In the fifth installment of NHL Power Rankings by position, I'm taking a look at the 10 best goaltenders in the NHL today.
But first, a few ground rules. In order to qualify as a "goaltender," the player must be listed on NHL.com's 2010-11 regular season statistics page as a G (obviously) and have played a minimum of 41 regular season NHL games last year.
Beyond that, I've taken into account a number of factors when crafting this list: puck-stopping proclivity, puck-handling ability, defensive awareness and positioning, leadership and strength of the team in front of the netminder—some goaltenders really do have it easier than others!
And without further ado, here they are. The 10 best netminders in the NHL today. Enjoy! Comments are welcome and appreciated!
These five (well, six) netminders weren't quite up to the challenge of being one of the 10 best, but they were close and deserved to be recognized as some of the best in the business.
1. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
2. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues
3. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames
4. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
5a. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks
5b. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Marc-Andre Fleury has the natural talent to be much higher on this list, if he would develop some consistency in his game. The Penguins netminder continued his up-and-down play in 2010-2011, posting stretches of unbelievable dominance and periods of abysmal play.
Fleury is an enigma for a netminder.
On one hand, he has otherworldly reflexes and quickness. On the other, a tendency to completely lose focus and concentration. When he's "hot," he's unbeatable. When he's not, he looks like he belongs in the AHL.
He has demonstrated an ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs, to make near-impossible saves look easy and to elevate his level of play when it matters most. For that (and for his otherworldly talent), he receives a spot on this list.
However, until Fleury improves his fundamentals and focus, adds consistency to his game and learns to handle the puck, he will remain barely a Top 10 goaltender.
When I initially laid out this list, I had Carey Price just out of the Top 10 at No. 11. That changed after I re-watched his performance against the Bruins during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Price's play during the regular season was impressive, to say the least. He managed to post stellar numbers despite playing behind a defense that lost its best player in Andrei Markov to injury. He routinely carried the Canadiens to victories in games they didn't deserve to win, he made incredibly difficult saves look routine and he did it all while playing in possibly the most intense hockey market in the world.
Impressive, to say the least.
It isn't a secret that Carey Price is an insanely talented young netminder. He has the ability to go post-to-post as fast as just about anyone in the NHL, he is technically sound, possesses strong fundamentals and always plays within himself. He isn't easily rattled in net, he doesn't over-commit moving laterally and he owns some tremendous reflexes.
However, it also isn't a secret that he has had serious consistency issues. For whatever reason, Price has struggled to put all of the pieces together on the ice. He has been prone to cold streaks, to lapses in concentration and to making bad decisions with the puck.
While re-watching the Bruins/Canadiens series, I finally saw Price put all of the pieces together for a consistent stretch of time. He was stellar, outplaying Tim Thomas and a vastly superior Bruins team to force a Game 7.
For that performance and his phenomenal talent, he deserves a place on this list.
The Hurricanes' Cam Ward is partially a victim of his own success. Earlier in his career, he posted terrific numbers en route to the Canes winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06.
Since then, Ward has struggled to live up to the expectations that accompany massive success early in one's career.
The good news for Ward is that he has the natural ability to be a Top 5 goaltender in the NHL. He is fundamentally sound, owns a tremendous hockey sense and has a penchant for playing well in big games. He owns excellent reflexes and is very quick on his skates, allowing him to track the puck laterally and vertically.
The bad news is that while Ward's fundamentals are sound, they are not elite. Ward still struggles to be consistently square to the shooter, to play angles as well as he should and to control his rebounds. His puck-handling is average and could stand to be improved.
The bottom line is this: Cam Ward has the talent and the mental make-up to be an elite goaltender. But for him to take the next step, he must improve his fundamentals and technical play. Doing so will add consistency to his game and allow him to challenge for a spot in the Top 5.
Over the past two seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov has quietly established himself as one of the NHL's best goaltenders. His stats over that period are virtually identical to those posted by Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist and Sabres netminder Ryan Miller and are made more impressive by the fact that both Lundqvist and Miller had the benefit of playing behind significantly better teams.
Bryzgalov owns a tremendous combination of size, quickness and vision. He's a solid fundamental netminder who reads and anticipates the play well, squares himself to the shooter and takes away everything.
As his "Cool Bryz" nickname indicates, Bryzgalov is cool under fire and knows how to deal with high-pressure situations.
The main weakness for Bryzgalov is his consistency in the lateral movement department. Occasionally, he will struggle to move post-to-post, which often leads to him being out of position, not square to the shooter and pulled from the game. It should be noted that this is not a talent-related issue—Bryzgalov has the ability to move across the crease extremely well. He just doesn't always do it.
When Bryzgalov is on his game, he's near-impossible to beat. He has the ability to carry a very mediocre team to the playoffs, to be a rock in net for a solid team and to be a Top 5 goaltender at the NHL level.
The Washington Capitals pulled off the heist of the 2011 offseason when they signed former Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun for less than $2 million per season.
Vokoun is an extremely talented workhorse netminder who has the natural ability to be a Top 5 netminder in the league.
Vokoun is a unique talent for a goaltender. He isn't nearly as fundamentally sound as other netminders on this list, and as such, is rather unpredictable. He does tend to take away the lower portion of the net exceptionally well and owns a tremendous glove hand that he uses to stop high shots. Vokoun is exceptionally quick post-to-post and is able to recover immediately after making a save.
The downside to Vokoun's style of play is his lack of a strong fundamental game to lean on when he's off his game. He also struggles with his consistency on occasion, allowing himself to lose focus and let in soft goals.
Furthermore, he doesn't have a strong playoff track record despite playing on several excellent Predators teams earlier in his career.
