NHL 500: Ranking the Top 50 Goaltenders
We introduce a new project today, one which has been a fixture in Bleacher Report’s coverage of other sports but had yet to be introduced to hockey. In the NHL 500, we’ll be assessing the top 500 players in hockey, divided by position. We start today with the league’s top 50 goalies.
What are we looking for here? Let’s start by explaining what we’re ignoring. We’re ignoring rookies entirely (save those who won NHL jobs last year and are only technically still first-year players) because our analysis is primarily rooted in major league work. We don’t care about contracts or long-term trade value. We don’t care about what happened last year, except insofar as it predicts what will happen in the coming year.
At the heart of our project is one question: Taking into account all the available evidence, what would a reasonable person expect from every player in the league in this coming year? We aren’t going out on a limb to find breakout candidates and players most likely to collapse; we’re trying to establish reasonable benchmarks for every player and thereby arrive at an objective ranking scheme.
To do this, we’ve leaned heavily on analytics to create a 100-point scale for every position. A grade of 50 indicates an average player at his position, with a higher total obviously being better. For the most part talent tends to cluster around the average, with elite players being relatively rare.
For goalies specifically, we’ve divided our analysis into three parts.
Even-strength play is worth 75 of 100 points, as it is where a goalie makes the bulk of his saves. Penalty-killing work is worth an additional 15 points; traditional statistical analysis often ignores this, but it’s part of the game and some goalies are better at than others. Our third category combines puck-moving ability and shootout play; we’ve evaluated each at a relatively small five points. We’ve tried to give each area its relative importance to the game, and we understand that others would have weighted these areas differently.
This is an ambitious and perhaps even foolhardy project; to our knowledge it is the only one of its kind in hockey. We’ve made judgment calls in a lot of cases, and we recognize that our readership won’t agree with every one of them, but whether you agree or not we sincerely hope you enjoy the discussion.
Other NHL 500 installments:
A Note About Sourcing and Methodology
There are just a couple of points that should be made about the process here. If you’d like to get to the list, feel free to skip this page; it explains how we’ve done what we’ve done and isn’t properly part of the list that follows. With that said, if you’re planning an angry comment reading this first may help.
First: The list which follows is heavily based on analytics. We owe heavy debts to both Eric Tulsky and Brian Macdonald for the work they did prior to hiring on with NHL teams. Both contributed to a regression model, which we have used extensively in forming our list, and the former also contributed much to the way we weight multiple years of data in assessing goalies. Much of what follows was influenced by those approaches to calculating true talent.
Statistics which follow come from four sources. War-on-Ice.com was our primary tool, providing data for even-strength and the penalty kill. NHL.com and individual profiles on theAHL.com were referenced to provide shootout information. EliteProspects.com was utilized to research performance in European leagues.
The puckhandling assessments which follow are based primarily on our own observation, but Jamie McLennan’s work at TSN was extremely useful as a reference and sanity check.
Finally, while the list which follows is primarily built on analytics data, it is a subjective list. We decided how to alter Tulsky’s regression model for goalies with limited NHL experience, how much weight to give to outstanding playoff performances in the NHL and to work done at other levels for goalies with a limited major league track record. We factored in the effects of age, set the categories and decided how to convert all of the factors above into a number on a 0-100 scale.
In other words, the list which follows is our own, as are any mistakes therein. We’ve also opted for a cautious approach; we’re trying to responsibly forecast the most likely outcomes, and so a breakout candidate who succeeds will be underrated on this list, as will any goalie who collapses entirely. There’s lots of room for reasonable people to disagree with these projections.
50. Anders Lindback, Arizona Coyotes
Lindback had a very strong debut season in the NHL, posting a lovely .932 even-strength save percentage over 22 games with the Nashville Predators in 2010-11. Since then, he’s mostly toiled at well below the NHL average (generally in the .922 range in recent years). He played well in 16 games with the Buffalo Sabres, but given that he’s been sub-average everywhere he’s played between those two points, that doesn’t seem likely to continue.
Few players better demonstrate the difficulty in getting a read on a goalie’s penalty-killing performance than Lindback does. Over his NHL career, he has oscillated between extremely good and comically bad, at times even for the same team. His shorthanded save percentage fell 10 points, for example, over the course of just two seasons with Tampa Bay. On balance, though, his numbers total out to quite a bit below the league average.
Lindback hasn’t spent a lot of time in shootouts, but he’s been good when tested. We’re still pretty early into his career to get a firm read on his abilities here.
It’s tempting to look at Lindback’s 6’6” frame and see a starting goalie there, but the Tampa Bay Lightning did that a couple of years ago and got burned badly for their troubles. If he has a good year in Arizona, a career as a backup is a real possibility; if not, it’s likely we’ve already seen the vast majority of his NHL career.
49. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks
At some point, Markstrom’s AHL success has to translate to the majors, right? This is a player who has been dominant at the World Juniors, the World Championships and in the high minors and still has yet to make the jump to being successful in the NHL. He’s only faced a little over 1,000 shots at even strength, and the wager being made here (and by Vancouver’s management) is that he’s capable of more than he’s shown.
One of the reasons Markstrom has struggled so badly at the NHL level is his work on the penalty kill. He was lit up like a Christmas tree in 2012-13 and wasn’t much better the following year. Again, though, it’s worth stressing that we’re talking about a workload of less than 200 shots, so it’s reasonable to conclude that he’ll eventually right the ship here.
Markstrom has a long record of shootout success in the AHL, and his NHL record is really too short to read into. He has progressed as a puck-handler to the point where it’s not a notable weakness.
The 25-year-old Markstrom has earned another NHL shot thanks to a glorious performance in the AHL last season. He’s young enough that he could still establish himself as the starter he was projected as for years after the Florida Panthers drafted him, but if he can’t get the job done this time, it’s hard to imagine him getting yet another chance somewhere else.
48. Ray Emery, Unrestricted Free Agent
Emery’s play has been all over the map in this category over the last five years. Our model heavily weighs recent performance, so Emery’s .913 save percentage at evens last year hurts him badly. However, he’s also just two years removed from a .927-save-percentage performance with the Chicago Blackhawks, a run that revitalized his NHL career. On balance, our guess is that he’ll rebound somewhat this year but stay below average.
Although he’s posted some great numbers on the penalty kill in the past, the last two years with the Philadelphia Flyers have seen Emery’s performance slide badly. Since we’re talking about a small number of shots (just over 100 each year), it doesn’t do any good to read too heavily into those numbers, but we feel comfortable pegging him as below the league average.
While his decision-making gets questioned at times, there’s no doubt that Emery is a very talented puck-handling goalie; he has the confidence and ability to pull off things a lot of other ‘tenders wouldn’t try. Unfortunately, the marks he gains in that category are more than offset by his wretched work in the shootout. Over his career, he’s stopped less than 60 percent of shots against.
Emery will be in camp with the Lightning, a move the Tampa Bay Times Joe Smith reports was made necessary by an injury to incumbent backup Andrei Vasilevskiy. He should be a better option than unimpressive AHLer Kristers Gudlevskis and will thus likely find himself signed to a deal to backstop Ben Bishop when the season starts.
47. Dustin Tokarski, Montreal Canadiens
Tokarski struggled at even strength last season, posting a .911 save percentage in a league where .922 is average. His numbers in extremely limited duty in previous years are slightly better, and he’s been a good AHL goaltender, but he’d go a long way toward cementing his status as an NHL player if he could improve this number.
Where Tokarski made up for his struggles was on the penalty kill, where his .909 save percentage came extremely close to matching his even-strength work and kept his overall save percentage respectable. Still, because we’re talking just barely over 100 shots in his career, we’ve projected this number to regress as he plays more minutes.
