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NHL Power Rankings: Best Team Goaltending Now That the Dust Has Settled

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2011

NHL Power Rankings: Best Team Goaltending Now That the Dust Has Settled

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    The initial frenzy that came with this year's free agency has died down. Numerous goalies have signed with new clubs as NHL teams attempt to have their goaltending situation stabilized going into the new season.

    Some teams will still need to make additions before the season starts. If the past is any indication, some teams will try to make do without top-quality help in nets.

    This is my ranking of the goaltending of all 30 NHL teams from worst to best as they sit now.  

The Left-Behind

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    There are a large number of unsigned veteran goalies still available. Teams in need should be able to sign a new goalie for a reasonable price. 

    Ray Emery, Marty Turco, Martin Gerber, Hannu Toivonen and Pascal Leclair are all there for the signing. Youngsters Johnas Enroth and Chad Johnson are also available as restricted free agents.

    Teams in need may be hoping to see if they can coax the Islanders into trading away disgruntled goalie Evgeni Nabokov before they sign a lesser light as a free agent. Dan Ellis and Sergei Bobrovsky also might be available through trade.  

    There is a lot of risk in this group. Many of them may be ready to or need to retire just like Chris Osgood and Patrick Lalime already have. Still, a competent inexpensive goalie could be found in this group by a discerning GM.     

30. New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders currently have two goalies on their major league roster ready to play for them next year. Unfortunately, one of them is the mostly injured Rick Dipietro.

    The last three seasons in New York, he has played in five, eight and last year, 26 games. Perhaps he was adversely effected by his injuries, but he only managed a miserable .886 save percentage and a 3.44 goals against average in those games.

    The last time he played a full season was in 2007/08. He played in 63 games and had a .902 save percentage, three shutouts and a 2.82 GAA. That save percentage had him 34th in the league among goalies who played at least a third of their team's games.

    Dipietro cannot be depended on to be good or healthy enough to carry the goaltending load for an NHL team. 

    The Islanders signed RFA Al Montoya to a one-year extension for $601,000. He had some success (.921 save percentage) appearing in 21 games for the Islanders last year. The penny-wise Islanders need to sign another veteran goalie to fill out the roster before the season starts. 

    Expect New York to low-ball one of the older free-agent goalies still looking for work. Ray Emery may be useful on the Island. 

    None of their other prospects are NHL-ready yet. Kevin Poulin played well (.924 save percentage) in 10 games last year but a veteran is needed.

    New York still possesses the rights to goalie Evgeni Nabokov. While he has stated he won't play for the Islanders, he'd instantly improve their goaltending prospectus if he changed his mind.

    New York hopefully can trade Nabokov, perhaps for a veteran backup.

    Until someone else is added, the Islanders will have the worst goaltending going into next season.       

29. Edmonton Oilers

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    The Edmonton Oilers suffered through a lot of growing pains last year. They tied with the Atlanta Thrashers giving up 269 goals last year. That was the second-worst total in the league.

    The Oilers brought in Khabibulin in July of 2009 to replace another veteran goaltender, Dwayne Roloson. Nikolai has either been unavailable (18 games played in 2009/10) or ineffective (.890 save percentage in 27 games last year).

    Entering his third season with the Oilers at age 38, he doesn't seem capable of being a consistent starter at the NHL level any more.

    Edmonton seems to have settled on 26-year-old Devan Dubnyk to be their starter this year. They chose him 14th overall in the 2004 NHL entry draft. He played in 35 games last year with good numbers (.916 save percentage, two shutouts, 2.71 goals against average).

    Their other young goaltending prospect, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, signed with Western rivals the Anaheim Ducks.

    The long-term plan seems to have Olivier Roy eventually taking over in nets. He is still at least a couple years away from being NHL-ready. The Oilers currently have $4.5 million-plus a season wrapped up in a very ordinary goaltending pair.  

28. Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are a team still in search of an owner, let alone a new goalie. They need to replace the departed Ilya Bryzgalov. Like Florida, they are likely to experience a huge drop-off in goaltending quality, especially if they can't improve on the goalies they have under contract right now.

    General manager Don Maloney has Jason Labarbera signed for two years at $1.25 million a year. Mike Smith is signed for two years at $2 million a year. They have also added veteran backup Curtiss McElhinney.

    Labarbera was an AHL star who was the backup to Bryzgalov these last two years. He seems the goalie most likely to win the starting job. He is a 31-year-old veteran who was the starter in LA for one year. 

    The Tampa Bay Lightning got Dallas backup Smith to be their starter back in 2008. He lost the job to veteran Dwayne Roloson. Now at age 29, he may be platooned in Phoenix with Labarbera. This despite any evidence that he is capable of being an NHL starting goalie. His last two years in Tampa Bay he played 3,475 minutes in 64 games with an unfortunate .900 save percentage.

