Fantasy Hockey: Which goalies will rebound?

Something strange is happening in the NHL, where several star goalies are off to poor starts.
For Buffalo Sabres fans and fantasy hockey poolies, this has been a familiar sight this season. Netminder Ryan Miller may not be having another Vezina Trophy inspiring campaign, but he does get a ton of playing time and that should equal (some) wins. ((Tom Mihalek/Associated Press))

Something strange is happening in the NHL, where several star goalies are off to poor starts.

Look no further than the trio of netminders from Canada's gold medal-winning 2010 Olympic team. Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur could be described as anything from inconsistent to mediocre to downright awful at various points this season with their NHL clubs.

Is this an ominous sign for fantasy owners who used a high pick on a big-name goalie? Or is it just an early-season anomaly? Which star goalie is likely to turn his season around, and who's in for more rough times?

We debate those questions in this week's edition of Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1, and give advice on which forwards to pick up if you need a replacement for the injured Zach Parise.

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All stats are through Thursday.

1. Which struggling star goalie is likely to turn it around?

Jordan: Even though his team is playing pretty well, Fleury is not. Pittsburgh's record is 6-6-1 with 37 goals for and 33 against. Unfortunately for Fleury, almost all of those wins have come with career backup Brent Johnson in net. Fleury is just 1-5 with a 3.35 goals-against average and a .863 save percentage, while Johnson is 5-1-1 with a 1.70 GAA and a .941 save percentage. Considering that Johnson hasn't played more than 30 games in a season since way back in 2002-03, and hasn't won more than 16 games since the year before that (not to mention the fact that Fleury led the Pens to a Stanley Cup victory and he's clearly the goalie of the future at age 26), I would be absolutely shocked if Fleury didn't regain the starter's role at some point.

Jesse: In our draft preview, I warned fantasy players to think twice before using a high pick on Ryan Miller because I figured he and the Sabres were headed for a downturn. But not even a cynical Buffalo fan like me could've foreseen this: Buffalo has the worst record in the league at 3-8-2, and their Vezina Trophy winner is lugging around a clunky 2.71 GAA and .903 save percentage. So, naturally, I'm now urging owners to explore trading for Miller. Have I had one too many Rolling Rocks? Maybe, but the fact is the fantasy trade market is like any other: you want to buy low and sell high. This clearly isn't Buffalo's year, but it's unlikely they'll finish with the NHL's worst record, so at least a modest turnaround should be in the offing. And the bottom line with Miller is that the Sabres don't have anything close to a viable backup option with the likes of Patrick Lalime and Jhonas Enroth on the bench. So, unlike Fleury, you know Miller will continue to get playing time and, with that, wins. Maybe you can pry him away from a rival at a discount.

2. Which struggling star goalie is likely to stay down?

Jesse: I wouldn't go trading Roberto Luongo just yet, but I'm a little worried about the Canucks' ex-captain. Luongo won 40 games last season, but his GAA and save percentage were both the worst they've been since he came to Vancouver. Those peripheral numbers haven't improved this season, and that's reflected in Luongo's uninspiring 4-3-2 record. Another warning sign: Vancouver looks to have a viable backup in Cory Schneider, a 24-year-old former AHL star who's won all three of his starts this season with a sizzling 0.90 GAA and .969 save percentage. If the Canucks are looking to keep Luongo fresh for the playoffs, they now know they can rest him and still have a chance to win. That could mean less playing time — and less wins — for Luongo and his owners.

Jordan: As much as I believe Antti Niemi is a great goaltender, as proven by not only his Stanley Cup ring with Chicago but also his stats from last year, I'm not sure he'll rebound from a poor start with San Jose. It's not that he doesn't have the talent, but rather who he's sharing the net with. I'm finally starting to believe Antero Niittymaki  can be a bona fide number one in the NHL. That belief originated last season when Niittymaki took over for the injured Mike Smith and promptly stole the show in Tampa Bay. Though Niittymaki's stats weren't overly impressive by season's end (21-18, 2.87 GAA, .909 save percentage), he had stretches of absolute brilliance. As an example, between Jan. 21 - Feb. 9, the Finnish goalie went 7-0-1 in eight starts with a miniscule 1.08 GAA and a .962 save percentage on a mediocre Lightning team. So far this season, Niittymaki is 4-1-1 with a 1.75 GAA and a .930 save percentage, while Niemi is 1-4-0 with a 3.90 GAA and a .872 save percentage.

3. What's your move of the week?

Jesse: If you're one of the unlucky owners who lost Zach Parise this week, Brandon Dubinsky is a good — and readily available — replacement forward. Owned in just 39 per cent of Yahoo! leagues, Dubinsky has 12 points in 12 games and ranks in the top 30 in the NHL with eight goals. The 24-year-old former second-round pick leads the Rangers in both average ice time and power-play time, so there's plenty of opportunity for him to extend his hot streak.

Jordan: I like Dubinsky's teammate Ryan Callahan as a pickup this week (he leads the team with 13 points and is owned in a little more than half of all leagues) and I'm also looking at Raffi Torres. Though Torres hasn't had the type of consistent production Callahan's been enjoying, the Canucks' right-winger has had an excellent week. Torres has scored five goals in his past three games, including two on the power play and two game-winners. Still, he's owned in just nine per cent of leagues. Here are two things that make this pick-up that much better: Torres scored only 19 goals in total all of last season in 74 games, but he already has seven this season. More importantly, however, after Torres was acquired by the Sabres at the trade deadline last year, I had to listen to Jesse whine and moan about how useless he was. I guess sometimes the hockey gods get some things just right.

Jesse: How dare you. Like the Sabres and Bills aren't already putting me through enough? Leave me alone with my pain so I can get back to watching Buffalo 66 for the 19th time.