2011 NHL Outlook: Ranking Each Team's Goaltender Duos

Andy KulaszewskiContributor IIAugust 15, 2011

2011 NHL Outlook: Ranking Each Team's Goaltender Duos

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    As the slow and painful offseason wears on, the goaltending pairs have taken shape as we look ahead to the upcoming preseason in September to finally get back to that 82-game grind that makes life bearable for the rest of us.

    Being 82 games long and almost eight months even if your team doesn't qualify for the playoffs, second string goaltenders of today have become just as vital to a team's playoff race as the starter. With this in mind, I will take a look and rank each teams goaltending pair for the upcoming season.

    Feel free to comment and judge and hate as much as you'd like, as this is only written from my perspective, and I don't have the opportunity to see all sixty some goalies play each year.


30. Mike Smith/Jason Labarbra of the Pheonix Coyotes

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    Mike Smith just was not cutting it for the Tampa Bay Lightning, forcing them to go out and pick up Dwayne Roloson for their playoff run. Who's to say Smith will be any better playing for a team with less firepower and less defense? He won't.

    The only reason the Coyotes made runs at the playoffs is because Ilya Bryzgalov is one of the best goalies in the league and kept them in every single game, while Mike Smith is not. Period.

    Jason Labarbra will not be able to bail out Mike Smith either, considering that backing up Bryzgalov really wasn't a job as much as it was entertainment for himself.

29. Kari Lehtonen/Andrew Raycroft of the Dallas Stars

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    Sorry Dallas fans, but I think this picture could be a fairly accurate foreshadowing of much of your season.

    Coming off of a season that really wasn't terrible by NHL standards, I don't think this goaltending duo has the ability to carry the Stars into the playoffs or garner many wins for that matter. It doesn't help that the Stars did virtually nothing this offseason except rid themselves of their top player.

    Kari Lehtonen is not a bad goalie by any means, coming off a season that watched him attain a .914 save percentage and push to the brink of the playoffs with a team that couldn't produce offensively in front of him; he is just not the hands down all-star that Dallas will need to take them to the show.

    Andrew Raycroft has made a career by using the bench as great season seats for multiple teams and has only been a starter for one of his ten years in the NHL. Needless to say, he doesn't help the Stars' stats in terms of goaltending power.

28. Craig Anderson/Alex Auld of the Ottawa Senators

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    Craig Anderson has bounced his way around the NHL for nearly a decade now and as of last year has landed himself a starting spot for the Ottawa Senators, playing in front of another career backup man in Alex Auld.

    Craig Anderson has shown flashes of incredible goaltending ability and actually seems to play better and better as his team plays worse and worse. He had posted very impressive numbers with a terrible Florida Panthers team in the mid-2000's and in the second half of last year ramped up his save percentage to over .930, which is incredible considering his sad performance for Colorado earlier in the year.

    Watching Ottawa finish among the bottom-feeders in last year, I wouldn't count on Anderson and Auld to be the factor that jumps the Sens up the standings. As a pair, they won't be able to string together the wins needed.

27. Jose Theodore/Scott Clemmensen of the Florida Panthers

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    There is a reason Jose Theodore has played for five teams in the past five years: "Aging Goalie on Career Decline" just doesn't look good as a resume title. At 34 years old Theodore is not super old (considering Thomas, Lidstrom and Selanne are all all-stars and older), but the bigger concern to teams are his numbers, which have consistently been inconsistent. The past five years has seen Theodore's save percentage top out at just over .910 and hit rock bottom in the .880 range, as well as everything in between.

    Scott Clemmensen is another career backup that has split much of his career between the NHL and his team's AHL affiliate. If Theodore shows up inconsistent again, Clemmensen only has so much NHL experience in his ten years to back him up.

    Although Florida made some major moves up front, dealing away Thomas Vokoun was an irreversible mistake.

