NHL Skinny: Mats entertainment

GOALIE HOT SEAT

NASHVILLE PREDATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Ellis
2nd Chair: Pekka Rinne
Skinny: The Preds are quick to point out that Ellis has been the victim of some misfortune this season. Seems like a fair assertion when you consider that his 0.98 goals-against in three December starts has translated to just one win. Rinne has watched three straight since allowing five goals on 25 shots Dec. 8 in St. Louis.


COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS RED HOT
1st Chair: Steve Mason
2nd Chair:
Pascal Leclaire
Skinny: Mason (1.98 GAA; .923 save pct.) remains available in 47 percent of Yahoo! leagues despite holding a 6-1 start advantage over Leclaire (42-percent owned) in December. He was very good in a losing effort against Chicago on Sunday (28 saves on 30 shots). Drop Leclaire? Not yet, but Mason should be universally owned at this point.


LOS ANGELES KINGS RED HOT
1st Chair: Erik Ersberg
2nd Chair: Jason LaBarbera
Skinny: The Kings have won three of five to sneak above the .500 mark. The 15-14 distribution of starts explains why neither goalie is owned in more than 17 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Few can afford the luxury of carrying both of these guys. With games against three division leaders (SJ, NYR, @DET) this week, it’s a good time to stay away altogether.


ATLANTA THRASHERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Johan Hedberg
2nd Chair: Ondrej Pavelec, Kari Lehtonen
Skinny: Monday marks one week since Lehtonen returned to practice. Best guess puts him back in front of hostile shots in another week. In the meantime, stay away. Atlanta bottomed out during Saturday’s 7-3 loss to the Bruins. Pavelec stopped two of the five shots he faced and Hedberg, while slightly better, yielded four more in relief.


FLORIDA PANTHERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Craig Anderson
2nd Chair: Tomas Vokoun
Skinny: Anderson has cooled a bit, posting a 2.85 GAA and .919 save percentage over his last four starts (2 wins). Still solid, just not otherworldly. Vokoun, meanwhile, made 35 saves on 37 shots Friday, adding three shootout stops in a 3-2 win at Calgary. With three days off between games this could be a time for coach Peter DeBoer to see if Vokoun’s is how the hotter hand.


OTTAWA SENATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Martin Gerber
2nd Chair: Alex Auld
Skinny: Gerber’s 2-0 shutout over Tampa Bay earned him another start Tuesday against Atlanta. When the puck drops it will mark three starts in four games for Gerber, who was the No. 1 going in. You have to figure he’ll beat the struggling Thrashers, which should buy him another start.


ST. LOUIS BLUES HOT
1st Chair: Manny Legace
2nd Chair:
Chris Mason, Ben Bishop
Skinny: A knee to the head sent Legace to the IR. It doesn’t look serious, but he’s not eligible to return until a Dec. 20 tilt against Minnesota. Mason picked up three losses on the Blues’ California swing, so if anything Legace will return with a firmer grip on the No. 1 job.


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS HOT
1st Chair: Cristobal Huet
2nd Chair: Nikolai Khabibulin
Skinny: Coach Joel Quenneville says he’ll split time between goalies, though isn’t committing to a one-for-one timeshare. Huet did his best work with Khabibulin’s return looming, winning three straight with just two goals against. Khabibulin stopped 18 of 21 shots Friday in his first start since Nov. 26.


WASHINGTON CAPITALS  HOT
1st Chair: Brent Johnson
2nd Chair: Jose Theodore, Simeon Varlamov
Skinny: Varlamov made a smashing debut (32 saves in 2-1 win in Montreal), but if you read quotes from the Washington Post, it appears team brass would prefer to see him get more seasoning in the AHL. He’s played fewer than a dozen games in North America. Johnson gets the start Tuesday with Theodore nursing an injured hip.


NEW JERSEY DEVILS WARM
1st Chair: Scott Clemmensen
2nd Chair: Kevin Weekes
Skinny: Weekes played “okay” Saturday in his first start since Nov. 21, but not well enough for coach Brent Sutter to commit to playing him again. Before the 4-2 loss Sutter had indicated Weekes could be more active with the schedule getting busier. We’ll see how that plays out, but fantasy owners should continue to start Clemmensen (somehow only 44-percent owned) with confidence.


