On any given hockey team, no single player is more important than the man behind the mask.
Starting goaltenders possess the ability to single-handedly save a game with an outstanding performance, or single-handedly lose it with an abysmal showing.
Many teams attempt to build their roster around the man in the mask, whether by handing out ridiculous contracts to free-agent netminders or by trading for someone else's backup who may have first-string potential.
Most organizations now have a clear-cut starter, which gives us the opportunity to see how each team stacks up in the crease.
Which teams will find goaltending to be a concern all season long, and which will see their keepers carry them into the playoffs and beyond?
2011-12 Stats: 34 GP, 14-14-4, 3.10 GAA, .900 SV percentage
James Reimer got off to a great start, posting a .921 SV percentage in his rookie season and going 4-0-1 in his first five games in 2011-12.
However, Reimer suffered a head injury early in the season and could not recapture the magic from the year prior. Injury concerns and performance issues make Reimer the least appealing starting goalie in the NHL this year.
2011-12 Stats: 29 GP, 14-10-2, 3.02 GAA, .899 SV percentage
Columbus acquired Sergei Bobrovsky in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Russian netminder, who will be 24 when the season begins, showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie but was relegated to the backup job after a shaky 2011 postseason and did little to impress behind Ilya Bryzgalov in 2011-12.
Bobrovsky is capable of making some brilliant saves, but he is equally capable of allowing deflating goals.
2011-12 Stats: 57 GP, 30-17-7, 2.72 GAA, .902 SV percentage
Crawford's unimpressive statistics are overshadowed only by his debilitating playoff performance against the Coyotes last spring.
The Blackhawks' rumored interest in Roberto Luongo, who plays for the hated Vancouver Canucks, is more than enough evidence that Chicago simply does not have faith in Crawford.
2011-12 Stats: 47 GP, 20-20-3, 2.67 GAA, .914 SV percentage
The Oilers have one of the most potent young offenses in the league, and their two-year, $7 million extension of Dubnyk indicates that the franchise is optimistic about where Dubnyk can take the team.
Still, defense and goaltending have been issues for Edmonton for years, and Dubnyk's lack of consistency prevents him from being a difference-making goaltender.
2011-12 Stats: 16 GP, 5-8-0, 2.42 GAA, .912 SV percentage
The acquisition of Anders Lindback was an important move for the Lightning, who appear to be building a solid back half to round out their potent offense.
Still, Lindback's NHL experience is limited and he has never been a starter in the big leagues. He has the potential to be brilliant, but in all likelihood he will need some time to adjust to a new role in a new city.
In a year, expect Lindback to be much higher on this list.
2011-12 Stats: 53 GP, 22-16-11, 2.46 GAA, .917 SV percentage
Jose Theodore is an enigma.
The former Hart Trophy winner, who will be 36 when the season begins, has struggled to string together multiple successful seasons in a row over the course of his career.
Theodore was honored as league MVP after posting a 2.11 GAA in 2001-02, only to follow the season up with a 2.90 GAA the next season.
With age quickly catching up to him, it's hard to imagine Theodore posting stellar numbers in 2012-13.
2011-12 Stats: 68 GP, 29-28-9, 2.91 GAA, .906 SV percentage
Ondrej Pavelec has struggled to break into the NHL. He barely posted a GAA below 3.00 in 2011-12, and while he will only be 25 when the season begins, it seems like Pavelec's opportunities to prove himself NHL-worthy are numbered.
He will need to have a breakout season this year, or the Jets will be obliged to turn elsewhere to protect the net.
2011-12 Stats: 59 GP, 33-16-7, 2.48 GAA, .909 SV percentage
Ilya Bryzgalov gets a bad rap in Philadelphia due to the vitriolic nature of the fan base and the outrageous nature of his contract, but while "Mr. Universe" wasn't as bad as your resident Flyers fan might insist, he still wasn't impressive at all.
Having had a year to adjust to the culture shock of moving to a hockey hotbed from hockey's deathbed, Bryzgalov will find fewer and fewer apologists in Philly if he cannot live up to his nine-year, $51 million deal this time around.