26. Jaroslav Halak/Ben Bishop of the St. Louis Blues

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    After three incredible years with the Montreal Canadiens, we all remember the great goaltender debate of two years ago. Halak had led the Canadiens on a cinderella run to the Eastern Conference finals and played out of his mind after Carey Price had failed to show his true potential throughout the season. After the season ended the Habs made a gamble on Carey Price and sure did win big, sending Halak to St. Louis where he proved to be human. Halak did not show the brilliance for St. Louis that he did in Montreal, and I would assume this season will be much like the last—timely goals on his end with not much to show on the other.

    Ben Bishop will make for a decent backup solely based on his sheer size. The tallest goalie in the league at 6'7", you'd think he'd take up most of the net without even moving, but he has yet to break out and become the impact goalie that a person of his mass should be.

    The Blues will have another year of struggle this year unless Halak can somehow play every game like his 53 save performance in game six against Washington.

25. Ondrej Pavelec/Chris Mason of the Winnipeg Jets

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    I hope for the sake of the new Winnipeg Jets franchise that this duo is ranked lower than they should be, because I honestly hope to see the Jets make the playoffs in their first year.

    Ondrej Pavelec has apparently established himself as the Jets starting goaltender over Chris Mason, who had a weak showing for the Thrashers in 33 games last year. Pavelec's numbers have increased each year upon entering the NHL and hopefully will get even better this year, but until he has a little more experience and a few more years to average out his numbers, it is hard to tell whether he will be consistent enough.

    Chris Mason, however, has had plenty of years in the league to show that his numbers change every year, and it will depend a lot on how this year progresses. Hopefully the hype of bringing a team back to the dedicated city of Winnipeg will get these goalies to play better than ever.

24. Nikolai Khabibulin/Devan Dubnyk of the Edmonton Oilers

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    You know you're getting up there in age when you are one of two players in the NHL (assuming that Selanne retires) that got to play for the Winnipeg Jets in their last season AND get to play against them in their first season. At 38, Nikolai Khabibulin has found himself on a rebuilding Edmonton Oilers team that is still working out the kinks to be a playoff contender. "The Bulin Wall" has surpassed his prime and is now just hanging on to hockey so his paycheck will pay off all his lawyer fees.

    I have not been able to see Devan Dubnyk play so can't really comment on him besides the fact that he always does pretty well for me in NHL 11 since my player was drafted by the Oilers and I've been stuck playing there for three video game years (equal to three human months of obsessive gaming).

    The Oilers are going to be the next powerhouse in the NHL, but to do this they need to put the final piece in place, an all-star ballot goaltender.

23. Steve Mason/Mark Dekanich of the Columbus Blue Jackets

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    After his Rookie of the Year and Vezina nominating season in 2008, Steve Mason has continued to be a solid goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has never returned quite to the level of play he showed in his first season but he does enough each year for the Blue Jackets to be competitive, which is more than any other goalie can say for the Jackets. Mason is the only goalie to take them to the playoffs (they were swept by Detroit in the first round). Watch for Mason to be solid this year as the Blue Jackets try for a second playoff appearance.

    With Mason starting for the Blue Jackets, Mark Dekanich has not really had a chance to show what he can do after being drafted in 2006. The Jackets have more of a stellar starter than a one-two punch.

22. Niklas Backstrom/Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild

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    Niklas Backstrom, not to be confused with Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, has without a doubt established himself as the Minnesota Wild starting goaltender and will continue to do so, as Josh Harding has seen limited games behind this guy.

    He is a stable goaltender and plays consistently, and, now that I begin writing about him, I'm starting to feel that I may have placed him a little low on the rankings. He is definitely an underrated goaltender, but it's probably because the Wild have not been playoff contenders since 2008 when they lost to Colorado in round one.

    Harding has come forward as a solid goalie, and his numbers would probably reflect that more if he had not gotten injured early last season. Watch for him to be an up-and-comer.

