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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!