    Career backup McElhinney played 21 games last year in the NHL. At age 28, that was the most games he has ever played in a single NHL season. He hasn't been able to hang onto a backup role in Calgary, Anaheim or Ottawa.

    Their top goaltending prospect, Mark Visentin, is 19 this year. He was a first-round pick (27th overall) for Phoenix in 2010. He has yet to play professional hockey.

    The Coyotes need someone good in nets this year. Bryzgalov has been the difference for Phoenix between being in the playoffs and being out. If this group can't do the job, they may spend some money on an unsigned goalie like Ray Emery or a Marty Turco. A deal with the Islanders for Evgeni Nabokov would be very good.

    The NHL can't be happy about their league-run team missing the playoffs even if Glendale City Council is subsidizing them. 

27. Colorado Avalanche

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    The home of Patrick Roy is suddenly suffering through an era of sub-par goaltending. For fans used to the best, it has to be incredibly disappointing.

    Craig Anderson looked like the solution when they signed him away from the Florida Panthers back in 2009. The Avalanche gave up on him almost as quickly as they became enamoured of him. After a poor first half they dealt him at the trade deadline last season to the Ottawa Senators for goalie Brian Elliot.

    In the offseason, the Avalanche allowed goalies Petr Budaj and Brian Elliot to sign elsewhere (Montreal and St. Louis) while they picked up J.S. Gigeure and Semyon Varlamov.

    Any team that gives up the most goals against in the league can certainly feel justified in changing out their goalies. Petr Budaj had certainly proven he couldn't be the starter in Colorado. 

    They got the veteran Gigeure in to be a cost-effective backup goalie ($1.25 million a year for two years). The 34-year-old played 1,633 minutes in 33 games last year while posting a poor .900 save percentage. He may still have some better play in him.

    Semyon Varlamov had the starting goaltending job handed to him during the playoffs in 2009 once the Capitals figured out Jose Theodore wasn't up to it. He had a good playoff (13 GP 2 SO .918 SV% 2.53 GAA) but was never able to capture the starting job full-time.

    Washington managed to trade Varalmov and his contract (three more years at $2.833 million a year) to Colorado for the Avalanche first-round pick in 2012 and their second-round pick in 2012 or 2013. Washington extracted a heavy price for a young goalie who has proven himself at the NHL level.

    Colorado is expecting a lot of the 23-year-old goalie who will be playing behind a defense that gave up 31.8 shots a game last year (22nd overall). Varalamov will need to be good and stay healthy for this to work out.

    Despite the uncertainty, the Avalanche will no longer start the season with the worst goaltending in the league.    

26. Florida Panthers

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    The Florida Panthers are the team most likely to suffer from the biggest dip in quality of goaltending from last year to next year. Tomas Vokoun has left them to seek Stanley Cup success with the Washington Capitals. The 34-year-old has been one of the best goalies in the league since the lockout. Replacing him will be Jose Theodore, a goalie who has had trouble holding a starting job since he won the Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies with Montreal back in 2001/02. 

    Jose Theodore will turn 35 himself in September but seems to be on a different career trajectory than Vokoun. He had a credible .916 save percentage while working as a backup in Minnesota last year. Among the 38 goalies who played at least a third of their team's minutes last year, he tied for 15th in the league in save percentage.

    Theodore tied in save percentage with Minnesota starter Nicklas Backstrom, Buffalo Sabre and Olympic star Ryan Miller, Edmonton's new starter Devan Dubnyk and one of the Flyer's goaltending committee, Brian Boucher.

    He will team up with veteran backup Scott Clemmensen. Clemmensen had a shaky year while playing in 31 games for Florida (.911 save percentage).

    The Panthers are working to improve their team defense which should help these goalies out next season.

    Theodore, earning $1.5 million a year for two more years, and Clemmensen, in place for one more season at $1.2 million, are there to provide veteran goaltending and hopefully a bridge to the time when highly touted prospect Jacob Markstrom can take over the starting duties in nets for the Panthers.           

25. New Jersey Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils, like the Colorado Avalanche, were a team that could depend on having world-class goaltending year after year after year. As Martin Brodeur has aged and his skills have waned, the organization has been slow to address the team's need for a new goaltender.

    Last season, Brodeur appeared in 56 games and played 3,116 minutes. His save percentage was a poor .903. Among the 38 NHL goalies who played at least a third of a full season, he was ranked 31st in save percentage.

    The team supplements the 39-year-old Brodeur with veteran backup Johan Hedberg, who is 38 years old.

    Hedberg played 34 games last year and managed a .912 save percentage. His presence in the lineup hasn't helped Brodeur play better.  

    AHL backup Jeff Frazee seems like the most likely call-up if one or both of the old NHL goalies get hurt.    

24. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    After a stellar rookie season, Steve Mason looked like the goalie of the future in Columbus. The future has yet to arrive as Steve has put up two sub-par .901 save percentage seasons in a row since then.

    Still only 23 years of age, Mason is putting up numbers like the aging Martin Brodeur. He, however, still has plenty of time to pull it together.

    The Blue Jackets have pulled career AHL goalie Mark Dekanich from the Nashville Predator organization to back up Mason. At 25, the Colgate graduate insures whoever starts for Columbus won't be an NHL veteran.

    Despite worse statistics, Mason grades out ahead of Brodeur because he is playing on a team that gave up the 11th-least shots against per game in the league at 29.8, while Brodeur was cushioned inside a New Jersey system that gave up a league-lowest 26.2 shots against per game.

    Steve Mason still has time to develop. The majority of his problems may have to do with confidence. Martin Brodeur is in decline and his problems are almost certainly physical.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets could use a veteran backup goalie in the mix.         

23. Calgary Flames

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    Miikka Kiprusoff has been one of the NHL's most consistently good goaltenders since they picked him up from San Jose in 2003. He turns 35 this October 26th and the shot count and work load he has faced in Calgary appears to be taking its toll.

    The last six seasons, he has played in more than 70 games each year. He has played more than 4,150 minutes each season. In those six years, he has led the league twice in shots against and once in saves.

    The team has saved money on backup goalies but their expensive starter is wearing out. His .906 save percentage put him just behind Jimmy Howard and just ahead of Martin Brodeur last year.

    The Flames liked what they saw from 27-year-old Swedish prospect Henrik Karlsson last year. He got in 17 games and had a .908 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

    These mediocre save percentages look even worse when you realize the Flames as a team gave up a fourth-best in the league 28.5 shots against per game.

    Calgary still has three years left on a massive ($5.833 million/year) contract for Miikka Kiprusoff. They have to hope he will be able to perform for them at least that long. It may be too late, but look for Karlsson to carry a bigger bit of the load in nets next season for Calgary and take some of the pressure off of Miikka.       

22. St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues felt they had solved their goaltending problems when they picked up Montreal Canadiens playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. Halak, who looked extraordinary in Montreal's high-pressure, high-shot environment, has just looked ordinary behind what proved to be one of the tightest defenses in the league last year. St. Louis gave up a mere 27.7 shots per game last year, second-best in the league to New Jersey. 

    Playing behind a quality defense, Halak went from having a .924 save percentage in Montreal in 2009/10 to a 28th-best .910 save percentage last season with St. Louis. Combine that with a sub-par season from usually consistent backup Ty Conklin, and goaltending became an issue for the Blues.

    The Blues moved defender Erik Johnson for more offense in Chris Stewart. They picked up the inexpensive Brain Elliot to share the load with Halak. Elliot's numbers are unimpressive but he has played in 55 games the last two years. A backup goalie who can play a lot could prove useful in St. Louis. Halak played in 57 games last year and that was the most games he played in one season in his career to date.

    The Blues perhaps are hoping that Halak steps up while they play a less tight, more offensively geared game. Brian Elliot was the starter for a couple years in Ottawa. He is cost effective with a salary of $600,000. His .909 save percentage from 2009/10 is reasonable if not awe-inspiring. The fear has to be that he's more likely to produce the .893 save percentage he managed last year.

    The Blues have decided to sit and hope with the goalies they have now. Time will tell how that works out for them.    

21. Chicago Blackhawks

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    The disastrous signing of Cristobal Huet back in 2008 contributed to cap and goaltending problems in Chicago. Khabibulin signed with Edmonton after leading the Blackhawks into the Western final versus Detroit in 2009.

    Chicago managed to win the Stanley Cup with Antti Niemi in nets. He had a solid season and playoffs for the Blackhawks but cap issues saw him signed away by Western rivals the San Jose Sharks.

    Twenty-six-year-old AHL veteran Corey Crawford was brought onto the big club to be the starter last year. He had a better statistical year in the NHL than he had the previous season in the AHL.

    The Blackhawks are still very tight to the cap with only $3 million in room according to CapGeek.com.

    They appear to have decided against signing veteran Marty Turco to back up Crawford this year. The current No. 2 goalie in the Chicago system appears to be Alexander Salak, who came over in the Michael Frolik trade. Salak has two NHL games and one AHL season under his belt. He played in the Swedish Elite League last season.

    The Blackhawks need a good veteran goalie to backup the still inexperienced Crawford. They have very little money to sign him with.   

20. Detroit Red Wings

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    Jimmy Howard won the Detroit Red Wings starting job as a 25-year-old rookie two years ago. He has played 63 regular-season games in each of the last two seasons. 

