Today, it's the final third of the league and the review of their potential starting goaltenders.
Dominik Hasek will return for at least another season with the Senators this year. It's hard to say how well he'll fare at the ripe old age of 41... Sens fans hope that his joints and muscles are as limber and flexible as they used to be for any sort of success in the nets. The Dominator has been known to be a big time goaltender in the past, but again, skepticism rules. I would take the Dominator later in the draft, but I wouldn't bet the farm on him in the first couple rounds. I would rather find myself some solid scoring opportunities before I would chase Hasek, maybe in the 3rd round. But that's just me.
Philadelphia has a giant upside this season and Flyer fans will probably watch this team stun and amaze the rest of the league. Fortuneately, Robert Esche has started to prove that he can backstop a team... but now he has to do it for 60+ games. I honestly believe he can and he'll be a great pick if you want him early. If the scoring likes of Forsberg is already gone from the list, go with Esche. The Flyers will win enough games in front of Esche to make that pick worth while. He won't have to steal many games to pick up points for your pool team.
The Coyotes will probably look to Curtis Joseph to start the season. Brian Boucher had the job before the Great One started behind the bench, but I do believe he'll lose out to Joseph, barring some sort of disaster pre-season. The Coyotes have rebuilt their team with a fair number of veterans who have been around the game for a while. Mixing them together will be the biggest challenge for Gretzky and keeping them all confident in defense will be the job of Joseph. It's been a while since Joseph has taken on a challenge-esque team like this, as you could imagine Detroit was a well-blended team. Today, I don't have Joseph rated too highly... but I know there are enough CuJo fans out there that will take him early in a lot of pools. Let him go.
I think with the exception of Florida, Pittsburgh has done more moves that any team in the NHL... I think. That includes bringing in some talent for the crease, Jocelyn Thibault. Thibault was a stalwart keeper for the Blackhawks, but lost out in the Unrestricted Free Agent market to the Bulin Wall, so Pittsburgh wooed him into the new fold. Thibault will be looked upon to give Marc-Andre Fleury leadership throughout the year and he'll do so with quite a few starts. Unfortunately, Thibault was no stranger to injury in the last season. Generally, he's pretty solid... but a hip injury may knock down his numbers a bit. 2nd rounder... maybe a low one.
The Shark tank this year won't be an easy place to swim again this year. Evgeni Nabokov will make sure of that. Nabokov is usually good for roughly 60 games a year and he is an above .500 goalie in his career. He can post shutouts, keep his team in the game and provide a valuable member to most hockey pool teams. I do believe he was my keeper when I won the hockey pool a few years ago. He's topped out at 37 wins in his career, back in '01/'02 and there is no reason to believe he can't do it again. San Jose hasn't done much to bolster their line-up in the off-season, but that should mean that team chemistry won't be an issue. Scoring may be a problem on most nights for the Sharks, but I have a feeling that the team will be playing more reactive defensive hockey than the open ice style that the league wants. Everything into consideration... late 1st rounder, early 2nd.
A few new faces in St. Louis to start the year, including Patrick Lalime in net. Lalime has been one of the best regular season goaltenders in the league for the last few seasons. It was always kind of a shame when he couldn't put that sort of magic together for the Senators in the playoffs. Saying that, he should still be the same guy in the regular season for the Blues and his numbers should be padded by the offensive strength of the Blues team. The team has gotten a little bit older and wiser and their youth is starting to mature. Combine that with Lalime's solid record in the first 82 games of the year and you should be able to capitalize on easy points. Sounds like a good 1st rounder to me!
The Cup champs will have a new backstop for the new season as Khabibulin headed to the Windy City. In to take over the job in Tampa is veteran keeper, Sean Burke. The well travelled Burke won't be quite as electric as Khabibulin was in the nets for the Lightning, but he should be just as reliable. I'm not too sure about the Lightning repeating the feat... especially with the change in circumstances in the league, but if they're as good as the credit they've been given, then Burke should be able to put up enough points. I'm not in a big hurry to get behind the Bolts, but for the gambling type, Burke is a starter that likes to work. I would take Burke in the 3rd round, if he was available.
In Toronto, the 40 year old Ed Belfour will look to take the job again for the Leafs. The new look Maple Leafs will have a huge upside if all of their stars, including Belfour, can remain healthy. There is a great potential to put in a lot of goals in the opposition net and Belfour could be the guy to keep just enough out, if not excel to the point of his great days in Dallas. The big gamble would be to take him in 1st round, he'd be a great 2nd rounder and a steal if he'd somehow manage to slip farther... which is highly unlikely.
Dan Cloutier in Vancouver has been a solid 1st round pick for the last 3 seasons. 60 starts last season brought in 33 wins and if it wasn't for the Bertuzzi disaster, it would have been a good playoff run for the netminder. Cloutier is now a great regular season keeper and should continue to be with the Canucks remaining fairly strong throughout the lineup. Cloutier should be a solid 1st rounder again with a great upside, but with the teams being a lot closer in the talent pool, it may not be as many points as previous seasons.
Ollie the Goalie should still be a strong player for the Capitals this season. He hasn't passed any peaks or suffered many big injuries... but he does for a very weak Capitals team. The German born keeper will be tested and tested often on a team that just isn't deep anywhere but where he's standing. Maxime Ouellet will be a great backup this year, but Olaf Kolzig will have to stop a lot of pucks this year. Kolzig is a top-ranked goalie when it comes to skill, but the Capitals will have to sign on some more depth soon, because the youth isn't quite gonna do the job right away.