NHL 2010-11: Under Pressure: Top Five Goalies Facing Make Or Break Seasons

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NHL 2010-11: Under Pressure: Top Five Goalies Facing Make Or Break Seasons
Rich Lam/Getty Images

There was a time in the NHL when a team's potential for success was judged almost exclusively on who occupied the space between their pipes.

Indeed, for several years, if the man keeping your goal did not have the name "Roy," "Brodeur," "Hasek," or "Belfour" on the back of his jersey, your team was largely left out of any discussions concerning Stanley Cup contenders.

But, one of the most interesting developments since the inception of the "new NHL," which began after the 2004-05 lockout, has been the diminishing need for so-called "big money" goalies.

In the years proceeding the lockout, only one high-dollar goalie has won the Stanley Cup - JS Giguere in 2007 with the Ducks.

Aside from him, in the five years since the lockout, the Cup-winning goalie has been either a rookie (Cam Ward - 2006, Antti Niemi - 2010), a has-been back-up (Chris Osgood - 2009) or an emerging net-minder not quite solidified as a top-tier tender (Marc-Andre Fleury - 2009).

Clearly, spending big money on a goalie is no longer necessary to secure a championship in the NHL.

However, though team-depth and defensive skill are the two "must-haves" if a club has designs on winning a Stanley Cup, a solid goal-tender, at whatever salary, is still a very important piece of the puzzle.

Inasmuch as they are a team's last line of defense, they have the potential to be exposed as either their team's weakest or strongest link in critical situations.

Unlike the NHL of the late 90s and early 00s, goalies are no longer counted on to win a playoff series by themselves, but, they can still take a large part of the blame for losing it.

Still, whether or not a goalie has the chance to play hero or goat in the playoffs is of course determined by their team's performance in the regular season.  Here too, a goalie can play a positive or negative role in their team's overall success.

Therefore, while a GM need no longer lay out ridiculous amounts of dough to secure very good goal-tending (though some still do), the need for a true No. 1 goal-tender is still a pressing one for any team.

Once that goalie is identified, however, the onus is on them to perform as such.  But, how heavy that responsibility weighs on an individual net-minder is almost always proportional to the overall expectations of the team itself.  Again, he may not get all the glory for winning, but will get a hefty share of the blame for losing.

This season, there are five goalies who will be facing this kind of pressure perhaps more than any others in the league.

The following is a progressive ranking of those goalies that will begin the season under significant pressure to deliver on expectations or else face declining confidence in their ability to do so.

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