NHL Teams That Need a New Starting Goaltender for the 2014-15 Season

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IJune 7, 2014

NHL Teams That Need a New Starting Goaltender for the 2014-15 Season

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Where might unrestricted free agent Ryan Miller wind up this summer, or Jonas Hiller? The New York Islanders solved their goaltending woes by locking up Jaroslav Halak and St. Louis re-signed Brian Elliott, but there are still several teams that could use an upgrade.

    Even-strength save percentage is the statistic leaned on the most heavily to identify which teams have the greatest issues with their starting goaltending. This measurement is popular with the analytics crowd because it's free of the skewing effect imposed by highly penalized teams, or those with particularly strong or weak special teams.

    Based on those numbers there are several teams relying on goalies who are consistently in the bottom third of the league and/or goalkeepers with virtually no NHL track record at all.

    These teams are all prime destinations for goalies with Miller's credentials, or possibly one of the many backups ready to fight for a number one assignment.

    Ultimately 10 teams that require an upgrade to their starting goaltending were identified and ranked—including five of the seven Canadian teams. In each case, we've evaluated their current options and speculated at the odds of there being a change. Let's begin!

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

10. Edmonton Oilers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Current Options

    What an unfortunate season for Edmonton. Who could have predicted that Devan Dubnyk would struggle to that extent?

    Dubnyk was dealt to Nashville (and then on to Montreal), his backup Jason LaBarbera was moved to Chicago and free agent Ilya Bryzgalov was signed and then dealt to Minnesota. In the end they settled on Anaheim's Viktor Fasth, and Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles.

    Scrivens got 13 of the 20 starts down the stretch, but Fasth outplayed him. His even-strength save percentage nevertheless ranked ninth among the 29 goalies to play at least 40 games last year, pulling up his three-year average to 29th out of 52 (minimum 50 starts).

    Scrivens may very well prove to be a capable starting goalie, but that's not dissimilar from what was said about Dubnyk this time last year.

    As for Fasth, the 31-year-old Swede doesn't have a lot of NHL data to go on, but he was dominant in Sweden and has certainly played well enough in the NHL to warrant the gamble that he can take over if Scrivens struggles or gets hurt. He may even prove strong enough to steal the starting job away from him, according to Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal.

    Will There Be a Change?

    The Oilers put a lot of effort into addressing their goaltending last season, and they wouldn't have settled on Scrivens and Fasth if they didn't have great confidence in moving forward with the unheralded duo.

    At the very least, Edmonton has spread the risk between two goalies who have each shown the potential of taking over the reins as a starting NHL goalie. What are the odds that they'll both flop?

9. Ottawa Senators

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Current Options

    The Ottawa Senators have two goalies who would inarguably make excellent backups but, are really on the bubble as starters.

    Craig Anderson led the NHL with a .941 save percentage in 2012-13, but he is slowing down at age 33. Last year his even-strength save percentage ranked 13th among the 29 goalies to start at least 40 games.

    There is always the option to give 22-year-old restricted free agent Robin Lehner the opportunity to be the team's starting goalie this year.

    Although he was spectacular early in the year, Lehner really struggled down the stretch, and his even-strength save percentage fell to 44th out of the 61 to play at least 20 games last year. That pulled him down to 26th among the 52 to play at least 50 games over the past three seasons—making him a risky alternative to Anderson right now.

    Will There Be a Change?

    Several local pundits are already calling for Anderson to be traded, including the folks at Silver Seven Sens, SensChirp and Jared Crozier of Sports Illustrated. All of them are advocating for Lehner to assume the starting goaltending duties and for someone else to come on board to back him up.

    Of course, the pundits aren't the ones calling the shots.

    Anderson is on contract for one more year, and he will have to fight to keep his job and potentially to secure an extension. The Senators might nevertheless be wise to be on the lookout for an opportunity to bring in a more proven and reliable netminder.

8. San Jose Sharks

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Current Options

    The San Jose Sharks are going to be looking for answers after a disappointing first-round playoff exit, and they might start by replacing starting goalie Antti Niemi.

    The 30-year-old Finnish goalie had his worst season in four years as San Jose's starter. In terms of even-strength save percentage, Niemi ranked 23rd out of the 29 goalies to start at least 40 games—a disappointment exceeded only by his poor .884 save percentage in the playoffs.

