Goaltenders with the Most to Prove in the 2013-14 NHL Season
Goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick are household names known for their skill, but other netminders such as Sergei Bobrovsky, Evgeni Nabokov, Steve Mason and Semyon Varlamov have a lot to prove this season.
It isn't a negative connotation or a dark mark against their records, but these netminders have something to prove to fans, critics, management and coaches.
Some need to prove that they are more than a one-hit wonder, and others have to prove their worth as an NHL starter. Each goaltender enters the season with something to prove, but here is one man's opinion of the goaltenders with the most to prove this season.
Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders
What Nabokov Needs To Prove: He Can Be Effective For An Entire Season
2012-13 was a renaissance year for the goaltender who wanted no part of the New York Islanders in 2011.
For those who don't remember; Evgeni Nabokov had left the NHL and was signed by the Detroit Red Wings from Europe. The CBA states that players returning from Europe are subject to waivers, and when the Islanders claimed Nabokov, he failed to report.
Something changed, and the Islanders reaped the benefits. In 83 games with the Islanders, Nabokov has posted a 42-29-10 record with a GAA of 2.52 and a .912 save percentage. The numbers are great for a veteran netminder, but Nabokov is 38 years old.
In the two years on Long Island, Nabokov has only played half a season each year. Last year was a shortened season in which the Islanders made the playoffs, and Nabokov wasn't rested enough for the playoffs. But what happens this year?
It will be a full season, and the Islanders are now in a tougher division that will include the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes.
Can the 38-year-old netminder hold on for a full season, and what will he have left in the tank if the Isles make the playoffs?
Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers
What Mason Needs To Prove: He Can Still Be An NHL Starter
Steve Mason had a great rookie year in 2008-09, and was the league's Calder Trophy recipient as top rookie. Since then, it has been a bumpy road for Mason, and this season he will need to show that he can still be an NHL starter.
In seven games with the Flyers last season, Mason went 4-2-0 with a 1.90 goals against average. He looked to be in the zone and comfortable with the Flyers, but management still isn't confident that he can be the guy.
The Flyers signed Ray Emery this summer to be a backup, but the 2013 Stanley Cup champion could take over for Mason if he falters. Emery had an amazing season with the Chicago Blackhawks and has experience as a starter.
Mason was signed to a one-year tryout contract, and if he doesn't play well he may find himself out of a job at the NHL level next season.
Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers
What Dubnyk Needs To Prove: He Belongs On The Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers finally mean business. They have their coach, they have their general manager and they have a roster that should be able to contend. But do they have their goaltender?
Devan Dubnyk is 27 years old, and this is the make or break year for the hulking netminder. The 6'5", 210-pound backstop hasn't had a great NHL career to date, and this year he needs to prove that he belongs on the team.
Dubnyk hasn't had a legitimate backup or a hot prospect contending for his job, so he has been the de facto starter.
It is fair to say that 2012-13 was a step forward, but this year he needs to kick it up a notch. Maybe Dallas Eakins has a plan to help Dubnyk get better, but as of right now, there is a lot riding on this season for the Oilers' starter.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets
What Pavelec Needs To Prove: He Can Lead To Winnipeg Jets to Playoffs
Winnipeg Jets fans have come to terms with the fact that Pavelec is not an elite goaltender. He makes just under $4.0 million a year, and he hasn't proven that he is worth his contract yet.
The Jets have a lot of money invested in their young core, and if Pavelec falters this season, they could consider making a goaltending change. Some could say Pavelec has not had a lot to work with, but it is his job to steal enough games for the Jets to succeed.
This season Pavelec will need to prove he can be a goalie that can take his team to the playoffs, and up to this point, he hasn't been anything special.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
What Varlamov Needs To Prove: He Is Right Guy For the Avalanche
This is a make or break year for Semyon Varlamov. Patrick Roy is now the head coach, and according to Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post, Varlamov could be out of a job at the end of the season.
The Avalanche are set to boast a roster with tremendous offensive depth and a respectable defense group. But when it comes to goaltending, it gets a little fuzzy.
