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Fantasy Hockey Rankings – NHL Eastern Conference Goalies for 2010-2011

October 13, 2010 By: Category: Fantasy Hockey, NHL, Sports

Martin BrodeurThe goalie position is one of the most important and sometimes frustrating positions in fantasy hockey.  All frustrations can be pointed toward the coach, who sometimes has two quality goaltenders and would like to get both involved in the action.  This is a case to avoid, because it can be guessing game on which goalie a coach will decide upon night to night. One of the most famous tandems in recent years was in Minnesota, when it was a straightforward 50/50 split between goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson.

More and more these days, however, a club is able to rely on one workhorse, barring injury, throughout the season.  This is very true in the Eastern conference, where there are elite options throughout.  Goalie studs like New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist reside in the East.  So to, do underrated stars like Florida’s Tomas Vokoun and Carolina’s Cam Ward.  Young stars like Boston’s Tuukka Rask, Montreal’s Carey Price, and the tandem in Washington – Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth – look to become household names as well.

On the prospect side, the East bodes some impressive youngsters, led by Florida prospect Jacob Markstrom.  Other names to know include Tampa Bay’s Cedrick Desjardins, Ottawa’s Robin Lehner, Toronto’s Jussi Rynnas, and Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth.

ATLANTIC DIVISION
•    New Jersey Devils
Starter: Martin Brodeur (77 GP, 76 GS, 45-25-0-6, 2.24 GAA, 91.6 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 65 GP, 37 W, 2.38 GAA, 92.3 Sv%
Backup: Johan Hedberg (47 GP, 42 GS, 21-16-0-6, 2.62 GAA, 91.5 Sv%) – w/ Atlanta
Projection for 2010-2011: 17 GP, 7 W, 2.55 GAA, 90.9 Sv%

Martin Brodeur is like a fine wine – he gets better with age.  Once handed the starting goaltending job in New Jersey in 1994-1995, Brodeur has started at least 70 games in twelve of fourteen seasons.  In 1996-1997, he just missed the mark, starting 67 games.  His only injury marred season was in 2008-09, when he suffered a bruised elbow that was later discovered to be a torn distal bicep tendon.  He missed sixteen weeks from November 1st until his return in late February.  Last season, Brodeur continued his dominance between the pipes and return to form, starting 77 games and compiling a 45-25-0-6 record and a 2.24 GAA and 91.6 save percentage.  Brodeur couldn’t keep the momentum going in the playoffs, however, as he had a 3.01 GAA and 88.1 save percentage as the Devils were knocked out of the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games.

Backup Johan Hedberg comes to the Devils from Atlanta, where he started 42 games and compiled a 21-16-0-6 record with a 2.62 GAA and 91.5 save percentage.  Hedberg was signed by New Jersey to provide a veteran backstop that the Devils could turn to if Brodeur ever shows his age.

Expect Brodeur to garner a heavy majority of starts again in 2010-2011.  He should continue to be one of the top goaltenders in the league and could push 40 wins again.  New Jersey signed defensive shutdown defender Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa to assist on defense, which should help Brodeur even more.  Hedberg’s veteran presence could gain him more starts than recent Devils backstops, however.  The Devils could rest Brodeur down the stretch to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

•    New York Islanders
Starter: Dwayne Roloson (50 GP, 49 GS, 23-18-0-7, 3.00 GAA, 90.7 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 48 GP, 22 W, 2.94 GAA, 91.2 Sv%
Backup: Rick DiPietro (8 GP, 7 GS, 2-5-0-0, 2.60 GAA, 90.1 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 34 GP, 18 W, 2.73 GAA, 90.5 Sv%

When the Islanders signed Rick DiPietro to a then record 15-year, $67.5 million deal with the Islanders.  The industry mocked the Islanders for such an absurd contract and in the past few seasons, those critics have been proven correct, as DiPietro has dealt with knee injuries that have cost him the better part of the last two seasons, as he has played a combined 13 games in goal, compiling a 3-8-0 record, a 2.92 GAA, and an 89.7 save percentage.

