The preseason has finally come to an end and now we wait with feverish anticipation for the real season to begin. With three days off before Thursday’s Opening Night celebration kicks off the new season, today is a perfect opportunity for me to drop updated goalie previews for the start of the fantasy season.
To quickly reflect on the summer, I’m very proud of my new Monthly Scouting Journal, which comes out on the fifth of each month. And since today is the fourth, I wanted to give everyone a sneak peek at the meat of our October Journal – a beefy season preview of all 60 NHL goalies. I chose five goalies that, for the time being, are at the forefront of the fantasy scene. On top of that, we have another Fantasy Mailbag set up to answer your questions all afternoon.
Remember we have to record Avalanche Weekly at noon MST here in Denver, so we’ll catch up with you all afterwards! We will also add a few ramblings when the October Scouting Journal is published, but expect that to be early Tuesday afternoon. A few other current updates:
No decision has been made (as of 11am MST on Monday) on who stays and who goes between Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk. I’ll scream it to the heavens until my jaw breaks off, but JDD deserves this backup spot. He was terrific last night in the 1-0 loss to Calgary, with Dubnyk allowing the only goal of the game. JDD not only has the experience coming off the bench, has more skill and a more refined butterfly style, but he’s only signed for one season. Dubnyk is signed for two years, is much more of a raw-skilled goalie and would be less likely to get picked up on waivers. This isn’t a difficult decision, but who knows if the Oilers make the right one.
Jonathan Bernier was rewarded with the backup role in Los Angeles, so I hope you heeded my advice over the last month, as what I expected has come to fruition. Johan Backlund was waived by the Flyers, which pretty much guarantees that they will start the season with Sergei Bobrovsky backing up Brian Boucher. We can’t decipher what the Flyers have in store for the future, but Bobrovsky deserves the opportunity to start the season with the big club and he will have chances to stick for good. His play and long-term potential has been the biggest surprise in the last month.
Michal Neuvirth is starting on opening night in Atlanta. The Capitals play again on Friday. No word yet on whether or not Semyon Varlamov will be ready in time for the start of the season, but better safe than sorry. Niklas Backstrom is expected to play both games this weekend in Finland, as Jose Theodore is in Houston on a conditioning stint. Patrick Lalime, Jonas Gustavsson, Varlamov and Roberto Luongo are all dealing with slight groin pulls. Kari Lehtonen got over his quickly and was one of the NHL’s Three Stars for the pre-season, as he posted a terrific .75 goals against average in three games.
Carey Price - No goalie has more pressure on his shoulders than Carey Price. In a frothing mad market like Montreal, nothing short of perfection will be allowed in that city. The Jaroslav Halak dynamic also plays a role in how much pressure Price faces, as he will have to live up to the same composed, consistent play that took the Habs deep into the playoffs last season. We know Carey has the talent, but does he have the mental toughness? That’s the question that will only be answered over time. Fantasy Advice: Price is another one of the high-risk, high-reward goalies to own. In our fantasy drafts, because of the risk, he slipped to the middle rounds and most managers were not that happy having to rely on him as a second goalie on their team. We are expecting 50 starts, a winning record hovering around 30 wins and anywhere from a 2.60 and 2.80 GAA. Shutouts will be hard to come by, but if he gets into a positive atmosphere where the fans rally around his play, four or five shutouts are possible. Strengths: His precise footwork, solid frame and quickness make him the complete package. He has excellent butterfly technique, quick hands, a very calm butterfly and a flair for the dramatic. He’s a very well-coached goalie with tremendous potential and upside and the ability to win big games and make very timely saves. Weaknesses: Lacks mental toughness and consistency. Is rattled easily and fails to stay focused on simply stopping the puck. Tries to handle things that are out of his control. 2009-10 Stats: 13-20-5 with a 2.77 GAA, .912 save percentage and zero shutouts.
Steve Mason - His sophomore slump was a grim reminder that talent rarely trumps mental toughness. Without much experience to hinge on, Mason was fed to the wolves last season and lost all of the confidence he had gained as a rookie. His skill was on display in a number of games, but one questionable goal caused him to spiral out of control way too easily. With a full summer to focus on preparing for his third season, there’s once again some positive vibes heading into his season. Fantasy Advice: With the sophomore slump out of the way, expect Mason’s fantasy output to be an average of his first two seasons. That means close to 60 starts, around a 2.60 GAA and a .910 save percentage. We think the biggest key to his long-term success next year will be a strong start. If he wins his first few games, the confidence will soar and he’ll get closer to his rookie output. If he loses them, it could be a season in rough waters once again. The fact he had five shutouts in just 20 wins last year is proof that when he’s in a rhythm, he’s very good. So the key will be obtaining that rhythm by being ready to play as soon as the puck drops. Strengths: Very efficient butterfly style in which he keeps his back straight, seals holes and still eliminates the top corners with long arms, legs and upper body. Catches right. Very sharp laterally and uses his inside edges very well. Great post coverage and snaps in and out of the butterfly very quickly. Good glove and blocker hands. Solid puck mover. A situationally aware goalie that knows how to conserve movement and make efficient saves. Weaknesses: Other than experience and things like rebound control and reading plays, most of Mason’s weaknesses are of the mental variety. He does not prepare well enough for crucial games and needs to understand the importance of consistent focus and preparation. Needs to work on eye attachment to the puck and see around and over bodies better. 2009-10 Stats: 20-26-9 with a 3.05 GAA, .901 save percentage and five shutouts.
