Justin’s 5th Annual Pre-season Top 30 Goaltenders List (30-21)

August 19, 2016, by

My all-time favorite

Welcome to the 5th Annual Pre-season Top 30 Goaltenders List. It’s that time of year again, and after five years of putting this list together, the one thing I have learned is the value of consistency. Many a goaltender has now passed through this list with worlds of talent and bright futures’ ahead. The NHL, however, often has other ideas. The mainstays at the top are some of the most talented and hard working athletes on the planet, and it is truly a pleasure to watch them work.

This year’s list felt a little bit thinner than in seasons’ past, as performance attrition reared its ugly head on more than a few tenders this season, both vets and rookies, alike. There are a few bounce back performances and some steady steps forward, but I feel like this list has been scrambled quite a bit over last season.

Before we begin, I want to reiterate the criteria and give some remarks on a few honorable mentions. For the uninitiated, the function of this list is to advise a hypothetical “team” of my preference for pursuing a one year solution between the pipes, irrespective of age, contract status, incumbent goaltender, contention window and basically all of the other factors team’s evaluate when pursuing a goaltending solution. It’s all about the current talent level, here. Since this type of exercise is incredibly subjective feel free to disagree/ridicule me in the comments section below. Let’s start with the Honorable Mentions…

Honorable Mentions

Eddie Lack- Carolina Hurricanes (last years ranking: 19): Let’s start by acknowledging Lack’s absolutely gagbysmal season in ’15-’16. In fairness, the Hurricanes were pretty terrible, but Lack took a big step back in his first starter’s audition. I still really like the talent there, but I need to see more consistency and stability before fully buying in again.

Mike Smith- Arizona Coyotes (last year’s ranking: N/A): Smith, who missed a big chunk of this past season due to injury, had a nice bounce back campaign when he was on the ice. He is still massively overpaid for three more seasons and has ceded the starting job to Louis Domingue, but he could still be a very effective platoon option, even at age 34.

Jaroslav Halak- New York Islanders (last year’s ranking: 22): Halak has simply become too streaky for me. He puts up about league average numbers, but you never know what you are going to get on a game-by-game basis. There are just too many talented goaltenders putting up better numbers consistently.

Now, with all of the house keeping items out of the way, let’s get to goaltenders 30-21…

  1. Robin Lehner- Buffalo Sabres (last year’s ranking: 30): Lehner Lehner

Lehner suffered a recurring ankle injury last season that more or less derailed his entire campaign. I still believe in his talent, but if he is going to be the man in the crease for the rebuilding Sabres, this is going to be a big year for him to show that he is healthy and ready to shoulder the load.

  1. Michal Neuvirth- Philadelphia Flyers (last years ranking: n/a): Neuvirth

Neuvirth reinvented himself in Philly last season, stepping into the Flyers’ crease in the playoffs and opening some eyes with his stellar play. What most did not notice is that his solid play began well before the second season started. Entering his prime years, Neuvirth has begun to show again why he was so highly touted with the Caps all those years ago.

  1. Andre Vasilevskiy- Tampa Bay Lightning (last year’s ranking: n/a): Vasilevskiy

The talented Russian has had some ups and downs during his brief NHL career, but the talent is absolutely undeniable. He has been somewhat prone to soft goals, but at 21 years old, I feel very confident that once the maturity and some experience set it, he will be a top-flight goaltender in this league for years to come.

  1. Joonas Korpisalo- Columbus Blue Jackets (last year’s ranking: n/a): Korpisalo Korpisalo

The young Finn was thrust unto the Blue Jackets’ crease last year after a rash of injuries decimated their depth chart. Despite this less-than-ideal introduction into the league, Koorpisalo acquitted himself quite well, posting very solid rate stats and advanced metrics. Still very young, at age 22, he could allow Columbus to move on from the expensive and injury prone Sergei Bobrovsky sooner rather than later.

  1. John Gibson- Anaheim Ducks (last year’s ranking: 27): Gibson Gibson

Last year was a step forward for Gibson, despite some unspectacular production. He managed to stay healthy, and with the trade of Frederik Andersen, should be well positioned to carry the load for the Ducks in 2016-2017. Crazy to think he is still only twenty-three, after having been rushed to the show, but he is still one of the most talented young goaltenders in the game.

  1. Louis Domingue- Arizona Coyotes (last year’s ranking: n/a): Domingue

Domingue may have had one of the most under-the-radar debut seasons in recent NHL memory. The twenty four year old southpaw slipped in quietly and stole the crease in Arizona to little fan-fare. Domingue is a former 5th round pick and another ECHL success story. A big, athletic tender, who is starting to put it all together should help grow with the ‘Yotes young core as they move back into contention.

