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 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.
14 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.
13 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.
12 12. Sergei Bobrovsky
11 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.
10 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.
9 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.
8 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. :
7 7. Cam Ward
6 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.
5 5. Jimmy Howard
4 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.
3 3. Eddie Lack
2 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.
1 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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