Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top-5 NHL goalies to watch in 2010-11

Cam Ward (CAR)
Perhaps for the first time in his career, Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has something to prove. He entered the league in 2005-06 and tallied a 14-8-2 regular season record. He followed that up by stealing the starting job from Martin Gerber in the playoffs and then leading his team to a Stanley Cup championship.

He also got his name on the coveted Conn Smythe Trophy. It was a harbinger of things to come. Year after year, Ward's wins and shutout totals rose, his save percentage continued to improve and his goals-against average continued to shrink.

The 2008-09 season was his best: 39-23-5 with six shutouts, a .916 save percentage and 2.44 GAA. Ward did nothing but exceed expectations through his first four seasons. But last year, Ward came back to earth.
A leg laceration and an upper-body injury limited Ward to just 47 games in 2009-10 and he finished the season with just 18 wins and no shutouts. There's no reason why you shouldn't expect Ward to regain his form - if he can stay healthy.

Jaroslav Halak (STL)
Now that Jaroslav Halak is with the St. Louis Blues, he doesn't have Carey Price and the Montreal media looking over his shoulder each night, and he can finally turn his full attention to proving he deserves to be a bona fide starting netminder.

His new backup, Ty Conklin, likely won't give him the type of challenge Price did, as Conklin played second fiddle to Chris Mason last year (Mason's now tending the pipes in Atlanta). With a young team like the Blues and a hungry Halak, who's coming off a stellar playoff run with the Canadiens, good things could happen in St. Louis this season.

Steve Mason (CBJ)
It's not unusual for an athlete to have a good first professional season, only to take a step backwards in their sophomore year. Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason has found himself in that exact position.

Mason won the Calder Trophy in 2008-09 with an impressive record: 33-20-7, 10 shutouts, a .916 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average. But last year he underachieved by going 20-26-9 with a GAA over three and a save percentage just barely above .900. This season, Mason will look to rebound and prove his Calder-winning season was no fluke.

Tuukka Rask/Tim Thomas (BOS)
In Boston, the goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas will once again be interesting. Some experts are picking Rask to be this year's Vezina Trophy winner, but he'll have to win more than 22 games to get there. Thomas may have something to say about it. After all, fighting for playing time is something Thomas is used to, having toiled in the minors for years. Look for the former Vezina Trophy winner to fight Rask tooth and nail for that coveted No. 1 job. Just a word of caution here: This doesn't mean I'm suggesting taking Thomas with a high pick or selecting him before Rask, but it does mean he could ultimately be a steal among those considered "backups" and that Rask may not get the stats some are anticipating. Remember, two crucial elements to drafting a good fantasy team are: 1) Don't overpay by drafting a player too high and; 2) Go for the players in the later rounds that have the potential to exceed expectations.

It's all about where you draft a player. That means Rask may be a superstar in net, statistically speaking, but if he continues to split time with Thomas, he's only half as good as a full-time starter like Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, Buffalo's Ryan Miller or Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick.

Kari Lehtonen (DAL)
Much to the chagrin of Atlanta fans, former Thrashers netminder Kari Lehtonen is getting another shot at being a starter. Dallas plucked him out of Atlanta last season, where he primarily underachieved with brief spurts of greatness.

In Lehtonen's three and a half injury-plagued seasons with the Thrashers, the biggest knock on the Finnish goalie was his inability to stay healthy. Despite the fact he turns 27 in November, this could very well be Lehtonen's last chance in the NHL and that in itself could serve as the motivation he needs to succeed.

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Brodeur Leads the Way for Fantasy Goaltenders

A few key goalies changed teams this offseason, specifically Jaroslav Halak, Marty Turco and Antti Niemi, but the No. 1 keeper remains the same: the Devils' Martin Brodeur. Despite being 38, Marty continues to put up outstanding numbers year after year. Ryan Miller follows closely behind Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist comes in as the surprising third-ranked goalie. "King Henrik" just barely edged out Vancouver's Roberto Luongo. Consistency is a hard thing to find between the pipes, and Lundqvist defines reliability and consistency. After Luongo, you can find plenty of depth, but just be sure to try and grab at least one dependable goalie come draft day.

