Breaking Down the Most Intriguing Goaltender Battles in the NHL

Ryan DavenportContributor IAugust 16, 2013

Breaking Down the Most Intriguing Goaltender Battles in the NHL

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    In the National Hockey League, goaltenders have to consistently prove themselves in order to maintain their jobs, which is why their performances during the early stages of a season can truly determine whether they remain with their current teams. 

    As is the case every year, a number of teams will enter the season with a degree of uncertainty between the pipes, as both coaches and executives attempt to identify which goaltender will be the No. 1 guy in net for their respective clubs. 

    We've seen more than a handful of goaltending controversies in the last few seasons, including some featuring star-caliber netminders in Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Tuukka Rask, and as things stand now, this year shouldn't be any different. 

    With NHL training camps set to open in less than a month's time, here's a look at the most intriguing goaltending battles around the league. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    So much for the James Reimer era in Toronto. 

    Early in the summer, Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis made waves by bringing in Los Angeles' then-disgruntled backup, Jonathan Bernier, who has long been thought to be one of the game's most promising young stoppers. 

    The Bernier trade went down just two years after Toronto re-signed Reimer to a three-year deal, presumably to be the franchise's starting goaltender for the time being, but it seems that the team's confidence in the 25-year-old is waning. 

    In Bernier, the Leafs are getting an immensely talented goalie who has patiently waited behind Jonathan Quick for his turn to shine, so one has to think that the Quebec native will seize the opportunity to start. 

    Verdict: Bernier will start. Though it's worth noting that the Kings are without question one of the league's best teams, the 25-year-old posted a sparkling 9-3-1 record last season, and even if Reimer has a good training camp, Bernier was brought in to be the No. 1 guy in the most pressure-packed market in the hockey world. 

Philadelphia Flyers

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    So, to recap, the Philadelphia Flyers have bought out onetime franchise goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, traded for former Calder Trophy-winner Steve Mason and signed former starter Ray Emery over the course of the last 26 months. 

    In other words, the Flyers' everlasting goaltending troubles don't seem to be going away anytime soon, especially given that both goalies vying for the starting job were relegated to backup duty last season. 

    In Mason, the Flyers have a guy who was once considered to be a blue-chipper and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy during his rookie season in Columbus. Unfortunately, since then, Mason has struggled to maintain his confidence, and that's why the Blue Jackets sent the 25-year-old packing last season. 

    The team's other option is Ray Emery, who was a solid No. 2 in Chicago (which is why he earned a share of the 2013 Jennings Trophy), but given that he hasn't been a full-time starter in three years, it's tough to say if he's still got what it takes to carry the mail in Philadelphia. 

    Verdict: They'll split until one truly outshines the other. Though either is capable of doing so, Emery has been more consistent in recent years, so my money's on him to secure the starting job, eventually. 

New Jersey Devils

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    In the eyes of most NHL executives, the New Jersey Devils have a rather enviable dilemma to deal with, at least in terms of talent in between the pipes. 

    That's because Lou Lamoriello has two of the game's best goaltenders to choose from, as he has arguably the best stopper ever in Martin Brodeur, as well as up-and-coming American 'tender Cory Schneider (who was acquired in exchange for a first-rounder for just over a month ago). 

    For now, Brodeur has to be considered the favorite, because, quite simply, the 41-year-old has delivered three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies during his time in the Meadowlands, so until he falters, the No. 1 job is his. 

    That being said, Brodeur's age speaks for itself, so as soon as the two-time Olympic champion begins to struggle (which he did at times last season), the starting job will be up for grabs. 

    Verdict: Schneider. This is from a long-term perspective, because obviously no coach or executive would kick the winningest goaltender in NHL history to the curb without seeing what he has left in the tank. But Schneider is primed for stardom, and the Devils are one of the best fits for him to fulfill that prophecy. 

St. Louis Blues

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    Of all the teams on this list, the St. Louis Blues may have the least to worry about as far as goaltending goes, because the team has two guys who would each be starters on a number of other NHL teams. 

    But only one can mind the twine, so once again, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will be competing for time in net. 

    Luckily for the Blues, the tandem seems content with sharing the crease, but given that this is a team that's gunning to advance beyond Round 1 of the postseason, it's only logical that one gets the responsibility of carrying the team. 

    At this point, it's conceivable that either one is capable of leading the Blues on a deep playoff run. Halak demonstrated his mettle by carrying Montreal to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, and Elliot earned an All-Star Game nod a year ago, but when it comes to goaltenders, one is company and two's a crowd. 

    Verdict: As usual, the Blues will run a two-man operation in net. However, at least for now, Elliott's the front-runner, as he's played 14 postseason games in the last two years, while his Slovakian partner's only played two. 

Buffalo Sabres

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    On paper, this one isn't even close, as the Buffalo Sabres have the luxury of laying claim to one of the game's best stoppers in Ryan Miller. 

    However, general manager Darcy Regier has a difficult decision to make in regard to his former Vezina-winning goaltender, because Miller's contract expires in less than a year. 

    Though Regier has to figure out how to handle the future of sniper Thomas Vanek as well, Miller has to be the first item of business on his early-season agenda. 

    And as of now, it seems that for the first time in a while, Miller's not untouchable, according to Corey Masisak of NHL.com: 

    Two veterans who have not been traded are forward Thomas Vanek and goaltender Ryan Miller, and each is in the final year of his contract. Regier has been open about trading either or both if the right deal comes along.

    For Buffalo, the big reason why Miller's suddenly appearing to be expendable is the emergence of 25-year-old Jhonas Enroth, who has quickly become a highly regarded young stopper. 

    With Enroth, who is eight years Miller's junior, in the fold, the Sabres have the opportunity to shop the 2010 Olympic MVP and potentially acquire some pieces to help expedite the team's rebuilding process. 

    It doesn't hurt that Enroth is a matter of months removed from leading Sweden to a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships, earning All-Star team honors along the way. 

    Verdict: The net is Miller's until he's gone, but unless he signs an extension with the Sabres early in the year, he'll be strapping on the pads somewhere else come springtime. It's only a matter of time until Enroth has the crease all to himself.