We're just over halfway through the 2017-18 National Hockey League (NHL) season and now seems as good a time as any to rank the league's best starting goaltenders. Unlike position players who we can generally predict where they might rank each season, goaltenders are a little difficult; it boils down to health, team defense, and confidence. There's a reason why Carey Price is without question one of the best goaltenders in the world, but comes in extremely low on this list. He's been hurt for an extended period of time, struggled heavily to start the season, and plays for an abysmal Montreal Canadiens team.
In determining this list, we've selected only the goaltenders who have played the most games for their respective team. James Reimer isn't the actual starting goaltender in Florida, but he's played more often than Roberto Luongo, who has been sidelined due to injury. Additionally, Marc-Andre Fleury has played the same amount of games (14) in Vegas as Malcolm Subban, but he's quite obviously their starting goaltender, despite Subban boasting a better record. While save percentage is perhaps the best measure of a goaltender's performance, we've also factored in the team they play for as well as other underlying statistics.
31 Scott Darling
Edmonton Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli looked like a genius in the 2016 offseason when he acquired New York Rangers backup goaltender Cam Talbot. Many questioned whether Talbot, who thrived in a backup role to Henrik Lundqvist, could excel playing starting netminder minutes. Not only did he thrive, he was among the league's best goaltenders with an impressive 2.39 goals against average and .919 save percentage. The Carolina Hurricanes thought they could have the same success with Scott Darling, who backed up Corey Crawford in Chicago. Boy were they wrong!
General Manager Ron Francis gave Darling a ridiculous four-year, $16 million contract that was ridiculed by any and every smart hockey fan almost immediately. The 29 year old Virginia native has proven his critics right through 28 games as he has one of the league's worst save percentages (.895) and an awful 2.94 goals against average (GAA). It wouldn't be a shock if Cam Ward plays more games than Darling by the end of the season.
30 Robin Lehner
Like Darling above, the Buffalo Sabres took a gamble on a starting goaltender when they acquired Robin Lehner from the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 2015-16 season. A second-round pick of the Senators in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Lehner looked like he was developing into a star in Ottawa, but the Sens were sitting pretty with Craig Anderson between the pipes.
Lehner posted solid numbers in his first two seasons in Buffalo, but, like the team in front of him, was inconsistent. He's been quite consistent this year - consistently awful. The 26 year old Swede has a below-average save percentage of .910 and a near league-high GAA of 2.94. Hockey Reference defines quality starts as starts with a save percentage better than his average for the year and only 16 of Lehner's 31 starts have been quality. Frederik Andersen of the Maple Leafs, by comparison, has 24 quality starts in 38 games.
29 James Reimer
Are you sensing a theme yet with the league's worst goaltenders? Like the previous two inclusions, James Reimer is a former backup goaltender who played six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before signing a six-year contract with the Florida Panthers. Reimer only played between 32 and 37 games in all six of his seasons with the Maple Leafs and performed quite admirably, but it's obvious he isn't capable of a heavy workload.
In 42 games with the Panthers last season, Reimer posted a decent 2.53 GAA to go along with a .920 save percentage. However, he has been playing more regularly this year with Roberto Luongo hurt and has a disappointing 3.05 GAA and .910 save percentage. If he could maintain a save percentage above .920, the Panthers just might be in a playoff position.
28 Craig Anderson
Craig Anderson was one of the feel-good stories of the NHL in 2016-17. The Ottawa Senators goaltender had a career-best season and did so while his wife was diagnosed with - and recovering from - breast cancer. He and the Senators rallied around his wife as he posted a 25-11-4 record to go along with a 2.28 GAA and .926 save percentage. The Senators even came within one goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.
Rather than build from that momentum, it seems as if the ride has taken its toll on the 36 year old goaltender. The Senators themselves have been bad, but Anderson deserves a lot of the blame as he has an awful 3.22 GAA and a .899 save percentage. His days in Ottawa are likely numbered.
27 Brian Elliott
Another goaltender who has proven to be at his best in a limited role, Brian Elliott was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers prior to the start of this season. If you expected him to do well, you obviously don't know much about Elliott - or the Flyers for that matter. Philadelphia has been a graveyard for goaltenders since Ron Hextall left in 1999. This is the same team that traded away Sergei Bobrovsky and handed out a ridiculous contract to Ilya Bryzgalov during the end of his career.
Elliott has performed about as expected, but his talent is limited. The 32 year old native of Newmarket, Ontario has a 2.84 GAA and a .906 save percentage. Only 17 of his 35 starts have been quality and his goalie point shares (GPS) is an uninspiring -7.06. Only two seasons ago, when he was a Vezina candidate with the St. Louis Blues.
