Ranking the Top 25 Goaltenders for the 2014-15 NHL Season
With all due respect to the four lines of forwards and three pairs of defencemen who take to the ice for each team in every NHL game, nobody has pressure like the one guy in net.
A goaltender is tasked with being the last line of defence for his NHL team and for getting everything right. There are no little plays; a weak shot flubbed is just as backbreaking (and often more so) than a goal against on a great play. He has to be completely focused at all times.
The following list focuses in on the 25 goalies who have shown an exceptionally high standard of play over their NHL careers to date. Recent performance is weighted more heavily than past work, but at the same time, a body of work is important because sometimes short-term results aren't reflective at all of ability (hey there, Andrew Raycroft).
The following list is our best effort at ranking the 25 best goalies in the NHL today. Doubtless, it will be met with vehement disagreement; feel free to voice those inevitable objections in the comments section.
This is the third installment in B/R's positional-ranking series in the lead up to the 2014-15 season. Check out our rankings of defensemen and wingers, and check back on Oct. 3 for the top centers. Then the series culminates with our overall ranking of the NHL's top 100 players on Oct. 6.
25. Tomas Vokoun, Free Agent: Vokoun is 38 years old and coming off a season in which injury limited him to just two games, but he's been a well-above-average starter for more than a decade.
24. Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames: Once one of the NHL's most impressive goaltenders, Hiller has now been average or even a little south of that for three consecutive seasons.
23. Ben Scrivens, Edmonton Oilers: Scrivens was a revelation last season, first in relief of Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and then as the Oilers' starter. He's still early in his career, but he's excelled behind widely varying calibers of defence.
22. James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs: Displaced by Jonathan Bernier one year ago, Reimer has nevertheless posted starter-caliber save percentages in three of the last four seasons behind a lousy Toronto defence.
21. Anton Khudobin, Carolina Hurricanes: Khudobin stole the starting job in Carolina last year after an extremely impressive showing; in a very short time, he's gone from excellent AHL No. 1 to strong NHL backup, and now he's on the verge of firmly establishing himself as a starter.
20. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: The 33-year-old was long one of the NHL's best backups before being given a shot at a starting job in Colorado; he's been a legitimate No. 1 ever since.
19. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago's starter for the last four seasons, Crawford's level of ability is controversial; some see him as an elite starter while others cite occasional meltdowns and trouble with his glove hand. Reality falls somewhere between the two extremes.
18. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Two years ago, Rinne was indisputably a top-10 NHL goalie and had a strong case as one of the five best in the league. Since then, he's fought through injuries and poor play, and his stock has fallen.
17. Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks: Miller fell flat in St. Louis last year after years of strong play in Buffalo. 2013-14 was his sixth consecutive season with a save percentage north of 0.915.
16. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks: Niemi won the Stanley Cup as a rookie starter and has been solid ever since. Despite this, he tends to get painted with the same postseason brush as every other Sharks player.
No. 15: Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes
By the Numbers: Mike Smith posted a career-best 0.930 save percentage in his first season with the Coyotes; he has a 0.921 total over 163 games and three seasons with Arizona.
Best Attribute: Smith's puck-handling abilities are among the best in the NHL. He's also one of about a dozen goalies in the game to have scored a goal, putting home a buzzer-beater against the Red Wings just last season.
Why He's Here: Smith is here on the basis of his results, but he has some pretty impressive individual attributes. At 6'4", 215 pounds, he fits the modern trend of size in the crease. His game has improved by leaps and bounds in Phoenix, with goaltending coach Sean Burke getting a lot of credit and the Coyotes defence getting its share too.
No. 14: Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
By the Numbers: Jimmy Howard had a disappointing season in 2013-14, one in which he was briefly supplanted by Jonas Gustavsson for a few games. His 0.910 save percentage was well off his 0.920-plus pace of the two seasons preceding 2013-14.
Best Attribute: Howard is a battler, fighting for every save and getting back to his feet almost immediately from his butterfly when the situation calls for it.
Why He's Here: Detroit's starter for the last five years, Howard has established himself as a capable No. 1. In individual seasons, he's shown more than that, but on balance he's just a very strong goalie somewhere near the middle of the NHL starting pack.
No. 13: Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
By the Numbers: Semyon Varlamov turned the table on a disastrous 2012-13, posting a 0.927 save percentage and 41 wins over 63 games with Colorado.
Best Attribute: Varlamov is exceptionally quick, blessed with fast reflexes and an ability to get side-to-side in a hurry.
Why He's Here: Last season's runner-up for the Vezina Trophy will be moving up this list in a hurry if he can maintain his career-best level of play. But he's also only one season removed from a campaign in which he was probably the worst-performing starter in the entire league.
No. 12: Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders
By the Numbers: Jaroslav Halak posted a 0.921 save percentage over 50-odd games split between Washington and St. Louis, along with a 29-13-7 record.
Best Attribute: Halak's technique really stands out here; an intelligent style is the only way a 5'11" goalie survives in the majors.
Why He's Here: There was a time when Halak battled Montreal's Carey Price for time in net—and seemed to be winning. Since then, he's been consistently excellent, with the one blemish on his record a disastrous 2012-13 campaign.
No. 11: Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
By the Numbers: Kari Lehtonen played in 65 games in 2013-14, marking just the third time he has hit that mark in his career. He posted a 0.919 save percentage in that span for the Stars.
Best Attribute: Going back to his draft year, Lehtonen's ability to read the play and make the right decision was lauded by scouts.
Why He's Here: Lehtonen falls just outside the top tier of NHL goalies; his numbers are consistently very good but not quite great, and despite relative health since coming to Texas, he had significant injury problems early in his career.
