Sweet 16: Ranking the NHL's Goalies

TOsports.caCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 29: Goalkeeper Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on March 29, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

With the NHL regular season all but behind us, it’s a good time to take a look at which goalies were the best at their craft.

In order to get an idea as to which goalies were the best, I had to take a look at a couple of keys factors: Wins, losses, shoot out success, save Percentage, shut Outs, soals against average, time On the ice, team success, and finally, the wild card, intimidation factor.

Let’s take a look at my top 16 goalies in the NHL. You might be surprised at who’s No. 1, and who didn’t make the list.

16. Chris Mason, St. Louis Blues—There has been a lot of attention thrown toward Columbus Blue Jackets rookie goaltending sensation Steve Mason, but do you know about “The other Mason”?

His name is Chris, and he is the reason the St. Louis Blues have a shot at the playoffs this year. At 32, Mason is a veteran Crease Beast. He isn’t flashy, and at 6’0” 195 pounds, he isn’t in the mould of the modern day huge goalie.

That said, what Mason lacks in size, he more than makes up for in heart and positioning. Mason has a record of 24-21-6, not impressive from afar, but his goals against average of 2.46 and his great save percentage of .916 rank him 12th overall in each of those categories, while his five shut outs ranks him fifth overall in the NHL.

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Combine all those great stats with the fact that he almost single handedly has led the once left for dead St. Louis Blues into playoff contention, and you know why Mason has a spot on my top 16.

15. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins—Last year, after a great playoff run, Fleury was regarded as a can’t miss top six goalie in the NHL. This year, we have watched him struggle early on and, more recently, be the kind of goaltender we all know he can be.

Fleury is just 24 years old—young for a goaltender—but he has great experience, and the advantage of having one of the most offensively gifted teams in the NHL in front of him. Fleury’s stats don’t jump off the page at you, but he does have some decent totals.

At 33-17-6, Fleury has the sixth best win total in the league, but his save percentage of .913 and his goals against average of 2.64 rank him 22nd and 23rd respectively. Not exactly earth shattering stats, but decent nonetheless.

At 58 games played (sixth in the NHL), Fleury has shown himself to be an integral part of Pittsburgh’s success, and you have to wonder if last season's Stanley Cup drive, combined with this season's workload, have tired Fleury out.

I think if he had a more capable backup, you might see his numbers improve, catapulting Fleury into a top 10 goalie for the foreseeable future.

14. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils—Before anyone has a heart attack when you see Brodeur ranked this low, you need to consider my criteria.

Sure, Brodeur is arguably the best goaltender on the planet, but he was out most of the season, and, as such, his totals, while impressive, are low.

Brodeur has a record of 16-8-3, his save percentage is .917, and his goals against average is sitting at 2.41, good enough for ninth overall in both categories. Even more impressive is his five shut outs, ranking him eighth overall in limited play.

Brodeur would be among the league leaders in most categories if he had played more. He has the best glove hand in the league, and is so good at moving the puck, the league made changes to limit his effectiveness. Sadly, injuries took their toll this season, and the totals “are what they are”.

13. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks—Supplanting J.S. Giguere for the starting goaltending position is not an easy thing to do, but Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller may just have done that this season.

Hiller, a relative unknown from Felben Wellhausen, Switzerland, has been having a tremendous year between the pipes. His record of 21-14-1 won’t scare anyone, but, upon a closer look, you can’t help but take notice of Hiller’s great save percentage of .920, and his bargain basement goals against average of 2.31, ranking him sixth and fourth respectively.

With a few more starts, Hiller surely would be among the NHL’s top 10 goalies in every stat. He should get the opportunity to play more next season, especially if he gets the Ducks through a round or two in the playoffs this season.

Hiller has arrived. It’s time to take notice.

12. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators— If you are looking for a great goaltending prospect, why not call the Predators?

Since 2005-2006 the Preds have had no less than four different starting goaltenders. Each one has been dominant, and each one has been replaced the following year. In 2005-2006, the Preds employed Tomas Vokoun as their starter.

Vokoun was unseated by Chris Mason in 2006-2007. Mason was unseated by Dan Ellis in 2007-2008, and finally Ellis was unseated by Pekka Rinne in 2008-2009.

If you look at each of these goalies, all of them had a decent amount of success between them. In fact, if you tallied their stats together you would see that this great group of goalies had a record of 85-75-20-21.

Not too bad, especially when you consider the shut-out factor. Rinne is a top notch goaltender, and at just 26 years old, he should get better with age. Rinne sits at a towering 6’ 5”, 206 pounds, and he takes up a ton of net with his exceptional lateral movement.

