Ranking the Top 10 Relief Goalies in the NHL Today

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor INovember 14, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Relief Goalies in the NHL Today

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    Josh Harding is one of those rare goalies known to be able to come into a game cold and play at his best. Today we'll look at the ten goalies who have had the most success when coming into a game in relief.

    There actually isn't a lot of data to go on. Short of injury or exceptionally poor play by the starting goalie, the back-up is rarely expected to enter a game. Despite the advantage of mixing things up, or in giving a goalie a break and a new perspective, starting goalies finish their games 93 percent of the time.

    That's why we had to go all the way back to 2007-08 to find as many active goalies as possible that have at least ten relief appearances. With only a few exceptions, these goalies are well-traveled and easily available to acquire at any time, but may actually possess a skill that could be worth several points a season.

    Make any guesses about who might be included, and read on.

     

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted. 

10. Anders Lindback, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Relief Appearances: 13

    Goals Against Average: 2.23

    Save Percentage: .912

     

    Tampa Bay acquired 6'6" Swedish giant Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators in the 2012 offseason along with Kyle Wilson and a 7th rounder for Sebastien Caron and a handful of picks (two second rounders and a third rounder).

    As a starter, Lindback has been serviceable at best, although he has been trusted against top opponents this year. Of his four starts, two were against Boston and one against Pittsburgh.

    His one relief appearance this season was in another game against Boston, where he replaced Ben Bishop halfway through the second period and allowed only one goal in the remaining 24 minutes of what was ultimately a 5-0 loss.

     

     

     

9. Jose Theodore, Free Agent

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    Relief Appearances: 13

    Goals Against Average: 2.15

    Save Percentage: .912

     

    Coming off a brutal year in Florida, 37-year-old free agent Jose Theodore's career may be winding down to a close. If there's value to be had, it's as a reliable veteran backup. Even in his disappointing last season as a Panther, his one relief appearance was blanking Buffalo for 48 minutes to transform a 3-0 deficit into a shootout single point loss.

    Theodore established himself early in his career. He was highly decorated in the QMJHL, and then won the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002 with the Montreal Canadiens. Since then he's played for Colorado, Washington, Minnesota and Florida. He may yet land on a sixth team before season's end.

     

8. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche

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    Relief Appearances: 19

    Goals Against Average: 2.41

    Save Percentage: .915

     

    Jean-Sebastien Giguere was drafted 13th overall by Hartford in 1995, and is the last active player to don the Whalers uniform. Since then, the 2003 Conn Smythe winner has played for Calgary, Anaheim, Toronto and now Colorado, where he signed as a free agent in 2011, and where he was extended in August 2012 for the bargain price of $1.5 million.

    The 36-year-old veteran has no relief appearances this year, but shut out opponents in three of four relief appearances last year, while allowing just one goal on 16 shots in the other.

    Giguere is a free agent at the end of this season, and his red hot play should attract some great offers should it continue.

     

     

     

     

7. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Relief Appearances: 10

    Goals Against Average: 1.95

    Save Percentage: .920

     

    Pekka Rinne was arguably the league's best goaltender from 2010-11 to 2011-12, earning back-to-back Vezina finalist recognition, and even finishing fourth in Hart trophy voting in 2011. He was actually starting to really come to life again this year when he got hit with a hip injury that will keep him out of action for a month or two.

    A star goalie like Rinne obviously doesn't get a lot of opportunities to enter a game in relief, but does very well whenever he does. The 6'5" Finn shut out Colorado for 24 minutes in his lone relief appearance last year.

    Rinne is currently the league's highest paid goalie, tied with Jonathan Quick at $7.0 million, and is locked down by the Preds through the end of the 2018-19 season.

     

     

6. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    Relief Appearances: 12

    Goals Against Average: 1.91

    Save Percentage: .927

     

    Originally a first-round draft choice by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005, the Boston Bruins acquired Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft. Since then, Rask has posted a save percentage of at least .927 in three of his four seasons.

    The 26-year-old consequently signed an eight-year, $56 million dollar deal this offseason which will make him the highest paid goalie in the league, tied with Jonathan Quick and Finnish countryman Pekka Rinne.