    Even when you go back three seasons (which include his Vezina-finalist 2012-13 campaign), Niemi still ranks a middle-of-the-pack 14th out of the 29 goalies to play at least 100 games.

    Niemi is in the final season of a deal that carries an annual cap hit of $3.8 million.

    Will There Be a Change? 

    There is a lot of speculation about a change in San Jose's goaltending situation.

    Ross McKeon of the San Francisco Gate speculated that Miller could be a fit in San Jose. Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com agreed that such a move could make sense...if they can move Niemi. But Pierre LeBrun of ESPN asserted that the Sharks will look for someone younger than Miller.

    At the very least, the Sharks need a backup with Alex Stalock becoming an unrestricted free agent and Harri Sateri signing in the KHL. Ideally they can find a young goalie with the potential to push Niemi for the starter's role.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current Options

    Marc-Andre Fleury is unquestionably Pittsburgh's starter and has been ever since the 2005 lockout. But if the Penguins want to return to the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009 then this may be the only area where a quick and significant improvement can occur.

    The 29-year-old netminder's even-strength save percentage ranked 26th out of the 29 goalies to start at least 40 games last year. This is hardly anything new, as his three-year average ranks 22nd among the 29 to start at least 100.

    Any way you slice the numbers Fleury finishes below league average and arguably in the bottom third of NHL starters.

    Will There Be a Change?

    With a new general manager, a new coach and yet another playoff disappointment, anything is possible.

    Fleury is going into the final season of a seven-year deal that carried an annual cap hit of $5.0 million. While Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recommends an extension, the path back to the league's elite may require pursuing other options.

6. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Current Options

    Steve Mason is obviously Philadelphia's man, having been extended for three years with an annual cap hit of $4.1 million. It must not have been an easy contract to sign for a team that's been burnt so often.

    Handing the starting duties to Mason is a huge risk despite his hot start to the 2013-14 season. In the end, his even-strength save percentage ranked 18th among the 29th goalies to start at least 40 games—a dangerous sign coming from one of the league's worst starters since the 2005 lockout.

    Over the past three seasons, only four of the 28 other goalies to start at least 100 games have a worse even-strength save percentage than Mason—and only 11 of the other 51 to start at least 50.

    Will There Be a Change?

    New general manager Ron Hextall was a celebrated goalie in his own right, and one of his first orders of business will be to find a new partner to replace unrestricted free agent Ray Emery. Scott Cullen of TSN suggests that Alex Stalock might be the best free agent option, which makes a great deal of sense to me.

    With a tight cap situation and several holes to fill elsewhere on the roster, Hextall is unlikely to spend a lot of dough on Mason's partner. Gambling on a prospect like Cal Heeter or Anthony Stolarz would be too thrifty and would do little to pressure Mason for the top job.

    The challenge is for Hextall to find a low-cost rental who can step in if Mason regresses to previous levels. Stalock would fit that bill.

5. Anaheim Ducks

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Current Options

    The Anaheim Ducks had a lot of goaltending options, but none of them were the ideal fit. Viktor Fasth was dealt to Edmonton at the trade deadline, and Jonas Hiller is likely to be released into free agency.

    That leaves Frederik Andersen as their top option, whose even-strength save percentage ranked 15th out of the 61 goalies who played at least 20 games in his rookie 2013-14 season. His 20-5 record flattered him and was likely a consequence of the ridiculous 3.61 goal support per game that Anaheim provided him.

    Andersen's quality start percentage was just 54.3 percent and was outplayed in the playoffs by John Gibson, their starting goalie of the future.

    Will There Be a Change?

    The Ducks could probably use some help until John Gibson is ready. Jason Brough of NBC Sports recently identified Anaheim as the top spot for Ryan Miller and his actress wife. However, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reports that the Ducks are going to stick with Andersen and Gibson this year.

    Expect the Ducks to begin the season as LeBrun described, but to have their eyes open should they falter.

4. Buffalo Sabres

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Current Options

    For the first time since the 2004-05 lockout, there is a question about Buffalo's starting goaltender.

