During the first five days of free agency, the goalie storyline centered around new opportunities for Mike Smith, Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov. But over the last five days, the storyline has focused on the shifting situations of many top-flight prospects, including some that poolies have been harvesting for months, maybe even years.
With that in mind, for the next two School of Block sessions, I want to evaluate the fantasy value of the NHL teams that have seen major changes to the landscape and atmosphere of their goaltending depth charts. Please note that due to the numerous moves during July, I did not publish a Top-125 Prospects Rankings this month. Why?
There’s just far too much movement taking place. Each time a goalie moves teams, it drastically influences how other prospects around them are ranked. If I were to publish it last week, the entire thing would be obsolete and inaccurate by today. With that being said, the August update will be the first release of my new Top-150 Rankings.
But be sure to pull up our updated NHL Depth Charts (as of this morning) as you go through the first set of teams!
ANAHEIM – With the addition of Jeff Deslauriers to a new two-year deal, Anaheim instantly watered down both Iiro Tarkki and Timo Pielmeier’s current fantasy value. For the upcoming season, JD and Tarkki will try to provide Syracuse with much more consistency than last year’s tandem of Pielmeier and J-P Levasseur.
For Pielmeier, his short-term value is crushed by JD’s arrival – he now appears to be heading back to the ECHL. This is a major blow for Timo, especially with the second year of JD’s contract an NHL salary and Tarkki an RFA next July.
Tarkki, however, is still in a positive situation. His RFA status could open the door for him to be re-signed, thus a potential suitor for Jonas Hiller’s new backup (Dan Ellis will be an UFA) next summer. But his short-term value has been slightly reduced, as he’ll now be paired with the talented Deslauriers, as opposed to an inexperienced and blossoming Pielmeier. He’s no longer the clear-cut #3 for the Ducks.
For Tarkki, he still controls his destiny. If he has a strong rookie season or takes the starting job from Deslauriers, at 26 years of age, he could present a slightly younger option as Anaheim’s backup after next season. But don’t forget the tie-in between Ducks goalie coach Pete Peeters and Deslauriers – they spent time working together in Edmonton.
Because of this slight edge in contract and comfort for JD, a duel between him and Tarkki has already started and will play out over the next 12 months. Who wins, you ask? Why, the One From the Stands, of course. It should also be noted that Igor Bobkov will also most likely play this season with his new OHL team, the Kingston Frontenacs.
BUFFALO: Since Jhonas Enroth is still pondering the qualifying offer he received from the Sabres, his current value is still somewhat unknown. The addition of Drew MacIntyre to play with David Leggio in Rochester makes Enroth’s current value even more unsteady. This tweet from Andy Strickland also lends a hand to more Enroth uncertainty.
MacIntyre was so brilliant in the AHL playoffs for Hamilton that he continues to be a solid candidate for the organization’s NHL backup. I mean, what’s the difference between playing behind Price or Miller, besides age difference? There are pros and cons to MacIntyre’s fantasy value both in Buffalo and Montreal, so it’s a wash.
If Enroth chooses to pass on his qualifying offer, it obviously destroys his expected NHL backup role. And with only a few teams left needing a goalie (Detroit, possibly Edmonton looking to replace Nikolai Khabibulin), Enroth could shut the door of opportunity right in his own face.
I expect the two sides to agree to a deal, but the balance of power is clearly on Buffalo’s side, as there are many other goalies available to back up Miller – even MacIntyre.
I also still feel that Nathan Lieuwen will return to Kootenay for an overage season in the WHL. For some goalies, the ECHL is considered even more chaotic than the AHL, so the current Top-4 (if Enroth stays or is replaced by another UFA) leads me to believe Lieuwen gains even more of a long-term boost from spending one more year in the WHL.
CALGARY: Simply put, Henrik Karlsson’s new two-year contract really damages Leland Irving’s current fantasy value. He’ll be forced to spend another season in Abbotsford, a frustrating result after he had one of the nicest statistical seasons for all AHL goalies.
Set to make $600,000 this season on a two-way deal, Irving will be an RFA again next July 1 and have to make another tough decision – does he want to be patient for another year, or take a chance and try a new path?