In the wake of DiPietro’s absence from goal, the Islanders shuffled many starters.  In 2008-2009, career-minor leaguer Joey McDonald started a team-high 49 games in 2008-2009, recording a 14-26-0-6 record, 3.37 GAA, and 90.1 save percentage in yeoman’s work.  Last season, Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron shared goal, with Roloson performing slightly better than Biron, all things considered.  Roloson started 50 games, recording a 23-18-0-7 record, an even 3.00 GAA, and a 90.7 save percentage.  Biron, who could have seized the opportunity, floundered to a 9-14-0-4 record, 3.27 GAA, and 89.6 save percentage in 29 games.

In 2010-2011, Roloson returns as the back-up to Rick DiPietro, at least that’s what Islanders brass hopes.  DiPietro will look to find consistency not only in his performance, but also in his durability.  His injury history alone makes DiPietro a shaky play night-in and night-out.  This is way Dwayne Roloson, despite being pushing 40, will most likely garner a 60%-40% split in goal on Long Island.  Unfortunately for either goalie, it will be a tough season considering the lack of defense on the team.  Several of their star players – John Tavares and Kyle Okposo to name a couple – and defensemen Brendan Witt and Bruno Gervais all had a +/- rating of -10 or higher.  Such a stat could spell high mediocrity in the crease for the Islanders.

•    New York Rangers
Starter: Henrik Lundqvist (73 GP, 72 GS, 35-27-0-10, 2.38 GAA, 92.1 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 68 GP, 38 W, 2.41 GAA, 93.1 Sv%
Backup: Martin Biron (29 GP, 26 GS, 9-14-0-4, 3.27 GAA, 89.6 Sv%) – w/ N.Y. Islanders
Projection: 14 GP, 7 W, 2.88 GAA, 91.5 Sv%

Since his arrival from the Swedish Elite League in 2005-2006, Henrik Lundqvist has been a mainstay in goal for the Rangers.  Since 2006-2007, he has started at least 70 games, winning at least 35 and never having his GAA go north of 2.43.  His save percentage is slightly low, hanging around the 91% mark, but that is just a slight chink in the armor of Lundqvist.  His performance is surprisingly as well, as the Rangers were exactly even as a team for their +/- rating.

In the offseason, the Rangers turned to a veteran to back up Lundqvist as they snatched Martin Biron from the free agent wire.  Biron’s days as a viable NHL starter came to an end after he bombed on Long Island.  He still has some skills, however, and could possibly garner more starts to rest Lundqvist more often and keep him fresh.
In 2010-2011, Lundqvist will still handle a majority of the starts for the Rangers.  Biron could factor in down the stretch to keep Lundqvist fresh should the Rangers make a playoff run.  Lundqvist should still have Vezina-caliber stats as his win totals should still be around 35 and GAA between 2.25 and 2.40.  Lundqvist should not slow down and will be counted on heavily in New York.

•    Philadelphia Flyers
Starter: Michael Leighton (27 GP, 26 GS, 16-5-0-2, 2.48 GAA, 91.8 Sv%)
Backup: Brian Boucher (33 GP, 26 GS, 9-18-0-3, 2.76 GAA, 90.0 Sv%)
Backup: Sergei Bobrovsky (35 GP, 9-22-0-3, 2.72 GAA, 91.9 Sv% in KHL)

The Flyers were looking for a change in goal last season as they signed former Senators goalie Ray Emery to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Philadelphia in June of 2009.  Emery started off well for the Flyers, earning wins in his first two starts, but in December he was placed on injured reserve following surgery to repair a tear in his abdomen.  Emery’s exit led to a carousel of goalies for the Flyers, which included Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton – who was claimed off waivers from Carolina in December – and rookies Johan Backlund and Jeremy Duchesne.