    Their best option appears to be Michal Neuvirth—acquired from the Capitals at last year's trade deadline.

    Neuvirth was Washington's starter as a rookie in 2010-11, but has gradually been used less and less frequently, playing just 26 NHL games over the past two seasons. He ranks 43rd in even-strength save percentage among the 52 who have played at least 50 games over the past three seasons.

    Another option is Miller's long-time backup Jhonas Enroth. His even-strength save percentage ranks a decent 23rd in the aforementioned group, but Enroth is coming off a sub-standard season where he ranked 40th among the 61 goalies who played at least 20 games.

    Will There Be a Change?

    The good news in Buffalo is that their two goalies have a combined cap hit of just $3.75 million and are both under contract for just one more season. That makes it quite easy for new GM Tim Murray to invest in someone else should the need and/or opportunity arise.

    Furthermore, the Sabres have a large number of promising goalie prospects who are getting close, most notably Nathan Lieuwen, but also Linus Ullmark, Andrey Makarov, Matt Hackett and Connor Knapp. The Sabres could potentially go from famine to feast in just a few years.

3. Winnipeg Jets

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Current Options

    Ondrej Pavelec was a gamble that just hasn't paid off for the Winnipeg Jets. Signed to a five-year extension that carries an annual cap hit of $3.9 million when he was just 24, Pavelec has yet to compete at a league-average level or better.

    The 26-year-old Czech has played 169 games since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg—more games than any NHL goalie has played over that span except San Jose's Antti Niemi.

    His .913 even-strength save percentage these past three years is completely out of line with the other goalies who have been trusted to the same extent. The famed Martin Brodeur is the only goalie to play at least half as many games with numbers that low.

    TSN's Scott Cullen described Pavelec's presence as the team's starting goalie as being "crippling to the Jets' playoff chances," and I tend to agree.

    Will There Be a Change?

    A recent tweet by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff suggests that the team is going to stick with Pavelec for at least one more of the three remaining seasons on his contract.

    That being said, the Jets are shopping for a backup and would have very little trouble finding one that could fight Pavelec for the top job. Last year's backups Al Montoya and Michael Hutchinson are both free agents—albeit a restricted one in the latter case.

2. Vancouver Canucks

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    Current Options

    There were 29 goalies who played at least 40 games last year. Of them, Vancouver's Eddie Lack finished 22nd in quality start percentage and 20th in even-strength save percentage.

    Despite their only other goaltending option being in the bottom-third of the league statistically, the Canucks still felt comfortable enough to deal Roberto Luongo (and his contract) to the Florida Panthers in a trade that brought them Jacob Markstrom.

    Can Markstrom push Lack for the starting job? No. The 24-year-old Swede has played 46 games over the past three seasons and ranks dead last in even-strength save percentage among the 57 goalies who have done the same. 

    Will There Be a Change?

    New general manager Jim Benning hasn't ruled out the possibility of an upgrade in net, as reported by Luke Fox of Sportsnet. This can be done either through free agency or possibly by dealing away highly touted two-way forward Ryan Kesler.

    For the moment, the Swedish duo appear to have Benning's confidence, and should they succeed they would become one of the most affordable tandems in the NHL.

1. Calgary Flames

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Current Option

    After almost a decade of certainty with Miikka Kiprusoff, the Calgary Flames started the 2013-14 season without an experienced number one goalie.

    When the dust settled, the starting goaltending duties fell on the shoulders of Karri Ramo. Reto Berra was traded to Colorado at the deadline, Joni Ortio was placed back in the AHL to develop and free agent Joey MacDonald is unlikely to be re-signed.

    Though he finished strong, of the 29 goalies to play at least 40 games last year, Ramo's even-strength save percentage ranked 22nd and his quality start percentage ranked 26th. And of the 70 goalies to play at least 85 games since 2006, his career even-strength save percentage of .913 ranks 60th.


    Will There Be a Change?

    It appears that Brian Burke wants to stick with Ramo, as reported by Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun. Then again, Brad Treliving is the new general manager of the Calgary Flames, and he may have a differing opinion.

    At the very least, the Flames will most certainly be on the market for a backup goalie, and potentially one that could push Ramo for the starting job.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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