1. Martin Brodeur - New Jersey Devils

2. Ryan Miller - Buffalo Sabres

3. Henrik Lundqvist - New York Rangers

4. Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks

5. Miikka Kiprusoff - Calgary Flames

6. Jimmy Howard - Detroit Red Wings

7. Ilya Bryzgalov - Phoenix Coyotes

8. Jaroslav Halak - St Louis Blues

9. Marty Turco - Chicago Black hawks

10. Pekka Rinne - Nashville Predators

11. Jonas Hiller - Anaheim Ducks

12. Tomas Vokoun - Florida Panthers

13. Niklas Backstrom - Minnesota Wild

14. Marc-Andre Fleury Pittsburgh Penguins

15. Cam Ward - Carolina Hurricanes

16. Craig Anderson - Colorado Avalanche

17. Antti Niemi - San Jose Sharks

18. Tuukka Rask - Boston Bruins

19. Semyon Varlamov - Washington Capitols

20. Carey Price - Montreal Canadians

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Luongo Drops the "C" and gets a New Goalie Coach

It was truly an offseason of change for Roberto Luongo.

Let's start with the obvious: the all-star netminder is no longer the captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo separated himself from the title a week ago, as well as the extra distractions that came with being the outright leader of a team with huge expectations in a market starved for success.

As much as Luongo enjoyed being the captain, the main man in the room, he showcased a great deal of maturity and selflessness in returning the captaincy. Nothing has actually changed with Luongo, though, who is approaching training camp and his game the way he always has.

"I'm the same guy, I'm not going to change the way I was whether I'm captain or not," Luongo said Saturday. "I'm going to be vocal when I feel I need to be and I'm just going to go about my business the same way. At the end of the day, really it's just a letter and a title and it doesn't really change much for me."

The true change for Luongo comes on the ice, as for the first time in his tenure with the Canucks, and dating back to his second year in Florida in 2001-02, he won't be working with goalie coach Ian Clark.
Clark was unable to the commit to the Canucks on a full-time basis and the team was convinced having someone around for Luongo every practice would benefit the 31-year-old goalie, so former Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Roland Melanson was brought in.

Melanson, the first goaltender born in New Brunswick to play in the NHL, spent 12 years in the League playing for five teams, winning three Stanley Cups with the Islanders from 1981-1983. His resume is impressive, but he and Luongo still need to establish a strong bond for their relationship to flourish. They put in some time this summer to get ahead of the game.

"I had a chance to work with him this summer when he came down to Florida for a week -- we had a chance to get a good ground and develop a relationship and work on some things," Luongo said.
"It's good to have that happen in August, because then once I get to camp I'm already familiar with certain things that he wants me to bring to my game."

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Roberto Luongo ready to drop the "C"

For weeks after the season, Roberto Luongo grappled with whether he wanted to remain the Vancouver Canucks captain.

He's expected to announce his decision in September when he arrives in Vancouver and meets with GM Mike Gillis for the first time since the spring.

"We decided to wait until I see him in September," said Gillis, who scrapped his original plan to meet with Luongo in July. "We're going to have a discussion about it and see where he's at. It's going to be a combination of input."

The most likely scenario is Luongo will give up his 'C.' Recent speculation has Henrik Sedin, the Hart Trophy winner, replacing him based on logic, if not sources.

The question then is why would Luongo choose to step down? He is the one who had a 'C' painted on his goalie mask when the league told him a goalie couldn't wear one on his jersey. He's the first Vancouver Canucks captain in 16 years to lead the team to the second round in consecutive seasons. And he told the Canucks in last season's exit meeting he "loves being captain."

But, at the same time, Luongo expressed frustration at the end of the year with "the other stuff." The distractions. He already vowed he will no longer talk to the media the morning of games.

Luongo said in May: "You want to be focused on the game and stopping the puck."

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