Teams aren't going to make it very far in the NHL without a solid goaltender. It's not rocket surgery—teams that win the Stanley Cup do it on the back of great netminding, not by scoring an average of five goals per game.
A shaky tandem in net can spell the downfall of an otherwise promising team (Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets prior to Sergei Bobrovsky, Toronto Maple Leafs before James Reimer, etc.), while an outstanding stopper can help aid an average lineup to the conference finals and beyond.
While reading this list, keep in mind that goalies who aren't currently in timeshares were given the nod over backstops who will be splitting time in 2013-14. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but it stands, in general, that all three of Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen can't be (and aren't) here.
We tried to give players the benefit of the doubt and not bury them just for having to further prove themselves, but we typically gave the nod to established veterans over guys who just broke through in 2013.
One offseason doesn't suddenly make a once-elite goaltender cannon fodder, either.
All statistics appear courtesy of Hockeydb.com unless otherwise noted.
25. Evgeni Nabokov - New York Islanders: He got his team into the playoffs in 2013, which is more than a lot of goaltenders can say about their level of play. He's old (38) and might not have a lot of hockey left in the tank, but his solid if unspectacular play is just as important to the Islanders' success as John Tavares at this point.
24. Ondrej Pavelec - Winnipeg Jets: Two seasons have gone by since Winnipeg officially revived the Jets, and the honeymoon period is officially over. Fans want to see this team in the playoffs in 2013-14, and whether or not they make it rests squarely on the back of the steadily improving Pavelec.
23. Jaroslav Halak - St. Louis Blues: Halak is here as a representative of the system that is played in St. Louis. Ken Hitchcock has always coached goaltender-friendly systems, so it doesn't really seem to matter who mans the net for him. Whether it's Halak, Brian Elliott or Jake Allen, they all have had success.
22. Martin Brodeur - New Jersey Devils: We aren't the sentimental type here at Bleacher Report, but we just didn't have the collective heart to drop the all-time great from the list entirely. Brodeur is biding his time until Cory Schneider takes the crease over completely, but as long as he's still lacing up the skates, Marty will be a top-25 goaltender in the NHL.
21. Niklas Backstrom - Minnesota Wild: Health is always a concern for the Wild's enigmatic backstop. A surprisingly healthy regular season in 2013 quickly fell apart when Backstrom went down during warm-ups of Game 1 in the first round. Minnesota didn't have the horses to recover and were bounced convincingly. Make no mistake, though: A healthy Backstrom is just as important to Minnesota's success as any other player on the roster.
20. Marc-Andre Fleury - Pittsburgh Penguins: Getting dropped all the way to No. 20 may seem like a severe punishment for Fleury, but he is a certifiable headcase at this point. There's been nothing clutch about his play in recent years, and he is the only thing that is preventing the Penguins from going all-out dynasty. Pittsburgh had Stanley Cup written all over the roster in 2013. That is, until Fleury fell apart at the seams. Again.
19. James Reimer - Toronto Maple Leafs: You'll notice that Reimer is on this list while Jonathan Bernier is not. That's because one has already proven himself capable of leading a team to the playoffs while one is just potentially a starter. We don't share Toronto's inexplicable mistrust of Reimer as the top goaltender for the Leafs and think he's poised for a big "prove it" season.
18. Kari Lehtonen - Dallas Stars: Like a younger version of Niklas Backstrom, Lehtonen is outstanding when he's healthy and in the zone. Unfortunately, the former No. 2 overall selection hasn't made it through many long stretches of time without landing on the injured reserved list. Lindy Ruff tends to lean heavily on top-end goaltenders, though, so we could see an impressive push out of Lehtonen this season.
17. Ryan Miller - Buffalo Sabres: There was a time not too long ago when Miller was one of the top five goalies in the NHL. He seemed to carry the Buffalo Sabres on his back and always found a way to keep his squad in hockey games. We believe that goalie still resides inside of Miller's head somewhere, and an Olympic year could be just what it takes to reawaken him.
16. Braden Holtby - Washington Capitals: A larger sample size of performances equal to 2013 would propel Holtby further up this list. As it stands right now, the 24-year-old is one of the more promising young 'tenders in the game, and a strong 2013-14 could see him jump all the way into the top 10.
15. Cory Schneider - New Jersey Devils: The Devils received quite the bargain when they picked up Schneider for the ninth overall selection in the 2013 draft. Starting goaltenders don't fall into your lap all that often, but New Jersey isn't going to complain. It no longer has to worry about life after Brodeur, and the team seems to be in good hands moving forward.