It’s tough to be a goaltender on Carey Price’s team for lots of reasons, and one of them is that the starter is simply so good at puck-handling that it’s hard not to suffer in comparison. Tokarski’s also been below average in the shootout over his NHL/AHL career.
Listed at just 6'0", Tokarski is a rarity in a league filled with goaltenders who block out the sun. The fear is that as NHL shooters develop a book on him, they will start exploiting his relatively small stature. Still, he performed capably in his first full major league season, and his AHL numbers suggest there could well be a player here.
46. Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators
No goalie on this list is harder to assess than Hammond. Not only does he have a limited NHL track record, but his run in the majors almost entirely contradicts his previous work in the minor leagues. He posted a glorious .938 adjusted save percentage on 565 even-strength shots. Right before that, though, he was a sub-0.900 save percentage goalie in the AHL. We’ve opted here to blend those two numbers and roughly peg him as being a backup-caliber NHL goalie, but he could be significantly better or worse without really surprising us.
Much like Antti Raanta, the issue isn’t Hammond’s performance on the penalty kill but rather the brevity of it. He’s allowed just eight goals on 116 shots between the regular season and the playoffs, which is brilliant, but it’s just not enough of a track record to rely on. Our compromise has been to slot him in as above average while we wait and see what happens next.
Hammond’s career work in the shootout is as brief as his career work everywhere else. He was a touch below average in his first taste of NHL work, but one goal the other way would have changed that; conversely, he was a touch below average in his AHL time, but one goal the other way would have altered that, too.
This is going to be a fascinating player to watch this season. His run last year, which single-handedly propelled the Senators into the playoffs, was incredible, and if it’s at all representative of his true talent, he’ll be one of the NHL’s best bargains over the course of his new three-year deal. Of course, he could also be earning seven figures in the major leagues a year from now, too.
45. Ben Scrivens, Edmonton Oilers
Up until last season, Scrivens’ even-strength numbers were really solid, with the lone caveat being that he hadn’t really been in the NHL long enough to get a firm read on. Then last season’s disaster happened, and despite Scrivens’ struggles, he kept getting starts on a team with no other good options. The question now is whether he’s the sub-NHL goaltender that last season’s struggles suggest or the potential starter that he’d looked like previously; our answer is somewhere between those two extremes.
Scrivens’ penalty-kill numbers took a nosedive in 2014-15, too, but he’d been so good in previous seasons that his overall total is still quite strong. He had a ridiculous .906 save percentage while shorthanded in a 2013-14 campaign split between the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings.
The good news is that Scrivens has been a pretty decent shootout goalie, both in the NHL and the AHL, which earns him some points here. Where he loses points is as a puck-handler; he’s not at all good trying to make a pass and his decision-making needs help.
Plenty of good goalies have had one bad season and rebounded. That’s the challenge for Scrivens now. He has shown in the past he can be better than he was in 2014-15, and he needs to show it again if he is to earn another NHL contract.
44. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
There is a trend line over the last five years, and it isn’t good. Over that span, Ward has seen his even-strength save percentage move steadily downward every year, from a high point of .929 in 2010-11 all the way down to just .913 last year. It’s a dramatic drop-off; the former number is characteristic of a top-10 starter, while the latter is getting down to iffy-backup range. That steady erosion seems likely to continue.
Ward’s save percentage on the penalty kill has mirrored his even-strength decline for the most part, though last year, he was able to reverse the trend with his .881 save percentage comparing favorably to happier times. That’s the key reason why last year looked like a bit of a comeback campaign for him. Ward has been strong while short-handed over his career, but the last few seasons have mostly seen him slipping there, too.
The shootout has never been terribly kind to Ward; he’s seen plenty of action and has consistently fallen below the league average in terms of stopping ability, turning aside just 63 percent of the 131 shots against he’s faced over his career. His puck-moving game seemed to pick up a little last year, but it’s still a long way from being a real strength.
This positioning is going to seem harsh to some, but it’s just too hard to ignore the long-term trend here. Injury and, to a lesser extent, age (Ward is just 31) have contributed to an incredibly steep decline in performance over the last half-decade. It’s possible Ward reverses the trend and makes this projection look bad, but at this point it’s difficult not to think that 2015-16 will just be one more step in what is now a lengthy pattern of erosion.
43. Antti Raanta, New York Rangers
Raanta is a little bit difficult to get a read on, simply because he hasn’t played very much; he’s only faced 769 shots against at even strength in the NHL and posted a save percentage slightly south of the league average. That pegs him as a reasonable backup goalie if he can keep it up, and his numbers overseas suggest that he should be able to manage it.
Raanta has actually been really good on the penalty kill, but as he’s faced less than 200 shots total over his NHL career, the most logical thing to expect is regression as he expands on that total. That may not happen, but for now it’s reasonable to peg him as being just above average in this area of the game.
His lone NHL assist doesn’t make it obvious that Raanta is a solid puck-mover, but nevertheless, he’s fairly capable of coming out of the crease and fielding the puck competently. The same thing can’t be said about shootouts, where he’s allowed nine goals on 18 career shots, though that performance should be taken with a grain of salt given how small of a sample it is and the fact that Raanta has stopped seven of nine shots in the AHL shootout.
Raanta made the jump to North America after an incredible 2012-13 season in Finland, one in which he not only won a championship but was named both regular-season and playoff MVP. That history hints at potential that may yet be fully realized, as he’s just 26 years of age and looked significantly better last season after a difficult adjustment as a rookie. For now, he’s a backup, but if he gets an opportunity, he may prove himself to be more than that.
42. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
For the most part, regular save percentage and adjusted save percentage say more or less the same thing. One of the few players they notably disagree on is Gibson, who was well above average in the former last year and well below average once shot quality was taken into consideration. Still, his work at other levels inspires a measure of confidence in his ability.
Gibson has faced less than 150 shots between the regular season and the playoffs while playing shorthanded, so it’s hard to get a read on his true talent. His results last year were decidedly underwhelming, so we have tentatively pegged him as below league average.
Like every other area of his game, the shootout is one for which we lack enough information to get a firm read on Gibson statistically. With that said, his early work has been impressive; he has turned aside more than three-quarters of the chances he’s faced in the AHL and NHL combined. He’s not particularly well known as a puck-handling goalie.
Gibson just turned 22 over the summer and at this point is well on his way to a solid major league career. There is, however, likely to be a bump or two along the way, and we shouldn’t necessarily expect him to emerge as a starter immediately next season. Naturally, it’s also not outside the realm of possibility that he progresses more rapidly than we’re projecting here.
41. Robin Lehner, Buffalo Sabres
The frightening truth for Sabres fans is that over two long NHL seasons, Lehner really hasn’t been very good at even strength. He was below average over 35 games in 2013-14 and was wretched over 25 games in 2014-15. Glorious AHL numbers and flashes from earlier in his NHL career suggest that he can be more than this, but he’ll need to show it and soon.
The penalty kill has very much been a strength for Lehner in the early going, but as with most young goalies, the “too soon to tell” caveat applies here because he’s only faced just over 400 shots on his career. Still, his work is strong enough to hazard a guess that he’s above average in this area.
Lehner’s puck skills get mixed reviews, but on the whole, he’s probably a touch better in the category than most NHL goaltenders. His shootout work is also mixed—strong over a moderate length of time in the AHL and weak over roughly the same number of shots in the NHL. On balance, he’s probably close to average.
One wonders whether there’s a plaque in general manager Tim Murray’s office somewhere that says something like “Fortune favours the bold” or “God hates a coward.” Lehner’s pre-NHL career hints at scary levels of potential, but his recent work has mostly just been scary. Still, the Sabres are at a point in the rebuilding cycle where a level of risk is acceptable, so if ever there was a time to roll the dice on a potential big win, that time is right now.
