Many hockey experts, fans and historians have agreed that the key to success is having exceptional goaltending.
If you look at the New York Islanders of the 1980s, Billy Smith was a part of the backbone that carried the Islanders through the Stanley Cup playoffs. His clutch and able goaltending helped the Islanders win four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships.
In this day and age, goaltending is still very vital to teams as they attempt to have their regular season success translate into postseason glory.
In the Atlantic Division, Ilya Bryzgalov, Martin Brodeur, Marc Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist and Al Montoya are the starting goaltenders for their respective clubs.
Going into the 2011-12 season, who will be the best goaltender in the Atlantic Division? Puck Daddy recently ranked the top 25 goalies in the league and I will touch upon some of those rankings.
Who is in the prime of their career, who is coming off a great season and who is ready to steal the show in an attempt to capture a Vezina Trophy?
These rankings will be based off a certain criteria. This includes the future potential of each goaltender, the age of the goaltender, their injury proneness and how they performed last season.
Al Montoya was not ranked in the top 25 by the Yahoo Sports Puck Daddy preseason goalie power ranking.
Montoya had a strange journey en-route to becoming the top man in the Islanders' crease. He originally was selected as sixth overall by the New York Rangers in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Montoya made his professional debut with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL) after signing his entry level deal. Overall, he posted a 66-34-4 record with the Wolf Pack, along with a 5-5 playoff record. Montoya was considered to be a top goaltending prospect for the New York Rangers before the emergence of Henrik Lundqvist.
He would be subsequently dealt to Phoenix and then got his big break when he was traded to the Islanders when Rick DiPietro and Kevin Poulin went down with injuries.
Montoya posted a 9-5-5 record for the Islanders with a 2.39 GAA and .921 save percentage. He represents a new Islanders team invigorated with talented young players.
If the Islanders can stay on Long Island, Montoya has the potential to carry the Islanders into the playoffs.
Martin Brodeur was ranked 11th overall in the top 25 by the Yahoo Sports Puck Daddy preseason goalie power ranking.
This pick may come as a surprise, but it surprises no one more than me. Yes, I may be a Rangers fan, but I grew up as a hockey fan. I can remember watching in awe as this player put his body on the line night in and night out.
Brodeur will probably go down as one of the greatest goalies in NHL history. He has had many memorable moments throughout his NHL career, and I am glad to have been apart of some of them.
One night that stands out to me was January 12, 2010. The New York Rangers squared off against the New Jersey Devils, and it was the greatest hockey game I ever attended to date.
The game was full of action, great play and especially superb goaltending on both sides of the ice. Henrik Lundqvist and Brodeur exchanged saves like a Jedi Knight and a Sith in a lightsaber duel.
The first, second, third and overtime period started and ended the same way. Each time, the scoreboard read 0-0.
The game went into the last round of the shootout, and Patrick Elias sniped a wrist shot home for the win. Both goaltenders combined for a double shutout, a rarity in today's game, and had 96 combined saves.
The Brodeur of the 2011-12 season will not be the Brodeur of old. Injuries and age are starting to effect this once thought to be immortal goaltender.
Brodeur still possesses the talent and ability to win 30 plus games in the regular season but many wonder if he has the stamina to play a full regular season and still succeed in the playoffs.
This is no knock on Marty Brodeur, but he is no longer the goalie he used to be. Not many goaltenders produced as constantly as Brodeur did during his prime.
However, on his worst day, he is probably better than half of the other starting goalies in the league on a good day.
30 to 35 Wins
Ilya Bryzgalov was ranked ninth overall in the top 25 by the Yahoo Sports Puck Daddy preseason goalie power ranking.
The spotlight indeed was on Bryzgalov.
The Coyotes had their own problems dealing with ownership that forced them from focusing on their free agents.
The Philadelphia Flyers were in desperate need of a goalie, and Bryzgalov fit the bill.
On June 23, 2011, the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to be their new starter and signed him to a nine-year, $51 million contract. In order to fit his contract under the salary cap, the Flyers made two high-profile trades an hour before the Bryzgalov signing was official.
It cost the Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards through trades and Ville Leino via free agency.
Regardless, Bryzgalov brings some sanity and stability to the Flyers crease. Bryzgalov brings an overall record of 156-116-35 with a GAA of 2.53 and a .916 save percentage.
Bryzgalov comes in third for these power rankings because there are two other goalies that have been better overall for their respective teams.
Bryzgalov is a good goalie, but no one knows how he will adjust to a new defense and new conference shooters and opponents.
It may take some time for Bryzgalov to assimilate into a new lineup, but once he is well adjusted, the Flyers are in good hands.
Ilya Bryzgalov may have the biggest contract to live up to in Philadelphia Flyers and goaltending history.
35 to 40 Wins
Henrik Lundqvist was named the third best goalie overall in a preseason power ranking by the Yahoo Sports Hockey blog Puck Daddy.
Lundqvist is a very talented goal tender who has been at the mercy of his team's inability to score. The same can be said about Tomas Vokoun's situation with the Washington Capitals. Vokoun will now have a healthy offensive support system, and so will Lundqvist.
For the better part of his career, Lundqvist has been surrounded with a squad featuring many former Wolf Pack players and some overpaid veterans.
The 2011-12 roster will feature stars in Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards and seasoned young players in Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, along with a thriving young defense core.
Lundqvist has proven himself internationally as well as in the NHL. He had won of the most impressive Olympic runs in 2006 when he backstopped Sweden to a goal medal.
Lundqvist has also posted a career record of 213-137-49 with a GAA of 2.32 and a save percentage of .918. He is also the only goaltender in NHL history to start their career with six consecutive 30 win seasons.
Lundqvist also is a two time all-star and a three time Vezina Trophy nominee.
Regardless, Lundqvist is only going to get better now that he is coming into his prime and because he will have a team that can support him offensively.
However, Henrik Lundqvist is not the best goalie in the Atlantic Division.
60 to 65 Appearances
38 to 45 Wins
Marc-Andre Fleury was named the seventh overall in the top 25 by the Yahoo Sports Puck Daddy pre-season goalie power ranking.
If anyone feels that this is a pick out of left field, explain to me how the Penguins finished the 2010-11 season by setting a franchise record in points and wins without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal for most of the season?
Fleury's superb goaltending led the Penguins through the regular season and into the Stanley Cup quarterfinals. Had it not been for Steven Stamkos and the offensively stacked Tampa Bay Lightning, the Penguins may have been able to squeak into the later rounds of the playoffs.
So far in his young career, Fleury has posted a record of 184-126-35 with a 2.74 GAA and a .908 save percentage. He also has won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal.
When you take Fleury's Stanley Cup from 2009 and his superb play from last season, it begs the question of what the Penguins could accomplish with an effective Fleury and a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
39 to 45 Wins
The Atlantic Division certainly has some quality puck stoppers in goal for their respective teams.
Comments, questions or concerns,? If you felt I slighted someone, leave a comment in the section below and explain why you feel the way you do. I will then attempt to address your concern to the best of my abilities.
Tom Urtz is an NHL Featured Columnist and is a member of Bleacher Report's Official 2011 NHL Free Agency Coverage Team. For more NHL free agent news, updates and alerts about players: