Goalies in the NHL are a varied bunch. At their best, they can compensate for player’s mistakes and provide a strong anchor that holds a team together throughout the season or playoffs. They are often the backbone of a team, and as such they are dealt the unfortunate task of taking the blame for a slumping team with poor defense or difficulties in scoring. They are, after all, the only players on the ice for sixty minutes. That is, if all goes according to plan. When we consider the mental task with which goalies are faced, as well as the contributing factors to the potential failures, we have to admit that statistics only tell part of the story. A goalie on a poorly performing team is going to have much more trouble building the confidence necessary to shine on the stats sheet. On the other side of that story, a goalie on an elite team, laden with high scoring players, is going to be more attractive by virtue of that association.
Age is also a factor with goaltenders. By age 30, we start to see declines in goaltender performance that become more intense by age 35. If we take into account the time it may take for a goaltender to be associated with a team that can help their case to be an elite goaltender, and the data that shows that the kind of progress exhibited by skater between 24-30 is not the same progress that occurs with goaltenders, there is a small window of opportunity for goalies to achieve greatness. And even then, when that point is achieved, it is fleeting and we often see goalies depart from that status seemingly as quickly as it was reached.
It is a commonly held belief that in order to make a Stanley Cup run, a team needs a solid (and hot) goaltender. Stanley Cup history is riddled with goaltender feats and heroics, and one does not need to turn back the history books more than a few months to find a perfect example. Due to injuries suffered by Pittsburgh star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the slack was picked up by the 22-year-old Matt Murray, who was able to lead his team to a Stanley Cup despite his lack of experience in the league. Even when Fleury became healthy enough to return to the roster, Murray was so dependable that it wasn't a wise choice to play Fleury in those must-win scenarios.
While all the goalies on this list are at worst, solid goaltenders, statistics state some of them are less qualified for the starting spot on an NHL roster than others.
15 Tuukka Rask
Rask is widely considered to be one of the better goalies in the league, which is why some might be surprised to see him on this list. After earning a $56 million contract extension in 2013, Rask has become a fan favorite. However, following his Vezina trophy win in the 2013-14 season, Rask has progressively become worse on the stats sheet. In the 2014-15 season, he had a .922 SV%, 2.30 GAA, and a 15.65 GSAA. Not a bad season, but in the 2015-16 season, his stats degraded significantly as he amassed a .915 SV%, 2.56 GAA, and a 0.85 GSAA.
For me, this trend points to the conclusion that Rask is one of the most overpaid goalies in the sport, as hard as it may be for his proponents to accept. His 2015-16 statistics resemble those of an average starting goalie in the NHL, and I'm not sure that the defensive play of the Bruins deserves to shoulder the blame, as they were a competitive team this season that barely missed the playoffs. Had they been able to rely on more consistent goaltending, they could have actually made a playoff run.
14 Pekka Rinne
Though sporting a reputation as one of the elite goaltenders in the league, a disappointing 2015-16 season will make him a goaltender to watch next season, as his starting spot may be in jeopardy if the trend continues. He is a good example of a goalie that has benefited from great defenders in front of him, and with the addition of P.K. Subban to the Predators roster, it is more than likely we won’t see that change any time soon. This past season, Rinne notched a .909 save percentage, -12.51 GSAA, 2.48 GAA, 108 GA%, and exhibited streaky play. Those numbers do not paint a stellar picture for the once outstanding and (still?) coveted goaltender.
If there is one goaltender with an elite status that one could safely bet would hurt your fantasy team, Pekka Rinne is a prime example. At 33, it is not likely we are going to see his performance get any better. However, the defense in front of him could easily help his stats.
13 Cam Talbot
After coming to the Oilers from New York as a Vezina trophy nominee, Talbot faced high expectations in Edmonton in his first season with the team. In the 2015-16 season, Talbot notched a .917 SV%, a 2.55 GAA, and a 3.31 GSAA. It was his first year having a losing season, but a lot of that had to do with Edmonton's position in the league as a growing team led by young scoring talent. Though many argue that Talbot has a lot of potential, his .917 SV% leaves more to be desired, and his decrease in the GSAA metric from 15.25 to 11.6 to 3.31 in the last three years (two of those with the Rangers) tells us that his weakening statistics are not only because he was simply traded to a weaker team.
So was the acquisition of Cam Talbot the saving grace of the Oilers' season? No. But he does have the potential to provide a strong anchor in the crease as he and the Oilers' young players become more experienced. Perhaps the 20 game increase in starts precipitated this change, and he will become used to 40-plus starts in the coming season. If the Oilers can successively implement defensive improvements, it is very likely he could crack the top ten.
