR): Which C. Mason will we see? He is a lot like a bipolar person; you do not know which goalie you will get or if he will stay healthy. If Mason stays on top of his game, he is worthy of this list. If not, seek other options immediately and run to your waiver wire. This is a buyer beware situation, and it would help if the Blues can stay a bit more healthy as well. Send medikits. Not bad, but not good enough.

18. Chris Osgood, Detroit Red Wings (12): Osgood will have a better regular season; he almost has to. Sure, we know he’s getting older, but Detroit is a good regular season team and Osgood knows he is under the microscope — fairly or unfairly. We’d recommend that early in the season you just keep the waiver wire on speed dial just in case. Oh no he did not!

19. Jon Quick, Los Angeles Kings (NR): Quick is an up and comer that could be in the top 10 soon. Expect a nice rise and more starts out of Mr. Quick. He plays in a pretty good defensive system and should get a bit more support this season and that spells trouble for Fantasy owners that do not draft this guy as a nice No. 3 goalie.  He has arrived!

20. Craig Anderson, Colorado Avalanche: (NR): Anderson could put up some nice numbers; he is The Matrix, after all. Great reflexes, little respect, and little support have characterized Mr. Anderson’s career. Let’s see what he can do as a No. 1 in Colorado. This will be quite the test for a netminder starting to enter into his prime beef years. He sure did…in the playoffs even.

Others to Consider

21. Simeon Varlamov, Washington Capitals (NR): Takes the bull by the Caps’ horns. Injuries slowed him down.

22. Marty Turco, Dallas Stars (3): Has to have a better year for Dallas. That answer is NO!

23. Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers (NR): We had to put him on here somewhere. But he should have stayed off…

24. Jonas Gustafsson, Toronto Maple Leafs (NR): I can see the monster doing pretty well. Showed flashes, but not so much.

25. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (13): Because it cannot get much worse than last year. Halak too OVER!

Final Analysis: So what did we learn this year? As always, expect the unexpected. Next week we will nitpick at our 25 Left Wingers because well there were even more landmines there than here. Pretty scary isn’t it? Let that be a lesson: that sometimes hockey just happens!

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