Jonathan Bernier - As we have been saying for many months, it was only a matter of time before he cracks the roster and makes an impact on the Kings team. That time officially arrived on Sunday, Oct. 3 when the Kings announced that Bernier would back up Quick this season. With that decision, the future of the Kings franchise is here today and it won’t take long for him to have a positive impact in the win column. Fantasy Advice: Do not pass him up. He’s a perfect sleeper pick and could explode into a quality Calder Trophy candidate. If he plays well in his first few starts, the sky is the limit. It’s very hard to prophesize the number of starts he’ll receive, but we do expect close to 40 and a goals against average around 2.25 with a .920 save percentage and a few shutouts. Whatever comes of his rookie season, don’t say we didn’t warn you! Strengths: Extremely poised, calm and confident goalie with smart positioning and patience for his size. Smaller frame does not affect his footwork as he stays anchored and “quiet” in his crease. Very quick glove and blocker hand. Amazing foot speed and shark movements. Sets his feet extremely well. Seals the ice very well with his leg pads and seals the six and seven holes with a tight butterfly. Weaknesses: Seeing around screens and killing penalties will be his main areas of weakness to start. Rebound control and durability will be other areas of concern. A lack of experience is a given. 2009-10 Stats: 30-21-6 with a 2.03 GAA, .930 save percentage and nine shutouts with the Manchester Monarchs (AHL).
Anders Lindback - One of the biggest surprises as far as the training camp battles were concerned, Lindback, who played for Timra (SEL) last year, stole the backup role in Nashville from Mark Dekanich. He did this thanks to an optimal frame at 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds and a great combination of quickness, reflexes and butterfly technique. He was one of the top Elitserien goalies last season and that should parlay over into a confident rookie year in the NHL. Despite the lack of experience in North America, his size lends a hand to success this season. Fantasy Advice: If you’ve paid attention to the recent history of the Predators backup goaltending carousel, you know full well that Lindback is worth keeping an eye on. He is working with one of the best goalie coaches in the world with Mitch Korn and will absorb a lot of information on the game by watching video, practicing on a daily basis and watching Rinne from the bench. We expect sparkling rookie numbers and at least 20 starts, possibly closer to 30. Strengths: Great hybrid butterfly style with fluid movement on his knees. Amazing size makes him a large presence in the net. Active hands and feet make him mobile after making the first save. Weaknesses: Has consistency issues that stem from his tenure in the SEL. No experience in North America will be the biggest detractor heading into the season. 2009-10 Stats: In 42 games played with Timra (SEL), he posted a 2.46 GAA and .913 save percentage. He also won a Bronze Medal in the 2010 IIHF World Championships.
Rick DiPietro - When someone says the word “DiPietro” most fantasy managers will either roll their eyes or run and hide. Nobody wants to take the risk of owning such an injury-plagued goalie. But with a few pre-season games under his belt and the Islanders brass stating this is the healthiest he has been in two years, what does that mean for his fantasy value? Fantasy Advice: No matter what the organization says about his health, DiPietro will continue to be a high-risk goaltender with not that much reward. The Islanders are still very much in the “rebuild” mode and they don’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs. We don’t expect Rick’s season to be all fine and dandy, but we do think he will maintain health for a good portion of the season. We feel that 35 games played, 15-17 wins and a couple of shutouts are fair numbers to expect from the US-born goaltender. If it’s more, we’ll be impressed. Strengths: Stunning quickness, agility and reflexes. Upright and narrowed butterfly keeps him very positionally sound for rebound shots and for lateral movement. Uses his inside edges extremely well and is one of the top four or five puck movers in the league. Catches with the right hand. Can make the timely, desperate save. Flashy hands and active stick allows him to challenge shooters in tight spaces. Weaknesses: Is rarely healthy enough to have a positive impact. Is often tense or tight and therefore fails to execute effectively. Can be too active and fail to display composure. 2009-10 Stats: 2-5-0 with a 2.60 GAA, .900 save percentage and one shutout.