  1. Pekka Rinne- Nashville Predators (last year’s ranking: 6): Rinne Rinne

Rinne takes by far the biggest tumble on this list, as both his scouting report and underlying metrics have taken a big step back as he enters his mid-30’s. Body control is very difficult for big goaltenders to begin with, but Rinne was all over the place last season. His technical discipline has evaporated and he gets caught running around and scrambling far too much these days. He still has some of the most raw talent in this league, but I fear father time is catching up to him.

  1. Ryan Miller- Vancouver Canucks (last year’s ranking: 26): Miller

Speaking of father time, Ryan Miller keeps working on defying him. Despite playing behind a very deficient Canucks’ roster, Miller put up stellar numbers this past season at age thirty-five. His style should age well, as he is not overly reliant on athleticism to control the play, but he isn’t quite as dominant as he once was, either. Miller is still highly effective at this stage of his career, and will be interesting to see if he draws mid-season trade interest as he enters his walk year, if the Canucks aren’t in contention.

  1. Cam Talbot- Edmonton Oilers (last year’s ranking: 18): Talbot Talbot

Our old friend, Cam. He had a big of a rough introduction into being the starting goaltender for the defense starved Oilers, losing his job and then gaining it back, midseason. He was rewarded with a three-year extension at $4.16m (with a NMC!). I think getting his feet wet with a starter’s workload should be a big positive for Cam, and I expect the numbers will catch up (to the extent possible with Edmonton’s blue line) this season.

  1. Connor Hellebuyck- Winnipeg Jets (last year’s ranking: n/a): Hellebuyck Hellebuyck

Hellebuyck had his first cup of coffee this season, playing twenty-six games and putting up stellar numbers. A scouting darling, the twenty-three year old Michigan native has all the size, athleticism, positional instincts and poise you could ever hope for. He is on a trajectory to be a star for the Jets, sooner rather than later. Look for him to step into the number one job this season, if the Jets can figure out how to rid themselves of Ondrej Pavelec, who in entering the last season on his contract.

That’s it for the first installment. Stayed tuned over the next few weeks for the rest of the list. Let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other thoughts in the comments below. Have a great week, everyone.

"Justin's 5th Annual Pre-season Top 30 Goaltenders List (30-21)", 3 out of 5 based on 4 ratings.


  1. paulronty says:

    Justin, you’ve taken on a very daunting task, because evaluating goalies is probably the hardest task of all. There are so many factors that come into play here, including how good the D is, but also how good overall team defense is. Today’s goalies cover a lot of net, so it’s more about positioning and angles than it ever used to be. When modern goalies butterfly they have the bottom part of the net covered supremely and they all tend to do this when the action is in close, so that the only vulnerable area is top shelf, and if they have an exceptional glove hand then even that area is hard to score on. That’s why the emphasis today is on taking away the goalie’s vision by screening him and crashing the net. Someone complained the other day about Rangers shooting it right at the goalies chest, but often there is no choice because there is no visible net to shoot at. The catching glove today is a basket compared to days of your & the equipment is larger & lighter, You rarely see the kick-toe save anymore and the crease is smaller & a focus of the action. Honestly, it is so hard to compare goalies today. Is Ben Bishop really a great goalie or is it just that he is huge and plays for a really good team. Same with Quick and others. For me the shift to huge goalies is the single most important factor in changing the game, even more than taking out the red line, and not for the better I say. Making the nets larger, as suggested by Mike Babcock recently, is an obsession of mine and it would improve the game a lot and prove to be the undoing of a few guys on your list, no doubt.

    • Chris A says:

      Nice analysis Paul! Couldn’t agree more.

      I’d like to see what happens in the AHL and/or ECHL if the nets were made a few inches bigger in all directions, like Babcock and others have been pushing for, but I want to see it over multiple seasons. The first season there should be a big uptick in scoring as goalies have to relearn all their angles and reads, but I have a feeling that once the good ones get the new angles down goalscoring will quickly come back to it’s current levels.

      I think hockey fans have to accept that this is what modern hockey is. Most games are only going to have 5 goals scored because modern goalkeeping is vastly superior to the goalkeeping of the pre-butterfly days. I don’t think fans understand or want to accept how bad goalkeeping used to be in the NHL. And I don’t mean the goalies themselves were bad, I am speaking to the ridiculous stand up goalkeeping style that the entire league used to use.

      I think the only thing that will bring goalscoring up in the long run is doing something drastic, like adding a foot to the goal frame in all directions. And I don’t think anyone wants that.

      • Justin says:

        I’m generally anti-bigger nets. I understand the argument for them, but for me, it’s a lazy, quick fix. The problem is room for creative players to create offensive opportunity. If a player has room to cut, a back door pass and a drop pass option available. 100lbs of equipment in a tiny net couldn’t keep that player from scoring. It occupies too much of the goaltender’s mental capital to hedge against all those options.