If he continues to struggle with his consistency and playoff performance, he will move down this list next season. For now, his impressive regular season play is barely sufficient to keep him in front of Bryzgalov, Ward and Price.
King Henrik has been (arguably) the best goaltender in the NHL since the lockout. He has carried the Rangers to the playoffs in five of his first six seasons—impressive, to be sure.
He is the first (and only) netminder to win 30 or more games in each of his first six NHL seasons, a three-time Vezina finalist, a two-time NHL All-Star and an Olympic record-holder (consecutive minutes without allowing a goal).
Talent-wise, Lundqvist is the complete package. He possesses exceptional quickness and reflexes, he's very strong on his skates for a goaltender and he's one of the most fundamentally solid netminders I've ever seen. He's cool under pressure, he's able to elevate his game when it matters and he knows how to handle himself on and off the ice.
King Henrik has been a fantastic ambassador for the game of hockey from day one, and he does deserve credit for that.
Long story short, Henrik Lundqvist has been a consistently excellent regular season goaltender and has improved his play dramatically in the playoffs of late. He's one of the best in the NHL and deserves to be mentioned as one of the Top 5.
Easy, Canucks fans.
Luongo was his usual fantastic self during the 2010-2011 regular season. He posted a stellar 2.11 GAA and 0.928 SV%, to go along with 4 shutouts. He's one of the best in the regular-season business.
However, some of the credit for that performance must go to the rest of the Canucks, who were absolutely stellar at both ends of the ice all season long.
In terms of talent, Luongo is simply elite. He's phenomenally quick post-to-post, he's fundamentally sound and he has one of the best pairs of eyes in the game today. He reads the play exceptionally well, has terrific reflexes and tends to make incredibly difficult saves look routine.
After all of that, it is natural to wonder: So why is he No. 4? The answer is simple: Luongo folds like a cheap lawn chair when the pressure is on. A truly elite netminder is one who elevates his game when it matters most, who is able to steal games for his team in the postseason, who can handle the pressure of playing in a hostile environment.
Luongo proved he was not that guy during the 2011 NHL playoffs.
I believe what we all witnessed there was simply the most prominent example of a pattern I've seen in Luongo throughout his career: When he's under intense pressure, he tends to overthink everything and break down. His fundamental play, the backbone of his game, goes out the window. He loses focus for periods of time. He tries to do too much and ends up letting in soft goals.
If the hockey world wasn't familiar with the name Pekka Rinne before the 2010-2011 season, they certainly were after it. The Predators netminder posted one of the best statistical seasons in recent memory, with a 0.930 save percentage, 2.12 GAA and 6 shutouts.
Talent-wise, Rinne has a phenomenal combination of size (6'5") and quickness. His angle-play and fundamentals are excellent, allowing him to use his size effectively and take away almost the entire net. He moves very well post-to-post and is extremely adept at recovering and making the second save. Rinne is also an above average puck-handler.
The only knocks on Rinne are (1) his endurance/durability and (2) his rebound control. Rinne has improved (2) by leaps and bounds over the past two seasons, but there is still some work to do. If he's able to consistently control his rebounds, he won't have to make the second save nearly as often. That should improve his numbers even more and likely win him a Vezina.
Regarding (1): the best thing for Rinne at this point is to continue to improve his conditioning while still taking plenty of maintenance days during the season to stay fresh.
All in all, Rinne is the complete package and certainly one of the best netminders in the game today. He's certainly worthy of being one of the Top 3.
Let me start this with a disclaimer: I am not a Sabres fan by any stretch of the imagination.
That being said, Ryan Miller is one of the Top 2 goaltenders in the world today. He has the most impressive combination of athleticism and fundamentals in the NHL today. He has been consistently excellent on Sabres teams that were barely mediocre, frequently facing 25 or more scoring chances per game.
Talent-wise, Miller has it all. He is phenomenally athletic, with the ability to go post-to-post as quickly as anyone in the game today. His reflexes on both sides (glove and blocker) are some of the best in the NHL.
But what really separates Miller from other goaltenders is his hockey IQ and vision. Miller is able to read and anticipate the play as well as any goaltender in the game today, allowing him to make insanely difficult saves look easy. Miller has excellent rebound control and is almost always square to the shooter, allowing him to be absolutely dominant.
The only weaknesses in Miller's game are his lack of elite strength and his tendency to over-commit when going post-to-post. If he is able to improve those two areas of his game, he'll likely be No. 1 next year.
Tim Thomas is the definition of a "late bloomer." He played his first NHL game at age 29, but was quickly sent back to the minors and returned to Finland. He continued to hold out hope, and eventually returned to the NHL for the 2006 season. He established himself as the Bruins' No. 1 netminder during the 2008-2009 season when he was awarded his first Vezina Trophy.
Thomas missed much of the following season due to injury, but returned in a big way during the 2010-2011 season, setting a few new NHL records en route to his second Vezina and first career Conn Smythe Trophy.
Talent-wise, Thomas is extremely unorthodox. He is very adept at sprawling or lunging to make the save, he never quits on a play and he always seems to anticipate where the next shot will be coming from. He just has a knack for making the save with whatever body part is available.
The downside to Thomas' style of play is his lack of good technique and fundamentals, which are often the backbone of an elite netminder. When things aren't going well for Thomas, he simply does not have the ability to fall back on his technical, positional game to steady himself and stop the bleeding.
Of course, if Thomas is on his game, this matters much less. But it is still a weakness. The only other shortcoming I see in Thomas' game is his inability to handle the puck, but with the Bruins' defense corps, the importance of Thomas' puck-handing is greatly minimized.
The legend of Tim Thomas is certainly a feel-good story. And Thomas himself should feel very good, since it is a big reason why he's the best goaltender in the world.
At least for now.