Archive for the ‘trends’ Category

Kari Lehtonen, master of the irrelevant

March 17, 2009

When it comes to largely anonymous Finnish goaltenders, Kari Lehtonen holds a high place in my heart. And like most of my hockey preferences, the reasoning is pretty stupid: he had a small part in my fantasy hockey team winning a championship.

Let me take you waaaay back to the 2003-04 season. Team Pants was an unstoppable juggernaut locomotive of a team, but their idiot GM (me) dropped Rick Dipietro under the assumption Ricky D would be injured for the rest of that season. Which turned out to be something like a 1-2 week injury. Yikes.

Reeling from the possibility of losing because of my own stupidity, I noticed that Lehtonen, the object of much praise from fantasy guru Chris Nichols, had just been called up by the Thrashers. Since I’m a fantasy hockey Lemming, I followed Nichols’ advice and snatched Lehtonen off the waiver wire.

Lehtonen was one of the main reasons my team was able to win a fake, meaningless title that nonetheless felt great, going 4-0 with an obscene 1.25 GAA, an absurd 95.3 save percentage and a shutout.

KL will never be forgotten after that effort, but playing on a shitty Southeast division team means that Lehtonen is like an old friend whose body odor and tasteless humor keep him from remaining in the rotation. He’s always been on the radar, but just never quite worth the risk.

Fast forward to this season and once again, the Atlanta Thrashers are just about eliminated from the playoffs and Lehtonen is once again among the hottest goalies in the NHL. He is on a five game winning streak with two shutouts and allowed only one goal on 49 shots against the Washington Capitals tonight. Looking for an under-the-radar stud? Lehtonen might be your man.

It’s a small sample, but here’s some rather stunning stats for Atlanta’s franchise goalie in the last month and a half of each season versus his normal production:

Career record in March and April: 32-16; Career record in other months: 61-65

March and April (08 – 09): 5-1; Other months: 13-19

March and April (07 – 08): 4-4; Other months: 13-18

March and April (06 – 07): 8-5; Other months: 26-19

March and April (05 – 06): 11-6; Other months: 9-9

March and April (03 – 04): 4-0; Other months: n/a

Again, it is a small sample. But a trend is forming in Hotlanta. Should the Thrashers invest in a high-end hypnotist to convince Kari that every month is March or April?

How goalies are like NFL running backs

February 18, 2009

Common NFL logic is that a typical running back faces a steep decline once he hits the age of 30. The reasoning is twofold: the natural aging process robs them of their speed and the brunt of 250-300 carry seasons wears a RB down.

Lately, though, the latter reason seems to be on the decline because running back platoons are coming in vogue. Perhaps you run one bruiser and one speedster or two similar running backs who never seem tired against beleaguered linebackers and D-linemen.

This reminds me of a recent trend in the NHL. The 2008-09 season might just usher in the two goalie era in hockey. It’s certainly been a rough year for the household name, huge GP goalies. Both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo suffered from possible wear-and-tear related injuries and missed serious time. The Dallas Stars nearly prepared for its first lottery ball in ages during Marty Turco‘s horrifying start to the season and must have missed Mike Smith‘s quality relief appearances. Even guys such as Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist face up-and-down periods (Lundqvist, as you may recall, was pulled from Sunday’s game against the Flyers).
Now, take a look at the successful (or necessary) platoons. Most notably, the Boston Bruins made a stunning jump to the league’s elite on the backs of its contract year 1-A and 1-B. Indeed, while Tim Thomas demands Vezina consideration with All-Star numbers and highlight reel saves, Manny Fernandez quietly produces similar results. While goaltending may count as Detroit’s Achilles heel, Red Wings fans must shudder to think about their chances if Ty Conklin couldn’t clean up Chris Osgood‘s mess.

The most expensive platoon is Chicago’s Bulin Wall/Cristobal Huet combo, but say what you might; the Blackhawks are firmly set in fourth place in the brutal Western Conference. Many considered the Anaheim Ducks to lose their quality rotation when Ilya Bryzgalov was moved, but Jonas Hiller might just be the Ducks’ go-to-goalie as J.S. Giguere suffers through a rough stretch professionally and emotionally. The Florida Panthers benefit from the overachieving duo of Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson, although Vokoun is more clearly entrenched as the #1 than a lot of the goalies in this discussion.

So, if this trend were to continue, the Columbus Blue Jackets might be in especially good shape. At this point, Pascal Leclaire’s $3.8 million cap hit looks pretty bad but his year’s been ravaged by injuries. Leclaire could be a nice safety net should Steve Mason suffer a sophomore slump. Most teams would be jealous of the Blue Jackets’ young tandem and its $4.6 million cap hit (and if Leclaire is indeed a lemon they could always put him on waivers).

Editor’s note: Check the next post for a team-by-team look at goaltender tandems.

Team by team look: goalie tandems

February 18, 2009

(continued from the previous post)

For fun, let’s take a team-by-team look to see the two-goalie effect (starting with the East) in the order of playoff seeding.

1. Boston – Thomas (37 GP)/Fernandez(21 GP): probably won’t remain intact but provides the Bruins with great goaltending

2. Washington – Jose Theodore (37 GP)/Brent Johnson (21 GP): faced a brief tug-o-war but it seems as if Theodore’s the starter now.