40. Scott Darling, Chicago Blackhawks
Darling stepped into the NHL seemingly out of nowhere and posted a ridiculous .948 save percentage at even strength. That figure is on just 327 shots, and we know he won’t stay this good (he isn’t Dominik Hasek), but the question now is how far he drops.
He’s been really good over two (short) consecutive AHL seasons prior to moving up to the majors, so while we have cautiously tabbed him to fall all the way to backup country, it is by no means certain that his true talent is that low. We’re still nervous about the mediocrity that has characterized the majority of his professional career thus far.
He’s faced all of 84 shots on the penalty kill (between both regular season and playoffs), so this is the very definition of a wild guess. His numbers are unremarkable over a limited span, but again, we’re being cautious here because we simply don’t have much of a track record to go on. He could be a flash in the pan.
Darling is a gifted puck-handler, a talent that was on display when he helped Chicago best the Predators in the playoffs last year. His shootout work is as sketchy as the rest of his resume. He’s a perfect 7-of-7 at the NHL level but surrendered eight goals on just 15 tries in the minors.
When people say that goalies are voodoo, players like Darling are who they have in mind. In 2012-13, he was a mediocre goalie who had finally clawed out a spot in the ECHL, but after two strong performances in the AHL, he found his way to Chicago and managed to replicate his performance in the majors. The 6’6” goalie is only 26 years old, and if his form of recent years persists, he could surprise with the heights his career reaches.
39. Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers
It seems odd that a goalie like Neuvirth could find the success he did behind Buffalo’s defence, but 2014-15 may have been his most successful season at even strength, as it saw him post a very respectable .925 save percentage in five-on-five play. Previous years are less encouraging and suggest he’s somewhere near the NHL average or just slightly below it.
Where Neuvirth has shone is on the penalty kill. He’s been consistently good pretty much every season of his career; he’s a goalie who is likely underappreciated by analyses that focus entirely on even-strength work. His totals dipped slightly in 2014-15, but for most of his career, he’s been above average to significantly better than that.
Neuvirth isn’t the kind of guy who shines in this section of our assessment. He’s not a confident puck-handler; in fact, he’s the kind of guy who, for the most part, should probably just let his defence worry about retrieving dump-ins. His shootout work isn’t that impressive either; even given the “small sample” caveat, he’s likely below average.
In a certain light, it’s possible to see Neuvirth as a starting goalie. He’s only 27 years old, and his career numbers are almost good enough to qualify. He couldn’t keep up his strong play when he got his first real shot at the job with the Washington Capitals, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could do more if he’s given a second chance. For now, though, he’s simply a good insurance option for a team with an injury-prone No. 1 goalie.
38. Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets
Well, how about that. After two seasons of posting results more befitting of a mediocre backup goalie, Pavelec had a legitimately strong 2014-15 season at evens. His .930 save percentage is the best mark of his career, even better than his work back in 2010-11 when he was one of the top up-and-coming ‘tenders in the land.
The question now is whether he can he do it again. We’ve opted for a cautious approach here, grading him just south of the league average, because for all his highs and lows, that’s generally right around where he ends up.
Pavelec’s strong campaign extended to the penalty kill, where his .883 save percentage was easily his best total since his rookie campaign. There’s a body of work that suggests he’s appreciably below the league average, though, so one strong season only goes so far toward rehabilitating him in our eyes.
Both as a puck-mover and as a shootout specialist, Pavelec comes in below the NHL average. Among active goalies, only Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom has faced at least 100 shots against and posted a save percentage worse than Pavelec’s .633 in the skills competition.
Winnipeg hockey fans have watched the Jets stubbornly stand by their man through some extremely tough seasons, so it was nice to see the team’s loyalty rewarded with a truly excellent campaign from Pavelec. Now the challenge is repeating last year’s success.
37. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders
Greiss doesn’t have a long track record at even strength, but it’s hard not to be impressed by what he’s done. In the four seasons in which he has faced at least 250 shots, Greiss has managed (from most recent on back) .922, .938, .932 and .923 save percentages, suggesting a goalie with above-average abilities in this area. The only mark against him is the relative brevity of his track record—and the fact that his totals in Sweden and the AHL tended to be underwhelming.
There really isn’t much of a sample here; Greiss has faced just over 350 shots against while shorthanded in his NHL career. Still, he’s been above the league average, a fact that tends to reinforce his strong work at even strength.
Greiss has been great in the shootout at all levels. In the NHL, he has a .818 save percentage on 33 shots, while in the AHL that number jumps to .855 on 69 shots against. Working against him is his work as a puck-handler: The less he does the better off his teams tend to be.
It would be nice to see Greiss get a shot at starter’s minutes for a stretch, just to see what he could do with them. The 29-year-old has been nothing but exemplary in a backup role since breaking into the NHL in 2009-10, and he seems like a guy who might surprise if he got an opportunity.
36. Antti Niemi, Dallas Stars
Age is a concern here. Niemi had three very strong seasons at even strength from 2010 to 2013, the kinds of seasons legitimate workhorse goalies have. Over the last couple of years, however, his numbers have fallen, down to just below average by regular save percentage and even a little further south of that once shot quality is adjusted for. We’ve rated him with the expectation that he rebounds to some degree, but continued erosion is not out of the question.
Even in his best years, Niemi, for the most part, was an unremarkable goaltender on the penalty kill. In most cases, his adjusted save percentage is lower than his regular save percentage, so it’s hard to make a case that the fault lies with San Jose’s special teams. He’s generally not good in this category.
Niemi has been legitimately brilliant in the shootout over his NHL career, turning aside nearly three out of four shots against; he ranks fifth all time in save percentage among goalies who have faced more than 100 shots over their careers. He isn’t a guy his team wants handling the puck, though; the Stars will be well-served if he just stays in net.
Dallas made a $13.5 million bet this summer that over the next three years Niemi will provide solid goaltending. If he gets back to the form he exhibited during his heyday with the Sharks, it will be a very good bet, but our suspicion is that those days are in the past. He shouldn’t be bad, at least not this year, but the Stars may end up wondering whether it was really worth going out and signing a second goalie to starter money.
35. Anton Khudobin, Anaheim Ducks
Khudobin’s goaltending is a little like a box of chocolates: You never know just what you’re going to get. As a rookie in Boston, he was just a touch below NHL average at even strength. A year later, he posted a glorious .936 save percentage on just under 900 shots, and it appeared Carolina had found a long-term starter. Finally, the ugly .903 even-strength save percentage he posted last season was roughly what one would expect from a mediocre AHL call-up.
Put it all together, and our guess of his talent is something slightly south of the league average, but very little would catch us off guard at this point.
One area Khudobin has always excelled (with the standard caveat that he’s faced less than 400 shots in his career) is the penalty kill. Even last year, when the rest of his game was in tatters, he managed to post a very good .891 save percentage.
A strong shootout goalie in the AHL, Khudobin has turned aside 102 of 145 shots against at that level, good for a .703 save percentage. He’s been even better than that in the NHL, allowing just three goals against on 19 shots. His limitations as a puck-handler bring his grade down in this category, however.
Khudobin’s future is a little uncertain, as he joins an Anaheim team that already has two good goaltending options. Teams will be nervous about trusting him after last season, but he’s a good risk as a backup and might surprise people with his ability if he’s given another chance to start a bunch of games.
34. Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets
In several of the preceding slides, we touched on the difficulty in assessing young goalies. A player who looks really good on his first 1,000 shots can look wretched on his next 1,000 and find his way out of the league. So we’re being cautious with Hutchinson’s work so far, which is strong but only comes on 806 shots against. In his favour is a strong track record in the AHL, however, which increases the likelihood that he has the potential to be a full-timer in the NHL.