Shortly after being acquired, Leighton was thrust into the lineup following an injury to Boucher and won his first four starts in December.  In January, he shared time with Boucher and Emery, but wrestled the starting spot away once again and was stellar down the stretch, going 4-2-0 in February with a 1.83 GAA and 93.3 save percentage.

In 2010-2011, the Flyers are looking at another carousel caused by injury, as Leighton is set to have back surgery to repair a bulging disc and is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks.  Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, late of the KHL, edged out Backlund to be part of the tandem with Brian Boucher.  Look for about an even split in starts for the first few weeks of the season until Leighton returns sometime in November or early December.

•    Pittsburgh Penguins
Starter: Marc-Andre Fleury (67 GP, 66 GS, 37-21-0-6, 2.65 GAA, 90.5 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 65 GP, 36 W, 2.49 GAA, 91.4 Sv%)
Backup: Brent Johnson (23 GP, 15 GS, 10-6-0-1, 2.76 GAA, 90.6 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 17 GP, 8 W, 2.80 GAA, 90.2 Sv%)

Marc Andre Fleury has been a staple in goal for the Penguins since he was selected first overall in the 2003 draft by Pittsburgh.  After some seasoning with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2004-2005, Fleury took over the reins in goal for good the following season, playing in 50 games while compiling a 13-27-6 record, 3.25 GAA, and 89.8 save percentage.

Fleury steadily improved his play since that first extended look at had his best year in 2008-2009, when he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup, playing in 62 games and recording 37 wins, a 2.67 GAA, and 91.2 save percentage.  Last season, Fleury continued to play well most nights, recording 37 wins on the season. Backup Brent Johnson enjoyed a good first season in Pittsburgh, compiling ten wins in spot duty for the Penguins.  He was signed to a two-year extension through 2011-2012 by Pittsburgh and will be looked upon to provide veteran relief should Fleury struggle or need rest.

In 2010-2011, Fleury should get the lions’ share of starts, as he could reach the 60 game mark once again.  Defensive issues on the Penguins could lead to a high GAA again, but the win totals should be there for a talented Penguins team.

NORTHEAST DIVISION
•    Boston Bruins
Starter: Tuukka Rask (45 GP, 39 GS, 22-12-0-5, 1.97 GAA, 93.1 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 55 GP, 31 W, 2.23 GAA, 92.7 Sv%
Backup: Tim Thomas (43 GP, 43 GS, 17-18-0-8, 2.56 GAA, 91.5 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 27 GP, 14 W, 2.48 GAA, 91.4 Sv%

Last season, after coming off the shine of the Vezina trophy, Tim Thomas struggled out of the gate, compiling a 4-4-0-0 record, a 2.86 GAA, and a 90.6 save percentage in eight October starts.  Thomas did turn it around in November with a 1.80 GAA in seven games and December was adequate with a 2.53 GAA in nine games.  In January, however, Thomas’s game fell apart, as he compiled a 3-5-0-2 record with a 2.74 GAA and 90.9 save percentage in ten games.

Thomas’s ineffectiveness opened the door for young netminder Tuukka Rask to take over as starter and he excelled down the stretch.  In the final three months of the season, Rask was a combined 12-5-1 with a 1.81 GAA and a 93.7 save percentage.

In the playoffs, he was 7-6 with a 2.61 GAA and 91.0 save percentage in 13 games.
In 2010-2011, Rask will be given every opportunity to maintain the starting nod on most nights for Boston.  Expect Thomas to still start a healthy amount of games to keep Rask fresh.  A split of 60-40 in favor of Rask is not out of the question as the Bruins bring him along slowly to be able to start for the team in the long haul once Thomas decides to retire.

