(Note: Our friends at Dobber Hockey are back for some fantasy fun. All stats are through Wednesday night's games; this feature will be found on Thursdays here on Puck Daddy.)
With the emergence of Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals goaltending situation has become even more clouded for the future.
The battle between Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov has been a seesaw over the past two seasons, with the two young netminders trading places with hot stretches, inconsistent play and injuries. Varlamov proved himself last spring in the NHL postseason, while Neuvirth helped Washington's AHL affiliate in Hershey to consecutive Calder Cup titles in 2008 and 2009. Holtby arrived on the scene this year after an impressive junior career in Saskatoon.
Poolies want to know which goalie is the one to own both long and short-term. For this season/postseason, Holtby is the odd man out because he can be demoted without having to clear waivers. Neuvirth is signed for the next two campaigns at a respectable $1.15 million cap hit. Varlamov is a restricted free agent this summer and will probably be looking for a raise to the $2 or $2.5 million mark, assuming he returns from injury. Holtby has two more years left on his entry-level contract, which carries a paltry hit of $640,000.
In addition to NHL playoff experience, Varlamov has at least one more factor working in his favour — his country of birth. The Capitals are the most Russian-friendly team in the League. Where other teams have avoided signing and drafting Russians, the Capitals have built around them. They wouldn't keep a goalie around just for the sake of keeping players happy, but it would play a part in the decision.
The three goalies are also very different stylistically. Neuvirth is calm, mentally tough, and efficient. Varlamov is exciting, flashy, and dramatic. Holtby is extremely competitive and aggressive. This season, take Neuvirth. Long-term, take Neuvirth. He is the best and most dependable of the three.
All positions as listed in Yahoo! Sports, with ownership percentage in parentheses.
Nate Gerbe, C/LW, Buffalo Sabres, (4%)
The insert adjective for small Gerbe has been Buffalo's most dangerous forward over the past week. He is a terrific skater (I doubt a slow 5-foot-5 player could stick in the league), and he thinks the game at a very high level. DobberHockey's Line Combinations tool highlights how impressive Gerbe's recent production has been. He hasn't been playing with Buffalo's top players -- his most frequent linemates have been Mark Mancari and Paul Gaustad. He has been drawing a lot of penalties as well, which is a huge bonus because the NHL looks like they have decided to stop calling penalties again (don't be surprised to see the slow return of the dead puck era). Gerbe had two goals through the first 28 games of this season, and he has 11 through the last 27.
Artem Anisimov, C/LW, New York Rangers (9%)
The return of Marian Gaborik has had a positive trickledown effect on the rest of the Ranger forwards. Anisimov and his linemates — Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan — are no longer seeing the top opposition pairing each game. The big Russian has nine points in the seven games since Gaborik's return. The Rangers still lack a true number one center, but they have a solid stable of youngsters with second line upside (Anisimov and Derek Stepan, most notably).
David Desharnais, C, Montreal Canadiens, (2%)
The insert another adjective for small Desharnais has made it impossible for Montreal to send him back to the AHL. He has eight goals and 22 points through 35 games, and has helped the power play immensely with his speed, tenacity, and creativity. He's earned himself not only a spot in the lineup for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, but for 2011-12 as well.
Marcus Johansson, C, Washington Capitals, (4%)
Injuries often lead to opportunities, and Johansson took advantage of a big one when fellow Swede Nick Backstrom went down with a thumb injury a few weeks ago. With increased ice time and responsibility, Johansson responded with his best hockey of the season. Like Backstrom, he is quick and incredibly strong on his skates. Like Backstrom, he looks like he could be a member of a Swedish pop band. Boyish looks aside, Johansson is showing why the Capitals view him as the second line center of both the present and future. He won't see much power play time, but should see a steady dose of even strength minutes down the stretch.
Joffrey Lupul, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (7%)
Lupul has battled back from a back injury and subsequent infection over the past year and a half. He is still dealing with "overpaid-itis", but thankfully the Leafs are willing to foot the medical bill. He will never be the 40-goal threat that many expected coming out of junior, but he is still a solid second line winger at the NHL level. He needs linemates in order to produce and the Leafs have nowhere to go but up in terms of forward development. Lupul's best fantasy season came in 2007-08 when he scored 28 goals and fired 296 shots on net. Both numbers are within reach next season. The big factor will be how Toronto plans to tackle the offseason — if they can bring in a legitimate top line center, it would give all of the wingers a huge boost.
Scott Clemmensen, G, Florida Panthers, (4%)
Of Tomas Vokoun's last 20 losses, 15 have been of the one-goal variety. The Panthers couldn't score their way out of the Roxy with Paul Bissonnette as a wing man. Clemmensen will see more starts down the stretch, as they are out of contention and really have nothing left to play for. He filled in admirably for the injured Martin Brodeur a few years ago, and has another year left on his contract ($1.2 million cap hit). The waiver wire is pretty slim pickings in most leagues on the goalie front. If you are really desperate to make up some ground in a few categories, He may be worth a look when he returns.
Clemmensen is currently day-to-day with a minor injury. His replacement behind Vokoun (for Wednesday's practice, at least) was Marty Reasoner's brother, who is a stock trader on Wall Street. I wonder if he can play forward?
Middle-of-the-Pack Jack says:
I have been told all season to avoid streaky and inconsistent players. With only a few weeks left in the season, why should I change my strategy now?
We say: Second place is really just the first place loser. If you are in a one-year league, this is the time to go for broke. Would you have dropped Steven Stamkos for Martin Erat 10 games ago? Since that time, Stamkos has eight points, while Erat has 12. This is just an example, of course, but it highlights the point to take away — go for those players who are streaking and trending upward. Disregard previous point production this season. You may even need to get very specific with categories that need to be filled.
A year ago, Jeff Schultz won more than a few leagues based on his plus-minus rating. Could David Desharnais win you your fantasy pool? The answer to that question is a lot different today (maybe) than it would have been a few months ago (who the hell is that?).