If the last two NHL postseasons have proved anything, it's that the goaltending position in hockey may just be the most important position in all of sports. Two years ago, there was no way the Boston Bruins would have won it all without the remarkable play of Tim Thomas, and this year Jonathon Quick led the Los Angeles Kings on perhaps the most improbable Stanley Cup run of all time.
No goaltender, no cup. It honestly is that simple.
So here are the top 30 goaltenders heading into the 2012-13 season.
2011-12 Statistics: 23-16-4 Record, .901 Save %, 2.85 GAA
Dwayne Roloson was in the net two years ago when the Lightning made a run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals only to be defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
But Garon started 44 games this season and appeared in four others; however, his numbers were far from magnificent and a big reason why the Lightning ended up 8 points out of the playoffs. Although he ended up with a solid record, his 2.85 GAA was ranked 38th in the entire NHL.
2011-12 Statistics: 29-30-12 Record, .910 Save %, 2.57 GAA
I might be being a little critical with Hiller considering that he played in all but nine games for the Ducks this year and led the league in time on ice with 4,252:31, equivalent to just under three days in between the pipes.
It has been proven over the years, however, that he is just not the guy that is going to be in net if Anaheim wants to make a run in the playoffs anytime soon. He gives up soft goals time and time again, and he isn't going to steal many games for your club.
2011-12 Statistics: 20-20-3 Record, .914 Save %, 2.67 GAA
The Oilers are going to be really, really good in about three or four years, given they make the right moves from here on out. They are starting to look like the Pittsburgh Penguins before they became one of the elite teams in the NHL.
Dubnyk is going to grow with all the young talent and might one day be the guy that takes them on a big run in the playoffs, but he is still inexperienced and only time will tell if he will ever become one of the more elite goalies in the NHL.
2011-12 Statistics: 29-28-9 Record, .906 Save %, 2.91 GAA
Being the starting goaltender in Winnipeg this year would have been difficult for anyone, and although Pavelec had a record above .500, he struggled immensely between the pipes this year.
It is never a good sign when, on average, you are letting in a sliver under three goals per game, but Pavelec will have time to grow. He is only 24 years old, and unless the Jets get somebody in free agency, there really isn't anybody that will challenge him for the starting job.
2011-12 Statistics: 25-17-2 Record, .917 Save %, 2.51 GAA
The main reason why Vokoun is this low on the list is because he has been relieved of his starting duties in Washington and was shipped to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh. Vokoun would start for around a dozen teams in the NHL and will put some needed pressure on Fleury after his meltdown in the postseason.
It will be interesting to see how Vokoun handles his role as a back up, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him start anywhere from 20-25 games next season.
Niklas Backstrom 2011-12 Statistics: 19-18-7 Record, .919 Save %, 2.43 GAA
Backstrom missed a substantial amount of time this season after having to go through ankle surgery, but he still ended up having a fairly decent season. Josh Harding was solid in Backstrom's absence, but next year Backstrom will for sure get the nod.
The Wild finished in 12th place in the Western Division after a quick start, but it is really difficult to pin that solely on the play of Backstrom and Harding. The Wild really need to focus on getting offense this offseason, considering their 177 goals for last year was dead last in the league. And it wasn't even close, Columbus was 29th in the league with 201 goals for.
2011-12 Statistics: 30-23-13 Record, .915 GAA, 2.74 GAA
He had a great record this year; there is no doubt about that, and all but three of the Hurricanes' wins last season came when Ward was in the net. He has been in this league for a long time and established himself as a solid goaltender.
Just not an elite goaltender. His goals against the average alarm me, and his save percentage isn't the greatest either. He faces a ton of shots considering he plays for a Carolina team that is not too strong on the blue line, but he is another goaltender that fails to steal games like the elite goalies in this league do.
He was 22nd in save percentage and 34th in GAA, so it is really difficult to put Ward any higher than this on the list.
2011-12 Statistics: 22-16-11, .917 Save %, 2.46 GAA
Jose Theodore was a substantial reason why the Panthers ended up getting the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference by winning their division. He is also one of the reasons why they did not advance in the first round.
To put it simply, Theodore was an average goaltender during the regular season and an average goaltender during the playoffs—and at 35 years old, Panther fans can't really ask for much more out of him.
2011-12 Statistics: 30-17-7 Record, .903 Save %, 2.72 GAA
For some reason, the Chicago Blackhawks decided to part ways with Antti Niemi the season after he had just won them a Stanley Cup. They did this because they thought Corey Crawford was the guy that was going to lead them back to the Stanley Cup Finals time and time again.
Crawford has proven that he is just not that guy. The Blackhawks are arguably the deepest team on both sides on the ice, yet Crawford continues to letdown in the postseason, and he cost them a shot at another cup. If he doesn't play well this upcoming season, don't be surprised if Chicago pulls the plug on him.
2011-12 Statistics: 26-24-3 Record, .913 Save %, 2.59 GAA
Although the Avalanche failed to make the playoffs, Varlamov showed some promise as the netminder for Colorado. He is playing on a very young team and could quite possibly be the guy that takes them on a legitimate run.
