The NHL is knee-deep in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals right now – the whole shebang could very well end on the first day that this column publishes (Wednesday) – yet far and away the most interesting stories revolve around next season and beyond. Now, I don’t know if that’s as much a condemnation of a one-sided and bland series (seriously, the New Jersey Devils have scored two goals in three games while falling behind 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings in a bout that seems almost predetermined) or a celebration of how weird and momentous the other scenarios have been, but either way, Kings-Devils has been pushed deep down the ledger this week.
Naturally, we must start with Tim Thomas.
In case you’ve been in some kind of hockey cave, here’s the medium-sized story. Thomas had an off-putting post-Conn Smythe/Stanley Cup/Vezina/generally history-making 2010-11 campaign this season. Most of us sort of waved off the odd story of Thomas skipping a photo opportunity with the team and Obama at the White House, yet it’s becoming increasingly reasonable to point to that reason as the first crack in an eventual crater in the relationship between Thomas and the Bruins. Regardless of the reasoning (Thomas points to the three F’s: “Faith, Family and Friends,” although I might have added “Freud”), the bottom line is that Thomas announced that he’s sitting out the 2012-13 season.
Thomas, by the way, is in the last year of a contract that will omit $5 million from the Bruins’ salary cap whether he plays or not. It’s also worth noting that Thomas was likely to get traded as Boston had something of a falling out with its history-making goalie while also needing to re-sign restricted free agent Tuukka Rask.
Ugh, you know what?
This whole scenario is rather complicated. I’ve heard compelling arguments that a) Thomas just didn’t walk to play for the Bruins, b) he really his weird enough to sit out one of his final prime years for generic “family” reasons (it's equally possible that this is a reasonable or irrational explanation without knowing any hint of context) or c) Thomas didn’t want to get traded. For your functional purposes, the “Why?” doesn’t really matter, though.
From a fantasy hockey perspective, you can come to one important conclusion: it doesn’t matter why Thomas is out. Unless he has a change of heart in the next couple months, he’s out of the picture, so let’s adjust.
So here’s a quick summary of the people who benefited from Thomas’ strange exodus: Tuukka Rask, Rask’s accountant, Rask’s agent, Rask’s family, Rask’s friends, Rask’s hangers-on and so on. It truly will be intriguing to see what kind of contract Thomas’ former backup will receive as a restricted free agent with considerably stronger leverage.
Rask’s career overall regular season stats are as such: 102 games played, 47-35-11 record, 11 shutouts, .926 save percentage and 2.20 GAA.
You could call that somewhere between 1.5 and 2 seasons of work. The .926 save percentage is the number that intrigues me the most; if he can maintain something close to that, he should be a high-end fantasy goalie considering the fact that the Bruins don’t really have much beyond him – now.
In fact, I’ll ask a quick question of you: where would Rask rank assuming a couple things: 1) He re-signs with Boston and 2) Roberto Luongo going somewhere else?
I hate to use wins as a starting point because that’s such a team-based stat, but I think it’s actually a good starting point to identify the most valuable goalies in fantasy. Fair or not, it’s probably the most “rewarding” stat in fantasy because shutouts are so unstable.
Looking at the top goalies with wins (and only slightly less of an extent, individual stats) taking into account, I’ll tick off the netminders who are in the potentially high-end range.
Pekka Rinne (43 wins, great individual stats) - As much as I like Rinne, I'm worried that the weight of a hefty new contract - including an NHL record $7 million annual cap hit - and the potential loss of Shea Weber and/or Ryan Suter makes me worried about his chances of duplicating success. My advice: assess where you'd rank him based on 2011-12 stats, then add 10-20 more draft spots based on taste.
Marc-Andre Fleury (42 wins, decent individual stats) - To avoid stepping on this post's other major points, Fleury's value drops massively.
Henrik Lundqvist (39 wins, great individual stats) - It's funny that Martin Brodeur's team beat Lundqvist's Rangers, because Hank might be the new Brodeur in fantasy. For my fake money, he's the most reliable netminder in the category at this point. New York might've peaked in a brutal Atlantic Division and overall in the East, but he did well with a mediocre team, so if they add even more talent this summer then it's all for the better. Lundqvist is easily in the argument for No. 1.
Mike Smith (38 wins, very good individual stats) - As a one-year guy, I'd at least be careful with Smith. In an ideal draft, every other fantasy owner matches your weariness and Smith actually slips quite a bit. Let me put this way: I wouldn't make Smith one of your first two picks of any draft, but beyond that, it could be a good call.
Jonathan Quick (35, great individual stats) - Quick is a truly elite guy, but unless you hibernated during the playoffs (looking at you, depressed Blue Jackets fans), he's not exactly slipping under the radar. Quick should have the same (or a similarly great defense) in place along with a superior offense year-round. The biggest thing, for me, is if Quick receives a contract extension over the summer. He's up for a new deal after the 2012-13 season. If he doesn't get a new contract during the off-season, then Quick could have one of the most lucrative contract years for a goalie since ... Pekka Rinne. Either way, you'd have to think Quick is a top-five guy, but the contract year potential presents the most promising scenario.
Jimmy Howard (35, sneaky-great individual stats) - Howard strikes me as an intriguing "value" guy. Will losing Nicklas Lidstrom hurt him more in reality or in the eyes of fantasy owners who underrate his value? Will the Red Wings bolster their defense by nabbing Ryan Suter? It's a pretty intriguing scenario overall. If he ends up being your second goalie, you might have hit gold.