26 Jacob Markstrom
Nobody anticipated the Vancouver Canucks would be a playoff team this season, but there has been some impressive individual performances from players. Rookie Brock Boeser is a Calder Trophy candidate and Jacob Markstrom appears to finally be settling in as a decent option between the pipes nearly a decade after being hyped as one of the league's best goaltending prospects.
Is he among the league's elite goaltenders? Not even close. But is he capable of starting in the league? Well, sort of. The difference is in expectation. Little was expected of Markstrom this season and he has recorded a somewhat decent 2.72 GAA and .909 save percentage while playing behind a sub-par defense. He's probably not the goalie of the future in Vancouver, but he has some value moving forward.
25 Jaroslav Halak
Make no mistake, the New York Islanders have been one of the most fun teams to watch through the first half of the 2017-18 season. John Tavares is playing the best hockey of his career and he is backed by a strong offensive supporting cast of Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Calder Trophy front-runner Matthew Barzal. Yet, the team isn't going to go anywhere in the playoffs (let alone make it) if they don't invest in goaltending.
Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have split duties thus far and neither has played well. In fact, despite a 10-6-2 record, Greiss has an abysmal 3.89 GAA and .886 save percentage, which are numbers that should warrant him being demoted to the AHL. Halak, meanwhile, boasts a 3.22 GAA and .906 save percentage. He's a much better option than Greiss, but there are plenty of holes (quite literally) in his game.
24 Matt Murray
After the past two playoffs, one might have expected Matt Murray to run away with the Vezina Trophy in 2017-18, especially after receiving more playing time in the absence of veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Yet, it's because he doesn't have the veteran leadership of Fleury to support him that he has been so awful through the first half of this season.
Murray has posted incredible numbers all through his junior career and even with the Penguins' AHL affiliate, but he is experiencing his first difficult campaign this year. His GAA and save percentage is down from 2.41 and .923 last year to 2.93 and .903 this season. He only had four games with a save percentage of less than 85 last season and already has four this year.
23 Cam Talbot
A season ago, Cam Talbot was one of the biggest reasons the Edmonton Oilers enjoyed the regular season success and playoff run that they did. Sure, Connor McDavid received the individual accolade as the league's Hart Trophy and Art Ross winner, but it was Talbot who kept the team in so many games down the stretch run with his impressive play between the pipes. He finished fourth in Vezina voting after posting a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage. He also led the league in games played, minutes played, shots against, and saves.
Through 36 starts this season, Talbot has only produced 15 quality starts and has a GAA of 3.11 as well as a save percentage of .902. He has struggled, but it's the Oilers players who are primarily to blame. Edmonton has the league's worst penalty kill as they have allowed 40 goals on 147 opportunities for a 72.8 success rate. For the sake of comparison, the Los Angeles Kings lead the league with a success rate of 87.1.
22 Carey Price
Fans of the Montreal Canadiens aren't going to agree with this, especially considering Price was named to the Atlantic Division All-Star team, but the British Columbia native has just been awful this year. The Canadiens aren't a great team to begin with, but Price hasn't made things easier with his 2.95 GAA and .908 save percentage. In fact, the only reason he's an All-Star over someone like Frederik Andersen or Tuukka Rask is because the Canadiens need a representative and he has name recognition.
In the past four seasons, Price hasn't recorded a GAA higher than 2.32, so the 2.95 mark he has through 31 games is rather alarming. He also already has six starts with a save percentage below 85 and only has 15 quality starts.
21 Jake Allen
If we put this list together after the first month of the season, Jake Allen might be sitting in the top three. But, as was the case last season, the New Brunswick native has struggled for a long stretch of games, forcing the St. Louis Blues to turn to backup goaltender Carter Hutton, who has actually thrived when called upon.
Allen has allowed 10 goals in his last two starts and now has a GAA of 2.75 and a save percentage of .908. The former second-round pick of the Blues finally appeared to be proving himself as a capable, above-average starting goaltender earlier in the year as he allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his first 13 starts. Since recording a win on December 10 against the Buffalo Sabres, he has lost eight of his last nine starts.
20 Semyon Varlamov
The Colorado Avalanche are one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season and a major reason why has been the play of goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Outside of Nathan MacKinnon, who is finally emerging as one of the league's best offensive forwards, Varlamov has provided the team with the stability it missed last season as he has a record of 13-9-2 to go along with a 2.87 GAA and .912 save percentage. The Avalanche don't have a particularly strong defense, so a lot of the responsibility falls on Varlamov, who has exceeded expectation this season.
