NHL Skinny: Insurance

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports

GOALIE HOT SEAT

MONTREAL CANADIENS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jaroslav Halak
2nd Chair: Carey Price
Skinny: Saturday's 3-2 win over San Jose featured 20 third-period saves (46 total). So yeah, that qualifies as staying hot, and it has been announced that Halak will start as long as he maintains his level of play. He's only 33-percent owned and he's riding a four-game win streak (.931 save percentage since AS break). Price (3.93 GAA post-break) is expected to sit and watch again Wednesday, but it should be noted that Halak has the flu and did not practice on Monday.


COLORADO AVALANCHE RED HOT
1st Chair: Andrew Raycroft
2nd Chair: Peter Budaj
Skinny: Budaj's personal losing streak reached five games Saturday, and it was ugly. He was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in 13 minutes. Raycroft allowed three of his own in relief against the Rangers, but was adequate enough to earn the start Monday on Long Island.


OTTAWA SENATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Alex Auld
2nd Chair: Brian Elliott
Skinny: They're talking demotion to the AHL in Ottawa after Elliott allowed three suspect goals in a 4-3 loss to Toronto. After a nice start, he has a 5.42 GAA in his last four outings. Auld deserved better than a 3-3-1 record in February (1.85 GAA, .933 save pct.). It will be interesting to see if Ottawa gets protective with Elliott and decides to shield him from further "damage."


ANAHEIM DUCKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere
2nd Chair: Jonas Hiller
Skinny: Giguere started the first five games of Anaheim's lengthy road trip, registering wins in three of the last four. He started back-to-backs and got the call Saturday despite being yanked two nights earlier (5 saves on 8 shots), so Anaheim's confidence in him appears to be restored, even if Giguere hasn't been at his best.


PHILADELPHIA FLYERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Martin Biron
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki
Skinny: Fantasy owners will probably disagree with this take on the Flyers' goalie situation. Two is not better than one when managing fantasy lineups. Biron's last two starts were both solid (shutout vs. Kings, 39 saves at Devils) and Niittymaki has won six of his last eight. Expect a continued time share until one cools off.


LOS ANGELES KINGS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jon Quick
2nd Chair: Erik Ersberg
Skinny: Ersberg is 0-4-2 in his last six decisions. Quick has won only two of his last eight starts. Hmm, I wonder if the Kings are gaining or losing ground in the Western Conference. Quick has a .932 save percentage in his last three starts (1-2) so he is shielded from the blame.


DETROIT RED WINGS HOT
1st Chair: Ty Conklin
2nd Chair: Chris Osgood
Skinny: Osgood will start Tuesday, according to the Detroit News. His first start after 12 days off was effective (2-1 win vs. Kings). Everything went wrong for Detroit in Saturday' 8-0 loss in Nashville (both goalies allowed four goals), but since Conklin was in there first, he takes the blame. Is this Osgood's opening?


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS HOT
1st Chair: Cristobal Huet
2nd Chair: Nikolai Khabibulin, Antti Niemi
Skinny: Huet hit a bit of a bump in the road (nine allowed in five periods), which opened the door for Niemi to start (and win) his first NHL game. Khabibulin (groin) is expected to resume practicing within the week. I'd expect the timeshare to resume then, but the Blackhawks will probably want to establish their go-to guy in the final month.


BUFFALO SABRES WARM
1st Chair: Patrick Lalime
2nd Chair: Ryan Miller, Jhonas Enroth
Skinny: Lalime (15 percent owned) has been statistically adequate (1.97 GAA, .932 save percentage) since taking over for an injured Ryan Miller. Thanks to only three goals of support, he has an 0-2-1 record to show for it. So much for rallying around the backup. Miller remains out indefinitely (ankle).


FLORIDA PANTHERS WARM
1st Chair: Craig Anderson
2nd Chair: Tomas Vokoun
Skinny: Anderson has started four straight with Vokoun out with an inner-ear infection. Sunday's win in Washington (34 shots, 32 saves) helped erase the memory of allowing seven and six goals to the Devils and Bruins, respectively. Vokoun did participate in the morning skate Sunday, a sign he could be close to a return.


This is a big week in hockey, plain and simple. If you want to know where to watch and what to read, check out Puck Daddy's viewer's guide to rumors Christmas 2009. You'll also find Ross McKeon's analysis and a trade tracker on Yahoo! Sports' NHL home page. So we'll have it covered. Also don't forget that the trade deadline for Yahoo! leagues using default settings is Thursday, March 5.

Before we dive into the recap, I'd like to revisit a subject I touched on back in mid-December. In the Dec. 16 Skinny I speculated that goalies were becoming fantasy hockey's version of baseball closers – a necessity on every roster but maybe too volatile a commodity to be drafted in the early rounds. Things have normalized a bit since. Martin Brodeur is back from injury and Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Miikka Kiprusoff have turned things around a bit. But the fact remains that four of the top 10 fantasy goalies on the season began 2008-09 as backups or in a timeshare. Expand that to the top 25 and you have 13 guys that were either late-round picks or free agent pickups. Scan the top 25 skaters and only Rob Blake (ranked 24th) and Patrik Elias (17th) can be considered major surprises. So rewind to draft day and you were better off drafting reliable scorers in Rounds 1-8, then making some value picks in goal. The key to making that strategy work, of course, is being the first guy to snap the next Steve Mason or Scott Clemmensen off the waiver wire. I think we'll see a lot of owners go that route next season.