Only time will tell whether he has moved on from his past failures in the playoffs with the Washington Capitals. His numbers this year were far from incredible, but definitely respectable. He is still only 24 years old, and if he can mature with the rest of the Avalanche's young roster, he may end up being a top 10 goaltender in the future.
2011-12 Statistics: 19-18-3 Record, .914 Save %, 2.55 GAA
Nabakov is far from where he was when he was shining with the San Jose Sharks a mere half-decade ago, but he has still established himself as a goaltender that can stand strong in between the pipes. He has playoff experience, and if he can take the inexperienced Islanders to the playoffs somehow, then maybe he can lead him on a significant run.
The problem is that the Islanders are no where near talented enough to have a shot at making the postseason, and they play in the most difficult division in the NHL. The fact that he managed a record above .500 is pretty incredible.
2011-12 Statistics: 26-28-11 Record, .916 Save %, 2.43 GAA
The Canadiens have thrown everyone in management overboard and are looking for a new start. They have a new GM, a new coach, new scouts but I think they may be okay by keeping the same guy in between the pipes.
Price has shined at times, and although his record doesn't show it, his save percentage and goals against average are both in top 20 in the NHL. Price is still very young (only 24 years old), and if he can find a way to win some games that go into overtime and/or shootouts, he will have a very successful 2012-13 season.
2011-12 Statistics: 33-22-6 Record, .914 Save %, 2.84 GAA
Craig Anderson led the Ottawa Senators to the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference and quietly had the 10th most wins in the NHL. He is starting to gain playoff experience that he didn't receive when he was with the Colorado Avalanche, and as many young goaltenders do, he is only going to get better with time.
He struggled this year with rebound controls, and he is going to have to continue to improve to give the Senators a real shot at a title in recent years. Ottawa is starting to age and is not really in the ideal place for a young goaltender to be at this juncture.
2011-12 Statistics: 32-22-4 Record, .922 Save %, 2.33 GAA
In my mind, Lehtonen is the most underrated goaltender in the NHL, but he is still far from being one of the elite netminders in the league. The biggest facade is that he plays in Dallas, which is an area that hasn't been marketed too well by the NHL ever since Mike Modano left.
Dallas failed to make the playoffs this year, but a lot of the blame can be pointed to a lack of scoring, and their -11 scoring differential was the best out of any team that missed the playoffs last season. Lehtonen is about to hit the prime of his career, and if Dallas can put some players around him, he is a goalie that can lead them on a serious playoff run.
2011-12 Statistics: 31-21-7 Record, .916 Save %, 2.55 GAA
Two years removed from his heroic-like performance in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Miller has appeared to be on the decline; however, he is still one of the more proven and established goaltenders in the league. A guy like Kari Lehtonen might have better stats then Miller, but I think many people would rather have the American between the pipes.
Buffalo finished as the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference and was only three points away from making the playoffs. They have a few established scorers in the lineup, and a rising star in Nathan Gerbe. If they make the playoffs next year, Miller is a guy that can lead them to the Finals.
2011-12 Statistics: 11-8-3 Record, .929 Save %, 2.05 GAA
It really is hard to say how well Tuukka Rask is going to fill in for Tim Thomas this upcoming season. The Bruins went after him knowing that Thomas would soon be done, and they needed someone for the future. Rask was not brought in to be a one or two year solution; the Bruins want him there for a while.
He will be coming off an injury that caused him to miss the end of last season as well, which could affect his abilities when next season starts up. But at this point, he could be the savior of the franchise, taking them right back to the Stanley Cup Finals, or he could be a bust of epic proportion, sending the Bruins front office right back to the drawing board.
2011-12 Statistics: 35-17-4 Record, .920 Save %, 2.13 GAA
Jimmy Howard has had the difficult tasks of backing up the likes of Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek in Hockeytown. He has yet to lead the Wings to a serious title run. He faces very few shots, as Detroit is one of the best teams in the league defensively.
But now that Nicklas Lidstrom is gone to quarterback the blue line, Howard is going to have to step it up a notch if he ever wants to hoist the Stanley Cup as the starting goaltender. He is another goalie that has a few more years to grow, but Detroit has a great history of championships, and if Howard can't get the job done, they won't hesitate to replace him.
2011-12 Statistics: 31-14-8 Record, .919 Save %, 2.41 GAA
Canuck fans are probably going to have something to say when they see the next slide, but in my mind, Luongo is on the decline, and in my mind, it is time to get rid of him while he still has a fairly high stock. He led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals and was one game away from raising the cup, but he was outplayed by Tim Thomas.
I know that he led Team Canada to a gold medal in 2010, but he has retracted substantially since then.
2011-12 Statistics: 20-8-1 Record, .937 Save %, 1.96 GAA
I am 100 percent on the Cory Schneider bandwagon, and I think he is the guy that will do what Roberto Luongo could not: win the Stanley Cup for the Canucks. If Vancouver decides to part ways with Luongo, it will give Schneider the confidence to take his game to the next level. The only reason I have him this low is because he only started 28 games last year.