    Though Rask is unlikely to yield too many starts to backup Chad Johnson, it's comforting for coach Claude Julien that he's able to come off the bench and play his best should Johnson get hurt or falter.

     

     

5. Jason LaBarbera, Edmonton Oilers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Relief Appearances: 23

    Goals Against Average: 2.08

    Save Percentage: .928

     

    Since 2007-08, only Mathieu Garon (27) has had more relief appearances than Jason LaBarbera, and only a few handled them as well.

    LaBarbera already has two relief appearances this year for Edmonton, a solid one against Vancouver and a tough one against Detroit, for a .912 save percentage overall.

    He had five relief appearances in Phoenix last year, shutting opponents out in three, and allowing just a single goal in the two others, while posting a .966 save percentage overall.

    With Ilya Bryzgalov coming to town, LaBarbera's days as Edmonton's backup is over. Drafted in 1998 by the New York Rangers, LaBarbera has played for Los Angeles, Vancouver, Phoenix and Edmonton.

    The 33-year-old had a great deal of success in the AHL and in his four years as a back up in Phoenix. His one year, $1.0 million dollar deal makes him an affordable value to any NHL team looking for a reliable back up who can come into a game cold.

     

     

4. Joey MacDonald, Calgary Flames

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    Relief Appearances: 16

    Goals Against Average: 1.91

    Save Percentage: .929

     

    The Calgary Flames recently replaced Joey MacDonald with Reto Berra, sending the 33-year-old veteran down to play with the AHL's Abbotsford Heat. It was in the AHL that MacDonald arguably had the most success about a decade ago with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

    Claimed by Calgary off waivers last February when Miikka Kiprusoff was injured, the undrafted MacDonald previously played with the Boston Bruins, the New York Islanders (where he was a starter), the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.

    MacDonald made four relief appearances last year, posting a .902 save percentage. It remains to be seen if the Flames will make use of MacDonald again later this year, or if there might be interest elsewhere in the NHL for the veteran backup goalie.

     

     

     

     

3. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

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    Relief Appearances: 13

    Goals Against Average: 1.79

    Save Percentage: .931

     

    Only by playing with Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur, two of the most accomplished goalies of his time, can a goalie of Cory Schneider's abilities be left on the bench waiting to be called in.

    Schneider's last relief appearance was actually back in 2011-12 with the Vancouver Canucks when he had five, stopping 55 of 56 shots for a .982 save percentage.

    In a shocking move at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Schneider was dealt to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth overall selection (Bo Horvat). The 27-year-old missed a few games with a lower body injury this year, but is otherwise considered their first new number one goalie since Chris Terreri 20 years ago.

    Schneider is a highly consistent goalie who has posted a save percentage of .927 or higher in each of the past three seasons. It's quite a feat that his save percentage in relief is even higher.

     

     

     

     

     

2. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Relief Appearances: 21

    Goals Against Average: 1.86

    Save Percentage: .933

     

    The great Josh Harding. The original inspiration of our analysis into relief goaltending almost five years ago already has three relief appearances this year despite starting all but seven of Minnesota's games. During which time, he has posted a .957 save percentage. Obviously coach Mike Yeo is well aware of Harding's rare talent.

    Harding was highly decorated in the WHL, which was followed by tremendous success in the AHL, but his NHL career was briefly derailed first by an ACL injury and then news of Multiple Sclerosis in late 2012. He was awarded last year's Bill Masterton trophy for his tenacity in battling back through that adversity.

    The 29-year-old's talents are needed more than ever with the recent injury to Niklas Backstrom after a collision with Toronto's Nazem Kadri.

     

     

     

     

1. Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Relief Appearances: 11

    Goals Against Average: 1.27

    Save Percentage: .952

     

    One of the most underrated and underpaid goalies of the past decade, Tomas Vokoun is a man of considerable talent and accomplishment. The 37-year-old Czech has had an above-average save percentage every year since the lockout, during which time he ranks fourth overall.

    Vokoun had three relief appearances last year, and was a perfect 33 for 33. This is just one of the many advantages to having a goalie like Vokoun on the roster.

    Unfortunately, Vokoun is out long-term with a blood clot in his pelvis. It's a big blow for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been struggling with Jeff Zatkoff as the back up in his stead.

     

     

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.