One week from today, the trade deadline will tear through the National Hockey League like a Texas tornado. The funnel cloud is forming as we speak, as a few goaltenders have already been uprooted and dropped in a new city. Whether these changes improve or ruin a goalie’s fantasy value depends on many different factors, but one thing I know for sure is that traded goalies will be re-energized as they start the next chapter of their pro careers.
We already saw it over the weekend with Craig Anderson and Al Montoya. Anderson had struggled all season long due to numerous uncontrollable situations in Colorado and clearly wanted (and needed) a change. It was very clear to me that he simply wasn’t happy with some of Joe Sacco’s decisions, so he wasn’t playing the same aggressive style that made him so successful last year.
But the trade quickly benefitted his fantasy owners. He was instantly re-energized and played the best game of his season by pitching a 47-save shutout in a 1-0 shootout win over Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada. The fierce, aggressive and confident demeanor that he failed to display in Colorado was reborn, and I fully expect him to continue playing that way through the rest of the season.
Kudos to those that stayed patient and kept him on the fantasy roster – you’ve learned a valuable lesson in fantasy goaltending.
Montoya, as I explained numerous times over the last week, has always been a capable guy that simply needed an opportunity to prove his worth. Give the Islanders a lot of credit for opening the door for him, then give credit to Montoya for battling hard in a couple of difficult relief efforts. Those two games allowed him to slowly gain the confidence needed to excel in his first start. The result was a 35-save shutout in a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
The motivations for both of these goalies are clearly defined – they’re fighting for a new contract. Anderson is an un-restricted free agent hoping to secure big bucks for the next couple of seasons, while Montoya is pushing for a legitimate shot at an NHL gig. Their paths are very different, but these two American-born goalies prove that all it takes is a change of scenery and an opportunity to play.
But aside from the obvious trade to a new team, there are other ways in which a goalie can increase their fantasy value by being re-energized at this point of the season. Contract negotiations and situations are one, improved offense or defense due to other trades is another, and a clean mental slate is also a key to being re-energized.
A clean mental slate can transcend a number of different situations, including all of the ones listed above. This is exactly what happened with both Montoya and Anderson (and could happen with Brian Elliott as well). Their change of scenery simply allows them to re-focus and create new goals for the remainder of the season. The stagnant situation they were in leading up to the trade is tossed aside and a new, focused mindset is launched.
With this in mind, below are a few simple questions regarding the fantasy value of some goalies that I feel may or may not be re-energized over the next week.
How will Craig Anderson play down the stretch for Ottawa?
I expect Anderson to post above a .920 save percentage and a few more shutouts before the season ends. Because he had such an outstanding game against Toronto, Anderson has already re-established the aggressive and confident nature that made him so successful last season. He is fighting for a big contract and wants to be the workhorse leader for an NHL team. In that regard, I think he’s very motivated to do in Ottawa what he did in Colorado, which would be leading a weak team back to the playoffs.
It is important to point out that Pascal Leclaire will challenge Anderson upon his return to the lineup and create a competitive balance in Ottawa that didn’t exist in Colorado. That will also play a positive role in Anderson’s ability to play at his best. When he’s clearly challenged, Anderson usually plays at his best. It may not always equate to wins, but he’ll stop plenty of pucks down the stretch for Ottawa.
Will Jaroslav Halak be re-energized when he returns from injury?
I sure think so. The biggest source of Halak’s struggle leading up to his current injury was energy drain. With the injury allowing him to rest, he has an opportunity to re-energize the body and the mind. The injury is a major blow to his season, but all that matters now is what he can do to help the Blues get back into the playoffs. I’m not sure when he is expected to return to the lineup, but when he does, he’ll have a clean mental slate and plenty of energy.
Because of the trade that sent Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Blues, the entire team has been injected with some potent offensive assets and that also acts as a source of energy. When Halak returns, he’ll also benefit from the team’s improved offense. This could provide him the scoring support needed to turn his fortunes around.
More importantly, this is the kind of situation in which I feel Halak thrives and plays at his best. He is the type of goalie that reminds me of Antti Niemi – the bigger the game, the bigger the play. This is why St. Louis acquired him, this is why he was so successful in the Olympics and in Montreal and this is what it’s all about. The big playoff push is here and I really think Halak is going to turn things around and regain the form that made him so successful last year.
Can Ryan Miller Be Re-Energized and Put Buffalo in the Playoffs?
I don’t see it happening. I had high expectations for Miller in my “Down the Stretch” piece a few weeks back, but he simply looks too tired and isn’t getting enough rest. Bringing up Jhonas Enroth was a great move, but since his 10-round shootout win in Montreal, the Sabres have gone right back to Miller, who has lost his last three starts.
Miller has played better in those games, but unless they find adequate time to rest him down the stretch, he will never have an opportunity to re-energize his body and mind for the big playoff push. There are rumors of Miller playing with some kind of elusive or hidden injury, but I don’t see any visible signs of that. I think it’s more that he’s not as mentally sharp as he was last season, and a lot of that points to his heavy workload.
As of today, the Sabres have lost three games in a row and sit four points out of a playoff spot. Atlanta is in the same exact situation, while Toronto and New Jersey are surging. On top of the pressure from other teams, the Sabres have an extremely tough and busy schedule in March. They play 16 total games and have a whopping five back-to-back sets. Only once do they have a three-day break and they only have a two-day break twice.
When you combine his lack of rest, his potential issue of nagging injuries and his insanely busy schedule in March, it’s simply not a positive situation for Miller’s fantasy value right now.
Closing thoughts on goalies that could potentially be re-energized
Overall, it’s important to understand what kind of contract situation your fantasy goalie is in. Some names are more obvious than others, including Tomas Vokoun and potentially Jonathan Bernier or Cory Schneider. These guys are fighting for elevated roles and could be on the trading block, so the potential to be re-energized is clearly there.
Also keep in mind the goalies that have been well-rested and could see their role increase as the playoff push gets underway. A perfect example of this would be Johan Hedberg. He has tremendous fantasy value right now, as the team is streaking and benefitting from Jacques Lemaire’s coaching wizardry.
On the flip side, don’t be surprised to see goalies that have had to carry a heavy workload - like Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward, Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist and Dwayne Roloson – struggle down the stretch. It’s extremely tough to stay mentally sharp when the intensity around the league is rising and more rested goalies are able to sustain high levels of energy.