This is a frustrating time for hockey fans, for sure, but doubly so for those of us who live by our fantasy teams every winter. By now, we should already have been be poring over those first few nights of game summaries, pumping our fist at that opening-game hat trick, or cursing that soft goal let in by our high-priced goalie.
But until this confounded lockout is settled, there is not much we can do but wait.
With that in mind, we’re going to take the next few weeks in this space and, starting with the goalkeepers, look at five players who could outdo last year’s production and five more who could slide down the rankings. Some of these early tidbits are based on numbers, some on logic and others simply on gut instinct.
— Tuukka Rask BOS: Have you ever owned a good young goalie and secretly wished the starter somehow would drop off the face of the earth? Well, that’s what Rask owners got with Tim Thomas’ self-imposed sabbatical. Rask has done it before and, on that powerful Bruins team, is pretty much a lock to do it again.
— Cory Schneider VAN: Though his number of starts will depend on whether Roberto Luongo is traded away or hangs around as a pricey backup, those three sterling playoff outings against the Kings last spring suggest that his future is now.
— Cam Ward CAR: His final 2011-12 numbers don’t stand out, but they were fattened up by a .932 SPCT in the season’s second half after the Canes’ coaching change. The addition of quality two-way centre Jordan Staal helps, too.
— Anders Lindback TB: Based on the fact that Pekka Rinne’s former understudy finally has a No. 1 gig, Lindback will shoot up the pre-draft lists. However, the feeling here is that the Lightning’s defence is not the Predators’ — even without Ryan Suter — and he has yet to prove he can backbone a team the way Rinne does. His value goes up, but don’t overbid.
— Niklas Backstrom MIN: After posting save percentages north of .920 his first three years, he hasn’t topped that mark in the ensuing three. However, the additions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise will mean the puck spends less time in the Wild zone.
— Jon Quick LA: Can you say post-Cup hangover? The stats of the previous four Stanley Cup-winning goalies — Thomas, Antti Niemi, Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood — all took a tumble the following year. Everything fell into place for Quick last season and the Kings won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.
— Jimmy Howard DET: Though it’s never a wise idea to dismiss the Red Wings’ regenerative powers, you cannot completely dismiss the potential effect that Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement will have.
— Roberto Luongo VAN: His stock will depend on whether or not he is traded but, suffice to say that, regardless where he winds up — on the Canucks bench or starting elsewhere — Bobby Lu won’t be lumped in with the league’s elite.
— Kari Lehtonen DAL: Posted career-bests in GAA and SV% last season which, given the Stars’ off-season overhaul on offence and already suspect blue line, might be a stretch to repeat.
— Martin Brodeur NJ: Shrugged off his age in spectacular fashion during the Devils’ playoff run but, sooner or later, it has to begin catching up to him. Signing that new two-year deal might seem like a convenient time for that to happen. Just saying ...
SITUATIONS TO WATCH
Washington’s netminding was already a coin flip between Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth before Braden Holtby’s eye-opening playoff performance completely muddied this picture.
The hunch here is that a full season with Randy Carlyle, and more significantly, without goalie ‘guru’ Francois Allaire, will allow James Reimer to climb into the middle of the pack of NHL netminders.
This injury-plagued cast of retreads and unheard-ofs is back but, until the team improves without the puck, it won’t matter who it sends out into the blue ice.
Expect the wildly successful timeshare between Jaroslav Halak (above) and Brian Elliott to continue. But all it will take is an injury, or an extended slump by either one, to send the other’s fantasy stock through the ceiling.
Miikka Kiprusoff is a lock. But, at some point, the Flames may have to stop putting off the inevitable rebuilding process, deal their iconic netminder and give Henrik Karlsson or Leland Irving a shot.