12 Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky, along with the whole of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has faced more than his fair share of adversity in the past couple of years. Bobrovsky was one of the hottest goalies in the league from 2012-2014, winning the Vezina Trophy in the 2012-13 season at the age of 24. Unfortunately, he sunk with his team in the 2015-16 season while dealing with a groin injury. He posted a .909 SV%, 2.75 GAA, and a -7.69 GSA. Those stats seem far removed from the award winning stats that came with his Veniza nomination and trophy. However, out of all the goalies included on this list, I put the most faith in a comeback for Sergei Bobrovsky. He is a talented goalie who will not experience these kinds of declines for the rest of his career. If he can stay healthy, he will be an integral part of the Blue Jackets' attempt to climb the standings after a bad year.
11 Louis Domingue
Louis Domingue is an exciting developing goaltender who will more than likely see more and more starts as his career goes on. To his credit, his addition to this list has more to do with his inexperience than his lack of skill or promise. That being said, Domingue had 36 starts and had a .912 SV%, 2.75 GAA, and a -3.77 GSAA in the 2015-2016 year. The 2.75 GAA is the standout statistic in the bunch, as that is high even for this list. Still, when you factor in the backline he played behind as well as his lack of quality experience in the league, these numbers start to look a little better.
He was very young (23) to get the amount of starts he was able to amass. On a burgeoning, young Arizona Coyotes roster, he and the Coyotes defense will probably pick up play as Domingue makes more of a name for himself in the future.
10 Ryan Miller
Miller is a goalie with a storied past who is better than some might expect him to be given his veteran age (36). He did not surprise many this season, posting a .916 SV%, 2.70 GAA, and a 2.12 GSAA. He is not on the decline in the manner that other veteran goalies on this list seem to be trending, as his save percentage did increase in comparison to his 2014-15 season from .911 and GSAA improved from -4.75.
He did not get the chance to lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup, as he hoped to do when he came to the team. After sharing a bulk of starts with Jacob Markström, his role on the team became different than he might have hoped it would be, leading to desires among fans that he would be traded during the offseason.
This outcome is pretty unlikely though, as Vancouver would be hard-pressed to find a team that is willing to take the cap hit for the aging goalie.
9 Mike Condon
Montreal had a promising start to the 2015-16 season until Carey Price suffered a lower-body injury. Mike Condon became the man slated with the task to fill in for one of the best goalies in the league, and to his credit, they were not easy skates to fill. How much could really be expected from a goalie with no NHL experience? Condon had a below average year in comparison to other NHL starters, with a .903 SV%, 2.71 GAA, and a -16.86 GSAA. This past year, it was a case of too much pressure being put a goalie with too little experience. Without that pressure, Condon was able to excel in the beginning of the year, with a .947 SV% in his first two starts, while playing as a backup to Price.
Condon is another goalie who we can expect to grow in the coming years, provided that the weight he had to bear in 2015-16 did not erode the young goalie's confidence too much.
8 Kari Lehtonen
While Dallas may seem blessed to have some depth at the goalie position, in the last two seasons, there have been many occasions when fans may have preferred one reliable goaltender to two streak-prone goalies. Lehtonen, certainly the favorite come playoff time for the Stars' starting spot, was the most consistent of the Stars' goaltenders in the 2015-16 season. However, consistent is only a relative term here. Lehtonen had a GSAA of -9.56 in the most recent season, a .906 save percentage, and 2.76 GAA. Things aren't all bad for Kari Lehtonen though. Despite being 32, an age where we don't see many goalies progress in ability, his GSAA has gone up from an abysmal -20.96 to -9.56, his save percentage increased by .003%, and his GAA improved from 2.94 to 2.76.
After St. Louis's goaltending stole the show over the divisional round of the playoffs this year, Ruff reflected on the Lehtonen's performance. :
"He'd want them back," Ruff said, "I think maybe it's on me. Maybe with that review and maybe looked like he got a little bit rattled. I should've taken him out sooner. Yeah, maybe after the second one because I already had a review on a goal I didn't like. You have one decision, so that's probably on me."
7 Cam Ward
Cam Ward just came off a rough offseason. Considering the fact that he started in 51 games and will likely see a similar amount of ice time next season, a pay decrease will be difficult to accept. However, when we take a look at his performance over the last two years and when we factor in his age (31), it is hard to make the case that he deserved any other outcome. Ward sports a relatively consistent unimpressive save percentage (.910, .909) and had 23/52 quality starts in the past year. He averaged 2.41 goals against in the 2015-2016 season and sported a .451 QSA. When we take all of this into account, he will likely be one of the worst starting goalies to get a majority of the starts this year. Still, since Ward plays behind a team that has also been less than impressive, it is difficult to argue that he should be too far down on this list.