He is yet to have a season where he starts 60+ games, and until he does, it will be a mystery as to how well he can stay consistent throughout a six month period. But I think the tide has turned, and it is time to give Schneider the reigns. He is more than capable of leading them back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
2011-12 Statistics: 33-16-7 Record, .909 Save %, 2.48 GAA
If there is one thing that NHL 24/7 showed us, it's that Ilya Bryzgalov is one of the more interesting individuals in the game today. The nine-year, $51 million contract that the Flyers gave Bryzgalov was the largest given to a goaltender in NHL history, yet he has failed to live up to the hype.
He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2009-10, and many thought that the Flyers would have had a Finals appearance by now. He struggled immensely in the postseason, and arguably only got passed the first round because Marc-Andre Fleury was even worse.
2011-12 Statistics: 34-22-9 Record, .915 Save %, 2.42 GAA
The top 10 kicks off with a goaltender that has proven that he can win a Stanley Cup—Antti Niemi. Two years ago, he was the starter for the Chicago Blackhawks when they hoisted the cup, but he was surprisingly shipped to the Sharks the very next offseason.
San Jose has all the makings that can lead them to a Stanley Cup Championship, so they were a bit of a disappointment by finishing as the 7-seed in the Western Conference. Niemi has proven that he can win it all, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him win it again in San Jose.
2011-12 Statistics: 26-12-7 Record, .926 Save %, 1.97 GAA
In my mind Jaroslav Halak is the ninth-best goaltender in the NHL and the second best goaltender on his team. His statistics are fantastic, but if I was in the front office for the Blues I would be trying to find a way to send him elsewhere while his value is still quite high.
2011-12 Statistics: 42-17-4 Record, .913 Save %, 2.36 GAA
Another goalie who has proven that he can win it all is Marc-Andre Fleury, and after the regular season many people, myself included, saw him as a top-5 goaltender in the NHL. But after his atrocious postseason, he has a lot to prove as next season approaches.
I think that when the Penguins acquired Tomas Vokoun, it was a message to Fleury that they are not afraid to replace him if he continues to struggle. I think he will have a great year next year with Vokoun pushing him, and he will be back up with the league's elite.
2011-12 Statistics: 23-10-4 Record, .940 Save %, 1.56 GAA
After looking at his statistics, I might have Elliott a little low, but any goalie can get hot for a few months, and Elliott is yet to prove his longevity in the NHL; however, I still believe he is the best choice in St. Louis and gives them the best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
He led the league in both save percentage and goals against average, but the fact that he only played in 38 games last season knocks him down the seven spot. He is only 27 years old and ready to make the step toward the game's best.
2011-12 Statistics: 31-21-4 Record, .908 Save %, 2.41 GAA
Marty "Party" Brodeur proved this postseason that he is still one of the best in the game. There isn't a 100 percent chance that he will return next season, but Sports Illustrated reported that he will once again come back for the Devils.
The future Hall of Famer probably has one or two seasons left in him, but just because he is 40 years old doesn't mean that he is not capable of carrying the starters load back to the Stanley Cup Finals. He has won three Stanley Cups, and I don't think anyone would be surprised if he retired with a fourth.
2011-12 Statistics: 35-22-11 Record, .921 Save %, 2.35 GAA
I think people forget about Miikka Kiprusoff because the Flames haven't competed for the Stanley Cup in a while, but he is still one of the elite goaltenders in the league. In the 14 games that Kiprusoff did not start, the Flames only won two games. He might just be more important to his perspective organization than anyone else in the league.
Calgary needs to find a way to get some offense in the off-season if they want to make a serious run at the cup next season—their 202 goals for was the second fewest in the entire NHL.
2011-12 Statistics: 38-18-10 Record, .930 Save %, 2.21 GAA
One of the greatest stories of last season in the NHL was the rise of Mike Smith. He stole multiple games in the postseason and is a huge reason why the coyotes won their division and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
Phoenix only had three players with over 50 points last season and is another team that has found a franchise goaltender who they need to build around.
2011-12 Statistics: 43-18-8 Record, .923 Save %, 2.39 GAA
Pekka Rinne had an unbelievable year this year and is the sole reason why I believe the Predators are a top-10 contender to win the cup entering next season. The Predators play in a very difficult division that includes the likes of St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago—all teams that surpassed the 100 point total last year.
The Predators are one or two superstars away from winning the Stanley Cup, and if they make some positive moves in the offseason, combined with the competitiveness they face in the regular season, there is no reason why they can't hoist it next year.
2011-12 Statistics: 35-21-13 Record, .929 Save %, 1.95 GAA
Is there anything that can be said about Jonathon Quick that hasn't been said already after the Los Angeles Kings incredible playoff run? He truly defined himself as one of the elite goaltenders in the league, and he will enter next season with all the confidence in the world.
He led the Kings to a 16-4 record in the postseason on his way to his first ever Conn Smythe Trophy. It was extremely difficult not to put him at number one on this list, but there is one man that stood in his way...
He is the only goaltender up for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP for a reason. Lundqvist led the New York Rangers to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell to the New Jersey Devils in six games.
He is without a doubt the most promising goaltender as next season approaches.
What do you think NHL fans? Do you agree or disagree?