    A sparking .924 save percentage in his first year as a starter became a much worse .908 last year. Howard has played in all of Detroit's playoff games the last two years; in each case, they beat Phoenix in the first round and lost to San Jose in the second. He had impressive .915 and .923 save percentages in both playoff runs.

    If Jimmy Howard can return to his form from 2009/10, Detroit's goaltending will be much better this upcoming year. Right now, however, his numbers put him in between underperformers Jaroslav Halak and Miikka Kiprusoff.

    His statistical decline mirrors that of the Detroit defense. In 2009/10, the Detroit Red Wings gave up 29.4 shots against per game, the ninth-smallest average in the league. Last year they gave up 30.7 shots against per game and were 16th-worst in the league. Perhaps Howard is only as good as the Detroit defense.

    The Detroit Red Wings have finally signed a solid backup goalie. The team gave former starter Chris Osgood time to decide to retire. Then they went out and signed Ty Conklin. Conklin has been a quality No. 2 goalie in the league for years now. Ty turned 35 in March and is coming off an uncharacteristically bad year with St. Louis (.881 SV% 3.22 GAA 25 GP).

    The Wings are hoping he'll revert to his form from two seasons ago when he had a .921 save percentage as a backup goalie. 

    Joey MacDonald has been signed and he can be the backup in a pinch. He's more likely to be the third-string goalie or the veteran mentor in the AHL. he had a good run backing up Howard last year. He played in 15 games and had a .917 save percentage.   

19. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Maple Leafs have all their goaltending eggs in the James Reimer basket for this coming season. The young (23) confident goalie had a great first season in the NHL. He had a .921 save percentage, three shutouts and a 2.60 GAA in his first 37 NHL games. The 37 games played were more than he played in either of his first two seasons with the AHL Toronto Marlies (26,15). His save percentage as a professional has been better than anything he had in junior with the Red Deer Rebels. 

    The J.S. Giguere experiment is over and the Leafs have settled on 27-year-old Swede Jonas Gustavsson as the backup goalie. Gustavsson's numbers haven't been as stellar as Reimer's but it's hoped he still will develop at least into a competent backup. 

    Reimer's save percentage over 2,080 minutes played put him 10th in the league among goalies who played at least a third of a season last year. He was just behind the two biggest UFA signings: Tomas Vokoun (.922 save percentage) and Ilya Bryzgalov (.921).

    If he manages to maintain this level of play for a full NHL season, the Leaf goaltending will be much better than 20th. There is a lot of risk in assuming a young goalie will be able to do that, especially with an increased work load. The NHL is littered with a number of young goalies who never lived up to their early potential. Jim Carey, Roman Turek, Darren Pang, Steve Penney and Roman Cechmanek all come immediately to mind. There doesn't seem to be an alternative to Reimer next year if he doesn't work out.

    James Reimer did get in 52 games last year between the NHL and the AHL last year, so he did manage to play a full season of professional hockey last year.   

18. Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators have made a couple of recent moves to attempt to address a weakness that has existed for the entire team's history: goaltending.

    Last year they dealt checking center Antoine Vermette for former first-round pick (eighth overall) goalie Pascal Leclaire. The 28-year-old Leclaire never worked out in Ottawa, though bad luck as much as bad play seemed to mar his stay there.

    Now, Leclaire sits on the outside looking in for a new NHL job. The Ottawa Senators moved their starting goalie from last season, Brian Elliot, to Colorado for Craig Anderson.

    Anderson is a 30-year-old goalie who has struggled to find his place in the NHL. He made his reputation slowly in Florida as the backup to Tomas Vokoun. Like Vokoun, he excelled in that high-shot environment. The goalie brought in to replace him in Florida, Scott Clemmensen, was noticeably less successful.

    Anderson moved to Colorado where he won the starting job, played 71 games and had a .917 save percentage in 2009/10. He had the 13th-best save percentage among starters in the league that year and was the difference between Colorado being a last-place team and a playoff team.

    Knee and groin injuries perhaps limited his playing ability last season. Anxious GM Greg Sherman moved him out of town at the trade deadline.

    Anderson shone in Ottawa and got signed quickly to a four-year $3.1875 million a year contract.

    Former Ottawa backup Alex Auld was picked up for a million a year for one year. He had a reasonable .914 save percentage in the 16 games he played in for Montreal last year.    

    Young goaltending prospect Robin Lehner got in eight games for the Senators last year. The 20-year-old Swede may get a longer look in training camp this year. He is expected to be Ottawa's goalie of the future.

    If Anderson reverts to form and Lehner can work at the NHL level, the Senator goaltending could be much better than 19th-best in the league next year.      

17. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Lightning have suffered through some horrible defense and miserable goaltending the last few years. Last season, both these aspects of their game seemed to take a step forward. 

    The big improvement came with the addition of veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders at the trade deadline. The Lightning gave up prospect defenseman Ty Wishart for Roloson.

