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Rotisserie by the Numbers

Dafoe did owners no favors by signing with defenseless Thrashers

Posted: Tuesday November 26, 2002 7:23 PM

By Craig Rondinone, SportsTicker

Of all teams, Byron -- Atlanta?

Byron Dafoe could have signed with any team in the NHL, and although it was not like he was being stalked by all 30 of them, there were at least a handful, possibly two handfuls, that were interested in his services.

Dafoe could have fit in nicely with the New York Rangers with Mike Richter concussed and 19-year old Dan Blackburn carrying the load. Vancouver would have been a perfect place for him to ride shotgun until Dan Cloutier had his annual injury or meltdown. And Dafoe just could have swallowed his pride and re-signed with the team that would not meet his lofty demands in the first place, Boston.

But no! Dafoe repaid the thousands of his fantasy owners who waited patiently all this time for him to sign with someone by choosing arguably the worst team in the league, a team that no one would argue plays the worst defense in the league. Good choice!

So what can fantasy owners expect from "Lord Byron" now that he is in "Hotlanta"? Not much. Here are three reasons why:

1. No goalie is safe in Atlanta: The Thrashers play a sieve-like system where defensemen do not block shots and forwards do not backcheck, or at least that is how it looks when you watch them. They allowed their goaltenders to face the most shots in the NHL last season and look like they are going to repeat the feat this campaign.

And it is not as if Atlanta allows 40 shots per game, most are from long range. Goalies have to stand on their heads and rotate like tops to keep pucks out of the net as they undoubtedly contend with more quality scoring chances than 99.9 percent of the backstops in the history of the league have. Atlanta goalies see as many breakaways and odd-man rushes as ESPN2 viewers see Darren Pang.

Ilya Kovalchuk is a minus-17 in 19 games. That is pretty hard to do, especially with all the points he scores. Francis Lessard (who?) leads the Thrashers with a plus-1 rating. Well, wrap up the Norris Trophy for that kid right now.

You could be a combination of Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden and Dominik Hasek and still have one of the worst goals-against averages in the NHL if you played for the Thrashers, simply because you have to stop more shots -- and more quality ones -- than other goalies do.

Mike Richter is one of the best goalies in the NHL -- no doubt. But is he one of the best goalies to have in fantasy hockey? Heck, no. This is because his GAA and save percentage are usually mediocre at best because the Rangers play little defense.

2. Atlanta is suddenly in a tough division: Remember last season when the Southeast Division was the laughingstock of the NHL? Not anymore, buster. Carolina is the defending Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay is the most improved team in the conference, Florida is hovering around .500 after most experts figured they would be terrible, and Washington is no pushover with Jaromir Jagr, Olaf Kolzig and company. This means no easy games in the division for Atlanta and Dafoe.

3. Two other Atlanta goalies could get in the way: No, I am not referring to Milan "Mr. 0-9" Hnilicka. Pasi Nurminen has done a more than admirable job running the show between the pipes the past few weeks, considering the circumstances. If Dafoe stumbles, Nurminen would probably get to see some action.

And even though Dafoe has an option in his contract for next season that he will probably exercise, the Thrashers have their first-round pick in last June's draft, Finnish goalie Kari Lehtonen, waiting in the wings to steal the spotlight from Dafoe in 2003-04. So holding on to Dafoe in a keeper league is probably not a good idea.

Dafoe is a very good goalie. Not great, but very good. He is in that class of second-tier goalies, the one right behind the likes of Roy and Martin Brodeur. Dafoe had a career-high 35 wins last season for the Bruins, so he definitely is in his prime. And he will win some games even when he does give up three or four goals because Atlanta does have a solid set of forwards who can put the puck in the net.

But let's face facts. Dafoe picked the worst team to sign with. Nashville and Buffalo have the same amount of points as Atlanta does, but at least they play a modicum of defense. If your goalie is on an awful team, you would rather have him lose 2-1 every night than 5-4, right? So to all of the fantasy owners who drafted Dafoe in the late rounds hoping he would sign with a team where he could win some games, I have two words for you -- have fun!

Penalty Shots

The Mario Lemieux Award for excellence at getting injured goes this week to Phoenix goalie Sean Burke. It has not been a good season so far for goalies with sprained ankles. St. Louis' Brent Johnson won this award two weeks back after suffering a setback with his own achy ankle. Now Burke is the one who somehow has a "sprained" ankle that is keeping him out of action longer than someone who has a broken one.

Burke has already missed a month of action with an injury that was originally supposed to shelf him for four weeks, but the Coyotes announced this week that Burke might need an additional six weeks and might not return until 2003. This means Brian Boucher, who probably thought going from Philadelphia to Phoenix in the offseason would cut his playing time, will be seeing more rubber than a highway on Thanksgiving.

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