Goaltenders Ready to Become Starters in the 2014-15 NHL Season
No single player has as much influence over a team's fate than the starting goalie, and no one's performance is more unpredictable either. A team that finds itself a capable low-cost option in nets creates a huge competitive advantage, much as Tampa Bay enjoyed with Ben Bishop last year. Who could be ready to step up in 2014-15?
A wide range of analytics was applied to every active goalie who has never been an NHL team's No. 1 goalie in order to answer that question. Technically that includes anyone who hasn't started at least 41 games in a season, which rules out goalies like Ray Emery. I used my judgment to rule out those right on the line since it's arguable that Karri Ramo and Eddie Lack are already starters.
Don't look for goalies like Cam Talbot, Alex Stalock and Philipp Grubauer, because there just isn't quite enough data for those tough cuts. Other goalies, like Justin Peters and Al Montoya, just haven't shown enough potential to crack into such a small collection of 10 goalies. Josh Harding was also left off because he's already a starter whenever he's capable of competing.
Remember that this is a top 10 list of who may be capable of being a starting goalie, not who actually will be. Some of these goalies find themselves behind a star goalie on the depth chart and are unlikely to get the opportunity, barring an injury or a trade. A great example is the very first goalie on this list, so let's begin.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.
10. Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings
Martin Jones has been one of the AHL's best starting goaltenders for four years, posting a .921 save percentage in 158 games for the Manchester Monarchs.
Before that the undrafted, 6'4" netminder won the Del Wilson Trophy as WHL goalie of the year in 2009-10. The goalie who succeeded him is coming up later in this list.
Even as a starter, Jones wouldn't have a great impact in Los Angeles, which is a great defensive team that could succeed with almost anyone, especially its star goalie Jonathan Quick.
That being said, the 24-year-old was brilliant in his 22 games with the Los Angeles Kings last year, winning his first eight games and posting a .934 save percentage and 1.81 goals against average overall.
Fourteen of his 18 starts were quality starts, four of which were shutouts.
Barring another injury, Jones obviously has no chance of stealing Los Angeles' starting goaltending duties from Quick, a former Conn Smythe winner with one of the league's longest and richest goalie contracts.
9. Viktor Fasth, Edmonton Oilers
A late bloomer, Viktor Fasth didn't make his high-level professional debut in the Swedish elite league until he was 28 years old in 2010-11.
Fasth had an immediate impact, finishing third in save percentage in back-to-back seasons while also winning the Honken Trophy as the Elitserien's goalie of the year. This is an award Henrik Lundqvist won three times before arriving in the NHL.
The undrafted goalie also won the Guldpucken as the league MVP in 2010-11, an award previously won by the likes of Peter Forsberg, the Sedins, Henrik Zetterberg and Lundqvist.
There's a wide range of possibilities for the 31-year-old Swede, who could perform at a level anywhere from the mediocre likes of Erik Ersberg and Jacob Markstrom all the way up to Lundqvist's stellar performances.
It's safest to assume that Fasth will land exactly halfway in-between, as roughly an average starting goalie. Exactly 60 percent of his 35 NHL starts have been quality starts, and his career .918 even strength save percentage is perfectly decent (but the lowest on this list).
Fortunately for Fasth, average NHL goaltending would be a welcome upgrade over what the Edmonton Oilers dealt with last season.
Fasth left a team with up to five legitimate NHL goalies to a team that was struggling to find even one.
He started seven of Edmonton's 20 post-trade games, posting a .914 save percentage to Ben Scrivens' .901. That may give him an edge as the two battle it out for the Oilers starting duties in 2014-15.
8. Chad Johnson, UFA
Chad Johnson broke out in 2008-09, when he posted a .940 save percentage and a 1.66 goals-against average on his way to being named the CCHA goalie and player of the year, and a Hobey Baker finalist.
Johnson, who was originally drafted by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL entry draft, has subsequently played for the New York Rangers and the Phoenix Coyotes before signing a one-year deal with the Boston Bruins last summer.
While he has an unspectacular .909 save percentage in 170 games as an AHL starter, Johnson was magnificent as Tuukka Rask's backup in 2013-14.
Johnson, who has yet to be pulled, was a consistently reliable option for Boston last year. Twenty-one of his 27 NHL starts (or 77.8 percent) have been quality starts. His career .938 even strength save percentage is third among the NHL's non-starters.