    Roloson added a calm and a veteran stability, not to mention a reasonable .912 save percentage, that all the goalies who have tried out for the starter's job since Nikolai Khabibulin left for Chicago have been incapable of providing.

    That is the good news. The bad news of course is that a .914 save percentage for the year isn't even in the top two-thirds of the league. It puts him in a group of good but much younger goalies: Michal Neuvirth (48 GP), Ondrej Pavelec (58 GP) and Kari Lehtonen (69 GP).

    Dwayne Roloson will be 42 years old this October. Age or injury could end his career at any moment. 

    The Lightning also added veteran backup Mathieu Garon. He has played in 71 NHL games for Columbus the last two years. At age 33 though, he's a spring chicken only when compared to Roloson. 

    Tampa Bay needs young goaltending prospect Dustin Tokarski  to develop in the next couple of years to be the starter for long-term stability in nets. 

16. Winnipeg Jets

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    The Winnipeg Jets are set in nets with 23-year-old Czech Ondrej Pavelec and 35-year-old Chris Mason providing the goaltending for a cumulative $3 million this season.

    Mason had a miserable last year in Atlanta with an .892 save percentage over 33 games. He had been the starter in St Louis the two previous years and his numbers with that admittedly better defensive team were reasonable (.916 and .913 save percentage).

    Pavelec looks like he can be a quality NHL starter, though he appeared to wear down as the season went along last year. If Chris Mason can supply some useful backup next year, look for the goaltending in general to be improved from the last year in Atlanta.   

15. Dallas Stars

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    The Dallas Stars, like the Winnipeg Jets, are another team that seems to have found a good young goalie to handle the job for them in nets. Kari Lehtonen played in 69 games for Dallas last year. He had a .914 save percentage, 2.55 GAA and three shutouts.

    The Stars have to hope that the injury troubles that dogged the former second overall pick (2002) in Atlanta are over. 

    Andrew Raycroft is signed to be the backup in Dallas. The cost-effective veteran has managed two reasonable seasons in a row with .910 and .911 save percentages. The four years before that he couldn't manage to save more than 89.4 percent of the pucks directed at him in any one season. 

    The goaltending is precarious in Dallas just because Lehtonen has been hurt so often in the past. The financially troubled owner will be unlikely to spend more than the team already has in order to solve a goaltending problem if it arises.  

14. LA Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings have two of the best young goalies in the league under contract for two more years at a total of $3.050 million a year.

    Jonathan Quick tied Marc-Andre Fleury for 12th in the league with a .918 save percentage. He had six shutouts to Fleury's three. He had a 2.24 GAA which was fourth-best among the 38 goalies who played at least 1,660 minutes last year.   

    The much-anticipated Jonathan Bernier got into 25 games for LA last year. He had a .913 save percentage, 2.48 GAA and three shutouts, all while playing in a backup role.

    The 25-year-old Quick and the soon-to-be 23-year-old Bernier still have improvements to make. The two Jonathans could be the best tandem in the league in another couple of years.    

13. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Injuries forced the Pittsburgh Penguins to play a tight, disciplined defensive style last year—especially in the second half of the season. That style was reflected in their fifth-best in league shots against per game number, 28.7. It was also reflected in Marc-Andre Fleury's significantly improved save percentage, .918, and goals against average, 2.33, this year from the previous season (.905, 2.65).

    The cap-strapped Penguins have Brent Johnson in again as a backup. His numbers were much improved last year as well. He enjoyed a .922 save percentage over the 23 games he played in. 

    The Penguin goalies might expect to generate worse numbers this year as a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin lead a more attack-oriented Pittsburgh team throughout the 2011/12 season.  

12. San Jose Sharks

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    Antti Niemi will be expected to lead the San Jose Sharks in goal again this year. The Stanley Cup-winning goalie played in 60 games and had a 11th-best .920 save percentage last year. That was only the second full NHL season for the 27-year-old Finn. His six shutouts had him in elite company in the league, tied with Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick.

    Antero Niittymaki played in 24 games for the Sharks. Brought in as a veteran backup who could start, Niittymaki had a miserable year. He had an .896 save percentage, similar to what Curtis McElhinney provides for $1.4 million less a year.

    Still, the Sharks have a good one-two punch in nets. Thomas Greiss, who played in Sweden last year, gave the Sharks 12 good games in 2009/10 and perhaps can be convinced to come back.

11. Minnesota Wild

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    Niklas Backstrom is another goalie who has been one of the best since the last work stoppage in 2004/05.

    Niklas had a very Ryan Miller kind of season (.916 SV% 2.66 GAA 3 SO) while playing for a Minnesota team that gave up an uncharacteristically high shot count (32 shots allowed per game, 24th overall). 