•    Buffalo Sabres
Starter: Ryan Miller (69 GP, 68 GS, 41-18-0-8, 2.22 GAA, 92.9 Sv%)
Backup: Patrick Lalime (16 GP, 13 GS, 4-8-0-2, 2.81 GAA, 90.7 Sv%)

Ryan Miller has been a star in the NHL since his first extended time in net for Buffalo in 2005-2006, when he posted a 30-14-2 record, 2.60 GAA, and 91.4 save percentage in 48 starts.  Last season, Miller became a star internationally, as he was stellar in goal for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

As an Olympian, Miller led the team to a perfect 5-0 start and the gold medal game against Canada.  Miller saved 36 shots in that game, but the USA team lost 2-1.  Miller was named the MVP of the tournament, finishing with 1.35 GAA and a 94.6 save percentage.  In Buffalo, Miller continued his dominance, winning the Vezina trophy after compiling a 41-18-8 record, 2.22 GAA, and 92.9 save percentage in 61 starts.

Backup Patrick Lalime served admirably in limited action, starting 13 games, recording a 4-8-0-2 record, 2.81 GAA, and 90.7 save percentage.  There is an outside shot that Lalime could garner a few extra starts due to Miller’s extended play in the Olympics last season.

In 2010-2011, the Sabres will continue to rely on Miller a majority of the games.  Miller is a workhorse and those in pools should look for another great season of a GAA around 2.30, a save percentage of around 92.0% and 35-40 wins.  Lalime is a good backup, but he obviously does not play enough to garner fantasy consideration.

•    Montreal Canadiens
Starter: Carey Price (41 GP, 39 GS, 13-20-0-5, 2.77 GAA, 91.2 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 53 GP, 27 W, 2.62 GAA, 91.7 Sv%
Backup: Alex Auld (24 GP, 20 GS, 9-7-0-3, 2.95 GAA, 89.5 Sv%) – w/ Dallas, N.Y. Rangers
Projection for 2010-2011: 29 GP, 18 W, 2.59 GAA, 91.2 Sv%

Last season was supposed to be the year that Carey Price finally seized the opportunity to be the number one goaltender in Montreal.  Unfortunately for Price, he failed to make the most of the opportunity, as an awful October spelled doom for the talented, yet unspectacular goalie.  Price went 2-5-0 in that first month with an ugly 3.44 GAA and 88.9 save percentage.

Price seemed to right the ship in November and December, sporting a 2.48 GAA and a 2.25 GAA in the two months, respectively.  Down the stretch, however, Price began to falter and then backup Jaroslav Halak took over the starting job and excelled, posting a 2.03 GAA in nine March starts. In the playoffs, Halak cemented his name among the elites of goaltenders as he ousted both the Washington Capitals, the 2009-2010 President Cup trophy winners, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, in the playoffs.

Halak ended up playing 18 postseason games, registerting a 9-9 record, a 2.55 GAA, and a 92.3 save percentage.  In the offseason, however, the Canadiens reaffirmed their commitment to Carey Price and shipped Halak to the St. Louis Blues for center Lars Eller and right wing Ian Schultz. In 2010-2011, Price will be given yet another opportunity to be a true number one goaltender.  Expect Price to make at least 60% of the starts, with 25-30 wins, a GAA around 2.50, and a save percentage around 91.5%.

The Canadiens did sign veteran backup Alexander Auld to backup Price.  If Price does struggle, the Habs will show no hesitation to turn to Auld, who has a small history of carrying the load, starting 67 games for Vancouver in 2005-2006 and 43 games in 2008-2009 for Ottawa.

•    Ottawa Senators
Starter: Brian Elliott (55 GP, 48 GS, 29-18-0-4, 2.57 GAA, 90.9 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 49 GP, 28 W, 2.48 GAA, 91.1 Sv%
Backup: Pascal Leclaire (34 GP, 31 GS, 12-14-0-2, 3.20 GAA, 88.7 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 35 GP, 14 W, 2.77 GAA, 90.5 Sv%

The Senators traded for former Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire with every intention to label him as the top starter in Ottawa.  He was awarded the starting job in training camp, but he struggled in the early going, recording and 8-5-1 record with a 2.71 GAA and 90.1 save percentage in his first sixteen games.  Leclaire, however, was hampered by ankle injuries and poor play, as he had a 3.33 GAA in five December starts and a 4.24 GAA in four January starts.
Brian Elliott seized the opportunity as Leclaire faltered, taking the number one spot with a 29-18-0-4 record, 2.57 GAA, and 90.9 save percentage in 48 starts.  Elliott was especially good in March, when he recorded a 6-4-0 record, 2.32 GAA, and 91.0 save percentage in ten starts in the month.

