If modern hockey has shown us one thing, it’s that goaltending has become one of the most important positions in the NHL for any team; whether they're building to the future or looking to win a Stanley Cup. Without an All-Star goalie that can steal you a game here and there and be consistent throughout the entire season, being a team that many deem a threat is a hopeless dream. Simply look at past top teams to confirm these thoughts.
This year saw many changes in the NHL, as many big name goalies joined brand new teams. While there are 30 starting goalies in the NHL, there are also 30 backups looking to take advantage of any potential slip ups from the man in front of them. This article will break down the eight best and seven worst projected goalies in the 2016-17 season. Seeing as how it's so hard for goaltenders to maintain a certain standard year after year, consistency is what truly separates good goalies from great ones. We'll see if these guys are still on the list (on either side) by the end of the season.
I chose only starting goaltenders and included special cases such as goalies in teams that aren’t starting the year with a specific starting goalie.
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15 Best: Cam Talbot - Edmonton Oilers
Breaking into the list at number eight is none other than Cam Talbot, undisputed starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers. Now I know some of you may be thinking, Cam Talbot, really? Yes really, and here’s why. We already knew Talbot before as the back-up to Henrik Lundqvist, and one of the best back-ups in the league I might add. So good in fact that management in Edmonton decided to take a risk on him and bring him in as a starting goalie.
It wasn’t the best of years for Talbot and the Oilers last year, although we saw flashes of how good Talbot could potentially be. This year thus far, dividends finally seem to be paying off. Talbot has six wins in seven games started already with a very nice .927 save percentage to boot. There’s no telling how good this young Oilers team can be with McDavid leading the way and Talbot being a wall in nets.
14 Worst: Frederik Andersen - Toronto Maple Leafs
After fighting for control of the Anaheim net for so long with young goalie John Gibson, the battle is finally over, and Andersen got the short end of the stick. Knowing he had the potential to be a starter in another market, Andersen quickly signed a long-term deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It hasn’t necessarily been a honeymoon so far for Andersen, who has been less than impressive in his first few starts with his new team, with league-low .866 save percentage for goalies with at least six starts.
Yikes. Definitely not what Babcock and Leafs management want to see from their biggest summer acquisition. Andersen’s career has had flashes of brilliance, but unfortunately, it's come with many more flashes of inconsistency. It's safe to assume that's probably what led to his eventual dismissal from Anaheim. I don’t think it’s going to be a very good year for Andersen, although I’m sure he’ll get better as the Leafs develop into a better team as well.
13 Best: Roberto Luongo - Florida Panthers
It’s definitely been an interesting NHL career for Roberto Luongo, although he doesn’t seem anywhere near being done. After things went sour in Vancouver and Luongo’s numbers dropped dramatically (which consequently led to the emergence of Cory Schneider), he was ultimately sent back to the Sunshine State, the team he had made a name with before heading to Vancouver.
Since rejoining the Panthers, Luongo seems to have regained some of his old form. Maybe it’s the sunlight that really does it for the most entertaining goalie on twitter (follow @strombone), but there’s something about putting on that Panthers jersey that really gets the best out of Luongo. Luongo’s gotten off to a great start this year and hopes to take the next step this year with a young Panthers team and find some success in the playoffs.
12 Worst: Brian Elliott - Calgary Flames
Much like Frederick Andersen’s case in Anaheim, Brian Elliott unfortunately also got the short end of the stick in his battle for the crease with Jake Allen, with Allen eventually taking the reins in St. Louis. Brian Elliott, knowing he was worth more than a simple, back-up, signed a deal with a team that desperately needed a good starting goaltender, the Calgary Flames. So far, the responsibility of being the undisputed number one doesn’t seem to have inspired his performances.
Elliott is a horrible .898 save percentage after just seven games, with only three wins on the season (as of this writing). It’s not that he’s a bad goalie; he had 23 wins for St. Louis last year with a.930 save percentage. The problem is, St. Louis is a really good team. If a goalie is truly a stud, he could be a good netminder for any team. So far, it hasn’t been the case for Elliott in Calgary.
