Welcome to Justin’s 2nd Annual Top 30 Goaltenders List. If this is the first time you are reading the list, last year’s entries can be found here, here and here. The methodology of the list is the same as last year: taking into account present ability, future projection, durability, consistency and technique, this is the order in which I would advise my hypothetical “team” to seek out a goaltending solution. This “team” is an amalgamation of every roster construction circumstance throughout the league. In other words, my “team” has no short or long-term priorities, cap restrictions or player loyalties.
Since there was no comparable archive to last year’s list, I’m going to add in last year’s rankings to each tender this year, and since I’m a comprehensive guy (or just like to hear myself talk; yup, definitely one of those) in each of the three posts comprising the list, I will highlight the players left off the list from last season and explain my rationale for their omission. This will be the “Dropped” section.
Before we get going here are this year’s honorable mentions:
- Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: I felt terrible dropping Harding off the list this season. He was diagnosed with MS in late-September 2012 and missed almost the entire lock-out shortened season. His diagnosis makes his ability to play consistently at a high-level very questionable. I sincerely hope to re-insert Mr. Harding into the 2014-2015 Top 30, and will be rooting for him personally, but there’s just too much risk to include him.
- Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers: Emery had a fantastic season that culminated in a Stanley Cup as Corey Crawford’s backup. He’s not far removed from a career-threatening hip injury and is heading back to the goalie graveyard in Philly. If he repeats last season this year, he’ll have a spot on this list next summer.
- Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: Many NHL pundits will have you believe that Anderson is a quality starting goaltender. Don’t be fooled. His positioning/technique are garbage and is greatly benefitted by a very responsible defensive team in Canada’s capitol. It takes a lot for former journeymen to convince me they are late bloomers, but if he puts up quality numbers this season, he will work his way onto the list.
Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues: After ranking Elliott #27 on the list last season, I questioned his hot 2011-2012 campaign in the context of his overall body of work. Well, what do you know? Elliott turned back into his old-self. While I don’t put a ton of stock into save percentage, his .907 mark is slightly below his career average of .909. He plays on a good defensive team, but he is best suited as a backup.
Now, if you’re still with me, rankings 30-21.
30. Anders Lindback, Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year’s ranking: 22.
- Lindback had a nightmare first season in Tampa Bay. He struggled mightily with the starting role, in addition to a lower-body injury limiting the young Swede to 21 starts. He will have some support in Ben Bishop this season, but there needs to be some improvement to hit his considerable ceiling.
29. Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators. Last year’s ranking: N/R.
- Kinda weird that Ottawa’s backup makes this list, but not its starter, huh? Well, within the next couple seasons, Lehner is going to take the net in Ottawa for himself. The athletic Swede has all the ingredients for an above-average NHL tender: size, positional instincts and mobility. He may not turn into a star, but he will be a reliable contributor back there.
28. Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers. Last year’s ranking: N/R.
- We Ranger fans got a good look this season at how good Markstrom can be. He didn’t have the best year for a weak Florida squad, but our third Swede in a row has a ton of potential. It’s always a tough draw trying to establish yourself on a poor team, but Markstrom has the ability to become a high-end talent in this league.
27. Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers. Last year’s ranking: 29.
- I said last year that I still believe in Steve Mason’s talent. He desperately needed a change of scenery from Columbus and unfortunately he landed in Philly. He put up quality numbers in the land of orange and black (super small sample size) and I think he will be a solid platoon partner for Ray Emery. Time will tell if he returns to above-above average starter quality, but at 25, I’m still willing to bet on the upside.
26. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year’s ranking: N/R.
- Bishop is a physical specimen out of the University of Maine (6’,7”, 214lbs). His career has taken him from St. Louis to Ottawa and finally to Tampa Bay. Bishop has solid positional skills and is pretty athletic for a big guy. Goalies his size tend to take longer to develop, and I think he will be at least an average starter down the road. Lindback has a higher ceiling, but I think Bishop will be a stabilizing force in the Tampa net next season.
25. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers. Last year’s ranking: 28.
- The former first-round pick continues to improve incrementally for a very young Oilers team. He still isn’t lighting the world on fire, but should be the undisputed starter this year with the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin and the installation of Jason LaBarbera as the new backup. This will be a very important year in Dubnyk’s development. As the organization improves and starts to identify long-term core pieces, this season will go a long way in determining his future in Edmonton.
24. Viktor Fasth, Anaheim Ducks. Last year’s ranking: N/R.
- After taking the league by storm in Jonas Hiller’s absence last season, Fasth has proven that he is a real performer at the NHL level. He is a little older than most of the rookies you’ll find on this list, but his physical tools are undeniable. He’s athletic, with solid vision and positional skills. He will take on a more blocking style of play, but is at his best when he is playing a more hybrid style. His future probably doesn’t lie in SoCal, however, with the presence of John Gibson waiting in the wings.
23. James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs. Last year’s ranking: N/R.
- I am still a little skeptical of Reimer (mostly because I’m still not sure if Francois Allaire did irreparable damage to his game before he was canned). He had a very solid playoff for a Maple Leafs squad that came one miracle period away from knocking off the mighty Bruins. He isn’t particularly mobile or technically sound, but he is a solid blocker with good vision and puck tracking skills. He’s another keeper who probably won’t be plying his trade for his current club long-term, with our next tendy being the future in Toronto…
22. Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs. Last year’s ranking: 30.
- Bernier is finally free from the substantial shadow of Jonathan Quick, but still has to earn his job in the Great White North. The trade to Toronto is the best thing to happen to Bernier’s development: he will have real competition in Reimer for the starting job, plus a young roster he can grow with. He put up real solid numbers in limited time in LA, and I believe that he will be a star-level, first-choice tender very soon.
21. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild. Last year’s ranking: 17.
- While not a big fan of the contract he just signed (3 years/$10.5m), mostly due to the term for a 35 year-old, Backstrom is still an solid goaltender. He may not be the guy who can will you through a playoff series, but the Wild have a reliable veteran guy back there to provide some stability to an up-and-coming squad. He’s not the long-term answer in Minny, but for $3.5 per year, you won’t find many better value options.
As you can see, there are a lot of new faces here this season. Last year, the back third of the countdown contained many of the NHL’s fringe starters and re-treads. This season, we see some up-and-coming names and high-ceiling rookies taking hold in the rankings. There’s a ton of potential for movement up or down the rankings in this group for next season. Stay tuned for our next segment, Rankings 20-11, coming up soon!