Expect a pretty even split between Leclaire and Elliott as the Senators try to give Leclaire the opportunity to reclaim his role as the top goaltender.  This situation is one to monitor, as in a sharing situation, the value of both goaltenders plummet.  A slight edge could be gained by either goaltender that performs the best in the early going.  Elliott had the momentum to end the season, but Leclaire has the experience that could help him in the goaltending battle.

•    Toronto Maple Leafs
Starter: Jean-Sebastien Giguere (35 GP, 32 GS, 10-15-0-7, 2.85 GAA, 90.7 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 52 GP, 28 W, 2.81 GAA, 90.8 Sv%
Backup: Jonas Gustavsson (42 GP, 39 GS, 16-15-0-9, 2.87 GAA, 90.2 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 30 GP, 15 W, 2.72 GAA, 90.7 Sv%

In 2009-2010, the Maple Leafs were looking for solutions in goal.  They entered the season with the underwhelming Vesa Toskala in net and potential phenom Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson backing him up.  Toskala was horrible for Toronto, compiling a 7-12-0-3 record with a putrid 3.66 GAA and 87.4 save percentage.  At first, Jonas Gustavsson was not much better, starting the season with identical 3.22 GAAs in October and November.  Gustavsson had a stellar December in limited action, going 2-1-2 with a 1.86 GAA and 92.8 save percentage.

In January of 2010, the Maple Leafs acquired veteran netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim for Toskala and left wing Jason Blake.  On February 2, Giguere made his debut with Toronto and recorded a 30-save shutout against New Jersey.  He counted his dominance in three more February starts, going 2-2-0 with a 1.76 GAA and 94.1 save percentage in four overall starts in the month.  Giguere had an underwhelming 2-4-2 record, 3.02 GAA, and 90.0 save percentage in eight starts for Toronto in March.  Despite his struggles, however, the Maple Leafs had some stability in goal.

In the new season, Giguere should be counted on for 50-55 starts, with Gustavsson starting the remaining games.  Those in pools should not expect too many wins, but he could provide a GAA of 2.75-2.80 and a save percentage around 91.5%.  Gustavsson has the ability to start and could be groomed to be the starter for Toronto down the road.  Giguere is looking to prove that he can still be an effective starter in the coming season.  If he does really well, he may find himself on a Stanley Cup contender, while Gustavsson would take the reins.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

•    Atlanta Thrashers
Starter: Chris Mason (61 GP, 61 GS, 30-22-0-8, 2.53 GAA, 91.3 Sv%) – w/ St. Louis
Projection for 2010-2011: 53 GP, 26 W, 2.62 GAA, 91.5 Sv%
Backup: Ondrej Pavelec (42 GP, 40 GS, 14-18-0-7, 3.29 GAA, 90.6 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 29 GP, 16 W, 2.88 GAA, 90.3 Sv%

The Atlanta Thrashers had a mess in goal as former number one pick Kari Lehtonen was lost to injury once again in 2009-2010, as he had back surgery in November of 2009.  The surgery was expected to keep Lehtonen out of action for 6-8 weeks, but never made it back to Atlanta.  He played four games for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves before being shipped to the Dallas Stars in early February for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy.  Without Lehtonen in the crease, the Thrashers relied on a tandem of veteran Johan Hedberg and young goalie Ondrej Pavelec.  Hedberg played in 47 games, compiling a 21-16-6 record, 2.62 GAA, and 91.5 save percentage.  Pavelec started 42 games, compiling a 14-18-7 record, 3.29 GAA, and 90.6 save percentage.