2011-12 Stats: 46 GP, 19-18-7, 2.43 GAA, .919 SV percentage
For many years, it appeared as though Niklas Backstrom was on the verge of becoming one of the elite goaltenders in hockey. Unfortunately, he seems to have lost the magic touch, and Backstrom has not been a difference-maker for the Wild in a few years.
The roster has been upgraded around him, but goaltending is no longer the crown jewel that it once was in the Xcel Energy Center.
2011-12 Stats: 42 GP, 19-18-3, 2.55 GAA, .914 SV percentage
Nabokov and the Islanders got off to a rocky start in 2010-11, but the former Shark is now committed to playing on Long Island and is still putting up solid numbers despite being 36 years old during 2011-12.
Few people expect Nabokov to take the Isles to the Promised Land this season, but he could prove to be valuable trade bait at the deadline if he keeps performing at a high level in the first half of the season.
2011-12 Stats: 59 GP, 31-21-4, 2.41 GAA, .908 SV percentage
It's hard to rank one of the greatest goaltenders of all time this low, but the fact is that Martin Brodeur is years removed from his prime and no longer gives the Devils an automatic trip to the playoffs.
Nonetheless, as he proved in the 2012 run to the Stanley Cup Final, Marty has not forgotten how to play when it counts. If you must have a 40-year-old netminder on your team, Brodeur is your guy.
2011-12 Stats: 68 GP, 34-22-9, 2.42 GAA, .915 SV percentage
For a Stanley Cup champion, Antti Niemi has trouble inspiring confidence in his teammates.
He was released by the Blackhawks less than two months after winning the Stanley Cup, and while he has put up decent numbers in San Jose, Niemi has done little to show that he can get the Sharks over their well-documented playoff hump.
This could be the year that Niemi makes the leap to becoming an elite goaltender, but it could also be the year that backup Thomas Greiss steals the starting role from Niemi.
2011-12 Stats: 7 GP, 4-2-1, 2.49 GAA, .922 SV percentage
Braden Holtby's 2011-12 regular-season stats offer little to impress the casual hockey fan. However, Holtby posted a 1.95 GAA and .935 SV percentage in the 2012 playoffs, playing against the defending champion Boston Bruins and the Eastern Conference's best team, the New York Rangers.
Holtby will have to post impressive numbers over the course of an 82-game season in order to be taken seriously, but he burst onto the scene when it mattered most and has given Capitals fans a new reason to be excited.
2011-12 Stats: 73 GP, 29-30-12, 2.57 GAA, .910 SV percentage
Jonas Hiller posted the lowest SV percentage and second-highest GAA of his career in 2011-12, which serves as cause for concern for Ducks fans.
Hiller is only 30 years old and could easily rebound this season, but his personal struggles seem magnified on a team that underachieved over the course of the regular season. Perhaps if Hiller plays like a new man, the team will see renewed success.
If not, the Ducks will have a hard time staying afloat in the competitive Pacific Division.
2011-12 Stats: 53 GP, 26-24-3, 2.59 GAA, .913 SV percentage
Varlamov put up average numbers in his first season as a member of the Avalanche. He fits right into Colorado's plans, being an up-and-comer poised to develop with a youthful Colorado team in the coming seasons.
Varlamov is yet to prove that he is capable of catapulting a team to Stanley Cup status, but at age 24, he gives the Avs something to build around. Expect Varlamov and the whole Avalanche squad to get better and better each season.
2011-12 Stats: 68 GP, 30-23-13, 2.74 GAA, .915 SV percentage
Ward's GAA and SV percentage were the worst he's put up since 2006-07, but his importance to the Hurricanes is undeniable.
Ward has started an astounding 68 games or more in five of has last six seasons, with the lone exception being his injury-shortened 2009-10 campaign. He also consistently put up winning records until last year's 30-23-13 numbers, which are still impressive given Carolina's "rebuilding" status.
With the team around him improving, look for Ward to return to form in 2012-13.