For Joni Ortio, the short-term future is looking brighter. He’ll have a legitimate shot at raising his stock by pushing Irving for playing time. If he has a strong rookie season, the Flames might start focusing more of their efforts on nurturing Ortio’s future, not Irving’s. It also helps that Ortio models his game and demeanor after Miikka Kiprusoff.
COLORADO: With the addition of top-flight prospect Cedrick Desjardins back on Friday, the Avalanche now have three goalies that all descend into the Rocky Mountains in September with different levels of injury concerns.
Desjardins’ shoulder injury was much more serious than originally expected. It may have influenced Steve Yzerman’s decision to stay away from keeping him in Tampa. But by signing a two-way contract for one year in Colorado, if he stays healthy, the odds are fairly high he’ll see at least five games for Colorado.
That might be all the exposure he needs to earn more interest at the right time, as he’ll be an RFA come next July 1. If not for the shoulder injury happening at the tail end of the season, you’d have to think my original expectations of a Dwayne Roloson – Desjardins tandem may have come to fruition! Close, but no cigar.
Overall, this is still a tough spot for Desjardins, as Varlamov is signed for three years and J-S Giguere is signed for two. So even though Desjardins (an RFA) might get good exposure as an injury reserve, his long-term value is hurt.
For Calvin Pickard, the option to turn pro and play for Lake Erie exists. But my advice would be to expect Pickard to return to Seattle. The odds are higher that Colorado pushes former London Knights goalie Trevor Cann into the AHL full-time. If they don’t sign another AHL’er this summer, expect an interesting Pickard vs. Cann duel in training camp.
At this point, the best thing for Pickard’s long-term value is playing one more year in Seattle. Varlamov, Giguere and Desjardins’ arrivals push his expected arrival back at least a year, so his current fantasy value drops slightly. The Avs also still lack an ECHL affiliate, so if Pickard does turn pro, he either beats Cann in training camp, plays in the Central Hockey League for Tulsa, or act as Lake Erie’s third goalie.
COLUMBUS: Everyone should know by now that Mark Dekanich is primed to be one of the fantasy sleepers this season. He’ll not only earn the backup role in training camp, but earn starts and wins based largely on his skills.
This is good news for Mason owners. Last season, Mathieu Garon’s role was that of a mentor and veteran influence. But this season, Mason is being challenged by a capable prospect wanting to prove his worth and value. This is quite a different situation for Mason, one that might be the spark he needs to improve his focus and mental toughness.
Combined with the influence of Ian Clark, the goaltending, although considered a risky tandem on the surface, should pay off with improved statistics and value for Mason, along with decent outings and fantasy value from Dekanich.
In speaking with Clark over the phone last Friday, I can safely say that Columbus recognizes where Mason’s issues lie. Therefore, the focus on improving his game is right where it should be. And if he works a lot harder right now than he did last summer, it should go a long way in making Mason a more consistent goaltender this season. Remember that the skill is there, but where he’s lacking on the ice is right in between the ears.
DETROIT: The Red Wings are still determining Chris Osgood’s future, but if they do sign a new backup, expect it to be Ty Conklin. Not only is there plenty of familiarity from his previous stint in Detroit, but he’s the top option available.
More important for fantasy managers, however, is the rising stock of Notre Dame alumni Jordan Pearce. Last season, he quietly went from an ECHL starter to an AHL starter, handling the transition with maturity and ease. Re-signed to a new contract, he’s already mentally preparing to handle the starting role in Grand Rapids.
In 44 games (after eight in the ECHL), Pearce went 20-15-5 with a .908 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against average. Those aren’t spectacular numbers, but the durability and consistency on a weaker team was impressive.
If Pearce can agree to terms with Detroit and build on last season’s success, he’ll prove to Ken Holland he’s worth cultivating. At the same time, it will damage Thomas McCollum’s value, as he’ll have a lesser role in Grand Rapids.
Pearce is the same type of mold that you find in Jimmy Howard – not overly talented, but smart, well-rounded and quietly confident. This makes him one of the more interesting prospects to watch as a result of free-agency. He’s never been ranked in my Top-100 Prospects before, but he’ll certainly be in the Top-150 when August hits.
Be sure to check back next Monday when I continue with Part II of the free-agency fantasy Prospects Pulse.