However, the 27-year-old did enjoy 3.64 goal support. And though two thirds of his appearances were on the road, they were against a relatively low level of competition.
Where will Chad Johnson sign? If it's back in Boston (or somewhere else like that) then he will obviously remain a backup option. He's not quite at the point where he can push even a mediocre starting goalie out of his job.
Johnson may want to seriously consider offers from any club where there's an opportunity to push the starter, like several teams back in Canada.
7. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks
Frederik Andersen was a seventh round selection by Carolina in 2010 but couldn't agree to terms. After a monster rookie year in the Swedish elite league in 2011-12, the 6'4", 230-pound netminder was re-drafted in the third round by Anaheim.
Andersen led the Elitserien in all statistical categories in 2011-12, posting a .943 save percentage and a 1.62 goals-against average with eight shutouts. Since then he has posted an equally impressive .930 save percentage in 51 games for the AHL's Norfolk Admirals.
The 24-year-old Dane finished in the NHL's top 10 last year in both save percentage and goals-against average.
The Ducks also posted a 20-5 record when he was in nets, although, in fairness, they also gave him a goal support of 3.61 per game. In truth, only 13 of his 24 starts were quality starts, which is a little low.
Andersen's .928 even strength save percentage is, however, quite promising.
Anaheim can have the confidence of letting star goalie Jonas Hiller leave in free agency knowing that Andersen is ready to step into the starting role.
Even if Hiller signs elsewhere, Andersen can't afford to become complacent, with John Gibson already stealing his job this postseason against the Los Angeles Kings and with Igor Bobkov not far behind.
6. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild
Darcy Kuemper was Minnesota's sixth round selection in 2009 before winning the Del Wilson Trophy in 2010-11 as the WHL goalie of the year. That season the 6'5" netminder posted a .933 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average for the Red Deer Rebels.
Kuemper's success continued into the AHL, where he has earned an impressive .927 save percentage in 61 games for the Houston Aeros and Iowa Wild.
The 24-year-old handled Minnesota's goaltending duties quite capably in the occasional absence of Niklas Backstrom and/or Josh Harding to injuries in 2013-14.
Kuemper has a strong career .929 save percentage in even strength situations, which is more impressive than a relatively mediocre 53.6 quality start percentage.
He also cooled off down the stretch, winning just one of his last eight games after a 3-2 victory over Calgary on March 3, earning just an .894 save percentage in that span. Kuemper nevertheless won the starting job back from trade deadline rental Ilya Bryzgalov in the postseason.
Minnesota's lineup is a tough one to crack. Long-time starter Backstrom still has two years left on his deal, and Josh Harding, who led the league in save percentage last year, is simply brilliant when he's in the picture.
Barring an unexpected trade, Kuemper may actually find himself in the AHL for parts of this season, with any stints as the Wild's starter being short-lived and dependent on injuries.
5. Ben Scrivens, Edmonton Oilers
Ben Scrivens won the Ken Dryden Trophy as the ECAC goalie of the year in 2009-10, also earning a spot as one of the Hobey Baker finalists. He posted a .934 save percentage with a 1.87 goals-against average.
Despite going undrafted, Scrivens' success continued in the AHL, where he has posted a .923 save percentage over 94 games with the Toronto Marlies, with whom he won the Hap Holmes Award in 2011-12.
Scrivens was traded from Toronto to Los Angeles last summer with Matt Frattin and a second-round pick for Jonathan Bernier, and then on to Edmonton at the trade deadline to make room for Martin Jones.
The 27-year-old had a surprisingly strong 2013-14 season, briefly being positioned as the league leader in save percentage before tailing off in the end.
Scrivens has a career .923 save percentage in even strength situations and has posted quality starts in 60.3 percent of his 63 opportunities.
He and Viktor Fasth could provide Edmonton with the consistently reliable goaltending it lacked last season, which could be enough for a playoff return in 2014-15.
Edmonton, which started last season with Devan Dubnyk, Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman in nets, completely re-constructed its goaltending situation, briefly trying out Ilya Bryzgalov and ultimately settling on a tandem of Scrivens and Viktor Fasth.
