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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