Miikka Kiprusoff (35, surprisingly good indvidual stats) - I'll be honest, I'm not totally sure what to make of Kipper considering the Flames' declining budget. Still, he's like a lower-end Howard: could be a No. 1 guy disguised as No. 2 in many drafts.
Tim Thomas - (35) - Well, you know.
Honorable mentions: Antti Niemi (34 wins), Ilya Bryzgalov (33 wins), Craig Anderson (33 wins), Kari Lehtonen (32 wins), Brodeur (31 wins), Roberto Luongo (31 wins), Ryan Miller (31 wins), Corey Crawford (30 wins), Cam Ward (30 wins) and Jonas Hiller (29 wins).
All things considered, Rask might honestly rank as a top-10 goalie – maybe even top five, considering the fact that he’ll still play behind Zdeno Chara in Boston (unless he signs elsewhere). Personally, I think that if next season goes off without a lockout-related hitch, fantasy owners would be wise to assess a particular draft’s owners’ prejudices and wait for medium-sleepers.
Ryan Miller has high bounce-back potential. Bryzgalov’s individual numbers could get better, although his wins might only change a bit. Luongo is a real wild card while Ward and Hiller could be very good No. 2 or even No. 3 guys if their teams improved.
(Note: I’m worried about the defense in Anaheim for Hiller, but Kirk Muller’s regime implied improvement in Carolina. If you make Ward your No. 3, you’ll likely be goalie-rich.)
Either way, Rask’s value is very high. My dream scenario is getting him in a typical fourth round or later, but that might be too-bold thinking. Whatever the situation may be, we’ll find out soon enough if Rask is worthy of the hype.
Then again, Corey Schneider might be in the same scenario and could be that much better. In other words … you might win out by waiting for a steal. You know, like Rask’s agent/family/friends/accountant …
VOKOUN’S SECOND CUP ATTEMPT
If there’s one goalie who doesn’t seem to be “full of it” when he comes to being all about winning a Stanley Cup, it might just be Tomas Vokoun.
Look, I know his 2011-12 season wasn’t great with the Washington Capitals, especially by his stat-nerds-pleasing standards. Still, there were a lot of variables involved and it was just one year. If I was an NHL GM with a good team in need of that one missing piece – a goalie – I would have offered more than the seventh round pick the Pittsburgh Penguins did to discuss (and sign) a new deal.
Vokoun should be a good-to-great starter.
That’s not what happened, though, so one of the best individual stats goalies will likely backup Marc-Andre Fleury, unless something really weird happens. We can debate all we want whether or not Vokoun is the better netminder (I believe he’s been in certain recent years), but the bottom line is that both goalies carry huge red flags next season – each other.
It’s a brilliant move for the Penguins, but an unsettling one for fantasy owners. I’d honestly stay far away from both, unless you can wait a long time and then platoon them as your collective No. 2 guy or something.
Honestly, I don’t feel like there has been a ton to be said about the 2012 Stanley Cup finals. Quick is the obvious Conn Smythe frontrunner. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have enjoyed outstanding playoff campaigns while Jeff Carter and Mike Richards provide examples of the Kings’ superior depth. Meanwhile, Ilya Kovalchuk seems vaguely injured and the Devils just seem not quite good enough.
The most interesting wrinkle might be that Simon Gagne returned in Game 1 on Monday. His numbers and impact were pretty negligible, yet if this is a sign that he can be relatively healthy next season, that’s great news. Especially since I think the Kings are too smart to fall for Dustin Penner’s brief run of interest during the postseason.
ROTOWORLD LEAGUE UPDATE
1. Jimmy Hascup - 504.40 points
2. Corey Abbott - 259.80
3. Jared O - 254.50
4. Michael Finewax - 239
5. Marc Lapierre - 216.40
6. My team - 188
7. Ryan Dadoun - 148
8. Brian Rosenbaum - 144.30
9. Gus Katsaros - 106.70
10. Kevin Brown - 89.80
While Finewax has a shot at the top three, it seems settled at this point – especially if the Cup is handed out tonight. One way or another, Hascup’s reign is something to admire. Considering the fact that no one else will hit 300 points, it’s almost like his run mirrors the Kings’ in how peerless it’s been.
In fact, I can’t help but ask: was your league as one-sided as ours?
So the Nashville Predators admitted that Alexander Radulov’s days with the team are numbered. Shocking, I know. The just-announced news is that he’s almost certain to sign with KHL team CSKA, but keep an eye on Rotoworld for the officials … The Montreal Canadiens chose Michel Therrien as their new head coach. (No, this isn’t a reprint.) Honestly, I thought Therrien deserved another shot at being a bench boss after his work with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s tough to get behind the idea of a retread. It might be good news for Carey Price if he re-signs with the Habs, though … I don’t know about Zach Parise playing for the Devils again, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Brodeur can basically call the shot if he wants to come back to New Jersey. Honestly, I feel like he’s only been a bit above average in the playoffs and was even less stellar in the regular season, yet with the thin goalie market I can (kind of) understand … The Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi/Canucks legal squabbles seem to be heating up, but aside from the indirect impact on Marc Crawford’s coaching opportunities and perhaps some distraction for now-marginal Bertuzzi, it’s almost a footnote. (Click here for the full injury list.)