Pavelec, regarded as the goalie of the future, started the season adequately, registering a 4-3-1 record, 2.60 GAA, and 92.4 save percentage in nine October games.  His stats, however, ballooned over the next two months, as he recorded a 4-2-2 record, 3.29 GAA, and 91.8 save percentage in December and a horrid 1-6-0 record, 5.29 GAA, and 85.9 save percentage in January.  This performance led to the installation of Hedberg as the starter for the remainder of the season.

In July, the Thrashers signed free agent goalie Chris Mason to a two-year, $3.7 million deal to compete with Pavelec for the starting job; Hedberg moved on to New Jersey to be the backup to Martin Brodeur.  Last season, Mason started 61 games for St. Louis, going 30-22-8 with a 2.53 GAA and 91.3 save percentage in 61 starts.  Mason brings a veteran presence to the crease and should provide the Thrashers with decent production.

In the early going in 2010-2011, Mason will be counted on to start most nights.  Pavelec, who drew the first assignment on opening night, had what is being called a “fainting spell” just a little over two minutes into the opener against Washington.  The fainting spell led to a concussion that has landed Pavelec on injured reserve in the early going.  As the season progress, look for Mason to receive close to 55 starts, a GAA around 2.60 and a save percentage around 91.5%.  If healthy, Pavelec will draw the other assignments.

•    Carolina Hurricanes
Starter: Cam Ward (47 GP, 45, GS, 18-23-0-5, 2.69 GAA, 91.6 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 57 GP, 33 W, 2.55 GAA, 91.8 Sv%
Backup: Justin Peters (9 GP, 8 GS, 6-3-0-0, 2.83 GAA, 90.5 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 25 GP, 12 W, 2.77 GAA, 90.3 Sv%

Cam Ward burst onto the NHL scene in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, taking over for a struggling Martin Gerber to lead the Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup Championship to date in 2005-2006.  In that postseason, Ward made 23 starts, going 15-8 with a 2.14 GAA and a 92.0 save percentage.   Since that magical playoff run, Ward has been relied to be a workhorse for Carolina.  From 2006-2007 through 2008-2009, Ward averaged 66 starts, 35 wins, a 2.69 GAA, and a 90.6 save percentage.

Last season was one to forget for Ward, as he started slowly, going 2-9-3 to start the year.  In early November, Ward was then injured when Columbus’s Rick Nash left a laceration on his leg.  Ward missed four weeks with the injury as the deep gash healed.  In his stead, Carolina relied on Manny Legace for a good portion of the games.  Legace started 28 games, going 10-7-5 with a 2.81 GAA and 90.7 save percentage.  When he returned, Ward did lead a spirited late season playoff rush for Carolina that just fell short.

Ward will be motivated in the new campaign to return to posting good numbers between the pipes.  Expect Ward to be good for the long haul, starting between 55-60 games, with 30-35 wins, a GAA around 2.50, and a save percentage around 91.5%.  Backup Justin Peters will fill in on the other nights, as the team may groom him to be the eventual replacement to Ward.  Peters did go 26-18-2 with a 2.54 GAA and 91.7 save percentage in 45 games for the AHL’s Albany River Rats.

•    Florida Panthers
Starter: Tomas Vokoun (63 GP, 62 GS, 23-28-0-11, 2.55 GAA, 92.5 Sv%
Projection for 2010-2011: 60 GP, 31 W, 2.47 GAA, 92.1 Sv%
Backup: Scott Clemmensen (23 GP, 20 GS, 9-8-0-2, 2.91 GAA, 91.2 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 22 GP, 7 W, 2.83 GAA, 91.6 Sv%

The Panthers have one of the most underrated goalies in Tomas Vokoun.  Since coming to Florida  prior to the 2007-2008 season following eight years with Nashville, Vokoun has put up some solid numbers, starting an average of 64 games, 26 wins, a 2.57 GAA, and a save percentage of 92.3%.  He has been relatively injury free during his tenure in South Florida as well, cementing his reputation as an underrated goalie for a team that has constantly been in a rebuilding mode.

