FOR THOSE ABOUT TO BLOCK, WE SALUTE YOU!
In part two of the two-part series, we take a look at the goaltending situation in the Eastern Conference.
ATLANTA: The Moose can produce for the Thrashers.
Kari Lehtonen must win 40 games alone to put Atlanta in the playoffs. They did nothing to improve this offseason, but Johan Hedberg will surely pick up the slack when Lehtonen shows signs of slowing down.
BOSTON: Rask is ready for the NHL task.
It’s not that Manny Fernandez is already slated for failure, but he won’t withstand the barrage of shots he’s going to face this season. Tim Thomas displays plenty of determination, but his awkward style only goes so far. Thus Tuukka Rask will get his cup of coffee later in the season and totally thrive during his destined opportunity.
BUFFALO: “Miller time” is on the decline.
Ryan Miller has a bilious taste left in his mouth from last year’s playoff run, but no matter how hard he works to keep pace with last season, his numbers will certainly decline. Jocelyn Thibault provides some much-needed depth for the Sabres and will play 20 games if he stays healthy.
CAROLINA: Ward needs to be challenged.
Cam Ward is capable of winning 40 games, but he’ll lose focus with all of the previous success dancing in the back of his mind. Ward’s fire will fade unless he’s challenged by 31-year-old John Grahame...or maybe Michael Leighton - but he has bounced around more than Paris Hilton at a college kegger.
FLORIDA: Health is Vokoun’s main issue.
When did Tomas Vokoun last play consistent hockey? Of course an extremely serious blood-clotting condition warrants a lack in production, but now he’s seen as a “highly-sought after” free agent and must prove his worth. Craig Anderson will quietly step up and surprise many when given the opportunity.
MONTREAL: “The Price is Wrong, Bi%$*!”
Carey Price has more hype than a new Nickelback album, but until he sees solid regular-season action, don’t believe everything you hear. Cristobal Huet and Jaroslav Halak will holster all of the playing time, but who carries the bulk of the load falls squarely on Huet’s health and consistency. It’s his job to lose.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Brodeur will slow down this year.
Martin Brodeur’s 12 shutouts will be nearly impossible for him to match this year, but the addition of Kevin Weekes allows him to rest more as the year progresses. This will go a long way in keeping Brodeur sharp for another 65-70 game season, which will keep his stats from drastically declining.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: A healthy dose of Dubies.
When Wade Dubielewicz took over where Rick DiPietro left off late last season, it proved that his tenure with the University of Denver really shaped him into a solid NHL goaltender. Although size might be the thorn in his side throughout his career, the Islanders finally have a solid, young, winning tandem.
NEW YORK RANGERS: Montoya still has a mountain to climb.
Henrik Lundqvist’s unique, wide butterfly keeps him very low to the ice and will keep his value extremely high, even higher than last year considering the offensive support he now has. Stephen Valiquette will drown the buzz surrounding Al Montoya and play well to win the backup job to start of the season.
OTTAWA: The Razor reigns supreme for Senators.
Ray Emery has fire in his eyes from his Stanley Cup Finals experience and a new contract. Oddly enough, Martin Gerber makes more money than Emery this year, yet will be relegated to nothing more than a 15-game season. Emery is one of the safest choices for your #1 starter this year.
PHILADELPHIA: Biron and Niittymaki cancel each other out.
Martin Biron is finally in a settled, stable atmosphere with highly-improved Philly. Yet with Antero Niittymaki's two rubber hips fully repaired, don’t be surprised if both goalies battle each other for minutes and split time most of the season, which will kill any real value for either goaltender.
PITTSBURGH: Marc-Andre is a man on a mission.
Marc-Andre Fleury has the quickest feet in the NHL and with the rise of the Pens comes his chance to win 45 games. Dany Sabourin, albeit inexperienced, is a solid backup. But the fact the team picked up Ty Conklin really puts Fleury’s health in the limelight, as Conklin is nothing short of a laughingstock in the fantasy hockey world.
TAMPA BAY: Denis will lose out to Holmqvist and Ramo.
GM Jay Feaster has made it known that Marc Denis will either take back the starter job, play his way into the minors or into a trade. That being said, Johan Holmqvist will take over for good and Finnish prospect Karri Ramo will get the call, flash his stuff and shoves Denis out of town.
TORONTO: Toskala is used to this two-man tandem thing.
Andrew Raycroft must prove that he’s no longer the scapegoat in Toronto. Vesa Toskala has done this two-man rotation thing before, so he will thrive and get the bulk of the starts and therefore the better numbers. Raycroft’s playing time - and his stock - will decrease, no matter how focused he seems to be.
WASHINGTON: Kolzig has a reason to play with passion.
Olaf Kolzig’s mental focus could be the bane of his existence this year, which is the final year of his contract. The German giant is a great snag for playoff-bubble teams, so how much passion he plays in the midst of a “looming trade” raises Brent Johnson’s stock, as he’s played very well for the Caps.
PREDICTED RANKINGS FOR WESTERN CONFERENCE GOALIES
1. Henrik Lundqvist (44)
2. Marc-Andre Fleury (43)
3. Martin Brodeur (42)
4. Ray Emery (37)
5. Ryan Miller (35)
6. Kari Lehtonen (34)
7. Rick DiPietro (33)
8. Martin Biron (32)
9. Vesa Toskala (31)
10. Cam Ward (30)
11. Johan Holmqvist (30)
12. Manny Fernandez (28)
13. Tomas Vokoun (27)
14. Olaf Kolzig (25)
15. Cristobal Huet (20)
16. Jaroslav Halak (18)
17. Andrew Raycroft (15)
18. Antero Niittymaki (14)
19. Wade Dubielewicz (13)
20. Tim Thomas (13)