Hutchinson’s penalty-killing sample is even smaller than his even-strength work—and correspondingly even tougher to judge. He came in below the NHL average last season, and for these purposes, we’ve assumed he’s just slightly below average in this area.
Puck-handling is a real strength in Hutchinson’s game, despite the occasional high-profile error. He’s also been quite strong in the shootout at both the AHL and NHL level.
The only thing really lacking here is experience. If the 25-year-old Hutchinson can keep on the way he’s started, he’ll establish himself as an NHL starter in no time.
33. James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs
Much as was the case with Enroth, a tough season has hurt Reimer’s value in this department. In 2014-15, he played 35 games and posted a disappointing .913 save percentage at even strength, which is marginal backup territory. That effort comes on the heels of four preceding seasons during which time he mostly finished just north of the league average. Our model weighs recent data slightly heavier than that older data, and that matters here because a weighted view has him as a slightly below-average goalie at even strength, while a view that treats all seasons equally has him just better than average.
Much like his even-strength work, for the most part, Reimer’s time on the penalty kill has seen him hover around the NHL average. The 2011-12 season was pretty brutal (.805 save percentage), but as he only faced 154 shots that year, it’s hard to weigh that too heavily. On balance, his record suggests he’s just slightly below average in this department.
Reimer has been an above-average shootout goalie for the majority of his NHL career, and he was brilliant in the minors. He’s a good option to have between the pipes if a game extends past overtime. His work handling the puck, however, is best left unmentioned.
There’s an “eye of the beholder” element to Reimer’s game, and the flashes he’s shown at points in his career suggest he could yet emerge as a starter. Our view here is that it’s most likely that he’s a 1B goaltender, the kind of player who is an above-average backup and who teams don’t mind leaning on if an injury takes down the starter.
32. Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
The 25-year-old Allen has made some big strides since a somewhat disappointing NHL debut in 2012-13. He blossomed into an elite goalie at the AHL level (33-16-3, .928 save percentage) in 2013-14 and this past season appeared in 37 major league games, posting a respectable .920 even-strength save percentage. Our model penalizes him a bit for his substandard work in the lockout year, but on the whole, he should be regarded as quite promising.
As with all young goalies, the issue here is sample size. Allen’s been strong on the penalty kill during his time with the Blues (save for a blip in last year’s playoffs), but for now, we’ve only marked him down as slightly better than average while we wait to see what direction his numbers take once he faces more shots.
Allen’s shootout work in the NHL is strong, but he’s only faced 17 shots at that level, so it’s worth looking to his work in the minors. There, he’s been above average (0.696 save percentage) on over 100 shots. He’s also a gifted puck-mover.
There’s very little doubt that Allen is going to have an NHL career, but the question remains as to how high his ceiling is. His development over the last couple of years suggests he has starter potential.
31. Jhonas Enroth, Los Angeles Kings
The departure of Ryan Miller finally opened up a chance for Enroth to claim a starter’s job, and unfortunately for the 27-year-old, things just didn’t go his way in Buffalo. After four straight seasons of fairly strong NHL netminding, Enroth regressed in 2014-15, posting a mediocre .915 save percentage at even strength. It might be that he just had an off year, but because our model places the most emphasis on recent data—and because 2014-15 was the year in which Enroth saw the most action—we’ve opted to place him right around the league average.
Enroth’s save percentage on the penalty kill over his career is below the league average, but not outrageously so. However, adjusted save percentage paints the picture of a goalie who faced less dangerous shots while shorthanded than is typical league-wide.
He may not be all that good at handling the puck, but when the shootout rolls around, Enroth is quite good at stopping it. He has a very strong .757 save percentage on 70 shots against over his NHL career, and his .732 save percentage on 71 career shots in the AHL suggests that isn’t a fluke.
Enroth’s another one of these guys who might ultimately emerge as a starting goalie. It’s somewhat concerning that he struggled when given a bigger workload. Also, he stands at just 5’10”, so the fear is that once NHL shooters see a lot of him, he’ll be exposed. Still, he’s only 27, and it’s entirely possible that he could use a good performance in Los Angeles as a springboard to another crack at a No. 1 job somewhere else.
30. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks
The seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory of Jones stalled a little last season. The undrafted goalie forced his way into the NHL with four brilliant seasons at the AHL level, and as a rookie in 2013-14, he wowed with a .947 save percentage on 375 shots. Despite the short track record, he quickly became one of the game’s most heralded young goalies.
Last season, though, his save percentage fell well back of the NHL average, and his adjusted save percentage was a half-point below that. Our viewpoint is that all those years in the AHL mean something, though unlike the San Jose Sharks, we’re being conservative in our expectations.
Jones’ brief career killing penalties at the NHL level hasn’t been very impressive, but he’s another example of how hard it is to get a firm read on a player’s ability early into his career. We’ve defaulted to rating him slightly below average.
Puck-handling used to be a notable weakness for Jones, and while it still isn’t a particular strength, it’s better than it once was. His NHL shootout work has been superb—he’s turned aside 17 of 18 shots—but shouldn’t be trusted at this point because his AHL work is less impressive. This is, after all, the same goalie who allowed 13 goals on 24 shots for Manchester in 2012-13. That was an aberration from three good years, but even so, it’s a good reminder as to the volatility of shootout stats.
One really important thing to keep in mind with Jones is that it’s important not to overvalue his brilliant start in the NHL. His minor-league work was strong, yes, but so is that of someone like the No. 49 goalie on this list, Jacob Markstrom. Two similarly talented goalies can put up very different results over a stretch of 400 shots, and the jury is very much still out on whether Jones is ever going to be a capable starting goalie in the majors. That’s not to say he won’t, just that he may or may not.
29. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
The key question with Elliott is to what degree he’s a strong goalie in his own right and to what degree he has been buoyed by playing behind a very formidable Ken Hitchcock-coached defence in St. Louis. His even-strength save percentage has been above the league average in each of the last three seasons, but in all of those campaigns, he came in below the NHL average in adjusted save percentage, sometimes by a significant amount. Our belief is that he’s probably a slightly below-average even-strength goalie being helped by a good team.
Outside of a blip during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, Elliott’s save percentages on the penalty kill have been strong—at times ludicrously so—during the entirety of his career in St. Louis. In 2013-14, for example, he allowed just seven goals on 99 shots over 26 games, and even last year, his .883 save percentage was well north of the league average.
Elliott is the very definition of a middling goalie in other areas. He turns aside two out of three shots he faces in the shootout, and like Maxwell Smart without a gun, he’s not totally incompetent with the puck.
There really isn’t that much separating Elliott from a lot of other players on this list, including backup goaltender Jake Allen. He had a glorious, unrepeatable year his first season in St. Louis and got a longer look with an elite defensive team as a result. The end result has been that he’s provided the Blues with competent goaltending and done so for a modest cap hit, according to General Fanager. It is an arrangement that has worked out reasonably well for both parties.
28. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings
Like a lot of the better young goalies on this list, Mrazek has posted strong results in the NHL, but he hasn’t done it long enough for us to be really sure as to what his true talent level is. Sure, that .931 even-strength save percentage last year looks good, but it’s based on all of 548 shots. What is somewhat reassuring is Mrazek’s excellent track record at other levels. He won a championship in the AHL and was a strong goalie for three seasons there. He was also named the best goalie at the 2012 World Junior Championship. These are strong points of evidence in his favour.
Mrazek’s numbers while shorthanded are good, but the sample size is so small as to be nearly inconsequential. Our default response in these situations is to project the player as being just the tiniest better than league average.
