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Fantasy Hockey: Goalie 'Revelations'

By anecdotal measures, goalies Craig Anderson and Michael Leighton have had eerily similar careers.

Both were drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks (Anderson a third rounder in 2001, Leighton a sixth rounder in 1999) and from 2001-2003 they shared the same crease in Norfolk (then Chicago's AHL affiliate) and shared the franchise's future goaltending hopes. Neither panned out with the Hawks, and since then they've spent their careers bouncing from city to city, relegated mostly to backup status. They've spent seemingly as much time on the waiver wire (Anderson three times, Leighton five) as they have in the crease. And then last year, to the surprise of many, both emerged as useful (dare I say, quality?) NHL netminders.

There's just one difference: Anderson is good at hockey, and Leighton is not.

We'll deal with Anderson first, since he's the one fantasy leaguers should actually be interested in this fall. In the 09-10 season, at age 29, the Illinois native blossomed in his first full-time starting gig. He won 38 games for the surprising Avalanche, posting a .917 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average in the process. He tied for the third in the NHL with seven shutouts. From October through December he was often the topic of conversation as a "surprise" performer.

He shouldn't have been. Not to brag or anything (okay, that's a lie), but I nabbed Anderson in my dynasty league prior to last season for a very tidy sum and he finished the year as my second highest scoring player. Was his breakout the product of some newly developed skill? Coaching? Was it luck? Where should he go in drafts this year? What should owners expect? Those are the questions facing fantasy puckers this fall, and the answer is simple.

(Cliffhanger -- follow the jump to find out what that answer is!)

He's every bit as good as his numbers last year would indicate. His stats last year were more than anything a byproduct of increased playing time. Prior to signing a two-year, $1.8mm deal with the Avs, Anderson spent two seasons as Tomas Vokoun's backup in Florida. Not surprisingly, his efforts there went largely unnoticed. In 17 games during the 07-08 season, he went 8-6-1 with a 2.25 GAA and a .935 save percentage. In 08-09 his workload increased to 31 games and he earned a 15-7-5 record with a .271 GAA and .924 save percentage.

In short, the guy was putting up above average numbers playing on a very bad team. You can't blame fantasy leaguers for not taking notice sooner, being that he was doing this in a backup role and in a media market that gets almost zero attention. Still, his signing with the Avs was largely about the chance to compete for a starting job, and with just Peter Budaj in his way, it should have seemed likely that he'd win out.

That was then, this is now. There will be people on both sides of the fence this offseason: those that believe in Anderson's breakout, and those that think it was a fluke. Because of that, he'll probably be drafted later than he ought to go, and can make a good bargain pick in the right situation.

People will also be on both sides of the Michael Leighton discussion: those that believe in his second half and playoff surge last year, and those that think he stinks. A word to the wise: he stinks. He stinks like crazy, stupid bad.

While you can argue fantasy owners could have seen Anderson's breakout coming, it's impossible to say the same for Leighton. For starters, Anderson has a career save percentage around league average (.913) and Leighton's is well below that (.902). And, unlike Anderson, he didn't sign a free agent deal that paved his way to a starting job. Heck the guy was waived last year. What happened after he was waived by Carolina, however, is nothing short of remarkable. Due to the Flyers goalie carousel/injury parade, Leighton signed in Philadelphia and through strong play and injuries in front of him, led the team to the playoffs and all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. He had a 2.48 GAA and an absurdly high (for him anyway) .918 save percentage in the regular season, and won 16 of the 27 games he started in Philadelphia. In the playoffs, he posted a save percentage of .916, had three shutouts, and played just well enough to get the Flyers within two wins of the title.

If anyone could have seen that coming in the fall of 2009, that Carolina backup Michael Leighton would wind up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup title playing for the Flyers, well ... man that is pretty impressive.

In the offseason, Philly commited to him and Brian Boucher to man its crease for the upcoming season, passing on big names like Evgeni Nabokov and the newly shunned Antti Niemi. Because of his strong second half last year, and the incredible playoff run, certain owners will overvalue Leighton in this year's drafts.

Do not be among them.

Nothing in Leighton's career profile suggests his Philadelphia numbers were anything close to his true abilities. With Carolina last year, he had a GAA of nearly five (4.29) and a save percentage of .848. Going back to 2006-07, in stints with Nashville, Philadelphia, and Carolina he posted save percentages of .800, .882, .897 and .901.

Save percentage isn't the end all, be all by any means, but it's pretty clear that Leighton sucks at hockey and his 09-10 small sample size success isn't likely to be repeated this year. It bears mentioning, as well, that Boucher was the first guy the Flyers turned to when Ray Emery was injured last year, and Leighton only got his chance when Boucher also went down. His playing time in 2010-11 will be split (at best) with Boucher.

Leighton and Anderson may have started their careers in similar places, but it's extremely unlikely they continue along similar paths from here on out. Anderson is a better than average backstop who started 71 games last season and carried his team. Leighton is a well below average goalie who benefitted from a staunch Philadelphia D and will have to battle for playing time again in 10-11.

Draft accordingly.

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