14. Cam Ward - Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes will only go as far as Ward takes them. The team fell off the table entirely when the work horse went down with injury in 2013, and his return to form this year is of paramount importance to Carolina's playoff aspirations.
13. Jonas Hiller - Anaheim Ducks: Showing occasional flashes of brilliance lands Hiller this high. While he'll need to fight off Viktor Fasth for starts this season, we still like his overall chances of maintaining the lion's share of playing time through a full-length 82-game season.
12. Mike Smith - Phoenix Coyotes: It hasn't been very often that the Coyotes have been able to reach out and acquire a player of Smith's caliber. Whether it's Dave Tippett's system or not is moot at this point—Smith has done everything that Phoenix has asked of him and then some, and he'll be the backbone of this team for the next half-decade after signing an extension this summer.
11. Carey Price - Montreal Canadiens: Another headcase along the same lines as Marc-Andre Fleury, we're willing to give Price the benefit of the doubt for one more season before sinking him as an unreliable playoff netminder. He started off the 2013 campaign at a scorching pace, then fell off in a big way as the games gained importance. If he can flip that trend, he could become one of the league's best.
10. Craig Anderson - Ottawa Senators: If Anderson had maintained his ridiculous .941 save percentage and 1.69 goals-against average through more than 24 games in 2013, it's likely he would have challenged for the Vezina. Injury derailed his sparkling season, however, yet an equally strong 2013-14 will thrust Anderson even higher up this list.
9. Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks: Nothing has changed since the days of Luongo being a top goaltender in the NHL. The Canucks handled his situation poorly, and coming to work every day only to have the media ask you why you're so awful can't be good on the psyche. This team is in his hands now, though, and we're bullish on his chances to dominate once more.
8. Jimmy Howard - Detroit Red Wings: As the star power on Detroit's blue line has dwindled, respect for Howard as one of the NHL's top netminders has increased. Gone are the days of the incubator that was the star-laden defense pairings for the Wings. Howard earns his paycheck on a nightly basis now and hasn't disappointed one bit as his importance to the team's success has increased.
7. Corey Crawford - Chicago Blackhawks: It's tough to call Crawford unproven at this point. He's played 144 games over the last three seasons and has been the bona fide started for the 'Hawks in two of them. With a shiny Stanley Cup ring to show for his stellar truncated 2013 campaign, an outstanding 2013-14 will hush all of Crawford's detractors for good.
6. Pekka Rinne - Nashville Predators: This is where the truly elite netminders begin. The guys that can not only take over single games but hone in for months at a time while pushing their teams to new heights. Rinne didn't have any scoring help to speak of in 2013, yet he still reeled off 15 wins while maintaining respectable numbers. The Predators know how to play without Ryan Suter now and will be better in 2013-14, benefiting Rinne with more goal support and help in front of him.
5. Sergei Bobrovsky - Columbus Blue Jackets: A Vezina is a Vezina. In 2013, Bobrovsky was the best goaltender in all of hockey. As such, he receives an automatic top-five nod until he either proves that the year wasn't a fluke or goes the same way as Steve Mason. Our money is on Bob establishing himself as a top-tier netminder for good in 2013-14. There's too much (money) at stake, and the Jackets are improving too quickly for Bobrovsky to fall victim to a suddenly shoddy defense or a lack of goal scoring.
4. Tuuka Rask - Boston Bruins: Money talks, and the Bruins did a whole lot of yapping for Rask over the summer. He'll be the backstop for the foreseeable future after inking an eight-year extension, and that isn't a bad thing for the B's. Rask has been money since 2009-10 and made fans forget all about Tim Thomas.
3. Antti Niemi - San Jose Sharks: If Niemi was playing in Canada or in the Northeastern United States, he'd frequently be hailed as one of the top goaltenders around. Instead, he quietly plies his trade in San Jose, where the likes of ESPN and TSN hardly ever wander. Make no mistake about it, though: The 30-year-old Fin is capable of leading a team to the Stanley Cup, and he has already proven as much as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
2. Jonathan Quick - Los Angeles Kings: Flip a coin between Quick and Lundqvist. On any given night, one of them will be the best goalie in the world with the other one holding up the rear. There may not be a better money goalie than Quick in the NHL right now, and the fact that some pundits thought his 2013 campaign was subpar should tell you how high expectations are for the King-chaser.
1. Henrik Lundqvist - New York Rangers: King Henrik will be the unanimous No. 1 goaltender in the NHL until someone plays better than him for a few years running (good luck) or his game goes to hell (not going to happen). Some feel that his numbers will suffer without John Tortorella's troops diving headlong into shots and sacrificing the body, but we aren't holding our breath.