    The Wild appear to be ready to play a more offensively minded game with the addition of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, so it won't get any easier for Minnesota goalies. This is especially true if they are ready to depend on youngsters Marco Scandella (21), Clayton Stoner (26) and Mike Lundin (26) for defensive depth.

    Minnesota has added backup Josh Harding for $750,000 for another year. He has been an able backup. Still only 27, Harding has the potential to be an NHL starter.        

10. Anaheim Ducks

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    Jonas Hiller was another goalie who flourished in a high-shot environment (32.3  shots allowed per game). He only got into 49 games last season because of a freak injury that appeared to be connected to a shot he took off the mask in the All-Star Game. Hiller struggled with this injury for months.

    Hiller finally returned to play 11:49 minutes in a game in March and gave up three goals on nine shots to the Nashville Predators. He was unavailable for the playoffs.

    Ray Emery carried the load for the Ducks versus the Nashville Predators in the first round and managed an .897 save percentage and 3.20 GAA in the six-game loss.

    Before he was hurt, Hiller had a .924 save percentage, which was fourth-best in the league. His 2.56 GAA was 18th-best and his five shutouts in a mere 49 games put him 10th in the league. In the games he played, Hiller faced a league-leading 33.53 shots against per game and again led the league by making 30.97 saves per game.

    Hiller has had four top-notch seasons for the Anaheim Ducks. Statistically he was one of the best goalies in the league last year. If healthy, Anaheim can expect him to provide some of the best goaltending in the NHL.

    The risk for the Ducks involves how completely he has recovered in the offseason from what looked like concussion problems. If Hiller can't play or is worse than he was, the Anaheim Ducks goaltending could be horrid. If he can play as well as ever, they have top-20 goaltending, perhaps top-five.

    Ray Emery and Dan Ellis were the backup goalies last year. Emery has been left to sign elsewhere while Ellis is still under contract for this year at $1.5 million.

    Dan Ellis was the second-round draft pick  of the Dallas Stars (60th overall) back in 2000. He had success with the Iowa Stars, Dallas's AHL farm club.

    Ellis signed with the Nashville Predators as a free agent and then won the starting job from Chris Mason, having what has been his best season to date back in 2007/08. Ellis followed that up with a superb playoff effort versus the Detroit Red Wings.

    Since that season, he has endured ordinary or even horrid seasons with Nashville and Tampa Bay. Last season in Anaheim, he only got in 13 games, but he managed a reasonable .917 save percentage. The Ducks are hoping he can still provide quality backup goaltending. The fear that he won't be capable of being an NHL starter has lead to them signing away 27-year-old Edmonton goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers.

    Deslauriers spent time as the starter for Edmonton during the 2009/10 season and he posted a .901 save percentage in 48 NHL games. He was relegated to the AHL last year.

    If Hiller can't play the Ducks may have some of the worst goaltending in the league. If he can play a majority of their games, they might have some of the best goaltending in the league. I have compromised by placing them 10th.   

9. Buffalo Sabres

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    The season before last, Ryan Miller was the best goalie in the league. Last year, he was in the middle of the pack of NHL starters.

    He tied for 12th in shutouts with Jonas Hiller. His 2.59 GAA tied him with Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Bobrovsky for 20th-best among the 38 NHL goalies who played at least a third of a season worth of games last year. His .916 save percentage ties him with Devan Dubnyk, Brian Boucher and Niklas Backstrom for 15th in the league.

    Still Ryan Miller has been one of the best and most consistent goalies since the lockout in 2004/05. He still is providing the Sabres with what can be top-10 goaltending.

    Buffalo is currently on a spending spree and has spent $2 million over the cap to date. They still need to add a backup goalie or two. You can bet they won't spend much on him. They will be asking the 31-year-old Miller to play more than 70 games while returning to the form he showed during the 2009/10 season.

    The team is still going to have to move some salary. The new owner Terry Pegula is probably perfectly willing to stick a bad contract like Kotalik's in the minors if he has to make room.

    The remade defense in Buffalo should help Miller and the team lower their goals against in the coming year.         

8. Philadelphia Flyers

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    After years of starting the season with what has looked like the worst goaltending in the league, the Philadelphia Flyers have added a player who should give them top-10 goaltending next year.

    Ilya Bryzgalov was the difference in Phoenix between success and failure. When he was on, they made the playoffs; when not, they didn't. The knock on Bryzgalov has been that once he made the playoffs he hasn't been successful. In my opinion, that has had more to do with the fact that he played for the Phoenix Coyotes against the Detroit Red Wings and less to do with what kind of playoff competitor he is.

    Ilya Bryzgalov had a ninth-best in the league .921 save percentage last year. Since becoming the starter in Phoenix he has had save percentages of .921,.906, .920 and .921. He has been consistently good. Playing for Philadelphia he should be as good or better.