21. Mikka Kiprusoff/Henrik Karlsson of the Calgary Flames

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    "Kipper" has had a real solid ten year career and will continue to be the Flames go-to guy for at least a little bit. At the age of 34 and with Calgary slowly slipping farther from playoff contention, he should have a few good years left with the Flames before either retirement or the need to change up his scenery. He is a good goalie but is not what he used to be.

    Henrik Karlsson is a goalie whose first NHL game was last year and throughout the season had a few chances to shine and really didn't do too bad. He definitely didn't put up the numbers of a starting goalie, but, with Kiprusoff starting in goal, he won't have to.

20. James Reimer/Jonas Gustavsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs

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    This ranking is almost completely based on James Reimer's outstanding rookie season for the Maple Leafs. Assuming he avoids the dreaded sophomore slump, the Maple Leafs really don't look as bad in goal as they do elsewhere. James Reimer had over a .920 save percentage in his first season and kept even the Maple Leafs goals against to just over 2.50 goals a game. If he can get better with age and experience, he may be the next star goalie in this league.

    He is also backed up by Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson, who stands at 6'3" and has shown the potential of being a team's leading man. However, a weak year last year has held this goaltending duo out of the top half of the league.

19. Corey Crawford/Alex Salak of the Chicago Blackhawks

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    Corey Crawford's situation is very similar to that of James Reimer. A stellar rookie season has made his name well known throughout the league, and if he can avoid a sophomore slump, this ranking may just improve. To be honest, I almost forgot about the Blackhawks when writing this, so they may actually be ranked a little higher than they should, mainly because I don't think I've ever seen Alex Salak play in an NHL game.

    Crawford will need to put the Hawks on his shoulders next season, much like he did in the last, to carry them back to the playoffs.

18. Rick DiPietro/Al Montoya/Evgeni Nabakov of the New York Islanders

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    This ranking goes somewhere in the middle just because news of Evgeni Nabokov could alter their goaltending status immensely. Nabokov has stated that he wants to head to New York for training camp, after a crazy dilemma last year involving the Detroit Red Wings, then waivers, then the Islanders, before disappearing in a fit of rage over playing for the Isles. If Nabokov does decide to play this year, he will without a doubt be the starter with Rick DiPietro backing him up, which, if I were an Islanders fan, I would be pretty happy with.

    Nabokov has always played great in the regular season, and DiPietro can easily still be considered a starting goaltender. The playoffs, however, are a different story when it comes to Nabokov, but I don't think the Islanders are looking that far ahead yet. They are still trying to put together a team that can just make it to the playoffs, and for that purpose, Nabokov and DiPietro are a one-two punch than can steal some games for the young Islanders.

17. Carey Price/Peter Budaj of the Montreal Canadians

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    Stick with me here people, the title is goaltending duos, not starters. In ranking starting goaltenders Carey Price is top ten without a doubt, but did anyone even know that Peter Budaj was traded from the Avalanche? No, because he has always been a career backup goaltender, and in a bind with Price, Budaj doesn't have the talent to keep the Canadians at the same level.

16. Martin Broduer/Johan Hedberg of the New Jersey Devils

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    If last season didn't inform everyone that Martin Brodeur is past his prime then I don't know what will. That being said, he is still Martin Brodeur and, let's be honest, is arguably the best goalie to ever don an NHL jersey. That, in addition to the fact that last year career backup Johan Hedberg outshone one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time in the second half, is keeping this goaltender duo out of the bottom ten.

    Watch for the Devil's to have a comeback season, but they will only go so far with the aged Brodeur.

15. Dwayne Roloson/Mathieu Garon of the Tampa Bay Lightning

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    As we enter the top half of the league's goaltending duos, I want to reiterate the fact that this isn't ranking the top goaltenders, but the starters and their bailouts. Dwayne Roloson is a performer, and one that obviously plays better in a pressure cooker, but he is ancient. The start of this season will watch him turn 42 years old, which is old as **** for this league, you know, not the earth.