        Players need to be given more room. Bigger rinks makes the most sense, but too much lost revenue to be realistic. Until then, just take aim at the goalies (pun intended).

        • Chris A says:

          I hate the idea of bigger rinks. I am afraid that N. American fans fell in love with bigger rinks because they are used in the Olympics. Of course the Olympics are going to feature compelling offensive hockey, it’s a tournament of All-Star teams.

          When you watch Euro hockey and the slog that it is, you realize that larger ice surfaces actually make hockey boring and turn it into more of a possession chess match where the team on offense falls into a cycle of probing and regrouping (like soccer).

        • paulronty says:

          Don’t agree that enlarging the nets is lazy & if it’s a fix, quick or not, what is wrong with that. The fans would love it. Actually, if you watch International hockey, bigger rinks slow the game down & not the opposite. Just look at the stats of international prospects, they are much less than the Junior leagues over here.

      • paulronty says:

        I think 2″ each side(4″ total on width) & 2″ higher would be a good place to start. The trouble with the NHL is that they don’t even try experimenting like they could in the preseason. A foot is NEVER going to fly Chris and would likely cause a goatender mutiny!

        • Chris A says:

          Yup, agreed, I just think a few inches is something that the best goalies in the world will figure out and adjust to over the long term.

          Anyway, as long as teams try to play an attacking style, like the Rangers, TB, and Hawks do, I’m ok with scoring being low. What bugs me out is when teams try to collapse and clog the slot on D and basically park the bus in front of the goal. That’s terrible hockey and why I’m concerned about expansion.

          At least people whining about making the game 4v4 all the time has died down, for now.

          • Walt says:

            Let’s just bring back the Devil’s trap style of hockey !!!!!!!

            Joking folks !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Chris A says:

      Huh, who knew that Mike Babc***’s name would send me to moderator purgatory

      • paulronty says:

        LOL!! I didn’t even catch on that that was the reason I was being moderated also, too funny.

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        I’ve learned that the hard way Chris! I just refrain from using the last names of the coaches in St. Louis and Toronto. Too dangerous! 🙂

  2. Greg B says:

    So Raanta’s in the top 20? 🙂

  3. Ray says:

    Talbot was really lucky that Nilsson self-destructed, else he may have never got another shot. Which shows just how precarious a goalie’s career is. His stats were also helped by not playing quite a bit when he was struggling instead of watching the goals against balloon. All in all, I think you have him ranked properly.

    That said, looking just at save percentage, had Hank played in Talbot’s place, Edmonton would have given up just five fewer goals. Not sure how fair that comparison is. The eye test certainly favored Lundqvist decisively. The general thinking is that save percentage discriminates against the goalie on the team with the weaker defense. There are also shot difficulty measurements, but these have clearly not progressed beyond the humorous stage.

    One final note Justin in support of one of your main contentions about the difference between starters and backups. Cam Talbot never had to play under pressure in NY. In Edmonton, he gave up a couple of bad goals and it all became serious. The pressure got to him, his confidence fled, and he fell apart. He did recover, but you never know what will happen when that day comes until it actually comes – and for every starter it will come.

  4. Bloomer says:

    I was quite impressed in how Andre Vasilevskiy stepped in for the injured Bishop during the playoffs. He is the likely goalie of the future for Tampa Bay franchise

    • Ray says:

      He doesn’t play the puck as well as Bishop, but he looked every bit as good in keeping it out of the net.

  5. SalMerc says:


  6. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    Just moved on the wires……Vesey signs with the Rangers!

  7. HARLEMBLUES says:

    Yes, Jimmy don’t crack corn but he wears Ranger Blue.

  8. Jon says:

    It is very difficult ranking goalies from different teams and comparing them despite bias in defenses, systems, and other factors that you probably know better than I do Justin. I defer to your opinion on the goaltending front. I’m no expert.
    I do ask why Rinne went so low. He was banged up all last season and I think the run n gun system that Laviolette employs puts him in a lot of dangerous positions.

    Next is Vasilevskey (I hate trying to spell his name). He’s a very talented goalie and showed some consistency in relief of Bishop in the playoffs. TB didn’t lose that series because of him. He’s young but I have little doubt he will be the starter in TB in the near future. They kept Bishop for another year but that tells me they just want to see a little more of this kid.

    Last I think Robin Lehner belongs in the “honerable mention” group rather than #30. He is one of those big goalies that came along with Bishop during that few year span when they became the fad. He showed a lot of promise but cannot stay healthy. I can’t agree he is top 30 in the NHL until he remains healthy for at least 1 full season. The talent is there, but some guys just can’t stay on the ice. He may be one of those guys.