    His play has earned him, at age 31, a dream contract that comes with a cap hit of about $5.66 million a year until 2020. He makes $15 million of the $51 million total in the first of the nine years the contract is scheduled to run. He is young enough to expect to be a quality starter in Philadelphia hopefully for at least half a decade.

    Backing Bryzgalov up will be 22-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky, who is signed for two years at $1.75 million a year. He had a very good rookie season with a 28-13-8 record while appearing in 54 games. The two Russians will hopefully prove compatible. Bryzgalov can mentor the younger Bobrovsky.

    In a perfect world, the Flyers have lined up this goalie and the goalie to come. They might not need to seek out a new goaltender until 2025.     

7. Montreal Canadiens

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    It is going to be all Carey Price again this year in Montreal. He passed the acid test last season as he played the second-most minutes of any goalie in the NHL last year, behind only Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes.

    The soon-to-be 24-year-old Price tied for fifth in the league in save percentage (.923) with Henrik Lundquist and Cam Ward. His eight shutouts were the third-most in the league behind Lundquist's 11 and Tim Thomas' nine.

    Price is obviously a workhorse, but one can't help feeling his numbers might be just that much better if he played five or 10 fewer games next season. With Alex Auld as backup, the Canadiens put Price in 72 games. Luckily he was never injured because there wasn't really a goalie in Montreal ready to start if Carey went down.  

    The Canadiens have added former starting goalie Petr Budaj to the lineup for two years at $1.15 million a year. His numbers were among the worst of NHL starters last year. His .895 save percentage had him 35th out of 38 NHL goalies who played at least a third of a season. He lost the starting job a couple of times in Colorado but apparently Montreal believes he can be a useful backup goalie.

    Budaj will be 29 going into this season and has six seasons and 242 games behind him in Colorado. His one reasonable statistical NHL season came in 2009/10 when he got in 15 games as Craig Anderson's backup and posted a .917 save percentage. The Montreal Canadiens must be hoping for that kind of performance.

    Montreal success is again completely dependent on a great, injury-free season from Carey Price. Anything that upsets their chances of getting that will be disastrous for the Canadiens goaltending and overall team success.     

6. Carolina Hurricanes

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    Cam Ward held the fort for the worst defensive team in the league last year. The Hurricanes replaced Florida as the team giving up the most shots per game last season with 33.2. Ward helped hold it together with four shutouts, a fifth-best .923 save percentage and a 2.56 GAA, all while leading the league in games and minutes played.

    Despite the horrendous shot count, Carolina only missed the playoffs by two points. The Hurricanes gave up the 10th-most goals against in the league mostly due to Ward's efforts.

    The Hurricanes have added Brian Boucher as a veteran backup goalie for the next two years at $950,000 a year. Boucher played 34 games last season for the Flyers and had a reasonable .916 save percentage.

    The addition of Boucher will hopefully allow Carolina to take some of the load off of Ward. No other team in the league depends as much on their goalie as the Hurricanes do on Cam Ward.

    The Hurricanes can't afford to have Cam hurt for any length of time. If he gets hurt the way he was during the 2009/10 season, it could be devastating.   

5. New York Rangers

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    Henrik Lunquist was a seventh-round draft pick (205th overall) by the New York Rangers in 2000. It took them five years to convince him to leave the Swedish Elite League and come to North America.

    He started with the Rangers the year after the lockout and has been a workhorse for them ever since. He has averaged over 67 games a season for the last six years in New York. He has led the league in shutouts twice and his worst save percentage in that time was .912 back in 2007/08. For those six years, he has a cumulative .918 save percentage while facing 11,316 shots. He has been the model of goaltending consistency.

    Henrik Lundquist is only 29 and is prepared to lead the Rangers from the nets for another three years.

    Martin Biron was the backup goalie for the Rangers last year and his .923 save percentage over 17 games dovetailed nicely with Lundquist's .923 save percentage spread over 68 games. They are looking for more of the same this year.

    The Rangers look to have excellent goaltending again. Look for Lundquist to get a little more rest in preparation for the playoffs.   

4. Vancouver Canucks

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    Despite an up-and-down performance in the playoffs, Roberto Luongo still had a .914 save percentage, 15-10 win-loss record, a 2.56 goals against average and four shutouts in 25 playoff games. His regular-season numbers were even better. His .928 save percentage was third-best in the league. His 2.11 goals against average was second-best.

    The big fear in Vancouver is how much psychological resilience Luongo is going to show after the disappointing loss in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins. Luongo had two 1-0 shutout victories and an overtime win in the Stanley Cup Finals to stack up against an 8-1 debacle in Game 3. Which Luongo will start the season in Vancouver?

