In less than one week the 2016-17 NHL regular season will begin, and there are already plenty of question marks surrounding some of the league's starting goaltenders. The competitive level has never been higher to not only earn a roster spot as a starting goalie in the NHL, but ensure that a netminder can also hold onto his number one role with a club.
Injuries, players contracts and even an upcoming NHL Expansion Draft will impact almost half of the league's teams and their current situation between the pipes. The goalie setting in the NHL has evolved into more of a tandem theme, rather then a majority of the league's teams relying on one netminder to play in 70-plus games a season. The ongoing trend in the crease has gone as far as becoming popular in the Stanley Cup Playoffs too; if one goalie struggles in a best of seven playoff series, coaches no longer hesitate to throw in the club's number two goalie on the depth chart.
In fact, the term backup goalie has slowly diminished due to the increase in talent level at netminding. While that is a positive trait, there are 15 starting goalies who should be concerned when the puck officially drops for the 2016-17 campaign.
Here are 15 NHL starting goalies who will lose their jobs in 2016-17.
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15 Eddie Lack - Carolina Hurricanes
While the Carolina Hurricanes failed to make an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for seventh straight season, the Canes showed promising signs for what the future may hold in Raleigh, North Carolina. Yet, it was apparent Carolina's goaltending was one of, if not the, weakest point on the team.
First-year Hurricane's netminder Eddie Lack posted an below average .901 save-percentage, and the third-year NHL goaltender's growing pains were noticeable throughout the entire 2015-2016 campaign. Sure, Cam Ward's playing days appear to be over as an everyday starter with Carolina, but don't be surprised if the Canes look to acquire another netminder or look within the organization. Either way, Eddie Lack will not be the starter for the Hurricanes by season's end. If he is, the Canes will likely miss the postseason yet again.
14 Steve Mason - Philadelphia Flyers
Yes, I know the Philadelphia Flyers relied on both goaltenders Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth last season to carry the club into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Mason was labeled as the primary starter. Neuvirth eventually relieved Mason of his playing duties in the first-round of the playoffs last spring, and the Broad Street Bullies appeared more than comfortable with the Czech Republic native in the blue paint during back-to-back games, or more.
So, why not just roll with the Neuvirth as the solidified number one starter in Philly? Mason has unfortunately had injury struggles over the past two seasons, and it would make more sense for the Flyers to hand over the team to one of their more pleasant surprises from last year's historic run to the postseason.
13 John Gibson - Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks traded away the other half of their goaltending tandem during the offseason when Anaheim sent Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for two future draft-picks, which left the other netminder to take over the goaltending reigns in Southern California.
This hockey enthusiast isn't doubting Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson's ability to become an elite and starting NHL netminder one day, but at the age of 22 would it surprise if you the Pittsburgh born goalie needed to split playing time again; and with a veteran masked man who's hungry for a revival in the newly acquired Jonathan Bernier? Plus, this season could be one that goes downhill for Anaheim and the last thing they'd want to do is leave young Gibby out to dry this early into his NHL career.
12 Craig Anderson - Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson first made his NHL debut back in the 2002-03 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, the 34-year-old has been in the NHL for that long, but the late bloomer found success down the road for his professional career. The former third round draft pick (1999) has posted three seasons where he's won 30 or more games, yet Anderson has never done so in back-to-back campaigns.
Ottawa's starting goaltender from last season earned 31 wins, and had his best season between the pipes since winning 33 games in 2012. The inconsistent, yet brilliant when on his game, Andrew Hammond will enter his third full NHL season and don't be surprised if the "Hamburglar" takes a big step forward in 2017. With Ottawa's ownership pressing for a playoff appearance, I'd imagine the Senators' new head coach, Guy Boucher, will have a short leash when it comes to his netminders. It would tough to imagine that Andersen will post another 30-win season too, no?
11 Ryan Miller - Vancouver Canucks
It's not Miller Time, anymore. At some point during the 2016-17 regular season Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller will lose his starting role in Western Canada. It has been a great career for Miller, and one that was enjoyable to watch no matter which team's colors NHL fans donned in the past. Still, in the last year of his contract and at the age of 35 it would be hard to imagine that the former Buffalo Sabre great will remain the team's starter.
Yes, the Canucks are expected to be one of the worst teams in the league this season, but an uninspired and aging Miller won't complement the poor formula that's about to take place on the ice in Vancouver. From the eye, it's apparent Miller is no longer the same goalie and one that's not worth $6 million a season. At this rate, the club should play backup Jacob Markstrom as much as possible.
10 Frederik Andersen - Toronto Maple Leafs
It would be an interesting story if the Toronto Maple Leafs' newly acquired and expected starting goaltender Frederik Andersen would lose his starting role, while his former teammate John Gibson of the Ducks did too. While it sounds like an interesting theory, it may not stand as just a theory in a matter of months.
Like Gibson, fans have seen flashes that Andersen should pan out to be a legitimate number one goalie at the NHL level, but is now the right time? Now, is not being used often in relation to the Maple Leafs organization, right? The future does look bright in Toronto, but is head coach Mike Babcock ready to throw the Danish goalie in the heat of things -- and in the Toronto market of all places? General manager Lou Lamoriello also acquired netminder Jhonas Enroth as insurance, and while Enroth's not the flashy name -- he's no slouch either. The Swede will push Andersen for playing time and may turn out to be a pleasant surprise for Leafs fans.
9 Jaroslav Halak - New York Islanders
New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak is fresh off of an impressive World Cup Of Hockey 2016 performance for the Cinderella story Team Europe, but that doesn't guarantee that the Slovakian netminder will do wonders in Brooklyn this season. Halak has had some injury troubles as of late, and there were times last season when the orange and blue fan base were calling for a trade and for the club to acquire another starting caliber goalie.