One of the notable advantages that Mrazek joins on his competition for starts, Jimmy Howard, is that he’s a superb puck-handler. It seems to be a part of the game he takes to intuitively. It’s more difficult to be certain about his shootout ability, but he’s been average over 18 shots in the NHL and better than average over 54 shots in the minors, so at this point it seems likely that the skills competition at least isn’t a weakness.
The goaltending battle in Detroit could well be a story that gets attention all season. Howard, the veteran incumbent, has opened the door with weak stretches over the last two seasons, and in 2014-15, Mrazek made major headway toward stealing the job. He convinced then-coach Mike Babcock to start him in the postseason, and new coach Jeff Blashill has had him for years in the minors, so there’s going to be familiarity there.
27. Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames
Ramo’s return to North America has gone much better than his first stint on this side of the Atlantic did. He’s had two reasonably strong seasons for Calgary, performing right around the league average in both years (a touch under according to regular save percentage and pretty much bang-on according to adjusted save percentage). Given the three strong KHL campaigns he had right before joining the Flames, we like his chances of continuing to play well.
With just 250 shots to look at over his two seasons since coming to Alberta, it’s hard to get a firm read one way or the other on this goalie’s quality. He’s been just a hair above the NHL median overall.
Ramo’s shootout work has been underwhelming, albeit too brief to read too much into. He’s not particularly gifted moving the puck, either.
There are a lot of directions that Ramo’s career could go from here. The 29-year-old could seize the starting job in Calgary this season and hang onto it for the next half-decade. He could also play poorly and risk being permanently cast as a backup.
26. Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes
After three exceptional seasons in Arizona and one glorious playoff run, Smith’s numbers imploded in 2014-15. His .912 even-strength save percentage last season was barely backup-level quality, and it was even more stunning because in the previous years (.927 in 2013-14, .924 in '12-13 and .937 in '11-12), Smith had easily cleared the league-average mark, which tends to be in the .922 range. The key question now is whether the 33-year-old Smith can reverse this decline. We’re betting that he can, though his days of being considered a high-end starter are likely numbered.
A few freakishly good years early in Smith’s career on the penalty kill made him appear to be better than the league average, but the bottom fell out in 2012-13, and over the last two seasons, he’s been just OK. Taking into account his strong work early on in his career, we can give him good but not great marks here.
Whatever else Smith is, he’s brilliant with the puck. He’s one of a handful of elite puck-moving goalies—the guy a team wants retrieving dump-ins and making complicated passes. But while Smith gets full marks for his work with the puck, his work in the shootout undermines his case; his career save percentage of .634 on 175 shots against is one of the worst marks of any active goalie.
Smith’s excellent showing in winning gold at the World Championships this summer (eight games played, .930 save percentage) had to come as a relief to the Coyotes. He is under contract for four more seasons at a $5.67 million cap hit, according to General Fanager, and it would be a disaster for cash-strapped Arizona if he wasn’t able to deliver at least a passable performance at this stage of the deal.
25. Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks
There’s a pattern to Miller’s play at even strength, and it’s one thta should disturb the Canucks. In 2008-09, he hit his peak even-strength save percentage, a glorious .929. The next four years saw him stay in that range, slipping just a touch each and every year. In 2013-14, Buffalo dealt him to St. Louis and his save percentage slipped to just below league average, down to .920. Last season, his first in Vancouver, saw further erosion, down to .914.
There are two different ways to look at that trend. The first is that he’s had some difficulty adapting to new teams, but the bulk of his work the last five years is exemplary. The second is that he’s 35, and the cliff looms. As responsible prognosticators, we’ve staked out some middle ground in this projection.
One positive Vancouver can look to is that Miller’s strong work while his team is shorthanded has continued unabated. Year over year, Miller consistently provides his team’s penalty kill with quality goaltending, at times falling down to just league-average level but generally coming in several points above it. In 2009-10, when he won the Vezina Trophy, he managed a ridiculous (and ultimately unsustainable) .922 save percentage, and while those days are gone, he’s still a good option.
Penalty shots seem to be another Miller specialty. Of the 284 he's faced over his NHL career, he has managed a very strong .715 save percentage, helping his teams to a combined 52-30 record. As far as handling the puck goes, Miller generally knows that he has limitations and lives within them.
This is the kind of prediction that could look bad at the end of the year, because, when reading the tea leaves a certain way, Miller’s in for a steep decline. Our view is that Miller was still a brilliant goalie the day Buffalo traded him to St. Louis all of 18 months ago and that his slump with the Blues and one poor year in Vancouver aren’t enough to outweigh all the good work that preceded it.
24. Eddie Lack, Carolina Hurricanes
Another goalie with a relatively short track record, Lack is closing in on 2,000 shots against over his career, and based on adjusted save percentage, he has been either league average or just better than that. We’ve graded him here as just the tiniest bit south of that mark because we haven’t quite seen enough to be totally convinced he’s truly better than the league average, though we’re optimistic.
Lack has posted strong numbers in this department over his career, though the sample is short enough that for now we’re just grading him as a hair better than average.
Lack grades out to just a touch above average here. We like his work in the shootout at both the NHL and AHL levels, but mediocre puck-handling holds him back a little bit.
It’s understandable why Vancouver traded Lack, but it really isn’t a decision that we would have felt comfortable with in general manager Jim Benning’s shoes. For now, we have Lack just slightly ahead of his former teammate Ryan Miller, and given the disparity in age, we anticipate the gap widening in the future.
23. Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers
Talbot’s been really good at even strength, and with more than 1,300 shots against over his career, it’s increasingly likely he’s legitimately excellent and not just a middling goaltender on a hot streak. Last season saw his numbers regress from his unbelievably good rookie campaign, but even so, a .930 save percentage at even strength is nothing to sneer at. The one troublesome point is that his record at lower levels is ordinary; outside of his work in 2012-13, none of his AHL seasons point to NHL-starter potential.
Readers will be familiar with the drill by now: Talbot’s shorthanded numbers, like countless other goalies on this list, are good, but the sample is small enough that we can’t rely on the numbers too heavily. Our tentative assessment is that he’s slightly better than the league average.
One of the strengths of Talbot’s game is his puck-moving ability, a skill that contrasted him positively to longtime New York Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist. His shootout skills are hard to gauge because he hasn’t seen that many shots, but what we’ve seen hasn’t been overly impressive.
There’s an element of risk here, but Talbot’s even-strength numbers are so good that it’s easy to understand why the Oilers felt rolling the dice on him was worthwhile. We’ll have a much better idea of where he slots next year after he plays 50-odd games in Edmonton.
22. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks
After a glorious rookie season, Andersen was handed the starting job in 2014-15 and put in a passable but not terribly impressive performance at even strength. By regular save percentage, he came in just below the league average, and his adjusted-save-percentage number was slightly worse than that. If he recaptures his rookie form, he’ll climb up this list, but for now, he’s neither a laggard nor a standout.
While even strength hasn’t been terribly kind to Andersen, he was brilliant for the second consecutive year while killing penalties. His .884 save percentage in 2014-15 was well above the norm for the NHL and his work in his major league debut the season prior was better still.
One area where Andersen excels is as a puck-mover. He’s probably still a touch below the elite level in this category, but he’s really good and is still young. He hasn’t played enough games to get a firm read on his shootout work, but what we’ve seen to date in the NHL and AHL is on the underwhelming side.
Andersen seems like a strong goalie and a potential long-term starter, but he can’t afford any slips. John Gibson is one of the highest-rated goalie prospects in the game and is expected to be a No. 1 goaltender at some point in his career, while veteran newcomer Anton Khudobin shouldn’t be written off, either.
21. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
In five of six seasons with the Stars, Lehtonen has posted average or better-than-average save percentages; he’s looked every inch a legitimate starting goalie. The exception was last year, when every goalie who played in Dallas got lit up and Lehtonen’s save percentage dropped 14 points. Because he’s only 30, we’ve projected him to bounce back.
Lehtonen isn’t the best thing since slide bread on the penalty kill, but he’s been consistently good over his NHL career, performing at right around the league average.
If we divide shootouts and puck-handling into separate categories, Lehtonen scores a four out of five in both. He’s quite good at moving the puck but is just a touch below the elite level. He's also great in the shootout but, again, is just slightly south of the NHL’s elite goaltenders.
The Stars obviously don’t share our confidence in their incumbent starter—or they wouldn’t have gone out and spent big money on Antti Niemi. Our belief is that the team is overreacting to one bad year and that Lehtonen will recover.
20. Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders
Outside of an injury- and lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, Halak’s track record as an even-strength goalie is comfortably at a No. 1 level. He was brilliant with the Montreal Canadiens, quite good in St. Louis and was excellent in his first year with the New York Islanders.
Halak’s recent work on the penalty kill has not been particularly impressive, but that’s balanced out by a long run of strong performances earlier in his career. On balance, he’s probably slightly better than most goalies in the game.
The shootout is neither a notable strength nor a particular weakness for Halak; he stops shooters at a just slightly above-average rate. Puck-handling is another story. Retrieving dump-ins and making clean passes to his defencemen isn’t a skill that falls in Halak’s wheelhouse.
Of the many moves that general manager Garth Snow made in the 2014 offseason, the acquisition of Halak may have been the most pivotal. Prior to his arrival, the Islanders were being kneecapped by an underwhelming cast in net, and at a modest cap hit ($4.5 million, per General Fanager), he has erased that weakness.
19. Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers
When Mason suddenly found his form after a trade to Philadelphia in 2013, we were skeptical that it had any value; after all, it’s not uncommon for poor goalies to play well over short stretches. When he backed it up with a strong performance in 2013-14, we looked at his .920 adjusted save percentage and pegged him as still falling south of the league average.
Then last year, Mason was simply glorious, posting a ludicrous .941 adjusted save percentage and serving notice that what had happened in Columbus should probably be left in Columbus. We haven’t forgotten that disappointing chapter of his career entirely, but his rehabilitation has simply been too much to ignore.
Mason’s strong work last season did not extend to the penalty kill, where he posted a lamentable .846 save percentage. He’s been up and down over the course of his career.
This section of our assessment is a study in contrasts. Mason hasn’t been a good shootout goalie; he’s down in Ondrej Pavelec and Cam Ward country as one of the league’s worst active goalies in the discipline. Where he excels is in moving the puck; he’s one of the best goalies in the game at it.
He’s been around seemingly forever, and so it’s easy to forget that Mason is just 27 years old. His time in Philadelphia has been highly successful, and while Blue Jackets fans can be forgiven for having their doubts, it appears Mason is now a bona fide No. 1 goaltender.
18. Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames
In a league where the average save percentage has trended toward .922 in recent years, Hiller consistently comes in above that number. Outside of 2011-12, where a 72-game workload (including plenty of back-to-back games) hurt his numbers, Hiller has never had an adjusted save percentage south of .925.
Hiller is one goaltender who really suffers from our inclusion of other categories. He’s been below average on the penalty kill for years, and the bottom fell out last season. Some of that likely had to do with his team, but there’s only so much of his wretched .814 save percentage we can assign to other parties.
It would be easy enough to copy and paste the Halak description from the previous slide. Like the Isles’ No. 1, Hiller is competent in the shootout but hasn’t been particularly brilliant at it. Also like Halak, he isn’t good at moving the puck.
Although he’s weaker in some of the other areas we’ve considered, Hiller is really good at just stopping the puck at even strength, and that’s the heart of any goalie assessment. The Flames' decision to retain Ramo (a solid goalie in his own right) suggests a certain lack of faith in their starter, but barring a collapse, there’s no reason to think Hiller’s anything less than a middle-tier No. 1 goaltender.
17. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Howard has had some disappointing stretches the last two seasons, and in 2014-15, he fell below the NHL average in terms of adjusted save percentage for the first time in four years. The 31-year-old could be in decline as a goaltender, but he was brilliant in both 2011-12 and 2012-13 and was still comfortably an NHL starter in 2013-14. We’ve docked him some points for last year, but we like his chances of rebounding.
The deterioration of Howard’s game last season wasn’t confined to even strength, as he posted the worst adjusted save percentage of his career while shorthanded. He’s been good at this for years, though, and we expect him to be above average once again in 2015-16.
“Generic NHL goaltender” is how we might describe Howard here. Despite some well-chronicled struggles in the shootout in recent years, Howard actually played extremely well in the skills competition over the first few seasons of his NHL career. And while he’s no Petr Mrazek at moving the puck, compared to his peers across the league, he’s fairly average.
Howard has spent years proving he is a capable No. 1 NHL goaltender. That reputation took a significant blow last season, and his job is now in danger. But the feeling here is that he should still be regarded as a competent starter.
16. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
Luongo’s return to Florida coincided with a significant bump in his save percentage. Adjusting for shot quality lets some of the air out of his tires, though he still comes in at the level we would expect from a No. 1 goalie. Even so, the last three years have marked a decline from the days when he was a truly elite starter, and as he ages, that decline will continue.
Typically, Luongo comes in near the NHL average on the penalty kill, and as recently as 2013-14, he was outperforming that average. Age-related erosion is going to continue to chip away at his standing here, too.
Remember way back when then-Islanders GM Mike Milbury dumped a young Luongo in favour of Rick DiPietro? It’s fun to speculate on the degree to which puck-handling played into that decision, as DiPietro was stellar at it and Luongo is somewhere near the bottom of the league in terms of his ability. He’s also just an ordinary shootout goalie.
At age 34, Luongo is still hanging in there as an NHL starter, and that’s really not too surprising given how good he was in his heyday. As the decline is gradual and intermittent, he probably still has several good years left in him.
15. Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs
A late-season swan dive has raised some questions about Bernier’s future in Toronto, but the preponderance of evidence is still firmly on his side. Even last year, he managed a respectable .923 save percentage at five-on-five, and that’s a number that pales in comparison to his standout work in his Maple Leafs debut. His time in the Kings’ system doesn’t hurt his cause, either.
Bernier has been reliably above average over his NHL career when his team has been down a man. He’s been particularly good since coming to Ontario.
Bernier’s career NHL numbers in the shootout are so bad that we should be virtually certain that they’ll improve. He has an ugly .582 save percentage on 67 career shots. He was better in the minors, but at this point we should probably never expect this to be a strength. His work handling the puck is a different story, though. Bernier’s quite good at it, and for our purposes, this balances out his skills-competition problems.
So far, ex-general manager Dave Nonis’ decision to bring in Bernier from Los Angeles is looking like a wise one. As he’s just 27 years old, it’s reasonable to expect Bernier to provide the Leafs with competent starting minutes for some time to come.
14. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
We struggled with this one because Rinne’s work over his first three seasons as a starting goalie was spectacular by any metric. Superficially, his numbers have stayed high (save for an injury-plagued 2013-14) but adjusted save percentage suggests that much of the credit must go to the team in front of Rinne.
Taking shot quality into account, 2014-15 was the first time in four seasons that he managed to outperform the league average. We’ve strived to find a balance that gives Rinne credit for his strong numbers but at the same time acknowledges the great defence that has supported him.
What does seem inarguable is that Rinne is a boon to the Predator penalty kill. His numbers have softened a little over the last three seasons, but we’re only talking about 500-odd shots, and his work over a larger number prior to that was exemplary.
