NHL Fantasy Focus: Goalie Carousel

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 16:  Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 16, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Canadiens 2-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

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With a new year comes resolutions to lose those 15 pounds, to cook more for yourself, and to exhibit other attributes to make you a better person for 2010. 

Well, teams around the league are trying to resolve their rotation goalie problems.  Nowadays, only certain teams are in position with one solid goaltender who takes the reins. In this week’s Pucking Awesome Fantasy Focus, I will delve into certain merry-go-round goalie situations that have fantasy owners puzzled headed into the New Year.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Mike Smith was a sleeper pick for many fantasy owners as Tampa was supposed to be a much improved defensive team with the additions of Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund, but that was not the case coming out of the gate. 

Instead, Flyers castoff Antero Niittymaki burst onto the fantasy scene with a 4-2-2 November that saw him near the top of the league in GAA and save percentage. 

Now heading into the New Year, it is Smith who has started the last six games, with four wins and a 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage while Niittymaki is out attending to the birth of his child.

Smith is owned in less than 10 percent of leagues right now, and it is clear that this organization wants Smith to lead them. 

The 27-year-old is signed for another season, while the 29-year-old Niittymaki is not. Smith, don’t forget, was a part of the big Brad Richards deal with Dallas, so they expect him to be the goalie of the future. 

It was a nice run for the Finnish Nittymaki and got him back on the Olympic team he helped get a silver medal.

I expect to see Smith take control of this carousel, of course barring another major injury.

St. Louis Blues

With a new coach comes a new chance for a player to make a better first impression.  As Davis Payne settles into his new position, he has two goaltenders from which to pick. The contenders for the net are 33-year-olds Chris Mason and Ty Conklin. 

While Mason backstopped the surprise Blues to the playoffs last year, he is on the last year of his two-year contract. 

Conklin signed a two-year contract after playing for the losing Stanley Cup team in consecutive seasons (Penguins and Red Wings) for a chance to get more playing time.

So far this season, neither has stood out, but the same could be said for the offense in front of them; hence, Andy Murray lost his job. 

These goalies are very similar in career path and both are coming off career years last season, so I think Payne will incorporate the dreaded goalie carousel until one stands out above the other. 

My guess is it will be Mason, for last season in the crucial months he proved that he can carry a team when asked.   


Montreal Canadiens

The goalie tandem in Montreal has been the toughest to read for fantasy owners this season, as both goalies are owned in over 50 percent of leagues. 

It matches up hot shot former first-round pick Carey Price in one corner and surprise former ninth-round pick Jaroslav Halak in the other corner. 

Other than in November, where Price stood out (11 starts to one), each month they have split time between the pipes. 

Lately, it has been Halak, the 24-year-old Czech, playing more, starting five of the last seven games. However, Price has looked good in his two starts with only two goals against. 

Jacques Martin has fantasy owners cursing the lineup every time it is released. The big question surrounding this organization is, can they keep this up? Or does one of them have to go to help the team solve another weakness, say a top-six forward? 

Both Halak and Price are RFA at the end of the season, thus bringing up more questions about signing one of the goaltenders to a big-time deal. 

My best guess is the Canadiens ride Halak to showcase him, only to trade him at the deadline and hand the stick back to Price for the stretch run, similar to what they did with him and Cristobal Huet two seasons ago. 

Hold onto Halak for fantasy purposes because if he does get traded, most likely he would become that team’s starter down the wire.

Pick Up of the Week: Ryan Shannon, Winger, Senators

Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity. In Ottawa, Ryan Shannon, the former Ducks and Canucks player, is filling in nicely for the injured Daniel Alfredsson on the top line. 

Shannon, the 26-year-old, 5'9" winger, was one of the first people called up last season when Cory Clouston took over the job and responded with 20 points in the final 35 games.

A concussion in the first game this year set Shannon back, but now he is on fire playing alongside Mike Fisher and Alex Kovalev with seven points (4G, 3A) in his last five games. 

With both Alfredsson and Jason Spezza out for an extended period of time, look for Shannon’s run to extend as he will continue to get top line minutes.

The Senators are one of the surprise teams of the first half of hockey, and lately much of the credit has to be given to the Darien, Conn. native, so pick him up and ride out the hot streak.


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