Year one with the Avs was decent for the Russian netminder, but year two was an abomination.
26-24-3 | 2.59 GAA
11-21-3 | 3.02 GAA
It is fair to say that Varlamov was hung out to dry on more than one occasion, but sometimes goaltenders need to rise above adversity.
If Varlamov doesn't prove he is the right guy for the Avs, it would only make sense for Roy to pick a goaltender that will get the job done. With Roy behind the bench and acting as the pseudo general manager, things could get very interesting in Colorado this season, because he knows what it takes to win.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
What Lehtonen Needs to Prove: He Can Stay Healthy And Be An Elite Goalie
Kari Lehtonen has shown promise throughout his career, but nagging injuries have held him back recently. Multiple back and groin injuries have sidelined the Dallas Stars netminder, and the wear and tear has been very taxing on the Stars goaltender.
Before the lockout, the Stars re-signed Lehtonen to a five-year extension just under $30 million, and this season he will need to prove he was worth the contract.
There is no question that the potential is there, but can Lehtonen be an elite goalie who leads his team to the playoffs?
A quick glance at Lehtonen's stats show that he is a pretty good goalie who can. He has recorded two 30-win seasons and has had an average goals-against average. At 29, Lehtonen is still in his prime, and he has a couple of great years left in him.
The Stars improved their roster this summer, and there is no reason why Lehtonen shouldn't be able to lead them to the playoffs.
James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs
What Reimer Needs to Prove: He Is the Leafs' Legitimate Starter
This isn't a dig at Reimer or an indictment of his game. It is the statement of a fact, because general manager Dave Nonis doesn't know if he is the guy to build his team around.
The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired career backup Jonathan Bernier to compete for the starting job with Reimer, and now the Leafs' starter is in a sink or swim position.
It is curious that Nonis felt the need to add another goaltender to the mix when Reimer made tangible progress this season. The main reason he played well and progressed was because he remained healthy.
He wasn't ailed by concussions, so he developed a rhythm. It is laughable that Reimer took his team to the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 lockout, and he was rewarded with less job security. Maybe the thinking is that Bernier will motivate Reimer, but "Optimus Reim" doesn't need to be motivated.
He strung together three strong performances in a row in the playoffs, and would have had a chance to play on if his team finished in Game 7.
Reimer is a very good young netminder who could be top 15 or even top 10, but this season he needs to prove to management that he really is their guy. He shouldn't have to do it, but this is the situation he was put in by Mr. Nonis.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
What Bobrovsky Needs to Prove: 2012-13 Wasn't a Fluke
Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2012-13, but he needs to prove that last season wasn't a one-hit wonder like Dexys Midnight Runners.
The stylish Russian had good numbers in Philadelphia, but they were never sustained over an entire season. This year Bob will have to do that, and prove to general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen that he deserves a longer contract.
Bobrovsky signed a two-year extension worth $5.5 million a year this summer, and it was a smart contract for both sides. Last year was only his first as a starter, and it was also a truncated season.
The Blue Jackets want to make sure he is the real deal before they make him their franchise goaltender, and he will have a chance to showcase his abilities in 2013-14.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
What Fleury Needs to Prove: He Can Be Depended On
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Marc-Andre Fleury was once among the top netminders in the NHL, but his stock has dropped massively over the past few seasons.
Although Fleury has had his share of success in the regular season, he has been one of the worst playoff goaltenders in recent years.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a star-studded roster that should be able to make the Stanley Cup Final every year, but they can't solve their goaltending issues.
The Philadelphia Flyers have similar crease calamities; so maybe it is just a Pennsylvania thing, but I digress.
The 2013-14 season represents the second-to-last year on MAF's contract. The end of the season also is the last year to use a compliance buyout. This year will be a tryout to prove that Fleury can be the guy, because if he can't be the guy he will surely bought out.
Why you may ask? Well there is a certain swarthy Swede that will be a free agent, and it is hard to imagine that he would turn down a chance to play with two of the world's best players.