3. New Jersey – It’s not THAT crazy to wonder if Brodeur’s 75 GP reign of terror might be a thing of the past considering Scott Clemmensen‘s unexpectedly fantastic run in net. (SC – 39 GP; Kevin Weekes 12 GP; MB 10 GP)

4. Philadelphia – Martin Biron (34 GP)/Antero Niittymaki (24 GP): the Flyers go with goaltending controversies like peanut butter goes with chocolate.

5. Montreal – Carey Price (36 GP)/Jaroslav Halak (24 GP): To paraphrase the great Bill Parcells, don’t get the anointing oils out just yet for “Jesus” Price; neither of the Habs goalies can claim a 91 percent save percentage.

6. Florida – Vokoun (42 GP)/Anderson (23 GP): Both Vokoun and Anderson boast near-93 percent save percentages. Is that the Bouwmeester effect?
7. Buffalo – Miller (49 GP)/Patrick Lalime (12 GP): The first true workhorse (although Clemmensen probably counts and Vokoun’s close too) is on the seventh-best team in the East. Pretty close to a trend, right?

8. New York – Lundqvist (48 GP)/Steve Valiquette (13 GP): It’s pretty insane that the Rangers are a low-scoring, goalie and defense dependent team with all the stupid money Sather throws around. He’s insanely lucky to have a top-10 goalie. Can you believe they’ve dropped to eighth place so quickly?!?

9. Carolina – Cam Ward (45 GP)/Michael Leighton (16 GP): Hard to believe it, but the Hurricanes probably miss the days when they had depth provided by Martin Gerber and (gulp) John Grahame. Ward’s been one of the few bright spots for Carolina this year.

10. Pittsburgh- Marc Andre Fleury (40 GP)/Danny Sabourin[traded] (19 GP): Even with considerable time missed, Fleury managed a relative workhorse ratio. You think the Pens wish they still had Conkblock?

11. Ottawa – Alex Auld (30 GP)/ Gerber (14 GP)/Brian Elliot (14 GP): Do the Senators even have one goalie? Elliot might have a chance to be a 1-B going forward.

12. Toronto –Vesa Toskala (48 GP)/Cujo (12 GP): Rough year for Vesa Tacosalad.

13. Tampa Bay – Mike Smith (41 GP)/a pile of junk (21 GP): How ugly would Tampa Bay’s year be without Smith?

14. Atlanta – Kari Lehtonen (31 GP)/Johan Hedberg (24 GP): Lehtonen still might have potential, but only seven more starts than The Moose? Not good.

15. NY Islanders – Joey McDonald (40 GP)/Yann Danis (14 GP): A throwaway year for the Islanders. Hopefully for the sake of the blogbox Rick Dipietro rebounds in the 2009-10 season.

Western Conference

1. San Jose – Evgeni Nabokov (43 GP)/Brian Boucher (13 GP): Although Nabokov sports workhorse numbers, Boucher kept the Sharks on top during an early season Nabby injury.

2. Detroit – Osgood (31 GP)/Conklin (28 GP): Conklin may never get a real chance to start in the NHL.

3. Calgary – Miikka Kiprusoff (53 GP)/Curtis McElhinney (6 GP): By far the most successful team with a workhorse goalie, but is Kipper going to have anything left for the playoffs?

4. Chicago – Bulin Wall (29 GP)/Huet (29 GP): Two contract year goalies on the same team!

5. Vancouver – Luongo (30 GP)/Curtis Sanford (19 GP): Vancouver Canucks motto: if Luongo’s healthy, he plays every game.

6. Dallas – Turco (53 GP)/Tobias Stephan (7 GP): Dallas should consider trading for a #2 for this reason: if Turco goes down, they’d have to start someone like Stephan. Yikes.

7. Edmonton – Dwayne Roloson (40 GP)/Mathieu Garon [traded] (15 GP): At one point, the Oilers had three goalies, which makes Roloson’s games played pretty surprising.

8. Columbus – Mason (37 GP)/Leclaire (12 GP): Mason saved the season for Columbus.

9. Anaheim – Giguere (35 GP)/Hiller (30 GP): Hiller’s numbers are mind bogglingly better than Giggy’s.

10. Minnesota – Niklas Backstrom (47 GP)/Josh Harding (13 GP): The NHL’s worst kept secret is that Backstrom is the UFA the Wild are most interested in signing, not Gaborik.

11. Los Angeles – Jonathan Quick (22 GP)/Erik Ersberg (22 GP)/Jason the Barber [traded] (19 GP): Fantasy hockey owners have been trying to solve the “Who’s the Kings’ starting goaltender?” riddle all season long.

12. Nashville – Dan Ellis (32 GP)/Pekka Rinne (30 GP): Goalie platoons are a Predators tradition, stretching back to the days of Vokoun’s inevitable late season injuries.

13. St. Louis – Chris Mason (31 GP)/Manny Legace (29 GP): It’s hard to believe that Legace was on last year’s All-Star team.

14. Coloradao – Peter Budaj (42 GP)/Raycroft (19 GP): The Avs waste a lot of money on defense, which has to be good in front of two mediocre goalies.

15. Phoenix – Bryzgalov (48 GP)/Mikael Tellqvist (14 GP): Considering his inconsistency, Breezy might be better off in a two-goalie system.

So, overall, the workhorse goalie model seems much more successful and prevalent in the West while the East encourages goalie depth. Still, just about every team should see the wisdom of keeping two quality goalies on their rosters. Sure, that concept isn’t new, but it’s more important than ever.