While we’ve expressed some skepticism here about Rinne’s even-strength puck-stopping ability, we aren’t in any doubt about his work in these other areas of the game. He’s a brilliant puck-mover who is one of a handful of elite goalies in the league in this area. He’s also very good in the shootout.
This is going to be disappointing for those who, with some justification, see Rinne as a top-10 starter, but we couldn’t quite get past how much his adjusted save percentage differed from his official numbers. There’s no doubt that during his time with Nashville the Preds have had a highly capable defence and have generally played a conservative style of game, so perhaps it would be more surprising if that had not had an impact.
13. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
It’s criminal how much the league devalued Dubnyk after one bad campaign. For three seasons, he provided the hapless Edmonton Oilers with very strong play at evens, including as a No. 1 ‘tender in 2013. One bad year and he was reduced to taking a bargain deal with the Coyotes. Last season was still an aberration in many ways, and Dubnyk’s .933 adjusted save percentage represented a career-best number. But it really wasn’t that far off what he did in Edmonton for so many years.
In addition to what, on the whole, has been fine work at evens, Dubnyk has provided good value on the penalty kill. His save percentage in shorthanded situations is one of the best among goalies to face as many shots as he has.
Where Dubnyk loses points is in other areas of the game. He’s not particularly adroit at handling the puck and is barely capable in the shootout.
In some ways, the Wild had a tough decision to make with Dubnyk this summer when they signed him to a six-year contract. In others, they didn’t. In four of the last five seasons, he’s been a very good goaltender—and often in challenging circumstances.
12. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
Many will doubtless be surprised to see Fleury so high on this list, but it isn’t his even-strength work that is driving this positioning. That’s not to say he’s bad; in four of the last five seasons, he’s been at least a passable starter and in most years he’s been better than that. But this part of his game isn’t particularly exemplary by No. 1-goalie standards.
What an even-strength analysis of Fleury misses are his strong numbers on the penalty kill over the years. In three of the last four seasons, he’s posted a .900 save percentage or better, which is phenomenal, and he’s only a touch below that for his career. Only one long-term starter in the league has done better during that span (Semyon Varlomov).
Also missed in any even-strength analysis are Fleury’s strong credentials in other areas of the game. He’s a good puck-mover, though perhaps not quite at the level of some other goalies in the game. He’s also spectacularly good in the shootout; no active goalie who has seen more than 100 shots has a better career save percentage than Fleury’s .751.
Pittsburgh’s much-maligned starter isn’t quite the equal to the hyperbole he got early in his career, but this analysis suggests he remains a pretty good choice as a No. 1 goaltender.
11. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
We’re closing in on a decade of Anderson quietly providing his teams with brilliant goaltending. His work over three seasons with Florida as a backup was exemplary and earned him a shot at starting minutes with the Colorado Avalanche. He delivered early but stumbled in his second year and was unceremoniously dumped on Ottawa, where he’s been excellent ever since.
Not to be overlooked is Anderson’s fine work on the penalty kill, which has exceeded the NHL average in six of the last seven seasons and has at times gusted to the absurdly good, such as in 2013, when he managed a .925 save percentage while shorthanded.
In addition to his merits as a puck-stopper, Anderson has ability as a puck-mover. He’s not quite on the same level as the game’s best passing goalies but he can retrieve a puck and handle it with aplomb. The shootout is one area where he falls to just average, turning aside two of three shots he faces.
At age 34 and with a healthy pay raise, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect that Anderson will provide Ottawa with the same level of value that he did on his last contract. Given that his last contract was one of the great bargains in NHL goaltending (three years, $12.6 million), that’s not necessarily a criticism, however. It will be worth paying attention to see if and when Anderson’s game starts slipping, but for the time being, he’s a good bet to continue providing the Sens with quality starts.
10. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Quick’s save percentage is frequently criticized, generally by analytics types who feel he doesn’t belong in the same class as the game’s truly elite goalies. There’s truth in that, but in all the focus on what he isn’t, it’s also possible to forget what he is. In three of the last four seasons (a disappointing 2012-13 campaign excepted), Quick has posted very strong even-strength save-percentage numbers, even once these are adjusted for shot quality. He may not be great, but he is very good, and his playoff numbers have been superb.
Over the past three seasons, Quick has managed a .884 save percentage while shorthanded, which is a very respectable number and well above the league average. It is worth noting that his totals have softened somewhat in recent years.
Slightly above average in the shootout and slightly below average as a puck-handler, Quick’s performance in these areas of the game doesn’t particularly help or hurt him in our assessment.
We’ve incorporated Quick’s outstanding career work in the postseason into our assessment here, and as a result, we rate him significantly higher than similar analyses that only use regular-season numbers. Even so, his regular-season play has at times just been ordinary. We like him better than most starting options but are not prepared to rank him with the handful of the NHL’s elite goalies at this point.
9. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
The 2014-15 season wasn’t too kind too Bobrovsky. His adjusted save percentage slipped down to .921, which isn’t particularly good for a No. 1 goalie. Of course, that performance comes on the heels of .929 and .938 showings for the Blue Jackets, so it doesn’t do to get too worked up about it. It’s also worth noting that as a rookie in Philadelphia, Bobrovsky managed a .927 adjusted save percentage over 54 games, so the Flyers should have had some inkling as to his potential when they shipped him away.
As is common in this area of our rankings, Bobrovsky’s career work on the penalty kill is quite strong. It’s the one area of his game where his numbers have improved since his first season with Columbus.
Bobrovsky is good in all areas when it comes to stopping pucks, and this seems to apply to the shootout, too, where his .725 save percentage impresses. He’s less skilled at moving the puck to his defencemen, though.
Fears that Bobrovsky would prove unable to replicate his Vezina-winning turn in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season have been borne out to some degree, but he’s come nowhere close to a total collapse. In fact, his work since has helped establish him as a top-10 NHL goalie.
8. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Crawford perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for his solid work at even strength. Except for a difficult 2011-12 campaign, he has managed .928, .933, .924 and, most recently, a 0.931 adjusted save percentage at five-on-five for the Blackhawks. The aforementioned 2011-12 campaign can’t just be brushed aside, but four out of five years at that excellent level is something most NHL teams would love to get from their starter.
Part of the reason Crawford doesn’t get that credit is because his numbers on the penalty kill haven’t been very good. Of the top 15 goalies on this list, the ones who we might consider above-average starters, none have a less impressive save percentage than Crawford’s .865 over the last five seasons.
In contrast with his work shorthanded, Crawford has helped the Blackhawks the last few seasons with a strong performance in shootout situations. He has turned aside 72.2 percent of the shots he’s faced, which is much better than most goalies manage. He’s slightly below average as a puck-handler.
It’s true that the team in front of Crawford deserves most of the credit for Chicago’s two championships in the last three years, but it’s also true that Crawford has been considerably more than a mere passenger over the course of those runs. He’s a strong goaltender in his own right.
7. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
If there’s a reservation in placing Varlamov this high, it’s not because he isn’t capable of truly great performances. Rather, it’s because he’s also capable of surprisingly pedestrian outings. Twice in the last four seasons, Varlamov’s even-strength save percentage has fallen alarmingly below the NHL average. The bulk of his work has been great, but those slip-ups can destroy entire seasons.
Varlamov’s .941 save percentage on the penalty kill last season isn’t really reflective of his true talent—nobody is consistently that good at even strength, let alone when down a man—but it does put a bit of an exclamation point on a career where he’s been better than average.
The shootout has been a strength for Varlamov over his career, with the Russian goalie turning aside nearly three-quarters of the shots he faces. He’s less skilled as a puck-handler, though he does have a modest level of ability at it.