    The human body isn't meant to do the things that he does at that age, and I am expecting to see a slight downfall to his game this year, and with 33 year old, six team veteran Mathieu Garon backing him up, they fit right in the middle of this league.

14. Jimmy Howard/Ty Conklin of the Detroit Red Wings

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    Jimmy Howard has more than established himself as a starting goalie in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings and has proved himself as a playoff performer last year with phenomenal play against the Coyotes and the San Jose Sharks. Watch for him to up the ranks in the next few seasons as he gains experience.

    Ty Conklin is back for another run as a Detroit Red Wing backup, and, if anyone remembers, he played stellar behind Chris Osgood on their way to the Stanley Cup finals. Conklin has been a starter and a backup and can easily fill any playing time when Howie needs a rest.

13. Cam Ward/Brian Boucher

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    The Carolina Hurricanes made a huge jump in these standings when they acquired Brian Boucher from the Philadelphia Flyers. I mean, don't get me wrong, Cam Ward is an epic goaltender and can easily carry the load for the Canes, but this is about duos, and Brian Boucher is a goalie who can also lead a team to victory.

    Putting together an all-star Cam Ward to start and having a goalie who has proved himself (although inconsistent at times) is a recipe for success as far as goalies go down in Raleigh.

12. Henrik Lundqvist/Martin Biron of the New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers may have finally put together a team that can compete higher than playoff bubble capacity, and much of this has to do with the goaltending. Of course, Martin Biron is an able backup who has seen time as a starter and can handle it if need be, but this is only necessary if King Henrik needs a rest.

    Henrik Lundqvist has never seen his save percentage in the NHL dip below .910, and he may be on his way to a hall-of-fame career if he can continue. These two goalies are hard to beat, showing how much improvement the Rangers needed in front of them over the past couple of seasons, which they may have found this offseason.

11. Semyon Varlamov/J.S. Giguere of the Colorado Avalanche

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    Nobody played more musical goalies this offseason than the Colorado Avalanche, and nobody could have done it better in my opinion. Semyon Varlamov is coming off of two great seasons with the Capitals and has proven he can be a starting goaltender, not to mention he has valuable playoff experience (not that Colorado will need that quite yet).

    But you never know with your backstop being J.S. Giguere, who is one of the only players to win the Conn Smyth trophy on the losing team in the finals. This monster of a goalie could easily be the starter for the Avs if they forget about his time with the Maple Leafs. Maybe a change of scenery will do him good.

    Either way, these are two really good goalies who should be able to steal some wins for the Avalanche this year.

10. Jonas Hiller/Dan Ellis of the Anaheim Ducks

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    Top Ten!

    This ranking is heavily based on the assumption that Jonas Hiller will be back in the lineup for the Ducks next year. After suffering symptoms of vertigo, Hiller was forced to miss a huge chunk of last season, leading to the Ducks snatching up Dan Ellis from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Hiller is an all-star goalie, and Dan Ellis has proved himself a capable starter in a time of need. With these two splitting time in the Ducks' cage, the Ducks will again be a real threat this season.

9. Jonathan Quick/Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings

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    A solid pair of Jon's are set to lead the L.A. Kings to the playoffs this year. I think this is one of the most underrated pair of goalies in the league, which is why I have them so high. Jon Quick was hands down the best player for the Kings all season, and Bernier wasn't too shabby himself, posting over a .910 save percentage.

    All I have to say about these two is watch out Western Conference, the L.A. Kings are back.

8. Ilya Brzgalov/Sergei Bobrovsky/Michael Leighton of the Philadelphia Flyers

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    The picture pretty much sums up the Phoenix Coyotes of last year, and sending that piece of the puzzle to the Flyers may have all but solved Philly's goaltending headaches. Mash an all-star goaltender that could win games when his team could barely put a puck in the opposing net with a superstar rookie and a decent veteran, and you have what the Flyers have.