    The Vancouver Canucks also have the virtue of having former first-round pick (26th overall in 2004) Corey Schneider available to back up Luongo. Schneider, 25, is a former Boston College and Manitoba Moose star. Last season he played in 25 games for the Canucks and posted a .929 save percentage and 2.23 GAA. He had a 16-4-2 record in the regular season.

    Schneider played in five different games in the playoffs amassing 163 minutes of ice time in relief of Luongo. He had a .915 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA in what amounted to slightly less than three full playoff games.

    The Canucks enter the new season with what should be some of the best goaltending in the league. Only time will tell if that's true.    

3. Washington Capitals

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    For years now, the Washington Capitals have been another team that has started each season with a question mark in nets. Since the decline of Olaf Kolzig near the turn of the new century, no one has appeared to take over the goaltending in Washington. 

    Tomas Vokoun should be the answer for at least the next few years. Vokoun, at age 35, may be ready to see his abilities begin to wane. He has been the best NHL goalie since 2005 playing for what has generally been the worst defensive team in the league during that period, the Florida Panthers.

    Vokoun has taken a huge pay cut to play for what he believes is a Stanley Cup contender in Washington. He gets a chance to showcase his talents in the playoffs while the Capitals get a top-quality veteran goalie that they can fit, just barely, under the cap. Vokoun will earn $1.5 million for his one year in Washington. Michal Neuvirth, the backup goalie next season in Washington, is scheduled to earn $1.15 million a year for two years.

    Tomas Vokoun had an eighth-best in the league .922 save percentage last year. Since the lockout, he has put up save percentages of .919, .920, .919, .926, .925 and .922. He has the best cumulative save percentage in the league while playing in 353 regular-season games over that six-year period.

    His playoff experience has been limited to two series with the Nashville Predators. In the 2004 playoffs, he and the Predators lost a tightly contested six-game series to the Red Wings. He had a .939 save percentage, a 2.02 goals allowed average and one shutout during the series. He also played all the games in a five-game loss to the San Jose Sharks in 2006/07. He had a much less impressive .902 save percentage and 2.96 goals allowed average.

    Vokoun and the Capitals will be very interested to see how he fares in front of a defense that gave up the ninth-fewest shots against in the league last year.

    Michal Neuvirth, 23, got in 48 games last season for Washington and had a 27-12-4 record. His .914 save percentage, 2.45 goals allowed average and four shutouts left the Capitals free to deal their other highly regarded 23-year-old goalie, Semyon Varlamov, to the Colorado Avalanche, for a first- and second-round pick.

    By trading Varlamov, the Capitals have created room in the organization for another quality goaltending prospect Braden Holtby. Holtby will be the starter in the AHL and may get a chance to play again with the Capitals. Last year, as a 21-year-old, he played in 14 games with the Capitals and had a .934 save percentage and stellar 1.79 goals allowed average. He posted two shutouts in his 14 games. 

    Tomas Vokoun has shown himself to be one of the best goalies in the league in the worst of circumstances. Playing for a top-quality team like the Capitals could help him win a Vezina at the rather advanced, Tim Thomas-like age of 35. Vokoun may be in decline, but he could be the best goalie in the NHL next year.

    Just as the Flyers now have two Russians playing together, the Capitals are hoping for some sort of synergy with a couple of Czech goalies, one veteran, one newbie, playing together.            

2. Nashville Predators

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    Pekka Rinne in his third season as the Nashville Predator starting goalie had career bests in wins (33), goals against average (2.12) and save percentage( .930). He was second in the league in save percentage, third in goals against average and sixth in shutouts with six.

    The Nashville Predators were a little shakier defensively last season after the departure of Dan Hamhuis. They sunk from eighth in the league in shots allowed per game (29.2) in 2009/10 to a more mediocre 15th last season (30.6). Rinne was up to the challenge.

    The fiscally responsible Predators have 23-year-old prospect Anders Lindback in place to back up Rinne this year. Last season, he played in 22 games and had a .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

    Chet Pickard is another young (21) goaltending prospect waiting in the wings. Nashville seems set in nets for years to come.  

1. Boston Bruins

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    Tim Thomas had a Hall of Fame season for the Boston Bruins last year, winning back the starting job from Tuukka Rask. He followed that up with a Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender, a Conn Smythe Trophy as the league's most valuable player in the playoffs and a Stanley Cup victory.

    He led the league with a .938 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average. His nine shutouts were second only to Henrik Lundqvist's 11.

    The fear in Boston would be that the 37-year-old goalie will falter. If he does, Tuukka Rask waits in the wings with a .918 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average. Rask won the starting job from Thomas in 2009/10 when he put up a .931 save percentage and 1.97 goals allowed average in the 45 games he played.

    The Bruins are unlikely to lose much if Rask is required to replace Thomas again. Either way, the Bruins look ready to have the best goaltending in the league again in 2011/12.      

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