The first week of July is always a busy time in the hockey universe in terms of player movement. It has evolved into a Mini Me of the Trade Deadline. While the top stories this year will center around the likes of Kovalchuk, Gonchar and Hamhuis, in terms of fantasy hockey, these deals will have little impact on where those players will rank on your draft list. The real shakeup will come in the crease. Just try and put together a top 20 list of goalies for next season's draft today and you'll find that you can't possibly make sense of it at this point. The next two weeks will bring that picture into focus as RFAs and UFAs find their new homes. Here are the players and situations to watch as you start to formulate your early favorites for next year's draft:
1. Evgeni Nabokov
Nabokov is the obvious big name in the pool waiting to find a new home. For the past decade, Nabokov has consistently been one of the top fantasy options in the game. The question now to be answered is how much of that success came from being Shark. We saw this past Winter how he struggled in net playing behind a Team Russia who provided little defensive help in front of him. If he were to land on a high flying offensive team with little support, such as Washington, his numbers could take a dive. The early rumblings have the Flyers as a possible destination. If that plays out, you can promote Nabokov into the top 3 next season. If Leighton and Boucher can put up Brodeur-like numbers for Philly, Nabokov could vie for the Vezina in orange.
2. Chris Mason
Mason had a very good year for the Blues in 2009-10, so it was a bit of a surprise when St. Louis landed Halak earlier this month. That move leaves Mason looking for work, despite finishing near the top of the league in wins, and putting up above average numbers in GAA and save percentage. He's in the prime of his career and has been a consistent performer for the past 5 years in the NHL. He's managed to do well as both a starter, and in splitting time, so he could be added to a team as a 1B option. At this point, he figures to be a decent #2 option, but that stock could rise or fall next week.
3. Marty Turco
Since his implied dismissal from the Stars, the general perception is that Turco is somewhat over the hill. However, a look at his driver's license will show he's actually younger than Brodeur and Thomas, and has just one candle over the likes of Kiprisoff and Vokoun. In other words, don't write off the 9 year Stars veteran just yet. The last two seasons haven't been good to Turco, but consider his surroundings. If he finds himself on a playoff-caliber team as he enters free agency, he could once again be a name worth drafting this fall.
4. Michael Leighton
Depending on what day it was in May and June, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Leighton ranked in the top 10 or the mid 30's. Depending on what the Flyers do in July, you can expect the same kind of volatility in his stock this fall. The Flyers are expected to make a move in crease, as they are each summer, but don't be shocked if they decide to give Leighton a crack at a full season. If that plays out, you can shoot him up your draft list.
5. Washington Capitals
If things play out as expected, Jose Theodore will be moving on to a backup role in another town, leaving Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth around to squabble over the rights for a 40 win season. Who gets the prize is anyone's guess. It's always a good bet to draft a goalie from the President's Trophy winning team, but this may just be the exception. Varlamov has yet to prove he's worthy of the job, and Neuvirth has a total of 22 NHL games on his resume. Drafting a Washington goalie may be a major gamble this fall.
6. Antero Niittymaki
Niittymaki was solid in net for Tampa Bay last season, despite the turmoil surrounding the team. With Yzerman there to settle things down with the franchise, the Lightning net may be an attractive place to be going forward. Niittymaki is unrestricted, but there doesn't seem to be a better fit for him than where he is right now. If he stays put and claims the #1 job, he could be a decent option as a #1 guy next year.
A few other names to watch next week:
- Ellis lost his job to Pekka Rinne, but still has the potential to be a #1 goalie in the next couple of years. Keep him on your radar.
- he's out in D.C., but still has some games left in him. Could see him emerging as a #1 once more.
- it could be the end of the line for Toskala. He expects to be a #1 goalie. Maybe in another league...
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