The Islanders had an exciting run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and one surprise hero was backup goalie Thomas Greiss. Greiss played exceptional whenever he was called on duty, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that he could steal the starting role away from Halak as early as December, too.
8 Devan Dubnyk - Minnesota Wild
Last season, for the first time in his NHL career Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk started in over 60 games. After a Vezina Trophy worthy season in 2015, Dubnyk had his fair share of troubles in 2016 with the Wild.
Yes, it would have been tough for the former Arizona Coyote backup to duplicate his memorable performance and run from 2015 with Minnesota in 2016, but it was apparent Dubnyk had lost his swagger last year. Flashes of the old Dubnyk were present throughout the season, and it's fair to say there's skepticism surrounding the Wild's goal crease heading into this season. Could Dubnyk lose his starting role if the State of Hockey's NHL club gets off to a slow start? Considering the Wild have had high expectations for the past two seasons, and have yet to meet those championship standards -- the answer is yes.
7 Semyon Varlamov - Colorado Avalanche
After a career season under newly (then) appointed head coach Patrick Roy in 2013-14, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been snake bitten by injuries and his numbers have taken a step backwards too. The Avalanche have failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the past two seasons, and the biggest reason why Colorado finished first in the Central Division during 2014 was due to the Russian native's phenomenal play in net.
But, that's a distant memory now, and the Avs are desperate to win games and that may just have to be without Varlamov. The former first round draft pick (2006) has never performed consistent enough in net, besides 2014. You simply can't label the former Washington Capitals product as a slam dunk number one goalie for an entire upcoming season.
6 Petr Mrazek - Detroit Red Wings
Czech Republic goaltender Petr Mrazek burst onto the scene for the Detroit Red Wings during the 2014-15 campaign, and from there Mrazek essentially stole netminder Jimmy Howard's starting position. However, while it was all smiles on Mrazek's end at first, there still appears to be a goalie controversy in Hockeytown.
Mrazek did struggle at times last season, as did the Red Wings overall. Detroit will look to rely on its goaltending this season in order to continue its historic streak of Stanley Cup Playoffs appearances. Is Mrazek the keeper to do that, or will Howard regain his form when the Wings need him most? We think Howard will make a comeback this season, and take back his net in Hockeytown. Expect the American born goalie to make headlines often and early this season.
5 Ondrej Pavelec - Winnipeg Jets
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec's playing days with the Winnipeg Jets organization date back to when the club was based in Atlanta as the Thrashers. The club doesn't have too many notable highlights, especially during the Atlanta days, but Pavelec has been both a solid and underrated goalie since 2008.
Yet, Pavelec's days are more than likely numbered with the Jets, and the Connor Hellebuyck era will be in full swing during 2016-17. After almost a decade with the organization, the Jets seem to finally have what appears to be a nice foundation of young players. And, when the term rebuild is mentioned it usually means that change will impact a majority of a club's veteran players. In this case, it happens to be the Jets/Thrashers' most notable netminder in team history thus far.
4 Mike Smith - Arizona Coyotes
Another Western Conference and veteran goalie who will most likely be riding the pine more than he'd like to this season is Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith. The one-time Olympic netminder has some new and tough competition out in the desert between the pipes, with Louis Domingue.
Domingue started in 36 games last season for the Yotes, while posting a .912 save-percentage and a 2.75 goals-against-average. Not bad for a youngster playing behind a non-playoff team. Domingue has had an impressive preseason so far in 2016, and with Smith battling consistent injuries each season it's time for the Coyotes to move on from the 34-year-old. Smith's contract doesn't help his trade value, making $5-plus million a season until 2019, but don't count out the possibility of Arizona moving him by season's end.
3 Tuukka Rask - Boston Bruins
A breakup between the Boston Bruins and Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask is bound to happen sooner then later. And, with prospect Malcolm Subban nearing his time to join the NHL club, Rask might be on the verge of losing his starting role with the Bruins.
Would Rask lose his starting job due to his play? No, but a divorce and trade could be in the works. Timing is everything in professional sports, and the time might be right for Bruins' general manager Don Sweeney to trade Rask while his value is still high to receive maximum compensation in return. Behind Rask on the depth chart this season is Anton Khudobin, who should make a push for more playing time then most will anticipate. After six full seasons with the Bruins, Rask's time is up in Boston.
2 Roberto Luongo - Florida Panthers
One of the most well-known faces, even behind a mask, around the NHL could be on the verge of losing his starting spot in South Florida. Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo underwent hip surgery during the 2016 offseason, and keep in mind Luongo has never suffered a serious injury before. Plus, one can imagine a surgery such as the one mentioned above is no easy task to recover from at the age of 37.
Let's give credit to the Panthers for signing James Reimer during the offseason, as Reimer proved to be an asset for the San Jose Sharks down the stretch in 2016; even after fans doubted his play in Toronto. If Reimer has a playoff caliber team playing in front of him then Panthers' fans might witness some magic, and the former fourth round draft pick may win over the hearts of the Sunshine state.
1 Marc-Andre Fleury - Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins and their goalie situation has been brewing drama since rookie Matt Murray helped lead the Penguins to the club's fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history this past June.
While Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford made it clear that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury would not be traded during the 2016 offseason, it appears that it makes the most sense for the Steel City to part ways with its' former first overall draft pick (2003). Whether Rutherford wants to make the move or not, the business side will factor into this decision and the fact that Murray's potential play has enough upside to end the Fleury era in Pittsburgh too.
With the NHL Expansion Draft less than a year away the Penguins could potentially lose Murray or Fleury due to the regulations of the draft. The Pens can still have a solid goalie start in net for them but at a cheaper price if Pittsburgh picks Murray over Fleury.
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