Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been a large number of great, legendary goalies such as Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Terry Sawchuk. But there have also been a fair share of goaltenders that just couldn’t seem to find their way, not necessarily for their entire career, but for one season where nothing seemed go their way.
There’s no doubt when you have players like Pavel Bure, Teemu Selanne, Steve Yzerman, and Alex Ovechkin throwing pucks on net, you’re not going to stop them all. Even the greats such as Brodeur, Domink Hasek, Chris Osgood, and Ed Belfour didn’t look forward to facing those offensive machines.
In this article, you’ll find NHL starting goaltenders that probably wished they never had to endure that one extremely painful season where nothing went right. Sure, all goalies, even the best in the game, have their bad years. But the net minders listed below took it to a whole new level for just how ineffective a starting net minder can be.
Whether it was the disastrous team playing in front of them, or perhaps the nerves of playing their first season as the number one net minder, it resulted in a season they, along with the franchise they played for, surely wanted to forget as quick as possible. Many of them did go on to have an overall successful NHL career, but today we’re remembering them for the one season where NHL snipers were licking their chops each night they got to face them.
16. Damian Rhodes (Atlanta Thrashers): 2000-01
In just the second season of the expansion team Atlanta Thrashers, the struggle for Damian Rhodes was very real. The veteran posted a 3.36 GAA to go along with a .897 save percentage, not exactly winning numbers. Possibly the most shocking statistic from his season was the lowly seven wins he posted in 38 games. Sure, some of the blame from this disastrous season can be placed on the shoulders of the struggling team playing in front of him, but he certainly allowed his fair share of weak goals.
Overall, the career of Rhodes was not a failure. He had plenty of success with the Ottawa Senators prior to being exposed to the expansion draft. But the 2000-01 season, along with his three-year stint with the Thrashers as a whole, certainly were an ugly ending to his career.
15. Milan Hnilicka (Atlanta Thrashers): 2001-02
After out-performing his counterpart Damian Rhodes in limited action the previous season, the Atlanta Thrashers decided to give Milan Hnilicka more of a hefty workload in 2001-02. Well, that didn’t go as they hoped. He finished the season with a 3.19 GAA and a .908 save percentage in 60 games, resulting in just 13 wins. What makes his win total even worse is he had 12 wins the season before, but with 24 less games-played. Ouch.
His 2001-02 season with the Thrashers basically summed up his entire NHL career. He was never able to display the consistency or skill to be a net minder at the highest level, which resulted in a short five-year NHL career. Hnilicka did go on to find success playing overseas after the NHL, but will most likely be remembered for this one disastrous season.
14. Brian Boucher (Phoenix Coyotes): 2002-03
After finding success early in his career with the Philadelphia Flyers, Brian Boucher was brought in by the Phoenix Coyotes in hopes of solidifying their goaltending. But it’s safe to say they missed the mark. In his first season with the Coyotes, he posted a 3.02 GAA and a .894 save percentage, which translated into just 15 wins in 45 games. This was the first season of his career in which he was a starter, but he’s probably wishing he had stay with the Flyers.
The 2002-03 likely had a big effect on how the rest of his career played out, as he was never able to regain a starting role following his tenure in Phoenix. However, he did go on to find success later in his NHL career as a reliable backup, but is likely looking back on this season and wondering what could’ve been if it weren’t for his struggles with the Coyotes.
13. Sebastien Caron (Pittsburgh Penguins): 2003-04
In another segment of the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending carousel at the time, it was Sebastien Caron’s time to fail. He showed some promise the year before in a backup role, so the Penguins gave him a heavier workload in 2003-04. But perhaps they should’ve went another route. He finished the season with an abysmal nine wins in 40 games, paired with a 3.74 GAA and .883 save percentage. The Penguins finished with 23 wins on the season, so Caron can certainly be to blame for much of his struggles.
This season marked the beginning of the end for Caron’s brief career as an NHL starter. He was never able to find his footing in the league, and when given the opportunity to shine, he didn’t run with it. Both he and the Penguins surely viewed the 2003-04 season as one to forget, and also one that effectively ended Caron’s NHL career.
12. Nikolai Khabibulin (Chicago Blackhawks): 2005-06
It may seem strange to see Nikolai Khabibulin listed here, but remember this doesn’t mean he was a bad goalie overall. He was brought over by the Chicago Blackhawks after having a successful tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, his solid play from Tampa Bay took awhile to follow him to Chicago. In his first season with the Blackhawks (2005-06), Khabibulin played in 50 games, posting just 17 wins, and a 3.35 GAA paired with a .886 save percentage.
