Predicting the Most Unstable NHL Goaltending Situations for 2016-17

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistAugust 8, 2016

Predicting the Most Unstable NHL Goaltending Situations for 2016-17

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    No matter how good your favorite NHL team is offensively and defensively, bad goaltending will ruin a season. In today's NHL, the gap between the starter and backup can be massive—mostly because teams use the backup spot as a chance to save cap dollars.

    In some cases, the backup is not a big deal. There are goalies who can start 60 or more games a year such as Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings or Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. Other teams have starters who are not at that top level or are less proven. The worry over injuries is also a major issue in many NHL cities, notably in Montreal with the Canadiens, who just went through a trying season because of injuries to Carey Price.

    Here are the most unstable goaltending situations in the NHL entering the 2016-17 season and some of the factors that will impact each team.

Arizona Coyotes

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: Mike Smith has been in the NHL since 2006 and the Arizona Coyotes' starter since 2011. He was reduced to 32 starts in 2015-16, with Louis Domingue stepping in for 36 starts. These two men will form the goaltending tandem in 2016-17. 

    Notable factors: Smith had a tough time staying in the lineup in 2015-16 due to a core muscle injury. A December article from NHL.com noted the injury and subsequent surgery. His .916 save percentage while in the lineup was solid—NHL average was .915—and Domingue was .912 for the year.

    Analysis: Smith had a recovery season in terms of performance and likely enters the season as the de facto starter. Domingue showed well enough to push him and represents a far better option in terms of cap hit. The downside of this tandem: Even performing at current levels, they are just average and give the Coyotes little hope of being a top-performing tandem.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: Cam Ward emerged as a hero for the Carolina Hurricanes in the team's 2006 Stanley Cup run. Player and team have been through thick and thin since, with Ward starting 51 games in 2015-16. Eddie Lack was among the busiest backups in the game, starting 31 times. 

    Notable factors: NHL average goaltending was .915 last season, and both men trailed the field badly. In fact, the Hurricanes ranked No. 29 of 30 teams, with Ward's .909 ranking him among the poorest starters in the league.

    Analysis: Despite these numbers, Carolina is a promising team on the rise. The goalies were a drag on team performance last season and may be an issue again in the coming year. One thing that might help the Hurricanes: Lack had a career save percentage of .917 before coming over from the Vancouver Canucks. If he can get back there, he is likely to wrest the starting job away from Ward.

Dallas Stars

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: The Dallas Stars are spending over $10 million on two veteran goalies who are well below average. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are both past 30 and signed to big contracts.

    Notable factors: The Stars will spend more than any other team on goaltending next season and are not getting value for the dollar. Both men had save percentages below .907 last season and appear to be eroding.

    Analysis: Dallas is a well-run organization, and the rest of the team is ready to push for a Stanley Cup. The goaltending is overpaid and not delivering anywhere close to expected levels. If veterans Lehtonen and Niemi continue to falter, there is a strong possibility the Stars bring in a replacement goalie as the No. 1-stopper before the 2016-17 playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: The Edmonton Oilers' No. 1 goalie is Cam Talbot, but the backup situation that was so fluid a year ago will no doubt see changes in 2016-17. Free-agent pickup Jonas Gustavsson and prospect Laurent Brossoit will vie for the backup job. 

    Notable factors: The Oilers received good goaltending from Cam Talbot in 2015-16, as he settled in after a tough start. His .917 save percentage was just a little better than average. Gustavsson, who will enter training camp as the probable backup, posted just a .908 save percentage. 

    Analysis: The Oilers last made the playoffs in 2006, and the curious addition of Gustavsson gives some insight into why the team struggles. Gustavsson was a mid-level free-agent addition, and the takeaway for fans is that Laurent Brossoit will be the backup in short order. For an organization under the gun to perform after so many years of poor play, it is worth watching this situation in 2016-17. If there are early struggles, expect an aggressive move to fix the position. 

Montreal Canadiens

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: The Montreal Canadiens are led in goal by Carey Price—who might be the best goalie in the game. Mike Condon saw a lot of work last season and will return as an option in 2016-17. The club also added a substantial backup in Al Montoya over the summer via free agency. 

    Notable factors: Price is money when healthy, his .934 save percentage last year giving Montreal an advantage in almost all of his games. The problem? Price played in only 12 games, and the rest of the year was spent with below-average goaltending.

    Analysis: The Canadiens did a nice job in adding Montoya, but no team can overcome the loss of its franchise goalie. Price was hurt twice last season, but he's young enough—he turns 29 in August—to have many productive seasons in the future. If he gets hurt again, expect Montoya to replace him and perform at a higher level than Montreal's goalies of a season ago.

Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: The Nashville Predators have veteran starter Pekka Rinne and a new backup in minor league stopper Marek Mazanec. Rising star Juuse Saros is also a player worth watching in 2016-17. 

    Notable factors: Rinne posted a .908 save percentage a year ago and was outplayed by Carter Hutton among Predators goalies. In fact, three of his last four seasons have seen Rinne post a save percentage of .910 or worse—not NHL-average goaltending.

    Analysis: Nashville has Rinne under contract through the end of the 2018-19 season. He needs to have a recovery season or run the risk of being a very expensive backup. Hutton's numbers were superior a year ago, and the Predators cannot afford to wait on their veteran in 2016-17.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Goaltenders: The Winnipeg Jets have three goalies who should see playing time in 2016-17. Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are the established NHL options, but Connor Hellebuyck could emerge as the No. 1 guy based on his performance as a rookie last season. 

    Notable factors: The numbers show Winnipeg's incumbent goalies were not as effective as Hellebuyck a year ago, as the rookie led the Jets with a .918 save percentage.

    Analysis: Winnipeg has been building a playoff roster that will last, mostly through the draft. It appears the team is ready to push for the playoffs in 2016-17, but the quality of the goaltending has been lagging. A good guess for this season has the two NHL goalies struggling, but Hellebuyck is very close to taking over an NHL job—possibly winning the starter's job.

    Stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and NHL.com.

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