Had he started more games, we would have included Jonathan Bernier a little higher on this list as the backup and former Maple Leafs netminder has a 2.67 GAA and .915 save percentage in 19 contests.
19 Jimmy Howard
Last season was supposed to be the year that Petr Mrazek took over as the starting goaltender of the Detroit Red Wings. The 25 year old Czech Republic native had just come off of back-to-back impressive seasons in which his GAA and save percentage was less than 2.40 and higher than .918 respectively, but he struggled in 2016-17. He posted a 3.04 GAA and .901 save percentage that season, which led the Red Wings to keep veteran Jimmy Howard in the fold.
Thankfully they did, because Howard has unquestionably been the team's best goaltender once again this year. The 33 year old has a modest 2.73 GAA and .914 save percentage, which is not so bad when you consider the team playing in front of him.
18 Antti Raanta
Judging by where the Arizona Coyotes sit in the overall standings, you might think their goaltender would be near the bottom of the pack, but that isn't the case for Antti Raanta, who has overcome some initial struggles to actually become a capable starting goaltender. The 28 year old native of Finland allowed three or more goals in six of his first nine starts, but has allowed two or less in four of his most recent six starts.
He actually has league average numbers, which is incredibly surprising given the fact his record is 6-12-4. Raanta boasts a 2.68 GAA and a .915 save percentage. Meanwhile, he has less Really Bad Starts (RBS) than the likes of Carey Price, Cam Talbot, and Jake Allen, all of whom have the pleasure of playing for better teams.
17 Cory Schneider
A 31 year old native of Massachusetts, Cory Schneider was the league's most underrated goaltender for an extended period of time as he served as backup to Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. He excelled in his first three seasons with the New Jersey Devils and earned recognition as one of the league's best goaltenders, despite playing on a poor team - he finished sixth in Vezina Trophy voting in 2015-16 after recording a 2.15 GAA and .924 save percentage.
The Devils adopted a more offensive, up-tempo pace the following year, which significantly hurt Schneider's numbers as his GAA and save percentage dropped to 2.82 and .908 respectively. He has been slightly better this season with a 2.74 GAA and .915 save percentage. His quality start percentage is also up to 57 from 46 last season.
16 Devan Dubnyk
The recipient of the Masterton Trophy in 2015 for turning his career around in impressive fashion with the Minnesota Wild, Devan Dubnyk has been steady, but not exactly inspiring this season. Likewise, the Minnesota Wild have been up and down throughout the season. A 31 year old native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Dubnyk finished in the top five of Vezina Trophy voting in two of the past three seasons, but has a relatively disappointing 2.61 GAA to go along with a .919 save percentage this season.
To his credit, he has only had four qualified Really Bad Starts, but his percentage of quality starts is down from 62 last season to 53 this year. Still, he's been winning games as the Wild have become a more offensive-minded team in recent years.
15 Martin Jones
If the San Jose Sharks are going to win the Stanley Cup, they need Martin Jones performing as one of the best goaltenders in the league. While he hasn't been that this season, he's been a middle of the pack starting goaltender capable of putting up a first-star performance on any given night. In fact, he's been about as advertised as his numbers are right about on par in comparison to the previous two seasons. At the very least, the Sharks know what they're getting in Jones.
The former Los Angeles Kings backup netminder has a 2.59 GAA and .913 save percentage through 30 games. Surprisingly, he's actually allowed backup Aaron Dell to claim more starts than he should, but it's mostly due to Dell's strong play; the 28 year old has a 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage through 13 starts.
14 John Gibson
The 39th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, John Gibson was the prized goalie of the future for the Anaheim Ducks for a number of years. Two offseasons ago, the Ducks made a decision to keep Gibson instead of Frederik Andersen and, while you can make the argument that Andersen is the better goaltender, Gibson has the capability of outperforming him on any given night.
The 24 year old native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania boasts a .922 save percentage, which is only slightly lower than the .924 mark he recorded last season. His 2.64 GAA is a little concerning out of context, but the Ducks have dealt with more injuries than any other team this season. A true measure of Gibson's consistency is that he has only had two Really Bad Starts.
13 Ben Bishop
The Dallas Stars desperately needed an answer between the pipes after spending the past two seasons with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi sharing the responsibility. The team played no defense and had awful goaltending and those problems have been at least partially alleviated as the defensive-minded Ken Hitchcock was brought in to coach the team and Ben Bishop was acquired from Tampa Bay to be the team's No. 1 goaltender.