This was one of the worst seasons of a very successful NHL career for Khabibulin. He went from being one of the most consistent goaltenders in the league to a single season he wouldn’t wish on even his worst enemy. This poor season certainly doesn’t define his career, but it’s one people were looking at and wondering what happened.
11. Antero Niittymaki (Philadelphia Flyer): 2006-07
After an impressive rookie campaign in 2005-06, expectations were high for Antero Niittymaki heading into the 2006-07 season. But boy did he disappoint. The Philadelphia Flyers, as a whole, were atrocious that year, but Niittymaki sure played a big part in it. In 52 games as the starter, he posted a 3.38 GAA and a .894 save percentage, good for a horrendous nine wins on the entire season. Talk about a sophomore slump.
He would bounce back slightly in future seasons, but nowhere near the level the Flyers were likely expecting of him after his rookie campaign. Maybe it was a confidence thing after only winning nine games, or maybe he just played over his head in his first season. Either way, the 2006-07 season is one he will be remembered for, but not in a good way.
10. Jason LaBarbera (Los Angeles Kings): 2007-08
The 2007-08 season was a goaltending carousel for the Los Angeles Kings as a total of seven goalies saw time between the pipes, all just as inept as the others. However, Jason LaBarbera was considered the starter, so he receives the unfortunate honor of being listed here. In 45 games, he posted a 3.00 GAA to go along with a .910 save percentage, which amounted to just 17 wins. The fact that LaBarbera was the starter that season showed just how desperate the Kings were.
The 2007-08 season was the beginning of a long, rough fall through the NHL ranks for him, as he was given the chance to start in Los Angeles, but did nothing with it. Apparently the rest of the league took notice, as he never received a permanent starter gig again. He’s now in the coaching ranks of junior hockey, so let’s hope he’s learned a thing or two before passing on knowledge to youngsters.
9. Joey MacDonald (New York Islanders): 2008-09
After the Rick DiPietro experiment failed on Long Island, the New York Islanders were forced to look elsewhere for goaltending help. Enter Joey MacDonald. Well, not exactly. MacDonald was given a crack at the starting job in 2008-09, but failed miserably. In 49 games, MacDonald posted a 3.37 GAA coupled with a .901 save percentage, and turned that into a measly 14 wins. A case could definitely be made for MacDonald as one of the worst starting goaltenders of all-time.
After his failure with the Islanders, MacDonald never came close to receiving a second chance as an NHL starter. He managed to secure a few more seasons as a backup on four different teams, but ultimately his disastrous 2008-09 campaign with the Islanders destined his career for a major decline.
8. Jeff Deslauriers (Edmonton Oilers): 2009-10
Given that Nikolai Khabibulin was on the Edmonton Oilers roster at this time, it’s hard to believe Jeff Deslauriers was the number one goaltender for the 2009-10 season. Well, he went on to prove to the Oilers and the rest of the league that he’s not an NHL-caliber goaltender. Appearing in 48 games, he posted a 3.26 GAA and a .901 save percentage, leading to just 16 wins on the season, and a year he and Oilers could’ve easily done without.
This horrific season almost instantly ended his career as an NHL goaltender, in any capacity, as he would appear in just four more games ever. He even continued to struggle throughout the lower ranks of pro hockey before calling it a career at just 28 years old. One horrifically bad season changed the course of his hockey career for good.
7. Brian Elliott (Ottawa Senators/Colorado Avalanche): 2010-11
After two respectable seasons for the Ottawa Senators, the disaster that was the 2010-11 season for Brian Elliott may have been a little surprising. In 43 games, he finished with just 13 wins, and a 3.19 GAA along with a .894 save percentage. He was then traded to the Colorado Avalanche where he was likely hoping a change scenery would equate to a change in performance. But he was wrong. With the Avalanche, he appeared in 12 games, posting an even less impressive 3.83 GAA and a .891 save percentage, equalling just two wins.
Elliott’s career in Colorado would not extend past those 12 games as he found himself in St. Louis the following season. Unlike many of the above goaltenders, Elliott learned his lessons and ended up having a very successful tenure with Blues, and still, to this day, can be relied upon as a legitimate starting net minder.