Overall, in three of the last four seasons, Varlamov has been a good starting goalie, and at the age of 27, there’s no reason to expect a decline any time soon.
6. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
No goalie in our top 10 has a worse mark in this category than Bishop. It’s not that he’s been bad, but last season his adjusted save percentage was a very ordinary .922. He was better than that in the playoffs and was also better than that in his first season as a starter, but there’s not quite enough here for us to feel comfortable proclaiming him to be more than just good at even strength.
The only issue with Bishop on the penalty kill is that, ideally, we’d like to see a larger body of work; he’s faced only 800 shots over the course of his NHL career. He’s been very good and consistently so year to year, though, so we’re comfortable giving him strong marks here.
Outside of his size, the other quality that was obvious right from the get-go with Bishop was his comfort level in handling the puck. He’s one of those rare goalies who can make an outlet pass all by himself, and that makes life difficult for opposing forecheckers. His .705 shootout save percentage is also very respectable.
We might term Bishop a “complete” goaltender. His even-strength numbers are good but not great, but he makes up for it in other areas of the game. He backstops the penalty kill, thrives in the shootout and is dangerous enough with the puck that he helps negate the value of dump-ins. All of that combined puts him pretty high up our list of NHL goalies.
5. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
There are those who would paint 2014-15 as a breakout year for Holtby, but his strong work really shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone paying attention. He was a .925-adjusted-save-percentage starter in 2012-13 and was then inexplicably supplanted Jaroslav Halak after a .926-adjusted-save-percentage performance in 2013-14. So a “breakthrough” that takes him all the way up to .927 is hardly any breakthrough at all. Holtby has consistently been one of the game’s better goalies for three consecutive seasons now.
As it happens, the strong even-strength goalie is also good on the penalty kill. Quelle surprise. Holtby’s .886 save percentage last season was quite good and represents modest improvement from past campaigns.
Holtby is an elite puck-moving goaltender who is also batting above .700 in the shootout at the NHL level. That last number, incidentally, is below what he did in any of his four AHL seasons, so we have good reason for confidence that he’s better than average in the shootout, even if he’s not quite at Marc-Andre Fleury levels.
Holtby, who only just turned 26 in September, still has plenty of open road in front of him. He’s still a step back from the game’s truly elite goalies, but it’s really not much of a step.
4. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Just four goalies in the NHL have played at least 100 games and managed a .930 save percentage or better at even strength over the last five seasons. Unsurprisingly, these four goalies finished at the top of our overall rankings. Lundqvist comes in fourth, and his adjusted save percentage suggests he’s had more help from his blue line over that period than the average, which hurts his ranking here. Even so, what he has accomplished is spectacular.
Lundqvist is a median No. 1 goalie on the penalty kill, ranking 15th overall in save percentage among goalies to play at least 100 games over the past five seasons; he moves up one spot if we limit the list to active goalies.
One thing to remember about this ranking is that it is a projection, and we’ve docked Lundqvist a little bit because at the age of 33, it’s reasonable to expect him to slowly decline over the rest of his career. Even so, he’s still firmly one of the best in the game, and over his distinguished career, he’s been exceptional in pressure situations, too. He has yet to win the Stanley Cup but has helped the Rangers get close to it, posting .925-plus save percentages over each of the last four postseasons.
One thing to remember about this ranking is that it is a projection, and we’ve docked Lundqvist a little bit because at the age of 33 it’s reasonable to expect him to slowly decline over the rest of his career. Even so, he’s still firmly one of the best in the game, and over his distinguished career he’s been exceptional in pressure situations, too. He has yet to win the Stanley Cup, but he has helped the Rangers get close to it, posting 0.925-plus save percentages over each of the last four postseasons.
3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
One of the difficulties in determining goalie quality is separating the player from the defence in front of him. Rask’s performance in 2014-15 was reassuring in that regard, particularly because once Zdeno Chara went down with an injury early in the year, Rask delivered some brilliant work at evens (.936 save percentage). Also compelling is his adjusted save percentage, which ranks second in the NHL over the past five seasons.
Boston has routinely had some of the NHL’s best goaltending on the penalty kill, with Rask marching almost in lockstep with predecessor Tim Thomas in these situations. Some of this undoubtedly owes to the outstanding work of the team’s forwards and defencemen, but even so, it’s reasonable to conclude that Rask is above average in this part of the game.
The shootout hasn’t been friendly to Rask. He has just an 18-23 career record, but that really has more to do with the Bruins shooters than it does with him. Rask’s .713 save percentage compares favourably to the best in the game. He generally makes good decisions with the puck and is a good passer.
The most significant prize eluding Rask at this point is a Stanley Cup win as a starter (he won as a backup in 2011), but that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of his abilities. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 and excelled in the Olympics that same year, helping injured and underpowered Finland to a bronze medal. Winning a Cup in the immediate future may be tough given that the Bruins appear to be heading into a retooling period, but on the bright side, any struggles in Boston should result in the removal of any concern that he’s just a systems goalie.
2. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
Schneider’s adjusted even-strength save percentage over the past five years is the best in hockey. It’s better than Carey Price’s, better than Tuukka Rask’s, better than Henrik Lundqvist’s. That’s the single biggest reason he ranks so high on this list. The number falls behind Price if we weigh recent results more heavily but less because of any drop-off in Schneider’s performance and more because Price was so brilliant last season. The only item really working against Schneider at this point is a lack of playoff success.
A .915 save percentage at even strength isn’t terribly impressive, but on the penalty kill is another matter entirely. Schneider has faced just under 1,000 shots over the last five seasons while his team was shorthanded, and the .915 number he’s posted easily leads the league. No other player with more than 100 games played is even over .900.
Schneider’s 9-17 career record in the shootout appears to have been well-earned; his .610 save percentage is well below the league average. That may be misleading, as he was very good in the AHL (11-5, .747 save percentage), but even so, it’s hard to particularly rate him as a shootout goalie. He’s also only a middling puck-handler, despite improvements in his game since arriving in New Jersey.
This is going to be a controversial choice because this player simply doesn’t have the same reputation as some of the guys below him on this list, and his team isn’t likely to be good enough this year to give him a real push. Additionally, Schneider’s personal playoff numbers (.922 save percentage) are good, but his record (1-4) is uninspiring.
He simply hasn’t found himself with an opportunity to show what he can do over an extended run in front of lots of eyes. His work at evens and on the penalty kill is so brilliant, though, that when we did this analysis, we couldn’t help but rank him this high.
1. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Price is in rarefied air as an NHL goalie. He’s one of just four active goalies over the past five seasons to play in a minimum of 100 games while posting an even-strength save percentage north of .930. He bettered that number last season with a ridiculous .943 even-strength save percentage in an era where a netminder who can consistently post .920 can be an NHL starter.
Price’s numbers on the penalty kill aren’t as impressive as some other goalies on this list, but they are respectable. His .882 save percentage while shorthanded over the last five seasons ranks 11th among the 40-odd goalies to play at least 100 games over that span. That may not be elite-level work, but it’s still easily in starter-calibre range.
The shootout isn’t an area where Price dominates the way he does in other situations, but he’s still quite good. He ranks 13th among goalies to face at least 100 shots, with his .713 save percentage well clear of the league average. He ranks eighth among active goaltenders with 11 career assists and is a very capable puck-handler.
There just aren’t any significant weaknesses in Price’s game. The reigning Hart Trophy winner is in the prime of his career and falls somewhere between good and brilliant in every area of the game. Critically, it’s also easy to be confident of his record. Price has a heavier workload than almost any other NHL goalie, and he excels in pressure situations, with a long track record in the NHL playoffs complementing strong work at the Olympics, in the AHL postseason and at the World Juniors. He is the complete package.