No. 10: Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
By the Numbers: It was easy to miss given the drama surrounding him, but Roberto Luongo had another excellent season, posting a 0.919 save percentage in a year split between an imploding Canucks team and a flat-out terrible squad in Florida.
Best Attribute: With all due respect to his excellent work in NHL rinks, it's hard not to go with his Twitter account here.
Why He's Here: At age 35, Luongo is starting to slip into the twilight years of his NHL career, but as he showed last season, he's still capable of putting in exceptional performances. He spent most of a decade as a franchise-caliber goalie, and he's still very good.
No. 9: Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
By the Numbers: Long one of the NHL's best backups, Cory Schneider stepped into a starting role in New Jersey and posted a 0.921 save percentage, far outpacing collaborator Martin Brodeur (0.901 save percentage).
Best Attribute: Schneider is composed and economical in his movements, one of those goalies who rarely looks like he's working hard because his positioning is so strong.
Why He's Here: Schneider's track record isn't as long as some of the other goalies on this list, but he's been consistently excellent throughout his career and outbattled an excellent Roberto Luongo for minutes in Vancouver.
No. 8: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
By the Numbers: Jonathan Quick's 0.915 save percentage over 49 games was a respectable total, albeit one eclipsed by both of his backups. His 0.911 playoff save percentage reflects a comparatively weak postseason performance.
Best Attribute: All goalies are streaky, but Quick's generally been streaky when it's counted the most. A 0.946 save percentage run en route to the 2012 Cup and then a 0.934 save percentage run as he led the Kings to the Western Conference Final have established him as a money goalie in the public mind.
Why He's Here: Quick is often called a franchise goalie, one of the best in the NHL, but he needs to be better in the regular season. A disastrous 2012-13 performance from him almost cost the Kings a playoff spot, and he was the team's third-most effective goalie last season.
No. 7: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
By the Numbers: Ben Bishop played 63 games in his first full year as a starting goalie, posting a 0.924 save percentage over that span.
Best Attribute: Size. Bishop is listed at 6'7", making him the biggest goalie in the majors.
Why He's Here: He's been an excellent goalie over a short span, too good to place any lower on this list, but he needs to show sustainability. If he can keep his numbers to date up over the long haul, he'll climb even higher on this list.
No. 6: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
By the Numbers: Braden Holtby's 0.915 save percentage over 48 games in 2013-14 is just a touch below his career 0.919 average.
Best Attribute: A lightning-fast glove hand.
Why He's Here: Holtby's been consistently good in the regular season and the playoffs (where he owns a 0.931 career save percentage over 21 games). All he lacks now is a long track record, but everything he's done has been good.
No. 5: Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs
By the Numbers: Jonathan Bernier posted a 0.922 save percentage and played 55 games for Toronto, unseating James Reimer as the team's starting goaltender.
Best Attribute: Going back to his draft year, the same comments have always been made about Bernier's speed; he has exceptionally quick reflexes, even by NHL standards.
Why He's Here: A brilliant first season as a No. 1 goalie has moved him into a grouping with fellow young standouts Bishop and Holtby. Like those two, the only question now is whether he can sustain that performance.
No. 4: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
By the Numbers: Exactly two goalies have played at least 5,000 minutes and posted a better even-strength save percentage than Sergei Bobrovsky's 0.931 over his four years in the league: Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist.
Best Attribute: Quick reflexes in net have always been Bobrovsky's calling card and have allowed him to get away with what some see as a tendency to over-commit.
Why He's Here: Bobrovsky is legitimately one of the NHL's elite regular-season goalies. He won the Vezina in 2012-13, and though he fell back a little in 2013-14, he was still comfortably among the league leaders. All he needs now is playoff success.
No. 3: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
By the Numbers: Carey Price posted a 0.927 save percentage over 59 games in Montreal, bumping his career number up to 0.917.
Best Attribute: Few goalies have been pressure-tested like Price. Not only does he play in the toughest market in the NHL (sorry, Philadelphia), but he was dominant as Canada's Olympic starter in 2014. That's in addition to a playoff MVP award as a rookie pro in the AHL and a 0.961 save percentage run at the 2007 World Juniors.
Why He's Here: Aside from an ugly blip in 2012-13 when the Habs' penalty kill imploded, Price has been excellent for the team over the past half-decade.
No. 2: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
By the Numbers: The NHL's defending Vezina champion posted a 0.930 save percentage over 58 games with Boston.
Best Attribute: Tuukka Rask is a well-rounded goalie, but if there's an attribute that really stands out about him, it's the way he battles; he never seems to accept that he's down-and-out on a play.
Why He's Here: Rask is one of the two best goalies in the game, and the only question was whether he was going to slot in at No. 1 or No. 2. He plays behind a stingy Boston system but has established himself as much more than just a product of that team's defensive structure.
No. 1: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
By the Numbers: Henrik Lundqvist's 0.920 save percentage was his worst total in five seasons but was influenced by a poor start. He was in fine postseason form, backstopping the Rangers to the Cup final with a 0.927 save percentage.
Best Attribute: Lundqvist, like Rask, is the complete package—good at pretty much everything. The one element that stands out from the mix is his positioning; he's a very good athlete, but he's also probably the calmest, most efficient goaltender in the league.
Why He's Here: There are goalies in the game who can match any of Lundqvist's single-season achievements, but what really sets him apart is that nobody can match his body of work. Lundqvist stepped into the league as a ready-made No. 1 at the age of 23, and he's never looked back. Nine years into his career, he's never had a bad season.