The job of a starting NHL goaltender is a hard one to keep. There are hundreds of thousands of goalies from around the world vying for a chance to be drafted and developed by an NHL club and only 31 spots for the best of the best to actually make it. There are plenty of pro leagues to go to as alternatives, but none come anywhere remotely close to the salaries that the NHL pays. A starting NHL goaltender is likely to earn upwards of $4M so one can see the appeal that comes with the position.
NHL goaltenders have a high turnover rate, with only the elite able to hold their starting positions for 10+ years and many lasting less than five years with a solid roster spot. This list will chronicle both the starting and backup goaltenders who are most at-risk of losing their spot next. Some are getting older, some are simply underperforming, and some were never ready for the spot they were thrust into to begin with. Along with the outgoing goaltenders you will find who I believe will be their incoming replacements. Enjoy!
16. Cam Talbot
Cam Talbot was one of the best feel-good stories in the NHL last season. After spending five years in the AHL and a further two as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup, Talbot finally got a chance to shine as a bona-fide starter and led the Oilers to the playoff for the first time in a decade, winning 42 games along the way.
Sadly, it seems as though that single season may be an anomaly in Talbot’s career, as both he and the team have strongly regressed this season. If Edmonton wants to live up to their new lofty expectations and cash in on McDavid and Draisaitl in their primes, they might need to bring in some more goaltending help, whether it be replacing Talbot as a starter or serving in a platoon role.
15. Replaced By Michael Hutchinson
Hutchinson would be a great fit in Edmonton in a platoon role with Talbot, keeping the young ‘tender from getting overexposed while also giving Talbot the rest he has lacked so far as an Oiler.
Hutchinson is a UFA after this season and there are already too many NHL-caliber goalies in Winnipeg, with Steve Mason, Connor Hellebuyck, and Eric Comrie already under team control. Hutchinson currently leads the AHL in both goals against average and save percentage. A move to Edmonton would be beneficial for all involved and might help jumpstart Hutchinson’s so-far-disappointing NHL career.
14. Robin Lehner
Lehner has failed to establish himself as a reliable starting goaltender for the perennially bottom-feeding Sabres. Like Talbot, Lehner has become the only option for a team that has struggled to draft or develop a star goalie of their own. Lehner has posted a less-than-acceptable 2.66 goals against average over his three years in Buffalo and currently leads the NHL in losses for the 2017-18 campaign.
Similar to the Oilers situation, the Sabres need a reliable goaltender to stabilize their young team. Whether it be someone to completely take over from Lehner or serve in a platoon role, Buffalo needs another goaltender.
13. Replaced By Aaron Dell
Dell has had a long road to the NHL. The Alberta native spent three years at North Dakota and a further three years floating around the AHL before finally sticking with the San Jose Sharks. As a backup, Dell has posted outstanding numbers, with a .932 save percentage and 1.98 goals against average.
An unrestricted free agent after this current campaign, Dell is ready to sign with a team that will provide him with the opportunity he deserves as a starter. That opportunity will come with the Buffalo Sabres.
12. Antti Raanta
Another story similar to Cam Talbot’s, Raanta was stuck behind Corey Crawford in Chicago for two years and then King Henrik in New York for two more before finally being granted the starter’s role in Arizona at age 28.
The experiment has not gone well for team or player, as Raanta has missed time due to injury and struggled to a 2.80 GAA, while the ‘Yotes have puttered along with the league’s worst record for the entire campaign. Sooner than later, Arizona needs someone to step up and give the team the confidence on the back end that it is lacking.
11. Replaced By Adin Hill
Adin Hill is the obvious option to usurp Raanta as the Coyotes’ next starting goalie. He was selected by the organization in the 3rd round in 2015 and struggled to find his game at the pro level until this current season.
Now 21 years old, the lanky 6’4″ puck-stopper has finally grown into his body and currently owns a 2.29 GAA and .915 SP in AHL Tucson, placing him among the top-10 goalies in the league in each category. Hill may need another year or two to develop, but by the time Raanta’s tenure has run its course, he will be ready to step in to the starter’s role.
10. Craig Anderson
Craig Anderson is almost 37. For an NHL goaltender, with the physical wear and tear they face on a daily basis, that is old. The 15-year veteran has also dealt with some mental wear and tear lately, as his wife Nicholle was diagnosed with throat cancer, for which Anderson took some time off while she fought – and won – her battle. Though his age and off-ice stresses have not affected him up until now, this season has been a different story.
Anderson has posted a .896 SP and 3.12 GAA, by far the worst since he became a full-time starter in 2008. Age might finally be catching up to the Illinois native. Though the Sens did just sign him to a two-year extension, they might be paying those big bucks to a backup goalie soon, as Anderson’s stats may see him replaced as the club’s starter.