Who will be the starter in 2014-15? Scrivens actually played 40 games last year in Los Angeles and Edmonton, just barely missing the cut-off for this list. Despite being younger and lower paid, Scrivens may have the initial edge over Fasth, but it's one that could be easily lost if he falters early.
4. Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres
In the age of giant goalies, is there the possibility that a skilled smaller goalie is being overlooked? If so, 5'10" Jhonas Enroth could be an undervalued goaltending option.
The 25-year-old Swede was a second-round selection in 2006, the first European goalie chosen that year. He led the Swedish elite league in save percentage and goals-against average in 2007-08, posted a .915 save percentage in 147 AHL games with the Portland Pirates and has a career .913 save percentage in 81 NHL games as Ryan Miller's backup in Buffalo.
Buffalo already had great goaltending last year with Miller, so there's not much that Enroth can do to actually improve the club.
That being said, his 63.2 career quality start percentage and his .924 save percentage at even strength suggest that he can potentially provide almost equivalent goaltending for a much smaller cap hit. That extra cap space could make room for the players the team really needs.
Michal Neuvirth, who was acquired from the Capitals at last year's NHL trade deadline, will be given an opportunity to succeed as Buffalo's starting goalie. The 26-year-old Czech was decent as Washington's starter in 2010-11 and part of 2011-12.
The good news for Enroth is that Neuvirth won't be given the same latitude as their former long-time starter Ryan Miller, and that he could be one short slump away from establishing himself as Buffalo's new No. 1 goalie.
3. Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators
Ottawa drafted 6'4" Swede Robin Lehner in the second round of the 2009 NHL entry draft. He would go on to win the Butterfield Trophy as the MVP of the AHL's 2011 Calder Cup champions.
The 22-year-old has the same .918 save percentage in 95 AHL games as he does in his 61 NHL games.
Lehner has an incredible 70.2 quality start percentage in 47 starts over the past three years and could provide stability in goal.
Though in a much smaller sample size, his .924 even strength save percentage over the past three years is the same as Nashville's franchise goalie Pekka Rinne.
Is Lehner ready to take Ottawa's starting assignment away from 33-year-old Craig Anderson? He'll need to de-throne an 11-season NHL veteran with a huge upside, including a league-leading .941 save percentage in 2012-13.
Lehner may have actually enjoyed a slight analytic edge last year, posting 19 quality starts in 30 games compared to 26 in 52 for Anderson, who was two back of the league lead with 10 blown starts. Superior goal support (2.96 per game versus 2.60 for Lehner) helped Anderson to a far better record, but Lehner may have been the better option most nights.
2. Thomas Greiss, UFA
Thomas Greiss has been an exceptional backup goalie over the past three seasons. His .930 even strength save percentage over 50 games is among the best for a non-starter, and he also boasts a solid 61.5 quality start percentage.
The 28-year-old two-time German Olympian wasn't as effective in the AHL, with just a .904 save percentage in 142 career games with the Worcester Sharks.
Greiss is a bit of a wild card but could be the ideal candidate for a low-risk deal.
If signed to a single-year deal for up to twice as much as last year's $750,000 cap hit, then even in the worst case he can serve as a capable backup. On the other hand, if the promise he's shown in the NHL is legitimate, then he could be the most affordable starting goalie in the entire league.
It remains to be seen if Greiss will sign with a team looking for a potential starter, or merely a capable 25-game backup. If he returns to Phoenix, it will obviously be the latter.
1. Anton Khudobin, Carolina Hurricanes
Smaller netminders are often overlooked in today's age of the giant butterfly goalies, which has potentially cost 5'10" Kazakhstani Anton Khudobin his fair share of opportunities.
Drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round of the 2004 NHL entry draft, Khudobin has since played for Boston, and now Carolina, but has consistently been moved aside for other options.
He has consequently spent a lot of time in the AHL, where he has posted a .913 save percentage in 158 games.
Khudobin's upside is huge. Last year the 28-year-old netminder finished fifth in save percentage with a .926 and boasts a .938 save percentage at even strength over the past three years. His 63.3 quality start percentage is equally solid.
Khudobin shares Carolina's net with 30-year-old veteran Cam Ward, a former Conn Smythe winner who carries an annual cap hit of $6.3 million, almost three times higher than Khudobin.
That being said, Ward has played just 47 games over the past two seasons, posting a save percentage of just .902. The starting job could be up for grabs if he struggles out of the gate.
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