His record of 27-13-4 with seven shut outs is outstanding, and a save percentage of .922 and his goals against average of 2.25 ranks him fifth and third overall in the NHL.

Without Rinne in the nets the Preds are a paltry 11-19-4, proving just how valuable Rinne has been to his club this season. The Preds are sitting right on the cusp of a playoff spot, and without Rinne they are a bottom feeder.

11. Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks—Funny the way things turn out sometimes, isn’t it? During the offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks went out and signed free-agent goaltender Christobal Huet to a long term contract. The thought was that Khabibulin was through in Chi-town, and that he would make great trade bait, fortunately  for the Blackhawks their were no takers for Khabibulin.

When Huet struggled early, Khabibulin went in and played exceptionally well in his absence. Needless to say, without Khabibulin, the Blackhawks surely would be in dire straights to make the playoffs.

With the “Bulin Wall” in the nets, the Hawks are positioned quite comfortably in the Western Conference, and should reap the rewards of Khabibulin’s experience once the playoffs commence.

Khabibulin has a record of 22-8-6, a save percentage of .916, and a goals against average of 2.46, ranking him 12th overall in both categories.

But it’s his veteran presence and composure that separates him from the rest. He is invaluable to this young squad, and should get the nod in the playoffs.

10. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres—How bad are the Sabres? Well, without Miller in the net, the Sabres racked up a grand total of six wins.

In fact, the Sabres were 6-13-5 when it wasn’t “Miller time”. Miller has been a rock for the Sabres. His record of 32-16-6 is impressive, and add to that the fact that Miller has five shut outs, a save percentage of .917 (ninth best in the League) and a decent goals against average of 2.40. You can see why Miller is the odds on favorite to be team U.S.A.’s goalie at the 2010 olympic games.

Ask yourself this: Was there any more valuable goaltender to his team than Miller? I rest my case; he’s top ten in my books.

9. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes—Hard to believe that many prognosticators had Ward pegged as a flash in the pan. Without question, Ward is the Comeback Player of the Year.

His record of 37-22-5 is impressive, and his save percentage of .916 (12th in the League) and goals against average of 2.45 (11th in the League) prove that Ward is back and perhaps even better than ever!

The Hurricanes are a paltry 6-6-2 when Ward is not in the nets, once again proving he is invaluable to this teams success. Ward will cause many playoff poolies to re-think their picks. Can Ward lead the Hurricanes to the promised land for a second time? In the wide open Eastern Conference, anything is possible.

8. Mikka Kipprusoff, Calgary Flames—Hard to argue with the leagues best totals at 44-22-5, but when you look a little closer, Kipprusoff has his shortcomings.

Kipper, while talented, is a bit streaky. He is known for giving up the bad goal at the wrong time in the game, and his focus has been questioned. Nobody in the league can match Kippers flexibility, and his ability to find pucks through traffic is uncanny, but his numbers are little suspect.

Kipprusoff has a save percentage of .903 and a goals against average of 2.84, ranking him 34th overall in each category. Now, before you go questioning why the heck I ranked Kipper in the seven spot, we need to look at a few more numbers.

Kipper has faced the most shots in the NHL (2075), he has made the most saves (1,874), and he has played the most games in the league (73). Add it all up and you have a goalie that is overworked on a team that is suspect defensively that somehow “gets it done”. Kipper has his faults, but I’d take him on my team any day of the week.

7. Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers—What you see is not always what you get. That is the case with Tomas Vokoun.

The Florida Panthers were not thought of as a playoff team by many, so the fact that they are in contention is a direct result of Vokoun’s superior goaltending. Vokoun sports a record of 23-22-6. Not very impressive, but his goals against average of 2.49 ranks him 15th overall, while his save percentage of .925 is second to only to Boston’s Tim Thomas. Add it all up, and you have one heck of a goalie who is known for being tough to beat on the blocker side. Vokoun is a difference maker; without him, the Panthers are an also-ran.

6. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers—Talk about saving your teams bacon; Lundqvist does that on a nightly basis for the New York Rangers.

As such, he is a top performer in the NHL. Lundqvist is arguably the smartest goalie in the league. He has uncanny “hockey sense,” and is well known for his heroics in the shootout, often stone walling the shooters.

Lundqvist’s save percentage and goals against average are very average, ranking at 14th and 17th respectively, but you need to keep in mind that Lundqvist plays for a team that, more often than not, leaves him vulnerable.

He has faced 1,889 shots—good enough for fifth overall, and he has played 66 games, good enough for fourth overall. Lundqvist’s work ethic, calm demeanor and ability to shut the door make him invaluable to the Rangers success.

In fact, any success they have in the playoffs will likely be a direct result of how well he plays. Ludqvist IS a crease beast!

5. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks—Another victim of the numbers game, Luongo has been lights out when he has been between the pipes for the ‘Nucks. His numbers are deceiving, but still very impressive.

Luongo has a 30-11-7 record, with a 2.40 goals against average (eighth overall), a .918 save percentage (seventh overall) and seven shut outs, good enough for third overall. No question, Luongo is an elite goaltender, and should be Canada’s No.1 or 1A goalie at the 2010 Olympics.

Luongo also has the distinction as the leagues only goaltender serving as his teams captain, and he covers the bottom of the net better than anyone I have ever seen. Luongo is a huge figure, and he intimidates with his size and quick reaction.

He is a shooter's worst nightmare. There are not many teams that want to face the Canucks in the playoffs, Luongo is the main reason.

4. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild—Ok, so the Wild play a very defensive minded style, but in order to get away with winning most of your games 2-1, 3-2, or in a blowout 4-3, you gotta have a goalie who can continually shut the door on the opposition. That’s exactly what Backstrom does.

Backstrom doesn’t stand out for having the best of anything, but he does everything at an above average leve. That’s what makes him such a force in the crease. Backstrom, or “Backy” as his teammates call him, has some very impressive numbers. He owns a 35-23-8, his goals against average is 2.32 (fifth overall), his save percentage sits at a very impressive .923 (fourth overall), and he has shut out the opposition a total of eight times, good enough for second overall.

Put it all together, and you have a goaltender that you can build your team around. Backy will face lot’s of rubber in the coming years, but that’s OK. He’s more than capable of stopping most of them. It’s the shooters that need to beware of Backstrom, not the other way around.

3. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks—With success comes the pressure to succeed. Sounds goofy, right?

Well, in Nabokov’s case this phrase rings very true. The San Jose Sharks were supposed to contend for the Stanley Cup each of the past three seasons. Trouble is they were horrible come playoff time, causing many fans to question every player on the roster, especially the play of the goalie.

Well, wake up San Jose fans, the numbers don’t lie, and Nabby’s are as good as they come. In fact, Nabokov has been among the best goaltenders in the league for four years now.

How does he pull it off? Consistency and great feet. You see, unlike many goalies in the NHL, Nabokov is a stand up goalie. He is agile, and has great skating ability, making him one of the game's best goalies in the League.

Nabby owns a record of 40-9-8, his goals against average sits at 2.39 (sixth best), and his save percentage, while a bit sub-par, is still a very respectable .913—good enough for 22nd overall.

Nabby also owns six Shut Outs (fifth overall), and the ability to answer the call when the chips are down, at least during the regular season.

In the end, Nabby’s perceived success will depend on how well he does in this years playoffs. An early exit will get the San Jose fateful to scream bloody murder. A Stanley Cup Championship would cement him as one of the games best.

2. Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets—Sometimes, in the face of adversity, good things happen or come about. Thus is the case for the Blue Jackets.

Early on in the season, the Blue Jackets starting goaltender Pascal LeClaire was sidelined. With the injury came the morbid idea that any chance of the Jackets making the playoffs were doomed. Enter Steve Mason.

Mason, a rookie, was brought in on a trial basis to fill the void left by LeClaire. Thing is, he played so well that he never relinquished the No. 1 spot back to LeClaire. In fact, he has dominated the league.

Mason owns a 32-18-5 record, is ranked 10th overall in games played, has a 2.22 goals against average (2nd overall) and has an impressive 10 shut outs, best in the league. At 6’4”, 212 pounds, Mason is a big specimen. But it’s his use of his size that separates him from the other goalies.

Mason continually challenges the shooters, and he plays the angles extremely well. Call me crazy, but I think you can add Mason’s name to Team Canada’s depth chart for the 2010 Olympics. I mean, what’s not to love about this kid.

1. Tim Thomas- Boston Bruins- Unorthodox. That’s the best way to describe Tim Thomas. Want another word? How about heart?

Thomas might not look too pretty in the crease, but he brings it every night and he wants to win so badly, he’ll do just about anything to do it, as evidenced by his flopping, sometimes out of control style.

Thomas, who many felt would be the odd man out in Boston this season, is one of the main reasons the Bruins are sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. His record of 34-11-7 is impressive, but that’s not all. Thomas owns a tidy .933 save percentage (first in the league), a 2.07 goals against average (first in the league) and five shut outs, good enough for fifth overall.

Thomas, who spent years in the minors and had been chastised for his unorthodox play, has cemented himself as the league's best goalie this year. There was no bigger surprise than the play of Thomas.

His numbers are sick. Nobody is even close to him statistically. Hey, Thomas ain’t pretty, the numbers just look that way. So do the numbers form his new contract. Congrats Thomas, you have officially arrived. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.

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