6. Steve Mason (Columbus Blue Jackets): 2011-12
It’s about time to get a Columbus Blue Jackets goalie on this list. Out of the five seasons Steve Mason spent with the Blue Jackets, 2011-12 was, by far, the worst. In the 46 games he appeared in, he posted 3.39 GAA and a .894 save percentage for just 16 wins, his worst totals of his entire career. This was in a time where the Blue Jackets were still the laughing stock of the NHL, so the team in front of him wasn’t offering much help. But regardless, still a season he wished never happened.
There’s no denying the talent Mason possesses, so it’s nice to see he didn’t let one awful season pave the way for the rest of his career. He went on to provide the Philadelphia Flyers with reliable goaltending for the following five seasons, but has since been traded to the Winnipeg Jets where he’s fell behind in the depth chart. Given the way he bounced back from the 2011-12 season, it would be no surprise to see him do so again.
5. Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary Flames): 2012-13
Again, don’t forget making this list does not mean these players were bad goalies. Miikka Kiprusoff was one of the best goalies the Calgary Flames have ever had, and one of the best goalies in the NHL during his prime. But the horrendous, lockout-shortened 2012-13 season came out of nowhere for the former Vezina Trophy winner, leading to his retirement at the end of the year. In 24 games, he posted a 3.44 GAA and a .882 save percentage for just eight wins and his worst performance as a member of the Flames.
Although the 2012-13 season was one Kiprusoff wishes never happened, it certainly doesn’t put any kind of a damper on a otherwise successful NHL career. This forgettable season could simply have been a matter of old age taking over, and telling him it’s time to call it a career.
4. Devan Dubnyk (Edmonton Oilers): 2013-14
For the longest time, there was no goaltender who seemed to be able to find success with the Edmonton Oilers. Sure, a lot can be attributed to the porous defense they put on the ice, but the net minder still needs to do his part. Well, Devan Dubnyk certainly didn’t do his part in the 2013-14 season. In 32 games with the Oilers, he managed just 11 wins with a 3.36 GAA and a .894 save percentage. He was then traded to the Nashville Predators where he performed just as badly in two appearances, posting a 4.35 GAA and a .850 save percentage.
It looked like his miserable 2013-14 campaign had his career destined for failure, but did he ever prove his doubters wrong. The following season he arrived in Minnesota where he’s been an elite goaltender for the Wild ever since. It sure is nice to see a net minder bounce back from a campaign like 2013-14 to become one of the best in the NHL today.
3. Ben Scrivens (Edmonton Oilers): 2014-15
Is it really a surprise to see Ben Scrivens listed here? The Edmonton Oilers brought him in after seeing his success with the Los Angeles Kings, and once Devan Dubnyk was traded, the reigns belonged to Scrivens. His turn as the Oilers number one guy only lasted one year however, as he was the exact opposite of what they expected. In 57 appearances, he posted a 3.16 GAA and a .890 save percentage, good for only 15 wins.
Scrivens can be added to long list of goalies who failed miserably with the Oilers. Unlike Dubnyk, this horrific season sent his career down the drain, as he played just 15 more NHL games for the Montreal Canadiens following the 2014-15 season, and now finds himself without a team. Good thing Cam Talbot exists for Oilers fans.
2. Jonas Hiller (Calgary Flames): 2015-16
This was a season where the Calgary Flames were rotating between three goalies: Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio, and Karri Ramo. None of the three really took the starting role and ran with it, but it’s safe to say Hiller was at the bottom of the totem pole this year, and for good reason. In his 26 appearances, he found the winner’s circle just nine times, while posting a 3.51 GAA and a .879 save percentage, his worst numbers of his entire career by a country mile.
There’s no telling what led to this abysmal season for Hiller, given his counterparts between the pipes didn’t perform nearly as bad. Regardless, his immense struggles with the Flames in 2015-16 ultimately resulted in the end of a otherwise respectable NHL career, primarily with the Anaheim Ducks.
1. Antti Niemi (Dallas Stars): 2016-17
Much like the Calgary Flames goaltending timeshare in 2015-16, the Dallas Stars had a similar situation in 2016 -17 with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen both seeing ample time. But Niemi’s drastic decline in production from previous years, and the fact he was a hindrance more than a help to the Stars has him listed here. In 37 appearances, he was victorious just 12 times, posting a 3.30 GAA and a .892 save percentage in that span.
Given how his 2017-18 season has gone so far, it’s safe to say his atrocious 2016-17 season may have kickstarted a major fall out of the NHL ranks. In less than two months this year, he’s been on three different rosters, failing to show any signs of improvement from the disaster last year. There’s no denying his success earlier in his career, but it’s becoming more and more clear his career is coming to a close.
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