11 Best: Jonathan Quick - Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick has made a reputation long ago as being the goalie you want on your team. Winner of two Stanley Cups with Los Angeles Kings, it’s rare to find a goalie that has more value to his team than Jonathan Quick. Let me explain. Much like the Montreal Canadiens, the Kings don’t have an overly productive offense, more likely to win a low-scoring game by a goal than blowing out the opposition night in and night out. Therefore, having that inability to put in a lot of goals really increases the strain on your goalie.
Considering the Kings have been one of the better teams of this generation, I think that goes to show just how good Jonathan Quick still is. It’s been bad luck however thus far for Quick, who is projected to miss three months and require potential surgery on a hindering groin injury. The Kings have been suffering without him thus far, although they do seem more like themselves as of late.
10 Worst: Ryan Miller - Vancouver Canucks
Ryan Miller has been on a steady decline since joining the Vancouver Canucks. Once considered one of the best goalies in the league due to his capability of stealing games due to his sheer skill, today Ryan Miller couldn’t steal chocolate from a gas station. This year, it looks like the Canucks aren’t putting too much stock in the hopes of Miller regaining his old form, opting instead to give Jacob Markstrom the majority of the starts thus far.
Miller truly was incredible at some point in his career, but those days are long behind the American goalie. Look for Miller to ultimately lose the starting position this year in Vancouver and maybe sign for another team at some point this season. It's likely he will remain a backup for the rest of his career.
9 Best: Devan Dubnyk - Minnesota Wild
Devan Dubnyk was jumping from team to team, trying to find himself a permanent home in the NHL until his break came just a few years ago. After leaving Edmonton, unsuccessful in his bid to make an impact in a city that lost all hope, he had a tough stretch where he played for the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens and the Nashville Predators in the space of just a few months. He was then traded to Minnesota in January of 2015. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dubnyk would set a franchise record and start his first 38 games played with the Wild, going 27-9-2 in the process, not to mention being in nets for 11 out of the 12 straight road wins they had in the process. All of a sudden, Devan Dubnyk was not only a starting goalie but one of the elite goalies in the league. Although he wasn’t as spectacular last year, things are definitely looking good early for Dubnyk this season, who just earned his second straight shutout.
8 Worst: Cam Ward - Carolina Hurricanes
Wow, 2006 can’t seem further away for Cam Ward at the moment. That year had been a glorious one for Ward, coming in as a rookie for an injured Martin Gerber to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to their first ever Stanley Cup, earning MVP credentials in the process as well. That start cemented the rest of his career as a starting goalie in Carolina. Unfortunately, that first year would be the closest Cam Ward would ever come to the Cup. They would qualify for the playoffs just one more time since then.
Cam Ward has not been great in nets over the years with the Hurricanes, but it seems like management clung on to the idea that he would somehow find his form of old. This season, the team is leaning more towards Eddie Lack to take over the number one position, and it’s a good thing as well; Ward is winless in three games played this season with a .848 save percentage. Unless he gets traded, Cam Ward is in for another rough year.
7 Best: Ben Bishop - Tampa Bay Lightning
We move down the list to the Tampa Bay Lightning starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, a goalie I know a lot of you would have a little higher on this list. Look, there’s no denying that Big Ben is a monster goalie, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are certainly no pushover team, and Bishop is required to stand on his head a lot less often than some other goaltenders.
That being said, Ben Bishop has been one of the hottest goalies for the past few years in the NHL. With Tampa Bay looking as dangerous as ever this year and Ben Bishop healthy as a horse, look for another great year from Bishop, even though it hasn’t been the hottest start for the netminder thus far, sporting a meager .880 save percentage.
6 Worst: Michael Hutchinson - Winnipeg Jets
Finally, we’ve reached the top three, and the next two especially delves deep into the conundrum faced by the Winnipeg Jets. For quite a while now, the Jets have had acceptable goaltending from three different sources; Ondrej Pavelec, Connor Helleybuck, and Michael Hutchinson. With Pavelec out of the picture and sentenced to the minors for the time being, this year’s battle in the Winnipeg goal will be between Helleybuck and Hutchinson. So far no one seems more favorite than the other.