VANCOUVER CANUCKS WARM
1st Chair: Cory Schneider
2nd Chair: Curtis Sanford, Roberto Luongo
Skinny: Saturday’s Luongo return date came and went, and if anything the franchise goalie took a step backward and is now probably weeks away. The thinking all along has been that Sanford would be a short-term plug, but Schneider was the better option for the long haul. He may get that chance after Sunday’s win.


DETROIT RED WINGS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Chris Osgood
2nd Chair: Ty Conklin
Skinny: Ozzie gets the start Monday and is still being referred to as the team’s No. 1 despite a recent stretch of three straight starts for Conklin. If you own Osgood, you know what you’re in for. He’ll cede more starts to his backup than most established No. 1s.


I have to admit I’m not sure what to make of the goalie rankings through 30 games for most NHL teams. If you look at the fantasy top-25, you’ve got nine guys who started the season as either a backup or in a 1, 1A situation. A couple top-20 guys who did come in as No. 1s, notably Tim Thomas (148.6 ADP) and Mike Smith (169.3 ADP), could be had at a discount on draft day. Conventional wisdom says you can’t mess around with the goalie position when drafting. You’ve got two starting positions accounting for 40-60 percent of your rotisserie total depending on league settings, so you’d better draft your first guy in the opening two rounds and probably secure a second starter by the end of round five.

Does that still hold true? As I considered the current state of fantasy goaltending, I began to think about a recent Andy Behrens post in the Roto Arcade. Going into this season I would have likened goalies to running backs – the guys who get drafted are the guys who will get you there and you’ll see the same winning goalies on a lot of successful fantasy rosters. But this year they are really behaving like baseball closers. The successful owners to this point of the season are those who have reacted quickly to injuries or job challenges, not those who grabbed the name brands in picks 1-30.

The standings seem to confirm this notion. Our leader in the Friends and Family league is carrying four goalies (Huet, Schneider, Auld, Rinne) who were far from established starters on opening night (Carey Price is the exception on her roster). In a deeper experts league the leader is carrying Roloson, Steve Mason, Ersberg and Drouin-Deslauriers to go along with Cam Ward. That owner didn’t draft a goalie until the fourth round and didn’t roster a No. 3 until the 23rd.

Injuries have played a role, yes, but it’s not like the position is going to become less physical to play over time and you can’t exactly skate past your bench to grab a new groin. I’m not ready to say I’m going to sit out the early goalie run entirely next season, but this is something to monitor as the season plays out, particularly if some of these 2008-09 owners are able to hold on and stay competitive with these free agent pickups in net.

Weekend UpdateNeed-to-know info from the past few days

Events in New York appear to caused a nine-percent ownership spike for free agent center Mats Sundin. The abbreviated version: Sundin was in New York for Saturday’s Hurricanes-Rangers game. He chatted with management, chilled with players and signed a few autographs. More importantly, he confirmed to reporters that he will play this season and plans to make a decision in the next 1-2 weeks. If he sticks to that timetable he could see game action as early as the first few weeks of January.

As I mentioned here last week, you’re playing with fire if you wait for Sundin to make a decision. He’s available today in 60 percent of leagues, yes, but that number will probably tick up slowly by the day, followed by a flood of moves the day he announces. If he’s available, I’m adding Sundin today even if I’m solid at center. A little roster depth never hurts. Use the extra center to upgrade on defense, or snag a No. 3 goalie. With New York the favorite to land Sundin’s services, there’s always a chance someone in your league will be willing to overpay for the 37-year-old center’s services.

Phil Kessel is still chugging along. The Boston right wing extended his point streak to 15 games Saturday with a goal and an assist against Atlanta. During the streak Kessel has 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points. Normally an update like this wouldn’t be actionable, but Kessel is available in about 13 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Worth a look, I guess. And I’ll take this opportunity to make one last pitch for everyone to change their custom league settings next season. Kessel is still out there in a few leagues, I’m sure, because enough owners are “solid” at their two starting right wing positions and can’t be bothered making a roster move for depth. If I’m starting a custom league tomorrow, the first thing I’m going is adding a third starting C, LW and RW position. Then I’m emailing my league members to see who’s willing to go with four starters per position.

It’s just more fun to roll four lines in a fantasy league, and there’s not the “set it and forget it” feel that standard formats have. The only case I’d make against jumping from three lines to four would be the resulting dilution of the player pool, particularly in 12-team or deeper leagues. Bonus Bruins update: 53-percent owned David Krejci has 20 points in his last 12 games and is a plus-12 during in that span.