Last season, Vokoun had his lowest win total with Florida, but that is not entirely his fault.  He sported a record of 23-28-11 with a 2.55 GAA while saving 92.5% of shots against him.  His best months last season were November, with a 5-2-3 record, 2.39 GAA, and 92.7 save percentage in eleven starts; and January, when he went 8-4-2 with a 1.49 GAA and 95.6 save percentage in eleven starts.  Backup Scott Clemmensen was effective in limited action last year as the backup.  His best game came against Boston in early April when he stopped all 36 shots against for a 1-0 shutout.

Vokoun will be counted on again to be a big producer in goal for a rebuilding Florida team.  The team is looking to improve a defense that finished 24th in the league with an overall -2 rating.  This should help Vokoun and could increase his win totals.  Expect Vokoun to start close to 60 games once again, with 25-30 wins, a healthy GAA around 2.50 and a stellar save percentage around 92.5%.  Clemmensen will see his share of solid starts as well.  One to watch is prospect Jacob Markstrom (see below), whose performance in the AHL could entice the Panthers to trade Vokoun down the stretch.

•    Tampa Bay Lightning
Starter: Dan Ellis (31 GP, 28 GS, 15-13-0-1, 2.69 GAA, 90.9 Sv%) – w/ Nashville
2010-2011 Projection: 50 GP, 22 W, 2.71 GAA, 90.2 Sv%
Backup: Mike Smith (42 GP, 36 GS, 13-18-0-7, 3.09 GAA, 90.0 Sv%)
2010-2011 Projection: 32 GP, 16 W, 2.91 GAA, 90.9 Sv%

The Tampa Bay goaltending situation was in complete disarray last season, as the team called on Dallas cast-off Mike Smith to start the season.  Smith was acquired from Dallas with Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern in February of 2008 in the deal that sent Brad Richards to the Stars.  That trade was supposed to be a boon for the Lightning that would gain them a netminder for the long haul.  Smith was adequate in his first season with Tampa, recording a 14-18-9 record with a 2.62 GAA and 91.6 save percentage in 41 games.  In his second full season with Tampa, Smith was expected to take the next step, but unfortunately, he failed miserably.

Smith stumbled out of the gate with 4-4-5 record, a 3.22 GAA, and an 89.6 save percentage in just 13 games between October and November.  He did improve somewhat in December, going 4-6-1 with a 2.67 GAA and 91.7 save percentage in ten starts, but January he reverted back to his horrible performance, prompting the Lightning to turn to Antero Niittymaki down the stretch.  Nittymaki went 21-18-5 with a 2.87 GAA and 90.9 save percentage for the Lightning last season.

In 2010-2011, Smith remains, but newcomer Dan Ellis will challenge him for the majority of starts in goal.  Ellis was signed by Tampa Bay after failing to reach an agreement with Montreal following his arrival to the Canadiens.  Ellis played adequately in Nashville, going 15-13-1 with a 2.69 GAA and 90.9 save percentage in 31 games.  Expect the Lightning to give both goaltenders their fair share at the goalie spot.  Long-term projections, however, could point to Ellis winning the majority of starts in goal.

•    Washington Capitals
Starter: Semyon Varlamov (26 GP, 23 GS, 15-4-0-6, 2.55 GAA, 90.9 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 48 GP, 22 W, 2.60 GAA, 91.2 Sv%
Backup: Michal Neuvirth (17 GP, 16 GS, 9-4-0-0, 2.75 GAA, 91.4 Sv%)
Projection for 2010-2011: 34 GP, 24 W, 2.71 GAA, 91.8 Sv%

In his final swansong with the team, goaltender Jose Theodore was remarkable for Washington, going 30-7-7 with a 2.81 GAA and 91.1 save percentage to lead the Capitals down the stretch to the President’s trophy.  The Capitals, however, quickly turned to young netminder Semyon Varlamov after Theodore faltered to a 3.70 GAA in two games against Montreal.  In the offseason, Theodore signed a deal to be the backup to Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom.
During the regular season, Varlamov appeared in 26 games, going 15-4-6 with a 2.55 GAA and 90.9 save percentage.  Another youngster, Michal Neuvirth, also had time in goal, recording a 9-4-0 record, 2.75 GAA, and 91.4 save percentage in seventeen appearances, sixteen of which were starts.