There were some troubling times early for the 6-foot-7, 225-pound goaltender, but Bishop has admirable numbers on the season. He boasts a 20-12-2 record to go along with a 2.51 GAA and a .916 save percentage. He has given up three goals or less in his past 10 games and has recorded two shutouts during that time.
12 Henrik Lundqvist
Like Bishop, Henrik Lundqvist - and the New York Rangers for that matter - failed to get off to a great start this season, but it wasn't exactly worrying as King Henrik did the same thing last year before rebounding in the second half of the season. And while he still lashes out at his defensemen after nearly every goal and appears to be the most hot-tempered goaltender in the league, he's at least decent at stopping the puck.
In fact, it took a really strong second half for Lundqvist to get his save percentage back up to .910 last season, but this year he boasts an impressive .924 save percentage to go along with a 2.54 GAA. His quality start percentage is also up from 58 last season to 62 this year.
11 Braden Holtby
Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native Braden Holtby is one of the best goaltenders in the world, but his numbers are down slightly this season in comparison to the past three years, each of which he finished in the top five of Vezina Trophy voting. Holtby led the league in wins in each of the past two seasons and he still could do that again this year, but his GAA and save percentage is down from 2.07 and .925 a season ago to 2.66 and .917 this season.
Yet, the fact his save percentage has only dropped slightly is the best indicator that Holtby is still playing quite well, despite his drop in averages. He's playing behind a Washington team that isn't quite as good defensively as it was last season and he still only has three Really Bad Starts, compared to eight last season. Conversely, he doesn't have a shutout yet this year after registering nine last season.
10 Mike Smith
If there's one truly surprising entry in the top 10 of this list it's Mike Smith. Last year the Calgary Flames brought in veterans Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson to share the duties between the pipes and it didn't quite work out. Nobody imagined bringing in 35 year old Smith from the Arizona Coyotes would solve the team's problems in nets, but that's exactly what he has done. The former fifth-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft is having a career resurgence with a 2.46 GAA and .924 save percentage.
To put his season in perspective, he has a Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) mark of 13.05 compared to a 1.42 mark last season. He also has a quality start percentage of 66, which is up significant from last year's percentage of 49. He's won his past six starts, while only giving up 12 goals.
9 Sergei Bobrovsky
Would the Philadelphia Flyers be a perennial playoff contender if they still had Sergei Bobrovsky? Absolutely. Instead, the team dealt him to Columbus for three draft picks that ended up being Taylor Leier, Justin Auger, and Anthony Stolarz. Sorry, who? Since the trade, Bobrovsky has been up and down with the Blue Jackets, but in the past two seasons has been one of the league's most dominant goaltenders.
He won his second Vezina Trophy last season after posting league-best totals in GAA (2.06) and save percentage (.931) as well as GSAA (33.45). He hasn't been that dominant this year, but has a respectable 2.43 GAA and .920 save percentage. He's one of the best options between the pipes on any given night and the main reason the Blue Jackets are a Stanley Cup hopeful.
8 Pekka Rinne
Despite helping his team reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history last season, it appeared as though Pekka Rinne ran out of gas. He was pulled in games during the Stanley Cup Finals and would look disastrous one game and great in the next. He's also 35 years old, so it wouldn't have been a shock to see the Predators go to Juuse Saros more this season.
Instead, Rinne has been even better than he was last season, posting a 2.43 GAA and .925 save percentage - he had marks of 2.42 and .918 in 2016-17. He also only has three Really Bad Starts and a quality start percentage of 69 compared to 56 a season ago. He's clearly committed to getting Nashville back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
7 Tuukka Rask
The Boston Bruins have been one of the hottest teams in the league and Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask is a major reason why. The 30 year old former Toronto Maple Leafs first-round draft pick hasn't suffered a regulation loss in 13 consecutive games, a stretch dating back to December 4th against the Nashville Predators, and has allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of those games.
That run has helped turn Rask's season around considerably. Prior to that stretch he was a middle of the pack netminder in regard to individual statistics, but he's now among the league leaders in GAA (2.21) and save percentage (.920). He also only has two Really Bad Starts as opposed to 14 last season. He'll certainly garner some Vezina Trophy votes if he continues his strong play.