9. Replaced By Oscar Dansk
Oscar Dansk was relatively unknown until this season, where he became one of the FIVE goalies that the Golden Knights used as they dealt with a plethora of injuries. He had played the last two seasons in Sweden’s top league before coming back to North America with Vegas. In his four games with the upstart club, he showed no signs of inexperience with a.946 SP, 1.78 GAA, one shutout, 3 wins, and no losses to his name.
Dansk will be a restricted free agent once this season ends, but the Senators will need his services more than the Golden Knights, who already have two solid goalies in Fleury and Subban. They will make him an offer that the Knights won’t match and soon Dansk will take over from Anderson and the Senators’ starting goaltender.
8. Scott Darling
Like some of the other goalies on this list, Darling was stuck behind a superstar starter during what should have been the prime of his career. He put up very good numbers as Crawford’s backup in Chicago, especially when the main man went down with an injury. Now that he finally has his chance at starting after his trade to the goalie-starved Carolina Hurricanes, he is squandering it.
Darling has the worst stats of any regular starting goalie in the NHL this season, putting up a lowly .896 SP and 2.88 GAA. He has also given up a number of terrible goals, including this gem against the Rangers. Carolina has a solid foundation of young defensemen and forwards, but they need a goaltender to round out the championship push and Darling simply isn’t that.
7. Replaced By Alex Nedeljkovic
Nedeljkovic is the best goaltending prospect in the Canes’ system. The 21-year-old was selected 38th overall in 2014 and has slowly grown to become the starter in AHL Charlotte and the natural next step in his development would be to make the step to the NHL and take over from the underperforming Darling as the club’s new starter.
6. Steve Mason
Steve Mason’s career has largely been a disappointment. After being taken in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, Mason shot into the league quickly and won the Calder Trophy at just 20 years of age. Since then, its been a steady decline. He played himself right out of the net in Philly and somehow earned another shot in Winnipeg this season. He currently owns an atrocious 3.47 GAA and .899 SP and has been surpassed by Connor Hellebuyck on the depth chart.
The Jets are no doubt regretting the two-year, $8.2M contract they gave Mason this past offseason. That’s a lot of money to be dishing out for a minors-quality goaltender and the team will likely try to trade or buyout the struggling stopper to make room for his replacement…
5. Replaced By Eric Comrie
Eric Comrie has been one of the best goalies in the AHL so far this season. The young prospect is top-10 in both save percentage and goals against average and has won 9 of his 13 starts thus far. The 22-year-old is truly finding his stride in 2017-18 and will be NHL-ready as soon as he is called upon.
4. Jacob Markstrom
The Vancouver Canucks are in a strange transition period between their aging core players and the next generation of prospects being ready to take the lead. The same can be said of their goaltending situation.
After letting Ryan Miller walk in free agency, the Canucks decided to let Markstrom run with the starters’ reigns until their next young prospect was ready. Markstrom was selected early in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft but has never established himself as anything more than a serviceable backup goalie during his eight-year career split between Florida and Vancouver. As soon as the Canucks’ top goaltending prospect is ready, he will be taking over Markstrom’s job.
3. Replaced By Thatcher Demko
Thatcher Demko is everything you could ask for in a goaltending prospect in today’s NHL. The San Diego native has succeeded at every level, from the USHL to the NCAA with Boston College, to the World Juniors, and now in the AHL with the Utica Comets where he has an awesome .924 save percentage for an otherwise unimpressive team.
Demko stands 6-foot-4 and uses his huge frame to every advantage, making him one of the most promising goalie prospects in the entire league. Demko will be NHL ready as soon as next season and will combine with the likes of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Olli Juolevi to restore success to the Canucks organization.
2. Curtis McElhinney
When the Maple Leafs claimed McElhinney off waivers from Columbus in January, they were in desperate need of a solid backup behind Frederik Andersen. Jhonas Enroth was a complete failure and Garret Sparks had shown he was not yet ready for an NHL roster spot. With McElhinney, the Leafs knew that they had a reasonably reliable veteran who could shoulder a bit of Andersen’s humongous workload behind the young – and often defensively irresponsible – Leafs.
Now, with Sparks putting up solid numbers and Calvin Pickard in the mix as well, the Leafs actually have too much NHL-caliber talent in their system. Being the oldest and statistically worst goalie of the mix, McElhinney is expendable and his backup spot should be given to someone else.
1. Replaced By Garret Sparks
Calvin Pickard could certainly take over as Frederik Andersen’s backup in the short term. However, with a presumably bulkier contract coming next season and inconsistent play thus far in his four-year NHL career, the 25-year old is not the Leafs’ best option going forward. Garret Sparks is.
The Illinois native is one year younger than Pickard and is under team control through next season at a cap hit of just $675,000 per year. He is having an outstanding breakout year with the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Sparks ranks 3rd in the entire league in both GAA and SP with stats of 1.82 and .937 respectively. The numbers prove that Sparks is worthy of another shot at a Leafs roster spot and that opportunity will come sooner rather than later.
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