For such an important moment in a goaltender’s career, you’d think Hutchinson would’ve wanted to start the season a little better. He has 14 goals allowed in five games played, in which he lost three, resulting in a .906 save percentage. The only silver lining I can see for Hutchinson is that Helleybuck has also started on quite a sour note.
5 Best: Cory Schneider - New Jersey Devils
Do you remember when Cory Schneider was nothing but Luongo’s backup in Vancouver? You know, back when at some points he was playing so well that he seemed to share the net with Luongo more than back it up? Then, in a shocking trade in 2013 during the draft, the Devils traded their first round pick to Vancouver for Cory Schneider, who would become their starting goalie. It seemed like a bit of a risky move at the time, but boy did it not disappoint.
Cory Schneider quietly jumped the ranks since his trade to New Jersey to the top class of NHL goaltenders. All that’s missing now is a better Devils team in front of him, and management seems poised to try and achieve that, proof being trading for Taylor Hall in the offseason. To give you an idea of just how good of a goalie Schneider is, his all-time NHL save percentage is .925 with a 2.16 GAA, and I don’t think he’s anywhere close to slowing down.
4 Worst: Connor Hellebuyck - Winnipeg Jets
I gave you the rundown on the goalie situation in Edmonton, now let’s delve into Connor Hellebuyck’s NHL history. He made his NHL start last year, earning 13 wins in 26 games for the Jets with a .918 save percentage. Not too shabby for a rookie goaltender seeing NHL action for the first time. He and Hutchinson are fairly new goalies without much experience in the NHL, and they’ve been thrown into a situation in Winnipeg where who is the starting goalie is unclear.
In my humble opinion, this won’t work out too well for the Jets and they won’t get the goalkeeping they need all season. It hasn’t started out too bad for Hellebuyck thus far with two wins in four games and a save percentage above .900, but the season is young and his lack of experience will eventually catch up to him.
3 Best: Braden Holtby - Washington Capitals
With Carey Price injured last year, it was Holtby’s turn to take the NHL by storm. In 2015-16, he was the best goalie in the league, earning himself his first ever Vezina. The Canadian goaltender shows a lot of the same poise and calmness seen in Carey Price when in goal, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Braden Holtby blink when he’s following the puck. Ever.
The next step for Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals is to take their success far in the playoffs. They have the team and now they have the goalie, all that’s missing is that little push. Last year, Holtby had 48 wins and a .922 save percentage, and although it’ll be hard to best his win tally, I think we’re in store for an even better year from Holtby.
2 Worst: Robin Lehner - Buffalo Sabres
Lehner was originally selected 49th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2009 entry level draft. He was a highly touted prospect who was supposed to bring a lot of stability to the Ottawa net. He never managed to impress long enough to earn the first spot in net, however, with the likes of Craig Anderson and even Andrew Hammond earning playing time over him. He was traded to the Sabres last year.
His first few games with the Sabres were not overly impressive last season, posting only five wins in 21 outings for a struggling Buffalo side. This year doesn’t seem to have started much better. Not only is the team already plagued with injuries, doing nothing to help Lehner’s case, but the team now only has one win to start the season. Look for Lehner’s overall performance to drop significantly.
1 Best: Carey Price - Montreal Canadiens
No other team in the NHL relies on their goalie more than the Montreal Canadiens; at least that’s what recent history has shown us. The Canadiens were 19-3 to start the season last you when their starting netminder went down, and the team spiraled downwards for the rest of the season without Price in nets.
The Canadiens seemed poised to do some real damage this year in the Eastern Conference, and with a healthy Price, the sky is the limit. It has become almost impossible to beat Price on a normal shot, and for teams looking at having a chance of beating the Habs this year, that means getting at least two goals past a goaltender who’s at the peak of the NHL. And there’s also the cool, collective way he plays the game. There’s no doubt in my mind that if everything stays quiet on the injury front, Price will be the best goalie in the NHL this year.
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