Look for a battle to ensue all season between Varlamov and Neuvirth for the right to start for the most dynamically offensive team in hockey.  The two will have a challenge, however, as the Capitals lack a pure shutdown player on defense.  Currently, Neuvirth has the slight edge, as Varlamov is dealing with yet another injury – this one to his groin.  The starts should be split evenly as the Capitals look to evaluate both goalies equally.  Talent-wise, it can be argued that Varlamov has the edge; Neuvirth, however, has been regarded as more durable and has led the Hershey Bears to two-straight Calder Cup championships.  Another youngster, Braden Holtby, waits in the wings at Hershey as well should Varlamov and Neuvirth both falter.

TOP FIVE EASTERN CONFERENCE PROSPECTS

•    Jhonas Enroth, Sabres (48 GP, 28-18-0-1, 2.37 GAA, 91.9 Sv% in AHL) - Enroth continues to toil in the minors behind one of the best in Ryan Miller.  He is making the most of it, as he improved his GAA in his second season with the Portland Pirates.  He will be the starter in Portland and should Miller’s effectiveness plummet or is injured, Enroth will continue to build either trade value.  Something to think about is the extreme workload Miller had in 2009-2010, having played for both the Sabres and Team USA in February.

•    Cedrick Desjardins, Lightning (47 GP, 29-9-0-4, 2.00 GAA, 91.9 Sv% in AHL) - Desjardins was traded to Tampa Bay in August 2010 for fellow goaltender Karri Ramo, entering a crowded goaltending stable of prospects in Tampa Bay.  In 2009-2010, Desjardins was excellent for the Hamilton Bulldogs, recording a 29-9-4 record with a 2.00 GAA and 91.9 save percentage.  Desjardins could be called upon for Tampa Bay should either Dan Ellis or Mike Smith falter.

•    Robin Lehner, Senators (47 GP, 27-13-0-3, 2.80 GAA, 91.8 Sv% in OHL) - The Senators acquired Columbus’s 2nd pick with Pascal Leclaire and selected Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner with the pick.  Lehner spent a majority of 2009-2010 with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL, playing in 47 games and recording a 27-13-0-3 record, 2.80 GAA, and 91.8 save percentage.  Lehner is currently ranked fifth among the Senators prospects and the first goalie.  Lehner is in the long-term plans for Ottawa and will prove his worth in the AHL in 2010-2011.

•    Jacob Markstrom, Panthers (43 GP, 2.01 GAA, 92.7 Sv% in SEL) - Markstrom’s stock has risen to extraordinary heights in the past year.  Markstrom is the top overall ranked prospect in the Panthers’ system.  In the Swedish Elite league, he recorded an impressive 2.01 GAA and a 92.7 save percentage in 43 games.  Markstrom is the goalie of the future in Florida and will turn pro with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

•    Jussi Rynnas, Maple Leafs (31 GP, 14-13-0-1, 2.48 GAA, 92.7 Sv% in FNL) - Rynnas signed a 2-year entry level contract with Toronto after finishing his amateur career in the SM-Liga in Sweden.  He led his team, Assat, with a 14-13-0-1 record, 2.48 GAA, and 92.7 save percentage.  Rynnas is expected to gain experience in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies in the coming season.  He could get the call should either Giguere or Gustavsson falter tremendously for Toronto.

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Eric Gargiulo

Eric Gargiulo is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia.

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