    The Flyers have been looking to fill a void in net ever since Ron Hextall stood between the pipes, and putting one of the top five goalies there could easily bump them to a Stanley Cup favorite, especially with the great backup ability of their second and third string goalies.

    We'll just have to see if all that shuffling that the Broadstreet Bullies did up front was a great idea or a huge mistake.

7. Pekka Rinne/Anders Lindback of the Nashville Predators

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    Let's be honest, when your team is in the bottom ten in goals per game throughout an 82 game season and still manages to make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, you must have an incredible set of goalies backstopping. Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback are both incredible goaltenders who bring more excitement and flash to the game than their forwards do.

    Rinne, in my opinion, is one of the top three goaltenders in the league, and his numbers show it, coming in second for the Vezina trophy last year. And if Lindback can expand on his big play further into his career, these two may be the number one duo in the league in years to come. 

6. Antti Niemi/Antero Nittymaki of the San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks have put together an offensive powerhouse every year for the last five at least, and, being a Detroit Red Wings fans, I nearly soiled myself after hearing that they had picked up Antti Niemi right after winning the Stanley Cup. Boy, I was right to do so, as putting him in front of an already great Antero Nittymaki gave the Sharks the stopping power to match their offense.

    Sure enough, the Sharks rode Niemi all the way to a double overtime game five thriller of the Conference Finals, and if it weren't for a weird bounce in Vancouver, they easily could have extended that series longer. We'll see if the Sharks' off-season moves were good or bad come October, but they will have no questions in net.

5. Ryan Miller/Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres

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    Top Five.

    It doesn't take much time of watching Jhonas Enroth play before you realize this guy is the real deal and could be the next Pekka Rinne leading teams to the playoffs. Just think to yourself about that for a second, and then make him a backup to Ryan Miller.

    Enough said.

4. Tomas Vokoun/Michal Neuvirth/Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals went out and made a bold move by picking up Tomas Vokoun, especially considering that they claimed all year to be happy with their goaltending trio. In my own opinion, Vokoun is one of the top three goaltenders in the league, if not the best. He has put up staggering numbers while playing on a terrible Florida Panthers team. 

    Add Tomas Vokoun to Michal Neuvirth, who is already known to be capable of leading a team through the regular season and into the playoffs, and you've got a top five goaltending duo without a doubt.

    Even if one of these two gets hurt, Braden Holtby has proven himself last year with some standout performances for the Caps. This team could be the only team in the league that has three goalies who could start for some NHL teams.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury/Brent Johnson of the Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins have absolutely struck gold with Marc-Andre Fleury. His numbers speak for themselves; in five of his first six years (the exception being his rookie year) his save percentage has not dropped below .900, and he always keeps fans entertained by making huge saves at huge times. Look no further than the final 10 seconds of the 2009 game 7 Final against the Red Wings.

    Brent Johnson is probably one of the most underrated backup goaltenders in the league. Last year, when Fleury was struggling, Johnson came in and absolutely stood on his head to keep the Penguins from having a disastrous run. Not to mention that he sure can throw a punch. Johnson always plays solid and is a fantastic backup who could easily start for most teams.

2. Roberto Luongo/Corey Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks

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    Well, it's no surprise here that Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider would rank in number two after posting the best goals against average of the league and falling short in the Stanley Cup Finals to who I would rank as the best goaltender pair in the league right now.

    Simple solution for the Canucks: Roberto Luongo plays all season and wins them a President's Trophy, while Corey Schneider takes over in the playoffs to win them the Stanley Cup. You're welcome, Alain Vigneault.

1. Tim Thomas/Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins

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    Not only does this team have two very capable, very good starting goaltenders in the cage, they house the Vezina trophy winner who is absolutely mind-blowing. Thomas only gets better with pressure, and his Dominik Hasek-like style keeps fans amazed every game.

    Tuuka Rask is a goalie who has obviously proven to be a starter and had done exactly that when Timmy Thomas was revamping his game. These two together are simply the best duo in the game today.