2011-12 Stats: 63 GP, 33-22-6, 2.84 GAA, .914 SV percentage
Craig Anderson's regular season numbers give little reason to believe that he can take the Sens to a Northeast Division title, but his playoff performance was nothing short of inspiring.
Anderson took on the best of the best in Henrik Lundqvist and the eighth-ranked Senators took the Rangers all the way to a decisive seventh game. Anderson posted a 2.00 GAA and .933 SV percentage for the series against one of the best squads in hockey.
Ottawa looks poised to improve this season, and Anderson will prove to be a steady presence in net.
2011-12 Stats: 23 GP, 11-8-3, 2.05 GAA, .929 SV percentage
The absence of Tim Thomas could either hurt (think: record breaking 2010-11 season) or help (think: one political controversy after another) the Bruins, but regardless of Thomas's status, Tuukka Rask is the right man to take the reins.
Rask has already served time as an NHL starter. His 2009-10 stat line reads 45 GP, 22-12-5, 1.97 GAA, .931 SV percentage. His backup status for the past two seasons is solely due to Thomas's ridiculous performances.
Now that the starting job in Beantown belongs to Rask, he is finally ready to prove he is one of hockey's best. Let's just hope the time on the bench didn't create any rust.
2011-12 Stats: 65 GP, 26-28-11, 2.43 GAA, .916 SV percentage
It's hard to believe Carey Price is not yet 25 years old.
Price has been the starter in hockey's toughest city for five years already, and while Montreal may struggle to stay out of the basement of the Northeast Division next season, Price represents the team's one bright spot.
He signed a six-year, $39 million contract at the beginning of July to stay in French Canada. Price has already displayed mental and physical toughness, making him the perfect figure for hockey's most legendary franchise to build around.
2011-12 Stats: 70 GP, 35-22-11, 2.35 GAA, .921 SV percentage
Despite being one of hockey's best goaltenders, Miikka Kiprusoff's 2011-12 season managed to fly under the radar in the wake of an underwhelming year for the Calgary Flames.
Much of the focus seemed to be centered on the uncertain futures of Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, but Kiprusoff put up the league's seventh-best GAA and SV percentage among starters in the league.
Kiprusoff will be 36 in October and the Flames are still trying to rebuild their squad, but few teams have a more reliable netminder than Calgary.
2011-12 Stats: 61 GP, 31-21-7, 2.55 GAA, .916 SV percentage
While Ryan Miller's stats pale in comparison to his own Olympic figures from Team USA's 2010 silver medal performance, he is nonetheless a consistently imposing figure in the Buffalo net.
With capable backup Jhonas Enroth breathing down his neck, Miller has put up favorable numbers on a shaky Sabres team.
Buffalo fans have their fingers crossed that Miller can string together an especially successful 2012-13 campaign to boost the Sabres to the playoffs. The team surrounding him is not quite strong enough to make a playoff run without their world-class netminder playing his best.
2011-12 Stats: 59 GP, 32-22-4, 2.33 GAA, .922 SV percentage
2011-12 was a coming-out party for Kari Lehtonen, who posted career-best numbers in GAA and SV percentage despite playing for a struggling Dallas squad.
Dallas's underperformance, combined with the lack of hockey tradition in the city led Lehtonen to quietly have the best season of his life. His statistics put him among fellow Finnish goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Miikka Kiprusoff.
If the Stars can string together a successful season and Lehtonen continues to improve, it is not out of the question that he could be a dark horse candidate to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy.
2011-12 Stats: 33 GP, 20-8-1, 1.96 GAA, .937 SV percentage
Cory Schneider's slow, yet steady rise to stardom can be explained in a few numbers.
2.24 and .928: Schneider's GAA and SV percentage, which have made him one of hockey's most talked-about backups for the last three years.
$5.3 million: Roberto Luongo's average annual salary, which has made it nearly impossible for Vancouver to relegate Luongo to the bench in favor of Schneider.
No.1: Schneider's new position on the depth chart, if Alain Vigneault's postseason decisions are any indication.
2011-12 Stats: 67 GP, 42-17-4, 2.36 GAA, .913 SV percentage
Penguins fans will hope to chalk up Fleury's abysmal playoff performance as a freak accident, and they're probably right.
Fleury's 42 wins, no easy feat when a team plays most of its season without its best player, put him second in the league last year, behind only Pekka Rinne.
The temporary fragility that Fleury showed in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers will be long forgotten once he continues to prove how strong he can be over the course of the 2012-13 season.
2011-12 Stats: 46 GP, 26-12-7, 1.97 GAA, .926 SV percentage
Some might say that Halak's 2011-12 numbers are inflated due to the time he shared with his impressive "backup," Brian Elliott. Nonetheless, there is no denying the defensive dominance shown by the Blues last season, and Halak was the biggest reason for St. Louis' success.
Halak saw limited action in the playoffs due to an injury, but the Slovakian sensation will be pack in the pads to start 2012-13. Assuming he can continue to perform as one of the top goalies in the league, the Blues will be a very scary team.
2011-12 Stats: 57 GP, 35-17-4, 2.13 GAA, .920 SV percentage
The Detroit Red Wings are undoubtedly lamenting the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, the loss of Brad Stuart and the failure to sign Ryan Suter. These things have collectively left the Red Wing blue line lacking.
However, Wings fans shouldn't feel too bad, considering the dominant presence they find in the goal crease.
Jimmy Howard posted a career-low 2.13 GAA last season despite playing in the most competitive division in hockey. Howard has had the difficult task of following in the footsteps of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, but if he keeps playing the way he has the past three seasons, he'll find his name on the Stanley Cup right alongside his predecessors'.
2011-12 Stats: 67 GP, 38-18-10, 2.21 GAA, .930 SV percentage
Maybe he just enjoys the desert sunset, but for whatever reason, Mike Smith is thriving in Phoenix.
The on-again off-again career backup, who played less-than-significant seasons for the Stars and Lightning before arriving in Glendale last season, found himself an outside candidate to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy after posting ridiculous regular season numbers.
Most hockey fans expected to see Smith fizzle in the postseason, but he racked up nine wins in three rounds and posted a sub-2.00 GAA, taking the Coyotes all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
It's possible that Smith just got lucky, but as long as the state of Arizona has a hockey team, they can be thankful Mike Smith is on it.
2011-12 Stats: 73 GP, 43-18-8, 2.39 GAA, .923 SV percentage
Last year, no goaltender played more games than Pekka Rinne, and no goaltender managed to seal as many wins as Pekka Rinne.
He signed a seven-year extension in November, earning him $7 million per year through the 2018-19 season.
Rinne has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy two years in a row, he has a career SV percentage of .916 percent and he is still only 29 years old. The Predators may still be trying to put together a championship squad on offense, but between Rinne and defenseman Shea Weber, the Preds have it all in the defensive zone.
2011-12 Stats: 69 GP, 35-21-13, 1.95 GAA, .929 SV percentage
At 26 years old, Jonathan Quick can already put "Conn Smythe Trophy Winner" and "Stanley Cup Champion" on his resume. The Connecticut native took the NHL by storm this spring, posting a ridiculous 1.41 GAA and .946 SV percentage during the Kings' miraculous playoff run.
Naturally, he followed up that performance by signing a 10-year, $58 million contract extension to remain a King through 2022-23.
With Quick in net, the Kings can expect to see a few more Stanley Cups in the next ten years. They just can't expect to hear themselves referred to as "underdogs" anymore.
2011-12 Stats: 62 GP, 39-18-5, 1.97 GAA, .930 SV percentage.
2011-12's Vezina Trophy winner remains the most outstanding goaltender in the league going into 2012-13.
Henrik Lundqvist hasn't had a SV percentage below .920 percent since 2008-09, and he is poised to break the 40-win plateau this season as he is surrounded by one of the best all-around teams in hockey.
Lundqvist has been nominated for four Vezina Trophies and a Hart Trophy, leaving the Stanley Cup as the only major piece of hardware he hasn't come close to yet.
That could all change by next June, because Lundqvist looks poised to lead the most dangerous Rangers team in years to the Stanley Cup Final.