Another thought occurred to me as I watched Carey Price lose (for now) the starting job in Montreal over the past few weeks. We don't hear the term "handcuff" in fantasy hockey as often as we do in football circles, but is it becoming necessary to handcuff your No. 1 goalie to his backup on draft day? Take a look these goalies drafted in the top 10 in Yahoo! leagues this year and what their backups have contributed:

1. Evgeni Nabokov (Brian Boucher went 5-1-1 in February)
2. Martin Brodeur (Scott Clemmensen 25-13-1 after Kevin Weekes stumbled)
3. Roberto Luongo (Curtis Sanford 7-8-0)
4. J.S. Giguere (Jonas Hiller 14 wins, four shutouts)
9. Chris Osgood (Ty Conklin is No. 7 fantasy goalie on season)
10. Carey Price (Halak current four-game winning streak)

So we have more than half of the top 10 goalies drafted – all within the first four rounds – giving way to their backups for one reason or another for extended stretches. In standard formats, if you're carrying three goalies on your roster, you'll also have three skaters on your bench. In a head-to-head league you may need to rotate those guys in and out of your lineup to keep up in the scoring categories, but in rotisserie leagues with position limits, I'll argue you're better off with an insurance goalie stashed on your bench. If you're on target to hit your games-played limits at forward and defense, you really shouldn't be plugging in bench players anyway. You want your best players earning stats for you. You don't want Evgeni Malkin's last two games not to count because you decided to squeeze in Rich Peverley for a start or two in February.

Carrying Calgary's backup all season (can you name him?) may seem like a waste, but you just never know when you'll need that insurance. I drafted Pascal Leclaire in two leagues and was too slow reacting to Steve Mason's challenge. I happened to be at the game when Nabokov was hurt making the clinching save in a shootout. I signed Boucher the moment I got home. If I had drafted Mason and if Nabokov's owner had already secured Boucher, it wouldn't be a race to the waiver wire. Take a look again at those "backup" contributions above. Do you think your overall season totals would look better with those numbers factored in? OK, maybe not in Sanford's case, but you get the point.

I think I'll be handcuffing in 2009-10. Yikes, long intro. Let's get right to the bin.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Mathieu Schneider, D, Mon (51-percent owned) – Bit of a cheat here, as the threshold for bargain bin eligibility is supposed to be 50-percent ownership. This is how deadline deals are supposed to work out. Schneider was brought to Montreal to invigorate the power play from the blue line, and he's doing just that with six man-advantage points in six games. Tack on a few games with his former employers and the 39-year-old has 10 points in 12 games. He had just 11 points all season prior to that, which explains the ownership figures. Double-check to confirm he's been scooped up in your league.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Matt Hunwick, D, Bos – We don't normally endorse rookie defensemen fresh off 15-game scoreless droughts, but in Hunwick's case we'll make an exception, at least in the short term. Saturday against Washington he had a goal and an assist, giving him four points in two games. More importantly, he played left wing on a line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. He was back on that line in practice Monday, so it looks like the 6-percent owned rearguard will be back up front Tuesday.

Alex Burrows, LW, Van – The trade rumors complicate things a bit, but staying or going Burrows has been a top-10 fantasy left wing over the past month. The mean streak has always been there (103 penalty minutes), but the offense only spiked when he joined the Sedin line (eight points in last seven). Monitor his role if he does get moved.

Josh Harding, G, Min – If you've got a spare part and a need in net, go ahead and sign Harding before Wednesday's trade deadline. If soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Niklas Backstrom gets dealt, you've got yourself a huge goalie bargain. If Backstrom stays, you cut Harding loose and move on. I like the risk-reward there.

Drew Miller, LW, Ana – He's getting the first shot at playing left wing on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne. Miller picked up an assist Saturday against Dallas, giving him five on the season in 14 games. He had 21 goals in 46 games with Iowa of the AHL.

Yann Danis, G, NYI – Just 15-percent owned, Danis entered play Monday as the No. 4 fantasy goalie over the past month with four wins, two shutouts, a 1.55 goals against and a .954 save percentage. That was before he went out and beat Colorado 4-2. An Island sell-off could eat away at his value, but if your stretch drive requires a boost in the goalie categories, he could help.

Karri Ramo, G, TB – With both Ramo (3-percent owned) and Danis (above) widely available in Yahoo! leagues, fantasy owners can afford to play matchups to get the most favorable opponents. It's looking more and more like Mike Smith will be shut down for the season, and Ramo has actually been pretty solid in his last four starts (.928 save percentage, 2.71 GAA). The wins are hard to come by as you might expect, but as you know starting goalies aren't exactly falling from trees.

Steve Sullivan, LW, Nas – Three assists Saturday made it eight points in six games. Consider his training camp period over.

Cam Barker, D, Chi – A strong month landed him in the top 10 among defensemen despite a 33-percent ownership figure. He has 11 points in 14 games and is a name to possibly watch on the trade deadline.

Ville Leino, LW, Det – Nine points in 13 games wasn't too shabby, but Leino was shipped back to the AHL on Monday.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
It's Matt Buser from busersports.com back on top. He got big weeks from Zach Parise, Jarome Iginla and all three goalies (Auld, Roloson, Thomas). Janet Eagleson is just a half-point behind with Rotowire-Maingot still in pursuit. Recent moves involved Ryan Malone, Craig Anderson, Kari Ramo and Joe Pavelski among others.