6 Jonathan Quick
A 31 year old native of Milford, Connecticut, Jonathan Quick has been among the league's best goaltenders for the better part of a decade. The two-time Stanley Cup winner finished third in Vezina Trophy voting two seasons ago, but missed almost all of 2016-17 due to injury. However, he has returned to form in 2017-18 and helped return the Kings to prominence in the Western Conference, even with the team losing offense through Jeff Carter's long-term injury.
Quick has a record of 19-14-2, but his play is even better than his record indicates. He has a 2.33 GAA and a .924 save percentage to go along with three shutouts and a 60 percent quality start percentage. He's struggled in his past three starts, but it's unlikely that lasts much longer.
5 Corey Crawford
This one is a little unfortunate as Corey Crawford could be out for the remainder of the season. It has been reported that the two-time Stanley Cup champion is suffering from vertigo and it's unlikely he returns to the Blackhawks, which could significantly impact their playoff hopes. In years past, Crawford received unfair criticism despite his playoff success in Chicago. However, this season, he's been the one player keeping the team's playoff hopes alive.
The 33 year old native of Montreal, Quebec has a 2.27 GAA and .929 save percentage through 27 starts, 17 of which have been quality starts. He also has two shutouts and only three Really Bad Starts. Without Crawford, the Blackhawks are 5-4-1 in their last nine games, which hasn't been good enough to make up ground in the difficult Central Division.
4 Frederik Andersen
You can forgive Maple Leafs' fans skepticism when the team acquired Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks prior to last season. The team has an awful history with trading away/trading for goaltenders and Andersen hadn't really proven himself as someone capable of starting 60-plus games. He struggled immensely to start last season before turning it around and did the same thing this year, but has been lights out since the start of November.
The Maple Leafs remain firmly in a playoff position and, beside the fact the Atlantic Division is terrible, it's mostly due to the play of Andersen, who now has a 2.67 GAA and .922 save percentage. You might be wondering why a goalie with a GAA that high is ranked ahead of others like Rask and Quick and the reason is the amount of shots Andersen faces. The 28 year old Dane has faced a league-high 1,303 shots and made a league-best 1,201 saves. Toronto's offense has cooled significant in the past month or so and Andersen has kept them in every game. The most telling stat of his success is that he leads the league in Goalie Point Shares (GPS) with a mark of 8.6.
3 Connor Hellebuyck
On opening night of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs dominated the Winnipeg Jets and made the signing of Steve Mason by the Jets look abysmal. Fortunately, the team realized quickly that Mason wasn't the guy and instead gave another opportunity to Connor Hellebuyck. Since then, the 24 year old Michigan native has helped the Jets become one of the league's best teams.
Hellebuyck was one of the league's worst goaltenders last year with a GSAA of -9.96. Having a low number in that regard isn't great; having a minus number is awful. This season, he has a 2.40 GAA and a .920 save percentage to go along with a GSAA of 10.48. More importantly, he has an impressive record of 23-6-6 and has finally given the Jets stable goaltending. The next question is whether or not he can keep it up in a pressure-filled playoff series.
2 Marc-Andre Fleury
Few would have expected Marc-Andre Fleury to play this well with the Vegas Golden Knights and even fewer would have thought the Knights would be one of the league's best teams this season. The expansion story has been incredibly positive for Vegas, especially as Fleury dealt with a concussion for over a month. During his absence, the team received stellar play from Malcolm Subban and Maxime Legace. But now that he's back, Fleury is showing why he's one of the league's best goaltenders.
The former Pittsburgh Penguin has a record of 9-3-2 through 14 starts to go along with a 1.77 GAA, .943 save percentage, and quality start percentage of 86. Sure, it's a smaller sample size than most, but those numbers are so ridiculous it's hard not to include him in the top three. If he maintains those numbers for another 30-plus starts, he may warrant Vezina Trophy consideration.
1 Andrei Vasilevskiy
Many questioned whether the Tampa Bay Lightning would be an elite team this season with the services of veteran Ben Bishop, but as is always the case, General Manager Steve Yzerman proves he's smarter than the rest of us. Yzerman has seemingly done no wrong as GM of the Lightning (even the Drouin for Sergachev trade looks incredible from his end) and letting Bishop go was a huge positive for the Lightning.
Without Bishop, Tampa Bay has placed all of its trust in prized prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy and he has exceeded all expectations. The agile 6-foot-3, 207-pound netminder has a league-leading 27 wins and six shutouts to go along with a stellar 2.18 GAA and .930 save percentage. He also leads all goaltenders with a 19.39 GSAA. It's becoming quite obvious that he's no flash in the pan and could be one of the league's most dominant goaltenders for years to come.
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