6 Antti Niemi
There is perhaps no other team in the NHL that suffers as much of a cost from goaltender troubles as the Dallas Stars. In the past two years, especially in 2016 playoff run, the main detriment that has caused Dallas to fail in making a deep playoff run is their lack of strong, reliable goaltending. Antti Niemi, while spectacular at his best, is more consistently a liability. This past year, Niemi posted a .905 save percentage, 2.67 GAA, -11.91 GSAA and a .442 QS%. It is worth noting here that Niemi and Lehtonen posted very similar numbers, meaning that either both goalies are subpar, or that Dallas has defensive problems that need to be addressed.
While the reality of the situation is that there is some combination of the two going on, I am more inclined to believe that the Stars' attacking, high scoring style has caused the Dallas net to become more vulnerable than many of their less offensively-minded opponents.
5 Jimmy Howard
Howard is in the ranks of goalies getting progressively worse as they age. He became an expendable piece of the Red Wings' roster after finishing the 2015-16 season with a .906 SV%, 2.80 GAA, and -8.65 GSAA. His GAA was the worst that it has been since his rookie season, in which he only played four games. He has not had a stellar season since the 2012-13 year, in which he won considerations for the Vezina trophy and the All Star team. His high salary, coupled with the Red Wings' cap struggles make him a prime candidate for a trade. However, since his numbers will cause teams not to want to absorb the full amount of his salary, we will probably see Howard stay in Detroit another year. If he stays, the 32-year-old goalie will play as a backup to Petr Mrazek, who has been more consistent and reliable for the Red Wings.
4 Semyon Varlamov
Varlamov has declined significantly in the past couple of years, after exhibiting stellar play in the 2013-14 season that culminated in nominations for the Hart and Vezina trophies as well as playing on the second All-Star team. Just about every metric for determining the strength of a goalie has since declined steadily. In the 2014-15 season, Varlamov had a save percentage of .921, 2.56 GAA, and 11.87 GSAA. Those statistics were certainly less exciting than his previous year, but he wouldn't have made this list back then. In 2015-16, he continued to sink, with a .914 SV%, 2.81 GAA, -2.07 GSAA.
Playing behind a Colorado team that has had troubles in the past couple of years has not helped, but this trend still does not reflect well on Varlamov's future in Colorado. With many years of his career likely still in front of him, will this be a year for redemption or will he continue to have struggles in the crease?
3 Eddie Lack
Eddie Läck seemed to fare much better playing in the crease behind Vancouver than he did after he was traded to Carolina. During the 2015-16 year, he posted a .901 SV%, 2.81 GAA, and a -12.52 GSAA. All of these metrics put him far below the average, and at the age of 28, he probably will not get much better. He was able to start 31 games in his first season in a Hurricane's sweater, although he will likely get less starts next year due to his performance. Vancouver seemed to make the right call trading him while he was putting up better numbers. His streaky play (at the right time) earned him a two year contract extension in late 2015, meaning he will play backup to Cam Ward next year. GM Ron Francis indicated his support for the goalie after the signing, stating the Hurricanes are "excited that Eddie will remain a part of that picture beyond this year."
2 Jonathan Bernier
Not many will be surprised to see Jonathan Bernier's name on this list. In the 2015-2016 season, the Maple Leafs' goalie had a .908 SV%, 2.88 GAA, and a -8.15 GSAA. This year's stats point to the conclusion that if he continues at this level of play, he is at best a slightly below average goalie by NHL standards. He is a goalie that has played progressively worse each of the past three years, which is a trend that the Maple Leafs' management noticed, as he played 38 games this season- 20 less than the preceding season. His performance has led to the acquisition of Frederik Andersen, who Toronto will rely more heavily on this season in the absence of any injuries or poor play by the projected starter.
The Maple Leafs had exciting developments this summer and will more than likely be a more formidable opponent in the 2016-17 season than the team they presented last year.
1 Karri Ramo
Karri Ramo is a free agent who likely started in more games (37) than he will play in a given season for the rest of his NHL career. In the 2015-2016 season, he notched a .909 SV%, 2.63 GAA, and -5.96 GSAA before his season was shortened by a torn ACL and meniscus damage. The Flames were able to sign ex-Blues goaltender Brian Elliott and will likely face much fewer problems in the crease next year. The acquisition has made Karri Ramo an expendable free agent, and his past makes him a signing that might not do much for any team that adds him, as he has never had a GAA of less than 2.60 or a GSAA under -2.28. If a team can sign him cheaply, he would be a solid depth goalie on a team with an injury-prone goalie, and might even see play in the AHL next year.
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