One-timers: Marian Gaborik has returned to practice for Minnesota, but due to some quirky scheduling probably won’t see game action until next week. … Steve Sullivan appears to be close to practicing with the Predators. Since he hasn’t played since February of 2007, your guess is as good as mine as far as timetables go. … We should see Rick DiPietro back on the ice in the next two weeks. … Thanks in part to 32 penalty minutes (5 goals, 4 assists help, too), 16-percent owned right wing David Backes has been a borderline top-50 forward over the past month.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Matt Hunwick, D, Bos (22-percent owned) – Grab him now and enjoy the ride. In 18 games, the 23-year-old defenseman has 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) and is a Lidstrom-like plus-14. That pace may not be sustainable, but he does have four assists (two on the power-play) in his last two games and will continue to get substantial ice time until the Boston blueline returns to health. There is talk that Andrew Ference’s return in mid-January could send this kid back to the AHL, but until then reap the benefits in your No. 3 or 4 defense slot.

Patrick O’Sullivan, LW/C, LA (43-percent owned) – You can actually keep an eye on him and new linemate Teddy Purcell. O’Sullivan is riding a five-game point streak (6 assists) and is the 61st ranked forward in the Y! game over the last month. The position flexibility is nice and playing on Anze Kopitar’s wing won’t hurt his value. Purcell has been piling up goals in the AHL and is fresh off his first two-point game with the Kings.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Michael Frolik, C, Fla – He’s doing just fine as a winger on Florida’s top line. Since Nov. 30 the No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 draft has two goals and nine points in eight games. A little position flexibility would boost his value, but as it stands he’s a solid plug-in in deeper formats.

Curtis Glencross, LW, Cal – With two assists Friday, Glencross now has 14 points in his last 14 games. His production has largely been limited to home games (he has 14 points in 15 home games this season, five points in 15 road contests), so consider him a spot play in deeper leagues.

James Wisniewski, D, Chi – He was a top-30 fantasy defenseman a season ago, thanks in large part to his 103 minutes in the penalty box. There is offensive upside as well. He scored seven goals in 68 games in 2007-08 and his two-game AHL rehab assignment this season included a hat trick. Given the team-wide improvement in Chicago the seven-percent owned rearguard figures to be worthy of at least a No. 4 defense spot on fantasy rosters. He should make his 2008-09 NHL debut this week.

Chris Stewart, RW, Col – The Avs have decisions to make with some forwards getting healthy and Stewart hasn’t made things easy with two goals and three points in two games. If Colorado decides to commit to a rebuilding season we could see this 2006 first-round pick emerge as a sleeper forward in deeper leagues.

Fredrik Modin, LW, Cls – Where would the Columbus offense be without Modin, who has five goals in seven December games? Amazingly that’s almost 36 percent of the Jackets’ goal output for the month. Paging Mr. Nash, Mr. Rick Nash.

Joakim Lindstrom, C, Pho – In his last two seasons with Syracuse in the AHL, Lindstrom tallied 47 goals in 99 games. He never could crack the Columbus lineup, but he’s getting his shot now under Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix. Early returns have been solid, as Lindstrom has three points and two goals in three games since joining Phoenix.

B.J. Crombeen, RW, Stl – I’d expect right around zero more hat tricks from Crombeen this season, but he could remain a healthy points/PIM contributor for those fantasy owners that have cut ties with Sean Avery. In five games, Crombeen has six goals, one assist and 14 PIM. In a cruel twist he was a really popular guy in Dallas before they shipped him out of town.

Ed Jovanovski, D, Pho – He’s surprisingly a free agent in about 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues, surely a product of those 12 games at the start of the season in which he recorded a lone point. Since, however, he’s been one of fantasy more productive d-men with 14 points in 18 games.

Chris Kunitz, LW, Ana – Six points in four games could signal a turnaround.

Tomas Holmstrom, RW, Det – Solid stretch for Holmer, who has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) to go with six PIM over four games.

Christian Ehrhoff, D, SJ – We’re looking at 10 straight games now without a point. Right now he’s more widely owned that Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has nine points in the same span.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
RotoWire’s Janet Eagleson makes it two straight weeks at the top, fueled by solid weeks from Alexander Ovechkin and Cristobal Huet. Team Romig is basically making due with one starting goalie and is contemplating seeing what Evgeni Malkin can fetch between the pipes. League-wide transactions include: Martin Gerber, Dwayne Roloson, Petr Sykora (before the hat trick!) and Daniel Cleary.