Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was on track for one of the best statistical seasons in NHL history.
Unfortunately, that quest is taking a backseat to his injury, so fantasy owners need to act quickly.
Rinne is expected to miss 3-5 weeks because of a knee sprain sustained Tuesday in a win against the Vancouver Canucks. The injury will sideline him well past the upcoming break for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game.
How good was Rinne thus far? He was a consensus pick by NHL.com's fantasy staff for goalie most valuable player and has made a case for the Hart Trophy by leading the League in wins (29), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.931) among goalies with 20-plus appearances. Prior to his injury, he was on pace for 60 wins in a maximum of 77 games, which would have shattered Martin Brodeur's single-season mark (48 in 2006-07). And Rinne has appeared in 70-plus games before, so that was a legitimate possibility.
So, who are the best replacement options for once Rinne is eligible for injured reserve in Yahoo leagues? Here are the top three (in order):
1. Carter Hutton, Nashville Predators -- Rinne's bounce-back season has been one of the biggest fantasy storylines of the season, so if you were lucky enough to draft him in the middle rounds, you owe it to yourself to consider an in-house reinforcement above all else. If you're having doubts, just look at Nashville's defense, which features stalwarts Shea Weber and Roman Josi as well as youngsters Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis (currently on injured reserve). There's no question that a healthy Rinne was the biggest reason for Nashville's turnaround, but this team would not have found itself atop the NHL standings without a well-rounded roster, led by a much-improved offense under coach Peter Laviolette.
Hutton (13 percent owned) has not won a game yet this season in five decisions (0-3-2) but has allowed three or fewer goals in four of those games. The 29-year-old will have every opportunity to claim the starting gig. If Hutton has already been scooped up, it's not a bad idea to take a flyer on Marek Mazanec, who has been recalled from the American Hockey League. Mazanec (fewer than one percent owned) will be the team's fallback option if Hutton sputters. He was up with the Predators last season and was named NHL Rookie of the Month for November of 2013 while Rinne was out with a hip injury.
2. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild -- I broke down Dubnyk's potential Wednesday in a Fantasy Spin after he was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Wild. He turned his career around with a winning record and a .932 save percentage for the Coyotes and has a chance to boost a reeling team in the short term. Depending on his performance, he could even steal the starting job from Darcy Kuemper once he returns from injury. His ownership has risen to 25 percent, so consider him a must-own goalie heading into his Wild debut Thursday in light of injuries to Rinne and Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. If you can make room for Dubnyk and one of the Predators goalies above, that would be most ideal in replacing Rinne.
3. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings -- Mrazek is a quality short-term option whether you own Rinne or Howard. In his first start since Howard went down, Mrazek stopped 25 of 26 shots faced against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. He has a stellar GAA (2.16) and SV% (.920) in 10 appearances this season and will get the vast majority of the starts in the short-term with Howard and usual backup Jonas Gustavsson out of the picture. But once Howard returns, it's unlikely Mrazek will have the staying power of the Predators' new tandem or Dubnyk.
Other short-term fixes for deep-league owners: Calvin Pickard (eight percent owned, Colorado Avalanche), Joni Ortio (five percent, Calgary Flames), Rob Zepp (three percent, Philadelphia Flyers)
Quality backups worth owning: Alex Stalock (15 percent, San Jose Sharks), Martin Jones (13 percent, Los Angeles Kings), Cam Talbot (nine percent, New York Rangers), Niklas Svedberg (eight percent, Boston Bruins)